“Ava!” I stumble into Valkyries Bonds.
“Stiggie? What the fuck?” Ava drops what she is doing.
To see her look at me like that confirms that I am looking like shit. Perfect! Now the outside matches the inside.
“Are you alone?”
Ava says nothing. She points at the leather couch in the corner and passes me by. I drop on the couch and some of the vodka from the bottle I am carrying spills on me. I hear her lock the door and I see her text, probably Magda and Wood to give us privacy.
She then sits next to me and just stares. Giving me time. Where the fuck do I start?
It’s been weeks since I left Los Angeles. Weeks. I had a faint hope in the back of my mind that at some point I would forget Nathan. I mean, I have enough weed and video games in my room to kill every single brain cell I have. It should have been an easy job. But no. First of all, I have too many cells to begin with and killing them is a slow process.
At the thought, I chuckle cruelly. If I had half a brain, I would have never left him. Cause there is an undeniable truth: I do not want to forget. I want to remember every last little thing, every detail, every moment I shared with him. Nathan managed to erase everything before him. So, I am keeping him, his memory, in the most prominent place of my mind palace. That means that this shit hurts.
Weed has been a gross disappointment after so many years of being a reliable companion. It made me feel more. And the last thing I want right now is to feel more. Feel anything at all. My only option is to follow the glorious tradition of Riders that fucked up with their Valkyries. Drink myself unconscious.
Valkyries. I know all my brothers and their women went through some shit. I was there, I helped through most of it. But in the end, they were together and anyone with eyes and half a brain knew that all of them would end up together. It hurt like a bitch, cost them some liver cells in alcohol but all’s well that ends well and my brothers sure got their happy ending. I won’t.
I won’t cause I fucked up. I fucked up by lying to my brothers, my King and my Herre. I fucked up by lying to myself. I fucked up by leaving Nathan like that. I have been fucking up all these weeks that I am not stepping up and call him to fucking apologize.
Not apologize. Beg him to forgive me.
“Skit!” I roar.
“That is not helpful,” Ava finally comments. “And that,” she grabs the bottle I was bringing to my lips, “is not helpful either.”
She brings the bottle to her lips and takes one long sip.
“Mm, good stuff at least,” she murmurs. “Glad to see that you are taking your liver failure seriously.”
“I am an asshole.”
“I like where this is going,” Ava raises an eyebrow.
“Ava... You know...”
“I know,” she says.
“I would like to say that I have always known but it was the moment you laid your eyes on Nathan. I wish Bjorn has looked at me like that the first time he saw me.”
“He does look at you like that now.”
“Yeah, he does.” Ava daydreams. “So, what happened?”
I choke and rest my elbows on my knees.
“I left him. I can’t... I just can’t.”
“What are you afraid of, Stiggie?” Ava asks. “Afraid that the Riders are going to rip your patch because you are gay? Or afraid of what you are feeling for him?”
I look up into her eyes. Damn, that woman does not mince words. My appreciation for Bjorn triples.
“It’s too much, Ava, damn it. Too fucking much. He smiled and I physically hurt,” I blurt out. “He is... perfect. There was never one like him and there will never be another.”
Ava knows him well. She knows the lone wolf he was, I met that man too, the one that has no problem fucking for pleasure but doesn’t do commitment. But that look he gave me... He was begging me to end his loneliness by ending mine. He opened his heart and implored to open mine, to take a chance, to be who I really want to be. He offered me a shot at real happiness, not contentment. And what did I do? What the fuck did I do?
“I see.” Ava must have read my face accurately. “So, to go back to your opening statement, you are an asshole.”
When I leave Ava’s office it is night already. I go straight to my room ignoring the ever going party in Valhalla. I am not lighter like I thought I would be. I am fucking worse, confused and tired. So fucking tired. And angry at me like I have never been before.
Focus. I got shit to do. The Riders are depending on me for their surveillance and security and I cannot let them down. I will drown myself to work till I am dead inside and then I might actually die and end this pain.
I sit down, ready to drink the whole coffee mug that I have prepared to sober me up when my cellphone rings.
Where the fuck is that call from? I frown at the screen. I look at the code. India. Fuck. I stare at the phone and breathe deeply. It is not from fucking India, that much I know. I also know that whoever is calling doesn’t want me to find where they are. That only means that when I answer that call, I am going to hear some bad shit that is going to sober me up immediately.
Time to work, I draw my chair close to my station and answer the call.
“Talk,” I say coldly.
All the blood is drained from my body and I got no breath left. My fingers slip from the keyboard and I feel dizzy. Omöjlig! That is impossible. This cannot be.
“Soko ni imasu ka, Stigu-chan? Are you there?”
Am I? Am I really here in this reality, taking this call? It can’t be. This can’t be. No one knows I am here, no one knows I am a Rider. And him. Why is he calling me?
How? I need answers.
I focus on my screen. I need to find where he is. He is not in India and he is not in Japan. Is he here? Of course he is, that is why he is masking this. Is he in danger once more? Are they using him against me?
