Empty Bargains [Jason McCann]

"I have nothing else to offer you," Markus barked through gritted teeth, his fists clenched hard at his sides.

Jason shook his head, chuckling. "I only want one thing, and it's in this room," he sneered.

My brother took a step closer to me, trying to push me toward the door. Jason's eyes flashed over and caught mine, a glint in his eye while a shiver went down my spine.

"What do you want?" Markus asked, impatient.

Jason's head nodded in my direction. I froze and the room fell deafeningly silent.

"I want her."


20. ~10.17...2~

Psych!  Definitely got too excited with the last chapter and cranked out a new one.  Little bit of a filler, but some background stuff coming out?  Warning: next chapter is gonna be important, I can feel it.  Hope you all enjoy.

(Two weeks from NOW will be next update.Xx)


Also, sorry about possible typos.  Definitely don't have the mental energy to fix them at the moment.





    I was shocked at first, used to staying in by now.  With whatever this situation had become, it’d never been a question of whether or not I could leave — the answer had been a reflexive no.  I had a hard time deciding by Jason’s expression if he was serious, and finally concluded that I’d take him literally.


    “Why would I do that?” I asked skeptically.


    “Because I want you with me,” Jason said casually, squeezing my waist before placing a kiss to my nose.


    I scrunched it and looked down at myself.  “Let me change.”


    “Don’t make me wait too long,” he said with a grin, pecking my cheek before leaving me.


    I ran down quickly to get one of my duffels, then jogged back upstairs.  Kneeling down beside it, I unzipped it quickly — but stopped short when I saw what rested on top.  I hadn’t grabbed my bag, I’d grabbed one of Jason’s.  And sitting inside was my phone.


    I could’ve sworn the universe was testing me.  It wanted me to fail, wanted me to look at my phone and text my brother or Tyler or someone to let them know where I was.  My resistance was much greater than the pull, though, and Jason was the reason.  More and more I found myself wanting to just be with him, as if standing near him could lighten a bad mood.  Whenever I was with him, I didn’t think about the boys I’d previously lived with.  It was nice, and I didn’t have plans of changing it anytime soon.


    I shoved my phone deep into the duffel and zipped it quickly, then slid it a good ten feet away from me.  Then I stood, intent on taking one of my duffel bags.  When I returned to the master, opened the duffel and found and outfit as quickly as I could, hoping the time I’d wasted hadn’t made Jason change his mind.  I was going out in public for the first time in what felt like forever.


    Once I’d changed into black skinny jeans and an airy purple top, I practically skipped steps running downstairs.  Jason was leaning on the island in the kitchen, talking to Leo and Carter.


    I turned into the entry way where I’d left my boots and shoved my feet into them.  I snuck a glance out the front window and saw a white Subaru WRX pull up to the curb.  Xander got out of the driver’s seat and the other guy — Tyson — hopped out of the passenger’s side.  They both looked at the house and nodded to each other, probably talking about the size and stature of it.  This house was certainly a step up from the last.


    Before they caught me staring out from the door, I turned and walked back to the kitchen.  Jason smiled and placed his arm around my waist.




    I nodded, returning his grin.


    “What’s going on?” Leo asked, looking a little doubtful.


    “We’re going out,” Jason replied casually, leaving no room for argument.


    The front door opened and Xander and Tyson bustled in, not bothering with their shoes before traipsing into the main room.  They did a once-over of the room, then joined everyone in the kitchen.


    “We’re here for the rest of it,” Xander told Jason, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge.


    “It’s in my truck,” Jason told him.  He dug keys out of his pocket and tossed them to Xander.  “Take it to the warehouse.  I need your car, though.”


    Xander nodded and threw Jason a different key ring.  I received a calculating look in the exchange from across the room.  “The tank is low.”


    “I’ll fill it,” Jason said, then began leading me toward the front door.  “You’d better get mine, too.”


    “Whatever,” was Xander’s reply, and Jason and I were out and in the front yard.


