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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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A Night with no Stars - 26. Slippery Slope

Sorry.

Being trapped in the trunk was rather dull. He got tired of screaming and struggling and eventually stilled, straining his ears and attempting to brainstorm. The only thing he heard was a running engine, and while the association used to be comforting, he was afraid it was going to change after this experience. He was weighing his options. There was no chance of getting out; otherwise, transporting victims of kidnapping in the trunk would have gone out of style a long time ago. He didn't know who had abducted him. He didn't know where they were taking him. The situation was overall hopeless.

He tried to strain the tape that was tying his wrists together to slip one out, but if that had been so easy, nobody would have done that either. So, he started to bend desperately in an attempt to reach his mouth. By the time he gave up, his neck was aching from excessive gymnastics, and he was wheezing loudly like he'd run a marathon. He cursed himself because he was just wasting precious energy, kicked the door one last time for the sake of principle, and closed his eyes helplessly.

He looked up when he heard a quiet crackle, after which the engine clicked twice and cut out. What the fuck? For a long moment, it was completely silent. There was a flurry outside; someone was arguing. He narrowed his eyes, even though he could see shit either way, and tensed, ready to jump out the second the door opened. But the minutes passed, and nothing happened. He was getting impatient. If they weren't driving, but they also didn't plan to drag him out to shoot him, then what the fuck were they doing? Unless...

That explained the engine making strange sounds. The car had broken. Aleks chuckled quietly into the tape. Looked like they were real professionals.

It took a while, but the door finally opened, and Aleks darted out. He even managed to jump outside, but all it took was for one of them to trip him to make him spill onto the sidewalk and smash his forehead into the curb. He felt like his scull was breaking in half and reflexively tried to touch it, but forgot that his hands were bound and had almost torn his tendon. Fuck!

"Which idiot didn't tie his legs up?" asked a brusque voice of someone who seemed to be the boss of this lovely bunch. "Get him up," he ordered. Aleks felt a pair of arms pulling him, propping him against the car, and taking the bag off his head. "What are you doing, you moron?"

It was too late. Aleks had already opened his eyes, which wasn't easy because the blood from his forehead had just started to reach them. He looked around wildly, but quickly deflated. They were at the edge of a residential area. He could see blocks of flats behind them, but in front of them there was nothing but wood. Even if some poor soul ventured here, walking a dog or something, they'd probably run for the hills at the sight of them. He glanced down, where the third guy was wrapping the tape around his ankles.

Three. The boss seemed tough. Aleks had the impression that he knew him from somewhere. The one who had brought him back the ability to see wasn't all that impressive and looked sheepish, and the third one was big, but kind of squishy. Still, he wouldn't stand much chance against them.

Just as he thought it, they heard the grumbling of another engine, and a white van pulled up next to them. One more guy got out. Short and round, shorter than Aleks, which was quite an achievement. He looked familiar as well. Aleks had been raking his brain, but he couldn't figure out where he might have seen either this one or the boss.

Fuck. Four then.

"Because I already know which idiot didn't get a fucking check-up," the boss snarled, glaring at the third one, who immediately turned apologetic. He had protruding ears. Aleks wasn't sure what he was noting their characteristics for.

"Shit, man, I don't know what happened," he muttered in a low baritone, looking anxious.

"You will be explaining that," he warned, taking out his phone and dialing.

"Sounded like cam belt," Aleks tried to say, but only an unintelligible 'ubhbubg' left his mouth. The short one came over and fist-bumped the rest before brutally ripping the tape off Aleks' mouth. He squeezed his eyes and hissed in pain. The two others still looked cowed. They were scared of the boss, or this new one, or both of them.

"What are you mumbling?" he asked. He looked like one of those guys who were convinced that they were muscular, when in reality they were just fat. He was drawing himself up, trying hard to appear both taller and slimmer.

In the meantime, the boss' call connected. "Hey, we've got a problem..."

"Sounded like cam belt," Aleks repeated in a strained voice and got a judging look in return.

"...the car broke. How come what? I don't know how come. It just did. We've brought the other one. Yeah, of course it's still on..."

"Aren't you fucking clever?" The fat one scowled. Aleks blinked. Why, yes. Yes, he was.

"Hey!" the boss called to get their attention. "Shut his mouth back. You." He pointed to the owner of the broken car. "Try to start it."

The guy obediently sat behind the wheel while the fat one pressed the tape back to Aleks' mouth. The short break must have helped, because the engine suddenly came to life. Aleks wouldn't have recommended driving it, but it was hardly his problem.

"I'm sending Foggy to you..." the boss said into the phone.

