The last thing Wes expected his week off to be was nerve-wracking. And yet, here he was, thinking about someone he’d been trying to forget.
When Joven had decreed a week ago that everyone was getting the next week off to recuperate before they moved into the next phase of the Jackrabbit, Wes had expected to be home alone at the club, getting food delivered and watching over the place.
He’d watched as the club had slowly emptied one by one.
The strippers had left first, Olivia, Noah and Keith heading to a karaoke bar, Shayne looking like he wanted to say something to Damien before saying nothing and leaving with them. Wes had noticed that recently. Damien and Shayne hadn’t been as friendly as normal. The two of them were normally thick as thieves, but now, something had clearly changed.
Courtney and Boze had taken one of the vans. He’d helped Boze pack some guns in a cache she'd put in the back.
“Just in case?” He’d asked, raising and eyebrow.
“She wants to get some shooting in.”
“Careful out there,” he’d replied with a grin. “And good luck.”
“Thanks Wes.” Then Boze had hugged him, it was quick, but it was kind.
He and Joven had waved them goodbye after he made sure Boze didn’t pack Damien’s sniper.
Mari had packed a backpack, promising to be back at the end of the week before renting a car to drive her into the mountains to try to summit Mount Elm. She’d been talking about doing something like that ever since she’d come back from rehab. Wes guessed that it was probably something she’d been taught there, to get her to pick a new hobby or something. There was another thing he’d noticed when she’d come back. She was significantly more muscular than she’d been when she’d left. He wasn’t sure if it was how frail she’d been back then, or if she’d just packed on muscle now, but she looked all the more dangerous than she was before.
Damien had said something about ‘finding an old friend’ before he’d disappeared for the week. He’d been like that recently. Quieter than usual. Damien had always been cryptic, but he’d been more so than he was normally. He’d lost some of his humorous side, and what had taken its place was the beginning of something darker. Wes had been meaning to talk to Damien, but they’d both gotten busy with work and it’d fallen by the wayside.
Wes kept waiting for Joven to leave, but he never did. It wasn’t until they’d both gotten up at relatively the same time one morning, avoiding each other on the way to the bathroom that Wes finally asked. He’d been standing in the kitchen in a pair of pajamas making coffee, Joven entering in quietly behind him.
“So when are you heading out?”
“What?” Joven looked up from his phone. He looked like he’d just rolled out of bed, a black robe over a pair of bright blue shorts and a white tank-top and messy hair. His glasses balanced precariously on the bridge of his nose. “I thought you were leaving?”
“I never said that.”
“I don’t think I did,” Wes replied, clearing his throat. “You’re not going somewhere?”
“So it’s just going to be you and me here for the next week? Alone?”
“Well, we’ve got our friend in the basement, we wouldn’t want to forget about him.”
“Leo. That’s right.”
“And since you and I are both staying home, we can trade off who brings him food each day.” Joven reached in front of Wes, grabbing the coffee pot. Wes faulted for a second, trying to keep his footing, hoping Joven wouldn’t notice. He brought his coffee to his lips, sputtering as it burned his tongue. Wes swallowed it quickly, blinking as he watched Joven smile back at him.
“So,” Wes coughed. “What are your plans for this week?”
“Catching up on paperwork for the club, and sleep.”
“No Matt Raub or Brotherhood things planned?”
“Matt Raub is in Cabo right now dealing with some offshore accounts that went bad, and Whittle jumped at the opportunity for a break. She and her boyfriend headed upstate to visit her parents.” Joven slotted the coffee pot back into place. “So it’s going to be a very quiet week.”
“Uh-huh.” Wes blew over the top of his coffee, a little terrified at the fact that he and Joven were going to be in such close proximity for such a long time.
“And what about you?”
“Watching tv, maybe playing a video game Shayne recommended, but otherwise not much.”
Joven nodded, moving to take a drink of his coffee, but realizing too late that it was scorching hot. He choked on the coffee as he swallowed it, setting his mug on the table.
“I literally just did that.”
“Shut up Wesley,” Joven grumbled playfully. He crossed the room to the fridge, pulling it open as Wes took at a seat at the table. “Do we have any food in here?”
“I’m pretty sure we’ve only had take-out for the past three months,” Wes replied, blowing over the top of his mug.
“We’re disgusting aren’t we?”
“Just a little.”
“Alright, then we’ll go shopping today.”
Joven let the fridge fall shut. “Well, obviously, you aren’t doing anything today, and if I go alone, I’ll just end up buying a bunch of junk food we don’t need”
“And I would help you do anything different?”