    We walked to the Subaru, Jason’s arm around my shoulders.  He opened the passenger’s door for me and I kissed his jaw before sliding in.  After he jogged around and started the car, we pulled away from the curb.  l started fidgeting, excited about the fact I was finally going out in public.  Jason glance at me and chuckled.


    “Sorry,” I said, catching myself.


    He shook his head.  “Don’t apologize.”


    After making a quick stop at the gas station, Jason headed further into the city.  I watched buildings go by, each labeled with different companies.  The last time I’d seen the business side of a city had been even before I’d started staying with Jason.  My brother nor Tyler liked taking trips into the city, both being rural people.  Personally, I liked the overabundance of people.  It was comforting to know I blended, could be counted off as a normal person rather than the “Lastings sister”.  I wondered if Jason had made a name for himself here yet.


    “How familiar are you with this area?” I asked him casually, lacing my fingers together in my lap.


    “I know it well enough to get around without a GPS,” he answered, sneaking a look at me.  A smile tugged at his lips.


    I nodded, realizing he seemed to know exactly where we were going.  This bothered me a little.  Jason was so well known back home that if he lifted a finger, it would reach a thousand people every ten minutes.  One of the things that’d attracted me to moving up here — as if I’d had much of a choice — was the anonymity the group would have for the first month or so.  But if people knew Jason here, had word spread of the events leading up to my stay with the guys?  The last thing I wanted was to hear Tyler’s and Jason’s names in the same sentence.


    “Do people know you here?” I asked.


    Something in my voice must’ve given me away, because he stole another, confused look at me.  “I have a supplier up here, and a few friends, but I haven’t talked to them in a long time.  My name is known, but not by many.”


    I could feel relief begin to creep into my body.  If only a few people knew Jason, they almost certainly didn’t know me.  A name couldn’t be put to my face, therefore I could make a new one for myself.  The sudden fear of being singled out had passed, and I sighed.


    “What?” Jason questioned, raising an eyebrow.


    “Nothing,” I shrugged.  I reached for his hand and brought it to my lips, kissing the prominent knuckle.  “Just curious.”


    We drove in silence for a few minutes as I stared out at the people we passed.  When Jason finally pulled into a lot, a building I’d hardly noticed now came into full view.  It was obviously a home furnishings store, moderately busy for a Friday afternoon.  Jason parked and we climbed out of the car.  He clicked the lock and I waited for him, taking a place on his right as we walked up together.  I felt myself smile involuntarily, watching actual people pass us.


    Jason’s arm found its way around my waist and pulled me closer to him, our sides bumping with every other step.  I snuck a look up at his face, but he held a mostly neutral expression while staring straight ahead.  Maybe that was the mask he wore out in public.  Markus had one; my brother had one; everyone I knew had a different attitude when out and around.  They had to, to uphold a reputation.  It didn’t usually bother me, beside the fact I didn’t know how to act around Jason’s yet.


    When we got inside I hardly got to look at the different signs pointing various places before he tugged me to the left.  I felt his hand slip under my flowing top, warm fingers rubbing against the skin just above my jeans.  The touch sent a chill up my spine, and I could almost hear him smile next to me.  Maybe his mask didn’t run so deep I couldn’t break through it.


    A minute later we stopped in front of a whole section of bed frames.  I looked them over, wood and metal frames, both close to the floor and far from it.  Jason’s previous bed had been high up, which was what I assumed he wanted now.


    “Which one?” I nodded at the section of furniture.


    “Take your pick,” he told me, squeezing my side.


    “High or low?” I asked, not really comfortable dictating exactly where his money went.


    “Whichever is easier to reach in a hurry,” he chuckled lowly, and my face flushed.  Low, then.


    I led him over to a black frame that stood about six inches from the ground.  The top of the mattress would reach about two feet above the floor.  Something about low lying beds attracted me, and not just for sexual reasons.  I didn’t like being too high up in the first place.


    “Can I help you?” I female voice came from behind us.


    I looked back over my shoulder, not able to fully turn with Jason’s arm still around me.  A middle-aged woman approached us, black rimmed glasses on her graying head.  The uniform she wore was a navy polo and khaki pants, and a name tag reading “Jane” was pinned on her chest.


