Jason's eyes shot wide open in shock. No! It was impossible! He'd been so careful!
He closed his eyes and bowed his head for a moment in anger. He'd used his own name. His own name! That had to have been it.
"No, I'm not," Kyle told his brother. "But the fact that you thought I was certainly explains a lot... brother."
"You're dead," Ronan repeated, "you died in the plane crash with Mom and Dad! I buried you!"
"Strange, I look awfully lively," Kyle said sarcastically. "What, no welcoming arms for your brother?"
Why tonight, of all nights, Jason wondered. How could the timing have possibly been worse? Slowly standing, he dropped the afghan back on the couch and walked to the door.
In person, it was impossible to miss the similarity between the two of them. Ronan was taller, more fit, but his brother's features were too similar to mistake. Kyle had missed out on the nasal voice, but otherwise they were hard to tell apart. They both had that slight accent that Jason couldn't quite place, the same slow, gentle rhythm of speech. They were most assuredly brothers. Unfortunately.
"How did you... when did you... how..." Ronan shook his head, unable to comprehend. "What are you doing here? And why were you looking for Jason?"
"When someone starts calling me about my brother, who has been a missing person for the last eight years, I tend to take notice," Kyle told him. "When that same person goes to extreme lengths to keep me from tracking him down, I get really curious. Curious enough to show up at his door, unannounced... and find you."
"Jason... Jason called you?" Ronan said, betrayal clear in his voice. "How..." turning around, he saw Jason. "How could you?" he whispered, tears falling from his eyes. "How could you?"
"I wanted to know..." Jason tried to explain, voice clenching shut. "I wanted to know what you were so scared of, what your nightmares were. You wouldn't tell me, so I had to research it on my own."
"You found my brother," Ronan shook his head. "But he was dead!" Ronan turned to look at Kyle. "You were on the plane with Mom and Dad, and there was only one survivor!"
"The survivor in question spent years in a coma before finally waking up... and when he woke up, he shocked everyone by explaining that they had a case of mistaken identity on their hands," Jason told him. "They thought your brother was someone else, by the time you got out of juvie it was too late-"
"Juvie!" Ronan shouted in shock. "You... how did you... when did you... What do you know?"
"Everything," Kyle told him. "As far as I can tell, everything."
"Every... he knows... about..." Ronan stammered.
"I know about Ronan, yes... Justin," Jason said.
"But... all this time..." Ronan stared at Jason, non-comprehending. Jason walked forward, slowly, and raised his hand to Ronan's face.
"I love you," he whispered. "I love you," he said more strongly. "I love you. I love you for what you've done for me, for saving my body and then my soul. I love you for giving me the space to grow into all I could be, for guiding me into becoming more than I'd ever dreamed," Jason told him.
"I love you for the way you watch over everyone, for the way you shield others at any cost to yourself," Jason continued. "I love you for the way you support me when I falter, and don't hesitate -- now, at least -- to lean on me when you falter. I love you for the care you show children, I love you for the love you show me. I love you for the leadership you provide and the skills you teach to any who ask, for the skills you teach the lucky few who-" Jason glanced at Kyle and quickly changed track. "For the skills you teach those you trust most. I love you not for a name, or for the acts you've committed in the past, but for the man you've become."
"Even though I'm... I'm... a murderer?" Ronan's voice was unsteady and almost failed.
Jason pulled Ronan close and kissed him. "I forgive you," he whispered.
"You forgive him?" Kyle snorted. "It's not your forgiveness he needs. They want to see you again, 'Ronan'," the name was a sneer coming from him. "You owe them -- you owe him -- that much at least."
"Why?" Ronan snorted. "Why the hell should I see them?"
"Because they want to forgive you almost as much as they want your forgiveness," Jason told him.
Ronan stiffened and pulled away. "Yes, I spoke to them," Jason told him. "Justin Alfred Brown, I spoke to everyone. Master Hitoshi hasn't said anything further, but... he didn't deny anything, either. I know. I know it all."