"Hey, no names," protested... Aleks had no idea how to call the one who had taken the bag off his head. The bland one.

"Foggy is not his fucking name, you idiot," the boss scolded him before continuing into the phone: "He will meet you back at your uncle's club, and we will get on with the job."

Well, the mystery solved, which hadn't been much of a mystery in the first place. Aleks just couldn't grasp how Adrian had thought it was going to work in his favor.

The boss walked over to Foggy, and Aleks watched helplessly as he passed him his phone. "Bring the money back," he ordered scathingly.

"And go to a fucking mechanic," added the fat one gleefully.

Aleks knew it was a terrible idea because his legs were still tied and his chances of getting out of this were zero, but the fat one's attention was diverted now, and the bland one didn't seem keen to be involved at all. And they were going to hurt him anyway. He might as well give them a good reason, so he head-butted the fat one and struggled free from the bland one.

"Motherfucker!"

He managed to hop twice and stoop to reach his ankles before he felt arms grab him from behind.

"Fucking watch him," the boss admonished them.

The fat one's eyes were furious. "Oh, I'm gonna have fun with you," he promised menacingly, then started to drag him to the van, kicking and screaming through the tape. The boss told the other driver to go, and he followed them before popping the trunk open and making an inviting gesture. Aleks had already made his daring escape attempt and didn't want to get more banged up before they even started, so he was ready to just cooperate and get inside on his own, but he didn't get a chance. The bag was put back on his head—what for? He had already seen all of their faces—before he was grabbed and thrown again. He was clear-headed enough to curl up his legs before they slammed the door on them. The familiar growling of the engine returned a moment later.
Three of them, after all, but other than that, his situation hadn't improved much. Fuck.

***

 

Noon came and went. Okay, 'went' was a big word. It was a minute past twelve. Two minutes. Maks stood up and started to walk around the living room. Fuck, he'd known it was going to happen. He reached for his phone but hesitated. What if Aleks was talking to Partyka right now? What if his ringer was on or the phone was on display and his name appeared on the screen in big, conspicuous letters? Aleks had been so careful that no one found out about them. And he'd promised he would call, so if he didn't, it meant he probably couldn't.

Right. What if he couldn't call? Maks clutched the phone in his hand, staring at the minutes ticking by on the screen. Four past twelve. Five. He tried to convince himself that he was exaggerating and that Aleks hadn't meant precisely noon, just around noon. He had a long-standing tendency to be late. It was only five minutes, and Maks was looking for something that wasn't there. He should give him another five, ten, or fifteen minutes, because sooner or later he would get in touch. He always got in touch sooner or later.

Fuck, he had such a bad feeling. Maybe he was being silly and paranoid. Maybe he was going to mess everything up with his silliness and paranoia. Maybe Aleks was handling it. On the other hand, he might not be handling it at all. Someone could have... they could have hurt him.

He tapped Aleks' name impulsively and pressed the phone to his ear. Those couple of seconds it took to dial felt like eternity. He listened to the even signal with his heart up his throat. After several seconds, Aleks from the voicemail informed him cheerfully that he was unavailable at the moment and to try again later. Maks clenched his jaw, dialing again and this time paying more attention to his voice, because the owner of this voice had told him that he loved him only this morning, even though he sounded more childish now. He must have recorded it ages ago, back when he had still been pure, innocent, and carefree.

Had he ever been pure, innocent, and carefree?

Maks sat at the table, put the phone down, and hid his face in his hands helplessly. He squeezed his eyes closed, thinking furiously. At least his phone wasn't off. He must be speaking to Partyka right now; that's why he couldn't answer. It was the most logical explanation.

What if it wasn't, though? It was almost half past twelve. He could just go drive around, and with any luck, Aleks was going to call him back before he even got to the city center. Then he could come back home and fucking chill. But just in case he wouldn't, sitting here and waiting was the worst thing Maks could imagine.

He jumped and headed to the hallway. He'd already opened the front door when he changed his mind and grabbed the keys to the Audi and Aleks' hoodie—the big black one, the only one that didn't cling to him too tightly. He locked the door, ran down the stairs, and got into the Audi before taking a deep breath and opening the glove box. He slipped his hand inside, feeling around blindly. Good, it was still there. Aleks had done a great job at making a separate compartment for it. Idiot.

Was he going to need a gun? He hoped not. Was it smart to take it? Not at all. He looked around nervously before taking it out and putting it under his hoodie. He had no idea how to install this thing, so he just slipped it under his belt. At worst, he was going to shoot his dick off. That would be a pretty spectacular death. Or, even worse, he could survive. Would Aleks still want him if he shot off his dick? He hoped so.

