Tibial sat shivering in the empty room even though it was hot and muggy inside. He had bitten his fingernails down far enough to draw blood and had been sitting inside this room for the last hour. He was wearing his jeans and shirt, but they hadn't brought him any shoes, to prevent him from running he supposed.
He knew perfectly well what was going on. Somehow people knew, somehow it had been found out and now...
Tibial swallowed, felt tears pricking at his eyes and held them back, biting on his lips now instead of his fingernails. He knew this would happen eventually but not so soon. They had gotten so little time! And now, it would end in death for both of them, probably, getting caught red-handed like they had.
If Chad was still alive, that was. No-one had come to see him after they deposited him in this room; no-one had come to let him know if Chad was alright.
The door swung open and Tibial was instantly on his feet. A man entered the room and shut the door behind him, the two of them regarding each other with equal wariness. The man wore a worn, rumpled suit that matched his worn, rumpled face. "Sit down," the man warned quietly.
"Chad," Tibial asked, ignoring him. "Is he alright, is he okay?"
"He's being taken care of," the man said. "Sit down son, you are in a very serious situation."
Tibial sat down. "I want to see him. Can I see him?"
"Chad Devon, right?"
"Mmm." The man leaned back, regarded him. "Let me ask you a couple questions, then we'll talk about letting you see him, okay?"
Tibial stared at him but said nothing. The man leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table, staring back at him.
"What is the nature of your relationship with Mr. Devon?" the man asked. Tibial looked down at his hands, his bloody fingertips and wondered what he should say.
"Don't make things worse for yourself by lying son," the man advised, almost as if he was reading Tibial's thoughts.
Tibial knew they were caught, that everyone would know what they were. It would do no good to lie now. Besides could he deny Chad, what they were, what they had? Never. "He is a friend, a mentor and my lover," Tibial said quietly.
"So the two of you have a physical relationship?" the man asked.
"One that has been consummated."
"Was it consensual?"
"Will you be willing to swear this as truth in front of a judge, under the eyes of the Goddess?"
The man leaned back in his chair. "Are you aware, Mr. Marwhile, that due to its deviant nature, homosexuality is illegal?"
"I am aware of the law."
The man regarded him for a long time. "How old are you Mr. Marwhile?"
"Are you aware of what the traditional punishment for engaging in homosexual behavior is?"
The man sighed. "Listen, Mr. Marwhile. You are a very young man; you have the rest of your life to live. Your age can do a lot for you to escape the death penalty. Have you heard of re-education camps?"
"I'm not going."
"I'm trying to help you here, son."
"I know. But I'm not going. I love him and I will live with him or die with him."
"That's a very romantic notion but be practical," the man pressed. "You are still very young, and easy prey for an older man to coerce and seduce."
"I seduced him, not the other way around, I'm afraid," Tibial said. "And I will not tell anyone differently. I will not point blame elsewhere when I’m just as guilty as he is.” Tibial looked down at his hands again. “I've answered your questions. I want to see Chad."
The man sighed. “I’m afraid that will not be possible right now.”
Tibial got to his feet, his eyes widening. “You said if I answered your questions-”
“-that we would talk about it," the man interrupted. "And I'm telling you that you cannot see him right now. I can tell you that Mr. Devon is awake and suffering no permanent damage.” The man stood up and knocked on the door. A guard came in, and the man exited the room. The guard turned and looked at Tibial with steely eyes.
“Come on boy and no funny business or I’ll knock that head of yours right off your shoulders.”
Tibial stood up and followed the guard down the hallway lined with dark cells. The guard unlocked a cell door and pushed Tibial inside, slamming it shut behind him. Tibial looked around, even though there wasn’t much to look at. Three walls of grimy cement, the steel bars composing a fourth, a small cot promising nothing but discomfort and a toilet. No sink even. Tibial sat down on the cot. It was dusty and it smelled, but his feet were getting cold from the linoleum floor and were coated with dirt, dust, and other detritus littering the floor of the tiny town jail. He curled up, legs to his chest and lowered his head down so his forehead rested on his knees and closed his eyes.
He felt lonely and afraid, for Chad more than himself, but there was also a small part of him that was relieved. For better for worse, it was out in the open and everyone would know. He had spilled his secret and the weight of it had been a heavy one and now that it was gone, he was grateful for its absence. If death was what the Goddess had in store for Chad, then he would walk with him to meet it.