"When he called me, he already knew most of it. He just needed a few details he couldn't figure out," Kyle said. "They want to talk to you. They really do. We've been looking for a long, long time younger brother. It's time to come home."
"No. No!" Ronan shook his head in rejection. "Justin Alfred Brown is dead. Dead and gone! He doesn't exist anymore and you can't be his brother!"
Kyle's lips pursed. "What the hell kind of stupid maggot has gotten into your skull, Justin?"
"Don't call me that!" Ronan snapped angrily. He took a step forward and raised his hand. "Don't you dare!"
"Jus-tin," Kyle drew the syllables out. "It's your name, remember?"
"Don't!" Ronan snarled. In an instant more his control would break, Jason realized.
"Enough!" Jason cut in. "Kyle, don't you dare press him further. Or you will answer to me, and that won't be fun. At. All."
"But it's his name!" Kyle protested. "Why the hell would he-"
"I'm going for a walk," Ronan snarled, turning to grab a jacket from the closet.
"Oh no you're not," Kyle snapped back. "We're going to have this out. Now."
"No, I'm going for a walk!" Ronan repeated, pulling the jacket on. Pushing past Kyle, he was barely two steps from the door before Kyle reacted.
"I know Dad used to do that," Kyle yelled as he threw Ronan against the wall, "but you are not!"
"Father did it to control his temper," Ronan said angrily. "I'm doing it for the exact same reason: so I won't fucking kill you!"
"You won't," Kyle snapped. "Dad could have killed any of us, yeah, but I'm not a little kid any more, and I'm not half as frail as mom."
"And if you push me, I will put you through the nearest wall," Ronan managed to refrain from screaming, but only just. "Literally!"
"I get it, you're fit! Well guess what, so am I!" Kyle answered. "We're hashing this out, Justin, now!"
Ronan didn't bother to respond verbally, and Jason winced as he introduced his brother to exactly how little any martial arts training Kyle might have had mattered. "You idiot," Jason said, kneeling beside the prostrate man. "Ronan is seven kinds of nasty on the best of days. This isn't one."
"God," Kyle groaned. "What the fuck hit me?"
"Not half the pain you could have felt, trust me," Jason informed him. "Come on, up you get."
Jason helped Kyle up and into the apartment. Kyle sat back, gasping in pain, as Jason lay him on the couch. "Just a minute, I'll get some ice," Jason told him. Jason considered for a moment trying to do some healing, but he'd already examined the man and he was far from critical. Ronan had hit him, hard, but with very controlled and deliberate blows. It wasn't half as bad as it could have been, he'd heal on his own, eventually. And the pain would teach him not to press Ronan, or anyone else, quite so hard.
Grabbing some ice, Jason dumped it into a plastic bag to form an impromptu icepack. Grabbing a towel to wrap it in, he walked back out to the living room. Kyle had sat up and was looking at the jewelry case. "Nice ring," he told Jason. "Who's the lucky girl?"
Jason frowned and took the case from him. The ring was quite beautiful; a large diamond in the center was surrounded by a series of smaller gems of various colors, and the setting was made by braiding three different metals together. Jason wasn't an expert, but it looked like veins of platinum, gold, and silver, somehow twisted and braided around each other so tightly it looked like one single piece. Despite the inclusion of gems, it was flat, with a silhouette more like a normal man's wedding band than a woman's ring. It was... wonderful. Exactly what Jason had spent weeks looking for, in fact. Oh, he hadn't had the idea of somehow braiding the metals together, he shuddered at the time that must have taken the jeweler, but the rest!
Jason snapped the case shut and placed it gently on the coffee table. "No girl; me," he told Kyle unhappily. "Until you showed up!"
"You?" Kyle asked, confused. "Oh God, he wasn't... oh God!"
"I'm not even going to ask why you showed up, or complain about your timing," Jason told him. "But you might want to think about it before you go angering Ronan -- or me! -- any more."
"Under the circumstances I suppose that makes sense," Kyle groaned as he leaned back. "I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make it back to my hotel!"
"Well, at least you have that much right," Jason sighed. "There is no way in hell you're staying here!"
