Those few weeks of ‘living safe’ were a drag. I ran out of interesting things to cook, no matter how many recipes I googled. I didn’t eat spicy food so that halved everything at least. When I was regularly bottoming in sex I just wasn’t going to risk spices. Sometimes Darren could go so hard and rough I needed a few days’ break anyways. Especially if he wanted me to stay tight. Jesus.

We had a lot of sex. It was one of the more entertaining things to do.

Zack made a speedy recovery and I wasn’t surprised. I think he demanded some kind of new respect at the workplace, like he could just push into a queue at the canteen if he wanted. He was like a kid who everyone avoided on the playground now. I kept forgetting that him being a hardnut wasn’t normal to everyone else.

Amelia was impatiently waiting for his rib to get better. After the initial horror and worry was over, it dawned on her that her man had taken on four guys, and essentially won. Her husband was a fucking stud. One lunchtime when he had that goofy grin on his face and she just raised an eyebrow at him, I knew she had finally given him the loving she thought he deserved.

We had a legitimately finished drone in the labs, and we flew it around like kids at Christmas, trying to see how hard we could crash it until it broke. We weren’t pissing around – it was a real test. Maybe just a very fun one. It felt good to report up to Darren’s office with the news, and invite him to see it.

People were clueing in to our relationship. I’d never felt so proud of something in my life. I wanted everyone to know I was with this man. He was mine. His hitching chuckle that made his chest bounce. His beautifully trimmed bearded jaw, his perfectly straight hair. How he looked so dapper in a suit. Nobody knew what he looked like beneath those clothes, but I did, and it was amazing.

He got out of my car every morning, and he got into it every night.

Summer was drawing to its end. There’d slowly be less mosquitoes, that September flux of craneflies buzzing everywhere instead. The year was going surprisingly fast, and yet it felt like so much had happened.

There were still some tensions beneath the surface Darren, but he seemed to get over his rough patch and relax again. I couldn’t judge him for it. I didn’t know how anyone managed to live with a case like that hanging over their lives. He only seemed to be truly happy whenever he forgot about it.

We didn’t hear from Jackson in weeks, so life went on.

At some point I almost couldn’t remember why we were ‘living safe’ in the first place. We first broke it when we went out to eat with Zack and Amelia. A second time when Darren was invited out, surprisingly, by Marcus. Who was also supposed to be ‘living safe’.

They were hilariously awkward when they talked. It was like Marcus was trying really hard to accept that his cousin was gay, but couldn’t. He kept looking between us, as if his brain was short-circuiting every few minutes. His wife, Kate, was much more laid back and friendly, and we sat trying not to laugh when Darren and Marcus kicked off into a petty argument, sounding for all they were worth, like a pair of 12 year olds.

“Have you ever gotten along with him?” I asked once we were driving home.


“He seems a bit of a twat.”

“Youngest spoilt brat syndrome, all his life.”

“Do you actually get along with anyone in your family?”

He sighed. “I used to get along great with Jamie. Before the accident.”


“What, I can never talk about it?” It was good to see him smile. His wakings from the nightmares about it had chilled me to the bone. “Andy was always so much older, like an adult when I was still a child. I saw him a lot, since he was running business with my father, but he was just like another authority figure. Never had problems with Adrianne, even if she was a right bitch when she was fourteen or so. I just can’t do it with Marcus, however much I try. We’ve never gotten along.”

“How come you were an only child when your aunt popped out so many?”

“Because my mother died giving birth to me.”

“… Holy shit. I am so sorry.” Why the fuck hadn’t I known this sooner?

“Why? I never knew her.”

“Jesus Christ, Darren.” I had never heard his mother mentioned in conversation, ever, yet hearing that she was dead was still a shock.

“I don’t have a lucky family, you know this.” He grinned at me. “When am I gonna meet yours?”

“Oh, erm.” I hadn’t really given thought to that. “You probably don’t want to.”


“My sister still lives like a chav, my dad is a grumpy git, and my mum’s not right in the head.”

“And you think that’s worse than mine? You think anything can be worse than my uncle?”

“You’re gonna hear how many ‘likes’ and ‘innits’ my sis fits into a single sentence and want to rip your ears off.”

He chuckled. “Big loop earrings?”


“Hair scraped back into a ponytail like a facelift?”