“I’ll find my better judgement and pretend that I’m actually healthy if you’re there with me.”
“Fine,” Wes rolled his eyes.
“Great! It’s a date!” Joven’s eyes went wide as he realized what he’d said. “I mean...it’s not, um, y’know…”
Wes grinned with one side of his face. “Freudian slip?”
“Twenty minutes,” Joven cleared his throat. He grabbed his mug of coffee, breezing past Wes. “We’re going.”
Wes knew that there was no arguing with Joven. He popped a few ice cubes and a mountain of sugar in his coffee and downed it in three gulps.
He pulled on a pair of jeans and a cleaner sweatshirt than the one he’d been wearing earlier, and met Joven in the hallway in front of the club. Joven was wearing a pair of grey pants and a nicely pressed shirt, his hair had been combed back, and Wes was pretty sure that he’d trimmed his beard too.
“We’re going for a grocery run Joven, not a dinner party.”
“I always dress to impress,” Joven grinned.
“Overdress,” Wes teased.
The two of them walked to the run-down chain grocery store that was located a few blocks from the Jackrabbit. The prices were somewhat cheap, and the food wouldn’t kill you, so it was good enough for them.
Joven grabbed a cart, and wheeled it down the aisle, Wes in tow. “It’s now that I realize that I probably should’ve brought a list with.”
“We can grab and go,” Wes pulled a box of pasta from the shelf.
“Not too many sweets, okay?”
“I’ll grab as many as I want.” Wes grinned, jogging down the hallway.
He grabbed a few bags of chocolate candies, and some cookies before doubling back to Joven and placing them in the cart.
“They made it in, so they can stay!”
“It’s the rule I’m making right now, and it’s staying.”
Joven caught his eyes, a fond smile that made something in Wes’s stomach warm bloomed on his face. They held each other’s gaze for just a second long enough that he began to question if it meant something.
“I hate you,” Joven laughed, smiling with such warmth in his eyes. He expression faltered as he realized what he was doing and looked away, breaking their gaze.
“Cheese, we need cheese, right?” Wes cleared his throat, pointing to the dairy fridge at the end of the aisle.
“Uh yeah we do, and do we want to get some tomatoes and avocados?”
Joven’s expression stayed with Wes even on their way home. They made small conversation, but it was clear that whatever had just happened had stuck with the both of them.
He’d unloaded the groceries into the fridge, stocking up the cupboard, trying to weave around Joven as the two of them moved in tandem. They were both somewhat awkward around one another, with was odd. Sure, they’d been awkward for a while, but something had changed recently, and now it was like the switch had been flipped again.
Wes retreated to his room with an energy bar and some candy, flipping off the lights and turning on whatever was on tv. It wasn’t interesting, but it was something that distracted him from everything else. He let himself fall into whatever was in front of him before a knock came at his door.
“It’s open,” he shouted softly. Joven pushed the door open slowly, balancing two bowls in hand. Wes furrowed his eyebrows. “What...is that.”
“I made dinner. Mac and cheese, old fashioned, homemade.” Joven handed him the bowl. “Bon appetit.” He moved to leave back towards the door.
“Hey, are you just going to eat alone?”
“Well it’d be weird if I brought it all the way up here and made you come down to the kitchen to eat it with me.”
“Then stay here with me,” Wes felt his heart flutter. What the hell was he saying? . “We can watch this show the mechanic, Tanner, told me about. It’s probably shit, but it’d be nice to watch it with someone.”
Joven smiled just the slightest, climbing onto Wes’s bed next to him.
The two of them ate the mac and cheese, which was actually really good, in relative silence, watching the show and just enjoying each other’s company. Wes had been right, the show was shit, but Joven seemed to like it, and that was enough for him.
As the room darkened, the sun setting slowly and the street lamps flickering on, Wes felt the bed shift slightly. Joven had moved, and now sat a few inches closer to Wes than before.
Wes chanced moving just slightly, so that their shoulders just barely touched.
They sat there for maybe twenty minutes, Wes’s heart humming in his chest everytime Joven’s shoulder brushed across his. Wes moved his hand, leaning against it. He felt Joven’s fingertip brush against his, and he turned his head to see Joven glance in his direction.
He watched Joven slowly turn his head, his eyes flickered in the dim light, moving between Wes’s eyes and his lips.
Something loud happened on the tv, and both of their heads whipped back towards the screen. Wes looked back at Joven, but he saw him recoil, the reality of the situation seeming to have hit him.
He cleared his throat. “I should head to bed,” he murmured.
“Yeah, um, yeah, me too.”
Wes didn’t move as he listened to Joven leave, his heart pumping as he tried to rationalize what had just happened.