* * *
Tibial didn't remember falling asleep, but he must have, because when he opened his eyes, they felt gritty and heavy and his neck ached from the awkward position it had been in when he dozed off. He looked around, but nothing had changed except for the hands of his watch. When he had first been put into the cell it had been close to nine o clock, now it was almost noon.
Tibial paced the length of his tiny cell a few times, trying not to notice how it seemed to grow smaller and smaller around him. He crawled back onto the cot when his feet got cold, wishing for a pair of socks, at least. Tibial tucked his feet up under his buttocks for a few minutes, hoping to warm them. He was full of nervous, tense energy and no way to burn it off. If he had been at home he could have worked it off in the fields, or walked it away. Goddess, what about his family? Were they managing without him? Did they know?
That led Tibial to another interesting question. How had it happened? How had they been found out? Someone had to know and reported them. Was it someone in his family? Mia? Someone Chad knew? Tibial doubted Chad would have told anyone, and he certainly hadn't. Someone must have seen them, or at least suspected. Who who who? It was maddening.
He carefully thought over everyone he knew, evaluated them carefully, looking for clues or hints during the last few weeks that might have tipped them off. He ended up with no answers.
Tibial dozed off again. There was nothing else to do in that small cell and if he kept his eyes closed, he wouldn't notice those walls, enclosing him, trapping him. Like an animal in a cage.
When he woke again, it was late afternoon. Tibial lay on his back, his body suffused with a lazy sluggishness, unwilling to move. He simply lay there and looked for patterns in the cracks of the ceiling. He hadn't been doing that for long when footsteps echoed down the corridor and Tibial looked up, curiosity overpowering his anxiety. His mouth dropped open as his father stepped into view.
"Dad?" Tibial said. His voice wavered dangerously and he steeled himself. He didn't want his dad to see him cry.
"Son," his father said. His face held that same worn, haggard look it usually did, but he didn't look angry, or shocked, just sad, terribly sad. Tibial got up from the cot and took several tentative steps forward.
"I heard that you had been taken," his father said. "I couldn't believe it. I had to come here and make sure."
Tibial didn't say anything, just pressed the bottom of one foot against the toes of the other.
"What are you doing here son?"
"I-I-" Tibial couldn't get the words out; his throat was suddenly dry and unbearably tight. The relief he felt earlier about letting the secret free, of not having to hide it anymore was replaced by a new, heavier weight. Everything had consequences and this was worse.
"They came to the house and talked to me and your mother. Told us that they had to take you and why. There will be a trial to determine--did you really do what they said?"
Tibial looked away, switching his feet, shame burning high and hot up inside his chest and face.
"It's okay, Tib, it's okay. I won't get angry, just tell me the truth."
Tibial just nodded, unable to look at his father. The man he loved, wanted to emulate, the man whose approval he had always sought and up to this moment, had always been given. Tibial couldn't even look at him, couldn't bear to see the disappointment, the shame, the embarrassment.
"So you were with another man."
Tibial nodded again. The floor that he was staring at wavered and blurred as his eyes filled with tears. He heard his father sigh, the creak of weight shifting. He looked over in time to see his father sit down, pull his boots off. What the hell?
"Sir?" Tibial asked. He watched as his father pulled off his socks, then tugged the boots back onto his feet, laced them up.
"Here," his father said, reaching through the bars of the cell, holding out the socks bunched in his hands. "Take them. Your toes are turning blue for the Goddess's sake."
Tibial reached out and took them, staring at them dumbly. The tears spilled over, down his cheeks onto the floor. "Do you hate me now?" Tibial whispered.
There was a prolonged silence.
"Do you love him?"
Tibial lifted his head, his cheeks tear streaked. "What?"
"Do you love him?"
"More than anything."
"Well I can't blame you for loving anybody. I don't like the choices you made and I can't accept it, but I can understand it. And I could never hate you. You're my son, and I'll love you always, no matter what you do. But you still must pay for your sins, and there's nothing I can do about that."
"I'm sorry," Tibial whispered. He went over to the bars, rested his head against them and started to sob in true misery. "I'm sorry Dad, Goddess, I'm so sorry."
His Dad reached through the bars to rub his hair. "I know you are son. I know." He pressed lips, hard and dry, against the top of Tibial's head. "It pains me to see you doomed to an unhappy fate. You could die for this."
"I know," Tibial sobbed. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
He reached through the bars and hugged his father tightly, his father returning the embrace. He sobbed as if his heart was breaking, his fingers clutching desperately at his father's shirt, the cold unforgiving metal bars of his prison pressing cruelly into his face, chest and thighs, a reminder of what love had taken away from him.