[A/N: This chapter delves deep into Luke’s past. Readers are advised to proceed with care.]
Mason glanced quickly at Dusty, then looked back at the phone. He reached for it, then pulled back, curling his fingers against his palm. He swallowed tightly.
“Mayday.” Dusty’s voice was sharp, cutting. Mason almost cringed.
Instead, he picked up the phone and dialed Sean’s number. It rang once, then twice. He licked his lips and inhaled.
A click, followed by Sean’s rolling baritone. “Hello?”
“Hey.” He closed his eyes.
“I’m in now, I’m at home.”
There was pause; neither of them quite knew what to say. “Um,” Mason said at last, glancing toward Dusty again. The dark-haired man nodded, then pointed to the door. He shuffled toward it.
Mason inhaled sharply.
“Are you comfortable?” Sean asked. “Somewhere safe? Is there someone with you?”
“Yeah,” Mason replied, glancing toward the door again. He could see Dusty in the living room, his back toward him. He’d turned on the tube.
“Good,” Sean said.
Another awkward pause. Why did neither of them know how to talk to each other?
“Listen,” Sean said.
“Is Luke with you?”
“Yeah. He’s here. Grabbing a shower, he’s staying here tonight. He’s …”
Mason listened to the silence, wondered how it could feel so potent, so contemplative.
“I need you to go in deep,” the older alpha said at last.
“Mason … you’re bonded to him. I’m not. You can get into his head—deeper than I can. I …”
Once, Sean had admitted that he couldn’t skate as fast as he used to. Or maybe the game had changed, gotten faster. Whatever the reason, Sean couldn’t keep up any longer. The process of getting him to admit that, of getting him to agree to pass the puck, to sit back on the plays he used to jump up on, of getting him to realize goals were goals and assists were points too, had been a long and painful one.
One night, after a particularly hard loss in Cleveland, they had been sitting in the locker room, the lights all turned down, illuminating them like some bad film noir shot, and Sean had said, softly, “I guess I’m not the man I used to be.”
That had been his breaking point. The next game, he’d started passing to Mason more. He’d laid back on plays, fired the puck to Mason, who was a quick skater, who would take that feed and shoot off down the ice.
It had probably been the one and only time that Sean had asked for help. Really asked for help, not just the “hey, can you do me a favor, can you move that box?” type of shit.
Mason inhaled. And exhaled. “You want me to dig through the bond?” he asked. He gripped the phone a little tighter, bit at his lip.
“That’s not—I wouldn’t say dig,” Sean replied. “But … yes. I can’t get in there, Mason. I don’t know what’s going through his head, and I …”
“He didn’t know me. Didn’t recognize me. I kept telling him, he was looking right at me, and …”
“Okay,” Mason murmured. He wasn’t sure how to do this. He wasn’t really sure what to do. Sure, he felt the bond, but he still wasn’t used to it. He was clumsy when he tried to touch it, fumbled with it. Sometimes, he got too much. Sometimes, he got nothing at all.
His head snapped up, even though he knew Sean wasn’t standing in front of him. He blinked. “Yeah.”
“I … Is someone there with you?”
“Yes,” Mason gritted out. “You already asked—”
“This is important. I think … I think it’s on the surface, whatever it is. So you’re … maybe gonna find some stuff you didn’t … didn’t want to know.”
Mason sucked in a breath.
“Didn’t want to see. Who’s there with you?”
“Dusty. Dusty’s here with me.”
“Okay. Let him know.”
Mason winced. He fumbled with the words for a moment, then blurted, “Dusty doesn’t know.”
“Doesn’t know what?”
Mason hunched his shoulders, glanced toward the living room again. “That I’m mated,” he murmured, curling in on himself, like he could protect his words.
There was a studied silence, before Sean said, at last, “Do you really think that’s important right now?”
“Luke is suffering right now, Mason. You want to make up for how you fucked up back in the spring?”
Mason winced again. “Well,” he mumbled, “yeah …”
“Then use that fucking bond and help him, Mayday. You’re his alpha—he needs you.”
Mason gritted his teeth, closed his eyes, then squeaked, “I don’t know if I can.”
An exasperated sigh. “Just try—anything is better than nothing, for the love of—”
“All right,” Mason murmured, “all right—just … Dusty!”
