Jason was discharged from the hospital at about ten that morning with instructions to drink water and eat. Leo drove us back to the house with Jason in the passenger seat and me in the back. The ride was mostly silent, spare for the radio playing quietly in the background. I stared blankly out the window, watching downtown Oakland gradually dissipate into suburbs. The front yard was dotted with a few empty beer cans, evidence of last night’s party. Jason’s heavy sigh came from the front seat as Leo pulled into the large garage and we stepped into the house.
Xander and Carter stood across the island from each other in the kitchen, talking quietly before turning to face us. The main room between where they stood and us was fairly clear, spare for a beer stain on one of the giant bean bags and a notch in the end of the table. They must’ve cleaned while we were gone. I could hear two voices coming in from the cracked back door, probably Tyler and Blondie.
“How’re you feeling?” Carter asked, pointed toward Jason.
“Hungry,” he replied automatically, having rejected the hospital’s food that morning. Jason hadn’t had anything since before the party last night, and having his stomach emptied by a machine had most likely heightened his appetite.
“I can probably make something really quick,” I mumbled, moving forward into the kitchen. I sent a glare in Carter’s direction, letting him know I hadn’t forgotten him trying to keep me from going to see Jason the night before. He didn’t acknowledge me, but I knew he’d seen the look I gave him. I reached into the fridge past Xander and pulled out a carton of eggs, then into the cupboards for a bowl.
Leo went out the back door and Xander and Carter moved to the main area, conversing with Jason while slumping into the bean bags. They were giving him a recap of the night after Xander had rushed him to the hospital, but Carter failed to mention his holding of me in the study. My grip tightened in anger and the egg I was holding cracked, spilling both shell and yolk into the bowl and on my hand. I shook the slime off, cursing under my breath as I reached for a dish rag. The guys hadn’t looked up, were too involved in recounting events to notice.
“Uriah disappeared with the crowd before we could find him,” Carter told Jason as I dumped the crushed mess of egg and started with a new one, throwing the shell into the trash. “We threatened to call the cops if people didn’t leave, so that may have scared him off.”
“Uriah doesn’t get scared,” Jason said automatically. “Even the police don’t have power over him. They’d give anything to lock him up, but they can’t get their hands on him long enough to press any charges. He’s good about covering his tracks, even though everyone knows what kind of shit he does.” There was a long pause. “Dammit. You should’ve kept the party going. No one would’ve thought twice about someone knocked out cold. Not enough people know my face yet to associate a name. Most probably aren’t even smart enough to make a connection, but I’m sure a few noticed the party shut down just after I left. I don’t want to be seen as weak.”
“They won’t make a connection,” Xander tried to reassure him. “And even if word gets around you went to the hospital, you get to tell them you made it through a poison that would’ve killed anyone else. Eventually it’ll come back that you took it in and didn’t even bat an eye.”
I set a pan on the stove and poured the eggs onto the surface. Jason took several long breaths, and I knew he was trying to work things out in his head. I could imagine the creases running along his forehead, his eyes almost closed in concentration.
“I can probably set up another meeting with Uriah, but that means another party,” he said. “He likes public places, likes the cover if there’s a problem and he needs to leave. I’ll have to get through one of his guys, though. Even with the connection I have, he doesn’t do private stuff. I’ll probably put Leo or Lucas on that, but not for another three or four weeks.”
“We just need to be careful right now,” Xander told him. “I don’t think that scotch you drank was random. No one spikes a drink with poison for the hell of it, then leaves it just sitting out somewhere.”
“After you handed it to me, I was about to take a drink,” Carter added.
My curiosity spiked, thinking about what would’ve happened if we’d had two guys ingesting poison. It would’ve been disastrous, though I didn’t know how much it’d take to knock out Carter. He was quite a bit larger than Jason, broader with a more muscle.
“But I smelled something in it,” he continued. “It was too sweet for scotch, and I don’t drink anything if it’s not straight. If I’d have known that’s what took you out, I would’ve gone around asking people who brought it before kicking everyone out.”
“That’s the thing,” Xander said. “It wasn’t here on accident, and I don’t think anyone would fess up to it. Somehow I know it was meant for you to drink it, but there’s no way anyone could place it so carefully.”
There was a long silence. I’d never thought about someone purposely leaving the bottle on the counter because all I’d been worried about was Jason. It both made and didn’t make sense. We were new to the area — Jason had said himself that not many people knew to put a name to his face yet. The only people I could think of that knew him were Uriah and Leah. No one had given me any reason to be suspicious of them last night, but then again I hadn’t really been paying much attention. Who would’ve thought just a week into our stay Jason would already have a target on his back–
I almost dropped the spoon I was using to stir the eggs.
