He'd expected death, but not like this. Not leaning on a tree in the middle of the woods with no one to avenge his death.
To be truthful, that last part was a dream too. The life he'd lived did not inspire love from others, not enough love for revenge. No, not many would notice he'd died.
Meeting his killer's gaze, he chuckled.
"I'm surprised you waited this long, Kaito."
"You are my favorite," Kaito said, then leaned to press a wet sloppy kiss on his jaw.
Toshiro clutched the dagger's handle. Gathering enough energy, he pushed Kaito off him, holding the dagger in place.
Kaito stumbled back with a soft bitter laugh.
"I'm sure we'll meet again, Toshiro."
"I'll keep you a place beside me in hell," Toshiro managed with a painful gasp.
Kaito gave him an exaggerated bow, picked up the briefcase on the ground that was the root of their troubles and ran to the black Mercedes parked on the dirt road. Toshiro closed his eyes because the lights blinded him. Seconds later, Kaito drove off in a mad dash.
Left alone to die, Toshiro leaned on the tree his left hand holding the dagger inside his gut. He had two options: pull the knife out and bleed to death, or keep it in, and hope someone would find him, and then die slow.
If he survived, Kaito would find him and finish the job. There was no one to care if he went missing, no one to cry for him or burn incense at his wake.
Tough choice, he grimaced.
Pushing off the tree, Toshiro stumbled to the next tree.
"Idiot," he mumbled under his breath.
Where was he going?
He stumbled to the next tree, his fingers digging into the bark. He wished he could feel the pain, instead of the numbness spreading through him. Another tree and he stumbled; he dug his fingers into hard bark to keep his balance.
No one cared if he lived.
Why keep going?
Idiot, stop and pull the dagger out, be a man and die with honor.
Still, his feet kept moving forward, another step, another tree, another stinging branch. The night so black, he couldn't see where he was going.
Just as well since he couldn't go back home. Kaito had thrown him away. Left him to die in the woods like garbage. That truth hurt more than the dagger in his gut. He'd loved Kaito. Loved Kaito more than he would his own brother.
Not that he knew what it was like to have a brother. He'd grown up an orphan. His father unknown, his mother a drug-peddling whore who'd died at Kaito's father's hands. She'd stolen two fingers of cocaine from the man and suffered a brutal beating. He'd watched her breathe her last huddled in the corner of the little room Kaito now used to punish traitors.
Kaito, who'd given him a place in his house, that man he'd followed faithfully knowing it would end this way. He sighed and wondered if this was his punishment from the gods. All the things he'd done for Kaito, all the people he'd screwed over for Kaito, maybe he deserved this death. Deserved this end in the middle of the woods, his body eaten by wild coyotes.
Where was he going?
Be a man, pull the dagger out.
Blindly walking through the woods with no direction wasn't going to help him. Even if someone found him, the nearest hospital was miles away. A short painful death was better than a long, equally painful one.
Damn Kaito for leaving him this way.
Having to choose was cruel.
Toshiro gritted his teeth and dropped his gaze to his left hand. His fingers tightened on the smooth black handle. One good pull and the knife would be out; he took in a deep breath.
Just one tug…one tug.
His left hand shook and a whimper escaped, he let out a harsh breath and braced to pull the knife off.
"Jason, how can you take off like that?"
Adjusting the earpiece in his ear, Jason slowed down on the second curve of the road and tried not to snap at his ex-boyfriend.
"Does your husband know you're calling me?" Jason asked finding it hard to hide his irritation.
"You left the shop without talking to me. I got worried when I tried your door and found it locked. You changed the locks."
"Sean, what do you want? Claire can answer any inventory questions, you know."
"How can you say that to me?" Sean complained. "I'm worried about you. You're acting stranger than usual, and taking a month long break from the shop is not like you."
"It's not a break, I'll be working. And if there is a problem, Claire can always call me."
"So, what you mean is you're taking a break from me," Sean said his voice ringing with hurt.
"We're not together anymore, Sean. You're married now, worry about your husband instead of me."
"Jeez, Jason, you're my business partner and my friend. Please tell me where you're going?'
"Listen, I don't feel up to arguing with you right now. I'm driving, and—"
A man burst out of the woods onto the road and Jason swerved his grey Range Rover to miss him. Braking hard, grateful the road was deserted, Jason looked through the rear view mirror to confirm what he'd seen.
There was a figure lying on the road behind his car.
"Jason?" Sean yelled into his ear. "Jason!!"
Removing the earpiece, Jason threw it on the dashboard and got out of the car. He left his car door open and ran to the still figure.
Had he hit him?
Oh God, he'd tried so hard to miss him.
"Hey, are you alright?"
Jason reached the prone figure.
