As with the last time, this is pretty raw, unedited material, so I wouldn't necessarily call it my best writing, but I do enjoy the story :) Any comments you guys might have--positive, negative, constructive, etc--is welcome!
Jason was given a clean bill of health three days later and released from the hospital, though Vitas thought very much the man should still be in bed. Sure, Jason could walk around and talk and his concussion had healed, but when he walked he hobbled. Surely a man that injured should still be in the hospital. Mr. Sharpe had the good sense, at least, to tell Jason he couldn’t go back to work yet, so Vitas had some guarantee that Jason would be resting and giving his body the time it needed to heal.
He’d only know the man for a few days, but Vitas got the sense that Jason would push himself too hard just to prove that he could. The man needed some rest. He needed to relax, to not worry about business or the threat looming over his family’s head.
Luckily, Vitas was on hand to make sure he got that rest. Mrs. Sharpe had kicked up a fuss about Jason being released from the hospital, not so much because she was worried about his health but more that she was worried about his safety. She was worried that whoever had hurt Jason in the first place would come back and try to finish the job, and Flynn in an attempt to placate the woman, had assigned Vitas to act as Jason’s bodyguard for the next little while.
Spend time with an attractive man for a few days? It wasn’t like he was going to complain.
When Flynn gave him the assignment, Verity had given Vitas a very knowing look. The best comeback he could come up with was rolling his eyes at her.
Despite what Verity clearly thought, he could keep his mind on the job and he would make sure Jason didn’t suffer any more because of this. Which was how he found himself in the back of a cab with Jason on the way back to Jason’s flat in South Kensington. Jason had tried to insist that he was well enough to take the tube, and Vitas had just laughed at him and called a cab. Sure it made the journey longer, but Vitas knew it would be far more comfortable for Jason.
The cab driver dropped them off outside Jason’s flat and Jason shoved a handful of pound notes at the man while Vitas hefted his bag out of the car. Dusk was falling outside, and the temperature had dropped several degrees. Enough that Vitas was feeling it through the thin jacket he wore. He shoved his hands in his pocket while he watched Jason fumble around with his keys to open the front door to the building. Vitas had the urge to take the keys and do it himself—Jason’s hands were trembling, from the cold or from pain, Vitas wasn’t sure—but he stopped himself. The man was hurt, not dead. He could have the dignity of unlocking his flat by himself.
As soon as Jason got the door open, though, Vitas grabbed hold of it and held it open while Jason hobbled inside.
“What floor are you on?” Vitas asked, stepping inside. The place was posh—far more so than the miniscule little flat he shared with Verity in SoHo. White and black checkered floor. Everything polished to a fine sheen. Vitas had never been in want for money in his life, but standing in the foyer of this building suddenly made him feel poor.
“This place have an lift?”
“Not a very reliable one, but yes,” Jason said, leading the way. “And I can take that bag. There’s no need for you to carry it.”
“Yeah, except you’d likely fall over if I handed it to you,” Vitas said with a smirk. “Come on. Let me be a gentleman to a—”
“Don’t you dare say damsel in distress.”
He laughed. “I was going for handsome crippled man.”
Jason jabbed the up button for lift. “That’s not much better. And I’m not crippled.”
Jason just rolled his eyes and Vitas smiled. He was seeing someone, he knew that, but he didn’t see the harm in this sort of light-hearted banter. Especially when it put Jason in a better mood. The poor sod needed to relax, and he certainly couldn’t do that if he was still worrying about his family the whole time.
The two of them squeezed into the tiny lift and waited the eternity it took to reach the third floor. Vitas figured it probably would have taken just as long to walk up the stairs, but at least this way it wasn’t putting any undo strain on Jason’s body. His face and his arms were still bruised and, while Vitas hadn’t seen him shirtless, he imagined that Jason bore similar bruises on his chest and his back. The medical report said that his ribs had been busted and there had, in the first day or so, been some concern about internal bleeding.
Vitas knew that that sort of damage didn’t heal over night.
He followed Jason out of the lift and waited while he fumbled for the keys again. There were only two doors in the hallway, which considering the size of the building, meant that Jason’s flat would be large.
It turned out large was a bit of an understatement.
