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Tales of Wylan Insert-middle-name Eck Adventuring Through College (and making friends which is always a plus!)

Chapter Text

WYLAN VAN ECK HATED HIS NAME . To be fair, he hated most things about himself as well (name, parents, illiteracy, etc) so putting the blame on his name wasn’t really fair. At twenty-one though, he really should have been over it.

Unfortunately, he was not.

With the inability to change his name (his father would burn his apartment down for the humiliation it caused him) and the obvious inability to even ask, Wylan settled for a small compensation.

He went by ‘Eck’ and however odd it sounded, it definitely made it harder for his fellow college students to draw a similarity between the Fortune 500 business tycoon and his dyslexic gay son.

And that was what brought him to the advanced engineering college class, raising his hand midst attendance calls tiredly as yet another professor squinted at him with confusion.

Eck?” the rather confused Professor Haskell asked him. “That’s… a rather, er, unique name.”

He flushed. “My er, grandfather was an… interesting man. My parents never bothered changing it. They found it amusing.”

His father would hit him if he heard.

The snickers that echoed around the large classroom would fade eventually.

He consoled himself with the information.

Nodding, the professor moved on. “Jesper Fahey?” he asked, looking around.

Silence.

“Hello?” the professor asked again. “Jesper Fahey?”

Finally a girl spoke up startled, awkwardly raising her hand. Her hair was a flaming red and interested heads swiveled. Wylan noted her sharp green eyes - even from the distance - and pleasant curves. She was almost to the point of overweightedness yet it was a stunning look on her. She was the kind of person he would’ve liked to draw, and he mentally added her image to his list.

“Here!” she said abruptly, flashing Professor Haskell a charming smile. “I was… looking at the board.”

The professor looked at his paper and squinted. “It says here that you’re a boy.”

She paused, a look of hesitation crossing her face momentarily. “Is there are a problem with late college records?” she finally asked cockily, as if the hesitation had never come. Wylan raised his eyebrows intrigued. The rest of the class squinted at her as well.

“I’m sorry?” Haskell blustered, taking an almost double take. “I-I-I am sorry for mistaking you, but this attendance sheet seems to say something qui-”

I wasn’t always born this stunning ,” the girl interrupted dramatically. “But my parents eventually saw the light and let me have the surgery. I, am now the image of perfection .”

She raised her arms up dramatically. Caught in the moment, the rest of the class cheerfully applauded her performance and a confused Wylan followed suit.

“I could have sworn that Jesper Fahey was the stunning dark skinned boy,” the boy next to him whispered quietly. “I’m aware of gender changes, but I’ve yet to learn of skin color alterations.”

Wylan started with alarm. “Yeah,” he said nodding. Struggling for the right words, he looked aimlessly at the boy next to him. “Yeah,” he repeated.

The boy shrugged and moved on to whisper at the girl next to him.

“Inej Ghafa?” Professor Haskell asked, and to Wylan’s relief, she actually responded.

Chapter Text

SEVERAL DAYS AFTER THE INCIDENT, Wylan had his head down in his phone and was anxiously texting an old friend that was studying out of the country. Keeping his head low he kept his strides long (as long as he could, with his five foot three frame) and halfheartedly adjusted his bag, in full knowledge that it would only drop seconds after.
As he shifted the strap of his bag up once again, he heard a-

“Watch out!”

As Wylan immediately looked up alarmed to see who the voice had come from, twisting his head around. Caught unaware, the rest of his body kept surging forward and he walked headfirst into a bright red pole.

Smack.

A hot flash of pain seared through his head and he clutched it weakly, stepping away from the pole and rubbing the bruise on his head.

“I should ask if you’re okay but that seems kind of obvious.”

Wylan spun his head around once more to see a tall boy behind him, with dark brown skin and gorgeous sparkling eyes. His face was sculpted - as if an artist had been behind it - and the boy stared him down at what had to be a ridiculous height, locks of ebony hair running down his head and curling at the neck.

I need to draw him, Wylan thought immediately.

“Hello?” the boy repeated, taking a concerned step towards Wylan. “Are you okay?”

Flushing with embarrassment, Wylan took a half step backwards, crashing into the pole once more. He winced as the pain began ringing in the back of his head as well, and the boy staring him down hid the smile that crooked the tips of his lips up. It was a beautiful beginning of a smile, Wylan mused. A slightly more amused Mona Lisa smile.

“I’m fine,” he stuttered out. “I-I-I can make it to my apartment.”

The boy looked around at the darkening sky and then shook his head, evidently deciding on something. “You’ve just walked into a stop sign twice. You’re clearly hurt,” he said calmly. “It’s getting dark outside - why don’t you just come with me?”

Wylan paused and looked at him suspiciously. Hot or not hot, a kidnapper was still a kidnapper.

“I’m not a kidnapper,” he said easily, as if reading Wylan’s thoughts. “And I promise that I don’t make it a habit of bringing accident prone people into my apartment.”

“How do you know I’m accident prone?” Wylan weakly managed. It was really all the words he could get out.

The boy arched an eyebrow. “You’ve crashed into the same stop sign twice within the same five minutes.”

Wylan flushed. “I’m going to take a big risk here and trust that you’re not planning on kidnapping me,” he finally said. “But if you are, know that I am dyslexic and therefore cannot be sold for a lot of money if you ever decide to sell me to the highest bidder.”

The boy winked at Wylan. Unwillingly, his cheeks burned red and he was pretty sure it was a dark enough shade to mimic the stop sign he had crashed into. “Sell you to the highest bidder?” he asked flirtatiously. “I’d rather just keep you for myself.”

His cheeks were probably redder than the damn stop sign now, he cursed.

“See, I’d really not like to be sold. Or kidnapped. Or anything. I should really not be taking you up on this offer, but it’s getting dark and my head is killing me,” Wylan said croakily, rubbing his head with both hands now. The boy’s eyes grew concerned and he looked at Wylan with an alarmed expression.

“You’re swaying,” he pointed out a little to late.

Wylan had already fallen forward, and with it, everything faded to black.

Chapter Text

“Do you think he’s okay?”

“His head has swelled up to the size of a baby bird, no Jesper, he’s fine.”

“Well excuse me.”

“We love you Jes but please don’t make dragging unconscious boys into our apartment a habit, it’s a tad alarming.”

“I wasn’t dragging - it’s called carrying and while I get that you’re jealous your boyfriend can’t do that-”

“-shut it Jesper, I can just as easily knock you out with this cane-”

“-you don’t have to put it so crudely.”

“Look! He moved a finger while you morons were talking!”

“I’m going to ignore the second part of that sentence. You’re sure he moved a finger?”

“He’s going to be okay. Worst comes to worst, we call the ambulance. Best case scenario, he wakes up, doesn’t think we’re all freaks and calls the cops on us.”

“Oh shit.”

“Oh shit indeed my friend. Oh shit indeed. Anyways, I have a class I need to get to. Text me if anything happens.”

“I have a class as well. Jes, pass me my bag? Thanks. Bye guys.”

“Fuck I completely forgot about the test we missed because of the game we had to go to. Matthias today’s the makeup remember?”

“Crap I forgot. Did you study?”

“No. Did you?”

“No. We should probably head to the library before it closes and get to it. Kaz can you watch him?”

A pause.

“Fine but I’d like you to know that if I’m acting as the glorified nurse in this scenario than you owe me a favor.”

“Whatever, whatever man I’ll just get you a date with Inej-”

“-shut up, and leave while you still can.”

Chapter Text

There were two easily identifiable scents but the strange thing was that there was only one person in the room, and Wylan had already scientifically (tested and tried) concluded that it was impossible to smell yourself and call it abnormal.

After his nose his eyes were up, flickering to consciousness in an uneven pattern. Finally the pounding pain registered and he moaned, clutching the side of his head that wasn’t already sunken into his pillows.

“I see you’re up.”

The voice was dry and gravelly, almost as if the man on the other side of it spent his summers swallowing stones. It wasn’t the same voice as the boy he (probably) passed out on and he was beginning to think that his kidnapping theory was pretty spot on.

“Y-y-yeah, I-I’m up,” Wylan stuttered as the rest of his body gradually came back to him. “I-I can’t get up, my head feels really heavy.”
There was a loud sigh from the other side of the room and suddenly a boy appeared right in front of Wylan, eyes peering directly at him.

Fuck !” Wylan cried out in alarm. “I thought you were in the other side of the room.”

The strange boy - man, boy? - nodded calmly. “I was on the other side of the room. I walked.”
Wylan began shaking his head. “Firstly, I know for a fact that - hold on are you Kaz Brekker?”

The boy - Kaz - sighed. “I see my reputation proceeds me.”

Wylan visibly fought the urge to cringe and try to move away, current paralyzed state ignored. Kaz Brekker was infamous at his - their, he supposed - college. He was head of all the major pools at all times and ran several organizations deep in the college system. It was also very well known that he ran an information trade-off, and had two human pitbulls on him at all times.

And all of this with a cane, limp, and permanently black gloves.

Wylan almost wished he could use his dyslexia the same way Kaz Brekker did but then he realized he would have to sell his soul to Satan and that wasn’t a trade he was willing to make just yet.

Kaz Brekker raised an eyebrow. “Done staring?”
Wylan flushed. “Y-yeah, you’re just really familiar. Don’t you have Inej Ghafa with you all the time though? The entire college is making bets on when you guys are going to make it official.”

Coal black eyes narrowed and Wylan instantly tried to retreat. “I-I mean, you guys have made it official enough and really you two are adorable couple I’m not trying to take that away from you-”

“We’re not dating.”

Wylan stopped, blood rushing to his cheeks. “B-b-but,” he stammered helplessly. “Touching? Kisses on cheeks? Resting arms and legs on each other? You guys literally show all the signs.”

If possible those coal black eyes got even darker. “ We’re not dating, I don’t like her, and we’re not even close to that,” he said angrily. “You’re wrong.”

