Jensen pushes open the employee entrance to Dmitry “D” Dubrovsky’s gentleman’s show lounge, the tastefully named Double D’s. He stands in the small alcove for a moment, takes in the scene.
It’s Thursday night and the club is packed. This is D’s classiest strip joint, the kind of place that sells $15 martinis and single-malt scotch, and it caters to businessmen and professionals. It’s pretty much wall to wall dress shirts rolled to the elbows and loosened ties, with the occasional woman in the audience proving to her co-workers that she can hang with the boys.
Onstage, Angelique and Cherry are working their double act, peeling off each other’s clothes in time to the loud, grinding music and making out in ways that Jensen’s pretty sure are against code.
His eyes drift around the club, looking for signs of trouble. Jared’s posted on the other side of the room, arms folded over his chest, muscles bulging out of his grey t-shirt. His eyes meet Jensen’s for a second, and he gives a tiny nod of acknowledgement.
Dammit, Jensen thinks. He’d left Jared at least five messages telling him to skip work tonight. Probably Jared’s new puppy had eaten another damn cell phone.
Jared has his work face firmly in place as he scans the room, the stage, the crowd. Although he’s leaning against the wall in an attitude of calm boredom, Jensen can tell he’s coiled and ready for anything.
You would never know by looking that his smile is incandescent, that he sometimes laughs so hard he barks like a seal. That he has the deepest, loveliest dimples when he’s happy, really happy.
Not here though. Not in D’s territory. Here he was a professional, like Jensen, and they pretended to be only passing acquaintances. It was safer that way.
Jensen had entered Double D’s tonight with every intention of telling the Dubrovskys to go fuck themselves, but now he’s thinking he should wait till Jared’s stashed someplace safe. He doesn’t think anyone knows about their relationship, they’ve been so very careful, but D has eyes everywhere.
D’s younger brother Niko is sitting in his corner booth, watching the show. Jensen crosses the room and sits down, thinking not for the first time that Niko prefers this booth because it’s hard for his visitors to sit down or stand up gracefully. It gives him an edge, or so Niko thinks, but Jensen is unperturbed. He figured out Niko’s trick after his first visit to the club and now he perches on the edge of the large circular booth. If Niko wants to hear what he has to say, he can come to Jensen.
Jensen and Niko watch the women writhe together onstage. Angelique and Cherry are still a big draw these days, but Jensen knows how this plays out. The crowd of regulars will start to get a little bored with their routine or their tits and want something new. And D will find a place for them in one of his seedier clubs, shuffling his dancers around until sooner or later they all end up dancing for peanuts at Leave it to Beavers.
Not all of them, of course. Some actually are grad students who go on to better things, and some manage to dance for awhile and then move away from D’s ring of clubs entirely. But the girls who stick around a little too long somehow end up in debt to D, unable to shake him, and he runs them through his businesses until they’re used up and worn out.
But that’s not Jensen’s problem. Not tonight, at least.
“I need to speak to your brother,” Jensen says as the strippers make their way backstage to loud cheering.
“He’s not here.”
“Bullshit, I know he’s upstairs. He’s always upstairs.”
Niko raises a hand and a glass of vodka appears in front of him.
“Was there something wrong with the last shipment you transported for us?”
“You’re goddamn right there was!” Jensen hisses, still trying to control his rage, have this out later.
Niko smiles softly, but there is no amusement in his cool grey eyes.
“You do realize you’ve made that particular run for us several times by now, yes?”
Jensen feels sick to his stomach. He does know. It’s a pretty standard run from New York to Chicago that he makes two or three times a year.
This is the first time he hung around long enough to see what was unloaded.
“This was not what I signed up for,” he says.
“People do not stop working for my brother, not until he no longer needs them. You are still useful. You are his best driver.”
“Not anymore. Fuck you, Niko.” Jensen pushes out of the booth and strides towards the door without a backward glance, wishing he had some way to tell Jared to make tracks. He hopes Jared isn’t watching him leave.
Jared watches Jensen push through the employee exit and tries to figure out what’s going on. When he talked to Jensen last night he’d been in a great mood, promising Jared a solid week of mind-blowing sex and steak dinners. Now Jared can tell from 20 feet away that he is seething.
Jared had been working at Double D’s for a little over a week the first time he saw Jensen. Jared had taken one look at Jensen’s model face and cat-like grace and had directed him backstage.
“What?” Jensen had snapped, irritated.
“The dressing room is that way.”
Jensen had looked around, realized it was the club’s bimonthly Ladies Night.
He gave Jared a flinty look that might have made Jared shrivel if he wasn’t being paid to look like a badass, so instead he drew himself up to his full height and returned Jensen’s glare.
“Who the fuck are you?” Jensen had asked.
“Who wants to know?”
Jensen stepped into his space and said “I’m Jensen, you fucking moron, and I work for Dubrovsky himself. I am not a goddamn stripper.”
“Then go do your job and let me do mine,” Jared had growled, and Jensen had turned and stalked off to find Niko.
Fucking fuck, Jared had thought. After all, it hadn’t taken Jared more than a few days to figure out Dubrovsky trafficked in more than strippers and booze; too many shady characters stopped in and out of the club to see Niko and occasionally the man upstairs. And now he’d made an enemy of one of Dubrovsky’s thugs. By assuming he was a stripper.
Jared would have laughed if he weren’t afraid of being shot.
Now it’s a running joke between them, Jared occasionally stuffing bills into Jensen’s boxers as he dresses, asking how much for a lap dance.
Even for a busy Thursday Jared’s job is pretty easy. Not much happens at Double D’s, not on the floor anyway. Jared’s picked up shifts for bouncers at some of the other clubs run by the Dubrovsky brothers, knows what a struggle it is to keep customers from pawing at the women who work at Beavers. So the uneasy feeling in his stomach has nothing to do with the clientele, and everything to do with the cryptic look Jensen had shot him when he’d arrived.
Probably Jared should have made more of an effort to get his phone replaced, but Lola had only eaten it that afternoon and he’d spent the rest of the day anxiously watching to see if she would get sick.
“Hey J-rad, I’m s’posed to spell you. Boss wants to see you.”
Jared is surprised to see Antoine walking up to him. As tall as Jared and twice as wide, Antoine’s presence usually makes even the rowdiest crowds more docile, which is why he’s usually stuck working the dives across town.
His stomach tightens as he wonders again what kind of mess Jensen’s gotten himself into.
“Nah, man, the big boss.”
Fuck. He’d only met with D a couple of times, and each encounter left him feeling like he’d been having a sit-down with a python. Dude was a stone-cold predator and Jared tried to stay way below D’s radar.
Antoine raised his eyebrows. “What do you think?”
“Right.” He starts towards the back staircase, dodging customers and cocktail waitresses wearing only tiny sequined skirts and suspenders.
“Hey sailor,” says a voice by his elbow and he looks down and smiles.
“Hiya, Cherry. Good show.”
She laughs. “I get the feeling it’s not really your thing, but thanks. Buy a girl a drink?”
“Love to, but I got a meeting with the big guy upstairs.”
They both laugh, both sounding a little uneasy. “I really hope not,” Jared says.
“Well, good luck. And you know,” she stands up on her tiptoes to lean in closer, “you can call me Danneel.”
Jared smiles. “Not on the floor darling. These bozos don’t need to know your real name.”
He leaves Danneel to make her rounds and continues threading his way towards the upper offices.
Jensen walks into their row house to see Jared’s new puppy standing in the entryway, doing her full-body happy-dance tail wag, and he sighs.
“I know you didn’t mean it, Lola,” he says, picking up the squirmy yellow Lab, “but you gotta stop eating Jared’s phones. He kinda needs them.”
Lola wriggles around to lick his face.
“Yeah, all right. Food first, lecture later.” He sets her down and walks into the kitchen, trying to quell the anxious not right not right feeling in his gut. At least he and Jared have been careful to keep D and the other Dubrovskys out of their personal lives. Nobody knows they’re together, nobody knows they’re in love.
The second time he’d seen the new bouncer, Jensen was rested, freshly laid, and in a much better mood than he’d been two weeks earlier—no longer tense as a piano wire, exhausted, and tasked with delivering bad news to D. So when his eyes adjusted to the darkened club, he realized that the annoying new guy who thought Jensen was a stripper was actually hot. Like, seriously hot.
Jensen nodded at him as he pushed his way to the bar, and the bouncer nodded back, looking surprised.
“Hey, who’s the new guy?” Jensen asked, tilting his head in the bouncer’s direction.
Blake poured him a double whiskey. “Who, him? Some college kid, I think. Name’s Jared, maybe?”
“He looks kind of…”
“Innocent?” Blake supplied. “Yeah, man, he’s gonna get eaten alive.”
“So when’s Niko getting in?” Jensen asked. “He wants me to drive his new girl around for a few days.”
“That seems like a waste of talent.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” Jensen rolled his eyes. “I fucking hate babysitting.” He downed his drink and swiveled in his seat to take in the floor while he waited, keeping half an eye on Niko’s empty booth and half an eye on the bouncer. Jared’s eyes moved over the crowd, the stage, the bar, never resting on the strippers or waitresses any longer than anybody else.