He shook his head, trying to focus, then carefully got out of the car. The touch of metal on his stomach wasn't pleasant at all. He walked stiffly to his own car, started the engine, and suddenly hesitated.

If something had actually happened to Aleks, Maks going against these people on his own wasn't going to do shit. But as much as he didn't think that Aleks would have just forgotten about him, he didn't know for sure that something had happened. So far, it was all based on his hunch. And what else could he even do? Under normal circumstances, probably go to the police. What this Adrian guy had been doing were criminal threats, after all. That should be sufficient grounds to look into it. But the circumstances were far from normal, and instead of the police, Aleks had already gone to discuss said threats with his equally criminal boss. It might have been a good idea if Aleks was spotless in all of it, but Maks knew he wasn't, and he would have fucking killed him if he went to the police.

But what if he didn't and Aleks got hurt? Could he live with that?

He was driving slowly, covered in cold sweat, because maybe Aleks would have known what to do if he got pulled over, but Maks had no idea. He would have either had a heart attack or just pleaded guilty right away, admitted that he had a gun, and just surrendered because he was such a stupid upstanding citizen.

He finally sped up because he figured that if he encountered a road check, it was more likely they'd pull him over if he was creeping furtively, especially since he had an unpleasant impression that he had a huge 'I have a gun in the car' caption on his forehead. So he focused on being as inconspicuous as possible under the circumstances.

He parked at the same spot where he had dropped Aleks a few days ago and started to watch the main entrance, feeling his hands slide down the steering wheel. His neck was all sweaty too, and not only because it was disgustingly hot. He had no plan. Without Aleks, he felt completely alone and helpless. What was he getting himself into? He stood no chance against these people. Aleks at least knew their inner workings and their principles, if they had any. Maks knew nothing. He had no idea what he was dealing with. And he was scared; only now had he admitted it to himself. He was nearly paralyzed by fear.

He saw a movement and strained his eyes. Someone had just left the building. Maks knew this silhouette very well. It was hard to contain his anger, though it was probably a fully natural reaction. The last time he'd seen this guy, Aleks had been kneeling before him with his face pressed to his crotch. It was no wonder Maks wasn't too fond of him.

Wincent looked agitated. He raised his phone to his ear and waited for a long moment before giving up and putting it away. He couldn't reach someone. Maks swallowed heavily, and when he saw him crossing the street, he was planning on following, but something else caught his attention. Another familiar figure. He reluctantly took his eyes off Wincent.

This mug evoked even less pleasant feelings. He was torn for a bit, but if Wincent had been calling Aleks—and hadn't gotten through—it meant he didn't know where he was, and this one might. Adrian paused near the entrance to the club, looking at his phone. Wincent didn't seem aware of his presence; he was already disappearing behind the corner, and Maks breathed a sigh of relief because it had at least solved his dilemma. Adrian was now his only lead.

He put the hood on, lowered himself in the seat, and bowed his head, even though his eyes were up, still vigilantly watching his surroundings. For a moment, it was quiet and still.

Eventually, he heard another car. It was black and was rolling very slowly and carefully, making a strange throttling noise like it was going to die any minute now. The driver stopped right in front of Adrian but didn't turn the engine off; maybe he was afraid it wouldn't start again. He just leaned out the window and spoke to Adrian quietly. He had a big, round head with just as big protruding ears. Adrian seemed impatient; he rolled his eyes before holding out his hand expectantly, and the driver passed him something. Maks squinted. It looked like a cellphone and a wallet. Adrian gave him a fat white envelope in return, and the guy started to just as slowly and carefully drive away.

Maks was torn again. Should he follow that guy? But first, the car didn't look like it was going to get very far, and second, he would have to drive right in front of Adrian, and that didn't seem like a good idea. Finally, he dismissed the dying car and fixed his attention back on his main suspect, who was still standing at the curb and fiddling with the phone he'd just collected. Maks couldn't see all that much, but it might have been a white iPhone. Aleks had a white iPhone. It still didn't mean a whole lot; thousands of people had white iPhones. If the front screen was cracked, though...

Adrian pocketed the phone and got into one of the cars parked in front of the club, so Maks started the engine and followed him, keeping a safe distance.

***

 

It couldn't have been more than several minutes since they'd dragged him out of the trunk, but Aleks felt like it had been hours. When he'd still been locked up, he'd only wanted to get his vision back, but now that the bag was off his head, he didn't really care anymore; he mostly kept his eyes closed anyway. He was lying on his side because it was the least painful position. His wrists and ankles were still tied. He curled up, feeling that if he was kicked in the stomach one more time, he was going to spit out an internal organ. He just hoped it was going to be one of those he could live without. Spleen or something.