Jason crouched over the man and frowned when he touched the leather clad shoulder and there was no response. The man lay on his side. Jason couldn't see his face clearly.
"Where are you hurt?" Jason asked looking around the trees, trying to see through the dark.
The Watsons had assured him their road was deserted. So where had this man come from?
Jason moved the man to his back and gasped when he saw the knife wedged deep into the unconscious man's left side.
"Oh God," he said fear creeping in.
Looking around, he hoped the culprit wasn't close.
Jason got up and ran back to his car. Taking his phone from its holder, he was glad to see Sean had ended their call. Dialing 911, he ran back to the stranger lying on the dirt road.
Jason sat in the emergency room at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial hospital staring at the tiled floor. He had answered a dozen questions from the officers who showed up at the hospital. He wasn't much help since he didn't know the young man's name, or what had brought him to the woods.
The police officers asked him why he had come to the hospital, why he was waiting for news. Did he know the victim?
No, he didn't know the victim but he felt responsible for him.
Someone had tried to take that poor guy's life. Jason would stay until the young man's family came to the hospital. It was only fitting.
Glancing at his watch, his frown deepened when he saw it was almost two o'clock in the morning. Four hours in surgery and still no news. Would they stay this long if something was wrong?
What a day!
Taking his phone from his pocket, he scrolled through his calls, grimacing when he saw Sean's number: ten missed calls…great.
Last week, Sean, his ex-boyfriend, had married his boyfriend of two months.
Jason still couldn't believe it.
He and Sean had dated for three years.
Three months ago, Sean had woken up one morning, decided their relationship wasn't exciting him anymore and demanded they break up.
Shocked and hurt, Jason watched Sean move out of his loft into an apartment across the street. Life had gotten considerably harder since then. Their work life deteriorated after the abrupt break-up. After all, he and Sean were business partners. They owned an eclectic store named Silverstone in Downtown Penn Yan. They sold jewelry: antique pieces, beads, leatherwork, and unique design pieces. They also sold interior décor accessories. Sean sourced unique items on his various trips across the country, while Jason designed and created jewelry.
Jason had lived in Penn Yan most of his life, and so owning a shop in the quiet town suited him. He liked the slow pace of life because it gave him time to create his own jewelry designs. He loved working with metals, molding them into stunning designs and having clients marvel at the result.
He loved the work, and yes, sometimes he paid more attention to it than his relationships.
Sean claimed Jason used his design work to shut the world out, and it had ended their relationship.
That remark stung deep.
Jason loved Sean, still cared for him even now, despite the impromptu wedding.
Stupid Sean. How could he marry the baker across the street without warning?
Two months wasn't long enough to know a person.
Jason wondered if Mark the baker knew how demanding Sean was at home. Sean was constantly seeking attention, neglecting household chores, amassing clothes in the closet until it looked like he raided the Salvation Army. But then again, maybe Mark liked that kind of thing.
Jason scowled at that thought.
He had refused to wish them well at their wedding. Yes, he knew it was petty, since he valued Sean more than he dared say. They'd grown up together, making mud pies in his mother's backyard. He couldn't throw away his friendship with Sean.
Making an effort to resolve hard feelings, Jason decided to sit the Watson house.
The Watsons were family friends, and when Rhonda Watson asked him to watch their three-acre lakefront property, he had thought it a good excuse to get away. The couple would be gone for two months on a trip to visit their kids in Hawaii.
Jason felt two months of quiet, away from the store and Sean, would cure his bitterness. At least, it would calm his anger enough for him to face Sean and Mark without wanting to spit at them.
He would use the time to heal his broken heart. The ranch style property was peaceful and tranquil, no one to bother him there. He'd put to rest his anger with Sean and find a way to get along with the new couple.
A soft touch on his shoulder had him looking up to find a friendly woman in her late twenties smiling at him. Her name was Keira. Jason had designed her wedding ring last year.
"I heard you found the young Asian man. They don't have a name for him yet so we're calling him John."
"Is he alright?" Jason asked standing up.
"He pulled through surgery just fine. Would you like to see him?" she asked.
Jason nodded and followed her to the Intensive Care Unit. The young man's bed was close to the windows. Machines mounted over the head of the bed monitored John's vital signs.
"He was smart and didn't pull out the dagger. That saved him, otherwise he'd have bled to death," Keira said quietly. She adjusted the blue hospital blanket over the sleeping man's chest. "Jeff took the dagger with him, said he'd be back when John woke up."
Jeff Larock was the town investigator.
"Didn't John have any identification?" Jason asked with a frown.
"None that we could find in his clothes," Keira said with a sigh, her gaze on John's face. "He's so young and handsome. Jeff thinks the owner of the dagger tried to mug him. We'll keep him for the next five days; he needs antibiotics incase of inflammation. He was very lucky you found him, Jason."