Could be Jared was just extremely professional, Jensen thought. Or it could be that he wasn’t too much into the ladies.
Jared pushes open the door to Dubrovsky’s office and is waved towards one of the stiff wooden chairs across from the desk. It’s hard and small but he refuses to move or shift or indicate any discomfort.
D is flanked by his two usual bodyguards, standing behind him like big ugly bookends. Jared can never remember their names; in his head they’re always Hans and Franz.
Nobody speaks for several minutes. D shuffles papers around on his desk. Jared fights his natural inclination to babble nonsensically in awkward situations. He hears Jensen in his head, saying “Don’t speak first, Jared, especially if you didn’t call the meeting. You don’t need to give those fuckers anything they can use against you.”
Jesus Jen, Jared thinks. What the hell did you step in?
Finally Dubrovsky looks up. “Drink?”
“No thank you sir, I’m still working.”
Hans pours him a glass of whiskey over ice. Jared picks it up and turns it around in his hand.
“Mr. Padalecki, how long have you been working at Double D’s?”
“About a year.”
“Have you considered moving up in our little organization?”
“Not really, Mr. Dubrovsky. I like my job.”
“Big guy like you, I bet we could find you something better. More lucrative, hmm? You’d make a much nicer looking bodyguard than either of these guys.” Dubrovsky smiles as he points a thumb over his shoulder towards Franz, but there’s no warmth in his laughter.
Jared doesn’t say anything. After a moment, Dubrovsky nods at Jared’s untouched glass.
Jared carefully sets the glass down on the ornate walnut desk. Immediately he’s surrounded by 500 pounds of security, each guard gripping him under an arm and hauling him to his feet. Jared struggles and groans as his left arm is wrenched behind his back.
“What, I didn’t use a coaster?” he asks through gritted teeth.
Mr. Dubrovsky moves around the desk and stands in front of Jared. His eyes are ice chips, cold as a polar cap.
“Your boyfriend’s stepping out of line Mr. Padalecki, and it’s starting to piss me off.”
“What boyfriend?” he gasps as his arm is yanked even higher.
“Don’t play stupid. It’s undignified.”
Jared tries to twist out of the hold but Franz is slamming an elbow into his spine and Hans is slapping cold handcuffs around his wrists, hard enough to bite.
“What the fuck?” Jared cries in surprise, trying to twist out of the cuffs. A punch to the eye overbalances him and he goes down hard, slamming his temple on the hardwood floor.
He’s still thrashing but his arms are locked behind his back and Hans is sitting heavy on his legs. Whatever was in the whiskey gets shoved into his mouth with a medicine dropper, and the last stupid thought Jared has is of taking Lola to get de-wormed.
Jensen is sitting at the kitchen table weighing his options as Lola runs around his feet like a caffeinated toddler.
He does not like being helpless, and right now it feels like D has his balls in a vice grip. If he tries to contact Jared at the club, it might tip off the Dubrovskys that they have something he values.
But if they already know that, sitting and waiting for Jared to come home is just wasting time.
It’s the uncertainty that’s making him crazy, not the waiting. A good driver is able to wait until signaled, sometimes for long hours, whether it’s for a pickup, or during a meet, or idling in the getaway vehicle.
He loves the thrill of the chase, of course he does, loves coaxing everything he can from a car, till he’s not sure where his hands end and the steering wheel begins, till the pedals are extensions of his legs. It’s an electric feeling, but not a sensation Jensen pursues. The best drivers slip completely unnoticed in and out of traffic, parking lots, dingy alleys. And Jensen’s one of the best.
So he sits, and he waits. He lights a cigarette, knowing Jared will give him hell for it. Hoping Jared can give him hell for it. He stubs it out on a chipped coffee cup and lights another.
Finally at 11 o’clock, he decides to call Cherry. She’s always been fond of Jared and he guesses she’s one of the least traitorous of the lot that work at Double D’s.
She answers on the second ring, snaps “What? I’m about to go on.”
“Cherry, it’s Jensen. Is Jared still around?”
“Why do you care?”
He closes his eyes. It’s nice that she’s protective of Jared, but this really isn’t the time.
“Please,” he says simply.
She’s quiet a moment, considering, then finally says “Last I saw, he was heading up the back staircase. ‘Bout an hour ago.”
He can’t quite hide the tremor in his voice as he thanks her and hangs up.
The third time Jensen had seen the new bouncer, they were in a dive bar a few blocks from the club, neutral territory. Jared was sipping a beer and watching San Antonio beat the Bulls, smiling every time the Spurs scored.
Jensen had sat down next to him and ordered a whiskey.
“So, how’d a good Texan like you end up this far north?” he asked.
Jared gave him a wary look. “Lucky, I guess. So you’re—”
“—not a stripper,” Jensen finished.
They both laughed, the coolness between them thawing.
“Jensen,” he said finally.
They watched the end of the game, neither commenting on how their arms occasionally brushed against each other, holding contact for a second too long. As they were settling up and heading out, Jared leaned over and whispered, “I’ve been dying to get my mouth on your dick since the first night I saw you.”
Jensen felt a hot stab of lust in his belly as he pictured Jared on his knees, bobbing up and down on his cock. He groaned softly, even as he squeezed Jared’s forearm, hard, and said, “You should be careful who you say that kinda stuff to.”
Jared bit his lip uncertainly, probably waiting to see if Jensen would punch him.
“My place,” he said as he pulled Jared out the door. “Now.”
Jensen is dialing D’s private number when the phone rings in his hand. He thumbs it on and waits.
“Jensen,” D says, his voice all honey and razor blades. “Niko says you were dissatisfied with your last transport?”
“It wasn’t exactly what we agreed on,” he says, fear for Jared’s safety helping him control his temper.
“I thought we agreed that you deliver products for me and I pay you handsomely for that service.”
“I guess I didn’t realize what sort of products you were moving around.”
D laughs. “You do not strike me as naïve, Jensen.”
“Look, let’s just agree to go our separate ways, lose each other’s numbers.”
“If that is truly what you want, Jensen. I do not like to have unhappy employees hanging about, they tend to bring down morale.”
Jensen feels a tiny flare of hope in his chest, foolish as that is.
“Just one more job perhaps, and then we can, as you say, lose each other’s numbers.”
“One more job?”
“Yes, I need you to bring me something. And in exchange, I’ll give you back what you’re missing.”
“What I’m missing?” Jensen asks, trying to play dumb. Blood pounds in his ears and it’s suddenly a struggle to breathe.
D sounds amused. “If you don’t know what you’re missing, maybe you don’t want it back as badly as I’d presumed.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jensen stalls, snagging his car keys and looking around for his wallet.
“Or perhaps you’d like to get it back in pieces? Distasteful and messy, but not such a difficult task. Did I ever tell you my grandfather was a butcher back in Samara?”
Jensen’s stomach drops. “Please…”
“So you are done playing the idiot?”
“Yes. Please. What do you want?”
“I need you to pick up a man, a certain Max Collins, and drive him to me. Simple, yes?”
“You don’t need me for that. Anyone can do that.”
“Get in your car and drive east. I will call with further instructions.”
Jared wakes up in a small windowless room, lying on a narrow camping bed, the type of which he’d outgrown by the time he was 14. His elbows are bent, wrists handcuffed over his head to the metal bed frame, hands numb from the awkward position. He has a raging headache and a mouth that feels like cotton. He yanks at the cuffs but they give about as much as he’d expected.
He has no idea how long he’s been out, whether it’s night or day.
Perhaps most distressing of all, somebody stripped him down to his boxers while he was passed out. His Scooby Doo boxers, of course. Like this wasn’t humiliating enough.
Well, fuck, he thinks. This is not turning out to be one of his better days.
Obviously, he should have left the club the minute he was summoned, but he’d had no warning that anything was wrong.
It’s tempting to blame Jensen for his current predicament, but he shuts that line of thinking down quickly. This is not Jensen’s fault. Jared should have sensed the danger on his own, and he sure as shit should have replaced his goddamn cell phone.
Besides, Jensen had tried to persuade Jared to leave the Dubrovskys’ employ dozens of times.
“Rule number 2,” Jensen had said one afternoon several months back. He was splayed out on the bed, eyes closed, and Jared was licking up the last of Jensen’s come from his soft cock.
“Hmm?” he’d asked, confused, as he crawled along Jensen’s body till they were side by side staring at the ceiling.
“Rule number 2 is don’t—”
“You skipped rule number 1.” Jared rolled over so he could take in the clean lines of Jensen’s profile, how the rays of the setting sun caught his hair and turned it red.
“Rule number 1 is don’t work for the Bratva.”
“Yeah. So rule number 2, don’t speak first, Jared, especially if you didn’t call the meeting. You don’t need to give those fuckers anything they can use against you. Don’t offer anything about yourself, don’t make small talk. Everything your mama taught you about making polite conversation? Forget it.”
“Yeah, okay. Don’t speak,” Jared had said, amused, propping his head up on his hand.
“I’m serious, J. I wish you’d just fucking quit. Plenty of clubs need a big guy to stand around and look like a wounded puppy.”