"You think he's really a faggot?" the fat one asked. Aleks had no strength left to look up and check, but he'd started to recognize them based on their voice. The tallest one was the boss. The short, fat one was the most vicious. His cheeks were sunken, like he'd lost a lot of weight in a very short time, but he was still fat, so he must have been huge before. Maybe he was so savage now as revenge on all those who had made fun of him in school, because they must have made fun of him. He'd pegged Aleks right. Back in middle school, when he'd still been a brainless dolt, he used to bully guys like him mercilessly. This must be his punishment.

Such stupid thoughts. Then there was the bland one. This one had hardly said or done anything other than kick him a couple of times; he mostly just stood and watched. There was always one who just stood and watched. But he was also the one who had taken the bag off his head during their forced break and the one who'd voiced the concern that he might suffocate back when they'd first gotten to him.

Three against one, tied up on top of that. Pathetic.

"Who cares," scoffed the boss.

"We could check," suggested the fat one. "If he salivates, that means he is," he said, reaching blatantly to his fly.

Aleks froze when he heard laughter, though he wasn't sure if it was from the boss, the bland one, or both. What should he do? Play dead? There was a chance they weren't necrophilic on top of everything else. But who knew with these straight manly studs, who suddenly didn't find fags all that repugnant anymore as soon as they had a smaller, immobile, vulnerable boy at their mercy, to whom they could prove their superiority and show him that they could make him their bitch anytime they wanted?

He spent a moment praying to some mysterious being, even though he didn't know whether he believed in their existence or not.

"Don't be disgusting," the boss' voice chastised him, and Aleks felt relief that evaporated as soon as someone stepped on his hand with all their weight. It must be the fat one, because there was a lot of weight. He opened his eyes with difficulty and only saw the sole of a white trainer before it moved to press on his neck. He heard laughter again, then whispers that he couldn't decipher. He wasn't being choked for long; the shoe soon disappeared to kick his side instead. But it was enough for his airwaves to close up, so he rolled onto his stomach and rested his forehead on the dirty litter. His breathing hadn't been great before, which he had tried to blame on his general circumstances and not on asthma, but now it was getting unbearable; he felt like most of the air wasn't reaching his lungs at all but was getting lost somewhere along the way. Fuck, not this again. Everything but this. Nothing made him feel more helpless, frustrated, and panicked. Nothing had ever scared him more. He was terrified of not breathing.

"Jesus, is he choking?" the fat one asked with revulsion.

"Come on, let's not go overboard," the boss' voice said. "We aren't supposed to finish him."

"Isn't leaving him here tied up and suffocating sort of finishing him?" the bland one asked, uncertain. Someone must have looked at him oddly, because he immediately started to defend himself. "What? I just mean, won't Partyka be mad if he dies?"

"Is Partyka the one paying you?" the fat one asked mockingly.

"Partyka is kind of important though," the bland one stuck to his guns stubbornly. If Aleks could have breathed, he would have probably laughed. Where had Adrian found these idiots? Partyka was kind of important. No shit.

"Then it's not on us," the boss decided calmly. "Adrian will be the one to explain himself to Partyka. We did our job."

Aleks hoped they were going to go away and let him die in peace, but then he felt someone grabbing his t-shirt from behind and lifting him up. They'd even taken his jacket. He had loved that jacket. It had been quite expensive. He was turned, and he squinted his eyes from the sun coming right from behind the fat one like a halo. He held him up, and Aleks stared straight into his face, scowling and hoping his expression said, 'I'm gonna find you, you bastard, and you're gonna regret it'.

"Right. Adrian says 'hi'," the asshole snarled spitefully, now that the name had come up, and Aleks knew that it was supposed to sound sinister, but mostly it sounded comical and wasn't as much of a surprise as they apparently thought.

"Tell him..." he wheezed out, still unable to fully catch his breath. "...'hi' too." Spitting it out was more difficult than he had expected and probably wasn't worth the effort.

It definitely hadn't been worth the effort and apparently hadn't been what the fat one had wanted to hear, because soon all Aleks' sassiness evaporated when he felt the knee ramming into his groin. His eyes got cloudy, and he fell back on the ground, forgetting about breathing and forgetting about the asthma, because he felt as if he was going to crumble into pieces.

Someone must have disapproved, because the fat one barked, "What? He's a fag. It's not like it's going to make any difference to him."

He cackled crudely, and Aleks finally heard them walk away. He used what was left of his strength to roll over onto his stomach again, feeling his body losing the tension. It might even be worse, because up until now, he'd at least been filled with adrenaline that had distracted his attention from breathing trouble, but now it was all he could focus on.

