Jonathan sat in the bleach filled water trying not to gag. He was considering pulling the plug on the tub when the door burst open. Steve strode in, pulling Neal along behind him. They were both drenched with sweat. Well, that explains the screaming... He left Neal lying on the floor and came over to Jonathan. "Hmmm. You still look dirty." He sighed mournfully. "But I guess you'll never really be clean, will you?" He pulled Jay out of the tub and let him fall to the floor. "Don't you fucking move, you hear me bitch?"
Jay nodded. Steve pulled the plug from the tub and sat on the edge, humming and bopping his head while he waited for the water to drain. Then he turned the shower on and stepped in, leaving the curtain wide open. He lathered a loofah and began to bathe. He smoothed the rich lather slowly over his thigh, swiveling his hips so his audience could get a better look. Taking his time, he soaped up every inch of his body. When he was covered with suds, he turned to face Jay and Neal. "This, gentlemen, is an example of clean." Taking his cock in his hand, he slid soapy fingers up and down the shaft, moaning and purring luxuriously.
Jonathan felt a flush of heat rise to his face and glanced at Neal to see if he was equally embarrassed. To Jay's surprise, Neal was staring intently, mouth open, practically drooling. More shocking, however, was the sudden flash of jealousy. Jonathan turned back to the peep show in the shower, determined not to think about his irrational reaction. After all, he didn't want Steve, and Neal wasn't exactly asking for the attention either.
Jonathan's thoughts were interrupted by a sudden, warm, spray. He looked at Steve, who was busy rinsing himself. "Pay attention, sweetie pie," Steve said sweetly. "You're going to have to do this yourself, you know. And I want you to do it right." Steve smiled at Jay, then flicked some water on Neal. "You too, big mouth." Steve turned the water off and stepped out, dripping water all over the place. He grabbed Jonathan roughly by the arm, squeezing a little too tight and growled, "Get in, whore." Jay was propelled towards the tub, slipping in Steve's puddles. Stupid wet tile. Jay stood up, and was nearly bowled over again when Neal came skidding across the floor next. "Get to work, slut!" Steve was saying. Neal began to plead, while Jonathan started to ask just what the hell it was they were supposed to be working on. Steve silenced them both when he opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out yesterday's riding crop. "Hurts like hell when you're wet. I suggest you stop whining and start washing." Steve put the crop down on the countertop and smiled. "Besides, this doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience."
Jonathan looked worriedly at Neal. He still wasn't sure exactly what they were supposed to be doing. Neal shrugged, apparently just as confused. "What do you want us to-"
"My God! How did you two morons live to be this old?" Steve picked up the riding crop and pointed at Neal. "Untie him," he said to Jonathan. "Then get in the fucking shower and get busy!"
Jonathan knelt down and untied Neal's arms and legs. Then they got in the shower. Neal turned on the water and picked up Steve's loofah. He dropped it with a sharp cry when Steve whacked his arm with the riding crop. "Keep your filthy hands off my sponge!" he cried. Jonathan grabbed the soap, squeezed out a handful, then handed the bottle to Neal. Jonathan started rubbing the soap over himself, working it into a lather. He stopped suddenly when he heard a low growl coming from Steve. He looked over just in time to see the whip before it struck him in the face. Jonathan staggered back, slipping and bumping into Neal. They both fell to the floor of the tub. Before they could even try to get up, Steve was standing over them, lashing at them with the whip. "Imbeciles!" he shouted. "Stupid, idiotic morons!" Jonathan tried to avoid the stinging blows, but there wasn't much room to maneuver. Especially considering the fact that he was tangled up with Neal. Finally Steve stopped. "Get up," he growled. Jay and Neal scrambled to their feet. "Why must I spell every fucking thing out to you!? Wash each other. Do you think you can handle that?"
Jonathan and Neal glanced uncomfortably at each other. Jonathan could tell Neal didn't want to do it, but the expression on Steve's face made it clear that if they didn't, there would be hell to pay. They began to smooth the soap over each other's arms chests and backs. Then they stopped, reluctant to go any lower. Jonathan heard Steve sigh. He cringed involuntarily, expecting another tirade. Instead, Steve walked slowly to the tub and tapped the whip against his hand. "Let me explain this to you in terms you can understand," he said calmly. "You are the two most disgustingly filthy people I have ever met in my entire life. You are going to get clean, one way or another. Now, you can do this the easy way and help each other, or I can do it for you. I can tell you right now, you won't like what I plan to do to you if you refuse to cooperate."
Jay gulped nervously. Then he frowned. What was he so worried about? Why should they do this at all? It was two against one, after all. What was to stop them from overpowering Steve and making their escape? Jonathan turned to Neal, who was already pouring more soap in his hands. "Believe me, Jonathan, I know what it's like to get a bath from him, and I have no intention of taking him up on that offer."
Jay looked at Neal as if he were crazy. So he dunks your head in hot water and makes you sit in bleach for a while. Big deal. "But there's two of us," he whispered. "Couldn't we just..."