“Fine. Plenty of clubs need someone to stand around and look like a…healthy puppy.”
Jared dug a thumb into the ticklish spot under Jensen’s rib and Jensen laughed.
“Anyway, if I quit, who’s gonna watch your back?”
Jensen had blown out a breath. “I don’t need you to watch my back.”
“Somebody should,” Jared said, tenderly fingering the bruise on Jensen’s right cheek. “Anyway, I’ll quit when you quit.”
And then Jared had pressed himself against Jensen, his own erection demanding attention, and the conversation had been dropped for the moment.
Jared’s thoughts are confused and cottony as he lies on the narrow bed, arms straining, trying to remember rules 3 and 4. Probably something along the lines of “Don’t get your ass kidnapped by the Russian mafia.”
The door opens and he jerks against the cuffs.
“Franz?” Jared mumbles, voice thick and throat scratchy.
“Is actually Viktor.” Franz walks in and closes the door behind him.
“Right. Viktor.” Jared licks his lips. “You gonna let me go, Viktor?”
He hears a strange thump through the thin walls of his cell, and then he hears a woman screaming.
“Viktor?” He pulls on the cuffs, feeling panicky and nauseated. “Where the fuck am I?”
Jared hears more screams, thinks about how one barking dog soon results in every mutt in the neighborhood yapping and howling.
“Viktor!” he shouts, joining the chorus himself.
“Is, how you say, bordello?” And then Viktor pulls a syringe from his pocket and Jared knows he’s completely fucked.
Jensen heads east on 80-90, trying to marshal his fear and stay focused on the task. Drive east. Make a pick-up. Deliver the pick-up. Collect Jared.
Live the rest of their lives on a beach in Mexico.
It’s all so simple.
Jensen laughs out loud, an ugly laugh that makes Lola twitch in her sleep.
He drives straight through the night, stopping only long enough for them to piss at rest stops. When the freeway splits he veers southeast and stays on I-80. His cell phone doesn’t chirp so he assumes he’s made the right call. It’s no secret D’s vehicles are outfitted with tracking devices; it just never mattered to Jensen before. He could ditch this ride and boost another but he wants D to think he’s following orders like a good soldier.
Jared had wondered one evening a few months back how Jensen ended up working for a creep like D. They were drinking beers and watching the Knicks pulverize the Pacers in a game that they had literally bet their asses on.
“Fucking Pacers,” Jensen said, but he wasn’t really angry. Not that he really minded, but he knew Jared wouldn’t collect on the bet. He loved riding Jensen’s cock too much.
The buzzer signaled the end of the game and Jensen had immediately pounced on Jared, laughing and rolling them onto the floor. He had pressed down on Jared’s shoulders and leaned over to bite at his long neck.
“Hey!” Jared protested. “I won!”
Jensen had rolled his hips against Jared’s and smiled at the heat he saw in Jared’s eyes.
“Do you really want to collect?” he whispered into Jared’s ear before sucking the soft lobe into his mouth.
Jensen stood up and pulled Jared towards the bedroom.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Jared said, just before Jensen tossed him on the bed and began stripping off his clothes.
“Less talking, more fucking,” Jensen said as he fought with the buckle on his jeans. By the time he was undressed Jared was lying on the bed naked, stroking his erection and smiling that crooked half smile, what Jensen thought of as his sex smile.
“Goddamn,” Jensen said as he climbed onto the bed and flipped Jared over.
They fucked fast and furious that night, with minimal prep, Jared rocking back into his thrusts, goading Jensen to take him harder. Jensen had flipped him again, pushed Jared’s legs over his shoulders so he could fuck in deeper, trying to get Jared to make that growly sound he sometimes made when he came. He pounded into Jared, snapping his hips one last time as he began roughly jacking Jared’s cock. They were both coming within seconds, Jensen collapsing onto Jared’s broad chest, sweaty and exhausted.
“Goddamn,” Jensen said again, as he snapped off his condom and threw it in the general direction of the wastebasket.
“Mnfff,” Jared agreed, rolling over and draping his arm across Jensen’s chest.
They were silent for several moments, Jared’s ragged breathing starting to even out, when Jensen said “All I’m good at is driving.”
“Hmm?” Jared mumbled, opening one sleepy eye.
“Why I’m working for a creep like D? It’s all I’m good for. I could always drive, even as a kid. So when I turned sixteen, my cousins set me up as their getaway driver.”
Jared had gripped Jensen’s hip, struggling back towards wakefulness.
“They knocked over two-bit stuff like pizza joints, never hurt anyone, never brought much heat down on us.”
Jared sat up to listen, stroking Jensen’s thigh.
“It was stupid, I was stupid, but at least I had the sense to get out before we got busted. I walked away, enlisted. I was in Afghanistan when I learned they’d actually injured a cashier while they were robbing a Kwik Stop.”
Jensen sighed, guilt sitting heavy on his chest. For his cousins, for the paralyzed cashier.
“They’re still in Clements.”
Jensen had looked at Jared out of the corner of his eye to see if this was what would disgust Jared enough to leave a thug like him, go back to school, get that degree he was always talking about. But Jared just kept running his fingers along Jensen’s thigh, up his belly, over a nipple, until his arm was locked securely over Jensen’s chest and the point of his nose was burrowed into the crook of Jensen’s neck.
“So… Afghanistan?” Jared asked.
“Let’s just say I did almost three tours as a tactical driver and never killed anyone in my squad.”
“Hmmm. You really are a great driver.”
Jensen had snorted with disgust. “I was lucky. Plenty of great drivers drove over the wrong patch of ground at the wrong time.”
Jared’s arms tightened around him, squeezing him. A few months ago Jensen would have shrugged off the contact but now he found himself falling into it, feeling safe and protected for the first time he could remember since he was a kid.
“So what happened?” Jared asked, his breath a whisper against Jensen’s ear.
“Somebody asked. I told.”
Jared kissed Jensen’s neck and they had both lain awake for a long time without speaking.
Jared is struggling to focus on Viktor, who’s pulled a chair up next to the bed, but whatever he was shot up with is making him feel heavy and stupid and dizzy. His brain is wondering why and where and how but his mouth can’t seem to form words.
He had stared at the ceiling for what felt like hours, trying to make his body move, before he finally started coming down. He squints at the large bodyguard and tries to sit up, forgetting about the cuffs. His stomach swoops and he’s sure he’s going to throw up but as soon as he stops moving his body calms down again.
“Is heroin, mostly. Good for convincing little girls to play nice.”
Oh, Jared thinks, but though his lips move slowly nothing comes out.
“Your Jensen see shipment unload this afternoon. Very angry.”
“Ship…?” Jared’s tongue is so dry, he imagines a desiccated slug has taken its place. “Lemme go?” he asks, rolling his eyes up to his captor. Viktor brings a cup of rusty water to his lips and Jared drinks deeply.
“No. Sorry, pretty bouncer, not ever.”
“Then…why’m I here?”
Viktor grabs at Jared’s cock through his thin cotton boxers.
“You no good to us as whore. But Mr. D say I can play with you awhile.”
He struggles to clear his brain, his tongue, but all he manages is a drowsy “Don’ wanna,” and then he’s drifting again. It’s a testament to the drug that he feels only slightly offended by Viktor’s proposition instead of horrified and panicked.
“Gooood shiiiiit,” he tells Viktor, nodding slowly.
Viktor pulls another syringe out of his pocket and empties it into Jared’s vein. Jared watches with interest but no real alarm. Once he’s sick-spinny again, Viktor uncuffs him from the bed and hauls him down the hall to a grimy bathroom and sets him on the toilet.
“Fuuuuuuuck,” Jared says as waves of dizzy euphoria wash over him.
“Yes,” Viktor agrees, attaching ankle cuffs. “Later. First, we move.”
When Jared has finished pissing Viktor lifts him to his feet again, pulls up his boxers, and cuffs his hands behind his back.
He drags Jared down the hall, through a maze of hastily built partitions and corridors, and onto a loading dock. It’s hard to walk with his ankles chained together and he stumbles often, laughing.
“Yes, yes pretty bouncer, all is amusing now. Keep moving.”
The early morning sunlight makes Jared squint and try to step back into the darkness, but Viktor shoves him into the back of a commercial truck where several half-dressed women are huddled together, eying him suspiciously. He sways for a moment as he blinks at them, and then the heavy metal door behind him is pulled down and secured, leaving them in darkness. The truck lurches forward and Jared collapses to the ground, knocking into a couple of the women.
His stomach shifts uncomfortably from the motion of the truck, and he hears somebody else retching. He groans and rolls onto his side, trying to block out the sounds, the smells, the everything.
Jensen’s close to the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania, driving into the sunrise, when his phone finally buzzes. He glances down and reads the text. An address in Pittsburg.
Fuck. He’s been second guessing himself for hours, wondering if he should have just gone down to Double D’s and started shooting until someone told him where Jared was. He feels like he’s being sent on a wild chase while D and his goons could be doing God knows what to Jared.
He could be over the ocean on a plane to Moscow, for all Jensen knows.
