Outskirts of Central City, Circa January 2000
"Leonard!" Lewis yelled.
Leonard winced. Did the man have to shout like that? He only stood five feet away, and he knew full well Leonard was trying to prepare for his GED.
A hand grabbed Leonard by the back of the neck and hauled him out of the chair before he could set the practice test aside. He froze, unwilling to let his father hurt him, but equally unwilling to increase the man's wrath by resisting.
"Hey, Leo!" Lewis spat. He forced Leonard to turn around to face him. "You answer me when I'm talking to you!"
Leonard gritted his teeth at the use of his childhood nickname. He didn't hate the name... if it was Amber or his grandfather addressing him. But Lewis only ever used it to make him feel like a child, to remind him of the power the man still had over him.
"Yes, dad?" he said. He forced himself to look away from the mess that had been his test and kept his face carefully blank. "What did you want?"
"Get your stuff. Santinis got a job for us."
Leonard flinched at that announcement. "Us?" he echoed. "You're the one who works for them; what do they want me for?" Though it really wasn't hard to guess, especially if it was one of Vincent's jobs. But if the Santinis wanted him that meant yet another attempt at the test was down the drain.
"How the hell should I know?" Lewis replied. "But Vincent asked for you specifically."
No, not hard to guess at all.
—FLASH SIDEWAYS: TESS—
Leonard wrapped his arms around his chest, slouched a little, and stuck close to his father's shadow. He tried every trick he could think of to make himself as small as possible without being obvious about it, to remain unnoticed.
It was a wasted effort. Vincent spotted him the moment he trailed into the room.
"Hey, pretty," the older man called, prompting a groan from Lewis. "Here's your mark." He slid a photo over the table towards Leonard. "Tess Morgan, recently married to a Harrison Wells."
Leonard barely glanced at the photo, preferring to stay well away from the table and the man behind it. "Both of them are scientists, right?" On the verge of becoming famous, judging from his reading. He hadn't heard anything about them on the news yet, but the science portion of his test had mentioned them several times.
"Right. Wells thinks he's going to change the world. We need to make sure he's making the right kinds of changes."
"Aren't they based out of Starling City?" Leonard asked. "You must have operatives who know that area better than I do. Which is to say, at all." Not to mention, operatives who didn't need to establish a working identity. Getting away from his father or the Santinis for a while held a definite appeal, but running a job in a new place carried all kinds of risks.
"Your pretty face isn't as well-known in Starling," Vincent insisted. He licked his lips and let his eyes trail down Leonard's body in a way that thoroughly nauseated the younger man.
Lewis made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat but otherwise managed not to react.
"Plus you're a quick study," Vincent continued. He ignored Lewis completely. "You'll have an easier time making good with the woman than my usual operatives."
Leonard stared at the picture, avoiding Vincent's gaze as he throttled down his revulsion and searched for a polite response. "You want me to... seduce her. A married woman."
Vincent snickered at Leonard's obvious disgust. "Not saying you have to sleep with her."
Leonard sighed in resignation. Vincent wasn't saying it, no, but it's what the man always wanted. Frank, at least, acknowledged his other skills, even if most of them were skills Leonard could never be proud of. Frank might have ordered him to kidnap the woman, or search the couple's house, or anything of the sort. But all Vincent ever saw in him was a pretty face; as far as that man was concerned, those other skills only mattered if they got Leonard into someone's bed.
The worst part, Leonard knew, was that it was his own damn fault that Vincent saw him that way.
"But if you do...." Vincent continued.
Leonard nodded. "Get it on camera, I know," he said. "Everyone loves a good scandal, right?" he added, though he knew perfectly well that every video he'd ever made for Vincent had gone straight into the man's private collection.
"Don't complain," Lewis growled. "At least it's a woman this time. Not like that first job you tried to run on your own." He was referring, of course, to the reason Vincent sought him out for these jobs... the one and only time Lewis had ever caught Leonard with a boyfriend.
Leonard had kept Lewis' wrath at bay—barely—by claiming he was only using the boy to run a job. His father, thankfully, had believed the lie completely.
But so had Leonard's boyfriend.
With that lie, Leonard's reputation had been shattered. It hadn't taken long for word to spread through their neighborhood and school, until eventually even Vincent had heard. Bad enough that whatever passed for Leonard's love life was now completely dependent on his baby sister's charms. But when the Santinis had offered Lewis a share of the casino's profits in exchange for Leonard's "services," the man had agreed to their terms without a second thought.
Most days, though, Lewis' bigotry outweighed even his greed, a fact that Leonard was grateful for whenever the Santinis were involved. For if Lewis ever started taking Vincent's hints seriously, he might decide there was profit in making Leonard sleep with the old man... at gunpoint if necessary.
If Leonard was very lucky, Vincent might never fall for such an offer; his dropped hints implied a stronger interest in making the younger man uncomfortable than actually following through on those hints. But that was a gamble that Leonard never wanted to make.
"Yes, sir," Leonard muttered. He snatched up the picture and spun for the door. He didn't wait to see what Vincent wanted with his father; the sooner he got out of there, the sooner he could avoid any other unpleasant orders.
"Oh, before you leave..." Vincent began.
Leonard froze, one hand on the doorknob.