“I’m hanging up now,” Sean said. “Luke just got out of the shower. Try not to prod at him too hard for maybe like fifteen—let me get him settled.”
“Okay,” Mason murmured, “okay.” Why was it so terrifying to even think about using the bond like this?
After all, they were bonded for a reason, weren’t they? Bonds were meant to keep people connected to each other, to allow them to share everything. Even their deepest, darkest secrets …
And yet Mason hesitated at the thought of delving deep into Luke’s mind. He didn’t know why. Maybe it was because the omega had worked so hard to keep him out—it felt like an invasion of privacy. Luke hadn’t asked for this, he hadn’t asked for Mason to comfort him, to help him.
And yet, he had agreed to the bond, he had given Mason permission to be in his mind, to share with him.
Maybe it was because he was scared of what he’d find. Scared to know the truth.
He glanced up at Dusty, who was standing in the doorway now, leaning into the frame. He lifted his brows.
Mason considered for what felt like eternity, then said, slowly, “I … uh. Have to help … my … mate.”
Fuck, that still felt weird to say. He wasn’t ashamed of it—far from it. But he hadn’t told his teammates. He didn’t want to deal with the inevitable questioning, the razzing, not when he was just getting used to the idea of being with someone—with Luke—like this.
If there was one thing that could give him cold feet, it would be someone like Cam harassing him about being old, about being no fun, about being boring. Mason didn’t want to settle down, really …
Dusty’s eyebrows had lifted, and he held his eyes closed for a second or two longer than he needed to, before he lifted his lids and said, “Your mate?”
Mason nodded sheepishly. Dusty looked at the wall. A mask of concentration fell over him; he licked at his lower lip, like he did when they were on the ice, when he was focusing on the play.
“You’re mated,” he said slowly, before he turned back to Mason with questioning eyes.
Mason nodded quickly, almost hesitantly. Dusty shook his head, stared down at the floor. “Well,” he said at last, “all right then.”
Mason was so glad he wasn’t Cam. “When’d that happen?” the dark-haired man asked, almost warily.
“Summer,” Mason replied breezily, and Dusty nodded.
“Okay. And you … need to help, but she’s not here?”
Mason faltered. Did he correct his teammate, or …
“He’s not,” he said.
They were both silent until Mason said, “And, uh. I gotta go in … deep maybe, I dunno yet. But I gotta help. And …”
“Unpleasant stuff,” Dusty mumbled. “Gotcha.”
Mason was so thankful that Dusty was the one who had pressed the issue, that he’d come with him. He could only imagine how this would be going down if he’d been out with Cam or if he’d given Trev a lift home.
“You want me to hang around then?”
“If you could.”
“No prob. You want me to like … check in on you, or … ?”
Mason considered for a very long moment, chewing at his lip again. “Stay?” he asked finally, flicking his gaze to meet his teammate’s. “I … it’s bad. Really bad. I know that much, I just don’t know … how bad.”
“Okay,” Dusty said, then paused again. “But … like.”
Mason frowned. “You’re beta, dude.”
“Still need permission,” Dusty replied evenly. “You’re in charge, this is your space.”
“Right,” Mason muttered, sliding over on the bed.
Dusty pushed away from the door and strode into the room, plonked down on the mattress. They eyed each other warily.
“Didn’t say it wasn’t gonna be weird,” Dusty said finally, and Mason laughed tentatively.
“Better you than Cam,” he murmured.
“Or Trev, with his little man-crush.”
“Ugh,” Mason spat. He’d forgotten about that. “Yeah.”
“Whatever, Mayday. You’re a pain in the ass, we know. But …”
They paused again. Dusty sighed. “You know, I wish the Knights weren’t such a shithole team.”
“Mm,” Mason murmured, “tell me about it.”
The older man shook his head a little. “It sucks,” he said softly. “Y’know, there are days when I wish it could just … be like this forever. Us—you, me, Cam, Trev, the other guys—all of us, just like this.”
Mason didn’t know what to say. Dusty met his gaze finally, said, “But, y’know. No matter where you go, you know I got your back.”
“Same,” Mason said. He hadn’t thought of that before, hadn’t thought about the fact that leaving the Knights meant leaving his teammates—these friendships, these bonds—behind.
