From prompt words on the TQ social LJ, 09/30/10
* * *
Three weeks since he and Berg had gotten their proverbial shit together, and Dan figured he was about as happy as he had any right to be. Oh, things weren’t perfect, but Dan didn’t expect perfection. He and Berg were very different people, after all. But they were doing fine, no matter that Berg still had moments when he’d stare off into space or act nervous and fidgety if he got it into his head that someone was following them. Dan had never noticed anyone paying any unusual degree of attention, though.
Sure, Berg’s old boss — or former pimp, whichever — was still around, somewhere, but Dan doubted the guy was actually lurking and waiting for Berg to drop his guard. Even if the man was, Carl Black would be in for a rude awakening the minute he took any sort of action. Berg was always highly aware, after what had happened the last time. Not that Dan knew exactly what that had been.
He knew about the beating Carl Black had given Berg after Berg was drugged and unable to fight back, but Dan had a feeling there was more to it than that. The way Berg stiffened his spine every time he came out of worrying was a pretty clear indication, as far as Dan was concerned. Dan was also sure that he didn’t want to know, though. Anything that could make Berg act so… Dan didn’t know what. Weak wasn’t right, and neither was scared, but maybe wary. Yeah, that was it. It was a sort of wounded wariness that Dan didn’t particularly care for, but it for damned sure beat Berg wandering around like a whipped dog, cringing.
Fortunately, that wasn’t Berg’s way. Sure, Berg was the shorter of them, and less muscled, but Dan had no illusion of being as strong as Berg on the inside, where it mattered. He also had no plan to push or insist that Berg tell him the whole truth about what had happened the night Carl Black had reentered Berg’s life because, yeah. He didn’t want to know. It was enough for Dan that Berg was with him, and Berg would tell him if there was anything Dan needed to know. Dan was sure of that much. Well, almost sure of it. And he liked that. Liked that Berg wanted to protect him, keep him safe.
Berg was even better at keeping him happy, Dan admitted to himself, a sly smile quirking his lips when his ass reminded him with a small twinge of just how happy Berg did keep him. Offered a choice, Dan would be fine with remaining ignorant over taking the chance of losing what was fast becoming the most important relationship he’d ever had. Which only made his coworker Ryan’s comments that much less welcome.
“I’m telling you, Danny-boy, that redheaded mess you’re sleeping with is hiding something. You know it, I know it… I’d be surprised if everyone in the known world doesn’t know it, but there you stand, acting like you’re living the dream with some perfect prince.” God, Ryan always sounded so smug and prissy. Far more so than anyone working at a chain coffee shop ever should.
“Shut up, Ryan.” Dan grumbled the words, his pervasive happiness dimming a bit, but not fading completely. He knew about Berg’s former porn ‘career,’ after all. Ryan didn’t, thank God, and Dan was going to keep it that way. “Everybody’s got things they want to hide. I’m pretty sure I know most of Berg’s, though. And he’s not a mess. He’s not a prince, either, but he’s…”
Dan felt his smile returning. Berg was a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Nice. Sexy. And more than willing to be in control, thank God, because Dan had never fooled himself about wanting to be in charge. None of that was any of Ryan’s business, of course, so Dan settled on finishing his sentence with different words. “He’s my boyfriend and I don’t care if you think he’s keeping secrets. Even if he is, it’s none of your business, so just let me do my job, okay?”
With that, Dan hustled back into the front of the coffee shop, his eyes widening just a bit when he saw the sheer number of people waiting for table service. “Crap. Ryan, get out here,” he called over his shoulder as he grabbed a tray, his healed wrist barely complaining at all.
If nothing else, the amount of business would make his shift go faster, making it seem like less time until he could see Berg again.
* * *
It was amazing to Bergen that changing just one thing had made such a huge difference in his life. Shocking to discover how the addition of one person had him smiling more, feeling good. Even with Carl Black still out there somewhere and Dan possibly being in danger because of his relationship with Bergen, there was something about not feeling alone anymore that kept Bergen smiling. And he wasn’t alone; that was the best part. Bergen could count the number of nights he’d spent without Dan since they’d really gotten started on one hand, and that was an awful lot of not-alone for an ex-porn guy.
Bergen still wasn’t sure that he deserved Dan, but there wasn’t a single fucking chance that he was giving the guy up any time soon. Or maybe ever. He wasn’t sure about that part just yet. Three weeks might not be enough of a sampling, but so far? Yeah, Bergen was comfortable with letting himself believe that he’d somehow gotten lucky enough to find the one guy in the world who could handle his past, as well as his present. Whether Dan could handle Bergen’s future remained to be seen, but fuck it. It would go however it went. He and Dan would see what happened, together. With any luck — of the good variety — they’d end up being solid.