"I hadn't even thought about that," Kyle sighed. "I suppose Ronan probably could put me up, but-"
"No," Jason told him. "Not a chance in hell. Not after the way you've behaved; I won't have it. Not in here!"
Kyle looked at Jason for a moment, surprised. "You really... you really love him, don't you?" he asked, awestruck. "I mean, I knew... I knew he was gay, and I accepted that, but... you actually love him!"
"What, he's not lovable?" Jason asked, irritated.
"No, it's not that, it's just... I've never met any other gay guys, and I guess..." Kyle shook his head. "I mean, how could you love another guy the way I love Sarah? It just doesn't make sense!"
Jason frowned. "What, simply because we're guys we can't love each other? We're 'wrong' and 'perverted' for-"
"No, no! That's not what I meant!" Kyle broke in, shaking his head. "I'm... listen, I love Sarah. I love her. She's soft, kind, caring..." Kyle shook his head, "I'm not doing very well at explaining this, am I?"
Jason leaned back and sighed. "No, but I think I understand what you mean. You love her all the more for the differences between you. When you think of her, you think of the ways she's different, in the sense that men are different than women. She's part of you, but not. She's like you, but not."
"Yeah, I guess that's as good a way to put it as any," Kyle shrugged.
"So you understand that some guys like other guys?" Jason asked.
"Yeah, I don't understand why but I can accept it," Kyle agreed. "Just like I can't understand how guys can love other guys, like love love, but I'll accept it."
"I love Ronan. I love his strength, his power. I never feel safer than when I am wrapped in his arms and know -- know -- that anything that happens to me happens because I choose to have it happen." Jason shifted, uncomfortably. There were things he did not want to discuss, ever, and they were treading closer to those than he liked. Some things belonged in the bedroom and nowhere else... well, maybe when discussing with like minded individuals, but that wasn't now. "He loves me, he protects me, he shields me as I shield him. We meet, strength to strength, rarely equal but always as equals." Jason struggled to put into words the concepts that were the opposite of what Kyle had failed to put into words. "I can't explain it better, anymore than you could."
"Yeah, but I think I understand, a bit," Kyle shook his head. "That bit about being in his arms..."
"What, does that disgust you?" Jason asked, annoyed.
"Yes, and no that's not my point," Kyle shuddered. "I don't -- I can't understand why you feel that way towards other guys, but that wasn't what I was talking about. It was the next bit, about nothing happening except if you choose to have it happen..."
"Ronan has issues, I have issues," Jason told him, reluctant to discuss them. "We dealt with them. With difficulty."
Kyle bit the tip of his tongue between his teeth, lips rolled back to reveal it. It was a mannerism Jason had seen Ronan exhibit from time to time, when he was trying to figure out how to say something. It was... strange to see it on someone else. "I was only commenting on how... similar it sounded to what Sarah says when we discuss certain... games..."
"Oh?" Jason asked, surprised for a moment. Then again, brothers did tend to be alike... though he doubted he and Paul shared this particular trait. Then again, it wasn't impossible.
"Yeah," Kyle said slowly. "I just... when I talked to your parents, your mother..." Kyle trailed off, clearly unsure how to continue.
"My parents?" Jason asked, surprised. "Why were you talking to them?"
"I called every single Bester in the phone book looking for a Jason Bester," Kyle shrugged. "They knew someone by that name, but wanted to talk to me, in person, before they'd help me find him. No one else did."
Jason could have laughed. Of all the silly things to be caught by, his parent's names in the phone book wasn't one he was expecting. "Well, I didn't do as good a job at hiding my tracks as I thought, I guess. Not your fault."
"No, it's not," Kyle smiled. "Anyway, when I was talking to them... your mother mentioned how Ronan rescued you after..." Kyle looked away. "I don't think she meant to bring it up, your father blurted out something..." he shook his head. "Dammit, I'm not doing this very well."
Jason put two and two together. "She told you about my rape, didn't she," he growled.
"Yes," Kyle nodded. "And it just... surprised me, when I heard you say..."