    “This one?” Jason asked me, gesturing to the frame we were stopped in front of.


    “Sure,” I replied, glancing back at the woman.


    She smiled.  “Mattress size?”


    “King,” Jason said automatically.


    She nodded and pulled out a pad of paper from her pocket.  Her pen scratched a model number over the pad and she tore it off before handing it to me.  “Take that to the warehouse counter when you’re done shopping, and you can either load it up or get it delivered to your home.”


    “Thank you,” I said and watched her disappear behind a corner, looking for another customer.


    “Now for the fun part,” Jason mumbled, making my cheeks flush again.


    I was lead through the store again, and was convinced Jason had been here before when we landed in front of a mattress section in under thirty seconds.  His arm fell from my side as he moved toward the first one he saw, collapsing into it and smirking at me.


    “This is the same brand I had back in Poway,” he told me, then patted the spot beside him.  “We could just get this one again.”


    I let a grin spread on my face and took his invitation, sitting criss-cross facing him.  “It is pretty great.”


    Jason craned his neck to look back at the others behind us.  “But there’s a memory foam mattress over there.  That would be nice.”


    I shook my head with a laugh.  “Whatever you want.”


    “I think you should choose.”


    “And why is that?” I rose an eyebrow at him.


    “You’ll do a majority of the laying,” he said, his smirk deepening.  My mouth fell open and he swiftly darted from where he was resting.


    I followed him with my gaze as he strode to another mattress, falling into it as if out of habit and sinking into the foam.  Rolling my eyes, I got up and followed him.  My feet came to a stop on  the space of floor beside where he was sitting.  I let my fingers trail up to the hem of his shirt and tease it upward, grazing his skin lightly.  He caught my hand and squeezed it, making me laugh.


    “How come I don’t get to do that to you?” I asked, jutting out my lower lip.


    “You don’t stop me,” he teased.  “That’s the only difference.”


    “Can I help you two with anything?” a different voice came from behind me, a male employee.


    I turned and met him with a smile, noticing the older man wore the same getup as the woman before.  My head turned and I caught Jason’s eye.


    “You get to pick this time,” I told him.


    Jason seemed to consider for a moment, then stood next to me.  “A king of this one,” he gestured to the one he’d just been sitting on.


    Just like the last woman, the man pulled out a pad of paper and scribbled something onto it.  I took the slip again, smiling a thanks before turning back to Jason.


    “I guess that concludes out outing, then,” I said.


    “My rug got left behind,” he said.  “I’d like a new one.”


    I smiled.  “Sentimental value?”


    “Just in case we don’t quite make it to the bed,” he winked.


    I thumped him again, cheeks on fire.  He lead me through the store and soon we found racks of rugs.  We debated about the color for a long while, trying to decide what would go best with the walls and floor.  Finally, I vetoed a black rug in favor or a gray, since the bed frame was already black.  The size of it was massive, and would easily span quite a few feet out from the bed.  I collected another sheet from a saleswoman and we decided to head for the warehouse counter.


    After handing the clerk the three slips, Jason slid his credit card through the scanner and ordered a drop-off about two hours from then.  Five minutes later we were back in his car, and I was sighing at how brief my taste of the outside world had been.  In ten minutes I would be back inside the house, probably in one of the bean bags they’d brought from the house and staring at the ceiling while Jason ran out on an errand.  But as I was picturing myself doing this, Jason turned down a street we hadn’t come from.  I sat back as he did this a few more times, not even close to going back to the house.


    “Where are we going?” I asked, fiddling with my hands.


    “I thought we’d grab something to eat while we were out,” he smiled softly, taking another turn.  A mall came into view, and I sighed longingly.  I hadn’t been to one in almost two months, and missed going into stores, even if I wasn’t buying anything.


    “Do you like Italian?” Jason asked, glancing at me.


    I grinned wildly.  “Of course.”


    “Good.  This is my favorite place in the area, and I think you’ll like it,” he told me.  His hand reached over and laced his fingers through mine, squeezing lightly.