“Yup. She’s Gaziantep Elden Ücret Alan Escort a walking stereotype. I dare you to decipher one of her texts.”

“Oh God, let me see.”

I pulled out my phone and brought up one of the conversations I’d recently had with my sister, handing it over to him. I got to enjoy his laughter pretty much the rest of the drive home.

“And she’s twenty-five?”

“The thing is, to be fair, I don’t think I was much better two years ago, either.”

“It’s comedy gold, your perfect grammar against this.”

“To give it to my family, I think we’re pretty hilarious at Christmas dinners and shit.”


We finally decided to go out, the two of us. It was the 1st of September. I was refilling my petrol tank when Darren suggested it, leaning out the window. Diana, that friend who owned the restaurant where we’d met, was wanting to know where the hell he’d been.

I had no objections.

My whole relationship with Darren was associated with the hot and sweaty summer of that year. I was curious how it would be once the weather got colder. I hadn’t seen his winter wardrobe yet, but I’d got some glimpses of leather jackets that made me excited. Why was this man so damn suave and attractive?

He looked exactly like he’d done on our first date – loosened work clothes, black waistcoat over his shirt, hugging his body. We sat at the same window table. I was suffering so much nostalgia, and even Tracy came over to serve us.

“So,” she teased. “Are you getting married?”

Darren sighed and rubbed his temple. “Tracy.”

Nights out like this, with just the two of us, had been the norm for so long. Now it felt like something special and rare. Darren did his typical routine of switching his phone off and leaving it face down on the table. I had a WhatsApp group from work blinking away on mine, too, so I followed suit.

His flirting looks, his legs rubbing against mine beneath the table. I was getting all fired up again, yet at the same time felt so familiar with him, that it was this warm glow in my heart.

We were there for a couple of hours, well into dark. A part of me was content to stay longer, a part of me couldn’t wait to get home. Maybe we could just do something in the backseat of my car again, in loving memory. It might sound strange, but I felt like my car was an important part of our relationship. It and Darren just went together in my head. He owned that passenger seat.

He had been watching me drive quite closely recently, and I wondered if he wanted to try behind the wheel again. Preferably not hitting over a hundred miles an hour and drifting turns. I really wanted to help him get over his car anxiety. As much as I loved how he relied on me for lifts, I knew it’d be good for him to get some of that independence back, where he could take himself the places he needed to go.

We cuddled on the sofa-seat while he finished his wine, but I bit his ear before he reached for his phone.

“Should we go?”

He chuckled, squeezed his arm around my waist, then started to get to his feet.


Tyler’s fingers were locked with mine, swinging my arm slightly as we walked around to the carpark. He was so cheerful. I pulled my phone from my pocket with my spare hand, bright screen almost hurting my eyes in the dark as it switched on. I knew he wanted the night to be just us, but I couldn’t help the compulsive urge to check it.

“Hey!” a voice barked. The screen was showing some missed calls and voicemails, but I looked up.

There were two cars parked up on the curb on the opposite side of the road. Someone was walking away from them, and towards us. Tyler had stopped, I bumped into his shoulder. He was frowning.

“Yeah,” the man said. “You.”

Me, or Tyler? What was going on?

Three more men were following over from the cars. I knew something was wrong, but my mind had blanked. At first I genuinely thought it was some kind of hate attack. Being approached on the street like this, while the only obvious thing I was doing wrong, was being affectionate in public with another man.

Tyler’s fingers slipped away from mine. “What do you want?”

“The least you can do is stop ‘n talk,” the man replied. He had this thick east London accent. “You looked so nice and cosy in there. Been waiting out here for hours.”

I still hadn’t figured out which one of us he was trying to address. Were these people Tyler knew? Or was he trying to talk to me? My heart was thudding against my ribs and I looked down at my phone, as if I could somehow act casual and nothing would happen.

Three voicemails were from Jackson.

“Mister Sörensen?” the man asked. He said it so… mockingly. Not quite pronouncing it right.

I was starting to shake.

“Darren, is it?”

The other three were circling. I saw Tyler’s hackles rising. Silent threats were starting to hang in the air and I realised what it was. The phone. Put it away. Slowly. Easy.

“Do I know you?” I managed, barely keeping my voice steady.

“I doubt it. But we knew your father. Well, that’s a bit of a stretch. Our boss knew your father. We’ve been trying t’ reach you for a while.”