The two of them didn’t talk much after that night.
It was clear that there had been tension, but Wes wasn’t about to bring that up to Joven again. Last time he’d done that, he’d only gotten himself hurt, and he didn’t want that to happen for a second time. But his feelings would do what they wanted, and he’d bury them if he had to.
They’d pass each other in the hall, giving each other small nods. Sometimes they’d talk about the weather in the kitchen, or about who had to bring Leo food that day. They never talked about the important things.
Wes had resigned himself to the pole onstage to think through his worries. It had always helped him before, and today wasn’t an exception. The familiar twisting of his body, and the firmness of the pole beneath his hands. The sting of the skin where calluses had formed and loosened over the years of use.
He would climb and spin and let himself fall. His hair fell back against his forehead as he felt his spine contort backwards.
“Hey,” Joven’s voice roused Wes from his thoughts. He let his eyes open, spinning down the pole, setting one foot gracefully on the ground before letting the other fall a little less gracefully.
“What’s up?” He was breathing surprisingly hard, his heart pumping in his chest.
“Do you maybe want to go out tonight?”
“A club or something.”
“We never have fun at clubs.”
“Get drunk and dance?”
Wes considered it, a grin slowly peeling across his face. “I can swing that.”
They headed out at seven, when the light slowly drained from the city. They’d taken Joven’s nice car, the black one that he’d bought a few months ago. Joven was dressed to a tee, and Wes felt like, for once, his fashion choices could actually compare to Joven’s.
They ended up at some club he didn’t recognize downtown, it was popular enough to have a line at the front, but exclusive enough that it had a valet service.
Wes did enjoy the ease in which they could get into clubs these days. All Joven had to do was flash a smile and sometimes his business card and the velvet ropes would open the world to them.
The place was nice. Drinks were expensive and the people seemed more high end than the average party girl or fraternity bro that populated most of Los Santos. The walls were bathed in blue light, and the music was upbeat but not overpowering.
Joven bought him a drink, not too strong, and the two of them stood around, drinking and making small conversation. Joven was quickly swept up into conversation with two or three tall men with sharp eyes but easy smiles. They talked like old friends, rapidly and with lots of gestures, to the point that Wes could barely follow conversation.
He ducked out quickly, heading across the room to see if he could get something a little stronger to drink. Wes finished whatever Joven had gotten him and approached the bar, he wasn’t quite sure what he’d asked for, but whatever he’d gotten tasted good.
The night began to blur, his head thick with alcohol.
Wes remembered there was a guy at the end of the bar. He’d bought Wes a few drinks. Where did Joven go again? The two had been talking for a while, the guy was kinda cute. Wes just wanted to forget Joven. He was sick of letting himself hurt.
He’d let the guy kiss him, and he’d kissed the guy back.
But his heart wasn’t there.
And then when he’d pulled away, he’d seen Joven standing across the room. He almost looked betrayed.
Wes felt his stomach drop, and he pulled away from the bar as Joven turned to leave.
He chased Joven out into the night.
Wes caught Joven’s arm. The look on Joven’s face was unmistakable.
“Were you just going to leave me?”
“You looked pretty content with that guy .”
Joven's face was red. "You know."
Wes was taken aback, “what is it with you, Joven?” They were out on the street, and they were very not alone. Wes could feel the eyes of the people around them stabbing into his back. “Do you want me or not?”
Joven drove them home in silence. The words unsaid thickened the barrier between them. Wes would begin to speak but Joven always clear his throat and cut him off.
The second Joven slammed the club doors behind them, Wes was at him.
“We keep going around in these circles, what the hell do you want?”
“I don’t know Wes.”
“You clearly do.” He replied, “because you can’t seem to stand me with anyone, but you also don’t want to be with me.” Wes crossed his arms, on the verge of tears. “So what do you want?”
“I want you.” Joven’s chest rose and fell in sharp increments.
"Do you really?" Wes spat, "or are you going to chicken out like you always do."
"No," Joven's voice was firm. "I should’ve said so many things that night but I didn’t."
"Why not, you had the chance."
"Because I was scared," he cried. "I should’ve told you how I really felt. But I didn’t. I got too into my own mind, and I messed myself up. I messed you up, and I can't forgive myself for that. You shouldn't forgive me for that."
"I shouldn’t have lied to you, I should’ve just come clean.” He closed his eyes. “I have to stop hoping that you’ll just wait around for me. Because you’re going to move on sooner or later.”
“I don’t want to move on.”
Joven opened his eyes. "You don't?"
