He was running along the shore of a lake, his short legs barely keeping him above grass level. He ran and ran and laughed until he was left breathless. His smile was infectious. He ran into his mother’s open arms and she couldn’t help but laugh as she started planting playful, wet kisses all over his body. They both dissolved into a mess of limbs and noisy mirth. When they finally settled down a bit, the woman pulled him close to her, his head resting on her bosom, his eyes starting to slowly close as the excitement overdose was letting off and exhaustion was taking over. She patted his dark hair softly, occasionally planting a loving kiss on the top of his head.
“You sure do love running, don’t ya? You’ve barely been walking for two years, yet I barely ever get to see you walk. You’re always running somewhere.” She smiled, though this time, a tinge of bitterness seamed to taint the expression. “Don’t always be in such a hurry, okay? Don’t go running off everywhere, never enough time to settle down. To stop and take a deep breath. Life is too short to miss out on any opportunity, true enough, but don’t hesitate to actually stay put once it feels right to do so. Once it’s safe, and…and warm, and perfect. When you know it’s time. Okay? Don’t run. Understand, hun?” The boy simply squeezed her tight and the woman’s smile became broader. “Of course you don’t. You’re too young. But take my word for it, okay?” She placed her lips on the top of his head and breathed in deeply. She never wanted to let go.
Alexi felt safe now. Warm. Suddenly, the memory of his mother flooded him. He smiled, even as tears were brimming in his eyes. He felt loved again. Protected. He felt the tight, caring, soothing embrace. This was it. That’s what she had meant. He started to open his eyes and darkness greeted him. The warmth was still close by, but something had changed. Evan was shaking him lightly, then he felt the warm breath on his face, as he leaned in to whisper in his ear. “Alexi, wake up. We’ve got company.”
Ben Two-Ton was always a remarkably ugly man. His pock-marked face hadn’t improved any now that his nose had been crushed. He was lucky to be alive, true enough, let alone escaping with just a destroyed nose, a broken arm and a few cracked ribs. The kid could have killed him. Still, he was bitter. And he would get some kind of revenge this night. He held the gun in his left hand, his right useless in the cast. He looked to his left, to his new…partner. God, he hated breaking in new guys. They were always too cocky, too eager to prove just how bad-ass they were. Ben had to clean off a lot of blood after things usually went bad with these newbies. Quite often, it was their own blood. ‘Fucking idiot. I just hope he doesn’t get me killed.’ He hissed. He’d have whistled, but the only way he could do that was if he used his fingers as well. And his hands were full. Besides, he wasn’t hailing a cab. So, he tried to get Rob’s – or was it Bob – well, whatever-the-fuck’s attention the only way he could.
Rob stopped in his tracks and scowled at Ben. “What?” He whispered.
“Easy, you moron. Don’t get too excited. Use caution.”
“They’re fucking teenagers, man!”
“Yeah, and one of ‘em killed Jerry with his bare hands and did this to me.” Two-Ton explained, gesturing towards his face with his cast-covered arm. “Now, let’s just be careful, okay?” he said softly. “I’ll go around the front. You wait for a minute, then you go in from the back, okay?” Rob reluctantly nodded his agreement and Two-Ton started to make his way stealthily around the side of the house. Stealthily was…well, it was horse crap. They didn’t call the man Two-Ton for nothing. He wasn’t all THAT heavy, but his clumsiness added to the effect. When he moved, it was like a freight train. He silently started to say a prayer.
Evan was crouched down next to the window, barely peeking out, trying to distinguish between the shadows. He turned his gaze to Alexi. “Two of ‘em…Go get Hunter. Lock yourselves in the bathroom. There’s only one small window in there and the door is solid enough to hold for a while. Put a chair or something against it. Then both of you get inside the tub. Make sure that none of your body parts are exposed.”He grinned a bit. “Especially not that fine ass of yours.” He could swear that Alexi had blushed. God, could the boy be even cuter? He mentally slapped himself, trying to get his thoughts back in order. “The door might keep him out for a while, but not high-caliber bullets.”