His phone buzzed loudly, and he clicked into the message from Sean: A single word. “Ready.”
He pitched the device aside and locked eyes with Dusty again.
“Okay,” he said, inhaling.
“I got you. I’ll bring you up if shit gets weird.”
“Thanks,” Mason murmured, then settled down against the pillows, letting his eyes fall shut. He sought out the bond, reaching for it, brushing up against it, wincing at the sensation. Luke was all raw emotion, knotted nerves.
Mason sucked in another breath, mentally preparing himself to wade in deeper. He reached out, felt the bond more firmly—and then Luke recoiling from him, curling away.
‘It’s just me,’ he thought, ‘just me …’ Like Luke was a scared animal or something, like he could talk him softly and comfortingly, that Luke would stop trying to wriggle away, that he’d …
Well, maybe he could.
‘Just me,’ he thought again, louder this time, allowing his lips to ghost over the words, even if he said nothing.
He was still hesitant, a little scared. He didn’t know what he was going to find. So far, everything was dark, like the blackness before sleep, when all the lights had been turned out and you laid awake, waiting …
And then the darkness started to peel away, layers and layers lifting away from what had been concealed, revealing a technicolor world—
A dream. A nightmare, he thought, surveying the scene.
A memory, he corrected as the smell of hockey and sweat nearly bowled him over. He was there in the locker room, could feel the bench beneath his hands—
Luke’s hands. Not his. He sucked in a sharper breath. Fuck, that was weird—like they’d switched bodies or something.
But there was no control—he tried to curl those fingers, but nothing happened. The course was already set—this was a memory. Luke’s memory. It had already happened.
He—Luke—looked up at Jack. Fuck, Jack looked so … young, and Mason gritted his teeth. He knew the jersey, the logo. He knew exactly where he was, what this was.
Jack grinned at him, all teeth when he said, “How you feeling?”
It was almost a whisper, and the wave of nausea that rolled through Mason was impossible to separate from memory and the present.
“Okay, I guess.” He felt the motion of the words, but it was Luke’s voice, hesitant, guarded.
Jack was still smiling, that nasty smirk, and Mason wanted to pull back from the memory.
“Somebody reeks.” O’Donnell. Mason and Luke had played him in juniors. Luke turned to look at him; he was on the other side of the room, upper lip curled disdainfully.
“We all reek,” another guy—Mason didn’t know him, didn’t recognize him—countered.
“Yeah, but,” O’Donnell said.
“Nah,” said a third guy—Mark, the memory supplied, no last name—“Donny’s right, it reeks like a fuckin’ bitch in here.”
Luke turned to face a guy beside him—Chris, the memory supplied—a gangly redhead, who pushed right up into his face, nostrils flaring. “It’s you.”
“What.” A desperate look at Jack, who had turned back to his locker. A sly glance, a smug smirk from the captain over his shoulder.
The nausea intensified.
Oh god, he didn’t know if it was worse because he knew, he knew what had to come next …
“It’s you, Macks,” Chris hissed in his ear, and Mason shuddered, felt the gooseflesh on Luke’s skin like it was his own.
“What? What are you talking about?” He shifted uncomfortably, and Mason thought he might have been punched, it hit him that hard. The sudden heat, like someone had lit a fire under him, an urgent sense of …
And the scent, fuck, the scent, and there it was, Luke’s desperate knowledge. He looked over at Jack again, the captain he’d trusted and—
Jack turned around, hands on his hips, still grinning. “Whaddya mean, Chris?” he asked, frowning, like he didn’t know, like he hadn’t done this.
A frantic, fleeting thought: Vitamins this morning, the way Jack had looked at him when he’d taken them.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
He wanted Luke to run. He begged him, silently, tried to force himself into those feet, those hands, do something, anything—
“Macks?” O’Donnell stepped into the fray, blocking the exit.
“Can’t be,” that Mark guy said, huffing, “it smells like a fucking little bitch in heat—”
“Slutty fuckin’ omega,” Chris spat.
“What are you talking about?” Warmth pricked at his neck, needles in his spine. Oh fuck. “Guys …”
Chris grabbed him by his jersey, pulled him nearly face to face with him. “You fuckin’ lying to us, Macks? You said you’re beta.”