"Couldn't you just what?!" Steve shouted. He slashed Jonathan's face with the riding crop. "I'm standing right here you fucking idiot! Did you think I wouldn't hear that?! Huh?" Steve struck Jonathan again and again. "What was the big plan, Jonathan?!" Steve screamed, still beating him. Jay crouched on the floor of the tub and tried to shield himself with his arms as best he could. "What were you gonna do? Huh? Were you gonna team up on me? Huh?! Get together with Neal and fuck me over like you did before?! HUH?!? WAS THAT IT???" Steve continued to strike Jonathan, screaming unintelligibly. Finally, he stopped. When Jonathan dared to look up, he saw Steve glaring at Neal, who was backed into the opposite corner of the tub, hands raised in self defense. "I'll bet you couldn't wait to help him, could you? I'll bet you were dying to help him gang up on me!"
Neal shook his head vigorously. "No, Steve, no! I wasn't, I swear! I... I wouldn't be that stupid."
"Hey!" Jonathan cried. "What kinda friend are you?"
"Shut up, you backstabbing monster!" Steve screamed, whirling on him again. "What the fuck makes you think you can talk to anybody about loyalty??" Steve lashed at Jonathan with the riding crop again. Jay cringed and tried unsuccessfully to shield himself. Soon, he began to bleed in places from having been struck so many times. After a while, Steve seemed to become dissatisfied with the crop. He threw it at Jonathan with a scream of rage and started grabbing things from the bathroom counter. Jay was pummeled with heavy jars of gel, brushes, bar soap, cans of mousse, shaving cream, hair spray and anything else Steve could get his hands on. When he'd attacked Jonathan with everything in sight, Steve ripped open the medicine cabinet so forcefully that the door broke off. He threw the mirrored door at Jay, followed by all the contents of the medicine cabinet. He moved on to the cabinet under the sink, then to the drawers beneath the counters, hurling entire drawers at Jay's head. At last, after several minutes of clashing, banging and screaming, Steve had thrown every loose object in the entire bathroom into the tub.
Jay sat huddled beneath the huge pile, bruised, bleeding and shaken. After a moment, Jonathan could feel things being moved around. Soon, his head was free and he was able to watch Steve and Neal working to get him out of the tub. They lifted him up and dragged him across the goddamn tiled floor to Steve's bedroom. Jonathan lay there, unable to move without pain. Why? he thought. Why the fuck couldn't I just tell him that I loved him? Would it have been so hard to just say the words? Couldn't have been any harder than getting the crap beat out of me... When Jonathan bothered to look around again he saw Steve tying Neal's arms behind him. It looked like a few things from the bathroom tirade had managed to catch him as well. There were marks on his legs that weren't there before. Jay closed his eyes and waited for Steve to make his next move. In a moment, he felt himself being turned over. Steve tied his wrists tightly behind him, then tied his legs at the ankle and the knee. Jonathan sighed. It was better than last time, when he'd felt like some giant spider's half-finished dinner.
"Get some sleep," Steve commanded. "We have a busy day tomorrow." Jay watched Steve go to the bed, wondering how the hell he was supposed to sleep tied up on a maniac's bedroom floor. Steve stood beside his bed, looking down at it with disgust. He ripped off the sheets and tossed them at Neal. "Starting with those," he said. He lay down on the bare bed with one final admonition. "I'm tired and I don't want any noise tonight. If you keep quiet, I might give you something to eat tomorrow."
Great, Jay thought. Now I'm hungry.
Steve awoke earlier than usual. Between the frosty night air and the scratchy bare mattress, it was all he could do to stay in bed till dawn. I need to get the yard ready, anyway... Steve rolled out of bed and looked at his companions. Neal was sleeping soundly (all things considered), but Jonathan was squirming on his back, obviously uncomfortable on top of his bound hands. Steve shoved him with a bare foot, turning Jay so he lay on one side. After all, he didn't want Jay to wake up before everything was set. Turning away from the sleeping man, Steve went to his closet and put on the shorts he'd selected for today's main event, then fished around for something warmer to cover up with. Satisfied with his attire, he headed down to the rec room.
Steve fixed a mop and bucket for the mess he'd left the day before and got to work. He scrubbed the floor down twice, stopping only once to retrieve his beloved eighth-note. When he finished, Steve dragged the tile table out to the center of the backyard. He made a few other adjustments, taking other equipment outdoors, then went inside, ready to start breakfast.
Steve banged and slammed everything in the kitchen, hoping to alert his two guests to the sound of food preparation. He took at least two hours to create the beautiful spread, which he arranged (and rearranged) in the dining room. When he was satisfied, he went back to his room to see if the others were finally awake.