    I felt my face grow warm again and I watched the sky, sun now beginning to set.  Jason pulled into the large parking lot and found a spot close to the restaurant.  I’d never heard of it before, and I wasn’t even going to try pronouncing the name.  As soon as he threw the car into park, I stood out of the car.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone out to eat.  Mostly, I’d lasted on takeout and meals I’d cooked myself.  It was going to be nice to get quality food with no work for a change.


    Jason’s arm wrapped around my shoulders and we ducked inside.  I was immediately hit with the smell of garlic bread and pasta, and I smiled.  Before I could stop myself I fisted the front of his shirt and dragged him down into a kiss, sucking on his bottom lip for good measure before pulling away.


    “And that was for…?”


    I shrugged.  “I don’t know quite yet.  I’ll figure it out.”


    “Make sure to let me know,” he mumbled in my ear.  “So I can do it again.”


    “Just the two of you?” a hostess approached us kindly before I had the chance to feel the blush creeping onto my face.


    “Yes,” Jason replied.


    She motioned for us to follow her, and we walked through a series of candlelit tables filled with various types of people — businessmen and women, young and old couples, friends and family.  The whole scene was comforting.  Jason and I sat down near a window looking out on a pond, the orange sun reflecting on the clear water.  The hostess handed us menus and said a server would be with us momentarily.


    “It’s pretty,” I said once she’d gone, looking around at the whole restaurant.  There was a subtle orange shade to the whole room, creating a homey feeling with the tinted windows along the walls.  The low hum of voices and dishes clinking together made me feel warm inside.


    “My mom and I came here a lot,” Jason said quietly.


    My smile dropped and I suddenly felt like I was intruding on something special to him.  It was well known that Jason’s mother had died when he was young, but there were so many rumors that I didn’t know which one was true.  I’d heard she’d died in a car accident, a hit-and-run, a drug overdose, cancer — there were so many theories that I’d counted his mother off as a work of fiction.  The only thing I knew for sure about Jason’s past was that he’d been raised by a friend of his mother’s, named Riley Underwood.  I’d seen the man in person when I was ten.  He’d had been pretty heavy into drugs, pressure from the amount of debt he’d wracked up with a few dealers.  About five months after I’d met Riley, he died.  The rumors were the same, but I knew from Sam it’d been an overdose of heroine that killed him.  Jason hadn’t had a good past with parental figures, and I didn’t know how he’d react if I asked anything more than he was ready to tell me.


    He must’ve seen the deer-in-headlights feeling show on my face, because he laughed lightly.  “It’s okay, Phoebe.  I wouldn’t come back here if I wasn’t going to be okay.”


    I bit my lip.  “Did you live here when you were younger?”


    Jason nodded slowly.  “Until she died.”  There was a long pause where he stared at a point somewhere above my head.  “Then I’m sure you know the rest.”


    “Do you mind me asking how…”  I trailed off, cursing myself for not being able to hold my tongue.


    “How she died?” he finished for me.  I nodded nervously, waiting for him to continue.  He took a deep breath.  “Of all the things in the world, she died of pneumonia.”


    I chewed the inside of my cheek, trying not to show my surprise.  Pneumonia?  It shed such a different light than any of the other stories.  My brother and plenty others had always made Jason’s mother out to be stupid, arrogant, or selfish.  Hearing Jason put all of those aside made the whole thing sad, not a joke like Sam had always interpreted.


    “They caught it too late,” Jason continued, hand reaching to fiddle with the cloth napkin folded in front of him.  “We thought it was the flu, or a really bad cold, or something.  When she got worse, she refused to go to a doctor.  Prideful, really — she was the strong single mother who’d made it through debt and substance abuse, and wasn’t about to be brought down by one bout of illness.  It was when she couldn’t breath that I had to call an ambulance, and once we made it to the hospital we found out my mom had asthma to top everything off.  Pneumonia and asthma aren’t a great combination, and with the sickness settled in her lungs already, it was only a matter of time.  One asthma attack was all it took to collapse a lung, and she just didn’t wake up.”