“Don’t fucking smell like no goddamn beta—”
“Omega bitch,” Mark snarled.
“Goddamn omega bitch in our fucking locker room, in here, acting like you fucking belong here …”
“What the fuck do you think this is, you think we’re playing here? This is some fucking joke to you, isn’t it? Omegas can’t play hockey, no wonder we fucking lost!”
“Coughing up the puck just ‘cause the other team asked nice, huh? Wanna get in their good books, maybe one of ‘em will put you on the end of a stick, drill you to the boards, right?”
“Guys, what are you talking about, what—”
“Don’t fucking play stupid!” Chris barked, shoved him into the walk behind the stall. “Give it up, you can’t fool us no more!”
“He’ll fucking give it up all right!”
Another desperate look at Jack, who just stood there, frowning. “Luke ..,” he said slowly, tilting his head. “Luke, I … You said …”
He wanted to scream, but gritted his teeth instead. Jack knew, Jack knew his secret, he’d trusted him, and this …
“I trusted you.” Jack sounded so hurt, so betrayed, and Mason wanted to deck the motherfucker, to punch him into next week—
“Hey bitch,” Mark snapped, “if you’re so desperate for it …”
“We’ll fuckin’ give you something,” O’Donnell snapped.
“Little omega, wanna come out here and play with the big boys, getting yourself into all these places you don’t belong.”
Chris had him pinned to the wall. Mason could feel the heat of his hand, even through the jersey. He could feel the strain of the incredulous smile on Luke’s face, the way he was baring his teeth, in fear, in pain.
“I don’t know—”
“Don’t fucking play dumb! You know exactly what you did!”
“Coming out here, so desperate for it!”
He knew what came next, he knew, he knew …
Pain. Nothing but pain. Chris decked him; O’Donnell dragged him off the bench. Mark was grabbing at him, Chris had hold of one of his knees. And Jack was just standing there, watching it all unfold, watching what he’d orchestrated.
“I’m not,” Luke panted, and one of them hit him again.
“Shut the fuck up.”
“Putting something in his stupid fucking mouth—he’s asking for it—”
Trying to kick at them; it wasn’t very effective, but maybe—he caught on the of them in chest with his foot, and then Chris grabbed him tighter, wrenched on his ankle. “Bitch,” he snarled, “I’m gonna make sure you can’t fucking walk!”
“Drill him,” Mark snapped “drill him, like he wants—”
He kicked Chris again, and Chris twisted his leg, hard pushed him open wide, and Jack wrenched on one of his arms.
“The hell is going on here?!”
“This stupid fucking bitch!”
“Get on your fucking knees! On your knees, bitch, did you fucking hear me?!”
His forehead smacked against the tile floor. He saw blood. “Guys!”
His own voice was dizzy, far away. The floor telescoped in and out of focus. He was gonna puke.
Hands scrabbling at him; his pants were off, discarded somewhere. His legs pushed wide. “Look at this fucking slut, look at him—he wants it, he wants it so bad!”
“Wants the D, that’s why our D just kept falling apart, why he played so much time in our own fucking end.”
“Bet he’s makin’ eyes at the opposition the whole time, come fuck me, drill me into the boards, right?!”
“Shut up!” His head met the ground again. More blood. His fingers curled against the tiles. He shut his eyes tight. “Stop, please, what—”
Mason wanted to run away, so much, but he was pinned there in the memory, someone’s hands pressing his shoulder blades to the ground, spread-eagled on the locker room floor. There were more voices now, a cacophony, and more names dizzily ricochet off the memory—Allen, Kev, TJ, Hoss—and pain and blood and—
“Jesus Christ!” Mason cried, opened his eyes wide, recoiling from the memory. He gasped for breath, clutched at the sheets.
“Hey,” Dusty said softly, “hey.”
Mason curled up, tight as he could. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered, “oh my god, oh my god.”
He panted, trying to catch his breath. He couldn’t, he couldn’t imagine—
He pressed his hands to his face, pressed his fingers hard against his eyes. He gritted his teeth.
That hadn’t even been the worst of it. That wasn’t the end of it, he knew, but he couldn’t stand it any longer.
He hadn’t even been able to stick it out, to get through the worst of it. He’d run away.