"I've got a small party tonight for my investors," Vincent said. "Should be about half a dozen coming over. You will make sure they enjoy themselves... right?"
Leonard's shoulders slumped. "Yes, sir," he muttered.
"I look forward to your performance," Vincent said. "Dismissed."
Leonard fled the room as quickly as decorum allowed. He couldn't quite persuade himself that the laughter ringing in his ears was his imagination.
—FLASH SIDEWAYS: TESS—
Mick rarely slept soundly these days; criminals of his caliber tended to make dangerous enemies, enemies who would jump at the chance to catch him off guard. Even members of their own crew, loyal to their loot at best and to Leonard's asshole of a father at worst, could never be trusted. So it was with a small amount of worry and a great deal of annoyance that he jolted awake, feeling like someone had broken in to his safe house.
He shifted slightly on the bed. To the untrained eye, it would appear that his dreams had turned restless—assuming he hadn't been moving around already—and he had merely rolled over in his sleep. But he cast a wary eye over the room as he moved, searching every possible hiding place, before he was certain he was alone.
Well, alone in this room. The creaking he heard could easily be the building settling, but the clatter downstairs and the bit-back curse definitely were not.
He reached for the holster hidden on the side of his bed and withdrew the gun, then slipped out of bed and tiptoed downstairs.
The sounds were coming from the kitchen.
Mick crept in, gun held out in front of him, until he could spot the intruder....
He lowered the gun with a sigh. "Are you trying to get shot?"
Leonard jumped at Mick's voice and whirled to face him. The dish in his hands tumbled to the floor.
"I was... I was... hungry," the smaller man stammered.
Hungry? Hadn't Leonard just been working at some party all night...?
Leonard bent down to retrieve the dish, but he was shaking too much and it kept slipping out of his hands.
"It's too early for this," Mick grumbled. He pushed Leonard toward the table before grabbing the dish himself. He put it back—it was the processed junk food that Mick liked, full of sugar and salt, quick and easy to make and not at all what Leonard needed right now—and pulled out a carton of eggs and a bottled protein shake.
Leonard grimaced at the sight of the shake. Mick knew he hated the things, but he looked like he needed it too badly to complain.
"I didn't mean to wake you," Leonard mumbled.
Mick simply shook his head and busied himself with the eggs while Leonard choked down the shake in record time.
"So...." Mick eventually said. He set down a plate in front of Leonard, and watched with concern as his friend practically inhaled the food. "How many condoms did you go through this time?" he asked mildly.
"Didn't need them," Leonard replied when he stopped eating long enough to breathe.
"Are you outta your mind!"
Mick immediately regretted snapping. It was pure luck that Leonard hadn't picked up any diseases yet, but that luck had to run out sooner or later. And when it did, whatever happened wouldn't be Leonard's fault, not when Vincent was the one who kept forcing him to do these "jobs" without requiring everyone else to use protection.
But he stared down at the smaller man and refused to apologize.
Leonard wilted under Mick's angry glare. "Nobody touched me," he finally said. "It was a business function. Frank was there, too. He's not going to make me do that."
Mick snorted. "Then why the hell are you sneaking in here and digging through my fridge at half past fuck in the morning?"
Although with how quickly Leonard had polished off the eggs and the protein shake, it really wasn't that hard to guess. If an appetite that left him that pale and shaking wasn't because of exercise....
"Didn't eat since lunch," Leonard replied.
Mick nodded. That was what he'd figured. Knowing Vincent's shitty brand of humor, Leonard had probably refused to touch anything at the party for fear of being drugged and forced to "entertain" that way.
Whether he would have been drugged was another question entirely. Vincent certainly threatened it often enough, enough that Mick was constantly surprised when he didn't carry out those threats.
"Been busy," Leonard continued. "You know he likes to keep me on my toes."
"Bullshit," Mick said. "That asshole likes to humiliate you, and you know it." He sighed. "You at least slept recently? Or did he keep you too 'busy' for that?"
Leonard's silence was all the answer he needed.
"Go to bed," Mick ordered.
"I... I have another job to prepare for," Leonard protested. "Thanks for the eggs." He pushed himself to his feet.
Mick stood up and blocked his path to the door. "Bed, Len," he insisted. "You look like shit. Feel like it, too, I'll bet. You ain't up to planning anything right now. Go upstairs, and get some sleep, or I swear to god I will tell Lisa what that asshole's been making you do."
Anger flashed in the smaller man's eyes, but only for a second. Leonard nodded and headed for the stairs without further protest.
And that told Mick more than words ever could. If all Leonard had needed was food and rest, he could've walked into any of their safe houses that he liked. If he'd needed help, he could have ordered Mick to take care of him and Mick would have done it. He wouldn't have needed to sneak in.
No, he was scared. Too scared to be alone, but too scared to trust anyone with that information. And much too scared to hide it.... from the rest of the crew, who would gladly take advantage of him, or from Lisa, who would have felt guilty instead of grateful if she ever found out what he was doing to protect her.
The Santinis needed to burn, Mick decided. That much had been clear for a long time. Not just the people, not just the family, but their whole empire. But there was nothing he could do as long as they could go after Leonard or Lisa in revenge.
Mick sighed, grabbed some blankets, and settled himself on the couch. It was going to be a long night.