Federer, Bergen’s boss, finally stumbled out of the back of the shop, only moments after the rattling snores stopped. His hair stood on end in the front, like a bad wig, though Berg wasn’t about to say so. “I’m going,” Federer grumbled. “Make sure you…”
“Lock up at eleven,” Bergen finished for the man, grinning widely. “I will. Remember, I’m off tomorrow, so you’ll need to be here in time to open before lunch-break time, okay? We need the money.” God knew, the shop made between forty and forty-five percent of its income during lunch breaks for the surrounding businesses. If Federer forgot to open, the chances of the man being able to pay Bergen would be negatively affected.
Federer chuckled, still raspy-voiced from his nap in the office. “See? Who needs people to do the accounting when they have you keeping an eye on things? See you later, man.”
“Day after tomorrow,” Bergen said, just in case Federer hadn’t been paying attention before. “See you then.” A grunt answered him as Federer left the store, then the loud growl of the man’s car engine announced that he was really gone and Berg breathed a sigh of relief.
The rest of the day went by like it always did — rearranging the crystal animals and other kitschy baubles that Federer stocked — right up until eleven, when Bergen locked the deadbolt on the shop’s front door and started counting out the register, stopping only to answer the phone when it started ringing for the fourth time.
“Thanks for calling The Dark Crescent. Our hours are eleven to eleven, how can I help you?” He frowned at the cash drawer and reconciled himself to starting over once he finished with whatever yuppie, hippie or goth type was on the other end of the line.
“Saw you with your boy, Grady. He looks like a sweet little slut. You could have just told me you were on a recruiting trip, y’know. Maybe I wouldn’t have taught you such a hard lesson, last time.” A pause, then, “Nah. Fucking you ‘til you screamed was fun. You’re always so fucking tight. I woulda still done that.”
The voice struck Bergen like a deluge of ice water, though he didn’t know why. Some part of him had been expecting it, especially after more than three weeks of silence from Carl. Then the words registered and the icy chill vanished, replaced by furious heat.
“You know what the operative word there is, Carl?” Bergen barely managed to keep the fire and disgust from his tone, but he did it, somehow. “My. My boy. Not yours, Carl. Not ever yours. Just like I’m not yours; not anymore.” God knew how Dan would react if he ever heard Bergen claiming him like a possession, but Bergen couldn’t worry about that right then. “I told you before, I’m not coming back. I’m not recruiting, I’m not going to work for you again, and you’re for damned sure never getting your fucking hands on D… on my friend. I’ll kill you first.”
God, Bergen actually meant it. He wasn’t just saying it for show, or as a euphemism for kicking Carl’s ass. Bergen hadn’t realized it until that moment, but he would literally kill Carl Black to keep the man away from Dan. Shit.
A snort answered him. “You won’t do a fucking thing, Grady. You never have. Shit, I’m fucking amazed that you even had the balls to run away. But I own you, boy, and I could give a fuck about your threats. You come on back, Grady, and bring that pretty meat you’re so hot for. I’m betting he’ll look real good on film.” Carl laughed, nasty and oily and sharp. “A few shows and you’ll forget all about that whole infatuation you got going on, Grady. We just need to get you back to being yourself. I know you miss it. Or do you want your new toy to come to work on his own? I can make that happen. It won’t even take a phone call.”
Bergen’s heart pounded wildly, though he hadn’t noticed it speeding up. It had to be some strange mix of anger and terror, though. Had to be. “Get the fuck out of my life, Carl,” he said, amazed that he sounded so calm when everything inside him was screaming. “There have to be hundreds of guys out there who’d love to be on your roster. Just go find one of them and leave me the fuck alone. Me and my friend, you bastard.”
“No can do, Grady.” Carl actually sounded almost sorry. Only almost. “I got a subscriber offer for your… special services. No one but you will do. Tell you what. You come back, do this one show, and I’ll leave your boy out of it if he doesn’t want to play. Do this one show and I’ll let you leave.”
Fuck. Just fuck. “How much?” He didn’t really want to know, except he did. Whatever Carl was being offered, it had to be pretty impressive if it had Carl after him after near-on a year. “How fucking much, Carl?”
Another of those laughs that made Bergen feel dirty and Carl answered. “Mid five figures, Grady. Upper-mid. This guy and his buddies, they want your ass bad. I tried to sell them on someone else, but the main guy, he’s acting like he’s fucking spellbound. Wants to shoot his load in you and nobody else will do.”
“I don’t do bareback.” God, Carl knew that. Bergen had never been one to take chances. Sure, sometimes accidents happened, but…
“Since when?” Carl chuckled, wickedness seeping through the phone line. “Only time you had latex in your ass was that first gang bang, you little shit. Not my problem if you were too fucked up to notice. Now, come the fuck back and do this fucking show with this club.”
God, he felt sick. Carl couldn’t be serious. It wasn’t possible. Bergen had never watched his own footage, but he remembered seeing the condom wrappers and even seeing the latex being put on dicks. Sure, he’d been tied down, his face in the mattress, but he’d seen what was happening by the side of the bed, and… Oh, Jesus. What if that had just been for show? Meant to make Bergen think the sex was safe when it wasn’t? What if… oh, God. He was going to puke.