Frankly, Vitas thought it was big enough to qualify as a house, and it could easily shelter a family of four. He wondered how Jason didn’t die of loneliness in a place like this. Well, maybe Jason was seeing someone. Maybe he and his boyfriend lived here…or maybe Jason spent most of his time at his lover’s flat.
But Vitas didn’t think Jason was seeing anyone. No one had come to visit him at the hospital, at least. Although, that could be chalked up to the fact that Mr. Sharpe wasn’t exactly thrilled with his son’s lifestyle. Maybe the boyfriend didn’t want to make things harder on Jason by showing up uninvited?
He hoped so. Jason needed someone to look after him.
“This is home sweet home,” Jason said. He locked the door behind them. “You can just go ahead and set that bag down here. I’ll move it to the bedroom later.”
“Where’s your bedroom? I might as well just drop it off now,” he said. He was already walking towards the back of the flat. “Is there anything you need out of here immediately?” he called over his shoulder. “Pain meds or anything?”
“There are some pills in the front pocket. And could you grab my laptop out of there?”
Vitas found the bedroom with little difficulty. It was a large room with an en suite bath. His bed was fastidiously made and his room clean. Vitas paused to look at the pictures on display on Jason’s dresser. The most recent picture was of him and his parents at his graduation, which looked to be a few years ago. Another picture showed Jason in a pub, decked out in Man U gear, laughing at a table with a bunch of blokes his age. He looked relaxed and happy. The upbeat atmosphere of the pub probably contributed to that.
Verity had tried to explain it to him once. As an empath, she was always aware of how other people were feeling. When she was surrounded by people who were down and stressed and depressed, she said it was like she was wearing lead clothes. She felt weighed down. It was harder to work on people’s positive emotions, and she always ended up feeling tired and drained by the end. Being in a crowd of ecstatic people, though, that had the opposite fact. She called it getting drunk off people’s happiness.
From the look of it, it seemed Jason experienced a similar phenomenon.
He set the bag down on Jason’s bed and pulled out the bottle of pills from the front pocket and the laptop and power chord from the main pocket. He went back to the front room, pleased to see that Jason had taken it upon himself to lay down on the couch. His feet were propped up on the arm rest, and he had a pillow shoved under his head. Vitas set down the pills and the computer on a nearby table.
Jason craned his head to get a better view of Vitas. “You don’t have to cater to me like this, you know,” he said. “My mum just wants to be sure that someone’s not going to try to murder me in my sleep.”
“You’re hurt,” Vitas said. “You need someone to look after you. Deal with it.”
Jason grabbed his laptop and booted it up. “Help yourself to some food if you’re hungry. The kitchen’s the first door on the left.”
“To be honest, I’m not much of a cook.”
“Hmm,” Jason said as he typed in the password for his computer.
“I was just thinking that it was about time I discovered something you were bad at. You were beginning to seem too perfect.”
Vitas wasn’t sure if he was imagining the faint blush on Jason’s skin. He smiled. “Who needs cooking skills when you’ve got everything else?”
“Are people attracted to that sort of arrogance?”
Vitas’s knee-jerk response was to say, “Why? Aren’t you?” But there was a difference between harmless flattery and leading someone on, and that wasn’t a line he wanted to cross. Not when it would only hurt Jason and Spence in the end. So instead he threw himself down on a nearby armchair, hoping that Jason wouldn’t mind him being rough on the furniture. “Are you hungry? I might not be a cook, but I have spent years developing the skills required to phone in for some food.”
“I should probably eat,” he said. “Three days worth of hospital fare isn’t much to survive on. I’ve got a menu for a Chinese takeout place in the kitchen if you want to go ahead and order.”
“Chinese it is,” Vitas said. “Any requests?”
Vitas laughed. A man after his own heart, it seemed. As he walked toward the kitchen, he glanced to see what Jason was doing on his laptop. He had his email open, and Vitas was willing to bet money that he was answering emails from work.
He shook his head as he entered the kitchen, finding the takeout menu stuck on the fridge with a magnet. It was worn around the edges, like Jason spent more time ordering off that menu than he did cooking. Poor sod. Vitas was beginning to think that if he hadn’t had the living daylights beat out of him, he never would have taken a break.