“Fuck!” Jensen yells, pounding his fist on the steering wheel.
He pulls into the city during rush hour, slipping smoothly in and out of traffic. He crosses the Allegheny on the 16th Street Bridge and heads up Smallman.
The address he was given turns out to be an old factory renovated into lofts. He slides into an unmarked space right in front and studies the building for a few minutes.
He knows it’s a trap, he’s just not sure what kind. He has nothing to bargain with for Jared’s life, except his own. He hopes it’s enough.
He doesn’t know what he expected to see when he entered apartment 2310, but it wasn’t a naked man sitting lotus style in the middle of a huge, sparsely decorated room.
The man opens his eyes. “Hello, Jensen,” he says.
Jensen’s gun is in his hand in an instant even though he was told to deliver this guy scratch-free.
“Are you Max? Max Collins?”
As the man stands up and stretches, Jensen tracks his movements with his gun.
“I’m supposed to take you to see Dubrovsky.”
“Why don’t you point that thing somewhere else and we can talk?”
Jensen’s hand doesn’t waver, but it doesn’t matter. Collins moves so fast that Jensen’s disarmed and shoved up against the rough exposed brick wall before his brain can process what’s happening.
“Max is one of many names,” the guy whispers into Jensen’s ear. “My real name is Misha. Misha Dubrovsky.”
He squeezes Jensen’s neck until he starts to see spots.
“Dmitry said you’d be prompt.” He releases Jensen and backs away.
Jensen spins around. His gun is nowhere to be seen.
“So, coffee?” Misha asks.
Five minutes later they stand on Misha’s balcony looking out at the river. Misha has put on pants at least, and produced two mugs. Jensen’s wondering if he can just throw him over the balcony and head for home. This Misha guy is cat-fast and stealthy, but he’s not very big, and Jensen’s running out of time. He’s not afraid to die but he’s terrified about what tortures they might be visiting on Jared, stupid trusting Jared with his fox eyes and his crazy-ass laugh…
Jensen’s jaw tightens, and he hurls his cup as far as he can, watching it spill coffee like a spirograph as it tumbles into the river below.
“That’s a $100 fine, you know,” Misha says. “Also, that mug was part of a set.”
Jensen rounds quickly and swings at Misha, a blow that usually flattens his opponents. Misha brings up his right hand and jabs it somewhere between Jensen’s pec and his armpit, and he falls to the iron floor like a sack of bricks. Misha kneels on Jensen’s stomach and digs his knees into Jensen’s ribs, and for a minute his piercing blue eyes look a little crazy. Jensen sees for the first time that he really is a Dubrovsky.
“Fuck,” Jensen wheezes. “Get off.”
Misha stands up and straightens his loose black pants.
“So what, you’re going to kill me now?”
“I haven’t decided yet. Are you going to keep attacking me?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” Jensen coughs as he climbs to his feet, limbs tingling, amazed at how one poke to his chest could turn his whole body to liquid. Some kind of pressure point thing, he figures.
“Do you know why you’re here?” Misha asks.
Jensen folds his arms and stares at Misha, not willing to give anything away.
“Have you ever seen Hamlet?” Misha asks. At his blank scowl, Misha waves a hand in the air, says, “Never mind, it’s not important. Sometimes my brothers send me their problems, and sometimes I take care of those problems. In exchange, they keep leaving me the hell alone.”
“So you are going to kill me.” Jensen looks again to the water below.
“Why don’t you tell me what you did to piss off my brothers, and I’ll decide whether to help you or kill you or just ignore the whole situation and move again.”
“I keep trying to evade my brothers, Jensen, but they always seem to know where I am.”
Jensen sits down heavily in the patio chair, not sure how much to tell this guy. Fucking Dubrovskys.
The silence stretches on until Misha finally says, “All right then, I’ll guess.”
He picks up his mug again. “You’re not Russian, so you’re probably just a shestyorka.” He glances at Jensen out of the corner of his eye and adds, “An errand boy.”
Jensen doesn’t give anything away, but he’s definitely heard that term thrown around in his presence, usually with a sneer.
“You saw something you weren’t supposed to see. Or maybe you were supposed to see it, a test to see if you could be trusted enough to start getting your hands really dirty.”
Misha leans back in his chair and crosses his legs.
“You did not react as Dmitry had maybe hoped, so he took something that you value greatly. Baby, girlfriend, stamp collection, whatever.”
Jensen releases a breath he’s been holding for several seconds but still says nothing.
“I can help you Jensen, if you want.”
“Why would you help a stranger against your own family?”
“You seem nice enough.”
Jensen gives him a shrewd look.
“I have no love for my brothers, Jensen. In fact, I rather like throwing a wrench in their works.”
Jensen sighs. He doesn’t trust this Misha character one bit, but he doesn’t have a lot of options.
“They have my…Jared. Your brothers took him and I don’t know where.”
“How long have they had him?”
“I don’t…at least 10 hours, maybe more.”
“And Jared is your…?”
Jared’s in another empty narrow room, but he thinks this one might be in an actual house. There’s a window at least. He was thrown onto the bed on his stomach some time ago. Viktor had stroked him through the thin cotton boxers.
“Now?” Jared had mumbled, as tendrils of fear finally broke through his drug-induced stupor.
“No. Work. But I take tomorrow personal day.” He didn’t leave right away though, instead taking a couple of minutes to play with the cleft of Jared’s ass and cup his balls through his boxers.
Then he had dosed Jared again and left, and Jared spent the next several hours staring at the wall and trying to stop his head from spinning.
When a voice speaks up behind him, he twists his head in surprise and sees a woman chained to another bed across the room.
“What?” he slurs.
“You American. You boy,” she sneers. “Why you here?”
When Jared finally brings her into focus he sees that she has large blue eyes and long blonde hair, matted and dirty. He imagines she might be pretty if she weren’t so filthy. He’s pretty sure she threw up on herself at one point. She pulls uselessly at the cuff pinning her wrists to the iron frame.
Jared sees that she’s wearing small black panties and a lacy bra that doesn’t leave much to the imagination. He averts his eyes.
“Shy boy?” she snorts.
“Jared,” he says, coughing a little as the word catches in his parched throat. “I’m Jared. Who are you?”
“I was Adrijana. Now, nobody.” She gives the cuffs another furious yank. “Come to America Adrijana,” she says darkly. “Be nanny, make fortune. FUCKING LIARS!” she screams at the door.
He tries to pay attention to her but he’s so tired. He closes his eyes but sleep eludes him, and he listens to her rant at the ceiling for what seems like days. At some point someone comes in to tell her to shut the fuck up. He thinks he hears her struggle and opens one eye. She’s getting another armful of dope.
After that they both drift quietly for a long time.
Misha enters the loft again and picks up his phone. “First, let’s see if your… Jared is still a player on the board.”
Jensen’s eyes darken.
“Hello, starshiy brat,” Misha says. “I have your errand boy.”
He listens for a moment while Jensen balls his hands into fists, trying not to betray his anxiety.
“Hmm, I’ve been playing with him first. He has made this Jared sound very intriguing to me,” Misha says with a dirty chuckle. “Is he still…available?”
Jensen holds his breath.
“Ah. Well surely your own little brother deserves priority over this Viktor.”
Jensen sags into the nearest chair. He knows Viktor. He’s had to clean up after Viktor.
“You’d be surprised,” Misha says. His hand lashes out and squeezes Jensen’s shoulder until Jensen yells in pain.
Fucking ninja, Jensen thinks crossly, rubbing his shoulder.
“Right,” Misha laughs into the phone. “I’ve found him to be quite chatty with the correct persuasion.”
Jensen breathes heavily and tries to focus on the conversation.
“Fine, I’ll go collect him myself. Should I drive your boy’s car back to you?”
He listens and then disconnects the phone.
“Jared’s still okay?”
“For now.” He pulls on a t-shirt and picks up his keys. “We should move, though.”
They take the elevator back down to the lobby and head up the street to where Jensen left the black Mustang. As they approach the car Misha says, “Is it snowing in your car?”
They peer into the backseat, where Lola is wagging her tail happily at the sight of Jensen, surrounded by shredded, fluffy bits of upholstery.
“You brought a puppy on a suicide mission?” Misha asks.
Jensen says nothing as he unlocks the car.
“Wait, Jared’s not a dog is he?”
Jensen levels Misha with his steeliest look. “Just get in the fucking car already, Misha.”
Jared’s not sure how much time he spent staring at the wall and spinning, but he’s beginning to feel more lucid, at least clearheaded enough to be scared. Adrijana is still quiet, probably doped to the gills, but a woman in the next room keeps crying and shouting, words he can’t understand in some Eastern Bloc language. His heart is hurting for her but he kind of wishes she’d give it a rest so he can think.
There’s no way he’s letting himself get killed in this shithole, and he’s definitely not letting Viktor fuck him first. He rolls over so he’s facing up, cuffs digging uncomfortably into his back. He takes a deep breath and tries to sit up but ends up rolling onto the floor in a graceless heap.
Adrijana opens her puffy eyes. “You make great escape?”
