Antony's been home nearly a week, and Stephen has, thankfully, been very distracted with the insanity that is pre-production for a movie. It's been a huge learning curve and he's been shuffled from place to another; costume, script meetings, rehearsals and the ever present screen specific training. All the while Christos has been at his back, making sure his days run as smoothly as possible, being the ever present pillar of calm that has kept Stephen from losing his shit on a number of occasions.
"Any plans for your day off?" Stephen looks up from where he's setting cutlery on the small dining table as Christos loads up their plates with food. "I bet you're sick of my face by now."
"So sick of your ugly face," Christos confirms with a nod, but his dark eyes are dancing, his usual dry humor in effect. "I will spend the next 15 to 22 hours ordering around a minimum of two naked boys to my bidding. Maximum of four." He shrugs. "I'm feeling a little tired." Laying the laden dishes on the table, he takes a seat opposite.
"Ugh," Stephen makes a sound of envy at Christos' words. "That sounds perfect," he murmurs as he picks up his silverware, his mind now full of images of him kneeling for his Sir. He decides there and then that he'll call Antony later and request a little long distance D/s.
His smile softens at the tinge in Stephen's voice. "You'll see him soon," Christos says, picking up his fork. He recalls what it's like to miss someone so much. Vaguely. "Your plans for tonight are unchanged?" He's still on the clock, after all, and it's automatic for him to check in even though he knows it's not necessary.
Stephen nods around a mouthful of chicken, he's ravenous, all the extra training has kicked up his appetite a notch. Once he's swallowed and wiped the corner of his mouth with his paper napkin he responds properly. "Yeah, I thought I might have a bath then Skype call Tony, I miss his 'ugly' face." He grins.
"He's never won any beauty contests," Christos says with a snicker. "A wet t-shirt contest, maybe." Living in Stephen's pocket for months has relaxed him some, to the point that now he does indulge in the occasional joke with his employers, whereas before he was always no-nonsense at work. Polishing off his dinner, he sits back with his bottle of water and rolls his shoulders out. "You have my mobile number," he reminds Stephen, just like he always does before he takes a night off. Again, unnecessary. "You know I always take your calls." He shouldn't. He should separate work from pleasure. But it's not like he's got anyone else pulling on him for his time and attention.
"But his eyes Christos, his eyes..." Stephen shakes his head with a laugh, "they at least are pretty right?" He clears his plate, mirroring Christos as he sits back. "Yes, yes, you're almost worse than Tony is for the Mother Hen routine." He rolls his eyes. "Go, have fun with more pretty boys than you'll know what to do with. I'll be fine. Connor's here."
"Yes, yes. I have three more minutes to discuss with you the prettiness of my boss's eyes," Christos replies, and nearly manages a straight face. Just not quite. "Two..." He swiftly washes their dishes and sets them to drain, then checks his watch again. "Good night, Stephen," he says, grabbing his jacket. "I'll see you tomorrow evening."
"Have fun! Don't do anything I wouldn't do," he calls after Christos as his bodyguarding PA heads to the door, laughter evident in his tone. With one man gone, another enters and Stephen waves at Connor as the other man heads downstairs to the spare room to drop off his overnight bag.
The talk of kink, albeit so briefly over dinner, has the effect of making Stephen all twitchy, despite being tired and more than ready for a bath. Unsure quite how to handle it he tries to distract himself by clearing out his bag and repacking it ready for the next day. Setting his script on the couch he decides the best thing is to go for a 30 minute run and pick up some cookies on his way home.
Decision made he takes no time at all in changing into his running gear; shoes, shorts, tee and hoodie. "Connor?" He calls downstairs. "I'm gonna go for a short run. I'll be thirty minutes, okay?"
"Give me a sec, I'll come with you," Connor calls back, pulling workout clothes from his bag.
"Okay, okay." Stephen rolls his eyes, he can't even have a thirty-minute run without a babysitter. "I'll be out front warming up," he adds, just to push the point and he's gone before Connor can protest. It's cool out and Stephen glances up and down the street before skipping down the steps.