Leah had said the night before that Jason had made himself a target. I wouldn’t believe that she’d tried to kill him, since she’d begged him for forgiveness of whatever had happened in their past; but what if Leah knew someone who was? Her words had seemed angry and thrown out in the moment, but what if she hadn’t been bluffing like I’d thought? It fit in with Xander’s theory, and only made more sense when I continued to think about it.
“I was too comfortable last night,” Jason admitted. “Usually I don’t drink anything I don’t take the lid off of, but I figured with a new city no one wanted me dead yet. It was my mistake to pick up the bottle, but that doesn’t mean it was for me. It could’ve been complete chance, and there’s no reason to blow it out of proportion yet.”
I had a sick feeling in my stomach. With everything that’d happened in the last twelve hours, I couldn’t see how Jason wouldn’t think it was purposeful. So many signs had popped up. I grew uneasy as I started to suspect more people knew of Jason here than we’d thought.
“Don’t brush this off,” Xander said, speaking my thoughts. “I don’t want to believe this is nothing and get bit in the ass later. We still need to be careful, as always. I suggest being more attentive to who we’re letting through the front door. Leo needs to get his head out of his ass, then hopefully we’ll be able to put a finger on any threats.”
I bit the inside of my cheek as I poured the cooked eggs onto a plate and set the pan to the side. Leo didn’t deserve half the shit they gave him, and it made me angry that they would eventually try to pin this on him. Deciding to keep my mouth shut, I would defend him if it ever came down to it. None of this had been his fault, or anyone else’s.
Having forgotten to put anything else in the eggs, I pulled a yogurt from the fridge and grabbed a fork and spoon from a drawer. My feet carried me over to where the three sat and I held out the food to Jason. He took it and nodded a thanks before plunging back into the conversation.
“Just drop it for now,” Jason said as I walked toward the back door. Tyson and Blondie were cleaning out the pool while Leo stood back and watched. “We can figure it out later.”
“We don’t know if we have a later,” Carter pushed, sitting forward on the beanbag. “If someone wanted to kill you, they wouldn’t back down after knowing they could send you to the ER. They’d be relentless.”
“Can you not act like someone always wants my head?” Jason suddenly snapped, and I couldn’t say I blamed him. “It was probably just dumb luck. Someone could’ve put random shit in it as a joke, thinking it was harmless. Obviously it wasn’t, but there’s no point in freaking out over nothing. You took care of the bottle, right?”
“Yeah,” Carter replied.
“Then it’s done with. Let it lie for now.”
“But there’s still the chance–“
“What did I say, Carter? I’m done talking about it.”
Jason pushed up from his sitting position and strode toward the stairs. He disappeared in a few seconds, and I debated following him. Knowing he’d rather brood alone, I slid open the glass door enough to fit through and stepped onto the deck. I was immediately hit with a chill and realized I was still wearing a dress from the night before. Somewhere along the way Jason’s hat had fallen from my head, I realized, since I hadn’t seen it since before Carter shoved me into the study. My hair was slightly disheveled from the events over the last few hours, and I could only imagine how tired I looked.
A large splash from the pool caught my attention before I could go back inside to change. I looked down and Tyson and Leo were both laughing. Tyson held out a pole to Blondie, who’d fallen into the pool trying to get a can of beer. A smile found its way onto my face and I walked toward the patio. Blondie, soaked and furious, was spitting curses while paddling his way to the stairs. Seconds later he pushed out of the water, chattering and shaking water from his clothes. I remembered Jason saying the pool was heated, but knew it had to be cold to go from that to the cold October air. The temperature of changing seasons here was something to get used to, coming from the southern corner of California.
“I expect the rest of that pool clean when I get back out here,” Blondie barked, sloshing past me and into the house.
“Sure thing,” Tyson mumbled, fishing another can from the pool.
Tyson had been staying with us since we got here, and I assumed that meant he was Grant’s replacement. I could tell he was still having trouble fitting in with the guys, but it made sense with the way they’d trusted Grant and how he’d abused it. It would take more than a week to adjust, but Leo and Blondie had made the most effort at that point.
“What’s up Blondie’s ass?” I asked jokingly.
“You just saw; he fell in the pool,” Tyson chuckled. “Why do you call him that, anyway?”
“I don’t know, actually,” I replied. “He bleaches his hair, obviously. I said it once, and it just stuck in my mind.”
“Fair enough,” he replied, dragging the net back through the pool. “How’s Jason doing?”