“Maybe,” he says, pushing himself up to sit on the bed, fighting waves of dizziness. “Do you have anything to pick the cuffs with?” he asks her.
Adrijana wriggles her fingers. “What you think?”
He looks around the room but it’s pretty much empty except for the two beds. There’s a window that’s been nailed shut, and he thinks he’ll take another look at that once he has a little more mobility. His shackled ankles make movement awkward but his hands cuffed behind his back make fighting or protecting himself nearly impossible.
“What about your bra? Does it have one of those wire thingys?”
She glances down. “Da.”
“Okay…I think we can work with that.”
He shifts his weight forward so his ass is off of the bed and works his cuffed wrists until he’s sitting on them.
Okay, just step through, right?
He looks down at his legs and laughs weakly. There’s not enough play with the cuffs and his legs have never looked so long. For the first time ever Jared wishes he were a little shorter. There is no way he’s going to be able to step through the cuffs.
But there might be another way. If he uses enough torque, if he’s fast enough…
He sits for awhile, waiting for more of the drug to wear off, screwing up his courage. When he’s just about talked himself into it, he wonders if maybe he should hold off a little longer.
Or you can just wait for Viktor to come back and fuck you bloody.
Jared stands up, spreading his legs as far as the shackles will allow for balance. He can do this. It will hurt like mother-fucking-hell, but he can do it. He flexes his shoulders, twists them to warm them up a little.
“What—?” Adrijana asks, trying to sit up to watch.
One chance. Don’t fuck it up.
He rocks his arms back and forth behind his back a couple of times, and then before he loses his nerve he swings them around as hard and as fast as he can, twisting his arms up and over his head until they’re in front of him, biting off a scream as his left shoulder pops out of the socket.
Jared sways for a minute, trying not to pass out from the pain, before he collapses back onto the bed with a groan. This is not the first time he’s had a dislocated shoulder thanks to four years playing QB in high school, but it’s the first time he’s had to pop it back in by himself.
He closes his eyes and focuses his breathing for a couple of minutes before tightly lacing his fingers together. He drapes them over his left knee and slowly pulls backwards, chain digging painfully into his skin, until the bone slips back into the socket. It hurts about as much going back in as it did coming out, but Jared bites down hard on his lip to stop himself from crying out.
When he finally opens his eyes Adrijana looks impressed. “Maybe you do make great escape.”
“We make great escape,” Jared says.
Jensen is making pretty good time heading west on I-80. The sun is high overhead and his eyes are gritty with fatigue but he keeps pushing on, thrumming his fingers nervously against the steering wheel.
Misha eyes him, says “You drove all night to get to Pittsburgh?”
“And you stopped for 30 minutes and now you’re going to drive straight back?”
“Maybe you should let me drive for a bit.”
Jensen scowls. “No fucking way.”
Misha is holding 12 pounds of sleepy Lola on his lap, stroking her ears absently.
“Is your daddy always so grouchy?” Misha asks the dog.
“Goddammit!” Jensen smacks his hand against the steering wheel. “If you don’t have anything helpful to say about what our next step is, would you please shut the fuck up?”
Silence stretches in the car, one minute, ten, twenty. Finally Jensen sighs.
“I knew they were shady, I just didn’t know how shady.”
“You didn’t want to know. The money was easy and the job was fun.”
Jensen is silent even though he recognizes the truth in those words.
“Did you know they were stealing girls and turning them into sex slaves?” Jensen asks after several more minutes have passed.
Misha shrugs. “It’s a lucrative commodity for people in my brothers’ line of work. I had my suspicions.”
“And, what, you don’t do anything about it?”
Misha’s cool blue eyes appraise him. “I teach Krav Maga at the Y, Jensen. You think I have the power to shut down an international human trafficking ring?”
“Guess not,” Jensen mutters.
“What do you think would happen if I killed my brothers, crippled their organization?”
Jensen glances in the rear view mirror, says nothing. He knows what would happen.
“Nature abhors a vacuum. Somebody else would just step up to the plate.”
Jensen’s feels a helpless fury, mostly directed at himself, for not keeping Jared safe, for delivering those girls into D’s hands.
“Do you know where they keep the women?”
“It’s a mobile operation. I’m sure they cleared out yesterday, moved somewhere else.” He eyes Jensen. “I imagine there are houses all over the city.”
“Do you know where they would keep Jared?”
Misha shakes his head, strokes the dog, looks out the window.
Jared kneels down next to Adrijana and unclasps her bra. He can’t take it all the way off because her arms are secured over her head, and he picks at the bottom trying to figure out how to get the wire out. He looks at her apologetically and bends over to try to bite through the satin closest to the front clasp.
“Hurry up,” she hisses. “Stop acting like shy boy.” He nods and rips through the delicate fabric with his teeth and then begins easing the wire out.
They freeze as footsteps move towards their door, Jared wondering if he should fling himself on the other bed and play possum. Before he has a chance to decide the footsteps move past and Jared goes back to prying the arc of wire free.
It takes much longer than it should, he’s shaky and feeling kind of thick-headed. The adrenaline and pain that came with rotating his shoulder out of the socket is fading, and his fatigue is setting in again. When he has half the wire freed he snaps the thin metal and moves to the head of the bed, where Adrijana’s hands are twisting anxiously.
“Have you ever done this before?” he asks her. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Stick in wire. Wriggle it round. Hope for best.”
“You’re a very practical woman,” he says as he starts working the flimsy wire through the keyhole.
“We are practical people.”
He blows his hair out of his face and continues playing the wire into the hole, shifting it around to make it catch on the locking mechanism inside.
“Your English is very good.”
“Yes, will be so helpful for whore,” she spits, eyes flashing. Jared sort of thinks speaking the language would be helpful, but he wisely keeps his mouth shut.
“Okay, hang on,” Jared says and then her left wrist is free. She pulls her other hand through the bars and sits up quickly.
“Careful,” he says but she’s already slumping onto the floor. He catches her around the ribs and lays her down gently.
“Diz…zy,” she says blinking up at him.
He glances at the door and then starts to work on her other wrist.
“Leave it,” she says, sitting up more slowly this time. “Give.”
He hands over the wire and she makes quick work of the lock on his handcuffs, freeing his left wrist and then moving to uncuff the shackles.
“You have done that before.”
She ignores him. “Window? Or door?”
He stands up, feeling a little dizzy himself, and stumbles over to the window. They’re in too much of a hurry to remove any of their chains completely, and Jared feels a little bit like Jacob Marley as he walks to the window.
“Second story,” he says, peering down at the street. “Not too bad. But, it’s nailed shut.” He gives the window frame a half-hearted yank anyway.
She joins him at the window, shrugging out of her ruined bra with irritation.
“Is park,” she says, pointing across the street. “Is people.”
“So, what, you think we should just smash through the glass and ‘hope for best’?”
They look at each other for a long moment, and then turn back to look at the street beyond their prison.
An hour east of the city Misha starts tapping away on his cell phone.
“Letting them know I’m almost there?” he asks coldly. Fuck. He knew, knew better than to trust a Dubrovsky. Fucking mother fuck.
“Not my brothers. Friends.”
Jensen’s own cell had been chucked into the Alleghany several hours ago so D might actually think Misha had dispatched of him, and he’s feeling trapped and helpless, buffeted about by winds he doesn’t understand.
Without really thinking things through, Jensen jerks the wheel to the right and flies onto an off-ramp they had almost passed, tires squealing, a family sedan braking heavily and blaring its horn as it tries to slow down quickly enough to avoid getting sideswiped.
“Sookin syn!” Misha shouts, as his head is slammed against the passenger window.
Jensen feels the back end of the car get loose and he quickly downshifts, steering into the swerve before they can end up at the bottom of a weedy ditch.
Misha is gasping and gripping his seatbelt where it cuts into his chest, but Jensen lets out a breathless laugh as he eases them onto the edge of a truck stop parking lot. It had been too long since he got to pull a maneuver like that.
They’re both silent for a few seconds until Jensen’s short-lived euphoria is subsumed by his anger.
“Why don’t you tell me what the fuck is really going on?” he asks Misha coldly. “I don’t have much left to lose, in case you haven’t noticed.”
Jensen turns quickly and grabs Misha’s shirt collar, pulling their faces close.
“Don’t you fucking lie to me Misha. You’re working for them, right? Why didn’t you just off me back in Pittsburg?”
Misha meets his gaze. “I’m not working for them. But I let them think I’ll still do favors for them. Occasionally.”
“And that means…?”
“I’ve known what they do for awhile now. And it’s not just them, it’s my uncle, their rivals…they traffic in misery and they get rich on it.”
“Well, isn’t that poetic,” Jensen snarls. “Just get me to my boy before I send you flying through the windshield.”
Misha eyes his seatbelt and Jensen laughs. “I’ve made some…improvements on the factory model. So you really don’t want to fuck with me when I’m behind the wheel, Misha.”
“There’s not really anything in here to muffle the sound of breaking glass,” Jared says as he looks around the empty room.
He looks over his shoulder. “Are the beds bolted down?”
