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."

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7. ~9.07~

        I stayed up for a long time after Jason closed the door.  Pacing relentlessly, I learned every corner of the basement before half an hour had ticked by.  But apparently, being knocked out by chloroform did nothing for me when it came to actual rest.  I'd been unconscious, not sleeping, and just after what I guessed was two, I finally ceased pacing and curled up on the cold floor.





        It didn't seem long before I was waking up again, roused by stomping two levels above me.  It was almost annoying how well sound carried throughout Jason's place—it was going to make getting away with things a lot harder.  I shoved myself up, suppressing the groan that leaped into my throat when I strained against a knot in my neck.

        "About time you got in," I heard Jason's voice growl upstairs.  "You've been gone since before we picked up Lastings down there."

        "I owed some people some money," whoever Jason was talking to replied.  I didn't recognize his voice, but it was deep and annoyed.

        "Who the hell are you in debt to?"  Jason's voice took on a harsh tone.  "I told you to stay away from borrowing money."

        "I don't owe anyone jack anymore.  Jackie was in trouble and I needed to help her out.  Get off my case."

        Jason dropped his voice to a volume I couldn't hear, and I sat up straighter to stretch out my back.  It was dark, but a string of light came from the door upstairs and hit the opposite wall.  That was all I had to see by.  Slowly, I raised myself to stand at the foot of the stairs.  My eyes were adjusting quickly, and I made out everything I'd seen in the basement the day before.  It was a really bad place to hold someone hostage, if they turned out to be smart.  There were a lot of things that could hurt someone down here.

        I began climbing the stairs, not bothering to be quiet.  I knew the lock on the door was still in place, Jason wasn't that stupid.  As I reached the top stair, I sunk down and sat across it, waiting.  After a few minutes I felt my stomach growl loudly and groaned.  I didn't want to eat anything here, but I would starve if I didn't.  For a second it seemed like a good alternative to staying here, but I remembered my promise to Sam.  I had no intention of not making it out of here alive.

        Jason's voice rose again, reminding me that he was just upstairs, but I still couldn't make out his words.  My foot tapped against the wall opposite the one I was leaning on, and I noticed I still had my combat boots on from probably two days before—along with the same set of clothes.  I realized too that my feet were faintly aching.

        "Leo, go get Lastings," Jason's voice ordered from the upper level.  "And don't get knocked out this time."

        I snorted, along with several other snickers from the upper level.  My arms crossed over my chest as I heard Leo's grunt and footsteps down the stairs.  The lock fumbled on the handle and I waited, not willing to try anything.  It wasn't worth it at this point, not yet.  The door opened a few seconds later, and Leo's head appeared.

        "What the—" he hissed, seeing me and jumping back a little.  He obviously hadn't expected me to be at the door, or even awake.

        I smiled slyly and stood.  "We've got to stop meeting like this," I told him.  "You're too jumpy."

        "Screw off," he muttered, stepping back to make room for me to enter the hall.

        "I'd leave you alone if I weren't stuck here," I snapped, rolling my eyes and striding to the stairs leading up.

        When I got upstairs, I saw Jason and three of his guys surrounding the dining table, and Xander sitting on a stool by the island.  Leo entered the room behind me, knocking into me with his shoulder as he walked by.  I muttered an insult at him as I took in all of them.  There were six guys, way too many for me to take on, and very well built.  Aside from one, Grant Conn—I knew him as one of Emmett's old friends—who was very lanky, they all looked like they took regular trips to the gym.  I debated whether I'd be able to even take on two of them at a time.

        "So this is Little L," one of them said, and I noticed this voice belonged to who Jason had been arguing with earlier.  He wasn't one of the guys who'd gone with Jason to my place, but even without him trespassing I knew I wouldn't like him.  The hair on his head was blond but his eyebrows were as dark as they could be, a sign that he bleached his hair.  Real tough kid Jason picked up.  "She really gave Leo all that trouble?"

        "I'd throw two grand on it that I could hand your ass to you," I told him, shifting my weight and crossing my arms over my chest.  "Any prick that bleaches his hair is bound to have more than a few weak spots."