“No chance.” He sounded breathless, even to himself. “I won’t.” Okay, better. His voice was stronger, less thready. “And I don’t believe you, Carl. I’d know if there weren’t rubbers when I was doing your fucking shows. Telling me there wasn’t isn’t going to make me do your fucking bareback show with some asshole and his fucking club!”
It might have been a bad idea, but Bergen hung up then. Carl was probably pitching a fit, but so what? God, Bergen really wanted to believe he was right about what he’d told Carl, that he would know if… and he’d been tested over and over, because accident really did happen; on porn sets more than in real life. And he didn’t have anything, Bergen reminded himself, even as he did a half-assed job of counting out the register. He’d tested negative for everything, every single time. Which didn’t mean Carl was lying, necessarily. Maybe Bergen had just gotten really, really lucky.
Either way, though, with the kind of money Carl had mentioned being on the table? There wasn’t a single chance Carl would be leaving him alone. And Carl definitely did know about Dan, which was exactly what Bergen had been afraid of from the beginning. Oh, the bastard might not know Dan’s name, but it probably wouldn’t take long to find out, and once Carl knew that much…
“Shit! Fucking shit!”
* * *
Dan wasn’t expecting Bergen to show up at Sparks that night. In fact, he had a very clear recollection of Berg saying he’d meet Dan at home. Home meaning Berg’s little apartment over The Dark Crescent. Even so, when Berg pushed through the door to the outside, Dan couldn’t help the huge smile that spread across his lips.
“Oh, here we go again,” he heard Ryan mutter. “God save me from gay boys in loooove.”
Dan was sure Ryan was rolling his eyes dramatically, but he didn’t care enough to check. Instead, he just stood there, the smile slowly fading from his face as he noticed Berg’s expression. Freaked out didn’t even begin to cover it, and that was pretty damned frightening. “Berg?”
Berg shook his head, and Dan saw that long, pale throat work convulsively, as though Berg was swallowing hard, possibly trying not to vomit. At least, Berg looked like Dan had felt the last time he’d had a vicious stomach bug.
“Berg?” Dan tried again, dropping his tray on the small counter by the cappuccino machine and moving quickly to Bergen’s side. “What’s wrong?”
Apparently there were a lot of things wrong, but by the time Berg finished telling him, Dan knew they all boiled down to one thing, really. Carl Black.
“So if I go do this show for him, he says he’ll stop, Dan. And he’ll leave you alone, too. I mean, he doesn’t know who you are yet, but he’s seen you and he wants you on the roster and that would just be bad, okay? I don’t think you could survive it. You’re too nice, you know? So that’s it. I have to do it or he’ll come after you, and…”
“No.” Dan forced himself to hold steady, forced himself not to shake the way he wanted to. But he couldn’t let himself be weak, even if he wasn’t used to being the strong one. Berg needed him, damn it, and even if they’d only been really together for a few weeks, Berg was special. Special to him, anyway, and Dan would be damned if he was going to let some two-bit pimp screw things up.
“No,” Dan said again, moving closer, resting his forehead against Berg’s and meeting those dark gray eyes seriously. “You’re not doing his ‘show’ and he’s not going to do a single thing to either of us. I won’t let him.”
Berg laughed, sounding bitter and hopeless. “Because you’re so scary, Dan? God, you really don’t have any idea about what he’s like, do you? Even after everything I’ve told you, you think you can… what? Reason with him?” Another laugh, one that sounded even worse.
Dan frowned and shook his head, then stepped back and bit his lip while he grabbed Berg’s hand and held it tightly. “Ryan,” he said, not even looking over his shoulder. He knew Ryan was there. Where else would the guy be when there was drama brewing? “I’m leaving, Ryan. I need you to close for me, okay? It’s dead tonight, anyway.”
Dan didn’t wait for an answer, he just untied his apron with his free hand and dropped it on the closest table. “Come on,” he said to Berg. “I need to make a few calls and it’ll be better if I do it from my place.”
He counted it as an indication of just how freaked out Berg really was that Berg didn’t do anything but follow when Dan headed for the door.
“We’ll figure this out, Berg,” Dan promised, speaking softly enough that none of the very few people on the street would overhear. “It’s going to be fine. I know you wanted to deal with this on your own and I’m really sorry, but that’s not working, so please don’t be mad at me, but… just this once, you need to let me handle things, okay? Please, Berg?”
Berg’s careful nod had Dan relaxing a little. He wasn’t even remotely comfortable with being in charge, but he didn’t have much of a choice. With any luck, that nod from Berg meant Berg wouldn’t let this one single time mess up the dynamic between them because Dan really did like it best when Berg was the one making the decisions and making Dan pant. Still, only time would tell.