"Good morning, boys," Steve sing-songed. "Sleep well?" They groaned. "Aw. That's too bad. Let's go downstairs and have some breakfast, eh?" Steve dragged Jay down to the dining room and sat him in one of the chairs. He secured Jonathan to the seat with more rope, then went to get Neal. When they were both seated, Steve sat at the other end of the table and started to eat. He piled waffles and pancakes a mile high, dripping with butter and syrup. He had the biggest bowl of grits this side of Georgia, dusted with cinnamon, and frosted with sugar. There were fried bananas and baked apples, pieces of cut pineapple and star fruit, at least three different carafes full of some kind of exotic fruit juice, a platter loaded down with all manner of cheeses, surrounded by shallow bowls filled with gardenias and lilies. Steve picked two of everything on the table, smacking loudly and commenting on the wonderfulness of the selection. He reached over towards the other end of the table to retrieve a basket full of piping hot buttermilk biscuits. Picking the largest pair of biscuits, he buttered them and put them on his plate, smiling greedily at them. He shoved them in his mouth, licking his fingers and praising whichever deity saw fit to introduce biscuits to this world.
He took his emptied plate to the kitchen and washed up, then returned to his drooling prisoners. Steve considered not feeding them, but he had to admit to himself he hadn't heard a peep out of them all night. Reluctantly, he fished out two more biscuits and placed each one on a paper napkin. He then placed the napkins in front of each man, just close enough to reach if they bent their heads to the table. "Bon appetite." He began clearing the rest of the food from the table when he heard a snort come from one of his guests. "Is there a problem?"
"Just a biscuit? Not even some butter?" Jonathan's face was black and blue and swollen from last night's fiasco, but he still found enough mobility to stick his foot in his mouth.
"Fine. You don't have to eat the fucking biscuit." Steve snatched the little hunk of bread away from Jay's nose before he could protest further. Steve then turned on the guitarist, who was busy licking crumbs off the table. "Here. You can have Jonathan's. He's too much of a fucking princess. He needs butter. But then, he needs almonds and mocha in his coffee too, doesn't he?" Steve tossed the offending roll towards Neal, who caught it like a starving dog. Steve returned to the task of cleaning up the buffet when he heard Jonathan's sniveling little whine yet again. "Now what?"
"I don't need butter." Jonathan looked so sad. Steve might have fallen for it, but he was enjoying making Jay suffer. Instead of giving him a biscuit, Steve took a hunk of butter out of its ornate dish and smushed it right on Jonathan's lips.
"Yes you do. You need every fucking thing. Bad boy. No biscuit." Steve laughed as if that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard and returned to his leftovers. He whistled a little ditty and cleared the table completely. Then he went back to his room, grabbed the soiled sheets from the floor and took them downstairs. He found a spare toothbrush in the hall closet and put them on the dining room table, then got two small bowls of water from the kitchen. One last trip to the kitchen yielded four heavy cookbooks and a bottle of dish detergent. Steve stretched the satin sheets across the table and used the cookbooks like paper weights. He squeezed a little detergent in one of the bowls and place the toothbrush in it. He then untied one of Neal's arms, securing the other arm to the chair again. "Okay. Get busy."
Neal looked at the little bowls, then back at Steve. "Umm... please don't hit me." Steve raised an eyebrow at that request. Obviously it was time to get ready to hit Neal. "What am I supposed to do with this?"
Steve rolled his eyes heavenward. "Wash it, dumbass." He put the toothbrush in Neal's free hand and pointed to the dried stain on the sheet. "Get rid of your mess. I can't put this in my washing machine in this condition. Disgusting pig."
"Oh. Um... okay." Neal sighed and started scrubbing away at the large stain.
"Good. Just like that." He looked at Jonathan. "Now it's time to deal with you."
"What? What's that supposed to mean?!"
"You'll see, beautiful."
Jonathan tried to be grateful he didn't have to walk on his still sensitive feet, but being dragged through Steve Perry's madhouse didn't hold too many other advantages. Jay breathed a sigh of relief when they passed by the downstairs bathroom. He'd feared he'd be stuck in another pool of bleach, and he didn't think he could take the smell this morning. His relief was short-lived, however. Steve pulled Jonathan into the rec room and dropped him in the middle of the floor. Jonathan winced, wondering if he was gonna have permanent brain damage from all this head banging. He turned his head to see Steve fiddling with the sound system at the other end of the room, and noticed a distinct lack of furnishing. The large speakers that had occupied the far wall were gone, as was the vile tile-top table. There were no "cleaning supplies" in sight. What did Steve have in mind this time? Before Jonathan could invent any answers to his mind boggling questions, Steve was back, dragging poor Jay outside.
"I really didn't want to have to do this, baby," Steve was huffing through gritted teeth. "You just won't do me right, sweetheart. You know I can't have that." Jonathan twisted around to look at his captor. Steve's face was red with exertion, and he was having a hard time dragging his load while maintaining his balance in the still-dewy grass. Apparently, Steve's strength had limits after all. Jonathan hoped he could use that to his advantage, maybe try to overpower him. Steve seemed to read Jay's mind and cut that line of thought short. "Try anything, and I'll kill you."
"With what?" Jonathan knew that was a stupid question before it passed his lips, but he couldn't help himself. He saw no weapons, and Steve didn't look like he could fight his way out of a torn, wet paper bag if his life depended on it at the moment.
