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."


27. ~11.28~


    The guys sat in the main room, spread out on bean bags and a few chairs as I put the last of a crazy amount of food in a container.  With Thanksgiving the day before, I’d forced myself into overdrive with sending different people for various foods and cooking until my arms ached.  Jason told me they’d never really celebrated the holiday as a group, but I refused to hear any of it.  The last Thursday in November was a day filled with food that no one deserved to miss.  Their eyes almost fell out of their heads when I put all the platters in front of them, and I finally was resting the day after.


    I slid the filled container between two others in the fridge, noticing that the leftovers would last us at least a week.  Taking in a deep breath, I closed the heavy door and made my way through the kitchen.  I joined Jason on one of the giant bean bags, leaning into him as his arm rested around my shoulders.  They were talking about encounters with different people over the last few days, most of which I found interesting.  The people in and around Oakland were the same, yet very different from where we used to live.


    “He pulled a knife on me before I even looked at him,” Carter rolled his eyes.  “Son of a bitch didn’t have a chance.  His arms were too short to reach me, and one punch to the side of his head had him spinning.  Pathetic, really.”


    “Everyone’s territories are so screwed up here,” Blondie shook his head.  “All overlapping and squeezing between others — you can’t even tell whose guys are where.  If you’re on good terms with one person, a guy from a different group could nail you in the same vicinity.”


    “It shouldn’t happen to us,” Jason cut in.  “Most of the guys on our side — Uriah, Isaiah, Thomas — all border each other.  There shouldn’t be confusion if all of us are where we’re supposed to be.”


    Carter shrugged.  “I took a detour.  At least they know they can’t take me out that easy.”


    “Speaking of Crowe,” Blondie said.  “When are we getting that going?  I don’t like being here without some kind of connection to him.  Leaves us way too open, especially being as new as we are.”


    “Leo’s going tonight,” Jason answered, nodding at him.  Leo returned the gesture, a sign that they’d talked about it previous to the discussion.  “By tomorrow I should have another time set up to talk with Uriah.”


    “What kind of deal are we talking with him?” Blondie continued.


    Jason shrugged.  “Just business.  Drug money, different kinds of trade, other kinds of things.  With Uriah it really could be anything.  He’s a good ally to have.”


    I could admit I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Leo going out alone tonight.  He’d become like a brother to me in the past three months, and to say I’d gotten a little protective of him would be accurate.  I’d never been a worrier, but the dangers of meeting Uriah’s guys alone made me uncomfortable for him.  The guys hadn’t stopped sending him for tons of stupid tasks, and I had yet to figure out why.


    “How many guys do you think he’ll send tonight?” Tyson chipped in.


    “Probably only one.”  Jason shifted to prop himself up with his elbow.  “Two at the most.  We’re most likely the least of his worries right now.”


    The thought that there wouldn’t be many guys meeting Leo gave me a little bit of relief, and I let out another long breath.  I glanced at Leo, who was typing rapidly on his phone.  His forehead was pulled together and I rose my eyebrows at him, but he didn’t look up to see my questioning stare.


    Xander came in from the garage, wiping his hands off on a dirty towel.  His hair was disheveled and he looked flustered.  I hadn’t noticed him missing from the circle, but realized it now that I didn’t remember hearing his usual input.


    “Whoever brought that piece of shit here wasted their time,” he grunted, chucking the towel at Jason.  He caught it, raising an eyebrow at Xander.


    “I believe that was actually you who sent me to pick it up,” Jason said.  “I told you we have enough vehicles.”


    “It was a great car, though,” he replied.


    “Back when it was made, sure — in the sixties,” Jason huffed.  He rocked forward and stood, moving across the room toward Xander.  “If I’d’ve known I would be doing most of the work in getting that thing to work–“


    “I didn’t ask you to help,” Xander told him, following Jason back toward the door.


    “I had a feeling you were going to.”


    Their voices disappeared with the closing of the door, leaving the rest of us sitting together.  Carter glanced at Blondie before standing and nodding at him.


    “We still have to head down town before Jason needs us later,” he said.  Blondie nodded and followed Carter, and they soon were in the garage before Tyson stood up.


    “I’ll be up in my room if anyone needs me,” he mumbled before heading up the stairs.


    Leo and I were left alone.  He was still typing insanely fast on his phone, completely ignoring me, when his ringtone sounded.  I blinked as the crease in his forehead faded a bit and he stood abruptly.  Without saying another word, he walked out of the main room and toward the front door.  I heard it open and shut a few seconds later, and was left alone to wonder what that’d been about.  Leo hadn’t been weird to me since the hospital and it was a little frustrating to see this side of him come back.