This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be real.

“We tried making contact before, but y’ had some bear of a bodyguard who fucked that up.”

It was connected? Jackson? You’d been wrong?

There was a long silence where I stared into the man’s eyes. He was a person. He was a person like anybody else, he had a life behind those eyes. A wife? Kids? Why was he doing this?

“What do you want?” I finally asked.

“To talk. We didn’t want t’ interrupt your lil’ date. I didn’t know you was a queer. It’s a shame, I guess, won’t be having any kids t’ carry on the name.”

I was scared. Tyler was bristling. I knew what he was feeling – the danger in the air and the disgusting tone – but he had to hold himself together. If I could get us out of this by talking, then I would do it.

“Start talking,” I said.

The man’s eyes flashed for a moment and he took a little side-step, to put some distance from Tyler, closer to me. My mind was racing, trying to think of an escape. We just had to go back around the corner and we were at the restaurant. Around the other corner was the carpark. It wasn’t exactly empty around there. In fact, someone was walking down the opposite side of the road right now, looking over, probably picking up on bad vibes. If I called for help, was anyone going to come?

“Our boss wants t’ meet you,” the man said.


“Because you’re building an empire on stuff that ain’t yours, on money that ain’t yours.”

“So this is about money? You want me to pay off my father’s debts?”

“No, it’s more than that. He’s quite impressed with you. He wants t’ meet you.” He took a step closer. “You ain’t gonna be hurt, just come with us.”

He could sound so amicable. My mind desperately wanted to believe that good-natured facade, but I couldn’t. “I don’t trust you.”

“I swear on me life you ain’t gonna be hurt, so long as you come nicely.”

“And you’re gonna knock me over the head, toss me in the boot if not?”

He shrugged. “Maybe if it comes t’ that.”

“I need to know more about your ‘boss’.”

“Nah, we ain’t here t’ negotiate things. Just to bring you in.”

There was another long silence. I was trying to think clearly. Maybe the smartest thing to do was go with them, and let Tyler get away safely so he could tell Jackson. I had no idea what would happen to me, but in that moment all I cared about was Tyler.

My phone was ringing my in pocket. The vibrations were so loud and the eyes of the four men all stared at me. Why was it four men again? My gaze darted about their faces but none of them looked familiar from before. Shit, Zack, if you could be here now.

My hand instinctively reached to stop the vibrations. “Don’t answer it,” the lead man said. I froze. There was a pause, then it started ringing again. I just knew it was Jackson. When my hand jerked again the man surged forward. “I said don’t-“

Tyler stepped in front of him.

If I had never truly known what it looked like, when two men stared each other down before a fight, I was seeing it now. The chest-bump, the glaring, foreheads almost close enough to touch. It was like some street language that was alien to me. And yet base instincts understood it. This wasn’t erupting tempers where people swung fists before thinking. They were sizing each other up, putting on a display, trying to make each other back down before it went any further.

They were going through the threats, like wild animals doing their best to stop a real fight from starting, because the loser was going to die. This wasn’t some light scuffle. Tyler was a little taller, but the man was bigger than him, and three more had his back. He was giving Tyler a chance to stand down.

Please, Tyler. Stop.

The man actually relaxed first and leant back, hooking his thumbs in his belt. I didn’t like his hands going anywhere I couldn’t see them. Tyler’s posture didn’t change.

My phone was ringing a third time.

“This doesn’t have t’ concern you,” he said to Tyler.

“But it does.”

“You know this ain’t smart.”

“I don’t care.”

Everybody was distracted watching Tyler. My fingers touched at the opening of my pocket…

Surges, movement.

Tyler swung first. It was some sledgehammer flash that nearly knocked the man to the floor. I had my phone out, thumb swiping across the screen, but a body collided with me.

My head smacked against the brick wall. I was winded. Everything was a blur. I could hear Jackson’s crackly, furious voice, swearing from the phone. Tyler’s guttural roars as he took on three men.

The man gripping my arms wasn’t trying to fight me, he was trying to apprehend, drag me towards the cars. I wasn’t going. I was so fucking angry. This wasn’t going to happen.

I fought back, he kicked me in the stomach. I had a grip on his jacket, I pulled him to the floor, I was on top of him. With all the strength in my arm, I punched him. Again and again. He struggled like his life depended on it. My hands closed around his throat, slamming his head against the concrete, my knee in his gut. His eyes were wide, terrified. Glazing. Struggles getting weaker. Was I going to kill him? Was I going to do this?