She walks to the one closest to the door and gives it a hearty tug. When he sees that it will move he quickly goes to help her, lifting his end, and they quietly stack the two beds in front of the door.
They look out at the park for a few more minutes. It looks like late afternoon and Jared knows that soon the moms will be taking their kids home for dinner, and the park will be taken over by dealers who won’t give two shits about a couple of runaway whores.
Now, though, the street below still looks like a model picture of gentrification, women pushing expensive strollers to the park, sipping espressos or playing with iPads as the kids run around and shriek.
“Are we sure this is the only way?” he asks, looking at the narrow porch roof underneath the window, the steep drop to the concrete and patchy ground. “We’ll get cut up. We don’t have time to pull all the glass from the frame.”
She gives him a disgusted look that he thinks she could patent.
“Better cut up than helpless fucking hole.”
He can’t really argue with that. He squeezes her skinny shoulder, to comfort her or himself he’s not sure, and then takes the cuff still attached to his right wrist and wraps his fist around it like a makeshift set of brass knuckles. It will maybe provide enough of a buffer to break up the glass without skinning his forearm.
“Okay then,” Jared says. “Now or never.”
“Sad ili nikad,” Adrijana agrees.
He draws back his right arm and says a quick prayer before smashing through the glass with as much force as he can muster.
He pulls his hand back, already shredded and bleeding, and slams it in again and again. Adrijana furiously yanks out the larger pieces of window frame. She’s moving quickly and her own hands are soon running with blood.
Jared hears the sounds of footsteps, of fists pounding on the cheap wooden door. “Go,” he says, helping Adrijana crawl through the window. He winces as her back is sliced open but she doesn’t even seem to notice. She twists a little and grabs his wrists, lowering herself down to minimize the length of her fall before she lets go.
The door behind him breaks inward, and Jared turns to see two men clambering over the beds. He dives through the jagged hole and slides headfirst down the metal roof, trying to grab the edge so he can control his fall somewhat.
A strong hand grips his ankle, begins reeling him back inside with the shackle. He kicks back, but he doesn’t have any leverage in this position and his kick is weak and ineffectual. He grabs the edge of the roof and launches himself toward the ground, hearing a curse behind him as the startled guard lets go of the chain.
There’s no time for rolling into the fall or folding his body or any of the other tricks he’s heard about. He lands hard on his already damaged shoulder, slamming his head on the concrete walkway. He tastes blood and then he sees nothing.
Misha is still surreptitiously running his fingers over the seatbelt, as though trying to figure out if it has been weakened somehow. It would have been funny if Jensen weren’t so stressed about finding Jared. Misha’s phone has been buzzing with texts constantly for the past hour, but when Jensen tries to read them they look like some kind of code. When it rings, he looks at the ID and then over to Jensen.
“I’m listening,” Jensen says, voice icy.
The rush hour traffic is heading in the opposite direction, and Jensen’s making very good time. He was 15 minutes away from Double D’s, cruising north on the Kennedy with no plan except some half-baked idea of holding Misha hostage until Jared is returned to him. He exits onto Division, imagining that Misha is probably not going to go along with that plan.
“Which one?” Misha asks.
Jensen’s fingers tighten on the wheel.
Misha sighs. “We better move on the rest, hope we get them all.” The thumbs off the cell.
“Do you know where Maplewood Park is?” Misha asks Jensen.
“What’s going on?” Jensen asks tightly.
“There was some kind of disturbance in a house by Maplewood. Could be what we’re looking for.”
Jensen picks up speed, eases into the right lane. “What kind of disturbance?”
Misha hesitates just long enough to piss Jensen off, and he presses down on the accelerator. The car rockets forward, weaving around the early evening traffic and whizzing through an intersection under a very red light.
“Goddammit Jensen!” Misha yells. “Stop the fucking car!”
He veers into the nearest surface lot to get a hold of himself. The attendant steps forward to collect the $10 parking fee, but Jensen gives the guy a look so menacing that he scurries back to the entrance, head down.
“Sorry, Lola,” Jensen mutters.
“Yes, of course, apologize to the fucking dog,” Misha snaps. “Can you stop being a bull-headed ass for five goddamn minutes so we can figure out what to do?”
“I still don’t know why you care,” Jensen growls. “Shouldn’t you be doing tai-chi in a park somewhere? While your brothers—”
“Do I need to remind you, Jensen, which one of us is in Dmitry’s employ? Which of us cashes his paychecks?”
“Oh, fuck you Mish—”
Lightning fast, Misha does one of his pressure point moves. Two strong fingers dig into shoulder and he’s gasping in pain.
“Shit,” Jensen says, sagging back against his seat. “You gotta teach me to do that.”
“No. C’mon, we should leave the car.”
“Where are we going?”
“I have friends that own a restaurant nearby. They can help.”
Misha tosses his cell phone into the ruined back seat and Jensen gets his back-up piece from the trunk, tucking it into the back of his jeans. They set off down a street crowded with people heading home from work, couples looking for an early dinner. Misha seems to be walking with purpose, to know where he’s going. Jensen has a sudden image of the three of them in an action movie slow-mo shot, the deadly martial artist in his stupid silk pants and “Vegetarians Do It With Relish” t-shirt, the criminal in worn denim and combat boots, and between them, a wriggly yellow ball of fur tugging at the end of a lavender leash.
He starts laughing so hard he starts to wheeze, half collapsing against a brick wall.
“When was the last time you slept?” Misha asks, as he hails a cab. “You’re slaphappy.”
“It’s been a couple of days,” Jensen admits, pulling himself back together
He sobers during the cab ride, remembering with a pang how he and Jared had argued about Lola’s collar and leash at the pet store. Jensen had chosen a collar with silver spikes on it while Jared was looking at some hot pink monstrosity.
“This dog is clearly a lover, not a fighter,” Jared had said.
“But, nobody fucks with a dog in a studded collar,” Jensen argued.
In the end they had managed to compromise when Jared somehow found a lavender collar with skulls on it.
Dammit, Jared. Jensen makes a silent vow to anyone who might be listening that he’ll wear stupid purple silk pants like Misha’s every day for the rest of his life if he gets Jared back.
They exit the cab and turn down an alley. Misha knocks on the back entrance to a restaurant. The door is opened by a sleepy looking dishwasher who points over his shoulder and goes back to scouring a large black pot.
Misha crosses the busy kitchen and opens the door to a private staircase, gesturing for Jensen to follow.
“I’m taking on lot on faith here, man,” Jensen says uneasily as he follows Misha up the narrow staircase.
“Maybe if you weren’t such a hothead you’d have a few more options.”
Before Misha can knock on the door it’s flung open and he is pulled into a crushing bear hug.
“Misha!” the large woman says, releasing him. “You no visit!” She smacks his butt with a wooden spoon and then pulls him in for another hug.
“Hi, Mrs. Rzhevsky. Sorry, Mrs. Rzhevsky.”
“Vanyusha!” she calls.
“Thanks, Mama,” says a skinny bald man with a black goatee as he enters the room.
“Misha, Jensen. Come on in.”
When he wakes up, he’s being hoisted in the air on a backboard. The trees swirl around him like a sickening kaleidoscope. He hears a clatter as he’s wheeled into the ambulance.
“What’s his name, honey?” the man calls over his shoulder.
“Jared. All I know is Jared.”
“Jared?” the man asks. “Can you hear me?” Hands are busy moving around him, checking and inserting and probing.
“Jared, can you tell us your last name?”
He starts to obey but it seems like a lot of effort. He sinks back into the quiet.
Van shows them into a long narrow room cluttered with papers, maps, and disposable cell phones. A police scanner sits in the corner.
“So you trust this guy?” he asks Misha.
“Yesterday, no. He works for my brothers.”
“I know,” Van says, to Jensen’s surprise. “Why is today different?”
“Today his fucking brothers kidnapped my boyfriend,” Jensen says. “I want to get him back and kill them both bloody.”
Van hums in understanding as his fingers fly over one of the phones, sending texts.
“Don’t know if this will help with your boyfriend,” he says, finally looking up, “but Dubrovsky’s whore houses are going down like dominoes.”
“Right now?” Misha asks.
“Pretty much every able body we have is trying to either retrieve victims or shine a spotlight on the houses.”
“Why now?” Jensen asks as he leans back against the wall. “What happened?”
“Something came over the radio a little bit ago. Hard to make sense of at first, but it seems one of the houses we were keeping an eye on had some kind of disturbance.” He picks up a phone and starts dialing. “A couple of victims launched themselves out of a second story window.”
“There were dozens of witnesses so I imagine whoever was manning the house decided to cut their losses and disappear before they could get picked up.”
The door opens and Mrs. Rzhevsky enters with a large pot of soup. She sets it down at a card table littered with maps and papers.
“Vanyusha,” she says sternly, and Jensen is impressed with how much threat she’s able to put in just one word. Van gives Misha a look and then gathers up the papers and moves them to a smaller desk.
She returns a minute later with a large tray, probably snagged from the restaurant below, laden with brown bread, bowls, glasses, water, and an icy bottle of vodka.