I bit my lip. We hadn’t talked much at all since the party because I’d spent most of my time avoiding a conversation with him. Jason’s words to Leah hadn’t left my mind yet, and the recent conclusion I’d come to about my feelings for him made me no more comfortable.
“He seems like he’s okay,” I said anyway. “Tired, stressed, annoyed. But at least he’s up and around.”
“That’s good,” Tyson nodded. “I was out on a food run when the whole thing happened. When I got back and no one was here I thought the cops busted everyone, and hearing about Jason didn’t make it much better.”
I gave a wry smile. Goosebumps had begun to raise all over my body and I shivered a little. Deciding I’d be more comfortable after a hot shower and a change of clothes, I stepped back toward the house and into the warmth. Xander and Carter were still conversing quietly, sharp whispers being thrown back and forth as I passed. The were probably still talking about who could’ve set the scotch on the counter.
I climbed the stairs and made my way into Jason’s room. The bathroom door was closed and I heard water running. I pulled the bedroom door shut behind me and kicked off my wedges. My feet ached from wearing them all night and I sighed as I peeled off my dress. With a tie from my duffel I slicked my hair back, then pulled a hoodie from my closet and leggings onto my body. By the time I’d taken a deep, tired breath and shuffled into the bedroom, Jason was walking out of the bathroom with basketball shorts low on his hips and shaking a towel through his hair.
“Hi,” he said quietly as I climbed onto the bed.
“Hi," I replied at the same volume.
A fluttery ache had climbed into my chest and was making its way up my neck. So many mixed emotions were passing through me. His careful stare was holding mine, trying to figure out what I was thinking. I knew because I was trying to do the same.
“What happened with you and Leah?” I asked before I could stop myself.
Jason was obviously surprised and avoided my gaze after I closed my mouth. He walked back into the bathroom without answering. I let my hands fall into my lap, waiting for him to say anything, but was met with only silence.
“Jason?” I said softly. I shouldn’t have asked the question, but now that it was out in the open I wanted to know the answer.
“Does it matter?” his harsh tone echoed into the room. I heard his wet towel hit the floor and he strode out, eyes to the floor and forehead pulled together.
I gave him an incredulous look. “Does it matter? Of course it does. She waltzed in here like she owned the place, the first thing you say to her in the hospital is to ‘get the fuck out’, and she leaves in tears saying she’s changed but you’re screwed. How does that not say to you, ‘this matters’?”
It was easy to tell I’d hit a nerve. Jason’s jaw clenched and I immediately regretted using such a sarcastic tone. The interaction with Leah signaled she’d meant a lot to him at one point. Even though it bothered me, what bothered me even more was Jason thinking it didn’t matter to me.
“Leah is irrelevant,” he spat. “Don’t let her get to you.”
“She’s obviously gotten to you,” I bit back without thinking. His whole body seemed to harden. Why couldn’t I shut up?
“I suggest you back the hell off, Phoebe,” Jason hissed, staring hard at the wall. His hands twitched like he was about to ball them into fists. “You saw; I already took care of it. She’s not going to come back.”
“Not when you threaten to kill her, she’s not!”
My words seemed to ring out against the walls. I blinked, surprised at myself for letting slip what’d been pounding through my head since he’d said the words. I wasn’t one to be so upfront about issues, because I didn’t really let things effect me so much for this long. Afraid of what his reaction might be, I felt myself shrink into the mattress.
“I just want to help,” I nearly whispered, clasping my hands nervously. “You didn’t seem okay talking to her and you don’t seem okay right now. Plus, after she said you made yourself a target the scotch started to make sense–“
“Enough about the fucking scotch!” Jason bellowed.
I blinked, feeling the ache in my chest overpower the pleasant feeling that’d been there before. It wrapped around my throat and my mouth went dry. I should’ve just left him alone; I knew better than to push him by now, but I could never leave anything alone. This was what Leah and Leo had meant by caring about him too much. If I let myself try to help, I’d only end up making him angry.
I felt the other side of the bed sink and jumped, my head snapping up to meet Jason’s eyes. His expression was mainly covered by frustration, but I saw a flicker of remorse underneath as he caught sight of my stunned expression. He reached out for my arm and I flinched, only bringing out more of his regret as he gently pulled me to him. Jason’s arms then wrapped around my shoulders, drawing me tightly to his chest. It took me a long second but I slowly relaxed into his body. We sat like this for a long time, leaning back against the headboard of the bed. I listened to his breathing return back to normal, then slowing down enough that he could’ve been sleeping. His heart beat against my cheek and his fingers fiddled with the ends of my ponytail.