After Vitas stepped out to pick up the food—taking the handful of cash that Jason shoved at him with protest—Jason leveraged himself off the couch and hobbled to the toilet. It hurt to move. Hell, it hurt to blink, and the pain medication he had only dulled the sharpest edges of the pain. If he tried taking more to get rid of the pain completely, it left him feeling foggy headed.
He didn’t like feeling foggy headed. It felt too much like not being in control.
And with Vitas around, he wanted to feel like he had some semblance of control. The man just swept in and started taking care of things, which wasn’t anything Jason was used to. He’d lived alone for too long. He’d forgotten what it was to have someone in his home, to be concerned with his well-being.
It was almost like being in a relationship.
Jason shoved the thought from his mind. Vitas wasn’t interested. He was too good looking. He probably was already seeing someone. He was only caring and attentive because he was being paid to be so.
So did Mum pay him to flirt with you too?
He shook his head. He had probably imagined that to begin with. Vitas was just being friendly.
But, dammit, talking with him felt far too much like flirting. Not that Jason would really know. He’d been so busy recently that he felt like he hadn’t had the chance to flirt with anyone in months. And it’d been even longer since he’d done anything more substantial than flirt and kiss. His last serious relationship had been in college…
He was being foolish. He was hurting and he was lonely. It was making him think mad things.
But maybe he wasn’t thinking mad things. Maybe he was seeing the signs and reading the hints and interpreting them correctly for a chance. Maybe his mother going overprotective on him and hiring him a bodyguard would be the best thing for him. He was sick of coming home from work to an empty flat. Sick of going not having anyone to talk to over dinner. Sick of going to bed alone…
He splashed some cold water on his face. That was a dangerous line of thought. He barely knew the man. He couldn’t be thinking about that.
In the front of the flat, he heard the door open and shut again. He almost stumbled back when he felt Vitas’s emotions, which always seemed very close to the surface. Irritation. Hurt. Anger. His first instinct was to reach out and soothe some of the sharper edges of those emotions, but he stopped himself. Not only was it intrusive and none of his business, his head was aching bad enough to make him think he shouldn’t be trying anything with his gift to begin with.
Besides, while he was sensitive to other people’s emotions, he wasn’t much good at influencing them unless he knew the other person well. And he’d only know Vitas a handful of days.
He heard Vitas’s voice, sharp and clear, from the other room. He was on the phone. “Look, I know. We haven’t seen each other all week, but—”
Something cut him off.
“I told you, Spence.” Frustration laced with desperation. “That job I was working the other night is complicated. It’s turned into a bigger thing than I anticipated. I’m with the client now—”
Rage, red and hot, slammed into Jason. He gripped the edge of the sink to keep upright.
“Don’t talk about me like I’m some sort of prostitute.” Another pause. “I am not—”
He heard Vitas let out a slow breath.
“I am not cheating on you, Spence…Well, for one, if I were cheating, I’d be a bit more clever about it!…I’m trying, Spence, but I’ve told you from the beginning—I work odd hours and my schedule can change at a moment’s notice. It’s not like I’m asking my boss to call me up when we have dates planned…”
The anger seemed to be draining out of Vitas, and welling up in it’s place was weariness and a little bit of heartache.
“You know I’d love to, Spence, but this is kind of a twenty-four hour gig at the moment. I can’t leave—” Another pause. Another small spike of anger. “Why? Because someone’s life could on the line right now, Spence, and as much as I love you, I’m not sure I could live with myself if I abandoned my post and the client got killed because of it…Yes, it is as serious as all that…Spencer, Spencer, I love you. You know that, right? And I would do anything in my power to keep you from getting hurt, but this…this is out of my control. I swear, when this whole thing is over, I’ll make it up to you. We can, I dunno, go on a trip or something…Yes, I know I can’t just magically make this better…Please, can we not argue right now? I’m supposed to be working right now…Yes…I’ll call when I…Yes…I love you.”
Silence. Something like heartache lingered in the air, and Jason shoved aside his own hurt feelings over this whole mess. Of course Vitas was dating someone. Someone as good looking as him didn’t not have a boyfriend. All Vitas’s friendly banter was just that…just him being friendly, and Jason had been foolish to read anything else into it. Foolish to think that maybe someone was flirting with him.