        Leo looked satisfied with my remark, snickering with two of the other guys next to the blond.  Like Jason had been, this guy looked really taken aback by the blatant disrespect I could have toward people.  The fact of the matter was that I really wasn't just talk.  Markus and Sam had made sure I was trained well in fighting, with all the stuff they got into and the fact that guns weren't popular with us.  I'd even knocked Markus clean out more than a handful of times.

        "That's pretty big talk for someone with the nickname 'Little L'," he said, trying to have a last word in it.

        I rolled my eyes.  "Hasn't anyone given you the nickname 'Blondie' yet?  You think of comebacks slower than one."

        I didn't wait for his reply this time.  I brushed past the table and into the kitchen and began browsing their cupboards and fridge.  Hungry wasn't something I liked being, especially when I was at Jason McCann's place.  It was distracting, more than anything.

        "What is she doing?" I heard Xander ask, not quietly enough.

        "Jason offered me food.  I'm taking him up on it."

        There wasn't much noise as I moved things around in the fridge, searching for breakfast foods.  I spotted a carton of eggs and pulled them out, along with a jug of milk.  My eyes searched for a stove, and found one right across the island from where I stood.  I moved the eggs and milk over to it, ignoring the open stares I was receiving and bending down to find a pan in a cabinet to the side of the stove.  My hand closed around the handle of a small one, about the size of a dinner plate, and brought it to rest on the burner closest to the edge.

        I paused after turning the stove on, crossing my arms again and glancing over at the guys.  Xander was shooting glares at me, but the rest of them had gone back to whatever they were doing before I entered the room.  Two guys—Blondie and Grant—sat at the table were huddled around a deck of cards, holding their own cards and sliding their cards toward a lone deck, a few dollars in the middle.  I was the same game I'd seen Xander and Leo play last night.  The other two at the table—Jason and one of the guys who'd been at my place—were watching carefully.  Leo had slunk into the other room and flounced on a bean bag.

        I turned and cracked two eggs on the edge of the pan, tossing the egg shells in the sink a few feet from the stove.  I reached for the jug of milk and splashed a little onto the eggs.  Sam and I had been putting milk in scrambled eggs for years, because it made them smoother.  I turned and searched for a fork in the drawers around the kitchen, and guessed right on the second try.

        Making breakfast was quick, and I leaned back against the counter with a bowl I'd found in a cabinet to the right of where I stood and ate what I'd made.  As I took a bite I glanced at a clock I'd just spotted on the wall.  It was just past noon.  I was a little surprised that I could have slept so long on the concrete floor, but that explained the knot I'd felt in my neck.

        I finished the eggs and put my bowl in the sink just in time for Jason to stand up.

        "Grayson wanted to meet at two in Fallbrook about a deal," he said.  "Carter, Grant, Lucas; that's your job.  I don't want to deal with him today."  The three boys all grunted, their universal sign of recognition.  "Considering it's over an hour away, you should leave soon."

        "As soon as we finish," Blondie said.  His name must've been Lucas, but my name for him fit better.  "Almost done."

        I saw him and Grant begin to go through their cards, obviously counting them out.  Blondie grimaced.

        "One-Thirty-four," he said.

        Grant gave a triumphant smile and slapped his pile on the table.  "One-forty-eight."

        Blondie cursed and shoved the money between them toward Grant.  He stood up from the table and stomped downstairs.  I heard the beep of the garage door and the sound of it slamming behind him.  I watched Grant gather the scattered cards and stack them in a pile, then pocket the money left on the table.  Jason watched as Carter and Grant left the room,  then walked around the table and into the kitchen.  I remembered I needed to change, and turned toward him.

        "Where's my duffel?" I asked flatly.  "I need it."

        "In my room," Jason replied casually, digging in the fridge and pulling out an energy drink.

        Realizing I'd be getting no further words from him, I rolled my eyes and pushed off the counter.  I made my way out of the kitchen, through the makeshift living room, and up to Jason's room.  Pausing outside the door to make sure he wasn't following me, I looked closer into the room I'd only seen in the dark.  It looked a little less intimidating, but still had several dark decorations that brought the shade of the room down.  I entered, and noticed a bathroom around a corner to the right.  I wrinkled my nose.  I could've used a shower too, but I felt uncomfortable risking it in Jason's room, given how he'd cornered me the previous day.  Sighing, I peeked in at the doorknob and saw a lock, and felt a little better.