    I pushed myself to my feet and shuffled to the kitchen with a sigh.  Not wanting to join Jason in the garage and embarrass myself with how little I knew about cars, I settled for staying in and leaned against the island.  It’d been a good few days since Jason and I had gone out for my birthday.  We’d been out again, just to buy a few things for his truck and for the house.  Life outside was becoming more interesting, considering I hadn’t really given a care up to that point with Jason being here with me.  It was refreshing, and we were planning to grab dinner again in a few days, after everything with Uriah and Isaiah settled into place.


    I was in the kitchen for about ten minutes before I heard the front door open again.  After its noisy shut and the sound of heavy boots on the floor, Leo came back into sight.  My forehead pulled together as I noticed his strained expression.  He seemed a few shades paler, like the blood had rushed from his face.  I noticed his hand closed tightly around his phone and chewed the inside of my cheek.


    “Are you okay?” I asked hesitantly.  If he didn’t give me a straight answer, I was willing to call him out.  I was tired of Leo dancing around me when he got like this.


    “I-I need to talk to you,” he said carefully.  I could see his effort to reign in how much his face gave away.


    I blinked, honestly surprised he hadn’t avoided my question.  “Okay.  What’s going on?”


    The door leading to the garage banged open and Jason entered, oil smudged on his cheek and sleeves rolled up.  His hair was messy along the right side and I let a smile escape me.  Jason looked great whenever he was working on projects similar to the piece of junk car Xander had bought.  I turned my head back to Leo, who’d completely composed himself when Jason entered.


    “What time do you need us back?” Leo asked him casually.


    “Around ten.”


    Leo nodded, then sent me a serious look Jason couldn’t see.  I knew Leo didn’t want me to say anything to Jason.  Whatever he had to tell me, it was something only I could hear.  I trusted Jason, but Leo didn’t — I had to respect his boundaries whether I liked it or not.


    “How’s the car?” I asked Jason, patting his side as he moved toward the sink.  I watched Leo give me one last glance before jogging up the stairs and into his room.  I let out an inaudible breath.


    “Shitty,” he answered.


    “I’m sure it’s not that bad,” I rolled my eyes, stepping up beside him to put soap in his open hands.


    “Xander has a soft spot for junk cars,” Jason huffed.  “He can usually get them running, but he’s never brought back one this old and busted up.  Hopefully he can fix it up and sell it for a couple more grand than he bought it for.”


    I stepped back as he turned, wrinkling my noise and recoiling when he flicked water at me.  Jason smiled, then placed his palm on the small of my back to pull me closer.  I swatted at his dripping hands, making a noise of protest when he placed his other on my cheek and kissed me.  I couldn’t help my grin, but managed to push him away.  Water made my shirt stick to my skin and a couple droplets slid down my face.  Glaring playfully, I reached for the towel beside him.


    “Jerk,” I said, wiping my face before throwing it at him.


    Jason shrugged, drying his hands and setting the towel aside.


    “What are you doing tonight?” I asked casually, reaching into a cabinet for a cup.  I turned to the fridge and filled it with water.


    “Carter, Lucas, Leo, and I are going downtown to pick something up,” he answered.  “A friend is bringing a few guns we left behind.”


    “You need four guys for that?” I questioned, my brow furrowing.  I could understand one person going with him — maybe even two — but three extra hands weren’t necessary in taking home a few weapons.


    “You never know.”  Jason took a drink from the cup I’d filled, causing me to send him another lighthearted glare.


    “Why don’t you give Leo a break?  You’ve had him every which way for almost a month now.”  Plus, having Leo here would give us a chance to talk without Jason interrupting.  I wasn’t going to be happy if I missed out on Leo actually wanting to tell me something.


    “He’s fine with it,” Jason discounted, moving to turn away.  “He won’t even be with us long anyway.  He has to meet Uriah’s guy around midnight.”


    I caught his hand and interlocked our fingers.  “Come on.  Leo’s tired.  Please?  For me?”


    He rolled his eyes, then watched my face for a long time.  My bottom lip was taken between my teeth.  I gave him my best pleading look, smiling widely as I saw him cave.


    “Fine,” Jason sighed.  “This is the only time, though.”


    I stood on my toes to kiss him.  “Thank you.”


    He looped his arms around my waist and held me close.  I rested my forehead on his chest and took in a deep breath, smiling as I let it out.  Things had been so much easier lately — talking to Jason, being around him, loving him.  I didn’t know what it was, but everything about our atmosphere had changed the second he told me he loved me too.  This side of him — the one I’d previously convinced myself didn’t exist — was continually surprising me with his kindness and willingness to make me smile.


    I didn’t know why Leo didn’t trust him.  At first I hadn’t, but I’d quickly realized that I had no reason to shove him out.  Jason’s past brought up a lot of issues, sure, but neither Leo nor I had been around for those events.  Moreover, none of them, spare for Leah briefly, had come back to bite anyone.  Jason wasn’t who Leo thought he was.


