A break in meetings and a glance at his watch leads Antony to give Stephen a call, his calculations putting him at that usually sweet spot in his husband's evening where he's done work and working out but still got the energy to talk. When the phone goes to voicemail, Antony doesn't think anything of it. Maybe Stephen's still working or out for a run or in the shower. He'll try again later.
And try again later he does. At home, after his own workout, and then again after dinner, this time frowning at the lack of response. He texts a short give me a quick check-in when you get a chance, aware of how unlike Stephen it would be to head to bed without any contact at all. Another hour and he decides fuck it, texting Connor with a quick, you there?. It's after 11 now in New York and when there's no response from his husband's bodyguard, Antony blows out a breath, wondering if he really wants to be that guy, chasing after his husband like he's some worried parent. Fuck.
But another half hour of silence is pretty much all he can bear and finally he gives in and texts Christos instead: You around?
Christos is asleep after a satisfying evening with new friends, but the alert sound for Antony's text jolts him instantly into full wakefulness. He sits up and snatches his phone, swiftly texting back. Yes. Problems?
Antony stares at his phone for a moment, feeling like an ass when he responds with I'm not getting any answer from Stephen or Connor. Do you know what their plans were? Was Stephen working tonight?
Frowning, Christos rereads the message, and then one more time. He slips silently from his bed and strolls nude to the living room of his hotel suite, bare feet padding soundlessly on the carpet. He hits speed-dial and lifts the phone to his ear. "Boss?"
"Yeah?" Some people call it intuition, some gut instinct, but right now, whatever you call it, it's firing on all cylinders for Antony. Something's wrong. "Did you get my text?"
"I got it." Christos glances back over his shoulder to make sure his companions are still sleeping. "I handed him off to Connor on schedule. You can't raise either of them?" It makes him nervous to hear that Connor is out of pocket; he's known him for years and he knows that's unlike him. But it makes his blood run cold to hear that Antony can't find Stephen. Something must be wrong, or else he has misjudged quite a lot about their relationship.
"No." Antony shakes his head, reeling off the times and how he tried. "Can you run over to the loft?" he asks, flipping open his laptop and running a quick trace. "I'm getting Stephen's phone there and nothing on Connor's."
"I'm on my way." Christos sets his phone down and starts pulling on his clothes, pausing only to smack the soles of his guests' bare feet. "Up, now. Out."
In three minutes he's on the road, protests ringing in his ears.
Christos is frowning deeper when he rings his boss to check in again. "They're not here. And the air is fine." Not only does the loft look undisturbed, but it feels that way, without the distinct wrong feeling that comes with intruders. "I've searched the place, and I have his phone. There's nothing... He has his gym shoes, but his bag is here," he says, scouring for clues to rub together. "He might have gone for a run." That long ago?
Cold's starting to settle at the base of Antony's spine and he's not even aware of the next words that come out of his mouth. "Check the hospitals, for both of them, check the bars nearby, call in whoever you need to, I want the fucking streets scoured. I'm calling Marcus in and filing a flight plan. We'll be on our way in the next hour even I have to fucking pay off every plane on the tarmac."
When Antony swings by Marcus's place, his right hand man is already waiting out front, overnight bag in hand. The other man offers to drive but Antony waves him off. "I'm good."
"No, you're not," Marcus says bluntly, but he lets it go. "Have you heard anything more from Christos?"
"No, but it's going to take some time," Antony says, going on, resentful as hell of the distance between here and New York. "And I'm going to be stuck in the fucking air for five and a half hours of it."
"You don't know that there's anything wrong," Marcus points out as they pull away from his house. "It could be a million things." But he knows he's just trying to settle them both. There's no way Stephen would be out of touch with Antony for this long outside of work, not of his own volition. Not without an argument or something.
Antony gives him a look. "Don't fucking patronize me."
"Sorry." Marcus shakes his head, goes back to looking out the window, his attention drawn back again by the sudden chiming of Antony's phone. "You want me to get it?"
"Yeah. It might be Christos." Antony gives him the current PIN and touches the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone when Marcus holds it up.
Only it's not. Fuck. Not Christos at all. Marcus stares at the photo, the message below it dissolving into a blur. "You need to pull over," he says quietly.
Antony frowns. What the fuck. "Why?"
"Just pull over," Marcus orders, the tone one he almost never uses with Antony.
And everything stops still. Including Antony, pulling the car back over to the curb. Braced for news he doesn't want to hear. Knows will put an end to everything he knows, to everything good and right in his life. "What?" he demands, putting the car in park and holding his hand out for his phone.