At least he fucking could.
The first cry wracked him hard, shaking up through his spine, rattling his ribcage. His shoulders heaved with it. Then a second one. Then a third.
No tears came, just that hard, desperate crying, unintelligible, pained. He didn’t know what else to do.
“Hey.” Dusty sounded more panicked now. “Mayday, are you—what happened? Are you okay?”
“I,” Mason choked out at last, then hugged his knees to himself. How. How could they have …
How was Luke even alive still, how—
Dusty landed a hand on his shoulder, and Mason swallowed down a scream. He didn’t want to be touched. He’d had enough of that in the memory. “I—”
“What happened?” Dusty asked, voice thick with concern. “Mayday, you said your mate—”
Mason shook his head. How did you … how did you tell someone that? Luke didn’t want him to share, didn’t want him to tell.
And now, he knew why. It wasn’t that he was ashamed or scared or …
There were simply no words. You couldn’t describe that. He could say anything, he could tell Dusty anything at all, and it would all ring hollow. There was no way to comprehend it.
Mason could scarcely wrap his head around it, and he’d just lived it vicariously through Luke’s memory. No wonder Luke didn’t want to share. No wonder he wanted to push it down, push it away, try to forget …
It frightened him that the memory was that vivid, like it was really happening right then and there, all over again. Every smell, every touch, every tiny detail, right down to the sickening, horrifying fear …
The tears came then, like a dam, and Mason wasn’t sure why he felt so wretched. It hadn’t happened to him. He hadn’t even experienced the worst of it, and he didn’t have to live with it, day in and day out, not like Luke did.
Not like Luke had been, for almost ten years now, and …
He wished he’d known sooner. He wished he’d known, he wished Luke had told him, shared with him—through the ragged edges of their broken bond—and he wished that he could have done something, anything at all.
He was so helpless. He couldn’t do anything—he couldn’t do anything then, and he couldn’t do anything now. Even his pathetic sobbing, his aching heart was nothing more than another impotence.
“What’s wrong, Mayday?”
He shook his head, tried to steady his breathing. He shut his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose. “I just,” he croaked, then scrubbed the tears away.
Dusty was still looking at him, eyes full of deep concern, when he met his gaze again. He shook his head a little.
“What?” Dusty pressed. “What is it?”
Confusion. Dusty’s eyes bouncing back and forth, trying to get a read on him.
Mason shook his head. He heaved another breath, clenched his jaw. He swallowed, then looked back at Dusty.
“When do we play the Colts?” he asked, and the deadly even tone of his voice scared even him. He blinked.
“Uh,” Dusty said, “dunno …”
He pulled his phone out slowly, without breaking eye contact. He glanced down at the screen at last, bit his lip.
“Next week,” he said, then glanced back up at Mason.
Mason nodded. “Okay,” he murmured, looking down at the bedspread. “Okay.”
He shook his head. “It’s fine,” he said, glancing up at last. “I just …”
Dusty frowned deeply. “Did the Colts … do something?” he asked.
Mason just shook his head again. “Forget it,” he murmured. “Just …”
Dusty considered for a very long moment, then finally started nodding.
“Could … you go?” Mason asked, glancing toward the nightstand sheepishly. “I, uh, should probably make a call.”
“Sure.” Dusty’s answer was easy, but his tone was guarded, his motions slow and purposeful as he slid off the bed and made for the door. Cautious, like he was tiptoeing around a rattlesnake.
“Thanks,” Mason said, watching him, keeping his gaze pinned on his teammate.
“No problem,” Dusty said, that same sharpness in his tone. He closed the door softly.
Mason waited a moment, then grabbed up his phone.
The buzzing of his phone nearly startled Sean out of his skin. He jolted, then sighed and reached down to the device. He plucked it up with his free hand, kept the other hand on Luke’s back, right between his shoulders.
“Hello?” he asked, grabbing Luke and reeling him in when the omega startled and tried to pull away. “Hey—shh, Luke, it’s okay. There, stop. Shh. Hi?”
“Hey,” Mason said quietly. He sounded … drained.
“What did you do?” Sean snapped, as quietly as he could. He didn’t want to sound angry, not with Luke right there and clearly distressed, but …
He was livid. Maybe asking Mason to go in had been a mistake. Luke hadn’t been good before, when he’d come off the ice, or even after his shower, but he was a wreck now.