Something ripped me off him, struck me in the side of the head. I tried to get up, stumbled, a body came down on top of me. I was aware that I was being hit in the face, but I couldn’t feel it. Each impact just felt like it knocked more and more sense out of me.

Tyler lifted the man off me, threw him down. Stamped on his stomach. Shit.

What the fuck was happening? My phone…

The choked man was coughing, gasping on the floor. The other wheezed, swore, got to his feet with a roar of anger.

They couldn’t take Tyler down. He’d gone insane. It wasn’t like watching Zack. He didn’t take every hit and keep going like he was made of bricks. He was so fast. Everything missed him. Water around rocks. They couldn’t get a grip. Couldn’t land a hit.

I tried to stand but the floor was spinning.

Tyler fought dirty. He didn’t care about honour. He fought to incapacitate. To win. Hair pulling, kicks to the groin, headbutts on the nose. When one was on the floor he kept kicking. There were these feral noises coming from him that I’d never heard before.

The knife came out and I tried to yell.

It plunged into Tyler’s stomach, he pulled away. It slashed across his shoulder and he kept going.

The lead man staggered back from a skull-cracking headbutt.

Tyler was wrestling for the knife, twisting the man’s arm, his wrist. With another knee in his gut he got it. But with it in his grasp his arm swung around.

“Tyler!” I screamed.

Nothing would have stopped him. The blade sliced across the man’s throat. It wasn’t only my voice piercing the air. There was another shriek.

There were people. Spectators.

Tracy was shrieking.

The man writhed on the floor. The other two were falling back. For a moment Tyler just stood there, drenched in blood, knife glistening in the dark. Then he threw it at one of them who ducked and yelled.

His eyes were like amber fire in the street light. “Move!”

I managed to get my phone from the floor. We were running for the car. I heard gunshots behind. No. No. No.

Was I hit? I couldn’t feel anything.

I could barely breathe as I clambered into the passenger side. The engine roared to life and we were moving. Tyler was covered in wounds, clothing ripped, but he seemed oblivious.

“Call Jackson!” he said. “Call Jackson!”

The phone was still in the call. I held it to my ear. His voice was deadpan and tight.

“Where are you.”

One of the cars was trying to block our way from the carpark. Tyler accelerated and smashed into it. I was nearly flung against the dashboard. I desperately scrabbled around for my seatbelt.

“Darren!” Jackson’s voice roared.

There was another gunshot as we rolled across the pavement. The back window shattered. I was flung against the seat as Tyler accelerated again. I tried to explain to Jackson, but my mind couldn’t shape words.

The car was following us. Tyler ran lights, dodged other cars, fumbling with the wheel and gearstick. We couldn’t stop. I knew what he was trying to do. We needed open space and this car could easily outrun them.

I tried to explain to Jackson what roads we were heading towards. A person crossing in front, shining in the headlights, barely moved out of the way.

I couldn’t breathe.

We screeched around a corner and there was another gunshot. This open stretch. The shifting gears, accelerating. I watched the car on our tail growing more and more distant in the rearview mirror. Jackson’s voice was still speaking into my ear. I could barely hear it.

Tyler was swooping and weaving around other cars as if he played some racing game. The seatbelt tugged at my body. People were honking at us. Nobody understood what we were running from.

I thought we were loosing them. I needed to breathe. My breaths were ragged, almost whistling in my throat.

The lights were suddenly shining in through Tyler’s window. The second car coming in for a pincer. Everything seemed to happen so slow.

The window shattered before impact. A gunshot. Tyler’s eyes were wide, looking at me, a silhouette against the headlights. He was leaping out of his seat. He threw his body across me. His side of the car crunched.

I felt… nothing.

What could I do, but once again be a helpless victim of the raw power of physics?

The car smashed into something, bounced. We were rolling. I heard nothing but the crunching metal and shattering glass. Silence in the air. Crashing back down. Our bodies were like ragdolls. Everywhere I was thrown, Tyler’s body was there, cushioning me. The seatbelt felt like it was ripping into me. He was clinging to me and I clung back.

We were rolling down some grassy slope. There was another hard knock and Tyler’s body went limp.

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