Fuck. Connor sighs and changes as quickly as he can. He knows Stephen chafes at having them with him 24/7, him more than Christos since the other man's also his personal assistant, but he's got his orders and no one but no one crosses Antony. He shoves his gun down the back of his sweats, grabs his keys and locks up behind him before joining Stephen, the street surprisingly quiet for this time of day. "Which way?"
Stephen cocks his head up the street. "This way." He's jogging on the spot, raring to go. "I'll start slow." It's not that he doesn't think Connor can't keep up, he's just aware he's been moving all day, and this won't be his first cardio session either. They start off, an easy pace, as they reach the corner Stephen takes the corner picking up a route he's run before.
Connor's not going to complain about slow. He'd just wolfed down some shawarma before coming over and it's sitting like a ball of lead in his belly. "How was your day?" he asks, constantly scanning the street around them.
"Long, busy. Training, script meetings, more training," Stephen manages a half shrug. "I'm just feeling restless, and I need to sleep tonight so..." He trails off as a man crosses the street, clearly adjusting his trajectory to meet them.
Joseph starts waving at Stephen and his bodyguard from halfway across the street. The van's waiting around the corner, two other guys posted in doors nearby. "Stephen!" he calls, waving stupidly, putting on his best dumb fanboy act like he has been for weeks. Only all those times have been outside the studio, where it was always too busy to make their move.
Connor steps between them, hand already on the small on his back. Just in case.
Stephen reaches out to place a placatory hand on Connor's arm. "It's okay, he's a fan," he explains. "Harmless, just a little over enthusiastic is all," he adds, his voice low. He could do without the disruption, he'd prefer to finish up his run, grab his sugar fix and chill out for the evening, he's 'peopled' enough for one day. Not once does it occur to him that it's odd that this guy has shown up here, not minutes from his home.
"Stephen!" Joseph beams at the man as he reaches them on the sidewalk. "Do you live around here? I do. I know you're busy but I hope you don't mind me stopping you. I was hoping you'd give me your autograph for my sister. She really really likes Arrow. Almost as much as I do," he says, yammering on, a notebook and pen produced and shoved in Stephen's direction, his attention, like a good fanboy, entirely on the man, ignoring his bodyguard completely. "Her name is Elizabeth, with a z, but she goes by Liza so maybe you could put that?" Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Peter and Dominik carefully moving in.
"Liza," Stephen repeats, taking the book and pen that have literally been placed in his hands. "Sure, but I can't stop." Flashing a professional smile he dips his head to concentrate on scrawling a quick message to 'Liza'.
Connor drops back, letting Stephen do his thing, his guard relaxed because his boss knows the guy. But there's still something not quite right and he scans the street again, the off feeling giving him goosebumps. There's another guy approaching them, whistling, listening to his iPod, his clothes casual, everything about him casual, street, and yet not. The clothes too new for this neighbourhood, the way he carefully keeps his gaze from them giving him away. "We need to go," he tells Stephen, grabbing his boss's arm just as something hits him hard from behind, pain exploding behind his eyes.
One moment Stephen is signing his name with a flourish, the next Connor's hand is curled around his bicep but before he can question his bodyguard as to what the problem is Connor is falling into his arms, his weight taking Stephen backward. The breath is knocked from Stephen as he staggers, and it's compounded by the way his heart rate has kicked up with the shock. Confused, disoriented and dealing with an unexpected adrenaline spike Stephen looks to the man who'd approached him for help.
But Joseph is busy waving the van in, his demeanour completely changed as he pulls a black cotton sack from his pocket and tries to force it over Stephen's head while Peter and Dominik kick the shit out of the bodyguard, ensuring he goes down and stays down, his gun kicked into the gutter.