“You were right,” the younger alpha said, still quiet, subdued. “You were right.”
Sean gritted his teeth. What the fuck was he right about? What was Mason on about?”
“It was right there,” Mason continued. “Basically sitting right there on the surface, I …”
Sean glanced down at Luke. Well, fuck. That explained that then. Luke was probably caught in the throes of a flashback.
“Can I kill him?” Mason asked.
Sean blinked. “Huh? What?”
“Jack,” Mason snarled.
“Mason—no. You. No, manslaughter isn’t—”
“It would be straight up homicide,” Mason retorted. “He fucking deserves it. I dunno, Sean, I dunno if I can be on the ice with him. Next time I fucking see him …”
“So it was Jack,” Sean said slowly.
Luke cringed. Sean blinked, then rubbed the omega’s shoulders. “Hey, shhh, it’s okay.”
“Is Luke there?” Mason’s tone shifted.
“Yes—but.” Sean contemplated the omega. He was curled on his side, staring straight at the wall. His breathing was ragged, labored.
“He’s a little out of it,” Sean mumbled. He wondered if he should give Luke something. “I guess … well, they played the Colts tonight. So.”
“Fuck,” Mason snarled. “We have to play them next week, I don’t know …”
“You will not play that game, Mason.”
“No, get the coach to scratch you. Fake an injury, I don’t care. We don’t … I want to let that one lie, Mayday. It happened. Okay? We’re gonna get the court date, I don’t need you up on charges because you killed a man.”
“Just fuck him,” Mason spat, “fuck him, the fucking prick. I can’t believe—I thought he was so cool, you know? We were friends. But he …”
There was a long, drawn pause. “I don’t know how he could do that,” Mason said finally. “I mean, he just … he drugged Luke, got the entire team riled up against him, and just stood there and …”
Sean pressed his lips together in a flat line.
“Just acted like he was betrayed, like Luke had lied to him, the fucking—cocksucking prick, I’ll—”
Sean sighed heavily, deeply. It was easy enough to do, he knew. It was so easy to think that you were entitled to it, that you deserved it.
And the drugs were so easy to get.
He rubbed Luke’s back more vigorously. “I gotta go,” he said, churning with his own thoughts now. “I gotta …”
“Take care of Luke,” Mason said, “please.”
“Working on it,” Sean muttered. “Okay?”
“I uh …”
“You clamped off the bond?”
“Yeah.” Mason sounded guilty. “I just …”
“It’s a lot,” Sean said. “Open it back up when you can. I’m gonna give him something—”
“To help him sleep, asshole! Fuck.”
“A sedative. Okay? I’m not gonna do anything, Mayday, I … fuck. I wish I never had, okay? Looking at him now, fuck, I …”
He couldn’t even begin to describe the guilt he felt. Not just for Luke, for everyone else. He’d been such a fucking prick, so self-absorbed, his head so far up his own ass, so determined to get what he wanted that he couldn’t see how he was hurting anyone else.
Couldn’t care how he was hurting anyone else. Not Luke, not Megs, not all the other boys …
Fuck, he was an asshole, and he’d never live it down, not in a million years. All the penance in the world couldn’t make it right.
“I just,” Mason sighed. “He’s been through so much shit already, he doesn’t need anymore. Okay, Sean?”
“I know,” Sean mumbled. Christ, was Mason lecturing him now? And was he taking it? Fuck.
They lingered on the line, neither of them apparently willing to let go. Finally, Luke whimpered loudly, and Sean sighed. “I gotta go,” he said.
“Fine,” Mason murmured. “Good night … let. Let me know how he is. I wanna talk to him.”
“Keep that bond open,” Sean advised. Seriously. Mason was so stupid sometimes.
“Yeah,” the younger alpha said. “Yeah, okay.”
“Good night,” Sean said, then pulled the phone away from his ear and ended the call as quick as he could, before Mason could get another word in edgewise. He pitched the device aside, then curled in closer to Luke, folding him in tighter. He nuzzled the omega’s neck, wished he relaxed instead of tensing. “Shhh, shh. Hey, Luke, it’s okay, just me …”