  Wylan shook his head. “I’m definitely not.”

Kaz’s eyes sharpened to even narrower slits and they held a stare-off for a while, Wylan finally breaking it off. He noted Kaz’s shoulders loosening and strained muscles softening with relief.

“So… what happened?” Wylan finally asked into the new silence.

“You hit a stop sign twice and then fainted into Jesper’s arms,” Kaz told her. “You don’t have a concussion.”

Wylan nodded in thanks, attempting to lift his head. It was still too heavy and he immediately sank back down. Kaz glared at him angrily for a while before propping the pillows under his head up. An embarrassed flush ran through Wylan and he began internally berating himself.

“Thanks,” he said softly. Kaz didn’t reply.

Suddenly the door slammed open and heavy footsteps creaked down the hallway. Wylan flinched with alarm but Kaz redirected his stare to the door,

It swung open loudly and Wylan turned his head to see the boy - Jesper, Kaz had said - he’d fainted on enter casually. Instinctively his cheeks flared a bright red, despite the fact that Jesper wasn’t even looking at him.

“Hey man,” Jesper said in greeting to Kaz. Casually he swung his backpack down and onto the desk next to him. “How’s our sleeping beauty?”

Wylan coughed awkwardly to signal his existence. Jesper turned his gaze to Wylan and looked surprised.

“Damn boy,” he said after a beat. “We had bets going on. You couldn’t have pretended to be out for another hour?”

That jolted him out of his paralysis and he immediately tried to look out the window. “Crap what time is it?” he cursed. “My dad’s going to kill me if I ditch any classes.”

Jesper laughed lightly before stepping closer and helping him sit up. Wylan clutched his head dazedly, resisting the urge to moan in pain. “You’re okay, it’s only been a few hours,” Jesper soothed him. “And it’s like, twelve right now. Nighttime. At least you didn’t pass out in broad daylight because then you’d probably have to deal with Nina and Inej as well.”

Wylan gave him a confused look as unfamiliar names and references flew past him. Kaz rolled his eyes, choosing to stay silent.

The dark-skinned model flashed him a grin that made Wylan go a deep red - practically blending in with his hair. “I keep forgetting you don’t actually know us.” He laughed lightly. “Nina’s really hyper and excited all the time, and Inej is - well, she’d probably be helping you in this situation. And Matthias would just glower.”

Wylan blinked, struggling to come up with a clever reply. “I-I-,” he stammered, moving his stare from Jesper’s pure gaze to the plain bedsheets. “Those are some interesting friends,” he finally chose, examining a wrinkle in the sheets.

Kaz snorted. “A euphemism for strange,” he said cuttingly, beginning to stand up. Wylan dully noted that he reached out for his cane and propped himself against it before nodding to Jesper. “I have better things to do than be a glorified nurse,” he said in goodbye. The door shut loudly, a contrast to his silent footsteps.

Another beat passed after Kaz had left and Jesper moved himself from the bed to the chair next to it. Wylan slumped back down almost immediately and his head hit the pillow with a loud thunk . He winced as the bump on the back of his head protested loudly.

Jesper winced at the fall as well. “You okay?” he asked. Wylan nodded, trying to hide the grimace.

“You’re not,” the other boy decided. “I’m going to get you an ice pack. Now I would tell you to stay still but clearly you’re not going anywhere.”

Wylan managed to shoot him a dry look for that but Jesper was already up and moving. The door swiftly opened and for a while Wylan was alone in the room, only for Jesper to return a few seconds later.

“Here,” Jesper told him, handing him the icepack. “It’s pretty cold so I wrapped it in a towel.”

Wylan thanked him, idly wondering how the hell he had managed to both take out an ice pack and wrap it in the time it would take Wylan to take off a pair of flip flops. “So what’s your name?” Wylan finally asked, flushing at the stupid yet necessary question. Despite already learning his name from Kaz, he would probably make a total fool out of himself if he actually tried explaining that to Jesper.

The other boy laughed. “Jesper,” he introduced himself. “Jesper Fahey.”
The name reminded him of something and he almost bolted up before reminding himself that his head was throbbing like crazy. “You skipped class earlier today,” he realized. “Either that or you’ve just been pulling off two completely different looks really convincingly, but I’m fairly sure it’s not the latter.”

Jesper smirked. “You’re in Advanced Design and Engineering?” he asked. Wylan nodded.

“Major nerd here.”

“Well major nerd,” Jesper said delicately, pronouncing the words as if they were a fancy dish at a restaurant. “I’m not sure if you want me to keep calling you that for the rest of your life so it’s better if you tell me your real name right now.”

Wylan swallowed awkwardly, not wanting to make a fool out of himself.

Wylan Van Eck ?

Wylan Eck?

His mind desperately switched between the two and he finally made a choice.

“Wylan,” he said after the pause. “Wylan… Eck.”

He could have slapped himself as Jesper’s eyes sparkled with amusement.

“That’s an interesting name,” Jesper told him with the tiniest hint of a smirk. “Just Eck? Nothing else?”

Wylan flushed once more, his regular excuse coming to mind. “My grandfather was eccentric,” he blurted out. “And my parents had a great sense of humour!”

Holding an awkward thumbs up, the dark skinned boy squinted at him confused.

He shrugged. “I told you you wouldn’t want to kidnap me.”

Strangely enough, a light laughter came from Jesper, and he internally wondered why the hell Jesper hadn’t started running yet like, well, Kim from tenth grade (a girl he had both managed to horrify with his awkwardness and accidental coming out), Perry from eleventh (the guy had been smooth, he had been not) and Uriah from seventh grade (in this case, neither of them were smooth. Plus, both of them were in the closet so the entire thing had pretty much been a bust).

“On another note,” he started, beginning to stand up once more. “Do you want something to eat? It’s been hours since you last ate, hasn’t it?”

Wylan nodded, startled to feel a strange hunger pang in his stomach. He had barely felt it, being so absorbed in his conversation with Jesper.

“Well,” Jesper said as he began to leave the room. “We have some dumplings left over so if those are alright with you?”
Wylan nodded gratefully and flashed the other boy a smile. Jesper winked back as he left, purposefully making Wylan turn three shades darker and he stared at the blank wall, the room feeling empty after his disappearance.

What the hell have I gotten myself into ?

Chapter Text

Thankfully enough, Wylan only turned into a magenta bottle of lipstick three more times that night. Then they had both seen the sky and Wylan had panicked, rushing to go back to his apartment to be ready for college.

It was now ten o’clock and he was definitely not ready for class. Sleep was rare for a college student already, and staying up all night hadn’t helped either. The walk to his first class had resulted in him almost walking into yet another sign and got better as he proceeded by tripping over small rocks conveniently placed where his foot stepped. As he limped in a remarkable impression of Kaz (though he’d never tell the boy himself) he saw a coffee shop.

I am getting off of my addiction , Wylan thought to himself as he switched paths to Annemarie’s Cafe. I haven’t drank coffee in the past two hours. I deserve this .

The bells jingled as he swung the door open and the workers waved at him amicably. He smiled back, inwardly grimacing at how all the workers (whose shifts changed weekly) knew him. He didn’t come in that often.

Thankfully the store was empty so he began to walk up to a register. They all shook their heads, Henry announcing how they all knew his order and that it’d be ready in a couple of seconds. Wylan sighed, changing course and sitting at a table.

Suddenly the bells at the door jingled once more and Wylan raised his eyebrows to see Jesper entering the store casually, the long limbed red haired girl from Advanced D&E at his side. So he’s got a girlfriend , Wylan thought glumly. I didn’t have a chance anyway but dammit. They both walked up to the register, Dana taking their orders. Neither of them seemed to have noticed Wylan.

Rather, he kept his head low himself. Taking out his phone and scrolling through his photos randomly, he inwardly winced as he heard a loud “Wylan!”

“Hey,” Wylan said awkwardly, shutting his phone off and waving at them. The red haired girl smiled a beautiful smile and Wylan once again wondered why he thought he had a chance with Jesper.

Jesper smiled as well, a lovely smile that lit his entire face up. “I thought I had seen that red mop somewhere else,” he said playfully. “Nina, this is Wylan. Wylan, Nina.”

Wylan nodded awkwardly as the girl strided forward and embraced him as if they had been friends forever. “Hey Wylan,” Nina said smiling. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

He nodded again, a mechanical gesture. “Yeah, I’ve… heard a lot about you too,” Wylan responded.

“Really?”

“No,” Jesper cut in smirking. “He’s just being polite.”

Nina rolled her eyes, detangling herself from Wylan and sitting down in the booth. Jesper followed, and pretty soon Wylan was staring at the two of them sitting across from him.

“So you liked engineering?” Nina asked him, unbuttoning her coat despite the cold weather outside. Wylan nodded once more, feeling a lot like a doll at a store.

“Yeah, I’ve always liked it,” he responded. “What about you?”

“It’s the doctor stuff for me.” she said. “It’s always been really fascinating, but I’m also getting a minor in Performing Arts. I figured with the workload required for being a doctor, I might as well have a way to relax.”

Jesper rolled his eyes. “Yeah, she’s also been killing herself with all the work,” he said, splaying his long limbs out into the open. Wylan fought to the urge to tell him it was a tripping hazard for anybody that would enter the shop next.

“Your order! Sorry it took a while, our ground beans were out of stock but when I tried getting some more, there were none in the canister. Some idiot misplaced them,” Henry interrupted, a cup and sharpie in both hands. He handed Wylan his cup of steaming coffee, Wylan thanking him quietly.

Nina laughed quietly after that, Jesper staying silent. Wylan looked up confused. “What?”

“You got Henry’s number,” Nina pointed out. His eyes swept through the cup, stopping at a set of numbers written on the corner.

Wylan shook his head. “It’s not for me,” Wylan responded. “It’s for Dana.”