"I'm going to catch up, guys," he heard the voice of the bland one. He closed his eyes and pressed his face into the leaves like it would somehow make him disappear, waiting for further torture, but it didn't come. He just heard something small falling onto the grass next to him and then footsteps again. He didn't dare to open his eyes. He didn't dare to hope it was over.

But the minutes passed and the silence stretched, so eventually he looked up fearfully. He was on his own, and there was a blue inhaler lying right in front of his eyes. He wanted to laugh, but he was too scared that he was going to hurt himself even worse.

Son of a bitch. First kicking his ass and then solidarity between people with asthma? What a joke. But he wasn't going to sniff at this display of humanity, so he managed to overcome both the distrust of what kind of medicine was inside and the nausea at putting into his mouth what had been in someone else's mouth before. He had the ridiculous thought that it would be just as if they kissed—he and that meek bastard who couldn't even find enough courage in himself to refuse to beat someone up.

He reached his tied hands with difficulty, grabbed the inhaler, shook it weakly, pressed it to his mouth, and took two deep puffs. He felt tears in the corner of his eyes and clenched his teeth. He wasn't crying like a pussy because he'd gotten a little roughed up. He was a big boy and had already gotten a fair amount of beatings, though none had ever felt as serious as this one. He just cried in relief because he could breathe again.

At least they had more or less spared his face. Only his forehead was split open, but that he'd done to himself by jumping out of the trunk. He waited a moment longer for his breath to even out because he didn't trust himself or his own decisions when he couldn't breathe. The dumb panic wasn't helping with keeping his head clear at all. He wasn't sure if he even had the strength to go somewhere. He doubted it, but he still started to slowly, clumsily fiddle with his hands to get them free, because it was either this or falling unconscious.

Finally, he succeeded and laid back on the grass, panting. His breathing was still far from perfect, and he didn't think they had done any irreversible damage, but there must have been a reason for him to feel this bad. He was no expert on internal injuries, and there was no telling what they could have rearranged inside him.

Should he be walking? Probably not, but he shouldn't stay here either. He was in the middle of nowhere, and the chances that someone would find him here were slim. Staying here was not recommended. With that thought, he curled up and started to slowly free his legs.

Unfortunately, that seemed to consume the last of his energy, because then he just laid down on his front and closed his eyes.

 

***

 

Just this morning, Maks hadn't considered himself paranoid, but everything had changed in these few hours. He parked in a safe distance, watching the gate Adrian had disappeared behind closely. They weren't in Warsaw anymore, but also not in any of the nearby towns; it was just one impressive mansion surrounded by woods. He got out of the car and stalked towards the property, needlessly checking if he still had a gun, even though he could feel it perfectly pressed against his skin. He hesitated by the gate. What if they had a dog? But he couldn't ring the bell, could he? He had no other choice. Driving here, he'd already managed to convince himself that this bastard had Aleks' phone and probably Aleks himself as well, and Maks wanted both of those things back. Aleks still hadn't called, and that couldn't be a coincidence anymore. Someone had taken him, and everything pointed to Adrian.

He jumped through the gate and stilled, listening intently. No growling. Good.

Breaking and entering, checked.

He exhaled quietly and started to stalk again, this time along the building. This damn house went on forever. Suddenly, he heard a noise and pressed his back against the cold wall. If there were more of them, he stood no chance. To be honest, he stood very little chance, even if there was only Adrian. He peeped out from behind the corner.

Good news: Adrian was on his own. He looked troubled; in one hand, he had a glass with dark liquor at the bottom, and in the other, a white phone. He kept fiddling with it until it started to vibrate. For a split second after glancing at the screen, he looked genuinely scared. He perched on the edge of one of the loungers, sitting next to the pool on the huge patio, and answered slowly. Maks stayed pressed against the wall, straining his ears and trying not to breathe.

He couldn't hear what the person on the other side said, but Adrian's reply was, "Yeah, it's me." After that, he was silent for a moment, then he blurted with clearly fake confidence, "What do you think? I've already taken care of it."

For some reason, Maks was sure the answer was stunned silence. After a moment, Adrian explained helpfully, "Your new addition, Szczęsny, whose phone you're currently calling." He let himself sound a little smug and took a sip of his drink. "You should really pick those kids more carefully, because you 'see the potential' and then I need to clean up," he whined in an irritating manner.

Maks exhaled slowly. Partyka? Was he in on it? Damn that he couldn't hear what he was saying.

"Well, he should be," Adrian said, not sounding very certain. "I mean, I would have to check, but... should be alive. You can still do anything you want with him."