“But what about you?” Alexi asked, panic starting to sink in. “And HIM? I thought you said there were two.”
“I’m about to change that.” Evan replied as footsteps came closer and a shadow moved in front of the window. “Go!” he ordered, his grin never leaving his face. Alexi crawled out of the room on his hands and knees. Evan got to his feet, took two steps away from the window, controlled his breathing and tried to time it perfectly. He was counting the milliseconds. ‘NOW!’ He leaped. The window burst into a thousand pieces and he felt the sting as shards cut and prodded him, some biting deep into his flesh and digging in. The large man barely had time to register surprise. ‘Goddamn, if it ain’t my old buddy from the park. You guys never learn…’
Evan landed on the man. The shock of hitting the ground was enough to knock the breath out of the goon and the confusion of it all only played to Evan’s advantage. He straddled the man’s chest, took the gun from his hand, meeting little resistance, then he pressed the muzzle of the gun to the man’s sweaty forehead. He paused for a second. He opened the man’s jacket and felt for the inside pocket. He found it. He attached the silencer, then placed the gun in the same position as a few seconds before. Evan turned his head to the side and blood covered his left cheek as he squeezed the trigger.
Alexi and Hunter were just closing the bathroom door when they heard someone breaking the glass in the back door. Someone fumbling with the lock. There was a dresser in the bathroom, full of robes and towels. It was sturdy oak, and they moved it in front of the door, then they jumped in the bathtub, shivering. Of course, Alexi was naked, so that might have had an effect as well.
“Dude, if we live through this, please never use the ‘Remember that time when I was naked, on top of you, in the tub?’ anecdote, no matter what. Promise?” Hunter said. Alexi needed a second to analyze the situation. He hadn’t really realized he was naked until that very moment. He felt embarrassment wash over him. Then he started laughing. Uncontrollable, shaking fits of laughter. ‘Christ, here I am, about to die, naked in an empty bathtub, and I’m laughing like a loon. Seriously, I’m fucked in the head.’ Alexi thought.
“You’re fucked in the head, aren’t you?” Hunter asked, then he started laughing as well.
Laughing? What the fuck? Rob actually put his ear to the door, trying to make sure he could properly distinguish the noises. ‘The fuckers are laughing!’ “I fucking hate teenagers!”. He backed away a step, then took aim at the door, around waist height, and emptied a whole clip. He let it drop to the floor and reached his free hand to the pocket, where he had a spare. Someone grabbed his jacket from behind and he felt himself being inexorably pushed towards the door. He slammed head-first into it. He almost bit his tongue upon impact. He didn’t have time to recover. He was slammed against the door again. And again. Blood was clouding his sight, so he didn’t even see the door coming anymore. Yet he knew, each time he would be pulled back, a fraction of a second later, the impact would come again. And again. He didn’t remember dropping the gun. It was useless empty anyway. He tried to fight back. Swat away at whoever was holding him, but his assailant grabbed one of his arms and twisted it painfully behind his back. He heard a loud pop and knew for sure it wasn’t a good thing. He felt a hand on the back of his neck. Tight. Again, driving him headlong into the door. Rob thought he might actually break the friggin thing down with his head. He was pretty sure there were plenty of splinters in his face. He was slipping. He wanted to go to sleep. He was pulled back once more and this time he literally flew. He landed roughly, his back hitting the stone floor of the living room. He tried to raise his head. It was pointless. He saw a vague shape baring down on him. ‘Is that a fucking lamp?’