“How would that work?” Jesper wondered, leaning against his chair. Wylan resisted the urge once more to ask him if he would ever pose for him to draw. “It’s obviously for you.”

Wylan quickly looked at the two workers quietly talking to each other before turning back to Jesper and Nina and whispering conspiratorially. “Actually, Henry and Dana have an on-off relationship, but they both really like each other,” Wylan told them. “Henry flirts with anybody possible to make Dana jealous. I’m not sure, but I think because of all the times he’s done it, Dana thinks Henry is bisexual, but really Henry’s straight.”

Jesper smirked as Nina snickered. “That’s even more complicated than Kaz and Inej,” Jesper said, the remains of a smile on his face. “How do you know all of that?”

Wylan shrugged. “I listen and watch. It’s actually pretty funny to see.”

Nina raised her eyebrows. “That sounds a lot like something Kaz would do,” she muttered. Wylan shook his head immediately.

“I’m nothing like him,” Wylan responded. “Henry and Dana have made it pretty obvious, and I come regularly. That’s why I know so much.”

“And that explains it,” Jesper finished. “Anyway, so if you think Henry and Dana are funny, wait until you hear about Kaz and Inej.” He grinned. “Trust me - those two are the biggest drama queens ever.”

Nina smiled as well, a particularly malicious smile that made Wylan think he should never go against her. “Yeah, they’re a bag full of fun,” she said sarcastically. “I can’t wait until they finally get together.”

Jesper snorted. “Like you and Matthias?”
Wylan almost choked on his coffee. “So you two aren’t dating?” he asked, letting a tiny bit of hope come through. They hadn’t acted like a couple, he thought hopefully to himself.

Jesper and Nian shook their heads rapidly. “Absolutely not,” Nina said. A tiny spark of hope began building up in Wylan’s chest and he hid a grin. “Anyways, it’s getting pretty late so-”

“Wait what time is it?” Wylan asked suddenly, whipping his phone out.

“Like, ten ten why?”

“I have to go to class!” Wylan realized, swinging his bag on his shoulder. “Sorry, it was great to meet you guys but I really have to go and I probably look really impolite but my class starts in five minutes and it takes ten to get across campus so-”

“Just go,” Nina said rolling her eyes. “Trust me, I totally get it.”

“I’ll walk you,” Jesper said, starting to stand up as well. Wylan tried to smile, pink starting to run through his cheeks again.

“It’s fine,” he told the taller boy. “I have to run so it wouldn’t be much fun but next time?”

“Next time,” Jesper agreed, giving him a flirtatious smile. Nina rolled her eyes at the two of them as Wylan checked his watch, cursed, and began to run out the store.

If he was late he would be so screwed.

Chapter Text

He stared at the ground.

“So why won’t you?”

“Nina, do we have to do this here?”
“No, we have to do this here. Right now. I’m sick and tired of avoiding this issue and it’s driving me insane. Either you deal with this right here or Matthias Helvar, I’m never going to kiss you again for the rest of your life. We’ll still be married obviously, but I’ll never kiss you.”

Wylan stared at the ground and wondered how exactly he had gotten into this situation.

 

***

THREE HOURS EARLIER

***

The coffee addiction is really starting to become a pain in the ass , Wylan thought irritably as he walked (read: strategically limbo-ed) his way through the lab. I need to become addicted to a new drink. Preferably one that doesn’t keep me up four hours longer than I need (or should).

Ducking hastily as a metal wire was thrown over some students shoulder and almost into his face, Wylan dived back up and hurried his pace, trying simultaneously to keep track of the metal cars some other students were racing for a project around his feet, and avoiding the sheer number of nonsensical things that were being thrown around above his head. The lab was also nicknamed The TrainWreck, mostly because it was almost always active and very few managed to get through it without getting hit at least five times. Wylan was not proud to say he was one of the most (accidentally) hit students that came to the lab.

Finally after some more strategic limbo-ing he reached the elevator and punched in the button letting it open. Climbing in hastily he shut it as soon as he could, only releasing a breath as the elevator began on its way down. The lab had become something of a comforting place to him during his first few months in college, Wylan thought fondly. Not that it made it less of a hazard zone where injuries were very common, but it was a safe haven nonetheless. The only issue he ever had was leaving the lab, because it seemed that whenever he tried he almost always got hit by something. Entering the elevator unscathed was a rare and momentous occasion.

And all for that coffee addiction , Wylan grumbled to himself. I love it, but I hate it so much.

“I need to be addicted to a new drink,” Wylan said aloud to himself. “One that is not going to stunt my growth and/or sleep.” It was baby steps, he finally conceded. Perhaps one day the addiction would wear off.

The elevator opened up with a pleasant bing and he hurriedly left, heading straight for the cafe in the middle of the food center. Larry’s Lattes had the exact kind of terrible (really, when did replacing coffee beans for dirt become acceptable?) coffee beans he craved.

As he entered the store smoothly, he slowed down and began to wait in the line. Examining the number of people before the register, his eyes focused on a familiar figure with a crown of red curls running down her back. Beside her was a massive blonde man, a strange mix of a fond and furious expression pasted onto his face.

He froze.

It was Nina from the morning, and in tow was a giant grumpy blonde.

Coffee and possibly meeting Nina and a grumpy blonde?

No coffee, no possibility of Nina seeing me?

He decided to stay in line. Nina wouldn’t point him out. They had nothing in common. She was only being nice that morning. The line moved excruciatingly slowly, at a bone wrenching pace. Nina and the blonde went up and got their drinks. After a while, they were walking back and headed for the door. Which incidentally, was only a few feet away from Wylan.

Seeing them getting even more closer, Wylan tried to relax as the line moved once again, shuffling only a few inches forward. Keeping his eyes on the register and the familiar man at it, desperately trying to think of something to do. He didn’t want Nina and the grumpy blonde to see him.

He kept his eyes on the cheerful man at the register. They were getting closer. Muzzen had apparently taken the six o’clock shift. Didn’t Retvenko generally take it?

“Oh hey, Wylan!”

Fuck. His. Life.

He turned around slowly to see the two of them, standing right next to him. Nina had stopped directly next to him while the grumpy blonde was closer to the door. Nina smiled at him warmly and weakly he returned the greeting. “Hey Nina.”

“Wylan?” the blonde at the door inquired with the faintest accent to his voice. “As in, Jesper’s Wylan?”

Wylan blushed a brick red. “Yeah, that’s me,” he said nodding. “Wylan… Eck. The one that crashed into that stop sign. Twice. What’s your name?”

“Matthias,” the other boy replied. “Matthias Helvar. I’m Jesper’s roommate.”  Wylan nodded in response, remembering the remark Jesper had made earlier about Nina and Matthias. He supposed this was the two of them going through it.

There was a brief beat of silence for a moment before Nina filled it.

“So how is your head?”

“It’s fine.”

“No pain or anything?”
“It hurts but it’ll be fine,” he repeated, brushing it off.

“I see. I’m glad you’re okay. I was worried about the blood clotting - I was glad the bump was so large or else it meant it would have gone all to your head and that would have been bad.”

Wylan nodded gratefully. “Thank you so much for that,” he said. “It was late and you didn’t have to patch me up and you did so thank you so much.”

The line began to start up again and Wylan awkwardly shifted a few feet, keeping his eyes on the pair, Nina followed him, speaking as they moved. She rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter to me,” she replied. “Honestly. Plus, it was good training for my real doctor stuff.”

“Nina,” Matthias broke in abruptly, gazing at the door and then at the two of them. “We have to go. Remember?”

“We have a few more minutes,” Nina dismissed. “It’s fine.”

“But we have to go.”
They bickered as the line moved up once more, allowing Wylan to order his drink. Muzzen and him exchanged polite words as he ordered and got his drink immediately, cradling it between both hands and returning back to Nina and Matthias. Inwardly he wondered why the hell the line took so long if getting a drink took thirty seconds. The two hadn’t stopped arguing.

“We need to go right now or else we’re going to be in trouble,” Matthias was saying as he joined them quietly once more. “We can’t keep talking to Jesper’s crush.” Nina smacked him for that once more, harder than the previous. Wylan’s breath caught at the statement. Jesper liked him? More than in the typical player way Jesper generally exuded?

It was impossible. People like Jesper didn’t go for the short, awkward and ridiculously messy red-haired type. The dyslexia was an added bonus. He dismissed the idea sadly.

Though Nina kept battling on, neither of them aware of Wylan’s reappearance to the side of them. “Oh come on, he’s going to be brought into the family soon enough. Just give it some time and I’m sure.”

Wylan coughed reluctantly and they both turned their heads to see him.

He waved offhandedly. “Still here.”

Nina nodded, turning around. “Yeah. So where’d you come from, anyway?”

“Amsterdam?”
“What class,” Matthias clarified. Wylan nodded, flashing back to the painful moments before the elevator.

“The lab actually,” he told them. “You know, the one where you can’t not get hit in?”
Nina laughed. “I generally stay away from there,” she told him. “I can never move more than three feet without getting at least five glares sent my way. Matthias just avoids it as a whole.”

Matthias shrugged. “When you’re as tall as me, you learn to stop getting into tiny cars and small spaces. No offense, Wylan.”

Wylan shrugged, well aware of his ridiculously short height. “It’s fine,” he said smiling a little. “Plus, it has it’s bonus’. Like, basketball.”

Nina arched an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t that be harder ?”

He shook his head earnestly. “Not when you duck under their legs and pray!”

Nina laughed, Matthias shifting his lip disapprovingly. “That’s against the rules though,” the tall blonde said slowly. “You can’t actually play like that. Can you?”
Nina rolled her eyes once more. “Ignore him,” she spoke over Wylan’s response. “Matthias is, as you can see, almost as tall as Jesper. Maybe a little shorter. He’s just really big with basketball, and follows like, all the rules to it. He never understands that sometimes, you just have to take the ball and run.”