Maks felt like the ground was being pulled away from beneath his feet, and he just focused on not making a single sound. What did 'should' even mean? Only now did he think that he might be losing time.

The caller—Partyka, it must have been—raised his voice, but Maks still couldn't understand the words. Adrian's expression darkened. "Why are you even mad? Have you seen what I sent you last night? That shit can't stand. Little faggot needed to be taught a lesson. Besides, he's been deceiving you too. That shit can't stand," he repeated stubbornly.

Partyka started to talk even louder. Maks was pretty sure he heard something along the lines of, 'Do you have any idea what you've done?'.

"Weren't you going to do the same, though?" Adrian asked, sounding genuinely baffled. "I really don't get your problem here. He would be gone one way or another—" Partyka must have cut him off, because he fell silent and then scoffed dismissively. "What do you mean, how much he knows? What does it matter?"

By now, Partyka sounded furious and was yelling so loudly that Maks had no problem catching his words, at least a booming 'It matters!' and a slightly quieter 'We don't even know for sure that he's dead, you moron, and now he might be out there, unsupervised, alive, and probably very, very pissed! Do you know how dangerous this is?!'.

For a moment there, Maks had thought that Partyka was an ally, but that moment had just passed.

Adrian started to look sheepish. "Even if he is, he's not going to snitch. He's not suicidal," he muttered sullenly. Whatever Partyka asked next, it made Adrian visibly tense. It took him a long time to answer. "I don't know," he admitted finally. He was listening for a long time, looking more dejected with every second. Suddenly, he scowled. "Really, you're still going to defend him?" he huffed in disbelief. "But you're not going to let him stay? Or... let him go?"

Maks would have really wanted to hear the answer to that. Sadly, he didn't. He could only wait for Adrian's reaction. "I have no idea?" he clearly echoed. "If it wasn't for me—" Partyka must have interrupted him again and had been talking for a long time. Adrian looked so upset that Maks wouldn't have been surprised if tears of frustration had appeared in his eyes. "Okay. Okay, I'll find him," he finally said, and apparently he was hung up on because he drew the phone from his ear and blinked at it dumbly.

Fucking move, Maks wanted to scream. Wasn't Partyka all of their boss? He had ordered Adrian to find Aleks, so he needed to suck it up and do just that. Only now did all that he'd heard start to sink in, and he felt his knees shaking. Hands as well. He rested the back of his head against the wall. It was so hard to keep it all inside without making a sound. He held his breath when he heard Adrian's voice again.

"Hey, man, how did it go?" He sounded like he was walking around. Maks didn't dare to peer out this time. "Yeah, I know. It's been ringing all the fucking time. Popular little shit. But is he cold or what?" For a moment, he was only listening, and Maks was only falling apart. "What do you mean, asthma? And he thinks that shit will kill him? Since when is he a fucking expert?" Adrian scoffed. "But he wasn't when you left him, right? Well, I need you to be fucking sure! So get back there and check! I don't give a shit that it's far. Listen, I'm going to tell Partyka that he's done, and if he fucking surprises us and shows up on Monday, then it's going to be on you." He hung up abruptly and tossed his phone on something soft—probably the lounger.

By this point, Maks was just staring at one spot on the hedge in front of him. He had never felt so helpless before, and time had never felt like such an enemy; every fucking minute critical because Aleks could be dying somewhere, and he was just standing here, pressing his hand to his mouth to curb any treacherous reactions from his body. It wouldn't help. Bursting into tears wouldn't help at all, but he didn't have a single idea of what to do. The only thing he felt like doing was curling up on the cold concrete and dying as well. The seconds were ticking away, and he felt as if something was being ripped from his insides. His thoughts were a huge panicked mess of 'Aleks' and 'what', and 'why', and 'this is not happening', and 'how to fix it', because it must be fixable, it must be. Maybe he would have settled down and started thinking clearly quicker if he could take deep, calming breaths, but he was too scared that Adrian would hear him, and he couldn't decide if confronting him was a good idea. He couldn't decide anything when he was like this.

Finally, something started to crystallize in his brain. He didn't even consider running; if Aleks was dead or would be soon, then there was no point. He glanced at Adrian. He was frowning at Aleks' phone and sipping his drink. Maks wanted to stick the glass into his forehead. If he had ever, in his boring, lethargic, miserable life, wanted to commit murder, it was now.

Fuck, think practical. Sticking a glass into Adrian's forehead wasn't going to help Aleks. Think about how to find out where he was. Track the phone, but his phone was here; besides, Maks had no idea how to do that. There was... a thing iPhones had. But Aleks still didn't have his phone, so that was a moot point. The police could probably track the phone...