"There is a position we never use," Jason said slowly, "and certain things we most definitely do not do. Like starting anything before I'm fully, one hundred percent awake, in any form. I'd kinda like that, sometime, but... I don't react well."
"It's just... I'm glad you were able to get over it," Kyle struggled, then sighed. "Sarah was raped, a few months ago. I miss the old games, and... so does she, but she just can't stand them anymore."
Jason shook his head. "I'm not a councilor, and I'm not someone you want to model your relationship after. Forget it."
"I know, I know... it's just..." Kyle bit his lip. "If you share those same... inclinations... she's having a really hard time because she used to like... well, not being raped, but..."
Jason sighed. He couldn't help. Not wouldn't, literally couldn't. What he'd done... "There isn't... I shouldn't..." he found himself saying. "Is she in town?"
"She insisted on coming with me," Kyle answered. "She refuses to go anywhere without me, and the idea of me leaving town terrified her. It was all she could handle just to stay in the room without me. She... she isn't handling it well, at all."
Jason closed his eyes and looked up, praying for guidance. Strangely, he didn't feel any. In the months past he'd learned to rely on the link he had to God, but it wasn't speaking. Perhaps this was another test... or perhaps this was one of those times when he had to decide for himself, if it was to have any meaning at all.
With a sigh, Jason made up his mind. "I'm going to talk to the councilor I worked with, see if she'll see your wife."
"She... our marriage was to be the week after they..." Kyle looked away. "We aren't married, yet."
"I'm sorry," Jason told him. "Now, give me the number for your hotel and I'll call in an hour or two, alright?"
"Here," Kyle fished out his wallet. "I'll give you my card..."
Jason glanced longingly at the bedroom. He didn't know what Ronan had done in there, but Ronan had specifically asked him not to go in there. Ronan hadn't intended to take off for a three hour and counting walk, but... Jason had promised. But it was late, and Ronan still wasn't home, and Jason was just tired.
Jason considered the clock for a while longer. It had been a long time; three hours was plenty of time for Ronan to have cooled down a bit. Maybe...
Jason levered himself to his feet and paced. Biting his lip, he considered the situation further. Maybe he should go talk to Lara... no, Ronan wouldn't be happy with his secrets being spread any further. Master Hitoshi needed his rest; Ronan would kill Jason if he disturbed Hitoshi's sleep. As well he should, given how long Hitoshi's 'cold' had lasted. The man was fit, but he was also very, very old. Paul wouldn't have a clue, and neither would Mary. Quentin could probably find Ronan, and wouldn't ask any questions, but trying to find Quentin was a task in and of itself.
Jason really had no choice but to go track down Ronan himself, and that was a bad idea. This whole God-damned mess was his fault. He'd dug past the masks and deceptions Ronan had spent so very long building up, and it was his fault that Ronan's past had caught up with him. Looking down at the coffee table, and the jewelry case on it, Jason made up his mind.
Ronan probably didn't want to see him, but it was Jason's fault. And Jason hadn't had time to apologize yet.
Question was, how to find Ronan? He'd turned his cell off, and just walking around town wouldn't do much good; if Ronan didn't want to be found...
Then again, if Ronan did want to be found, finding him wouldn't be hard. Jason nodded, sharply. There was a bar a few blocks away that might work. Ronan spent a lot of time there, a lot of the Guardians did. It wasn't exactly an official hangout, but... it was close enough.
As Jason left the building, he saw Mary marching up to the front. For a moment he hesitated, then decided he didn't want to talk. Patting his pocket, where he'd slipped the ring, he debated for a moment whether to sling a leg over his motorcycle or just hoof it to the bar. The bar wasn't really walking distance, but it was a nice night for a walk, and if Ronan really didn't want to be found the motorcycle would be a bit too noisy to hide. Sighing, Jason pocketed his keys and started walking. It wasn't really that far, and he'd be there quickly enough.