“That’s literally not how basketball works,” Matthias argued. “You can’t just run with the ball.”

Nina raised an eyebrow again, leaving Wylan feeling like the third wheel. He suddenly knew exactly what Jesper had been referring to as he had spoken about them, and internally agreed. They’re almost as bad as Kaz when Jesper accuses him of being in love with Inej.

“Wanna bet?”
Suddenly she stole Matthias’ drink right out of his hands, ducking beneath his legs and making a mad dash for the elevator. Matthias let out a loud cry of surprise, instinctively running after her and for some strange reason, grabbing Wylan as he ran.

“Why are you dragging me with you?” Wylan asked breathlessly as the two sprinted for the elevator. “Careful! I still have my drink!”
“Come with me,” Matthias growled cryptically, speeding up his pace. “Just come. Nina knows what she’s doing, that druskelle. This is all her fault if it backfires.”

They took a sharp turn, almost walking directly into the metal elevator but the doors opened right before they could, creating a massive gap with a sheepish Nina on the other side of it.

“Hello?” Her smile was pure amusement.
“Give me that,” Matthias hissed, dragging Wylan inside the elevator with him as he tried taking his iced coffee back. Nina laughed, swiping a few times to avoid him.

“Guys?”
His voice wasn’t heard over the two’s fond eyes and smiling faces. Well, Nina’s face resembled that at the very least. Matthias had returned to the odd mix of fond and furious.

“You’re going to crash into the - nope, never mind.”

For Matthias had already been driven into the wall and with a probable two hundred pounds of pure muscle, smashed straight into the buttons and left them blanking out, the familiar electric colour around them blinking away.

Shit .”

The elevator skewed to an abrupt stop, making Nina and Wylan crash into each other. Matthias, still balanced unsteadily on the keys tried to stand up only to ram back into the buttons again. The lights overhead flickered shut, leaving them in a pitch blackness.

“We’re screwed,” Wylan finally said, and as no reply came he thought they all agreed.

 

Chapter Text

“Why hasn’t anybody done anything yet?”

“I don’t know - maybe because we’re stuck in between a floor? It’s not even like we stopped somewhere at a floor. If the doors open, we’re going to have empty space below and above us. We’re physically stuck,” Wylan explained to the both of them for the millionth time. A good three hours had passed and Matthias had grown irritable, an expression Wylan could sense easily despite the pitch black. Nina on the other hand, had long announced that she was tired and then proceeded to lie down on the other side of the elevator,

Matthias shot her a dark look. It was strange, but Wylan could see that easily as well. Perhaps his eyes were getting accustomed to the absolute darkness.

“Aren’t you the least bit concerned for your life?” he asked her.

She didn’t miss a beat. “What? We have enough oxygen. I’m betting that people are trying to solve this issue. We go to a college, for engineers and tech-heads Matthias. Somebody’s got to have a solution.”

Defeated, Matthias addressed Wylan. “What about you?” he asked. “Don’t you have anything you can do?”

Wylan bit his lip, shoving both hands into his pockets and carefully taking out little bits of mechanics he had collected in the TrainWreck. He had no idea what was what in his hands, so he could only rely on touch alone. If he accidentally dropped something… well, then they would not be in a safe and contained environment for much longer.

“I have a battery, a connector, a wire cutter, and a vial of acid,” he finally volunteered. “But we already have an airspace so I don’t think the acid is going to be very effective. Also, considering the darkness I think there’s more of a chance we’ll accidentally burn our hands off rather than get anything done.”

Both of them seemed alarmed.

“Who carries around a vial of acid?” Matthias asked looking unsettled.

“I need it for a project,” he explained. “I’m developing a kind of flash bomb, and because the danger rate for college students who live off of campus is so high, I’m hoping this kind of thing will help them if they’re in trouble. It’s like… a smaller version of pepper spray, except easier to bring around with you and triggered easily.”

They both looked impressed. “Have you built it yet?” Nina asked.

He shook his head. “The prototype has been built roughly, but I think I got the measurements wrong. It’s much stronger than it’s supposed to be, so I’m hoping nobody’s touched it yet.”

“And you left it alone in the TrainWreck?” Matthias’ tone was doubtful.

“Not one of my better choices,” he replied. “It’s probably blown up half of the lab by now.”

Nina laughed at that. “That’s hilarious,” she said.

“That’s terrible,” was Matthias’ reply. “Nina, how can you laugh at that? Do you know how dangerous that is?”

Wylan bit his lip at that but Nina’s answer was sharp. “Okay Matthias, what’s your problem?” she finally asked. “I get that being stuck in an elevator for three hours sucks, but we’ve got nothing to do so we might as well talk.”

“My problem is that you always take danger lightly!” he replied incredulously. “Whenever there’s anything dangerous going on, you always charge straight in, never mind that you could get yourself hurt.”

Wylan tried coughing but they both ignored him. His ears were bright red as he guessed what road they were going down in.

“Oh so just because I’m not like the girls back in your home town? Just because I won’t go around skipping and have an attitude like a delicate flower? Because I have waited a long time for you to do something, and I’ve made myself clear. You haven’t told me anything.”

He stared at the ground, silently wanting to murder himself. He felt like an intruder. He tried coughing again with no avail.

“So why won’t you?”

“Nina, do we have to do this here?”

No, please don’t.
“No, we have to do this here. Right now. I’m sick and tired of avoiding this issue and it’s driving me insane. Either you deal with this right here or Matthias Helvar, I’m never going to kiss you again for the rest of your life. We’ll still be married obviously, but I’ll never kiss you.”

He tried coughing once more, but when there was no response he knew it was too late.

Just kill me now , he begged. Please. I’m begging you, God-I-don’t-believe-in.  What did I do to deserve this?

Several seconds filled with Wylan’s silent cursing passed before Matthias spoke.

“Nina…” Matthias started. “Nina…” he began again.

The girl was silent, evidently waiting for Matthias to fully construct a cohesive sentence.

“Nina, meeting you was a disaster.”

Wylan paused at that, right before he would have began banging his head against the wall. If Matthias was hoping to win Nina, there wasn’t a big chance of that happening with what he was currently doing.

Nina seemed to agree. “Thank you,” she said curtly.

“A disaster I am grateful for every day,” he continued. “Meeting you has widened my sight so much… It helps me move on from the teachings of my stepfather, and for that I am truly grateful that you are in my life. You shake my earth, and my beliefs.”

Nina began to reply but Matthias continued to speak. Wylan at this point, considered killing himself right there. He had no intention of hearing Matthias’s ending. He had heard enough. Five minutes ago.

“You are a disaster,” he continued. Wylan silently smacked his forehead. “A cyclone, an earthquake. A storm capable of shaking everything anybody’s ever known.”

“I,” Nina began, “am a delicate flower.”

“No,” Matthias disagreed. “You are so much more than that. In my home town this isn’t what women do. They don’t act like you-”

“What do you want from me?” Nina asked, and Wylan felt like nodding. He also felt like he was in the middle of the most dramatic radio show ever, except he was in the middle of it and felt like killing himself. Repeatedly. With his own fingernails.

“Do you want me to ask like those girls?” she challenged. “Blush at everything you do, prick and preen at every gesture of affections. Because-”

“- no Nina, “ Matthias responded. “I don’t. But I have no idea what I’m doing because you’re so different. But I love the unknowingness of it.”

There was a beat before he finished.

“And I love you.”

I’ll even go for the acid, Wylan thought to himself. I can probably unscrew my ears with wire cutters right?

There was a long silence before loud sounds of kissing filled the air. He was pretty sure he also heard a groan, and for a second he was glad there was pitch black. He was so so glad.

“Guys!” he finally broke, loudly shifting his position and wrapping his arms around himself. He was sure he was as bright as whenever Jesper flirted with him. Possibly even more (if that was possible).

There was a long unsteady beat.

“... Wylan?” Nina asked uncertainly. “Wylan?”
“I’m still here,” Wylan said nervously, wrapping his arms around himself even tighter. His cheeks and ears burned uncomfortably.

“Wylan?” Matthias repeated. “Y-y- oh shit. You’re still here.”

“Yeah,” he replied. “Yeah I still kinda am.”

“I’m guessing you heard all of that, right?” Nina asked as another shuffling was heard. He guessed they were detaching themselves and turning to face where they thought he was.

“Yeah, I tried to interrupt you but you wouldn’t stop so I just settled for wanting to use the acid on myself,” Wylan said, biting his lip hard. “Sorry about that.”

“We should be sorry,” Matthias said quickly. “I’m so sorry I completely forgot you were in here and… “

“Yeah,” Nina agreed. “I’m so sorry I got caught up in the whole thing with Matthias and that must have been so uncomfortable for you and-”

Suddenly a loud banging noise filled the air, and there was a loud clunk as an object fell from the ceiling.

“Nina? Matthias? Wylan?” an unfamiliar voice said.

“Inej?” Nina responded shocked. “Oh my God you’re… on top of the elevator?”

Wylan quietly tried talking to Matthias. “Is this the girl Kaz has a crush on? The one on top of the elevator?”

“Meet Inej,” Matthias whispered back.

“You know she can probably here you two,” Nina deadpanned. The voice from above confirmed it.

“Yes, but it’s rude to interrupt. Especially when he’s never met me before. Hi Wylan, I’m Inej.”

“Kaz’s girlfriend,” Nina helpfully explained.

“You keep repeating that and I won’t get you out of here,” Inej responded.

“You can get us out of here?” Wylan asked shocked.

“Yes,” Nina and Matthias said in unison.

“I’m guessing Kaz has a plan for this?” Matthias asked.

“Yeah,” Inej said casually from the top of the elevator. “We have a plan.”

Chapter Text

It was ridiculous.

They had spent a total of three hours and forty-seven minutes stuck in the damn elevator, waiting listlessly for somebody to fish them out.

It had taken Inej ten minutes to pull them out.