The police, of course. No, they wouldn't track the phone because Aleks didn't have one on him, but they could interrogate Adrian and his buddies. And find out where Aleks was and make it there in time. After, they could lock up this whole unsavoury bunch. Including Aleks, whatever. At least behind bars, he wouldn't be dying. He would be safe, and Maks would send him packages and visit him weekly, and...

He looked down when he felt his own phone vibrating, followed by the ringtone. Because he apparently had not put his phone on silent because he was clearly an idiot.

He stilled and was sure that Adrian on the other side of the wall did the same. It had been a mistake to focus on his stupid thoughts and stop paying attention to him.

He heard approaching footsteps and, not knowing what he was doing at all, pulled the gun from under his belt and raised it a second before Adrian appeared from behind the corner.

It was such a ludicrous scene because he was dialing Maks' number on the white iPhone, and Maks was holding his own phone with big letters saying 'Aleks' right on top of the screen. What the fuck had he tried to call him for? How had he even known to call him? As if he wasn't looking enough like a sadist without calling the partner of a guy he'd ordered a hit on to inform him about it.

He must have been a big fan, though, if it'd taken him so little time to figure out that Aleks' lock code was the combination of digits from the title of one of his songs. And the combination of digits on Maks' license plate.

They spent a moment just staring at each other.

"I didn't expect you here." Adrian sounded collected, even though he was eyeing the barrel aimed at him warily. "Some kind of rescue mission?" he asked with innocent curiosity.

Maks' fingers tightened on the handle. "Call them," he demanded quietly, because suddenly the answer had become obvious. These assholes Adrian had talked to were the only people on earth who knew Aleks' location. And Maks needed them. "Call them and tell them to bring him back."

Adrian looked like he was considering it deeply. "Yeah, I don't think I will," he finally said, clearly trying to appear relaxed. "Anyway, it's probably too late. You can shoot me, of course, but then you'll never know. Or you could try finding him on your own. He might not bleed out yet in some forest. And there are a lot of forests around this city," he broke off suggestively, smirking a bit.

Maks aimed the gun right at his heart without even a conscious thought. He knew he was bluffing. He had no idea where his friends had left Aleks. "I swear I'm going to do it," he said, dropping his eyes to the gun to locate the safety. He found it and flicked it off to show how serious he was, proud of himself for all the action movies he had watched in his life, before putting his forefinger on the trigger. "If you're not going to call them—"

Adrian shook his head. "This is boring. Let's talk," he offered pleasantly. "Sure, you can shoot me, but what's the point? You're going to get locked up, and you look like you have a bright future ahead of you. Are you sure Szczęsny is worth it?" he asked skeptically.

"He's worth a thousand times more than you," Maks growled, immediately cursing himself for letting him provoke him. He wasn't planning on getting tangled up in his games.

Adrian gave him a bland smile. "What's with the hate speech?" he sniffed.

His attitude was making Maks see red. Aleks had been right that he was a complete psycho. Had his sister really been seeing this monster at some point? He shook his head internally. He couldn't let himself be distracted.

"Give me the phone." He changed tactics, pointing to the lounger with the hand that wasn't busy holding the gun.

"Look, you seem like a sensible guy. I'm sure you don't want the whole world to see this," Adrian said, appearing to not listen to him at all. He took a piece of paper, folded in half, from the inside pocket of his jacket. Maks watched tensely as he unfolded it and felt a lump in his throat when he saw what was on it. Judging by the amount of fag comments, he could have expected that. It was also far from the biggest problem right now, but seeing it in someone else's presence was still startling. "I can understand a lot, you know, but it's really not my fault. You two got careless, and you only have yourselves to blame—"

"Give me that," Maks demanded in a shaking voice, still staring at the picture. Someone had taken it when they'd broken off for a minute, which made both of their faces blatantly recognizable. They were leaning against the tree; Maks' arms were enfolding Aleks' waist tightly, and his hand was up, loosely cupping his cheek. They were looking at each other, Maks with a trace of a smile around his mouth, while Aleks' lips were pressed tightly together like he was holding back laughter. Behind them, the river was shimmering with colors. Who the fuck had been there and dared to take such a picture?

Maks looked up at the exact moment Adrian rolled his eyes. "Come on, you can't think it's the only copy?" he scoffed.

"I don't care," Maks cut off anxiously. They had gotten careless. There was no denying that.