Jason looked at Keira.
"Can I sit with him for a while?"
"Sure," Keira said patting his shoulder. "It will be good for him. I'll be at the nurses' station if you need anything."
She walked off to carry on her duties and left him to watch over the stranger lying in the hospital bed. Keira was right. John was young, probably in his early twenties. His dark hair was flat against his forehead. Jason moved closer to the bed. With gentle fingers, he touched the soft strands wondering who would dare hurt such an innocent face.
His hand dropped away from the unconscious man and he removed his jacket and pulled the chair set beside the bed closer. Placing his jacket on the back, he sat down, his gaze never leaving the young man.
"Hey," Jason said gently combing mink black hair, "you should wake up now."
The dark hair was long, maybe reaching the shoulders, but he couldn't tell yet, not with the handsome prince lying down. He put the comb he'd brought on the bedside table and sat in the chair.
"I thought about you when I went home."
Jason studied the sleeping face.
"I wondered what your name is, I've checked out a bunch of Asian names online. I keep thinking it would be funny if it turned out you're from New York and your name is Todd, or Tim. I know everyone is calling you John, but I don't like it. It just doesn't suit you."
Jason studied the sleeping face and shook his head.
"You should wake up so I stop guessing."
Jason reached for the young man's left hand on the covers and studied his fingers. The nails were clean, although there was a broken edge on the thumb. There was also a small cut on the small finger. Clasping the still fingers gently with his left hand, Jason traced the snake tattoo coiling around the young man's left wrist and up his arm to his bicep. The black and white drawing so detailed, it fascinated him. He'd discovered it this afternoon when he arrived in time to find the nurse checking John's vital signs.
Last night, he had sat in this chair out of curiosity, to make sure that the younger man survived the night. He left at six in the morning with reassurance from Keira that John would be fine. Jason drove to the Watson house to unpack his work supplies. After two hours of hauling his equipment into a workroom in the back of the house, he called Rhonda Watson to assure her he had reached.
Tired from his sleepless night, Jason showered and dropped on his bed in the guestroom. He'd woken up at midday after having managed three hours of sleep. His dreams riddled with the mystery of the young Asian man.
Now, the fingers in his hand moved and Jason's gaze flew to John's sleeping face. He watched in fascination as John turned his head to the side, taking a deep breath before his eyes opened.
And what eyes, Jason drew in a gasp as he met light honey colored eyes. The fingers he held curled and squeezed his hand. The monitors over the bed went off and Keira came running.
"He's waking up," Jason said standing to give her space.
She stopped the beeping and checked John's vital signs.
"Hi," she said in a gentle voice, smiling at John. "Glad to see you open your eyes. Can you talk?"
Those beautiful eyes stared at Keira, and then closed. John swallowed hard before he groaned out.
Jason reached for the ice chips in a jug on the bedside table. Putting a few in a cup with a spoon, he gave the cup to Keira who fed John a few pieces. When she tried to give John more ice chips, John refused, so Keira handed Jason the cup.
"The doctor is on his rounds. I'll let him know you're awake."
Keira squeezed the young man's hand and hurried away to the nurses' station.
Nervous, Jason held up the cup of ice chips.
John shook his head and tried to sit up. A wince marred his features and his left hand went to his stomach.
Jason placed the cup on the bedside table and pressed the buttons on the bed to raise John's upper body.
"You can't move yet."
"Have…to…," the younger man cleared his throat and tried to move again. "I have to leave this place."
Jason perched on the edge of the bed, taking the younger man's left hand.
"Please, relax. You just came out of surgery. Wait until the doctor comes and checks you out. Hmm…I don't know how much you remember about last night, but you need to rest."
"Who are you?" The question came in a quiet voice tinged with a slight accent.
"I'm Jason. I found you on the Knights Bridge Road last night. You were unconscious. I figure you wouldn't remember me." Jason squeezed the fingers he held gently. "But that's alright. What's your name?"
Light honey colored eyes studied him, judging his sincerity. He smiled hoping to assure the younger man.
"Toshiro," the answer came after a few minutes. "Toshiro Shindo."
Jason smiled wide.
"Toshiro," he repeated. "Nice to meet you."
Kind green eyes studied him, gentle hands held his and he was warm. It almost felt like a dream. Or maybe he'd really died and the blond man with the kind green eyes was an angel.
Toshiro frowned and shifted on the bed.
Dull pain swept across his stomach and he closed his eyes.
Pain. Yes, that was familiar.
He understood pain. They'd obviously given him medicine to manage the pain. All he could feel was a dull discomfort in his abdomen, but it was enough. It brought back his dark memories.