"Jonathan." Steve stopped short and dropped Jay yet again. "Why you gotta ask me stupid ass questions?" Steve stood over Jonathan and stared, obviously waiting for an answer. When none was forthcoming, Steve sighed and pulled his sweater off. "With this, sweetie. Okay?" Steve dangled the sweater in front of Jay and shifted his weight to one foot, free hand on hip, like a gum-smacking teeny-bopper brat.
"Uh... Steve? That's a sweater." Jonathan was fairly certain he knew the difference between a sweater and, say, an automatic rifle. "Sweaters are cozy, not deadly."
"Most people make the same mistake about me," Steve replied sweetly, right before wrapping the arms of the sweater around Jay's neck. Steve then put the torso of the sweater over Jonathan's head, and wrapped the arms around again, blinding him. Jonathan was startled but not worried, since he could still breathe through the knitted fabric. Sort of. "Sit tight, sweetheart. I ain't finished yet." The arms of the sweater tightened around Jonathan's throat, taking care of the air supply. "There. Now we're cozy and deadly. Isn't that nice?"
Jonathan tried to wriggle away, but Steve just tightened the pressure around his neck. Jay started to panic, writhing and jerking in a futile attempt to get away from Steve. After a few moments, Steve stopped squeezing the life out of him and lifted the sweater from Jonathan's head. Jonathan coughed and gasped, trying to pull in as much air as possible. "Okay, Steve," he said at last. "I won't try anything."
"Good," Steve said brightly. He picked up a remote control and aimed it at the house. "Now how about you also try not asking me any more dumbass questions while you're at it, okay?"
Jay didn't need to pretend he hadn't heard the last part. He was too busy listening to that wretched "Do You Recall". He found himself unwillingly singing along with the now reviled tune, watching Steve untie his legs. When Steve pulled on his arm, Jonathan stood up and allowed himself to be led towards the side of the house, closer to the hedge that blocked the view of Steve's neighbors and vice-versa. Jay noticed the speakers set up alongside the house, loud enough to easily drown out any cries for help. He also noticed that god forsaken table.
He couldn't figure out why Steve smacked him in the back of the head, however. "What'd I do this time?"
"Keep going." Steve pointed at the table and narrowed his eyes at Jay. "Or I'll put you on it myself." Jay sighed. Then he sat on the edge of the table and hesitated. "On your back, Jonathan," Steve said. "Now." Something in Steve's voice told Jay that this wasn't the time to argue. He lay down on the hard surface, shifting uncomfortably on his still-tied hands. He could feel ropes being tied around his ankles again, securing him to the blasted table. Steve's hand seemed to come out of nowhere and yanked Jay by the hair back into a sitting position. Steve tied more rope around Jay's feet and wrapped it around Jay's chest. Then Jay craned his neck to watch his tormentor circle behind him, and felt more rope around his wrists. Jonathan yelped as his arms were pulled back, effectively immobilizing him.
"Okay, sweetheart. Don't move, now." Steve was back in front of Jonathan, holding what looked like a toolbox, with a heavy-duty chain looped through the handle. The chain was clasped together with a padlock, making the contraption look sort of like a charm necklace for a construction worker. "This is your albatross."
"Uh...?" Before Jonathan could formulate a coherent sentence, Steve had draped the chain around Jay's neck. Whatever the hell was in that toolbox, it certainly wasn't lightweight. Jonathan dropped forward with the sudden extra weight, nearly pulling his restrained arms out of their sockets. "Christ in heaven!!" Jonathan tried to lift his head. He could just glimpse through his own lashes a smirking Steve Perry.
"Baby, I told you not to move. Now I'll bet your neck hurts, too." Steve leaned forward to look Jonathan in the eye. "Bet you want me to make it all better, don't you?" Steve smiled that million-watt smile of his and played coquettishly with a strand of dark hair, twisting it around his fingers. "Just three little words..."
"Let. Me. Go." Jonathan hissed through clenched teeth. He might have been more inclined to cooperate without the 'albatross' hanging off his neck.
"Wrong. Answer. Stupid." Steve reached under the table and pulled out his workboots, whose shoestrings were tied together. He flopped a boot over the toolbox, letting the weight yank Jonathan down again. "Why do I always have to beat your ass? My god, you are an idiot."
"What the hell kind of shoes do you wear?!?" Jonathan was quite definite both shoulders would be dislocated by the time Steve was through piling things on his neck. He was also quite definite he should pay more attention to Steve's commentary, especially when the heavy, blunt object whapped him right in the head. "Am I gonna die here?" he whined pathetically.
"Only if you make me kill you." Steve touched Jay's head where he'd hit him. "Lemme see."
"Hurts." Jonathan could tell he was in bad shape. He wondered idly if he would ever play the piano again, then laughed out loud at himself. Here he was, naked, stuck in the backyard of a psychopathic ex-lover, tied to a table, listening to a sick joke of a record, slowly getting whiplash, half-starved and completely beaten-up, and he's worrying about his ivory fingers. Oh, yeah, Cain, he thought. Priorities are definitely on target today!
Steve lifted the chains from Jonathan's neck. Steve ran his hand through Jay's hair as if to check for bleeding. He poked and prodded, easing up when Jonathan flinched. Finally, Steve ducked his face under Jonathan's to get a good look at him. "Don't make me hurt you again. I hate that."