“Nothing is going to happen to me,” he said finally. “I know you want to help, but there’s nothing to help with. Leah was lying through her teeth, and I don’t know how I can get that through your head. Everything has just been random, and the fact that it happened to me was by some sick amount of chance. There isn’t much anyone can do to help that.”
I gnawed on the inside of my cheek, feeling more comfortable now that he was back to how he was before Leah showed up. He was being kind and gentle, like I knew he could be. I was debating whether or not to ask him again about what had happened between him and Leah when he said my name.
I sighed. “Okay. But I still want to know what happened.”
His muscles tightened slightly. “You know what happened. You were there.”
I splayed my hands on his chest and pushed away. “You know what I mean.”
“I’m sure she’s already told you,” Jason looked away, his jaw tightening again. I would’ve stopped asking if it weren’t for the nagging feeling in the back of my mind. Maybe she’d meant more to him than I did, and that’s why he wasn’t talking about it.
“No,” I said lightly. “She didn’t.”
His brow furrowed and he glanced at me sideways. I could tell he was surprised, but I hadn’t been. With the way she’d acted, I knew Leah wanted to keep Jason for herself. It only made sense that she’d keep their past hidden to me too.
There was a long silence, longer even than the last one we’d had, where I sat watching Jason while he stared at the wall across from us. I thought he was going to sit there forever and not say anything when he began drumming his fingers on my leg.
“We had a fling earlier this year,” he said slowly. Even though I already knew, hearing him say it made my stomach sink to my toes. “Just for a month or two. Then I figured out she was stealing my shit — pot, money, you name it. She was using me, so I kicked her out. I haven’t missed her.”
Stealing was what she’d been lying about? Jason had made it seem like so much more with the force he’d put behind his words. Either he wasn’t telling the whole truth, or Leah really had meant more to him than I’d thought. Both options made me feel sick, and I blinked long and hard.
The way he said my name sent the flurry of butterflies back through me, releasing my throat from the suffocating, aching hold. Despite everything that’d happened all at once, for the first time since before the party I felt safe again.
“I knew she was a bitch,” I half laughed, causing Jason to smile through his tense expression. Even this small grin passed between us seemed to ease some of my angst.
“Hence, the reason she means nothing to me,” he said.
He leaned to place a kiss to my temple. I watched his eyes as he pulled away, searching mine before glancing down to my mouth as a silent question. My answer was running my hand up to the back of his neck and pulling him toward me. Our kiss felt long-overdue, like it’d been ages since the last time our lips had met. Jason’s hands wound around my torso to press into the small of my back, coaxing my body toward his. I was overwhelmed by what I’d come to realize felt like fire burning in my stomach, reaching out to my limbs as I grew closer to him.
My back had just touched the mattress, Jason hovering over me with his bare chest flush to mine, when my forehead pulled together and I pushed away.
“How much water have you had since we got back?” I asked.
“A glass,” he answered, ducking to place kisses along my jaw.
I sucked in a breath as his teeth grazed just below my ear. “Liar.”
He chuckled against my skin, causing goosebumps to raise all over my body. “I’ll get it in a few minutes.”
“And what if you keel over and die in those next few minutes?” I pressed, running my hands along his sides. Jason’s skin was smooth under my touch.
“I guess we’ll have to find out.”
•• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• •• ••
Running a towel through my wet hair, I walked out into the room to find the sheets empty of Jason. We’d spent the whole day lying in bed, mostly sleeping and talking quietly beside the few times I’d made him go get food or drink water. I’d gone into the bathroom to shower, expecting to come back to a warm bed, but with the lack of Jason I knew the sheets would be cold.
I crawled into them and sighed, leaning against the head board. Today had felt normal. Since we’d gotten to Oakland nothing had felt ordinary, but for the first time since Grant had left I hadn’t thought about anything but Jason being near me. I waited about five minutes, then decided I didn’t want to be away from him anymore.
After pulling on a pair of socks to match my sweater, I tossed the towel in my hamper and padded toward the bedroom door. Most of the guys had either gone to bed early or were out running errands, so the hallway was fairly dark. It wasn’t until I’d reached the stairs that I heard the hint of voices. I crept closer, easing myself to not make too much noise as I stepped down.
The voices, distinctly Jason’s and Xander’s, were hissing back and forth on the main level. It seemed like I’d done this so many times, heard too many conversations I wasn’t meant to hear. Every time before it hadn’t ended well, yet I crouched to hear more.