Humming under his breath, Jason tossed his head up and stared at the clear sky above. The stars, uncaring as always, shone down with a brilliance unfortunately subdued by the city lights. Ronan had taken Jason out camping a few times, and the glory of God's work was breathtaking out in the country. The stars would shine down from a sky filled with brilliant light. Jason felt his senses reaching out, past the luminary pollution of the city and towards the sky, and for a moment he could see the beauty.
Smiling, he turned the image over in his mind and he dropped his head back down to watch where he was going. The sky was beautiful, but if he didn't watch his step he'd probably trip and end up seeing a different kind of stars.
Jason could have cursed his carelessness when someone suddenly placed a cloth soaked in a sweet smelling liquid over his face from behind. For a moment he was frozen in shock, then he reached up to break the wrist of the idiot attacking him. Grasping the hand, he tried to remember...
Jason woke suddenly, with a start. "Sheesh, the fag is already awake!" someone complained.
"Just get him into the van," someone else ordered. Jason couldn't see anything through the blindfold, and the gag kept him from screaming for help. He tried reaching out with his powers, but something was blocking them. Every time he tried to use them he felt dizzy, almost nauseous. He quickly stopped trying, deciding that throwing up into a gag would be a very bad idea. He didn't particularly feel like choking to death on his own vomit, as ways to go went it was pretty humiliating.
Jason shifted around, trying to get comfortable. Unfortunately, there was no comfortable way to sit in a moving vehicle while hog-tied with your hands behind your back and your ankles roped to your wrists. Even flat on his stomach didn't do very much good, with all the bouncing the van was doing. Jason could have cursed, but then landed flat on his hip and went still.
The box with the ring was gone. Either the bastards had stolen it, or it had fallen out.
Jason started to cry. That ring had meant so much to Ronan, it had to have, and now like an idiot he'd lost the damned thing!
Ronan squatted down by the side of the road and picked up the case. Fingering it idly he glanced up and down the road. It didn't make sense; Jason wouldn't have walked off with the ring and then just tossed it. Whatever pain Ronan had caused him Jason simply wasn't that petty. And Ronan hadn't hurt Jason, not tonight; he was the one who'd been hurt. It didn't make-
Ronan's breath caught as he noticed Jason's keys, lying a few feet away. Jason wouldn't idly toss those aside, either, and they weren't going to simply fall out of his pocket. Ronan reached out and picked them up. Looking around, he saw a few other items, random detritus from Jason's pockets. A lucky coin Jason had carried for months, and tossed in the shrubs of a nearby apartment building his cell phone. It wasn't everything Jason carried, but Ronan couldn't figure out a common pattern for a moment. Then, like an idiot, he recognized it as he pushed with his mystical senses.
With the exception of the cell phone, which could be tracked electronically, every single item stripped from Jason had a magical 'tracer' placed on it, so that it could be found if lost. Chain after chain connected in Ronan's mind as his face grew still and hard as a stone.
Someone had kidnapped the man he loved.
Someone was about to pay. Dearly.
Ronan rose and stalked off, plans forming. No one did this to him and got away with it. No one. And, hell, Jason was a Guardian; the instant the other Guardians-
Ronan's train of thought came to a screeching halt. How the hell had anyone kidnapped Jason? How the hell had they recognized the traceable items?
Ronan frowned and picked up the pace. Something was very, very wrong. Suddenly, his cell phone started ringing. "Hello," he said flatly.
"Ronan, we need you back here, now," Lara told him. Suddenly glad that he'd turned his cell back on, Ronan broke into a flat out sprint.
"Does it have anything to do with Jason being kidnapped?" he asked. For a few moments, the dead silence on the line made him wonder if he'd lost the signal.
"Somebody kidnapped Jason?" Lara said, shocked.
"Evidence points that way," Ronan told her grimly.
"Well, the two we have down here may know something about it," she told him. "I'll ask," she added, the slightest emphases on the verb 'ask'.
"Do that," Ronan told her before he hung up. It wasn't far from the gym, and he wanted answers. And he wanted them now.
Jason was the best damned thing that had ever happened in his life. Even better than...
Ronan sighed. No. Inside his mind thoughts and memories realigned as he let himself fall backwards through time.