"I think I am totally justified in stating that I hate it more."
"See? This is why you keep getting in trouble! That... mouth!" Steve stalked off, leaving Jonathan to fret and sing along with that stupid song.
Neal stretched his arm, already cramped from all the vigorous scrubbing. He wasn't sure if the sheets were still stained, but he didn't really care either. He was sick of cleaning. He was sick of being cleaned. He wanted out! There had to be some way to escape this madhouse. Of course, he'd already escaped once, and what good had that done him? Maybe if he -
"Slacking off, Neal?"
Neal jumped. Fuck. Perry was back. Neal cringed, fearful that his thoughts of escape might show on his face. "No, man, I was just-"
"Slacking off," Perry said. "It's okay, Neal. I always knew you were a lazy bastard. Let me see what you've done." He inspected the sheets carefully, turning them to the light, and smelling the wet spots. He stared at the damn things so long that Neal wanted to scream at him to just get it over with. Tell him it wasn't good enough, soak him in some more goddamn bleach, anything! Finally, when Neal really was going to scream, Steve nodded. "Not bad. I can probably put them in the washing machine now without contaminating anything."
Neal gaped. "It's good enough?"
"Yes," Steve said. "Amazing, isn't it? In fact, this is such a great occasion that I think you deserve a treat." Steve took the bowls and the toothbrush away, then removed the sheets from the table. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned with one of the biscuits, topped with butter and jam, sitting on a little saucer. Neal grinned, stupidly pleased at being rewarded with more food for his forced efforts. Steve set the saucer in front of Neal. "There you go, Neal. Enjoy yourself. I'm going to put this in the wash and put some fresh sheets on my bed."
Steve took the sheets and left the room. Neal devoured the biscuit, leaving a sticky, buttery mess on his hands. He thought about licking it off, then stopped himself. Steve still wasn't back. He had no idea where Steve's washing machine was, or how long it would take the cleanliness freak to put something in the wash. But there might be time to get out of this chair. Neal slathered the butter and jelly onto the ropes binding his wrist to the arm of the chair. He glanced at the door every three seconds, terrified of being caught in the act of trying to escape. No telling how he would be punished if he got caught. With a lot of twisting and turning, he managed to squeeze his arm out of the ropes. Not even allowing himself a silent exclamation of triumphant, Neal untied his legs and got up from the table. He still couldn't see Steve, but he couldn't risk being seen. He dropped to the floor and crawled toward the back yard, where he knew Jay must be.
As soon as he was sure Steve wasn't outside, Neal rushed out and searched for Jonathan. He followed the loud Journey music around the side of the house. He gasped when he saw Jay. "Shit!"
"Neal?" Jay sounded breathless. In pain.
"Don't talk," Neal whispered. He rushed over to Jay and started undoing the insane contraption Steve had set up while Jay looked on. After a few puzzled, and extraordinarily tense moments, Neal managed to free Jonathan from his bindings.
"Sh! Come on," Neal whispered. "We gotta move fast." Jay eased off the table, hissing in pain when his feet touched the ground. "What?"
"He cut my feet," Jay whispered.
"Fuck!" Neal hissed. He pulled Jay to the ground and they crawled toward the house. They stopped just outside the door. Now came the hard part, They had to get through the house and to the cars without being caught. As if that wasn't going to be hard enough, Jay was in no condition to move fast if they had to. God, how are we gonna do this? Neal knew he wasn't wasting time finding clothes this time. Let the cops arrest them. They'd probably get stuck with some piddly fine and set free. Even if they were locked up, jail was a hell of a lot safer than Steve's house. Especially now, when he had no idea where Steve was.
At Neal's signal, they entered the house and made their way toward the garage. They stuck close to the walls, moving carefully and jumping at every sound. Neal glanced back at Jay every few seconds to make sure he was keeping up. Jay was bruised and battered, moving stiffly, but managing. Neal couldn't think about his own bruises. He had to keep going. Had to get the fuck out.
At last, Neal could see the door to the garage. He sped up, unconsciously throwing caution to the wind. He was making his way across the staircase when he heard the screech. "GOD DAMMIT!!!!!"
"Shit!" Steve was at the top of the stairs, looking positively livid. Neal jumped up and pulled Jonathan to his feet. "Come on!" Neal tried to run, pulling a hobbling Jonathan along behind him. Not fast enough. Steve was already almost half way down the stairs. "Faster!"
"I can't!" Jay cried, hobbling faster all the same.
Suddenly, there was a shout. Neal glanced behind him again. Instead of seeing Steve bearing down on them as he'd expected, Neal saw Steve tumbling down the stairs. He must have lost his footing in his eagerness to get at them. Neal watched, mesmerized as Steve rolled down the long staircase, arms flailing, hands searching for something to hold on to. Steve landed with a thud at the bottom of the stairs. He wailed and clutched his "bad" leg. Neal stared for a moment more, then tugged on Jay's arm. "Come on, Jay."
"Come on," Neal repeated.
"We can't!" Jay said. "We have to see if he's all right first."