    I didn’t know what to say.  What Jason had just told me made me look at him in a completely different way.  My stomach ached, anxiety building as I realized I should say something, anything to make him feel better.  He’d trusted me enough to tell me about his mother, something I suspected he didn’t tell people often.  An incredible amount of pressure had just been set on my shoulders, and I didn’t know how to cope.


    “I’m — I’m sorry,” I stuttered, staring down at my hands.  I looked up and reached across the table for Jason’s, lacing our fingers together and giving him a reassuring squeeze.


    “It’s not your fault,” he replied, looking up and giving me a small smile.


    I was relieved when a waitress approached our table, saving me from having to say anything.  Jason and I just asked for water, and he pulled away to begin flipping through the menu as she left.  I had a feeling he already knew what he wanted to eat, and was just avoiding a conversation.  Gladly accepting the distraction, I opened my own menu and started finding what I wanted.


    There were a lot of things I wanted to ask Jason about his past, but I knew that I wouldn’t appreciate it if he prodded me like that.  The biggest question in my mind at that moment was why had Jason allowed me out of the house today?  Granted, I wasn’t familiar with the area and wouldn’t know where to go.  But what was to stop me from slipping out the back door of this restaurant, finding a bus station, and getting the hell out of here?  I knew the answer to that, but did he?  Did Jason know that he’d started to mean more to me than just something to get back at my brother and Tyler?


    Jason had been better to me as my captor than Tyler had as my boyfriend, which was a shocking and sad realization.  Not only did Jason make me feel amazing, but in the past few weeks he’d put up with my dumb questions, stupid attempts at keeping conversation, and juvenile runs at new things.  Jason worked with me, laughing off my inexperience, whereas Tyler would always speed ahead and have to wait for me to catch up.  I didn’t think I even had to mention the fact that  Tyler and I had never been out on a real date.  Either we’d never had the chance, or it’d been promptly avoided in favor of a make-out session.  Whatever this was that Jason and I had, the change of pace had been comforting.


    I was a little dazed when the waitress came back so soon, yanking me out of concentration.  I fumbled over the words it took to ask for a simple alfredo dish, and Jason ordered something that sounded complicated.  We sat in silence for a long moment after she left, but I finally broke it before I started to fidget.


    “What are you planning to do the rest of the week?” I asked, tapping my fingers against my water glass.


    “The guys thought it’d be a good idea to throw a party next Saturday,” he told me.  “Establish ourselves, start making a few alliances.  Plus, it’d be a way to make money with people drunk enough to bet more than they have.”


    I gave a light laugh.  “I think it’s a good idea.  I’ve heard there’s a lot of activity up here,” I added, trying to recall what my brother said about Oakland.  “Drugs, violence, all that.  You won’t be doing more than you need to, right?”  It was a dumb thing to ask of him, and I didn’t know why I’d let it leave my mouth.  He would do whatever he wanted to do, and I had no say in it.  Sleeping with Jason was one thing, but trying to give input on his life on the street was completely different.


    “I don’t do anything I don’t have to,” he replied evenly, surprising me.  “If it’s a matter of territory, then I’ll take the actions needed to express the power I have.  The same goes for loyalties, and who I’d fight with to get somewhere.  If it’s striking fear into people and messing with their heads that has to be done, then that’s what I’ll do.”


    I thought back to the first night I’d seen Jason face-to-face.  His words reminded me of Emmett, and of the bullet wound in his leg I was almost sure still had to bother him.  Leo hadn’t been able to tell me where he was, so that must’ve been a good sign, but nonetheless I still wanted to know how he was doing.  The shot had obviously been a display of strength, in Jason’s eyes necessary in the context of territory.  And by taking me, he ticked off the box of getting inside someone’s head — mine, and everyone who I was close to.


    I knew Jason hadn’t been trying to dig up what’d happened over a month ago.  Honestly, I had been pushing what’d happened out of my mind ever since I realized Jason hadn’t been trying to screw with me.  In my now changed outlook, Jason had been doing me a favor by taking me from the boys I lived with.  I left somewhere that people didn’t bother trying to come after me, and came into a place where I had someone who cared enough to take me out to eat, like a real couple would do.