Evan stopped. His blood rage was subsiding. He looked down on the broken heap of a man. No movement. He set the lamp on the table again. It was so fucking sticky. HE was sticky. All over the place. God, he needed a shower. A stab of pain. He reached around and felt a shard of glass sticking out of his shoulder. He pulled it out and more blood started gushing out. ‘Perfect. Just perfect.’ “Guys, is there a first aid kit in there?” he called out to Alexi and Hunter. Nothing. He moved to the bathroom door and banged his fist against it. “Guys? It’s alright. They’re…gone.” Stifled noises. A thud. Evan couldn’t help but grin again as he imagined Alexi trying to leap out of the tub, only to trip all over himself and take a header onto the floor.
“Evan? My God, Evan, are you alright?” came Alexi’s voice.
“Yeah, fine, just a few cuts.”
“Oh, my God. Hang on, we’ll be right out.”
“NO!” Evan forced himself to be calm. “Not right now. Just…make sure you have the first aid kit ready. Some disinfectant and bandages will do the trick. But I want you to STAY in there until I tell you to come out, understand? Both of you.” A long pause. “Do you hear me?”
“Okay, Evan. We don’t understand, but we’ll stay here. But please, tell me you’ll be alright.” Alexi almost pleaded.
“I’ll be just fine, babe. But hey, if I’m not, then you can always take the opportunity to give me a sponge bath. Now stay.” Alexi giggled a bit, then reaffirmed his ascent.
Evan moved back to the man in the middle of the living room. He picked him up and slung him over one shoulder, then carried him off a few hundred feet into the woods. He was barely past the first line of trees, but it would have to do. He went back to the house, to the other corpse. ‘Fuck me!’ he cursed himself. ‘This guy’s twice my size, how the fuck am I gonna carry him?’. Evan groaned, then bent down to remove the man’s jacket. He wrapped it around Two-Ton’s head. There was already enough blood around. He didn’t want to leave a trail of gore leading towards the trees. He grabbed the man’s wrists and started dragging the corpse behind him, cursing with every labored step. ‘Why the fuck did he send these frigging amateurs? I’d have expected more from him.’ He deposited Two-Ton next to the other body, wiped his own face clean with a handkerchief he “borrowed” off the dead man, then he once again returned to the cabin. He tried his best to cover as much of the blood as possible with dirt. He wasn’t really worried. As long as there were no eye-witnesses – and the cabin was secluded enough – there would be no reason for someone to take a close look. When he was done, he plopped himself down on a patch of dew-covered grass. He took out his phone and dialed. On the fourth ring, a bleary voice answered him.
“What the fuck do you want, bastard?”
“You have two bodies to collect, Eric.”
“WHAT?!” That certainly seemed to wake him. “The brats?”
“Oh, no. They’re quite fine. I told you already that I’d do it my way…and that is NOT my way. Not right now.”
“The goons you or my father sent. I’m betting it was you. He’d have sent someone more professional and certainly not someone who had already been injured. By me, no less. Why do I have the feeling this is something he didn’t approve of? I’m thinking he sees things my way, not yours, yes?”
“Listen, you fucker, I didn’t send anyone and you keep your mouth shut if you know what’s good for you.”
Evan sighed. “Oh, Eric, I honestly don’t give a shit enough to argue right now. Just come do some clean-up. I figure you have about 4 hours before the sun comes up. It’ll take you an hour and a half to get what you need together and get your ass here, so I suggest you move fast.”
“The Samuels cabin, at the lake. I’m sure you know it.” Evan ended the conversation and shut his phone off. He wanted to lie in the grass forever. Or a least for a few hours. He closed his eyes, but then he forced himself to get to his feet and go inside. He was sure he still had a few pieces of glass sticking out of him somewhere.
Alexi heard Evan’s voice again and he almost burst out of the bathroom. Only his damn leg was stopping him from running out. He was now wearing one of the robes they found in the dresser. Hunter came behind him, holding the first aid kit. When they entered the living room, both boys gasped loudly. There was blood on the floor. Lots of it. Alexi felt another breakdown coming. He was dizzy. He leaned against a table. He felt something sticky. He turned on the lamp. More blood. The lamp base was covered in it and it had spread over the table. He looked down at his hand. It was red. The room was spinning. Or was it just him? He was on his knees again, vomiting. Evan was by his side in a second, holding him, whispering comforting words into his ears.