Apparently Kaz had come up with the plan, using the ingenious idea of wrapping a rope around a thick cable wire that hung from one of the elevators four sides. Because Inej was apparently one of the best acrobats in the city (Nina disagreed - Inej was better than some Olympic gymnasts) she had volunteered to go down the shaft herself, stringing it safely around one of the thick cable wires and pull them out, one by one. They hadn’t thought the hole on the top of the elevator which was their only exit out was large enough to pull people through, so that was where a grateful Wylan had come in. Volunteering his acid, a large enough hole to fit a Matthias and possibly a Jesper was created and the three of them safely got out.

The only problem now was the fact that the three of them were now on top of the elevator, rather than in it. Inej had told them the only way now was to climb up the thick sturdy cable wires hanging from the sides of the elevator keeping it latched. Matthias and Wylan had taken one look at it and refused.

They would stay on the top of the elevator for a while.

At the very least, it had better lighting. (Actually it was poor, but definitely better than the pitch black elevator).

Nina on the other hand, was looking at the cable wire like she was seriously considering it.

“It’s the only way,” Inej said casually as she slipped down the wire for the seventeenth time. “I’ve talked to Kaz and he agrees. In order to get out of the elevator, you must climb the cable wire.”

Wylan looked at it surreptitiously. It looked exactly like it did in the movies.

The cable wire was thick and sturdy, resembling a stereotypical rope from gym class. The downside was that Wylan had never learned to climb that rope, and apparently Matthias hadn’t either. The blonde was currently eyeing the four sides of the elevator and the long empty space underneath it - meaning they would face a long drop down if they fell of the rope, or it snapped.

Nina sighed. “I’ll climb the damn cable. Inej, you’re sure it will hold?”

Inej arched an eyebrow. “Have I ever lead you wrong?”

She considered this for a while before clamping both hands around the rope, squeezing tightly. Wylan unconsciously flushed red as he yet again remembered the humiliating scene only a few minutes ago. Quickly he tried to change his mind and focus on his impending death.

Nina began pulling herself up the rope slowly, gradually getting higher and higher toward the nearest available floor. There, Kaz was apparently, hand outstretched and ready to pull up anybody going up the rope.

Matthias and Wylan squinted as she eventually disappeared from sight, body blurring into an unseeable image. Inej dropped her gaze as well, examining Wylan and Matthias closely. He resisted the urge to squirm. It was an oddly Kaz-like thing to do.

“So you’re Jesper’s friend?” Inej asked suddenly, outstretching a hand. “I apologize for not having more of a formal introduction but considering the current circumstances…” she trailed off, Wylan nodding with understanding.

“Wylan… Eck,” he responded, hesitating the slightest bit. It was harder to lie to Inej, a girl with such an open face. “And yeah, Jesper’s the one that saved me from the evil stop sign.”

Inej smiled at that, pointing vaguely to the remaining bump on his head. “Evidently not,” she said with the tiniest bit of amusement. “Are you okay?”

Wylan nodded. “I’m fine.”

“He isn’t,” Inej replied suddenly, pointing to Matthias.

They both turned around to see the giant blonde peering once more over the long edge, now looking slightly green. Wylan shifted his feet unsteadily.

“Matthias are you okay?”

“I’m about to climb something. My hometown never bred any natural climbers. I am one of them. I’m also climbing a string that would be considered necklace material in my hometown. If I fall,” he gestured to the darkness below them. “I die.”

Wylan looked at Inej and Matthias. It was true - of the two Inej definitely looked like she would be a gymnast. Matthias looked like… well, he looked like somebody you did not want chasing you with an axe. But on cable? Debatable.

“You’ll be fine,” Inej told him reassuringly. “The cable will hold. Do not doubt it, and it will not fail you.”

It was an odd proverbial thing to say, Wylan thought. And she likes Kaz of all people ?

Life was a strange thing.

Wylan gave the long cable cord a look, examining it. If Nina could climb it (and he hadn’t seen her figure plummeting down yet so he guessed she was successful) then he should be able too. After all, his build was closer to Inej than anybody else.

“I’ll do it,” he said resignedly. “I’ll climb the damn cord. Inej, if I die, please come up with a good eulogy.”

Inej smiled. “It will be a wonderful eulogy,” she promised him, sounding entirely too sincere. Wylan drew back sharply, giving Inej a dubious look.

“You’re sure you’re not sending me to my death?” he asked. “You sounded pretty sure on the writing-the-eulogy issue.”

“Go,” Inej said with a bit more force. “The cable will hold.”

Matthias stayed silent with his reassurances but he bid Wylan a cautious good luck, a look in his eye clearly reading that he was glad Wylan was going before him.

He sighed, rubbing his hands together and sticking them onto the cable, careful of the distance between the elevator and the cables. Wrapping both legs around it, he raised his hand a little higher and pulled himself up. He repeated this process with the other one, slowly rising at the pace of an inchworm.

“Woah!” Matthias said, sounding entirely too unenthusiastic. “He’s made it… four inches.”

Wylan pressed his lips together with irritation and dragged himself up some more. Finally figuring out the momentum, he steadily began to raise his pace, climbing at a faster rate. It wasn’t Inej or Nina’s time by far, but it was a decent rate.

“Careful, the cable’s can get slick,” Inej warned loudly, her voice echoing. “Wrap your legs around them tightly.”

Wylan instinctively looked down and almost let go in shock. Inej and Matthias were tiny figures on the elevator, and the elevator itself looked like a small cubed surface. He had never been afraid of heights, yet as he eyed the dark edges of the chamber he thought he would throw up.

“Don’t look down just keep climbing,” Inej yelled in a level tone. “You’re going to be alright.”

Why the hell didn’t I wait for the college authority/

What am I doing here?

Brushing away his concerns, he tried to focus on his sweaty hands and the cable cord. It was already getting a little harder to hold onto. With some difficulty, he unclenched a solid hand and clamped it on the space above. He slid himself up.

This repeated for a while without him letting himself look down, for fear of letting go. He went at a steady pace for a while. His arms burned like hell, but he would rather face burning muscles then fall to a painful death.

Biting his lip, he dragged himself up some more, sliding his legs as he went. His arms nearly cried out with the effort, but he kept himself going.

Finally he saw some light directly above him. He couldn’t see easily without letting go of his momentum and pace so he continued climbing, dragging himself up the rope at an excruciating pace. He gritted his teeth and stayed silent.

As he got closer to the light he realized what it was. It was next floor, the metal doors to it somehow open. He distantly remembered Inej telling him that Kaz would be there, ready to pull him off the cable and back onto the floor. He hoped Nina would be there too.

He also hoped Jesper was there, but that was unlikely.

Dragging himself up the cord some more, he inwardly cursed the fact that he hated athletics and refused to exercise nine times out of ten.

Whenever they ask who wins in a fight , Wylan thought grimly. Stop answering “the nerd!”. Smarts don’t help when climbing up cable wires and facing the possibility of falling to a potential death!

Now he was only a bit away from the light, and he could recognize some features of the floor. If he hadn’t been hanging desperately onto a cable wire facing the risk of death he would have felt amusement at seeing the completely deserted floor. Dully he could see that the floor was actually the TrainWreck. The one room nearly impossible to clear away.

“Hold on I see him!”

Wylan nearly jumped out of his skin with fright as he heard the loud voice. Clutching desperately onto the cable, his legs spun off the cable and for a while he was only supported by his hands. His knuckles were white as they clutched onto the fabric, and he let out a scream.

Fuck !” he cursed loudly as he struggled to get a good grip on the cable once more. His legs swung around some more, almost hitting the sides of the chamber. He couldn’t get a good grip once more. He was going to die.

Turning his head at a nearly impossible angle, he saw three heads peering down at him from above - Jesper, Kaz, and Nina. Jesper looked terrified - the whites of his eyes showed clearly and Wylan clutched onto the cable even harder. He tried to hook his legs around the cable once more but it was useless. His tight grip was gone, his legs gone numb with fear. There was no way to finish the few remaining feet.

“Climb Wylan, we’ll pull you up from there,” Jesper told him urgently.

“I can’t,” Wylan responded. “I think my legs have gone numb with fear. I also think I’m paralyzed with fear right now.”

The three on the top exchanged looks before Jesper stretched a hand out, visibly straining. Wylan stared at it as it only ended a few inches above him. It was still too much - he’d never make it.

Finally Kaz came up with the solution.

Extending his long polished cane, he lowered it until it comfortably reached Wylan. Wylan stared at it surreptitiously, eyeing his own hands that were practically glued to the rope. Can I support myself with one hand?

“Grab it Wy - please!” Jesper said urgently.

He swallowed.

Slowly letting a hand peel from the rope, his entire body dropped several inches and he clutched it with renewed vigor. The cane dropped down several inches as well, and with a single hand Wylan grabbed onto the cane tightly. He was now on the rope and the cane.

“Keep holding both,” Nina urged him. He vaguely heard something Kaz said about holding on.

Wylan swallowed, resisting the urge to look down. If something happened…

“I’ve got you Wylan,” said Jesper’s reassuring voice. “Trust me. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Wylan glanced up at Jesper’s dark eyes, promising and friendly.

Unclenching his other hand, he quickly grabbed onto the cane entirely and held on as tight as he could, shutting his eyes tightly.

Slowly, he felt the cane go up and felt a surface underneath his legs, almost as if he was being dragged over the floor. He crashed onto the floor then, partly landing onto somebody’s legs and someone else’s hair.

“You can open your eyes now,” Jesper said reassuringly, keeping a light hand on Wylan’s back.

With some difficulty, Wylan unclenched his eyes and opened them to see three staring faces at him, Jesper and Nina looking worried whereas Kaz just looked… like Kaz.

“Are you okay?” Jesper asked him, adding more weight to the hand on his shoulder. Wylan stiffened before thinking it was comforting. Briefly he realized he was partly on Jesper’s leg. He couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Yeah,” he panted out, leaning lightly against Jesper. “I’m fine.”