    “What are you thinking?” I asked absentmindedly.  I’d found myself asking him this more and more.  His thoughts always seemed so hidden within his expressions.


    “I’m thinking that pool sounds really nice right now.”


    I pulled back and laughed.  “I’d join you, but I don’t have anything to wear.”


    Jason took my face in his hands and let his lips linger on mine for several seconds.  “You can have some of my clothes.”


    I pecked his nose and pushed away, heading toward our room without waiting for him.  “Meet you out there in a few.”



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



    I ran a hand through my hair, finally dry after a shower several hours ago.  My feet padded down the stairs to find Jason, Blondie, and Carter waiting in the main room.  Jason shrugged his jacket on before his eyes found me.  A smile spread onto his features as I walked toward him and into his arms.


    “I don’t have to tell you to be careful, do I?” I asked, just loud enough for him to hear.  “People change, especially with guns in the mix.”


    “I’ll be fine,” he chuckled, kissing my forehead briefly before I stood back from him.


    Leo strode into the room, tucking his phone into his back pocket when he caught sight of us.  “I’m ready when you are.”


    “You’re sitting this one out,” Jason told him.  “You’re still going to Richmond tonight, though.  Uriah changed the time to eleven.”


    Leo gave him a confused look, but nodded.


    “Where’s Tyson?” Carter spoke up.  “He was supposed to fill up my car.”


    “He left about an hour ago,” Xander said as he appeared at the bottom of the stairs.  “He’s meeting his girlfriend a few towns over.  Your car is in the garage.”  He jingled the set of keys in his hand.  “Got the car up and running.  I’m going to see how it drives.”  He pushed out into the garage, followed by several eye rolls.


    “We should head,” Blondie said, moving to follow Xander.


    With a kiss to my forehead, Jason took the lead and soon the three disappeared out the door.  I heard the large doors open and shut, and soon Leo and I were left in complete silence.  I turned, heart beating a little harder at the thought of hearing what he had to say.  Leo always had a way of evading me, but I knew he couldn’t now; and whatever he’d wanted to say before had him at least a little nervous, which in turn made me anxious.


    To my amazement, Leo attempted to brush past me.  My jaw went slack and I reached out to catch his forearm.  He turned, shrugging me off before moving quickly toward the stairs.


    “What the hell, Leo?” I shouted, following after him.  “You said you needed to tell me something.”


    “I will,” he mumbled, jogging up the steps.  “Just wait.”


    “I’m sick of waiting,” I shot back, following at his heels.  “Do you know how long it’s been since we’ve had a normal conversation without you darting off like you can’t trust me?  A hell of a long time — and it’s not my fault.”


    He stopped mid-stride, causing me to almost bump into him.  We were in the upstairs hallway, standing in front of his room.  Leo turned, jaw clenched and eyes searching my face frantically.


    “One minute,” he said harshly.  “That’s all I’m asking.  Go wait downstairs, and if I’m not back in one minute then you have permission to beat the shit out of me.”


    I opened my mouth to say something but ended up biting my tongue.  I could wait a minute.  Sighing heavily, I turned and traipsed away.  He opened his bedroom door while I made my way into the main room.  My feet lead me up and down the length of the wall, pacing as I counted out seconds in my head.  What had gotten him so stressed, and why had it gotten to me so quickly?  I wasn’t being reasonable in that aspect, but I had every reason to be frustrated with him in terms of everything else.


    I’d barely counted a minute when his feet landed back on the first floor.  My head whipped to meet his gaze, both of us holding a level expression.  When he moved out into the room I saw something sticking out from the back of his shirt and immediately a gun came to my mind.  It made me nervous, and I slowly moved away from the wall.


    “First, I need you to listen to me,” Leo started.  “Don’t interrupt me, and don’t ask questions until I’m done.  It’s important you do that, or it’s not going to make any sense.”


    I tried to pick out an underlying tone, but couldn’t find one.  All I could do was nod and wring my hands.  “Okay.”


    He let out a heavy breath.  “You have to understand that when this started, I wasn’t sure about you, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to trust Jason.  Jason was — and still is — a narcissistic asshole that doesn’t know when to stop.”  I opened my mouth to defend Jason, but Leo held up his hand.  “Listen to me, dammit!”


    I recoiled, a stunned expression forming on my face.  It was then that I noticed how anxious he seemed even though he was able to stand in one spot without fidgeting.  What had Leo done?