In the space of a few seconds, Stephen's reality has taken a surreal turn, and his brain is struggling to catch up, but it's when two large pissed-looking guys start kicking the shit out of Connor that he flips over into any kind of fight back mode. Lashing out with one arm he tries to block the man he now knows is no fan as he steps in, some dark fabric shaken out of his pocket and aimed at his head. "Fuck!" Stephen grits out as he fails to push the man away as much as he'd hoped, leaving him unable to turn to try and help Connor. It's like time slows down, and Stephen can hear his own breathing as he kicks out, fighting back with all he has.
Joseph blocks the hits but it takes all he has. Stephen's a formidable opponent and he's grateful when the van screeches to a halt beside them, three more men spilling out onto the sidewalk. Istvan grabs Stephen's arms and Joseph punches Stephen hard in the face, using the seconds the blow buys him to finally get the sack over the man's head. Sandor takes Stephen's ankles and they manhandle him into the back of the van, Tamas ready with a set of zip ties.
He saw it coming, but Stephen can't duck or evade the blow, and when it lands his whole face explodes in pain, blood erupts from his nose and he reels back, blinking, desperate to stay on his feet, because even in that moment he knows if he goes down all will be lost. But before Stephen can regain his balance everything goes black and breathing becomes difficult, the fabric molding to his mouth and bloodied nose as he tries to suck in air. The world tilts as he goes down, but he doesn't hit the floor, hands keep him horizontal and it's just a heartbeat later when he starts to struggle again.
"Fucking restrain him!" Joseph yells at Tamas as they fight to hold Stephen down, the van peeling away from the curb already. He grabs for Stephen's wrists, knee pressed into his chest, keeping him bound while Tamas gets the cuffs into place. He hears Sandor cry out in pain and curse as he's presumably kicked but he doesn't bother looking. He's more than done his part.
There's so much to process; the pain from what Stephen thinks may be a broken nose, the shock, the need to keep fighting even as his wrists are secured painfully tight and most worryingly the fact he's clearly in a moving vehicle, on his own with four or five men who seem intent on doing him harm. There's an icy feeling in his belly, he's dizzy and he's fucking terrified. Not that he's going to let these men see that. Fuck no. "You motherfucking pricks! Let me go, let me go you cunts!" he shouts, the words muffled by the fabric wrapped around his head.
"Shut up, bitch," Istvan spits out, sounding bored already. He sits across Stephen's calves and quickly binds his ankles with more zip-ties. "Quit crying, you fucking infant," he says, aggravated by the way Sandor gasps for breath. "You'll get a free shot."
Bitch... Only a name Antony gets to call him. Antony! Stephen hisses out a sound as the zip ties cut into his ankle through his trainer socks. "Fuck you! You've no fucking idea the fuck tonne of trouble you've just brought down on your sorry fucked up asses!" Not for a moment does he consider that these guys know exactly who he belongs to.
"Fuck you," Sandor tells Istvan. "I'm going to get more than a shot." He kicks Stephen in the side. "You stupid bitch. You think we don't know exactly who you are. Janko-- Fuck," he shouts again as Joseph punches him in the arm, making a clear gesture for him to zip it.
Any response is lost when the air is kicked from him, and then moments later Stephen's mind is racing with this new information. It's not about me?....Janko? Janko. Where do I know that name? All Stephen can recall is that this name is linked to Antony in some way. Fishing about in his memory Stephen tries to place it but the combined effects of pain, the effort it takes to breathe and the adrenaline still coursing through his veins makes it difficult to think.
"You'd do better to give up now," Joseph tells Stephen, listening to the other men bicker over who will get to do what to their captive. "Struggling won't get you anything but hurt."
"Gonna get hurt anyway," Istvan snickers, and shakes his head as he shifts his weight, keeping their captive pinned. "No time off for good behavior, pretty bitch."
It's becoming obvious to Stephen that continuing to fight now is a waste of energy he'd be better off conserving for when he's not so helpless. So Stephen stills, taking the time to regain his breath. To assess the injuries he sustained and to consider what he's learned so far. He licks his lips, turning his head, hoping to move the fabric that has stuck to his face with his own blood, it's all in vain, and it's all he can do to not let fear and panic overwhelm him.