Chapter Text

There were many things Wylan had imagined himself doing in his life, but helping a six  foot three blonde out of the top of an elevator half a floor beneath him was not one of them.

Neither was having a crush of Jesper Fahey and his goddammed smirk.

Neither was working with the infamous drug-dealing (though nobody had ever caught him in the act) widely known Kaz Brekker.

And he had definitely, never thought he would be participating in illegal activities.

Unfortunately, he now found himself doing all of them.

“So can you do it?”

Wylan nodded, focusing on the thick cables and the inside panel of the elevator. “It’ll work.”

Jesper leaned forward, dark eyes gazing at the inside panel and then at Wylan himself. “You’re sure right?”

“Positive,” Wylan replied. “Essentially, an elevator runs smoothly because of the four steel cables on all four sides of the elevator. But there’s also some advanced machinery going on inside it, allowing it to rise and fall. Matthias accidentally broke it when he fell into the buttons, because the buttons trigger exactly where you can go. By falling onto the buttons and breaking them, he accidentally damaged the machinery that controlled the elevator’s ability to go to a certain floor. With those damaged, nobody from either inside or outside the elevator could get it to move.”

Jesper nodded slowly, processing it all. “Okay. And you think you can fix it?”

Wylan shook his head. “I can’t fix it without being inside the elevator itself,” he explained. “The only way to do that is to have a cable onto me, and let me work. But that’d take hours. But instead we can adjust the control panel up on this floor, and alter the settings so instead of communicating with the part of the elevator that takes commands of which floor to go to, it sends an order to the machinery itself, and that machinery will take the order and rise.”

Jesper blinked, biting his lip. Wylan inwardly tensed and tried to avoid staring at said lips. “And you’re sure you can pull that off? How would that even work?”

Wylan shot him a withering glare. “Of course I can do it!” he said outraged. “And technically this is less of an engineering thing, and more of a temporary programming thing. And if it doesn’t work, then the cables are still holding the elevator up in place, so unless they’re ripped or broken, then nothing will happen.”

“Do we need to tell Inej and Matthias to get inside the elevator again?” Kaz asked suddenly.

Both boys jumped, turning their heads to see Kaz casually leaning on the side of the room, almost as if he’d been there the entire time.

He raised an eyebrow, as if expecting them to act as casual as he had.

“Y-yeah,” Wylan said trying to recover from the shock. “Yeah, you need to in the next ten minutes or so. Programming this will probably take ten minutes, maybe a little more.”

Kaz nodded, beginning to step out of the room. Wylan paused after he left, turning instead to Jesper.

“How did you open the elevators?” he asked Jesper frowning. “In order for an elevator’s doors to open, it needs to physically arrive at the level and trigger the machinery.”

Jesper shrugged. “Kaz can open anything,” he said easily. “He’s the best with locks, and always has been. After he mastered locks, the elevator was really the next step. He’s a little rusty though, but he did tell us beforehand that opening an elevator takes a good three hours.”

“That’s impossible,” Wylan said automatically. “Kaz can’t be that good at it all.”

Jesper cocked his head. “Did you or did you not jump when he appeared into existence five seconds ago?”

He bit his lip. “Still,” he argued, “it’s impossible.”

“Not for Kaz it’s not,” Jesper responded. “Don’t you have some fancy method to open up the elevators?”

Wylan supposed he was teasing, but he replied honestly anyway. “Only if I have the panel open and can program them,” Wylan said with a half smile. “Kaz can’t open up an elevator with lockpicks.”

“Yes,” Nina said as she suddenly entered the room. While Jesper didn’t seem too surprised, Wylan had jumped once again. “Yes, Kaz can. He’s the guy that everybody knows it a drug dealer, without actually drug dealing remember? The one that’s terrifying without doing a single terrifying thing? The cripple that everybody avoids - not out of pity but fear?”
Wylan turned back to his panel, mulling it all over. “It still doesn’t make sense,” he argued. “But seeing and kind of knowing Kaz, I agree. He could be able to pull it off.” His fingers returned to the panel and he adjusted it a few more times, finally drawing back.

“You got it to work?”

“No, I made it a setting where it’ll accept information,” he replied. “I have to program it on my computer and then upload it. Thankfully, I…” he trailed off and scanned the empty TrainWreck. “Don’t have my bag with me.”

Jesper and Nina looked around at the empty room, filled with tables and machinery that had been left alone. Wylan wondered what they had done to clear this room, and then decided he didn’t want to know.

“Where’s your table?” Jesper asked, already heading to a different part of the room. “It’s near Roeger, right?”
Wylan blinked with surprise. “Yeah,” he said. “How’d you know that?”

Jesper winked. “I always keep track of the handsome ones.”

Nina made a muffled sound from her position but Wylan’s face was already turning into it’s vibrant crimson. Cursing his face once again, he silently turned around. Next time , he vowed. Next time I will come up with a reply .

Jesper left laughing, footsteps fading slightly as he walked to Wylan’s position. A while later he came jogging back, a heavy back swung behind his back. Effortlessly he gracefully stopped and took out his laptop, Wylan silently wondering how the hell Jesper was not in a sports college, but rather in a technology college.

“Stop showing off,” Nina snapped at him with a tone of fondness in her voice. “We all know that you’re not smart enough to be here for your grades.”

Jesper rolled his eyes but Wylan capitalized on it. “You’re not here for the engineering?” he asked instantly.

Jesper nodded. “I’m actually here for the sports team,” he responded. “Sports scholarship, and I had pretty good grades in D&E because of my ma.”

“What did your mother do?” Wylan asked curiously, flipping open the laptop cover and signing in. Opening a few tabs, he kept his eyes on Jesper as he began clicking the necessary keys.

“She was great with guns,” Jesper said, the faintest smile on his face. Wylan’s breath caught as he realized that he thought it was beautiful. “She taught me how to shoot. She also taught me how to work a gun, which is why I develop them generally. It’s also why I like engineering so much.”

Wylan nodded, processing it all. “That’s cool,” he said. “My father didn’t like guns or anything like that, so he generally kept me away from it all. I wasn’t allowed anywhere near them.”

“What’d your dad do?”

Crap .

“He was a business person,” Wylan managed, trying to make it seem natural. “He wanted me to follow his footsteps.”

Jesper nodded. “Do you want too?”
“What?”
“Follow his footsteps?”

“Not really,” he responded. “I’ve thought about it for a while, but owning a company isn’t really for me. I’d prefer getting a job in engineering or demo work.”

Owning a company?” Jesper said suddenly. “Your father owns a company? What? Have I ever heard it?”
Wylan flushed, instantly backtracking. He’d said too much.

“Um… no, you haven’t,” he said biting his lip. “He’s kind of… we have a different last name.”

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Jesper arched an eyebrow. “Okay?” he asked. “Have I ever heard of him?”
“Well have you ever heard of… “ he trailed off. “Jan… Hendriks?”

Jesper thought about it for a while, examining the unfamiliar word. Wylan kept his head low, continuing to type. He hoped Jesper wouldn’t make the obvious connection. Jan Van Eck and Jan Hendriks , his mother’s original name.

“I don’t think I have,” Jesper said after a while. “It sounds a lot like another name I’ve heard of, but it’s not that.”

“A lot of people say that,” Wylan said weakly, trying to smile. “But… no, that’s a totally different person.”

Jesper paused suddenly. “Hold on,” he said narrowing his eyes. “Wylan Eck, and Jesper Van Eck? Seriously?”
Wylan flushed, wondering why he hadn’t saved himself all the trouble and just originally went with ‘Hendricks’ in the first place.

“Yeah, they’re pretty similar aren’t they?” he said trying to laugh. “A lot of people have made that mistake.”

“And you’re cuter when you’re being smart,” Jesper responded instantly, making Wylan’s face pump red once more. “You’re dad’s the international CEO of Van Eck Industries?”

Suddenly his face was red again, but not for the original reason.

Fuck. Fuck. FUCK.

Here it comes, Wylan thought to himself resignedly. “Yeah,” he said sharply, drawing away a little. He rose to his feet once more, holding the laptop to his chest a little tighter. “I’m dyslexic and I’m the son of a business owner. Hilarious right?”
“Wylan,” Jesper began to step forward but Wylan instantly stepped away, looking around for Nina. He’d completely forgotten that she had even been in the room. But, he thought confused as he saw no trace of her, maybe not.

“Wylan,” Jesper repeated. “I don’t care if you’re the son of Jan Van Eck, or if you have dyslexia. You know that right?”

“Sure,” Wylan said sarcastically. “Just give me a couple of minutes and the code will be done okay? Go tell Kaz that.”

He would never be proud of it, but at that he turned around and positively ran out of there.

Chapter Text

Jesper

 

That stupid ridiculously pretty boy, Jesper grumbled to himself as he paused to listen for footsteps. The first sign of trouble and he thinks I’ll treat him differently.

It had been a shock for Jesper to find out that his crush was also the son of Jan Van Eck, the famous CEO of Van Eck Industries and was rumoured to have control of an entire town, possibly plural. There was an eery resemblance between the father and son, now that Jesper thought about it. But at the same time, the boy’s constant beautiful blushing and sparkling eyes couldn’t be compared to anybody else, notoriously cold businessman Jan Van Eck included.

He sped up, scanning each hall aimlessly. He was unfamiliar with the layout of the TrainWreck to start with (and the five hundred people usually filling it gone didn’t help either), but Wylan probably knew the area like the back of his hand. And Jesper… well, Jesper enjoyed coming to the lab when he felt like having his eardrums cracked and to secretly spy on Wylan.

But really, he had only spied on the boy a couple times.

Barely enough to consider him a stalker.

And he had mostly come for the sole reason of getting Roeger, the man he talked to a total of twice a year before finding out that he was within five feet of Wylan during his work at the lab. These days. he talked Roeger often.