Neal stared. "Are you crazy?? Jay, he kidnapped us! He beat us! He raped us! He dunked us in bleach for God's sake! What the fuck is wrong with you??"
Jay looked uncomfortable. "Look, I know all that, Neal," he said. "But..." He glanced at Steve, who was still moaning in agony. "I can't just leave him like that!"
"WHY NOT?" Neal cried. "He tied a goddamn toolbox to your neck and left you to sweat it out! He CUT your FEET, Jonathan! And you're telling me you can't leave him like this??" Jay still looked hesitant. "Look, let's get out of here, and you can call him an ambulance when we're safe. But we have to get out of here now!"
"Why? What's so urgent? He can't hurt us if he can't move."
Neal looked at Jay as if he were completely bonkers. "And if he's faking it? How long do you think he's gonna stay on the floor playing possum?"
"But I can't just leave."
"I'm not stayin', man," Neal said softly. "I'm not. I risked my life to save you twice. I'm not doing it again. You either come with me now, or you're on your own."
Jay looked back at Steve, then shook his head. "I'm sorry."
Neal pursed his lips and nodded. Without a word, he turned his back on Jay and Steve and walked out of the house. He found his car keys hanging on Steve's wrack, wrapped himself in the scratchy blanket he kept in his trunk for spur of the moment road trips, and drove away.
Jay turned away from Neal's retreating back. I think Steve was right, he thought. I am a fucking idiot. He walked slowly toward Steve, wincing at every step. He stopped just outside Steve's reach, just in case Neal had been right about Steve playing possum. "Steve?" Steve looked up, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. Jay knelt beside him and reached out to touch his leg.
Steve cringed and tried to edge away. "Don't."
"I'm just gonna look at it," Jay said. He gently moved Steve's hand away and inspected his leg. Nothing seemed to be out of joint. The skin was just red from the fall. There were also two long, fine scars on his leg that Jay had never been close enough to see before. "What's this?"
"What the hell do you think it is?" Steve hissed, voice tight with pain.
"You got the surgery?"
"Yes, Jonathan. I got the surgery. As soon as you punks got off my ass about it and let me make up my own mind."
"Why didn't you tell us?!" Jay exclaimed. "We could have-"
"You could have what?" the fury in his voice making Jay back up. "Un-kicked me out of the band? Un-kicked me out of your life?! Then what? Tour? You don't get a fucking hip replaced, then hop out of bed and run around a goddamn stage a week later, Jonathan! I was in physical therapy for eight months! I was on a cane for nine months after that. Even if I'd gotten the surgery the moment you told me to, you still would have had to wait over a year to tour."
"But we might have waited if we knew-"
"The fuck you would. You guys couldn't give me three months to make up my own mind about the surgery in the first place before you were auditioning new singers and handing me ultimatums. You sure as hell weren't gonna wait over a year and a half for me to recover. So what difference would it have made if I told you I got it after all?" The fury in Steve's eyes was suddenly replaced with sadness. "What difference would it have made for us?" he asked quietly.
Jay sighed. This again. "Steve... what happened... whatever it was... it was over before the injury. For me anyway."
"FUCK you!" Steve screeched. "Fuck you!!!" He lunged, hands reaching out like claws, and Jay scooted further back. Steve stopped before he could get to Jonathan, groaning and holding his hip. His anger subsided again, and tears welled in his eyes. "I know it was already over," he said softly. "I knew it then. If you'd still loved me, you would have stood by me when they put me out."
"Steve, what did you want me to do? I couldn't just... leave the band!"
"Why not?!" Steve cried, tears falling down his cheeks. "Smitty did! And I wasn't fucking him! But that's not the point, Jay. You didn't have to leave. You didn't even have to say anything to defend me. You didn't have to be the one to do it, either. You never would have made that call if you'd still loved me. That's why I knew it was over. But what the fuck difference does it make now?" His voice grew quiet again - thick and shaky with tears. "You won't even admit that you loved me in the first place."
Jonathan watched Steve weep for several moments. Why the hell am I being so stubborn, he thought at last. Why should it be so hard to just say the words? He sighed. "All right, Steve," he said quietly. "You win. I'll admit it. I loved you. I loved you so much I scared myself. Are you happy now?"
Steve looked up, a lopsided grin on his still tear-stained face. "Yes, Jonathan! Very." He stood up with remarkable ease, considering the fall he'd just taken, and held out a hand to Jay. Warily, Jay edged back and stood up on his own, leaning heavily on the banister to keep pressure off his feet. Steve shrugged. "Suit yourself. This way, pretty baby."
"Whoa, whoa! Wait a minute, Steve. I said loved. I meant it when I said I wasn't getting involved again."
"I know that, you dumbass! Who the hell said I wanted you back? I just wanted you to stop denying that you loved me before. Well... that, and maybe a few good fucks for old time's sake. But an actual relationship? With a backstabbing bastard like you?" Steve laughed. "Yeah, right."
Jay stared, his jaw somewhere near his knees, while Steve walked out of the room, limping, but still chuckling. Steve came back a few moments later, supported by his cane, and holding a bathrobe and a pair of fuzzy blue slippers out to Jonathan. "What's this?"