        I looked around for my duffel and spotted it next to his bed.  I grabbed it and carried it into the bathroom with me, then shut the door and locked it.  It was a pretty big bathroom, a large sink next to a toilet and a shower with clear doors all along the furthest wall.  A deep breath filled my lungs and I released it.  Being at Jason's place was a lot more intimidating than I let any of them believe.  I was incredibly uncomfortable with the fact that they kept guns on the main floor—and very upset with knowing that they wouldn't leave me alone to get ahold of one—along with six guys very capable of operating the weapons.

        I froze.

        Gun.

        My attention turned to my duffel immediately, on the floor next to the sink.  I all but dove for it, fumbling with the zipper and almost screaming when it didn't open smoothly.  If I was right, this could be my one chance to actually get out of this place.  Wrenching the bag open, I dug frantically around for the gun Tyler had given me.  But I didn't feel anything.  I even turned the bag upside down, but still could not find any sign of the gun.

        I fell against the wall, breathing hard and incredibly frustrated.  Of course they would've searched my bag, they weren't all dumb.  I kicked the duffel out of frustration, pressing my palms to my temples.  Every curse I knew, I threw at Jason under my breath.  This whole situation was just ridiculous, a result of Jason's tantrum.  Why the hell would he ask for me, other than to annoy the living hell out of everyone I cared about.

        I sighed forcefully and pulled myself to stand, then gathered my strewn clothes and kicked off my combat boots.  After double checking the door was locked I started the shower and pulled my clothes off.  I had to use whatever soaps Jason had, realizing I hadn't brought my own.  My nose wrinkled at the boyish scent.  Great.  I smelled like him now.

        I made sure I was done within seven minutes, then dried off with a towel I found in the cabinet under the sink.  I then pulled out a set of clothes from my duffel—dark blue jeans and a plain yellow tee—and put them on, then threw my wet hair into a high bun.  Quickly, I brushed my teeth and exited Jason's bathroom two minutes later, after preparing myself to go back down.

        There wasn't a point in taking my bag with me; I didn't have a bathroom in the basement, nor did I want to change in the basement.  I tossed it where it had been, beside Jason's bed.  I left my boots too.  I wasn't too particularly concerned with going barefoot in Jason's place.

        My feet padded through the hallway and down the stairs, finding the guys in almost the same position they'd been in before.  Leo was still sprawled out on a bean bag and Jason was still at the table, and Xander had gone to join him.  They had the deck of cards now, and about two hundred dollars was sitting between three hands of cards.  It was the same game I'd seen played three times now, a gambling game from the looks of it.  I was curious to see what kind of things they'd invented here, because Markus and Emmett had made up their fair share of card games.  Each one had a different spin on it, and were fun to play.  And depending on how Jason's game went, I could use gambling to my advantage.  I took a seat at the table, a place between me and either of the guys.  For a minute I studied them, and picked up a few of the moves they were making.

        It looked a lot like War between three hands, except for the fact that one didn't have a person behind it.  Jason and Xander flipped their cards and either one of them flipped the first card off of the third deck, then all three cards went to the highest number and were set aside.  Each of the hands got smaller, and they finally laid down their last card.  Jason put down a Queen, Xander put down a nine, and the third was a King.

        "Damn," Xander said under his breath.  "That's a lot of cards to the Ghost."

        I assumed that's what they called the third deck, since Xander had called it that before as well.  They gathered together the cards they'd earned and turned them over, and by the way they were looking through them and mouthing numbers, I could tell they were counting.  A smirk came on Xander's face and he put down his hand.  Jason looked up a few seconds later.

        "One-fifty-two," Jason stated, laying his cards down.

        "One-sixty-six," Xander said triumphantly, scooping the money between them into his hands.

        I watched Jason shrug, unaffected by the loss, unlike the other guys had been.  He dug around in his back pocket and pulled out a cell phone and began to type on it.  My temper flared when I remembered he still had my phone, but I managed to cool myself down before I said anything.  This game could win me my phone back.  Then my gun crossed my mind, and I became especially motivated.  As long as Jason let me play, I could use this to my advantage.  And from the looks of it, this game was a game of chance—meaning I had a 50/50 chance of getting what I wanted.

