The Stray

Rated R

The sun had just started to set, although the trees and houses blocked where it kissed the horizon from anyone walking along the sidewalk. With the trees being brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange, however, one still could observe beauty around them, especially when the wind pushed the loose leaves around, making them dance in the air to a silent waltz. It was the sight any photographer would love to catch; it was the weather that almost anyone would enjoy: not so hot you were uncomfortable, but not so cold you needed anything more than a light jacket to keep warm.

Julius hated autumn.

"Damn, it's cold," Julius muttered under his breath. He quickly zipped his jacket up before shoving his hands into his pockets, leaning over slightly to try to keep the wind out of his face. This had always been his least favorite season; he felt as though everything was dying around him, and hated how the weather could never make up its mind - at least in the spring, you had summer to look forward to. With autumn, there wasn't much else but freezing cold temperatures to be "excited" for.

The dark-skinned man swore to himself again as he picked up speed, wondering again why he had decided to walk to his friend's house earlier when he knew it meant walking home this late. Although, thinking of the beers he'd drunk and how he was still slightly buzzed, it was probably for the best that he was now walking home instead of driving.

Julius quickly crossed the road, seeing the little park and playground close by. Said park was right near the back of his house; it would make for a perfect little shortcut.

He crunched his way across the lawn, uncaring of the noise he was making as he did. It was only when he reached the small playground that he slowed down his fast pace.

The park didn't have much to offer for play equipment. There was a small swing set, a set of monkey bars, a see-saw, and a tall slide with a roof at the top. A smirk came to Julius's face as he remembered how he used to sit at the entrance to a similar slide at his elementary school's playground, demanding payment from his peers - he had quickly been ratted out by one of his classmates.

Nostalgia - or maybe the drinks from earlier - had him changing his path. Temporarily forgetting that he was meaning to walk home, Julius jogged over to the ladder for the slide and climbed up, swearing only once at the freezing metal on his bare hands.

When he reached the top, he stopped just short from hauling himself onto the small platform when he saw a small figure. The person was huddled up against the wall of the slide, shivering horribly. They were wearing dirty sweatpants and a slightly torn long-sleeve t-shirt, paired with ratty sneakers. Clearly, this wasn't their first night sleeping outside.

"Are you okay?" Julius asked gently, not wanting to frighten the person.

It didn't seem as though he succeeded since they jumped, head whipping around to face him. Julius gasped silently at the sight of the milk chocolate eyes that met his own, sadly marred by heavy bags set underneath. After a moment, however, he realized they were filled with fear.

The person huddled on the platform turned out to be a stunning boy - or was he a man? Julius couldn't tell his age, other than he was older than sixteen and younger than twenty-five - who really needed a bath. His hair seemed light brown, though it was hard to tell seeing as his skin was covered in a thick layer of dirt and dust.

"Hey, don't worry," Julius murmured soothingly, "I'm not gonna hurt you."

A soft whimper escaped the boy's cracked lips and Julius's heart clenched at the sound. The fierce wave of possessiveness that shot through his veins shocked him; all Julius wanted to do in that moment was pull the kid close and promise him that everything was going to be okay.

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