    “You asked me to see where Emmett was,” Leo continued.  “You also asked me to keep an eye on your brother and on Tyler.  I thought you were insane, making me go after people who hated everything about me because I’m connected to Jason.  I’d’ve had to be suicidal to go for it — but I did anyway, because I wanted to help you.  I know how bad Jason screws people over, and I figured if I could do one thing for you it would be that.”


    My forehead pulled together.  Pity was what had brought Leo to help me?  I swallowed the pride in me screaming to tell him off, and tried to see where he was going with what he was saying.


    “So…  Well, I did.  I tried to keep my distance, but it was obvious from the start they knew I was hanging around in their territory.”  I bit my lip as Leo rubbed his hands over his face.  “It wasn’t long before one of your guys — Peter, actually — caught up with me.  I got cornered, and I told him you’d sent me.  At first he didn’t believe it and I was forced to tell him more so he didn’t end up killing me.  That was about two weeks after you asked me to keep an ear out.


    “As soon as Peter realized I didn’t want to hurt anyone, we figured something out.  We traded numbers and parted ways, agreeing never to set foot in each other’s territory again.  As far as  I know, we’re both still upholding that.”  He bit his lip.  “Peter kept in touch with me in return for different bits of information on Jason and what was going on.  Another part of our agreement was that neither of us could say anything to anyone in our groups — the reason being Jason would literally kill me, and Mendall wouldn’t be able to think clearly until he’d killed every single person in this house.”


    I was hit with a stab of guilt at the mention of Tyler, knowing Leo was right about his devotion.  But he’d been in contact with Peter the whole time and hadn’t told me?  My fists clenched, nails digging into my palms until I thought they might bleed.  Leo had kept me from the people I loved, even after I’d asked him to tell me.  Did that mean he actually knew where Emmett was?


    “The reason I didn’t tell you is that by the time I established a good amount of information on your brother and Tyler, you seemed to shy away from their names.  You’d started whatever this is with Jason, and I thought you wanted to forget about them.”  He paused, probably noticing the reddening in my face from anger.  “I can see I was wrong; but I swore to myself I would tell you if anything huge happened.”


    “Huge?” I couldn’t keep the rage from my voice.  Had it not occurred to him that contact with my family would be pretty damn big?


    “You’re not listening, Phoebe–“


    “Of course I’m fucking listening!” I bellowed, striding to him and taking a fistful of his shirt in my hand.  “You knew about my brother — my boyfriend — and you didn’t tell me when I asked?”


    “My life is on the line!” Leo shot back, prying my hand from him and shoving it away.  “If Jason figures this out, I’m as good as dead!  Do you not understand that I could’ve just ignored you and gone on with my life?  I’m sticking out my neck, have been ever since I decided to help you.  If I hadn’t said anything, you wouldn’t know that I even went anywhere.”


    “You did tell me though, didn’t you?” I hissed.  “Is that all you were planning on saying?   Because if that’s it, I suggest you leave so I don’t kick your ass.”


    “No, that isn’t it,” he snapped.  “You would’ve known that if you’d waited.”


    “You honestly expect me to sit quiet through this?”  I let out a bitter laugh.  “Damn, you really are stupid.   You crossed a line.”


    “One that you asked me to cross!  Don’t you dare pin this shit on me.  None of this would be happening if you hadn’t asked.”


    “You could’ve just told me when it happened!”


    “And let Jason work out for himself what happened?”  He threw up his hands.  “It would’ve been obvious, me never being at the house for a good two weeks and then you trying your best at leaving.  I’d be dead before I could blink.”


    “Do you honestly think I’d let him kill you for helping me?”  I shook my head.  “You could’ve come with, if you were that afraid.”


    “Right now it doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t do,” Leo huffed, turning away and running a hand through his hair.


    “Then what does matter?”  My voice was steely, cutting through the air between us.


    “Peter and I hadn’t talked in a while, not since the move.  But he called me today.”


    My jaw went slack.  “What did he say?”


    Leo cursed under his breath and turned to face me.  His expression was distraught and his eyes sent my stomach plummeting to my toes.  I knew right away something bad had happened.  The thought sent a wave of helplessness through me.  Was it Emmett?  My brother?   Tyler?


    “Leo?” I choked out around the feeling of suffocation in my throat.


    “Your brother,” he replied, as flatly as he could while looking me in the eye.  “Last I heard, about three hours ago, he was still in the ICU.  Someone went after him.  They almost killed him.”


A short warm-up chapter for what is to come...  Only one chapter left!  I can already promise you that it'll be probably at least twice as long as this one, and you'll probably all hate me but that's okay because the SEQUEL will be my redemption :)

Please let me know your thoughts on this, and even more predictions!  So excited to let you guys read the last chapter.  Will probably be up in three to four days, but you never know if I'll get antsy and post it sooner...  SO stay tuned! :)

Thank you for reading Xx

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