She sets everything down next to the card table and begins ladling a hearty looking stew into four bowls. Jensen wonders if she’s going to join their weird briefing or whatever the fuck this is, but instead she sets the fourth bowl down on the hardwood floor and Lola scrambles for it.
Jensen eyes the stew. “Do we really have time—” he starts to ask.
“Sit. Eat,” says Mrs. Rzhevsky sternly.
“I don’t—” he says, then takes a look at her face.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says, sliding into the third chair as she sweeps from the room.
“So you’ve been keeping tabs on Dubrovsky,” Jensen says as he picks up a chunk of bread.
“And others.” Van pours three small glasses of vodka.
“And you, what, try to extract their victims? Like some kind of spy thing?”
Van sighs. “When we can. The problem is if one house gets raided, the others disappear.”
“So when the girls took a header out a two story window, you had to move on the others you know about?” Jensen asks.
“But you’re not cops, right?” he asks, some of his earlier uneasiness returning.
Van laughs bitterly. “Hardly. Cops, Feds, they’re worthless.”
“They’re either dirty, and take money or make use of the girls, or they’re trying to build some splashy case that takes years to put together,” Misha explains.
“And in the meantime, more women and children are lost.”
“So you guys are?” Jensen asks around a mouthful of stew, trying to remember the last time he ate.
“Legally, a non-profit that helps recent immigrants learn English and find jobs.”
Van shrugs. “We try to pull as many of them out as we can. But there’s always more.”
“Sounds expensive. How do you pay for all this?”
One of the phones starts ringing and Van picks it up, crosses the room.
“Actually,” Misha smiles, “Dmitry pays for it.”
Jensen raises his eyebrows.
“A small percentage of his earnings makes its way into a special account I set up years ago.”
“You sure?” Van is asking whoever’s on the other line. “No, stay with him. I have backup now. We’ll take care of it.”
“Take care of what?” Jensen asks.
“There’s one house we haven’t got to yet,” he says, catching Jensen’s eye. “Dimitry is there.”
The next time he surfaces, there are voices and machines. He opens his eyes but the light hurts and everything seems to shimmy and glow. It hurts, and he closes them again.
He hears things—
“—pupils unequal and unresponsive—”
“—raised intracranial pressure—”
—but he doesn’t understand what the words mean or what they have to do with him. He’s dizzy and everything hurts and when he feels a tide of unconsciousness coming in he rides it back out into the nothing.
Jensen has always prided himself on being able to coax the best performance out of any car.
“Really?” Jensen says as they approach Mrs. Rzhevsky’s battered Yugo.
“It runs,” Van says tossing Jensen the keys. “Usually.”
He directs them to a brownstone in Bucktown. Jensen’s been there before, but never inside.
“So, why would Dmitry still be around if his houses are getting busted all over town?” Jensen asks. He pulls up right in front of the address just as another car is leaving, quickly backing the small car into the tight space.
“Cell phone jammer. Hopefully things are still so screwy nobody’s come looking to give him the news in person.”
“Do parking spaces always open for you magically?” Misha asks.
“We all have our talents,” Jensen smirks, with a cockiness he doesn’t feel.
Van opens the passenger door, preparing to shift into the driver’s seat. “Okay, make it snappy,” he says. “We’re going to have to place a fake 911 call soon to bring some first responders.”
“Oh, it won’t be fake,” Jensen says.
“I don’t even want to know what you two are going to do in there,” Van says, “but I’ll keep the car running as long as I can.”
“This car?” Jensen says. “We’re screwed.”
The lowering sun shines through trees that are just beginning to bud, turning everything to gold. Jensen might not be a poet, might not know much Shakespeare, but he takes a second to wonder if this will be his last sunset.
“Let’s do this,” he says, shouldering open the creeky door.
He can almost remember his name. It’s hovering just behind his eyes, teasing at him like a gnat that won’t be swatted.
“ummm?” he asks. He feels motion.
“Jared? Can you tell us your last name?”
“Do you know where you are?”
Even his silence seems thick and slurry, and he rolls his head to the side, eyes closing.
“We’re going to prep you for surgery, try to stop the bleeding in your cranium. Tests are showing high levels of opiates though so we might have to…”
The voice is grating, and sets his teeth on edge. He’s not sure where he is or what happened or how he ended up in a strange country where he doesn’t know the language.
“Sorry, this is a private club,” says the woman who opens the door.
“C’mon Melinda, don’t be like that,” Jensen says, trying to turn on the charm.
“Oh, it’s you.” She narrows her eyes. “Dmitry said you don’t like to sample our merchandise.”
“Changed my mind.”
She snorts and starts to close the door but he kicks it back open.
“Where’s Dmitry?” he asks.
Jensen pulls out his gun.
“Second floor, end of the hall.”
“How many guards?”
“Just two, I think,” she says, her eyes never leaving the barrel. “The regulars. Ilia, Viktor.”
“Why don’t you ring his room and let him know his long-lost brother wishes to see him,” Misha says.
She reaches for the old fashioned phone on the entry table and presses two buttons.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, sir,” she says. “Your brother is here to see you? … No, the other one.” She starts to say something else but Jensen takes the receiver from her and sets it gently back on the cradle.
“Now get out,” he says. She looks uncertain but Misha takes a step towards her and she reaches back for the doorknob, practically falling onto the porch before escaping into the darkening night.
Misha moves to a sitting room off the hallway, standing in plain sight. Jensen follows him in and then stations himself in shadows, just outside of the door that leads from the sitting room to the dining room. He hears footsteps on the stairs and keeps his gun pointed at the ceiling, his throwing knife within easy reach. From his position he can take in most of the action in the sitting room through a mirror on the opposite wall.
“Mladshiy brat,” D cries as he enters the room, throwing his arms wide to embrace Misha. He’s wearing black pants and nothing else, looking exceptionally fit and handsome for a 50-year-old man.
“Hello, brother,” Misha says. “It’s good to see you.”
Viktor and Ilia enter the room, holding a small brunette in a pale pink slip between them.
“Misha, this is…” Dmitry glances over at the girl, who looks wobbly and confused. “I don’t remember her name. No matter. I thought I should give you a chance to change your mind about the price we agreed upon for your services. I was not formerly aware of your… predilection for overgrown men.”
Viktor pushes the girl forward and she stumbles into Misha before collapsing onto the nearby sofa.
“Yes, that’s very, ah, tempting,” Misha says as his eyes flick over the shaking girl. “However, I’m not terribly interested in your… table scraps.”
“But you’ll take Viktor’s?” Dmitry asks with a cold smile.
Jensen’s grip tightens on the gun but he doesn’t move or make a sound.
“Did my errand boy tell you how tight and sweet his ass is? Because that’s all Viktor has talked about all day.”
Jensen tenses all over, anger filling every cell of his body until he’s sure he’s glowing red as an ember.
“Don’t you agree, Jensen?” D calls over his shoulder.
Jared stares at the ceiling, feeling like his mind and his body are in two separate spheres.
Everything is *beeep* and *whoooosh* and soft slippers on tiled floor and the low hum of conversations taking place behind masks.
“Operation?” he tries to ask, but nothing really comes out except a slurry murmur and nobody pays any attention to him anyway.
A voice just behind him is talking about this amazing barbeque glaze he’s come up with, and a new sound is added, the *buzz* *buzz* of Jared’s hair being shorn away.
“You might as well show yourself, Jensen,” Dmitry says. “The jig, as they say, is up.”
Jensen looks into the mirror, fixing everybody’s positions, before he whips around, gun tucked close to his ribs.
“Dmitry,” Jensen says.
Dmitry looks from Misha to Jensen, eyes dancing with a glow Jensen’s not sure he’s ever seen before.
“I had really hoped one of you would take care of the other for me today.” Dmitry looks Misha up and down. “My money was actually on Jensen, brat. You’ve been practicing your little karate “hobby,” I gather.”
“I do what I can,” Misha says calmly.
“I knew your loyalties had fractured, Misha,” Dmitry says. “But to take up with a street rat like this shestyorka against your own family, how it would pain our sainted Mama.”
“I’m sure Mama has enough pains to deal with between you and Nikolai,” Misha says.
“Yes, but brother against brother? Is not our way.”
“And you think Mama would approve of the direction you’ve taken the family business?”
Dmitry looks amused as he yanks the confused girl up off the couch by a bony wrist, stepping closer to his younger brother.
“Dear, stupid, Misha,” he hisses, eyes reptilian. “Whose idea do you think it was to branch out?” He shoves the girl into Misha’s arms and then rolls over the sofa as his bodyguards pull out their pistols and start shooting.
There’s a voice hovering over him, reminding him of his father, dead 10 years now, and Jared tries to reach towards the voice.
He remembers, finally, that he’s Jared, and he loves, and he’s loved by Jensen.
He tries to sit up, to find his—
“Whoa, boy,” says an amused voice, and his shoulder is pressed back onto the table. He tumbles back towards nothingness.
Misha grabs the girl and dives for the corner of the room, shielding them both behind a wing chair. He’s largely ignored by the bodyguards anyway as they both move to neutralize Jensen and his pistol. Jensen fires off a wild warning shot and then ducks behind the dining room door again for cover.