Jason was the best damned thing that had ever happened to Justin Brown. Even better than Ronan. God -- if there was a God -- forgive him for that. Ronan would have been better off...
Justin dashed a few tears from his eyes. Ronan would have flatly denied it, and he knew it. Ronan... Ronan had loved him as intensely as Jason ever had. If... if only it weren't for his temper, things would have been a lot different. But Ronan just had to push about coming out of the closet, again, and then hadn't let him walk away...
Justin hadn't even meant to hurt him, he'd hit Ronan harder than that before often enough. They were young, almost children, and he'd always... they had always wrestled and sparred together, fought and loved with the unthinking fervor and passion of youth. They'd gotten along so well together, and then that damned tree branch had ended everything.
Justin forced back tears, refusing the let them show. A moment's temper, in a place that should have been safe, had cost him too much. It had cost Ronan far, far more, but Justin would have willingly traded places with him in an instant.
Would have? Justin blinked, and then nodded. Justin would have traded places with him in an instant, but Ronan Koken had Jason. Ronan Koken had Jason Bester, the light of his life, a love worth any price, any cost.
He slowed down and walked into the gym with a determined stride, not a run. Whoever they were, whatever their reasons, Ronan Koken would track down those who had dared raise a hand against Jason, dared take him away from his home. He would track them down, and make them pay.
Taking the secret door from his office, he trumped down the stairs to the basement. "Lara?" he called.
"Here," she called back. "They aren't very talkative, either," she added. Ronan stepped in, calling upon his powers to darken the air as he walked in. Drama didn't always help, but setting the mood couldn't hurt.
"Who are you gentlemen?" he asked angrily. "And what, exactly, are you doing here?"
The two glanced at each other, then glared at him. "Let us go, or your master is going to pay," one of them blustered.
"Tell me what I need to know, and I'll consider letting you live," Ronan countered. He needed answers, and being gentle wasn't going to help. "Be quick; the offer will expire soon."
The blusterer spat on the floor. "You know who we work for, they won't be happy if you hurt us."
Ronan looked over at Lara. She shook her head. Ronan looked back at them, frowning. "Unless you gentlemen like the idea of having your brains scrambled, you're going to have to be a little more forthcoming."
The two men shared glances again. "I felt that bitch try my mind; are you honestly going to say you didn't recognize the wards on us?"
Ronan's eyes narrowed. "I see no wards," he said slowly. "One moment." Closing his eyes and raising his hand, he extended his senses out slowly, gently. There was... something. It might have been a ward. Once.
Ronan opened his eyes, troubled. It might have been a ward, but not of the kind Guardians cast. He'd seen, occasionally, the types of wards that arcane magic users set. If that energy pattern had once been a ward, it was most definitely of the arcane type.
"Council?" he asked.
"Yes, of course!" the man snarled. "What did you think we were?"
"The bastards responsible for my lover's kidnapping," Ronan snarled. "Tell me what you know, or I will rip it from your minds. Layer by layer, inch by inch, I will shred your very souls until I find out what I need to know!"
"You can't," the man said, swallowing convulsively. "We're protected; and the council-"
"The council does not rule me!" Ronan thundered. Taking a deep breath, he brought his temper under control. "Fine. We'll do this the hard way. Lara!" Whispering in her ears, he gave her very explicit orders.
"What?" she said when he finished, looking at him strangely. "Why-"
"Do as you're told!" he snapped. "Barney, Paul, get in here!" The two Guardians came running at his call. "Move these two to the cells we've prepared. Use cells... one and three. Move."
They must have heard about Jason's kidnapping; they didn't argue or ask questions. They just bundled the two men off, silently ignoring their protests. Ronan gazed at Lara, who looked troubled. "Go," he ordered.
A few minutes later, a terrible, horrible screaming sound filled the room, carried over the ventilation system from the cells. Lara was obeying her orders... and very skillfully. The screams were most inhuman.
Ronan sat down and leaned back, smiling. In a few minutes, they'd be ready to talk.