"Don't want to get arrested, do you?" Steve asked. "Especially since you'll probably be driving like an idiot with your feet hurting."
Jay took the clothes, still gaping at Steve. "You're just gonna let me go now?"
"Sure," Steve said cheerfully. "I'm through with you. I got what I wanted. Well, minus the good fucks. You weren't being nice the first time, and that incident in the rec room..." Steve shook his head, looking remorseful even now. "That didn't really count, did it?"
"No," Jay said.
"So, unless you're up for a quick roll...?" He raised his eyebrows hopefully.
"No. I'm... I'm good." Jay quickly put the robe on and stepped into the slippers. He limped to the garage, and Steve fished out his keys.
"Here you go, beautiful," he said.
Jay chose not to comment this time. He took his keys and walked to his car as fast as his feet would allow. He drove out of the garage and away from Steve's house. For good this time, he promised himself. The drive was like hell. Every time he braked or accelerated, it was like stepping on knives. When he finally made it home, he was almost in tears.
Now comes the hard part, he thought. He had to face something that promised to be more painful than knifed feet, more horrible than any torment. In fact, the only thing in the world that could possibly be more terrifying than Stephen Perry on a rampage.
Elizabeth Cain on a rampage.
When Neal got home, he went through the entire house locking all the doors and windows. Then he barricaded himself into his bedroom, shoving every piece of movable furniture in the room against the door. He stayed in his room all night. He felt a twinge of shame at being holed up in his bedroom like a frightened child, but it was just a twinge. He was so paranoid that Perry would drop the hurt act and come after him that he couldn't devote much energy to being embarrassed.
The next morning, Jay called. He told Neal that he was safe at home - Perry had let him go. He was done with them. At first, Neal refused to believe it. He insisted on hearing the whole story and talking to Liz. When, at last, he was convinced that Steve wasn't forcing Jay to lie, Neal replaced the furniture and ventured out of his room. After a quick trip to the bathroom, he made his way downstairs in search of food. He hadn't had more than a biscuit in over 24 hours. He turned on the downstairs stereo loud enough to drown out the uncomfortable silence, then pulled some lunch together and grabbed an armful of snacks to see him through the day. He headed back to his room immediately after he was finished, still too nervous to spend much time roaming around the empty house.
Neal spent the day flipping channels and munching on his snacks. By sunset, Steve still hadn't shown up to torture him, and Neal started to feel a little better. He even went so far as to draw a bath for himself. He turned off the TV and turned the stereo up louder so he could hear it while he bathed. When the tub was full, he eased in slowly and moaned appreciatively. Nice and hot. He hadn't thought he would be able to enjoy a bath for a long time after the insanity with Perry, but this was pure heaven. Drowned in steaming, sudsy water and the comfortingly familiar smell of his wife's favorite bubble bath, he couldn't be happier.
Neal sank lower into the steaming water and closed his eyes. He listened absently to the radio and let his mind wander. After a while, a Journey song came on. He sighed. He didn't want to hear Journey right now. But he didn't want to leave his bath to go all the way downstairs just to change the station either. He resigned himself to his fate, listening to Steve's voice crooning about stormy weather and sunshine. Suddenly, something clicked, and Neal tensed. Do You Recall? It had been playing when Neal rescued Jay from the backyard, and it had been blasting through the damn house right before Steve had come in and choked him.
Neal tried not to panic. It's just a coincidence, he told himself. They play Journey on the radio all the time. He forced himself to calm down, but his good mood was ruined. He felt ridiculous. He was a grown man, and here he was getting butterflies over a damn song! He leaned back again and tried to block out the music, without much success. He was relieved when the song finally ended, but his relief was short lived. After a few seconds of silence, the song started up again. Before Neal could even move, the door to his bathroom burst open and Steve was there. Neal gripped the sides of the tub tightly, but didn't move. Steve walked in, supported by his cane, and stopped two inches from the tub. He glared at Neal for several seconds. Neal met his gaze, hoping he didn't look as scared as he felt.
"Get out of the tub, Neal," Steve said at last. Neal shrank back and shook his head. Steve's mouth twisted into an angry snarl. He tore through Neal's bathroom cabinets and rifled through drawers until he found what he was looking for. He turned back to the tub and Neal gasped. Steve was holding his wife's blow dryer. He stalked back to the bathtub and dangled the dryer above the water. "Get out of the tub, Neal."
"Jesus Christ, Steve, you can't -"
"Get the FUCK out of the GODDAMNED TUB!!!"
Neal scrambled out of the bathtub and backed away from Steve. "L-look, Steve, just... just c-calm -"
"Shut up!" Steve screeched, tossing the dryer into the tub. Sparks flew from the dryer and the stench of fried electricity filled the room. Neal gasped and skipped away from the tub. "Where you going, Neal?" Steve asked sharply. "You runnin' out on me again? HUH? ARE YOU??"
Neal swallowed hard. Steve's grip on the cane was so tight his knuckles were white. "Steve, please. I... I just..."