Maybe he could blame all his confusion and foolishness on the concussion…
He hobbled back out to the front room, annoyed at how slowly he moved now. Vitas had collapsed onto the armchair, the takeout sitting in neat little boxes at his feet. His long legs were stretched out in front of him and he was rubbing his face with one hand.
“Is everything okay?” Jason asked.
“Shouldn’t you be resting?”
He lowered himself onto the sofa, trying to ignore the way his sore muscles protested. “I got up to piss. Is there a problem with that?”
“You shouldn’t be moving around like that. We can get you a jar to piss in.”
“How about no,” Jason said. “Was that your boyfriend on the phone?”
A sheepish expression crossed Vitas’s face. “You heard that?”
“It was kind of hard not to.”
“Sorry about that,” Vitas said, dragging his hand through his hair so that it stood at rakish angle. “I’ve just had to cancel a lot of plans on him recently, and he’s not too pleased about it.”
“Because of me.”
“Because of work,” Vitas said. “You are a happy consequence of work.”
Jason didn’t like the cloud of turmoil that seemed to linger over Vitas. Didn’t like that he’d put the other man in this position. “You know, I’ve got a spare room here. If…if you and your boyfriend want a place to crash together, I really don’t mind. It’s not fair to you to keep you holed up in here by yourself because my uncle has a gambling problem.”
What the hell was he saying? Did he really just offer up his flat for Vitas and a complete stranger to shack up in? What the hell was his problem? He couldn’t believe he just said that.
Vitas just gave him a strange look, which only reaffirmed to Jason that he just the most daft thing imaginable. “Maybe you should lie down for a bit,” Vitas said, struggling to keep a smirk off his face. “And this place has a spare room? It’s more massive than I thought. Don’t you get lonely?”
“It hasn’t been so bad since I got a dog.”
“My uncle took him in while I was in the hospital. Said it was the least he could do—”
“Damn straight it was the least he could do.”
“He texted me a little while ago, said he’d bring Zeus by tonight.”
“I didn’t see your uncle at all at the hospital.”
“I don’t think my parents wanted him around.”
“Can’t say I blame them, not with you getting the tar beat out of you because of him,” Vitas said. He stood up. “But enough of this. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving. How about I bring a table in here and we eat here so you don’t have to strain yourself moving around anymore than you have to?”
Vitas got up to get the table before Jason could even acknowledge the idea. He watched Vitas walk down the hall and into the kitchen to get the table and tried to ignore the slight pang of sadness in his heart that came with the knowledge that Vitas already belonged to someone else.
It was half nine when Uncle Benjamin finally came round. Jason was half asleep on the couch, vaguely trying to pay attention to the TV show Vitas had turned on. It was some sort of crime drama, and Vitas kept pointing out all the inaccuracies in the show. When the doorbell rang, Jason stirred to heft himself off the couch, but Vitas was already on his feet, waving at Jason to keep him on the couch. Vitas peered through the peep hole.
“Man with a dog?”
“That would be my uncle. Go ahead and let him in.”
Vitas pulled the door open wide enough so that Benjamin would get a good view of Jason on the couch. Jason suspected that it was Vitas’s attempt to make Benjamin feel guilty, but Jason wasn’t so sure it would work. Jason opened his mouth to greet his uncle, but before he could say a word, Zeus—his year old black and white border collie—jerked the leash out of Benjamin’s hand and rushed to him on the couch.
Jason laughed—for the first time in what felt like days—as Zeus licked his face. He buried his hands in the dog’s thick fur. He hadn’t realized how much he missed his dog until just now. He scooted over on the couch and patted the cushion, inviting Zeus up onto the couch with him.
“You let the dog on the couch?” Vitas said. He was still at the door, holding it open and Benjamin was standing out in the hall, as though unsure if he was welcome.
“Of course I let him on the couch.” Zeus stretched out beside him and didn’t even try to climb on top of him like he normally would. Jason smirked. Border collies were smart dogs. Without being told, Zeus knew that he was injured. “And you can come in, Uncle Ben.”
“I didn’t realize you were seeing someone, Jase,” Benjamin said, stepping inside. He shrugged out of his coat and hung it on the coat tree by the door.
Vitas shut the door behind him.
“What?” Jason said. He was trying to unclip the collar from around Zeus’s neck. He turned to look at his uncle. “You mean…Vitas and me…? Oh, we’re not…he’s not…I…we’re not dating,” he finished lamely.