But Marcus keeps it tight to his chest. Shakes his head. "Switch places with me."
"Fuck you. Give me my phone," Antony demands, reaching for it, only the seatbelt keeping him in place.
"No." Marcus is out of the car in an instant, still holding the phone. "Not until you get out and let me drive." Anything else, anyone else, and he wouldn't doubt Antony's ability to keep his cool, but this is Stephen and he's not taking any chances. "Trade you for the keys."
Antony gets out and goes around the car, lunging for his phone at the same time as he throws the keys at Marcus, hitting him in the chest. "Fuck you," he says again, accessing the text, his stomach, his heart, Christ, everything suddenly in his throat. A wave of relief washing him over him at the same time as he feels the urge to be sick. Not dead. Not yet at least. The sight of his boy, battered and bloody, striking him to the core. Reaching deep down into him like nothing has for years. The message only slowly filtering through. Missing someone? Stay tuned. I'll be in contact once you reach New York. He sits down hard on the curb, a hand shoved through his hair, his heart beating a mile a minute. Anger rising to the surface, spreading out and then freezing over, a strange yet familiar calmness replacing it. He looks up at Marcus. "Whoever it is, I'm going to fucking kill them."
"I know," Marcus nods.
Antony stares at Marcus for a long moment, not really even seeing him. "I'm going to call Tommy," he says finally, already rising to his feet. "See if he's here. If not, I want a couple of his guys. I don't want to use in-house for this." After all, he's going to get Stephen back and he's going to fucking annihilate anyone and everyone who had anything to do with this.
Christos crushes out a cigarette -- it's a filthy habit he quit three years ago, but it's like he wasn't even in control of himself when he bummed one from a stranger. Too much... Just, too much. "Boss, I need you to call me," he says without preamble, once he has been sent straight to Antony's voicemail for the third call in a row. "I think we may have a problem." The line is secure, he checked and double-checked, and he slams the car door shut to ensure his privacy before continuing. "Connor is in the hospital. He can't talk, he has tubes in his throat to breathe. He's drugged to his fucking eyeballs. Some people beat him almost to death." Some people, not someone -- there's no way Connor went down like that in any old mugging. "I'm making arrangements to have him transferred somewhere private. Stephen is not here. I'm checking all the hospitals but I haven't found him yet."
He hesitates, and his voice is uncharacteristically plaintive when he repeats, "Call me."
By the time they reach the airport, Antony's already talked to Tommy and arranged for two of his guys to meet them there. Logan he's worked with before. Trusts implicitly. Kevin's an unknown quantity but if Tommy vouches for him, that's good enough. It's only when he hangs up from the last call and they're in the hangar that he realizes he's got three voicemails from Christos. Fuck. He doesn't even bother listening to them, just calls the man straight back. "I didn't get a chance to listen to your messages," he tells him. "But I got a text from the fucker who's holding Stephen. Did you find Connor?"
"I found-- who the fuck has Stephen?" Christos is horrified, outraged. Offended, even though he's not so surprised at this point. "Connor's alive. What the fuck?"
"I don't know yet. They used a burner and it's dead now," Antony says, watching as the pilot starts to take the plane out onto the tarmac. "Where's Connor? Has he said anything?"
"Connor can't speak. He's in intensive care. Do they want ransom?" It's unlikely, Christos knows -- in their line of work, 'ransom' tends to be human, not monetary.
"They haven't said." Antony huffs out a breath and rubs a hand over his face. Anger, and yeah, probably for the first time in a really long time, fear, simmering under the surface, barely held in check. "Supposedly they're waiting for me to arrive in New York before they give me their demands. Tommy's sending Logan and some other guy over. Marcus is here. We should be on the plane in twenty." Christ. "Do what you can til we get there. It's fucking New York. Someone had to see them."
"I'm on it. I'll find something. And I'm transferring Connor somewhere safer," Christos adds, even though he's sure that at this point, Connor barely registers on Antony's horizon. He can understand that. "I'll be here when you touch down."
"Thanks." Antony ends the call and turns to see Marcus greeting Logan and some other guy who must be Kevin. "Thanks for coming," he says, barely getting the words out before Logan's wrapping an arm around his neck and giving him a quick squeeze.
"Don't mention it," Logan says, stepping back. "You know I'm here for you. Any time."