´“Hai,” I say.
“Good,” his voice travels as deep as it used to be. “Cause you need to listen very very carefully.”
I stiffen. That is not the man I knew. No. Takeshi. Takeshi was... Well, he wasn’t that cold man I am hearing on the other side of wherever he is. Find him, find him, find him. I am working as fast as I can, tracking the call to some company in India alright. I have done the same shit myself when I was a kid, playing pranks on others. I know my way around this kind of-
“Stig?” another voice is added to the call.
This time my heart stops and I feel like I have been punched in the gut. Nathan! What the fuck is going on? What is this?
“Nat?” I grab the phone with both hands as if that is enough to protect him. “Are you OK?”
“Touching, Stigu-chan,” Takeshi says.
“What do you want?” I growl.
I take in a deep breath. I need to focus right now. I need more time. I will find Takeshi and I will find Nathan and if he has hurt even a strand of hair of my man’s hair, I will sepuku his ass and feed him his intestines.
“What else, Stig? Your skills. That is all you are good at.”
I freeze. Takeshi? Saying those words? I thought we...
“Fucking-” I hear Nathan furious and then a sharp slap.
I dig my fingers into my palm. He dared hurt him! He is dead, he is fucking dead. He will pay for that single slap to the point he would have preferred to shove his hand up his own ass than touch Nathan again!
Focus, damn it! What do I need? I need to locate Takeshi and take Nathan out safely. That’s what I need. And I will do exactly that. I will not allow him to distract me cause that would be a waste of time.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. When I open them again, my mind is clear, my soul icy cold. I lean over the keyboard and do what I do best.
“You heard me, Stigu-chan?”
“Loud and clear. What do you want?”
My fingers fly over the keyboard. I almost chuckle when I see Takeshi has chosen some shitty company addressed to amateurs. No wonder he needs me help so desperately.
“I want everything on the Riders.”
Focus, I push once more when I hear Takeshi threaten my brothers. This is more serious than I thought. But dwelling on that now is not helpful. One problem at a time.
“Why?” I buy more time thankful for my quiet new keyboard.
“None of your concern,” Takeshi chuckles. “What you need to worry about is two things. One, if you do not give me what I need, I am going to kill your boyfriend here. Two, if you dare tell the Riders, I am going to show them exactly who you are. I must be honest, Stigu-chan, you write well on camera.”
No, no, do not lose it now, I push myself through all this shit.
“Tomorrow. Bring everything of the Riders, financial records, secret folders, plans, recordings, bar receipts. Every last thing on a hard drive. I will call you to tell you where to drop it off.”
If I bite down my jaw anymore, I will break all my teeth. But it’s the only way to push everything aside and only look at the screen. It’s the only way to- Gotcha! I pull my lip ring hard to stop the chuckle that rises in me. You do NOT fuck with me and then fuck with me, man!
Takeshi thinks that by taking Nathan, he has me, that this will protect him. This was the last mistake he will ever make.
“How do I know he will be safe?” I answer instead.
“Always a soft spot for a pretty face,” Takeshi chuckles. “I mean, not that it was a burden but watching you melt when I looked at you? That was so...”
He was pretending. All of it a lie, all that I thought we shared, the reason I left everything behind, the reason I didn’t let anyone come closer... A lie.
“And your face when you saw that katana slice my flesh and that single drop of blood,” Takeshi is laughing. “Adorable.”
“Nathan,” I bite down.
“I do not care about him. As soon as you bring me everything and I verify that it is everything, you can have him.”
“Like you once said, Stigu-chan,” he says in that thick accent of his and I hate it when he uses his pet name for me. “The easiest way to hack is to hack people.”
That’s the last thing he says before he hangs up. I fist the phone so hard that I hear it crack under pressure. I glance at the screen once more. I know where he is right now. Close, that arrogant bastard. So fucking close that I could ride there and end this.
But I know exactly how the Yakuza are operating. Even if Takeshi is alone – which I doubt – there would definitely be Korean muscle. Ruthless gangsters that have no qualms torturing, maiming and killing if the pay or the gain is high enough. And the Yakuza always pay handsomely. I should know. Tyr, hjälp mig! I break down.
Not yet. I turn to my screen once more and dig deeper. And all this time there is one thing I cannot get out of my mind: Nathan is in danger. And then the instinctive way he reacted when Takeshi insulted me. I left him. I fucking left him and he still came to my defense.
Nathan, I close my eyes and try to deal with the pain inside me. Nathan... I should have never left. I should have done every little thing differently. My fingers still fly on the keyboard but my eye strays to the screen on the right. Where I have a little window with Nathan’s photo on that night we first shared. Old man, I lament, we should have stayed there for the rest of our days.
I grind my teeth and look harder, have as much info as I can. This is a chess game we play and for now Takeshi has more pieces on the board. I slide the chair back and get up. Time to change that.