“What the fuck happened?” Alexi asked, when he managed to regain some semblance of self-control. He looked up at Hunter, who had a blank expression on his face. He was staring at the blood-stained floor. Alexi’s gaze shifted to Evan. There were cuts on his beautiful face. Only two small ones. ‘He must have shielded his face with his hand when he went through the window.’ But they were still two too many. He wanted to kiss them, to heal them. To go back into Evan’s warm embrace of only an hour past, before this craziness came about. ‘If this is some sort of karma thing, then I must’ve been a real asshole in a previous life, to deserve all this shit. If I’m not a billionaire playboy superhero in my next life, I‘m gonna be awfully pissed!’ He traced his fingers delicately over the cuts, one on his right cheek, one on his forehead. ‘God, are they gonna scar? His face is forever gonna be marked. Because of me. Because he was around me!’ He wanted to cry again, but Evan held him tight and kissed his temple gently.
“It’s alright, Alexi. I’m alright. They’re gone, and we’re all fine. Now, pull yourself together, help me get cleaned up, then we need to get the hell out of here.”
“Sponge bath?” Alexi asked, a pale shade of a smile dancing across his lips.
Evan laughed. “Not yet. A shower will do, but I need you to check that there aren’t anymore pieces of glass embedded in my body…anywhere on my body.” He said, with the mischievous grin of his.
“Down, boy.” Alexi slapped his hand playfully.
“What the fuck’s wrong with you two?” Hunter finally asked. “We were fucking attacked. There’s a pool of blood on the floor and you guys are acting like lovesick teenage girls. GET A GRIP! We need to call the cops…or something.”
“Hunter…” both Alexi and Evan said, at the same time. They looked at each other for a moment, then Evan bowed his head in mock-surrender.
“Hunter, we know we can’t. You know…the situation.” Alexi said, his eyes darting towards Evan, trying to convey the message to Hunter without actually spelling it out.
“Look, whatever this is…it’s deep shit. It’s not the first time it’s happened, Alexi.” Evan said. And I don’t wanna get mixed in with this kind of crap. I…I think I friggin love you. ‘Christ on a pogo stick, I just said that, didn’t I?’ So I’ll never let anything happen to you. But…NO POLICE! Board up that broken window, then get the hell out of this place. Those guys ran off, but they could return. And I’m not comfortable with either them or the police showing up here. Look, no harm, no foul. They got banged up, they left. Time we follow suit.” With that, he headed into the bathroom. Alexi lingered behind for a few moments, exchanging worried and confused looks with Hunter, but finally he turned his back on the blond boy and moved towards the man of his dreams. The one who held him tight and safe.
Fifteen minutes later, they were leaving the cabin. Evan had gone over and fetched his truck once he had cleaned himself up a bit, so Hunter and Alexi wouldn’t have to walk. When Hunter came towards the car, he noticed another truck parked towards the back of the house. He looked intently at it, then he shifted his focus on Evan. “I thought you said they ran off. Isn’t that their car?” Hunter enquired, in a cold tone.
Evan stared back at him for long seconds, before replying levelly. “Your point being?” Then he climbed aboard, behind the wheel of his truck.
Dana ran out of the house when the truck pulled up. She took one look at the three boys and instantly knew something was wrong. There was a haunted look in Hunter’s eyes. Something had obviously disturbed him. ‘Damn it all! Me and Sam and this whole fucking life! We’ve damned our kids to a living hell!’ Evan had two small cuts on his face. They didn’t look bad and Alexi seemed okay, if somewhat shaken. ‘He looks like he’s getting used to it. Christ, what his life must be like, to become jaded to violence.’ Dana was sure that violence was involved.