        "I'll play," I spoke up.  I crossed my arms over my chest, watching Jason for a reaction.

        "You're with us two days and you already want to start gambling," Jason scoffed, not looking up from his phone.  He didn't seem particularly affected by my statement.  "You don't know how to play, and I'm not teaching you."

        "I just learned," I said, grinding my teeth.  "It's not hard.  Wouldn't have taken a genius to think up."

        This got his attention.  He lifted his eyes to mine and I suppressed the uncomfortable feeling that climbed up my spine.  His eyes were filled with so much spite and hatred, probably more than I'd ever seen from any one person.

        "Alright, Little L," he said simply.  "Let's see how easy you catch on."

        I stood and walked around the table to a seat on the edge, right between Jason and Xander.  My glare was trained on him as he gathered all the cards and began shuffling them.  I watched as he separated them into three hands and picked up his own deck when he was done.  Jason began sorting the cards, but I couldn't see how.  I looked down at my own and noticed I had plenty of face cards.  This was a boost to my confidence, knowing that the Ghost didn't have many, and neither did Jason.  I scattered them throughout my hand, betting on the fact that most of the game was chance.  My eyes drifted upward when I was done.

        Jason was sitting, waiting for me to finish.  He was watching me carefully, and I returned his stare.  His fingers drummed on the table and he laid his cards face down.

        "What do you want?"

        I realized he was telling me to place my bet, and I thought it over.  I wanted my gun most, but my phone would work just fine.  I could tell Sam and Tyler how the place worked.

        "My phone," I said.  He narrowed his eyes at me, studying my face.  I could tell he was debating whether or not to take it.  He knew too that it was almost totally chance, but I also knew he wouldn't want to risk anything that would give me the upper hand in his house.

        "Fine," he finally said.  "What are you going to give up if you lose?"

        "Name it," I replied.

        Jason paused, thinking.  A smile glanced his features.  "A night up in my room."

        My eyes narrowed and my temper burned hot.  Who did he think he was?  Who did he think was?  But I clenched my teeth and said, "Fine."

        And we began to play.

        The first card I placed down was an Ace, Jason's was a four, and the Ghost's was a six.  I pushed all three cards to the side, unfazed.  The next I had an eight, Jason had a three, and the Ghost had another six.  I was a pretty optimistic when my next card was a King, because if it kept taking cards away from the Ghost and Jason, I'd have plenty enough at the end.  Jason took the next round of cards with an Ace, but I'd only lost a two.  I chanced a look at his face before laying down my next card, but he was staring intently at the table.  There was no sign of emotion from him, and I kept my face straight as well.

        Several rounds later, Jason had gained a few face cards and several other numbers, but I felt confident in the stack in my hand.  We laid down our last cards and Jason won the hand, only a nine, ten, and his king.  I began to count, assuming Jacks were eleven, Queens were twelve, Kings were thirteen, and Aces were fourteen.  I ended up with one-ninety-two.

        I looked up, finding Jason watching me.  "Well?" I asked.

        "One-seventy-three," he said flatly.

        My lips pulled into the biggest smirk I'd ever given anyone.  I'd just beaten Jason's McCann at his own game.  "One-ninety-two," I said triumphantly.  I set the cards in my hand back on the table and said very matter-of-factly, "I'll take my phone."

        Jason's lip pulled up in a way that made me think he was going to snarl, but he was quiet as he pulled my phone out of his pocket.  I grabbed it from him quickly, thankful that I'd put a lock on it, or he could've gone through all of my things.

        "You're lucky I play bets fairly," he said.  "Anyone else, and I guarantee that wouldn't be yours."

        I rolled my eyes.  A small part of me hadn't thought he would hand it over, I admit, but the chance that he would was too big to risk not taking it.  I wouldn't spend a single night up in his room, but I would've rather done that than not tried.  Which is why I wanted to try again, this time to get my way out.  If I lost, I'd still have my phone.  It was a game of chance, and I'd already won once.