Antony nods. He appreciates Logan's loyalty but he appreciates his skill even more. Besides his regular crew Logan's one of the few people he'd trust with his life - and consequently, Stephen's. "Did Tommy fill you in?"
"Enough," Logan says with a nod and a look that says Antony needn't say more. "This is Kevin. He's one of my guys." Gesturing for the man to step forward.
"Mr. Starr," Kevin says with a nod, offering his hand. "It's an honour to help you in any way."
Antony shakes the man's hand, taking his measure in an instant. Good. He knew Tommy wouldn't send anyone but the best and he knows Logan doesn't suffer fools. "Call me Antony." He nods at the three men. "Christos'll join us in New York. I want to keep this operation as small as possible. The goal and only goal is to get Stephen back as soon as possible." And end the fuckers who took him. But he doesn't say that. He doesn't need to.
Why hasn't somebody put their fucking money into making a transporter that works? Five and a half fucking hours. The longest in his life. A glance here and there at his phone, at the picture he'd received of Stephen only serving to wind him tighter and tighter. He's had one glass of scotch, refusing to let himself have any more and he's busy running multiple scans of New York cellphone conversations on one laptop, CCTV footage flashing by on a second, a facial recognition program laid over top. Everything turning up nothing.
"Any luck?" Logan asks, taking a seat across from him.
Teeth gritted, Antony shakes his head. "Not so far."
"He'll be okay," Logan says. He knows Antony knows that but sometimes hearing it from someone else helps. "Anyone who's gone to this sort of trouble will know you'll want proof he's alive, that you'll want to talk to him."
"It's not that," Antony says, fingers flying over the keyboards, entering search string after search string, code after code. He glances at Logan. "I promised him I wouldn't let this shit come to our door." And now he's done more than that. He - and everything he does, has done, everything he is - is the reason Stephen's even in this place. He blows out a breath and sits back, shaking his head. "And I fucking broke that promise. I failed him."
Logan shakes his head. "You couldn't foresee someone doing this. When was the last time anyone we know had their family picked on like this? It doesn't happen. We make sure it doesn't happen and you took every precaution. Hell, you've basically retired from what I've heard. Whoever did this is feeding some personal vendetta and if Stephen knows what you do, he had to know this was a possibility on some level."
"Except he doesn't know what I do," Antony points out, giving Logan a look. "He's always told me he didn't want to know."
"Respectfully, that's bullshit," Logan dares to say, refusing to back down. "He had to know. Just because you didn't give him all the nitty gritty details doesn't mean he didn't know. People know. Ask Tommy."
"And if he did?" Antony's anger rises to surface. Fast and hard. "What the fuck? He deserved to get kidnapped?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying," Logan says, his voice quieter, firmer, the more riled up Antony gets. "I'm saying you feeling like you've failed him, like you and what you do is the sole reason this happened rather than some fucking whackjob doing some horrible thing, doesn't do anything to help him. He needs you to be the person who does all this shit. He needs you to be that man. The one who fucking destroys people when they cross him. Because that's the one who's going to find him and make sure nothing like this ever happens again."
Antony blows out another breath, looking away from Logan. Afraid for a split second if he doesn't he'll take everything he's feeling right now out on the man. Fuck. "You're right," he says, nodding. Not about everything. Not about whose fault it is or how he's failed his husband, his lover, his boy, but about who he needs to be to get Stephen back. What he needs to be.
Glaring around the flat in aggravation, Christos dials his boss again. He fucking hates ringing Antony up when he's got nothing to offer, but that's just it: the nothing. It tells him without doubt that the people who took Stephen are professionals, and of a similar calibre. It narrows down the pool of suspects considerably.
"Any news?" Antony demands, taking the call, watching as Logan and Kevin load the back of one of the company SUVs with half a fucking armory.
"A professional crew took him. One witness, said he saw four men plus the driver, and maybe more that he missed. They took off in a black van. I found Connor's phone," Christos answers, the words tumbling out on top of one another.
It's pretty much what Antony expected. "Can we get anything off it?"
"I'm working on it. I don't know why they left him alive," Christos says with a frown, professionally critiquing. "Are you landed?"
Antony nods. "We're on our way to the warehouse, the one we bought last year," he says, getting in the front passenger seat, Marcus at the wheel and the others behind them. Trusting Christos'll know exactly where he means. "We'll set everything up there. Keep it away from Stephen. I'm sure whoever took him has eyes on all the airports. We should be expecting a call soon." But hopefully not before they can get everything in place.