“Where the hell have you been?” she shouted. She couldn’t help herself. She knew that all that mattered was that they were safely home, but she couldn’t drive away her anger. She had slapped Vince when she came home, after he had called her at work, to tell her that the boys had ran off. Fury was too small a word to describe her feelings. She wanted to hurt Vince. And she wanted to hurt Hunter for being so stupid. ‘But can I blame him? If my family were so fucked up growing up, wouldn’t I want to run away as well?’
She was also angry with Alexi. The boy had obviously gone after Hunter. That’s why Evan was there. But damn him, why didn’t he just tell Vince or call her? ‘Because this is a fucked up family, remember? How could he possibly trust us? Any of us?’ She stopped in front of the 3 boys. She pulled Hunter and Alexi against her body and gave them a hug. “Nevermind.” She said. “Just go inside. And for now, you’re grounded.”
“Big fucking deal. I was already grounded when I left, remember?” Hunter said mockingly.
Dana smacked him over the head, though far more lightly than she was tempted to do. “Don’t even start right now. Go inside. Both of you.” The boys planted their eyes firmly on the ground and walked humbly into the house.
“So…”Dana said, crossing her arms. Vince and two of the so-called bodyguards were a few feet away, but tried to ignore the conversation. “Tell me, Evan…what happened?”
“Hunter ran off, Alexi called me, told me where he went and asked me to give him a ride.”
“And where did you find him?”
“The cabin at the lake.”
“Ah, and you decided to stay overnight, why exactly?”
“I stayed for Alexi.” Evan answered with no emotion in his voice. “He stayed for Hunter. And Hunter…well, you’re gonna have to ask him.”
“And what happened?”
“Two goons showed up. One of them was also in the park. I chased them off.”
“You did, did you?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. Evan couldn’t tell if it was in surprise, admiration or suspicion.
“Yes. I broke a window, one of them broke another, and there’s…some blood in there. Just so you know.”
“And I suppose you still don’t want the cops involved?”
“Lady, those guys were after your kids. And it wasn’t the first time. Whatever it was all about, something tells me YOU don’t want the authorities involved any more than I do. It’s really a win-win situation, don’t you think?”
Dana stared intently at him, as if trying to read his every thought. Either that or burn him to the ground with laser vision…Whichever it was, it made Evan uncomfortable. Few things unnerved him, but this tiny woman was one of them. Still, he stubbornly met her gaze. ‘If nothing else, I’m not a coward. I’m not afraid to look into your eyes. But will you glance into mine and see the abyss? Find out what I am and get lost in despair and horror?’ Their eyes were locked for an eternity. Neither of them flinched. That unsettled Evan once more. He was positive this woman could at least read the surface of him. But she had the intensity and determination that told him she was far from done. She would see through him sooner or later. And he knew she was the type of person who wasn’t paralyzed with fear when she met someone like him. She was the type of person who crushed a bug instead of screaming and jumping up on a chair. She was dangerous. But she held the one he loved. He would never back down.
“I checked you out, Evan. Your records are sealed, since you were a minor, but…robbery AND attempted murder? Nice! How’d you get out of that one?” He didn’t answer. He just sat there, gnashing his teeth. “There’s something off about you. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s there. And sooner or later…” Evan turned away and walked to his car. He opened the door, but before he got in, he glared at Dana over the roof of his truck.
“You have no clue about me. Don’t presume you do.”
“I do know ONE thing. Alexi likes you. And that’s the only reason you’re not in handcuffs right now. Maybe you actually care about him as well. In which case…I’m willing to overlook some…defects, shall we say? But, you’d better come clean before I figure it all out. How you fit into it all.”
“Maybe it was God’s masterplan. Fate brought me to Alexi. Or the other way around…” Evan heaved a sigh, rubbing at his forehead. “Whatever you think of me, I really DO care about Alexi. I’d never do anything to hurt him. Know that.” Then he got in his truck and drove away, leaving Dana on the sidewalk, staring into the night, as the truck’s taillights were lost into the distance.