Cor, he hoped his bruises would cover the fact that he was blushing.
Vitas smiled at Benjamin. It was the least friendly expression Jason had ever seen. It almost looked…threatening. “I’m the muscle his mother hired to make sure he doesn’t get hurt again,” Vitas said.
“Ellie hired you a babysitter?”
Jason smiled again. “Bodyguard, not babysitter. Vitas isn’t a fourteen year old girl.”
“Clearly,” Benjamin muttered.
Jason felt the slightest wave of irritation from Vitas. Time to change the subject. “Make yourself comfortable, Uncle Benjamin. How have you been? Do you want some tea or something?” He started to push himself upright. “I can get you some tea.”
An invisible force shoved Jason back against the couch. Vitas stalked by him. “Stay put,” he muttered. “I can get the damn tea.”
Benjamin watched Vitas leave before turning his attention back to Jason. “You’re looking a little rough there, Jase.”
The smile slid off his face. He kept his hands occupied in Zeus’s fur. “Yeah, some men stopped me on the street to talk about your gambling problem. Unfortunately, they wanted to talk more with their fists than with their mouths.”
“You have no idea how wretched I feel about this,” Benjamin said. “I had no idea they’d try to target you like this. You have to believe me, Jason.”
Did he really? Part of him wanted to be furious at Benjamin. Wanted to be mean and spiteful that his uncle had been the cause of so much pain, but he couldn’t muster the energy that seemed to require at the moment. He never could stay mad at his uncle for long. “Of course I believe you, Uncle Ben, but this has to stop. You see that, don’t you?”
“I’m trying, Jason. I swear, I am. I’m not going to let you get hurt like this again.”
“My parents have already seen to that,” Jason said, gesturing back towards the kitchen. “They did what they were supposed to—they talked to the authorities to get this taken care of. It’s what you should have done months ago.”
“It’s not as easy as that, Jase.”
“It’s not? I’m pretty sure my parents handled it with a phone call.”
“It’s different for them,” Benjamin said. “They don’t have as much at stake as I do.”
“Benjamin, I just spent the last three days in the hospital because of you. I think we all have a lot at stake at this point.”
“But it’s not like you could end up in prison for that.” There was something about the earnestness in Benjamin’s speech, in his body language. He whole heartedly believed what he was saying. Like most addicts, he had deluded himself into thinking that he had this under control.
Jason sighed. He wanted to trust his uncle. He wanted all of this to just go away, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. “So you’d rather me end up in the hospital again—or heaven forbid a morgue—than face the consequences?”
“Don’t put it like that, Jason,” Benjamin said. “You know I never wanted you to get hurt.”
“But I did get hurt. This is out of control. You need to do something about it.”
“I’m trying,” he said again. “Once they get their money, they’ll stop.”
“None of us have that kind of money, Uncle Ben.”
Jason felt a flicker of unease, but it was gone as soon as he noticed it. He had money. Since he didn’t have a family to take care of or much of a social life to maintain, he put most of his money into savings. He invested some of it, but only safe investments. He wasn’t the sort to take risks. But even with the his father’s company struggling, Jason knew he had a substantial chunk of change to fall back on if he needed it.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to cover Benjamin’s debt.
“Not that much money.”
“If I can just get them a little, they’ll hold off for a while. They’ll give me time to scape together the rest of it.”
He was desperate. Jason could practically taste the fear Benjamin had of these people.
Jason was saved from responding when Vitas returned with three mugs of tea. Jason cradled his mug in his hand, not bothering to drink it but taking comfort in the warmth it offered. For a moment, there was silence in the room. Benjamin clearly wasn’t comfortable talking about his financial issues in front of Vitas, for which Jason was grateful. He knew it seemed weak and cowardly, but he was glad that Vitas could stand as a wall between him and Benjamin for the minute.
He loved his uncle, he did. Benjamin had always been fond of him, had always made time for him. But at the moment, Jason just saw a man who was willing to use him. A man who had allowed people to stalk him for weeks, allowed people to abduct him and brutalize him…all so he could escape the negative consequences of his actions. He wanted his uncle to step up and accept responsibility for a change.
And at the same time, part of Jason—the part that didn’t like confrontation and didn’t like upsetting people when it could be helped—wanted to grab his checkbook and write a check to solve Benjamin’s problems.
