The place the car took them to looked like a fortress in the heart of the city. He'd never dreamed that he'd be permitted to see the inside of a Family Compound, but here he was. He could die happy, he'd finally arrived in the world.
Gregor glanced at Park out of the corner of his eye. "So what can I expect?"
"Excuse me?" Park asked.
"Well, it's obvious that they've got someone in mind for me," Gregor said. "What's he or she like?"
Park quirked his lips. "He. Jaisuyen Park. He likes to call himself Zero and is the heir to the Family."
"Ooh," Gregor said, "they've got me slated for the big boy. And Park you say? Any close relation?"
"My younger brother."
"Yet he's the heir?" Gregor raised an eyebrow.
"He is the legitimate son of the Duadenora," Park said. His voice was completely expressionless, but Gregor didn't have to be a genius to read between the lines.
He'd hit a sore spot without even knowing it was there. It sent a feeling of guilt through him. Park was going to be the closest thing to an ally he was going to have once he went into the Family Compound. He didn't want to offend Park. Didn't want to be alone.
"Will you stay with me?" Gregor asked, a slight tremble entering his voice.
Park looked surprised. "Of course. That's why I was sent to assess you, because I am to be your chaperone in the Family. Psych has deemed that you need to maintain a familiar presence until you are settled in."
Gregor allowed himself a smile. "Thank you. I was afraid you might drop me off and just leave me here."
"Never." The car rolled through the tall metal gates and pulled to a stop in front of the main doors. "If things do not work out, I will be the one to return you to the Third Complex."
Gregor wanted to point out that he had never been in the Third Complex, but it seemed like too much. It didn't mean anything anyway. And maybe it would be a good idea to drop all past history and just go forward, a new man for a new life.
His days of running were over.
====== ## ======
The house was lovely and huge, the beautifully dressed and well mannered people were coolly controlled, and he felt as if he had no air to breathe.
Gregor had never felt so locked in and trapped. He was waiting out the end of the month so he could see what other offers he had waiting.
The Duadenora were made of money, but that didn't mean a whole lot to him if he was going to end up completely miserable. There was more for him to weigh than the weight of his future stud's wallet, though he kept that number around for consideration.
The house and people were beautiful, and there was so much shwag that he didn't know what do with himself. He was starting to think that settling down as a breeder would be an okay thing, except the people around here… they made his teeth ache from clenching so hard together.
He'd always had a sixth sense about the level of disapproval being focused on him. The entire Duadenora Family treated him as though he was wrapped up in some unpleasant aroma. It made him self-conscious. He hated it.
Checking himself over in the mirror, Gregor straightened his already perfect tie and went out to face the mandatory Family meal. He could already feel his shoulders tensing up and he thought of his room fondly. He'd rather read a book than go to this horrible dinner with these horrid people.
Park was waiting for him in front of the dining room doors. His smile could have been made out of razor blades it was so tight, but Gregor couldn't help smirking back.
"Good thing you're back," he said, throwing his shoulders back confidently. "The last few days have been terrible."
Park had brought him to the Compound and gotten him settled before being suddenly called away. It had been jarring for Gregor to find himself alone amongst these people he didn't know and he'd had no idea how to make a connection when no one ever tried to start a conversation with him.
He was used to being approached. When left to his own devices, he usually lurked in quiet corners and only surrounded himself with two friends at the most. His most recent companion had been Marcus, but he was more than sure that was over.
Marcus was only a low level Two. There was no way the State would waste a valuable Third on someone like Marcus. Which was probably why he hadn't been allowed back to the apartment they'd shared and all of his things had been packed up for him. They were scared he would get too attached or Marcus would ask him to stay or something.
Honestly, he was over all that. He'd already let his old life go as a lost cause. And Marcus had only been a friend, though with a few benefits. They hadn't been in love or anything.
"You haven't been enjoying your time with my Family?" Park asked, just a hint of amusement in his voice, though his expression was blank.
"They're fine," Gregor said. He reached out to grab Park's arm. "Let's go eat. You can tell me why you had to leave when you're supposed to be my chaperone. I was left to wallow alone. It was terrible." It was always easier to put on a show when he had a good audience. And Park was more than good.
"You have my sincerest apologies," Park said, leading Gregor across the crowded room to their chairs.
Gregor was able to focus on Park over the tumult of the room around them and it was good not see a familiar face.
He hid his sigh on seeing Zero waiting. He'd been forced to deal with Zero's presence from the first day he'd arrived. The worst thing ever was having to listen to the kid try to pitch some woo. It was painful.
"Ah, Blessed Tierney, I was just beginning to worry about you." Zero stood with a smile, his hands drawing shapes in the air. He was the kind of pretty that was usually found in adverts, with big gray eyes and glossy chestnut hair. "I might have gone in search of you."
Gregor shook his head. "I would hope you would call me on the com first," he said. Though it would be amusing to watch Zero running around, trying to find him in the large Compound.
He sat down and unrolled his linen napkin with his beringed fingers. He'd been dressed tonight in the height of Society fashion, all silk and expensive glorieda lace. He was wearing a fortune on his back and all he felt was pretentious when he'd always dreamed of being fine.