Kaito's fickle love. Kaito's betrayal. Kaito's dagger.
The wound in his stomach was his reward for all his years of loyalty to that man and the Takumi family.
"You look like you're hurting," the man holding his hand said, his voice tinged with worry. "I'll call the nurse to give you something."
His eyes flew open, his fingers tightening on the gentle clasp holding his.
"No," he said, his voice grating. He didn't want to fall asleep again. "Please, I need to think clearly. It's not safe here."
"What do you mean?" Those green eyes filled with worry.
Toshiro wondered why. Surely not for him.
"Do you know who stabbed you last night?'
Toshiro blanched at the thought of Kaito finding this kind man. He shook his head in denial. He couldn't have this man's death on his conscious. He had to leave this place.
"I figured you didn't know who they were. Don't worry. I'm sure Keira called Jeff. Jeff is the town's detective. Once you make a statement about what you remember, he'll get started finding the bastard who did this to you. You're safe, Toshiro. I promise."
Toshiro stared at this man in shock.
No one had ever cared how safe he was in his life.
"How's our patient?" the perky nurse returned followed by a tall man with graying hair, dressed in a white coat.
"His name is Toshiro," the kind man answered.
The kind man had said his name.
Mason….no—Jason. The kind man's name was Jason.
"Toshiro, what a handsome name," the perky nurse said. "It's a handsome name like the owner. Boy am I glad to see you awake. You're the town sensation right now. News about Jason saving a man last night has spread like wildfire."
Her words drew the picture of an excited horde of people coming to the hospital to see the man this Jason had saved, creating a circus, drawing Kaito's attention. Before he could protest, Jason squeezed his hand gently.
"Relax," Jason said as though reading his thoughts. "No one will bother you until you're healed."
The doctor moved closer to the bed.
"Jason, will you give us a moment while we check on our patient," the doctor said.
"Sure." Jason smiled at him as the nurse drew the curtains around the bed. "I'll be right back, Toshiro."
Toshiro watched the doctor check on his wound, carefully examining him for infection. He let a relieved sigh escape when the doctor nodded his head in approval. He was glad his wound was healing. It would make leaving this place easier.
"You're doing well," the doctor said removing his latex gloves. "We'll keep you for the next couple of days to make sure there's no infection. I have you on antibiotics. You'll recover fine."
"How long is a couple of days?" Toshiro asked.
The doctor studied him.
"Five days," the doctor said with a small smile.
"Can I leave in two?" Toshiro asked.
Any longer and Kaito might return to make sure he'd really died.
"That's too soon," the perky nurse said. "Is there anyone we can call for you? Family in the area?"
Toshiro shook his head.
"Oh," the perky nurse frowned.
Toshiro guessed in her world people had huge families, and millions of friends to call on when trouble started. It was all roses and lilies in her world, no rotten eggs.
"Well, if there is no one then all the more reason to stay the five days," the doctor said as he jotted down a few notes on Toshiro's chart. "Keira here is the best nurse we have and she'll make sure you're back on your feet in no time."
Keira nodded in agreement with the doctor.
"Don't worry about anything, Toshiro," Keira said with a bright smile.
"Good," the doctor said and handed her the chart. "I'll see you tomorrow, Toshiro. Try to get some sleep."
Keira placed his chart on the holder at the foot of his bed and rolled back the curtains. She adjusted his covers and fluffed up his pillows.
"Do you really have no one to call?" she asked with a frown.
Her concerned gaze made him feel pitiful.
"It's no big deal."
"What about your parents?" she asked.
"I'm an orphan."
"Aunts or Uncles? Friends?" she continued.
Friends, he scoffed thinking about the men working for Kaito. He'd never once thought those guys were his friends. He dropped his gaze to his lap and shook his head.
"No one to call," he said.
"Well," Keira touched his left hand and he looked up to find her smiling. "I think you might have one friend."
He frowned and followed her gaze to the blond man who'd walked into the room carrying a bunch of battered white roses. Jason had put them in a small juice bottle filled with water. They looked as pitiful as he felt.
"Glad to see you back, Jason," Keira said as she patted Toshiro's arm with a secret smile.
Keira left them alone and Toshiro watched Jason walk to his bedside.
Jason placed the flowers on his bedside table with a shy smile.
"I figured everyone else has flowers, you should too."
He blinked when Jason held out a cup of coffee to him with a grin.
"I sneaked this in too. I'm not sure about hospital food, but I think I'd want a good cup of coffee if I ever woke up in hospital."
Toshiro was surprised by the laugh that slipped out.
He took the cup, the scent so strong, his mouth watered. Meeting kind green eyes, he wished he could stay in this strange place.
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