A short story following the events of Unbreakable Stories: Ian.
Snow strolled down the hall to Rowe’s office, somewhat unnerved by the quiet of the place. It was after seven and most of the employees had already cleared out for the day. He passed Noah in the parking lot. The man didn’t even stop. He just waved as he drove by and shouted “Good luck!” When he peered into Rowe’s office, it was to find the shorter man standing with his legs spread behind his desk and his arms folded over his chest. He was glaring at his phone in the middle of his desk like he was waiting for it to ring.
“What’s got your panties in a twist?” Snow asked, preferring to stay in the doorway when Rowe looked like he was about to explode.
“You said to come here,” Snow said, pointing at the floor. “If you’ve got a problem here that your little personal army of muscled gorillas and cache of weapons can’t solve without me, then I don’t think I want in on it.”
Rowe waved him off and snatched up his phone on the desk, shoving it in his back pocket. “It’s not that kind of problem.”
“Fuck I hope not.” It had been months since they had that kind of problem. Jagger was dead and his criminal empire had largely been dismantled. They had all slid into normal lives. The kind of lives Snow had never expected them to find. Well…except for Rowe and even that had changed for him in the end.
“You talk to Ian today?”
Snow nodded. “Few hours ago. Told me the good news. Figured it was about time for Hollis to man up.”
Rowe just stared at him, his hand on his hips and his eyes wide like he was missing the big picture.
And then the last piece fell in to place and Snow’s whole body flinched at the impact. “Shit.”
“Where is he?”
“Because he ran out of my employees to beat up. He spent two hours sparring with them and now he’s firing through all my fucking ammo.”
“San Fran for a security convention with Gidget.”
“Come on, you’re with me.” Rowe came around the desk and Snow stepped back so that Rowe could lead the way down the stairs. Snow smirked. There was a part of him that was dreading this, but he also loved that Rowe had called him in for back-up. This was a big moment. They all needed to be together for this.
Ward Security had been established in an old office building outside of downtown Cincinnati, but Rowe’s decision to buy this building had been based on its enormous lower level, which he’d transformed into a private shooting range.
It was a massive room, but it was easy to spot Lucas as he was the only one in the room. He stood at the far end in wearing a pair of a black workout pants and a black tank top that was molded to his muscular chest. Snow grabbed Rowe’s shoulder as they entered the room and leaned close so he could speak directly in his ear over the sound of the firing.
“Has he gotten bigger?” Snow demanded, his gaze on Lucas’s biceps.
Rowe laughed. “Yeah. Both he and Andrei had been traveling a lot the past couple of months. They both work out more when they’re not together. Andrei’s added nearly ten pounds of muscle. I’d wager Lucas is up just as much.”
“Fantastic,” Snow muttered.
The firing stopped and Lucas popped the magazine out of the handgun he had been using. He dropped it on the little table before him and just as quickly popped in a fresh one. He glanced over his shoulder and Snow smiled when his friend noticed them.
Shifting the gun from his right hand to his left, he pulled the covering for the noise-canceling headphone off his right ear so he could hear them. “Fuck off.”
“We just came down to see if you wanted to grab food,” Rowe started and Snow nearly rolled his eyes. Oh yeah, that was believable. But it was also familiar. Too familiar. There had been plenty of times when his friends had been called in to talk him down. It was odd to be on the other end of things, to be the so-called “sane one.” Made him love Rowe and Lucas just a little bit more if that was even possible.
“Bullshit.” Lucas started to put the covering on his ear again, but stopped and pinned Snow with a dark look. “Did he call you in?”
“Yep. Said you were being an ass.”
“It’s too soon,” Lucas grumbled, then he covered his exposed ear and turned back to the paper target. With the gun cradled in his right hand again, he fired through the magazine as quickly as he could squeeze the trigger. Each bullet found a home in either the center of the target’s head or chest. Life behind a desk had not lessened Lucas’s aim over the years.
When the magazine was empty, he slammed the gun down on the table and stood there holding the edge for a second, staring at the shredded target. Snow took this as a sign that Lucas had had enough time to stew. He was ready to talk.
Leading the way across the room toward Lucas with Rowe beside him, Snow took in Lucas’s tense form. He was a man who didn’t deal with his emotions well. None of them did really. Rowe masked his pain with sarcasm and jokes. Snow had been self-destructive. And Lucas…he’d just bottled everything up and hid it from the world. He knew that Andrei had gotten him to face a lot, but Andrei wasn’t around for this.
A little calmer, Lucas pulled off the protective glasses and headphones, but still didn’t turn to look at his friends.