I realized quickly that I couldn’t decipher a single word without getting closer. Looking down the rest of the steps in front of me, I almost groaned as I counted just two more until I would be in plain sight. There was no point in trying to listen if I would never be able to. I wanted Jason to come back upstairs more than I wanted to hear Xander argue with him about being careful.
I stepped onto the floor and turned toward them. I received an especially cold glare from Xander that almost sent a chill down my spine, and when Jason turned around he looked furious. As soon as Jason noticed my confused look his expression softened. My hands clasped and I tapped my fingers against the backs of them.
“Are you coming?” I asked innocently, trying to ignore the ice I was receiving from Xander.
Jason sighed. “Yeah. I’ll be up in a minute.”
Deciding not to say anything more, I nodded and stepped back up and around the corner of the stairs, out of sight. I should’ve gone straight back up to the room, but a larger part of myself was shouting at me to stay and see what I could hear. It was dumb, seeing as I couldn’t take away anything from their conversation a few seconds before, but I kneeled again anyway.
“Don’t let it get–“
“I won’t,” Jason interrupted Xander harshly. My forehead pulled together, noticing their raise in volume. “Mind your own damn business. I won’t tell you again.”
“It’s my business if you bring everyone down because of–“
“I’m the one carrying this fucking group,” Jason snapped. “Nothing changed just because I wasn’t here for one night.”
“You let your guard down,” Xander shot back. “You’ve been doing that ever since we went after them that first time, and it almost got you killed last night. I don’t think I need to say that distractions are deadly in this business, and if you can’t–“
“Fuck off,” Jason spat. “I won’t stand here and let you tell me what I need to do. If you’re so worried, leave. Obviously you think you can do it better on your own; be my fucking guest. I’m going to bed.”
Heavy footsteps began walking toward the stairs and I stood abruptly, poised to run as Xander got in a last word.
“I’m not going to leave,” Xander said. “I’m trying to help.”
“Don’t,” Jason replied coldly. He was too close to the stairs for me to stay where I was. I bolted up as quietly as I could, but not before hearing his last icy reply to Xander. “Why is everyone trying to help?”
I made it into the bedroom just as Jason took his first step on the stairs, and was balled in the sheets by the time he peeked his head in the door. He wore a frustrated expression and I could tell he was trying to calm down as he gave a small, forced smile. I bit the inside of my cheek and threw back a portion of the duvet to allow him to climb in. My stomach dropped when he brushed right past and into the bathroom without a word, shutting the door behind him.
I wondered what had gotten the two so angry in the first place. Xander had a habit of bringing up touchy subjects, but it was always for the right reason. I hadn’t noticed Jason letting his guard down lately, but I hadn’t known him as long as the other guys had. Xander had made it seem like one raid had been a turning point for Jason, but I couldn’t imagine which one it could’ve been — they’d been on so many in the past month. It shocked me, though, how quickly Jason could go from neutral to angry in the last day or so.
The bathroom door opened five minutes later. Jason came out slowly, running his hands over his face. I looked up expectantly, sitting up and setting my hands in my lap. He paused in front of the bed, let out a heavy sigh before dropping his hands and watching me. I bit my lip, feeling uncomfortable under his gaze that hadn’t quite cooled all the way down yet. Jason still looked guarded, but I did my best to look past it and smile.
He didn’t say anything, just flicked off the bedroom light and kneeled into the mattress, flopping down on his side. I threw the corner of sheets over him and instinctually scooted closer, but stopped short when I sensed something different in the atmosphere he was putting off. It wasn’t exactly hostile, but he wasn’t welcoming either. I felt my brow furrowing and watched his unmoving face for a long time before I rested my head against my own pillow almost two feet away, staring at the ceiling with a sick feeling churning inside me. What had just changed in him from earlier today? I couldn’t believe Xander could push Jason to act this way, but nothing else had happened between us.
Another heavy breath escaped Jason’s lungs before I felt an arm snake around my waist. I squealed lightly as he tugged me to him, my back pressed against his chest. His arm stayed around my middle, fingers playing with the hem of my sweater as I forced myself to relax into his warmth.
It took me a long while to shut up my thoughts before I could finally fall asleep to his slow, steady breathing.
Merry Christmas! Here's your present. Hope you all got what you wanted this year, and a special shoutout to Jesus being born!
This update was kind of a filler, just meant to get Jason back in the house for things to come. Just wait, y'all.
Hope you enjoyed. Please leave me a comment saying what you thought, because it makes writing a lot more fun. Thank you all so so so much for reading, and I'll still try to crank out another chapter before the new year. Xx