See ? He told himself satisfied. You have a great reason for coming to the TrainWreck.

Jesper looked around aimlessly for a while, ducking into hallways for a while and even checking the bathrooms (which he hadn’t known existed). Finally he made his way back to the main hallway where the elevator space was still open and Matthias and Inej were still down there. Blinking with surprise, he noticed that Inej had come back up and was now talking to somebody, her figure hiding theirs.

He paused, eyes searching for the person behind her. He caught a flash of red.

Score.

Inej moved aside unconsciously enough for him to see Wylan’s clear frame, the skinny lanky figure he had and ridiculously bright blue eyes. He always looked a lot younger than his twenty-one years, and he was almost always flanked by the other college students. At least, flanked enough for a protective surge to tear across his heart whenever he saw Wylan.

Jesper , he reminded himself calmly. You’ve only met him three times, and for one of those times he probably had a concussion.

Wylan looked behind Inej and for a brief second his eyes focused on Jesper. Jesper froze for a moment before speeding up, hurrying to get there so the other boy couldn’t walk away. Wylan made a motion as if to walk away, but Inej clapped a hand on his shoulder and told him something before walking away. By the time she was done, Jesper was only a few feet away.

“Wylan,” he snapped as he reached the gorgeous red-headed boy. God , he was so stupid sometimes. “Did you have to run away? I’ve told you, it doesn’t matter that you’re the son of Van Eck or that you’re dyslexic. It doesn’t bother me.”

The other boy arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure?” he asked harshly and Jesper winced at the sound of his generally calm voice sharpening in such a way. “Because I can’t count the number of people that have told me that in the past, and so far nobody has ever lived up to it.”

Jesper gave him an offended look. “Wylan,” he said slowly, reaching out with both of his hands. He clapped the other boy around the shoulders hard, squeezing and forcing the by now beet-red boy to stare him in the face. “You stupidly gorgeous merchling - now there’s a good nickname - ”

“-please don’t make it become a thing-”

“-I don’t give a damn about your dyslexia,” Jesper said slowly. “and I care even less that you’re the son of Jan Van Eck. I swear from my mother and great aunt Gertrude’s grave-”

“-I’m betting the chances of you actually having an great aunt named Gertrude are low-” Wylan cut in once again,

“- and my aunt Gertrude ,” he emphasized, “that I do not, and will never, care about your dyslexia.”

Wylan paused at that, staring at their positions for a while before finally looking Jesper right in the eye. They stared at each other in the silence for a while as he waited for Wylan to come up with a response. With no small amusement, Jesper noted that Wylan was bright red and floundering for a response.

“Alright…” Wylan finally said, a beautiful half-smile arching up on his lips. Jesper’s breath caught for a second and he berated himself for acting like he was twelve again. I like this boy I am allowed to act like Cady What’s-her-name from Mean Girls he snapped to himself.

“But,” Wylan continued. Jesper froze at that, whipping away from his thoughts. “I say we go slower.”

Jesper thought about their current position, his long arms gripping onto Wylan’s slim frame hard enough to probably leave slight marks. Their hips were only a few inches away.

“I think we’re going at a great pace,” Jesper chose to reply, winking crookedly at Wylan. As expected, he finally turned into the gorgeous red color Jesper loved to see (and had probably seen a good hundred times in the span of their three meetings). “But,” he continued, making Wylan freeze up like he did. He smirked. “I get to ask you out on a date.”

Wylan gave him a small smile, his ears flaring bright red. “I’d like that.”

His heart soared. Leave the Cady Heron - that’s her name! - behind , he reprimanded once again. “I’m going to assume that-”

“-you two are useless lumps that can’t understand that Wylan needs to be working on getting Matthias out of a massive pit?”

They both froze, turning around to see Kaz’s dark figure. He arched an eyebrow at them once again.

“Get to work.”  

Chapter Text

His cheeks were bright red once again, and he started to realize that hanging out with Jesper’s group will make him permanently red. Maybe I should put a stop sign on my face , Wylan thought. It’d tell everybody to stop embarrassing/humiliating/speaking to me, while blending into my face when they ignore it .

He absentmindedly reached out for a coffee that wasn’t there before accidentally hitting Jesper in the face, his hand digging into the other boy’s nose. He drew his hand away instantly, blushing once again with embarrassment. “Sorry,” he cringed, “I was trying to reach for coffee that isn’t there because it’s a habit.” He winced again.

Jesper shot him a grin. “Did you call me coffee?” he asked suddenly, flashing Wylan a crooked look. “Really merchling, if you wanted to touch me all you have to do is ask.”

Wylan’s cheeks burned red as the nickname registered. Merchling? That was never becoming a permanent thing. Ever . “No, I was really just-”

“-just what?” Jesper interrupted. “Trying to come up with a bad excuse for touching me?”

Wylan sighed, giving it up.

The other boy smirked, looking down to his own laptop. A brief feeling of disappointment flooded through Wylan for a while before the boy switched back to his laptop, tapping out lines of code.

“I think I’m done,” Wylan finally said after a couple more minutes of heated typing. He scanned through the pages quickly but couldn’t see anything particularly bold. But on the other hand, words never made sense to him anyways so it was pretty moronic to hope any mistakes stood out. “Yeah, I’m done.”

“Let’s go tell Kaz then,” Jesper sighed, standing up gracefully before helping Wylan to his feet. “The one time we actually need him and he’s not there.”

Wylan half expected Kaz to pop out right then responding with something along the lines of ‘actually I am’ but unfortunately Kaz was really not in the room. They looked around the lab for a while before finally reaching the main section with the empty elevator space was. To his surprise, he saw Inej and Kaz talking to each other, both looking closer than one needed for a conversation.

Jesper slowed down, looking at Wylan. “Hold on, take a picture,” he whispered quickly. “Nina’s going to love this.”

“Why?”
“Because Kaz and Inej are Kaz and Inej. They rarely show off their feelings for each other and pretend their friends. It’s ridiculous, so we figure that if we blow up a picture of them on the massive screen that we use for our school’s football fields, then they’ll get the message that we know.”

Wylan stifled an amused laugh. “Won’t Kaz kill you?”
“Worth it.”

Quickly Wylan took out his phone and snapped a picture, wincing as the click sounded. Switching it to silent mode, he slid his phone back out before finishing the walk to the both of them.

“Hey guys,” Jesper said loudly. Both turned their heads quickly and almost unconsciously took a step back from each other. Inej waved cheerfully, her eyes landing on Wylan.

“Hey Wylan,” she said easily as she looked at his computer. “Is the program finished?”

“Yeah, it’s finished,” Wylan said as he looked at the fully written code on his laptop. “I just need a flash drive to get it on, and then we can plug it into the elevator. As soon as it’s in, it’ll send the message and get Matthias out of the elevator.”

Inej nodded, looking relieved. “That’s good,” she said smiling, “I’ll be glad to hear that Matthias won’t have to spend anymore time on the elevator and imagine his death.”

Wylan wasn’t sure whether she was joking or not, but Jesper laughed.

“Where’s the flash drive?” Kaz asked, looking inquiringly at Wylan. Wylan hesitated, looking at the hallway to his right and then left.

“I asked Nina for it,” he said after a beat. “So Nina should be walking through that hallway any moment.”

They all paused, looking at the empty room. After a couple of seconds had passed, Jesper turned back to Inej.

“So,” he began, “about what we were talking about.”

Inej nodded and the two instantly began a conversation on the various waffle recipes around town, instinctively taking a few steps away from Kaz and Wylan. Wylan looked around awkwardly, trying to avoid Kaz as much as he could.

Kaz stayed silent as well, probably looking away from Wylan. Turning his head, he started at seeing Kaz staring right at him, coal black eyes looking like they read everything about him.

“What?” Wylan asked after a beat.

“You’re the son of Van Eck,” Kaz said immediately. “And you haven’t told anybody at this college that.”

Wylan stiffened before realizing that Kaz didn’t know about Jesper knowing. At least he could have some (probably useless) upper hand.

“Hey merchling!”
And there went the useless upper hand.

Kaz’s eyes narrowed but Wylan twisted around anxiously, heart already skipping at seeing Jesper’s bright eyes. He shot Wylan a grin. “Waffles or pancakes?”

Wylan blinked. “Uh, waffles, all the way,” he managed. “Pancakes are flat pieces of dough.”

Jesper pointed to Wylan triumphantly, turning back to Inej. “There!” he said loudly. “Wylan thinks waffles are better.”

“I agree, waffles are better but pancakes are definitely more popular,” Inej argued back. “People like waffles, but pancakes are part of an old culture that cannot be shaken off.”

“Waffles. Are. Better,” Jesper emphasized. “And the people will agree. If you do a poll, more people will say that waffles are better.”

Wylan bit his lip, thinking it over. “I agree with Inej,” he finally said sheepishly, smiling at the betrayed look on Jesper’s face. “I think that while waffles are better, if you do a popular search pancakes would win because they remind people of the ‘good old times’ and that’s always going to win.”

Et tu brute !” Jesper gasped, clutching his heart. “Wylan, the date is off.”

Despite the skip his heart gave, Wylan returned with the best smile he could pull off. “You’re the one that offered, you’re the one losing anything,” he said smiling slightly. “Really, I didn’t even ask you out. You did.”
He saw Kaz raise an eyebrow as he came to stand near Jesper, but a loud laugh filled the room and they turned their head to see Nina standing there, holding the flash drive Wylan had requested.

“Thanks,” he told her smiling as he plugged it into his laptop. The program ran directly into the flashdrive and from there he looked at the elevator panel and tried to find a place to insert it. Moving around a couple of wires, he looked back at the now-silent group, all staring at him do the work.

“Is there a problem?” Kaz asked.

Wylan looked back at the elevator and plugged it in, taking in a sharp breath as nothing happened.

There was silence for a while.