“Go ahead and say it,” Snow prodded. “Say the first thing that comes to mind.”
“He’s too fucking young to get married,” Lucas immediately snapped.
Rowe sighed and flopped down on the big leather couch pushed against the wall behind Lucas’s firing stall. This thing was battered and worn. Likely the same one that had been in Rowe’s office before he replaced it with the new monster couch he had in there. “He’s twenty-eight.”
Snow glared at Rowe who just threw up his hands in confusion. This wasn’t about logic. This was about Ian.
“I look at him,” Lucas started again, “and I swear, I still see the scrawny kid standing in the kitchen with that beautiful smile and great, big heart. I see all those times we sat around the table, making plans for his first restaurant. I think about the stupid shouting match you and Ian got into when he said he wanted to move out and get his own place.”
“He was too young then,” Snow said.
Rowe groaned. “He was twenty-three. Not a kid.”
“Whatever. Like you weren’t over at his place every night for the first month with some bullshit reason. You were checking on him.”
Rowe gave a dramatic gasp and pressed his hand to his chest in faux affront. “Of course, jackass. He might have been old enough but that didn’t mean he didn’t need checking on.”
Lucas turned to face both of his friends. “And now we’re just supposed to let him get married?” he demanded, throwing his arms out in disbelief. “And to this cop?”
“Former cop,” Rowe added.
Snow pointed at Lucas. “Hey! That former part has a lot to do with him helping us.”
“I thought you were coming around to Hollis. He’s not a bad guy.”
Lucas walked over and dropped on the opposite end of the sofa. With the worse of his anger spent, it was like the man had deflated. “He’s not a bad guy for Ian to date. I was fine with the dating. But this is too fast. Ian’s too young.”
Snow looked over at Rowe who just rolled his eyes and shook his head. Rowe had always been better about seeing Ian as a grown man. Lucas had shifted almost immediately into the father/older brother from the moment he saw Ian. Snow wasn’t much better, but he had let go more than this.
“Not everyone wants to move at the same glacial speed as you and Andrei,” Rowe mocked.
Suppressing the urge to kick Rowe, Snow sat on the couch between his two best friends and threw his arm around Lucas. “They’ve known each other for a couple of years now. Dated for nearly a year. Ian is happy. Ian is in love.”
“Even more, Hollis knows everything about Ian’s past. Everything,” Rowe added. He leaned forward a little so that he could look around Snow to meet Lucas’s gaze. “And he loves him. He treats him like gold. We all knew it would be hard for Ian to trust someone enough to tell that person about his past. Hollis got it all shoved in his face and he didn’t flinch. The fucker has earned his place in Ian’s life. No one is going to take better care of him. Not even us.”
A long, heavy sigh left Lucas. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “I know you’re right. After everything, I’m not ready to let him go.”
“He’s in good hands,” Snow murmured. He moved his arm on the back of the couch so that he could grasp the back of Lucas’s neck. His throat grew a little rough. Lucas had put his hand there a million times, squeezing and calming him, just as he was for Lucas. A part of him was proud that he could finally do this for his friend. To have his own shit pulled together enough that he could return the favor.
“Barely two years ago, our lives were so damn different. I had work. Ian was just opening his restaurant. Snow, you were…”
“A fucking mess,” he filled in.
Lucas opened his eyes and looked over at Rowe. “You had Mel.”
Snow looked over at Rowe to see all the bluster and cockiness bleed out of him at the mention of his wife. He was still smiling, but it was now tinged with sadness.
“Just two short years, and everything has changed. I’ve got Andrei. You’re living with Jude. Rowe found Noah. And Ian is now engaged to Hollis. There’s a part of me that’s waiting to wake up and discover that it’s all a dream. I’m still alone in my bed, and I’m just surviving. Waiting…”
“For the next catastrophe,” Rowe finished.
“Not this time,” Snow said, squeezing his neck again. “You don’t need to protect Ian anymore. Hollis has him. You don’t need to save me anymore.” He paused in looked over at Rowe. “You’ve still got to rein him in, but now you’ve got to rein in his boyfriend too. They’re a nightmare.”
“Screw you!” Rowe said, pushing back to his feet. “Noah and I are action-packed awesome and you old farts can’t keep up.” He started to walk back toward the exit when Lucas called after him.
“Don’t tell Ian I lost my shit about his engagement.”
Rowe smirked. “Don’t worry. I’m saving this for a special occasion. Like Thanksgiving.”
“Fucker,” Lucas snarled and launched himself off the sofa, chasing after Rowe. The other man ran, his maniacal cackle bouncing off the concrete walls of the stairwell.
Snow laughed. Not everything had changed.