The warehouse isn't more than a twenty minute ride away but the journey seems far too long and Joseph breathes a sigh of relief when they pull in over the now-familiar hump of the sidewalk, the huge steel doors clanging closed behind them. The van opens and he stands, crouching, pulling Stephen to his feet and pushing him out into waiting arms. "Put him in the cell while I check in," he orders, heading for the room on the other side of this fucking rabbit's warren Janko's claimed as his office.
Sandor grabs Stephen's arm, dragging him towards the room they've set up for their captive. "Fuck off. He's mine," he snarls at the other men, Istvan following him.
The journey has been significantly shorter than Stephen had anticipated, so he's able to draw the conclusion that they're still within the confines of New York proper, which, he hopes, will make it easier for Antony to find him. And that is all Stephen can think about, the only thing that is keeping him from freaking the fuck out. Antony will come get me... Antony will save me.
He grunts as he's shoved from the van, then he's dragged for what seems like forever, around corners, through doorways. The men are not gentle, and his ribs hurt from where he'd been kicked earlier.
A door opens, and he's pushed to the floor, landing hard on one knee, a fresh wave of pain joins the dull aches of his previous injuries and he cries out. Moments later the dark fabric is torn from his head and he blinks furiously even though the light in this windowless room isn't particularly bright.
"Make yourself comfortable, faggot," Sandor says, kicking Stephen square in the back, a wave of satisfaction washing over him. He pushes Istvan out of the room and locks it behind them.
Faggot. The word echoes around the small sparse room as the men leave, the lock on the door loud and final as it's engaged. He can only assume that by calling him that, they know what he is, that he is Antony's partner at least - which means this really is about Antony and his illegal activities. Fuck.
Shuffling, Stephen manages to get himself into a sitting position, he scoots back until he can lean against the brick wall. He licks over his lower lip, tasting the copper of his own blood, it's dried on his face now and it's itchy. That, however, is the least of his worries. The cable ties have cut into his wrists and the abrasions sting as blood seeps from the wounds. He reaches up to curl fingers around his day collar, it's his talisman for now. His link to Antony.
Janko takes his time in visiting Stephen's cell. He goes over each and every detail of the kidnapping with his men - his, what a strange thought - and then over each and every detail of the rest of the operation. He doesn't believe there's anything such thing as being too prepared, especially when dealing with a man such as Antony Starr. He's already not happy that Sandor seems all too enthusiastic about hurting the man they're holding. He's not the target, simply a bystander and a means to an end. When he finishes in his office, he tells them he'll visit Stephen alone, get the photos he wants himself, waving off Joseph's offer to accompany him. "He's tied up, yes? Then I don't need any of you."
But Joseph insists and Janko ends up agreeing that he and Istvan can stand outside. Sandor though? Sandor needs to take a break. Get something to eat. Now.
The door to the cell unlocked he steps into the room, the very picture of casual in boots, jeans and a black shirt, his hair long enough that it curls around his collar. "Mr. Amell," he nods.
Stephen lifts his head, eyes the man who's just stepped through the door, takes in his posture and it tells Stephen that, despite being younger than the other men he's encountered so far, this is the boss. Stephen doesn't acknowledge the greeting, his jaw ticks as he stares the other man down.
"I should've expected that," Janko says with a small smile. "Antony would never pick someone who could not hold their own to be his... partner." He pulls his phone from his back pocket and takes a picture of Stephen's already battered face. "And you're not stupid, are you, Mr. Amell? You know that's exactly why you're here. Because of him."
Stephen tries to turn his face away when the other man takes his picture, he swallows, his mouth dry. "Fuck you." He spits out the words, he's not going to respond to the obvious goading about Antony.
Janko laughs. Another time, another place and he suspects he could like Stephen very much. "He's already done that," he admits, his tone deceptively soft. "Fucked me and my whole family. My father, my brother Zoran. He killed them, destroyed our home, brought me to a place I never wanted to be."