He can see them in the mirror, Viktor stalking towards the doorway as the second guard moves to defend Dmitry. Jensen whips around again, hoping to put a round between Viktor’s eyes, but Viktor ducks and the bullet buries itself in the wall behind him. His next shot takes out one of the front windows and he ducks into the dining room again. Bullets whiz by him, one of them shattering the mirror.
Cries of alarm and confusion can be heard from the upstairs rooms.
While they are distracted with Jensen, Misha moves smoothly across the room and strikes Ilia’s throat. He goes down hard, gasping for air like a fish on land. Viktor shifts his aim to Misha but Jensen turns quickly and shoots at Viktor, and Viktor’s shot misses again.
“Dmitry, you motherfucker,” Jensen yells as he ducks again for cover. “Where is Jared?”
“Drop your weapon and I’ll tell you,” Dmitry calls. He still sounds calm and in control, even in the middle of a shoot-out, which infuriates Jensen even further. He glances into the sitting room again. Misha and the second guard are fighting. The dazed prostitute is hiding behind the chair and Dmitry is still using the couch for cover.
“Tell me and I’ll stop shooting,” Jensen counters.
Viktor approaches the doorway and his eyes meet Jensen’s in the broken mirror slivers. Jensen can’t get the jump on him because they’re each aware of the other’s position.
He can be faster than the lumbering ox though.
Watching the mirror carefully, trying to keep sight of which of the 20 Viktors he’s seeing is the one that poses the threat, he grips his concealed knife with his left hand. When he judges Viktor’s close enough, he stabs it backwards quickly through the open doorway, slicing open Viktor’s cheek.
The bodyguard grunts and throws himself at Jensen, toppling them both and then crushing him into the floor. Jensen loses his grip on the gun, frantically grabs for it. Viktor grabs Jensen’s left wrist in a crushing grip, grinding the bones until he drops the knife. He presses his forearm against Jensen’s throat, moving the knife closer to his face.
To his eye.
“Oh, you motherfucker,” Jensen gasps, desperately trying to struggle out from under Viktor’s considerable weight.
“You prettier than pretty bouncer,” Viktor says as the knife moves inexorably closer. “Too bad no time for play.”
Jensen’s hand closes on the gun and he brings it up, just as Viktor stabs down.
Jensen growls, feeling blood run down his face. He shoves the gun under Viktor’s chin and pulls the trigger.
Viktor slumps senseless onto Jensen, making it hard to breathe.
“Goddammit,” Jensen mutters, rolling Viktor off to flop on his back on the floor. The knife clatters to the ground as he stands. He brushes some of the blood and gore from his eyes impatiently. He can’t see well, but he can see well enough.
Misha has dispatched of the second guard and is ushering the shaking girl towards the door.
Dmitry stands up to face Jensen. He takes in the room and the gun pointed at his head.
“Dubrovsky!” Jensen yells. “Where the fuck is Jared?”
“Calm down, Jensen. If you drop the gun I’ll take you to him.”
Jensen steps closer, slides around the back side of the sofa. “Where are your bodyguards now, motherfucker?” Jensen hisses. “It’s just you and me.”
Dmitry’s hand slides towards a weapon he’s somehow concealed on his half-naked body, but before he can reach it Jensen smashes his gun into Dimitry’s nose, relishing the sight of blood streaming over his face.
“Where is he!?”
“Jensen!” Misha calls from behind him. “We need to move!”
He hears the sound of approaching sirens and curses.
“Get back on your knees, motherfucker,” Jensen says. Dmitry’s eyes narrow with a cold rage and he tenses as though to pounce but Jensen shoots out a knee and Dmitry collapses to the ground.
“On your knees,” he says again and Dmitry pulls himself up awkwardly, balancing on his good knee.
“Let’s help each other Jensen,” Dmitry says.”You won’t find your friend if you kill me.”
Jensen hesitates. The sirens are getting louder and D starts to look smug again.
“Watch me,” Jensen says as he pulls the trigger.
There are voices, soft and wooly, and he moves towards them.
“Jared?” He knows that voice, and he tries to open his eyes.
“Jen—” he croaks. A straw is placed against his cracked lips and he drinks, coughs, drinks some more.
“I missed you,” Jensen says, leaning over and kissing Jared’s cheek. “So fucking glad you woke up, baby.”
“Baby?” Jared tries to smile, it’s so unlike Jensen.
“Do you remember what happened?” Jensen asks.
“Not really…how long I been out?” Jared asks.
“Almost two weeks.”
“Ohhh. Wow.” Then he sleeps again.
“You with us Jared?”
A strong callused hand grabs his own.
“What do you remember?”
“I…nothing, really. Going to work last night?” Jared asks.
“Yeah, that was two weeks ago. You took dive out of a two-story window.”
“Oh. On purpose?” Jared frowns. “Sorry.”
He reaches up to touch his bandaged head. “I don’t remember falling. How messed up am I?”
“Well, you woke up. That was the big thing. I should go grab your doctor, she can explain better.”
“No, stay,” Jared says, squeezing Jensen’s fingers.
“I get doctor,” says another voice. Jared turns his head.
“Hi,” he says to the blonde woman perched on a visitor’s chair. “Do I know you?”
She steps toward the bed. She’s wearing jeans and a large gray sweater, a lot like the one he bought Jensen last year. She has one arm in a cast.
“You are hero. You save me.”
“Yeah? I don’t remember.”
She leans in closer and smiles. “But I hero too. I save you.”
He smiles back. “I can believe that. Thanks.”
He closes his eye and sleeps again.
Three weeks later, Jensen is driving Jared home from the hospital.
“Maybe I should drive,” Jared says as he tilts his face towards the sun.
“Ha. Forget it.”
“Are you even supposed to be driving?” Jared asks.
Jensen ghosts a finger along the patch covering his ruined left eye, the eye Viktor had stabbed as his last act on earth.
“You think a little thing like an eye is going to keep me from driving?”
“I, yeah, I do think,” Jared says, frowning at Jensen.
“Hey, if Ernie Irvan can do it, I can do it.”
Jared turns his head and looks out the window.
“Hey, hey, don’t worry,” Jensen says, placing a hand on Jared’s knee. “Not that kind of driving. There’s a school nearby, they teach tactical driving to like, cops and soldiers and stuff.”
Jared laughs. “You’re going to teach cops to be better drivers?”
Jensen grins. “Crazy days, huh?”
Jensen glances again at Jared out of the corner of his eye. It hurts him to see Jared banged up, head shaved, his right arm a patchwork of scars from the broken glass. All because of Jensen.
He’s being eaten up with guilt and doesn’t know how to make it better.
Well, he did know one way to start atoning. He realizes he needs to warn Jared about it though.
“You know our house is filled to capacity with Serbian teenagers, right?”
Jared laughs. “Now he tells me. Take me back to the hospital.”
“I’m sorry, they didn’t have anywhere to go and Misha’s trying to hide them from INS until he sorts out their papers, figures out who wants to stay and who wants to go. I mean if you want, though—”
“It’s fine, Jensen. I’m glad we can help.”
“Yeah. Anyway, Adrijana is keeping everybody in line, and Van’s mother keeps sending over giant trays of food…we have enough borscht to feed the Kremlin.”
“That’s good.” Jared blinks. “Is that good?”
“You get used to it.”
“You taking care of my dog?
“She’s completely spoiled. Getting almost round-the-clock belly rubs and ear scratches.”
Jared smiles, and if it’s not quite as brilliant as it once was, Jensen’s still thankful that Jared’s alive and safe and still willing to put up with him.
“Hmm?” he says as they turn down their tree-lined street.
“Are you wearing lavender pants?”
“Oh. Okay. Any reason?”
Jensen squeezes his hand. “Because I love you.”
“That’s so…sweet…yeah, no.” He pats Jensen’s thigh. “If you really love me you’ll put on those jeans that make your ass look so hot.”
“All jeans make my ass look hot.”
“I can tell you right now those silk pants are pretty much the opposite of hot.”
“Get used to ‘em.”
“How about you just sleep in them at night?” Jared suggests.
Jensen pulls into their driveway, puts the car in park.
They both lean in and share a soft kiss. Jensen rests his forehead against Jared’s.
“I’m so sorry,” Jensen says quietly.
“I know. It’s okay.”
Their lips brush together again, the kiss first gentle and then becoming more heated. Jared opens his mouth wider, humming at the sensation of Jensen’s tongue melting into his. Just as he’s ready to really push into the kiss, bring his arms around for more, a shriek disturbs the spring afternoon.
They jump apart, turning to look towards the house with alarm. The screen door bangs open, and a pretty teenaged girl bolts down the steps, laughing and waving a book over her head, followed by another girl giving chase, yelling loudly.
“You know what they’re saying?” Jared asks.
“Give…me…my—God, I think they’re fighting over a Twilight book.”
Lola noses the screen door open and tumbles down the stairs, happy to join in the chase. Jared laughs, the first genuine Jared laugh that Jensen has heard in weeks, and he feels embarrassingly close to tears. He blinks them away, lacing his fingers through Jared’s.
They kiss once more before heading into their home.