"Really?" Adrian sounded genuinely surprised. "Well, since you don't have a real one to grope anymore, you can keep it as a souvenir." His smile was revolting when he graciously passed Maks the photo. He reached out, but Adrian had let it go before he managed to grasp it. He watched helplessly as it dropped to the ground, and Adrian took a supposedly accidental step forward and stomped on it. Maks stared at their faces under a big, shiny trainer. For some reason, it almost caused him physical pain. Their whole love story, reduced to .jpg format and trampled. "Oh, sorry," Adrian added without a shadow of remorse.

There's no time for this, Maks screamed in his head. Once more, he tightened his hold on the gun. "If you don't stop talking, I swear I will shoot your head off," he warned him, trying to even out his shaking voice. He didn't know if he would be capable of pulling the trigger or, if he would, what he was waiting for.

Adrian laughed quietly. "What?" he asked, bending over to pick the picture up from the ground. The barrel of Maks' gun followed his movement. "A little muddy, and you already don't want it? You can still jerk off to it while taking a trip down memory lane." He spent a moment scrutinizing the photo before looking up. "So he likes it out in the open? Maybe I will call the guys after all. They could benefit too," he added with pretended consideration, glancing pointedly at his phone lying on the lounger.

Make nearly saw white with fury, and he knew that the piece of shit was trying to provoke him on purpose, but his smug smirk clouded the last scraps of sound thought in his mind. "You sick fuck," he just hissed, feeling himself reach a limit of endurance he hadn't even known he had before. He wouldn't have believed that he could hate someone so much. It burned his throat and weighed down on his insides. He didn't care what was going to happen to him afterwards. At this particular moment, all he wanted was to make the person in front of him stop breathing. There wasn't a cell in his body that was against the idea.

Adrian must have felt it too, because while Maks was contemplating whether or not he was capable of committing murder, he suddenly jumped to grab the gun, and Maks felt his elbow crushing his nose. He tasted the blood in his mouth and swung at him, but he missed. Adrian caught his wrist, and Maks started to struggle. For some time, they were just wrestling, trying to point the gun in the direction of the other, but both were too scared to shoot. Adrian tried to use his other hand to punch him again, but he was too close, so Maks pushed against him even more, clutching the gun as if his life depended on it, because it actually did.

He made Adrian take a step back, overwhelmingly aware of his advantage, because he must have had way more experience in this than him. Maks had only fought once and run away like a wimp after taking one strike. Maybe he didn't know how to fight, but he had something way better: a burning determination, filling him from head to toe, to crush this guy, to do everything he'd done to him and Aleks, and then some. He had never felt such a driving force within himself, so he used it, making Adrian knuckle under him instead of the other way around and not letting the gun go under any circumstances.

He'd already bent Adrian's arm so much that he saw pain on his face. He started to retreat, but Maks was right at him, fixing all his strength on their arms until the gun was pointing somewhere around Adrian's jaw. Now all that was left to do was shoot, but God, it would really blow his head off. It wasn't supposed to be like that; besides, wouldn't the noise deafen him for fucking ever?

He didn't get to make a decision because first Adrian lost his footing and then he did a split second later, and they both plummeted down into the pool.

The funny part was that neither of them let go of the gun. The shock passed after a moment, and then it was as if nothing had changed. They were still struggling, just underwater. Mask immediately stopped breathing and was distantly aware that his nose was leaving a bloody trail. They went down at first, moving erratically. Damn, this thing was deep. The unnecessary energy waste wasn't helping with holding their breath at all, so Maks stilled. Adrian's motions were getting slower; apparently he couldn't stay underwater for as long and was already getting weak. Maks suddenly appreciated all those summers at the lake. Water had always been his ally.

Instead of trying to get back to the surface, Adrian was still struggling and clutching the gun, as if he was convinced that he was safe as long as he didn't let it go. Idiot, but it made Maks hold onto it too, even though he didn't even know if that thing was going to work underwater. Finally, he let it go and was going to reach for the surface and just leave the asshole here to die, because if it kept on, he was just going to drown. Or they'd both drown, because Adrian wasn't the only one losing his strength. For a split second, he even considered pulling him out with him, but no, he wasn't so altruistic. So he surged up, but Adrian grabbed at his face and hair, keeping him in place. Maks started to struggle again, trying to break free, this time more panicked, because drowning became a real possibility now that this moron had apparently decided to take him with him.

The water started to fill Maks' lungs when he felt the gun touching his thigh and flinched before grabbing it just to have something solid to hold onto. He had no idea how Adrian was still conscious and able to wrestle with him, as much as he had no idea who pulled the trigger or where the barrel was aimed at the time, but he at least got answers to his two crucial questions.

Yes, it did fire underwater. And yes, it did deafen him.

Copyright © 2021 Mercury Eff; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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