“Vitas,” Benjamin said after a few minutes of silence, “would you be so kind as to get me <something> out of the kitchen?”
“I’m not your waiter,” Vitas said.
“It’s fine,” Jason said. He put his cup on the ground and grabbed the back of the couch to pull himself up. “I can get it.”
“You’re supposed to be resting,” Vitas said sharply. “I’ll get it.”
When it was just the two of them alone in the room, Benjamin spoke again. “I don’t even need that much, Jason. Just a couple thousand.”
“When’s this going to end, Benjamin?”
“As soon as I get the money. I swear. I’ll get help for the gambling, anything you want.”
“This is more than just money,” Jason said. “These people aren’t going to be satisfied with a few thousand pounds every couple of weeks.”
“You don’t know them like I do.”
“I don’t know them? Uncle Ben, I spent four quality hour with them. I think I know them pretty well.” He gripped the top of the couch and hoisted himself into a sitting position. He grimaced when his body protested. Zeus resettled himself on his lap. “Do you have any idea what it was like for me?”
“I was so scared for you when I found you outside my flat.”
“You were scared?” Jason repeated. “I was terrified. I thought that they were going to kill me, Benjamin.” Or do something worse than kill him. The men had certainly threatened it. Between all the slurs had been the threats about making him “take it up the ass” because they were sure that a gay man like him would just be begging for it. In the end, they hadn’t gone so far as to rape him because they hadn’t wanted to “sully” themselves. “And it didn’t help that I was panicking so much that I could barely breathe. If they didn’t kill me, I was sure I was going to asphyxiate.”
The terror that came of pain and the inability to breathe had hobbled him far more than the pain itself had.
“Your asthma?” Benjamin said. That look of parental concern was back. “I thought you had that mostly under control.”
“So did I,” he said. “I guess getting grabbed off the street and beaten half to death isn’t one of my normal stressors.”
“I’m so sorry,” Benjamin said. It was the first time he’d apologized since coming over. “I never wanted this to happen. I don’t know how I can begin to make it up to you.”
“You could start by taking responsibility for this. Turn yourself in. The police will protect you.”
Benjamin shook his head. “They’d still want their money, and then I wouldn’t be in a position to help you.” He hesitated for a moment. Jason could feel the emotions at war in him. “Please, Jase, just a few thousand to—”
“I think it’s time for you to leave,” Vitas said, coming back into the room. “It’s getting late, and as a matter of safety we want to have the flat locked down by ten.”
The door swung open and Benjamin got to his feet—though by the shock of surprise Jason felt from him, he was sure it wasn’t entirely of his own accord—and the same invisible force propelled Benjamin through the door. His coat followed him outside before the door slammed shut.
So Vitas was a telekinetic. Jason had been wondering, since obviously the other man would have to be an Organic to work for the Covenant.
“There was no need to be rude,” Jason said. He pulled Zeus more into his lap, wanting the comfort of something warm and soft. He felt to emotionally battered to be dealing with any of this right now.
“Were you really going to give him that money?”
“What does it matter to you if I was?”
“Just seems like a stupid thing to do,” Vitas said. “You know he’d just end up spending it, don’t you?”
“What I do with my money is my own business.”
“This bloke landed you in the hospital. Why would you even want to give him money?”
“I don’t like seeing people upset and the money would have helped. He’s desperate. But nothing happened, so you can just drop it, okay?”
“The money would have made him feel better, but it would have made you feel miserable.”
“So don’t you see that there’s something wrong with that? You’re too much of a people-pleaser.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the people around you happy.”
“There is when it makes you unhappy.”
“Making other people happy makes me happy.”
“Haven’t you ever just thought about what you want and your happiness instead of everyone else’s?”
“I want to make other people happy.”
“So what? You’re just going let people like him walk all over you for the rest of your life? Don’t you see what’s wrong with that?”
Jason stood up. It was a cumbersome gesture, so he doubted it looked as powerful as it did in his mind. “Stop trying to analyze me, Vitas. I’ve got a degree in psychology, so I know I’ve got my issues. I don’t need you pointing them out to me.” He patted the side of his leg to get Zeus’s attention. “Now, if you don’t mind, I need to feed my dog.”