    The thought brought me to my next question.  What was I to Jason?  What were we?  I didn’t want to change the subject so abruptly, but it was something that’d been prodding my mind for almost two weeks.  For some reason, I was afraid of hearing the answer, and hadn’t asked because of that.


    I nodded at Jason’s previous comment, avoiding further confrontation on all sides.  When I didn’t say anything more, he leaned his forearms against the table.  He was giving me a calculating look, and I was uncomfortable with the fact that I couldn’t read his expression any further.


    “I don’t know your favorite color,” he said, catching me completely off-guard.


    I laughed out loud, having been expecting a completely different, more serious question.  When I received a risen eyebrow, I put my face in my hands, another wave of laughter coming over me.  This was how I reacted to a relief of stress, laughing until I couldn’t feel the weight of my thoughts anymore.


    “What?” Jason asked carefully.


    “Sometimes,” I smiled.  “You scare the hell out of me, Jason.”


    He smiled deeply, watching my face carefully.  “And I have yet to know what color you like the most.”


    I bit my lip, trying not to smile.  “Burgundy.”


    Jason snorted.  “What the hell is that?”


    I crossed my arms, sending him a playful glare.  “It’s a dark red.”


    “You couldn’t have just said that?”


    I narrowed my eyes, trying to keep the smile from my face.  “Every color has a name.”


    “Apparently,” he grinned.  “Your favorite food, then?”


    And with that, we launched into a long conversation of all of our favorite and least favorite things, the seriousness of before forgotten.



••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••    ••



    Jason held the front door for me, and I pecked his cheek before going inside and kicking off my shoes.  He closed the door behind him and did the same, nudging his next to my boots.  We walked together to the kitchen, where Xander, Tyson, and Blondie were all leaned against the island.


    “Bet me,” Blondie challenged Tyson, the context of their conversation lost to me.


    “Shut up, Lucas,” Tyson rolled his eyes, taking a drink from the water bottle in his grasp.


    “Did the truck come yet?” Jason interrupted, brushing past them to get a water from the fridge.


    “Yeah,” Xander said.  “Everything you got is up in your room.”


    Jason nodded a thanks, then motioned for me to follow him upstairs.  We climbed the staircase and shuffled into his room, where I mattress wrapped in plastic was in the middle of the floor, a large cardboard box holding the bed frame was pushed against the left wall, and the rug was rolled and leaning against the far wall.


    I reached for the rug and tore off the wrapping.  Jason helped me spread it across the floor and set the mattress on top of it.  The different colors looked good together, and I smiled triumphantly at him.  He simply kissed my jaw and squeezed my waist.


    “Who’s Tyson?” I asked curiously, sitting down on the memory foam.


    “We’re down a fighter, now that Grant’s gone,” Jason said, taking a seat next to me.  “I figured Tyson would come in handy.  He’s a good kid, does well under pressure.”


    “So he’s a new recruit?” I asked to clarify.  I didn’t know if Jason meant a permanent hand, or just for a few days.


    “His room is all the way down the hall,” he said.  “Until further notice, he’s living here.  Tyson’s earned himself a spot.”


    I nodded.  “I guess now I won’t be the one everyone’s getting used to anymore,” I thought out loud with a smile.


    “I guess not,” Jason agreed.  He lifted his fingers to my chin and turned my face so he could kiss me.  I smiled and he began to deepen our movements, hands reaching around my waist and my bottom lip between his teeth.


    “How long do you think it’ll take us to put the bed frame together?” I mumbled against his lips.


    “Longer than I want it to,” he said, barely breaking the contact of our lips.  His hand slipped up my shirt and rested on my bare side, thumb flicking the fabric of my bra.


    “But the bed–“


    “Forget it,” Jason nearly growled, incredibly hot.  My hand reached up to tug at his hair, past needing a trim.


    “We don’t need one tonight.”

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