"No." Wes stepped forward from where he’d been standing a few feet from Joven. “I haven’t moved on. Because you’re all I want. You’re all I’ve wanted.”
"God we're idiots."
"We are aren't we?" Wes let his arms fall to his sides. "So what now?"
Joven got that familiar look in his eye. “I have some ideas."
"I think I'm gonna like them," Wes grinned.
“I knew you probably would.” Joven kissed him softly at first, looping his fingers in Wes's hair. Wes found that spot on the small of Joven's back, pulling him against his body.
“So, your room or mine?”
“Shouldn’t we go where it all started?” Wes replied coyly, Joven rolled his eyes, kissing him firmly again.
“I hate you.”
< < ^ > >
Wes sat in the back of the club, watching the people move by under the low lights. He’d been standing with Mari for a while, she was on point tonight, but he’d felt like he’d just been stepping on her toes, and instead had chosen a seat in the back.
It seemed that everyone was busy tonight. The strippers were always working, Damien was behind the bar, and Boze was sitting with Shayne and Joven in a booth towards the front. He wasn’t quite sure what they were talking about, but Shayne hadn’t changed into his outfit yet. Wes knew that he was working tonight, there was a bachelorette party and Shayne was almost always on the schedule, but he must have had some Jackrabbit things to deal with. He was surprised at how easily they’d integrated Shayne into the business recently. Wes was glad to have someone to run the errands he hated, but he wondered if they were moving just a little too fast with him.
Wes was the only one not working tonight. He normally had very little to do with the club itself, he’d move shipments in the back, take inventory, sometimes work as a bouncer if he had to, but tonight he was free of anything to do.
He’d gotten bored of watching tv in his room, and people watching was actually somewhat fun. Wes was also there in a hope of finally talking to Joven.
They still hadn’t spoken after last night, he’d woken up the next morning to find the spot next to him empty. When he’d gone downstairs, he’d found Mari and Damien with Joven, chatting about what they’d done over the week.
Even though they hadn’t said anything, Wes knew that something was different this time around. The way Joven looked at him, it was a hunger he was familiar with, a hunger he shared.
Wes caught Joven’s eye from across the club. Joven smiled just slightly at him, his eyes curving up at the corners. He said one final thing to Shayne and Boze before standing, a scheming grin on his face. Wes met him a few feet in front of the entrance of the hallway, grinning back.
“Hey,” he purred.
“Hey,” Joven murmured right back. “So, we haven’t really had time to talk about last night, have we?” He reached up, straightening Wes’s collar.
“I was just about to say the same thing.”
“I want to do this.” Joven was surprisingly direct. “I’m sick of running around it. I want you.”
“So do I.” Wes felt his heart racing as a smile flickered across his lips.
“Good,” Joven’s face bloomed. “So, do you want to...go into the storage room, for some fun?”
“Oh, now?” Wes’s eyebrows shot up. He looked towards Boze and Shayne, who were talking excitedly while making large gestures to one another. “Weren’t you talking to them?”
“I was, but they think that you needed my help. So please help me escape.”
“What were they on about?”
“Boze and Shayne both have very strong ideas about where the club should go, so they both ganged up on me to try and push their agendas.”
“There’s a duo I’d never thought I’d see.”
“I had thought the same thing, but here we are.”
“Things are changing, huh?” Wes looked out at the sea of people enthralled in the show onstage. “We were nothing four months ago. Now look at us.”
“Things are really moving,” Joven nodded with a smile. “I think for the better.”
And then there was a sound like the world was being ripped in half.
Wes was toppled to the ground, his ears ringing as dust filled the air. He could barely see, retching and coughing as his body shook.
Wes looked up to see Joven next to him, his face filling his vision. He could see Joven mouthing his name, but he couldn’t hear him over the sharp ringing in his ears. Wes tried to speak, but he couldn’t even hear his own voice.
Joven helped him to his feet, and Wes’s hearing sharpened suddenly.
He barely caught the end of what Joven said, but he could parse out what it meant. “-okay?”
“I’m…” Wes coughed, his lungs burning. “I’m fine.”
There was screaming everywhere.
Bodies flailed about in the pale lights flickering around him. Chunks of the building were gone.
And there was blood, splattered across the people that passed him, their eyes wide and their jaws slack in cries of pain and fear.
“What just happened?” Wes’s voice wavered. He looked to Joven, whose eyes were just as wide as he knew his own were. Wes knew he didn’t have to ask to know.
Joven was shaking. “Bomb.”
“Where did it-”
Wes already knew that too.
Because where Boze and Shayne were sitting was now nothing but piles of rubble.
And the two of them were nowhere to be seen.