"You just abandoned me to my fate! Again!"
"What are you -"
"You really don't get it, do you!?" Steve cried. "You just don't fucking get it!" He raised the cane and swung, catching Neal on the arm. Neal stumbled, shocked by the strength of the blow. A moment later, Steve swung again, connecting with Neal's head. Neal fell to his hands and knees. He stared at his own blood dripping onto the bathroom floor, and terror filled him. I'm going to die, he thought. He's going to kill me this time. He heard footsteps, and saw Steve heading out the door.
When he was gone, Neal tried to get up. His head swam, and he stumbled back to his knees. He started to panic. He had to get out before Steve got back! He started to crawl toward the door. He'd almost made it to the threshold when Steve came back. He heard Steve growl, and he tried to back up. Steve grabbed him by the arm and yanked, making him lose what balance he had. He fell flat on the floor, then Steve flipped him over onto his back. Neal looked up fearfully. Steve had one of his phone cords, and was busy tying his wrists together. He dragged Neal out of the bathroom and down the stairs to the kitchen. Steve swept everything off the kitchen table, then hoisted Neal to his feet and shoved him forcefully onto the table. Neal started to scoot away, but Steve raised the cane again, and Neal whimpered. "Don't you fucking move," Steve said darkly.
Neal stayed still while Steve tied his wrists to the legs of the table. He found some poultry string in one of the cabinets and tied Neal's ankles down. Steve walked away from the table, and Neal craned his neck to see where he was going. Steve went directly to the knife block and pulled out the one with the longest blade. Neal started to breathe fast. He struggled to pull free of his bonds, without success. Steve stood beside the table and looked Neal over. He rested the tip of the blade on Neal's neck, just behind his ear. "Oh, God," Neal whispered. "Steve, please. P-please don't k -"
"Shhhh." Steve traced the knife lightly down Neal's neck and onto his chest. "I'm not going to kill you, Neal," he said. "I'm going to teach you." Neal felt a growing sense of panic as the knife continued to trail down his chest toward his waist. He was practically hyperventilating when the knife reached his groin and grazed pubic hairs. Neal was only slightly relieved when the knife moved to the left, and stopped on his hip. He had a terrible feeling he knew where this was going. "You see, Neal," Steve said. "You never have understood what this is all about. But now I'm going to show you." Neal screamed when Steve suddenly dug the knife in and slashed it down. "I'm going to show you what it's like to be crippled. I'm going to show you what it's like to lose your livelihood." Another slash. Another scream. "I'm going to show you what it's like to be abandoned by your friends and left to suffer alone all for the sake of keeping a band alive that you weren't even fucking thinking about it until I called you up! Then maybe you'll finally understand what I want from you!"
Steve slammed the knife into Neal's table then went back to the drawers. He rifled through them, finally pulling out one of the long metal skewers they used for barbecuing, and a large metal meat tenderizer. Neal's eyes widened. "What are you going to do?" he whispered hoarsely.
"I told you. I'm teaching you." He grinned down at Neal's leg. "X marks the spot, Neal." He raised the skewer and settled it onto the cut on Neal's leg.
Neal groaned and shook his head frantically. "Steve, don't! Don't!"
"I have to, Neal," Steve said. "It's the only way to make you understand."
Steve pressed the skewer down, eliciting another scream from Neal. Then he raised the corrugated hammer above his head. "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" Neal screamed. "Steve, DON'T! For God's sake, don't!!! I'm sorry! I'm SORRY, okay? I was WRONG, OKAY??? PLEASE!!! PLEASE don't DO it!"
Steve slowly lowered the hammer and pulled the skewer out of Neal's leg. He smiled angelically. "Thank you, Neal. Congratulations. You figured it out." He walked away from the table, and Neal heaved several shuddering breaths. He heard Steve's voice, calm and soft, just like he wasn't a goddamn fucking lunatic. "Hi, Liz. This is Steve. Can I talk to Jonathan please?" There was a pause, then Steve spoke again. "That's no way to speak to a friend, beautiful. I just called to let you know that Neal needs your help. ... Jay? You there? ... Yeah. He needs you to come down and help him, okay? Great. See you later, Jonathan." Steve came back to the table and stood there looking at him for several seconds. Neal cringed, wondering what he planned to do now. Steve reached out and touched Neal's head, surprising Neal with his gentleness. "Help is on the way," he said. "Just sit tight." Then he turned and walked away.
Neal gaped at Steve's retreating back, stunned. When Steve was out of sight, he rested his head back on the table and stared at the ceiling, thinking about life. If he'd known that one mistake could cost so much, he never would have tried to keep Journey going without Steve. He sighed shakily. At least he was alive. Neal closed his eyes and waited for Jay to rescue him. He frowned. God dammit. That fucking song is still playing!
Steve eased into his hot, scented bubble bath, and massaged his aching hip. His mission was finally complete. It had been hard work, yes, but the pay-off was definitely worth it. Revenge at last, he thought. Then he shook his head. No. Not revenge. Not at all. More like justice. He smiled and eased lower into the tub, sighing contentedly. Yeah. Justice.