Stephen's head comes up abruptly, his eyes narrowed as he weighs the truth in the other man's words. "You're lying," he retorts. "You're fucking delusional." But of course, there's a seed of doubt. How many times has he looked the other way? Shut his ears to overheard remarks that were not for him? How many times have they danced around what Antony does?
Now that's interesting. Janko takes a good long look at the man. "Do you really not know?" he asks. "Or do you just pretend you don't?" He shakes his head. "Your... boyfriend... is a killer, a fucking psychopath. He gets paid to take people out, to wage wars, and he waged one on my family. Because they dared to cross him."
The words hit Stephen like a blow, his belly clenching in an icy grip. "You're lying," he repeats again, the words hissed out. "You think I'm going to believe a fucking word that comes out of your mouth?" But even so, somewhere he knows there is some truth here. That his perfect life is based on his ability to look the other way.
"It doesn't matter whether you do or not," Janko says, watching the emotions play out on Stephen's face. Well-hidden but there, under the surface, for someone who is looking. He feels almost sorry for the man. Almost. "I want Antony to pay. I want him dead for what he did to my family. And you're my way of making that happen. I know better than to take him head on, but you, for you, he'll come willingly, won't he? Lay down his life for yours."
The bile threatens to choke Stephen, but he swallows it down, forcing himself to keep eye contact. "I may be ignorant of the things you're accusing him of, but I know this, he won't let you get away with this. And if he is what you say he is..." Stephen can't finish the sentence, because to voice the words, to suggest Antony will actually do what he's been accused of will make it real.
Janko laughs. "Then he'll kill me?" He shakes his head again. "I don't think so. Because for you, he'll come alone, he'll come unarmed, he'll do whatever it takes to make sure you make it out alive. I've seen the way he looks at you. You're the only thing he'd die for." He blows out a breath. "I heard him tell my father once that you don't ever let anyone close, marry, have a family - that in their business you were creating targets, weaknesses, and I see he forgot his own words. You're his Achilles Heel and I'm going to use you to bring him down."
"You're overestimating my value to him," Stephen grits out as he tries to shift into a slightly less uncomfortable position. The pain it causes distracting him from the discomfort his words bring. "You called him a psychopath, if that were true he'd have no feelings for me, he'd do nothing to risk his own safety for someone he fucks."
"Maybe. I guess we'll see," Janko says with a shrug, pulling a knife from his pocket, the blade unfolded and locked into place. He steps forward, one hand pressed against Stephen's forehead, pinning his head to the wall as he deliberately cuts along the man's cheekbone, the blood running fresh down his cheek. "For your sake, you'd better hope he cares."
Jaw set, Stephen gives no sign of the pain the knife inflicts, won't give this thug the satisfaction. But when his head is released he turns away, the blood spilling down his cheek and dripping freely to soak into his running tee.
The knife put away, Janko takes another picture. "Look at me," he orders, wanting one straight on.
"Fuck off," Stephen growls, he's tied up, beaten, bloody, but he's not about to let this man think he has all power over him.
"You can look at me," Janko says in a voice gone cold, "or I can call my men in, we can strip you naked, beat the shit out of you and send him that instead?"
There is little doubt in Stephen's mind that the threat is a very real one and he sees no purpose in risking further injury. So he lifts his head, giving the other man a defiant stare. "Take as many as you want, take them, send them to him, you sick fuck."
"You'd better hope he responds to these," Janko says, making sure to get the perfect shot, one that shows all the bruises, the blood, and the defiance. "My next step will be to send him something more personal. An ear, a finger... maybe your cock..." And with that he turns and knocks at the door. "We're finished here. For now."
Stephen holds out until the man's left the room, until the lock has been engaged, before he turns his head, twisting his body to let the vomit spill out of his mouth and onto the floor beside him. He spits out the last of it, wishing he had water to wash away the sour taste. Letting his head fall back against the wall Stephen closes his eyes. He's scared, really fucking scared, not just for himself, but for Antony. For what will happen as this fucked up situation plays out - whichever way it ends, someone's going to get hurt, someone's going to die.