        I pocketed my phone and met his eyes.  "Again," I told him.

        He snorted.  "I'm done gambling," he said, and stood from his chair.

        My jaw clenched.  He started to walk away, leaving me sitting at the table with Xander and a deck of cards sprawled across the surface.  My hands curled into fists and I held back a shout.  Jason just had a way of bringing out the worst of me, and I didn't know why.  No one else I knew could turn my temper to the max like it had been these past two days.  But I knew enough about him to know that I had to grab his attention with something appealing—maybe not to me, but to him.

        "I want out of here, Jason," I said just before he stepped out of the kitchen.  He kept walking.

        "Good luck with that," he called over his shoulder.

        My jaw closed tighter, and I thought my teeth would just about break.  "Two weeks," I told him.  Jason paused, only momentarily, to hear what I had to say.  "Your room, for two weeks.  No more, no less."

        His back straightened.  "If you willingly give the basement up, what fun is it for me?"  He had a joking tone, but I could tell he was trying to decide whether to take my offer or not.  I hated myself for it, but I hiked up what I was willing to lose.

        "One month," I said.  "No more, no less."

        His head cocked to the side.  We both had a 50/50 chance of getting what we wanted.  The ordering of your cards at the beginning didn't mean anything, it was complete chance.  I knew he didn't want to play, but I also knew he was never one to back down from a challenge.  And considering I'd just won, he probably wanted to redeem himself.

        "One month in my room," Jason repeated.  "And your phone."

        My nails dug into my palms.  If that's what was going to get him to play...  I had to try.

        "Fine."

        Jason turned and strutted his way back to his seat, watching my eyes carefully as he took the strewn cards in his hands and began to shuffle them.  I held his stare, not willing to back down.  We held each other's glares until he had dealt all the cards, then we began looking through our hands.

        I had three face cards.  Out of twelve.  When I'd gotten my phone, I'd had eight.  My stomach sank as I mixed my cards.  It already looked like I was losing both my phone and my dignity.  I wanted so badly to back out, but I couldn't.  There was still that small chance I could win, but not really anymore.  Jason would know I was a coward, something Sam had tried for so long to beat out of me.  Granted, Sam wouldn't want me doing something rash like this, but I wouldn't back out.

        And six turns into the game, I knew I was done for.

        The Ghost had taken a majority of my cards, and I'd only won one round with a Jack against a three and a seven.  Jason's card value was increasing, and with the cards the Ghost was taking, after ten turns I was losing too much ground to catch up.  I was starting to panic; I would lose my phone, whether I wanted to or not—he'd force it away from me if he had to.  And I'd spend the next month in Jason's room—he'd also force me, and I knew it—if Sam and Tyler hadn't found a way to bust me out.  Another three cards left my possession and I pulled out my phone to shoot Tyler a message.  I hadn't received one from anyone yet, probably because they, too, thought Jason would read them.

        I got my phone back from Jason, but only for a few minutes.  I'm fine, but speed up the busting-me-out process.  Love you.

        I looked up as I pushed my phone into my pocket and Jason was watching me carefully.  I narrowed my eyes and placed down another card.  I won this one with an eight, gaining only a four and a seven.  The Ghost had a particularly good hand, so neither Jason nor I were getting many, but I still knew he had more.  And when I had no cards left in my hand, I didn't have to count to know he had more.  But I did, and I felt sick as I said my number out loud.

        "One-eleven."

        The corner of Jason's mouth twitched upward.  "One-Thirty-two."

        I stood up, placed my phone on the table, and left.  I was straight for the basement, not pausing as I climbed down the steps.

        "Don't expect anything from me, McCann," I said.  I knew he heard me, and I knew he caught what I meant.  I played bets fairly, but there was no small print that gave him any more than I'd said.

        My feet hit the basement floor and I began pacing, so upset with myself I couldn't even think.  And next thing I knew, I was leaning against the wall, curled in a ball and pressing my palms to my temples, just as I'd done when I realized he'd taken my gun away.  Every day in this place felt like something more was being stripped from me.  And I hated it, more than I hated Jason.

        I finally swallowed my pride and went upstairs around midnight.

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