“Is it working?” Nina asked as they all surged forward, looking down at the empty elevator space. “I don’t thi-”

A loud swooshing sound filled the air and Matthias’ screams were soon to follow. A rigorously smooth sound filled the air, and they all took a step backward as they saw a massive metal box move forward and stop directly at their floor, fitting in neatly.

“It worked!” Nina whooped, pulling Wylan into a hug. The doors slid open to reveal a disconcerted Matthias who woozily walked out. Nina quickly pulled him away from the elevator’s doors and into the floor, and Wylan watched as they all clapped him on the back and mocked his fear of heights.

“That was pretty damn cool,” Jesper said clapping a hand on his back. Wylan jumped at that, sending Jesper a sheepish smile.

“Yeah,” he wrung out his hand and rubbed his neck. “I’m pretty good with technology.”

“I thought for a second it wouldn’t work.”

“I knew it would work,” Wylan lied. “I was in complete control.”

Jesper raised an eyebrow. “Yeah,” he said finally. “Totally.”

“So is the date still on?”

“You bet your gorgeous red curls they are.”

Wylan sighed as his face burned.

Apparently this was how life would go now.

Chapter Text

He had no idea exactly how he had gotten into this situation.

One moment he had been comfortable minding his own business, then one conversation and three weeks later he was on top of a set of isolated stands above the crowd watching a college quidditch game go on and taking ‘live’ pictures (also known as drawing them as fast as he could because these idiots refused to use technology).

Wylan glumly took out another sheet of notebook paper and began sketching the basic form of the bleachers, wearily eyeing his empty coffee mug(s). He had brought three to begin with, knowing that he would probably need some more. And he was right. An hour in and all three large cups of coffee were drained.

“Is there any reason why you’re here on a lonely set of high rise bleachers and taking,” there was a pause as Wylan looked up and around him. “Live pictures?”

“Jesper,” Wylan said as greeting as the tall boy appeared from (somewhere?) and casually sat down next to him, turning his head to see the other pictures Wylan had drawn so far. “Hey, it’s been a while.”

It had only been a few days since the elevator, but ever since then Wylan’s classes had kicked in and he had been busy trying to find time to work on his prototype, so unfortunately his free time suffered monumentally and he got a Tony Stark level of three hours of sleep a night.

“Hey merchling,” Jesper greeted him with a breaktaking smile and Wylan willed his breath not to hitch. “I haven’t seen you in a while. Have you been avoiding me?”

Wylan smiled as he returned back to his paper and started shading in the rows of audience (that he personally thought were blackmailed into attending). “I’ve just been busy Jes,” Wylan said giving him a small smile. “I haven’t forgotten about the date.”

Jesper sent him a smirk at that, one that seemed less arrogant and more genial and Wylan decided he liked it. “I haven’t either merchling.”

That name .

“Stop calling me that,” Wylan halfheartedly protested, knowing there was a terrifically low chance of it actually happening.

Jesper winked and leaned in, warm cinnamon-y breath brushing against his cheek. He sucked in a breath instinctively. “No,” Jesper whispered, and Wylan relaxed, putting two hands on Jesper’s shoulders and trying to shove him back. He finally moved (of his free will, Wylan suspected) out of his personal space and let Wylan breathe again. “Why merchling,” Jesper started, eyeing the two hands on either sides of his shoulder. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say-”

“-that I have a job I don’t want and need to do,” Wylan finished, giving him a look. “Seriously Jes.”

Jesper finally drew away laughing and he looked at the sheets of paper on the other side of Wylan. “So how exactly did you end up drawing live images of our college quidditch team?”

Wylan sighed. “Up until a couple weeks ago, I had no idea our college even had a quidditch team. The captain, Paja, works at the Dime Lions Coffeeshop which I frequently visit and she asked me if I could draw live pictures, because apparently when celebrating quidditch, technology is rejected. And since I go there pretty regularly and she scares the crap out of me because she’s built like a bodybuilder,” Jesper nodded knowingly, “I accepted. Hence, the next five hours of me drawing realistic pictures of people running around with balls and brooms underneath their legs.”

Jesper laughed at that once again, turning his head to see the masses of people running around on the field, faces determined. “You got to give it to them though,” Jesper pointed out. “They look seriously determined to win, And that one on the side is leaping like he can actually fly.”

Wylan snickered at that, craning his head to see. “What? Where?”

“See? The one by the enthusiastic mom.”

“There are hundreds of enthusiastic moms, pick one.”

“The one with the face painted in red and gold. Look, see?” Jesper pointed some more, directing Wylan’s gaze to a boy who, indeed looked like he was trying to fly. He tried not to laugh, understanding that this was an important game to the players. They all looked determined to succeed.

“I wonder why they made quidditch a sport,” Jesper wondered. “Is there like, some kind of application process? Is there any way I can sign Matthias up for it?”
Wylan tried not to laugh at the idea of the six foot three blonde hunched over with a broom under his legs and a ball steadily held in his hand. “Come on Jesper,” he said weakly. “Some people like this game, and enjoy it.”

“Exactly,” Jesper nodded serenely. “Some people enjoy this game, and I assure you, I understand that. Now, going back to the point. Is there anyway to sign Kaz up for this? He needs to see the sunshine, sometime.”

Wylan tried not to laugh at the thought of Kaz Brekker of all people, running around for hours with a broom securely fastened between his legs. Knowing Kaz though, people would still be terrified of him.

“I don’t know.” Wylan smiled at Jesper. “Kaz is the kind of person who’s reputation you really can’t mess around with.”

Jesper nodded like he knew exactly what Wylan was talking about. “I once tried to in high school,” he said with a crooked grin. “My locker wouldn’t open for a weak, and every professor I had a class with gave me a D for every test. But that just started a prank war… with Kaz of all people, so the next couple of months were interesting.”

Wylan raised his eyebrows. “Prank war? With Kaz? I’m guessing that didn’t end up well?”

“You’d be surprised,” Jesper said shaking his head. “It was me, Inej, and Nina against Matthias and Kaz. And to this day, I’m sure Kaz blackmailed Matthias into helping him out.”

“I can imagine,” Wylan said dryly, thinking of Kaz knocking on Matthias’ door in the middle of the night and demanding he help him. “So how’d you guys become… “ he trailed off, gesturing broadly to Jesper.

“A thing?” Jesper asked. “A group?”

“Yeah,” Wylan nodded. “You all fit together really well.”

Jesper shrugged. “That one happened overtime. It was always Kaz, Nina, and I living at the small orphanage, you know the one Per Haskell runs?” Wylan nodded, recognizing the last name. “Well, Inej lost her family in a freak circus fire, which is partly why she can do so many insane flips and rolls. She moved in with her Aunt, who happened to live next door to us. Kaz and Inej had rooms and windows looking directly next to each other.”

Wylan smiled at that, imaging a younger Kaz and Inej speaking through their open windows at night time. He decided he’d like to draw it one day.

Suddenly a loud cheer came from the field, and they both turned their heads to see their college quidditch team had scored a point. Wylan hastily grabbed his drawing again and continued sketching the finer lines. “And Matthias?” he prompted.

“Matthias is from a small Russian town,” Jesper said. “The government was testing weapons in an area a little away from there, and it wasn’t supposed to but they accidentally hit his place. Matthias had to move, and then in his new school they had an exchange program that Matthias took because he was well…” Jesper trailed off. “Pissed at his country. He still loves his hometown though.”

Wylan nodded, remembering all the times Matthias had mentioned his town. And it was a lot, because Wylan had only really hung out with the giant once. “What about his stepfather?” he asked, remembering something Matthias had said in the elevator. Help me move on from the teachings of my stepfather…

Jesper bit his lip. “I don’t know anything about that,” he finally said. “Nina does, but they don’t like to advertise it. I’m pretty sure his stepfather was racist and part of the military that blew apart his own town, but…” he trailed off. “Those are just rumours.”

Wylan finished the rows of audience cheering with large signs, and then switched to the quidditch game itself. Looking back at the field he began to draw out the victorious image (apparently getting the person dressed in gold was a good thing?) before Jesper spoke his own part.

“So why the whole ‘Eck’ and ‘Van Eck’ thing?”

Wylan shrugged. “My father spent my entire life telling me that I would never be able to inherit his company. When I got to college, it was like suddenly I could make my own choices, y’know, YOLO and all of that?”
Jesper was quiet for a while before laughing. “YOLO and all of that?” Jesper asked grinning. “What, do you have a tattoo and everything?”

“Shut up,” Wylan said turning crimson. “I was free for once, okay? I spent eighteen years with an old man who’s favorite song was, I’m pretty sure, YMCA. Do you know how old that is?”

Jesper laughed. “Hey, don’t knock on YMCA. I love that song. Sometimes, I spend days just listening to it on repeat.”

“Don’t you dare,” Wylan shuddered, careful to keep his eyes on his own paper. “That song gets stuck in my head for days on end.”

“Is that so, merchling?” Jesper asked, suddenly standing up. Wylan kept a careful gaze on him, putting the paper and pencil away temporarily as Jesper looked like he was prepared to do something. Keeping a firm gaze straight ahead, Jesper suddenly began belting out lyrics.

YMCA ! It’s fun to stay at the YMCA !” he bellowed as he moved his hands around, gracefully (how was that even possible) making the letters above his head. Wylan buried his head on his lap as he saw the audience curiously turn their heads at Jesper and Wylan.

“Jes,” he said laughing. “Stop. People are looking.”

Jesper did not indeed, stop.

Grabbing Wylan up by the hands, he manipulated Wylan’s hands until they moved of their own accords, forcing him to dance along too. “C’mon,” Jesper said laughing, the words barely audible through it. “Just sing.”

“I don’t know the lyrics!”
I said, young man, are you listening to me? I said, young man,” Jesper sang clearly, twirling Wylan around. “What do you wanna be?

“How do you even know the lyrics?” Wylan asked, trying to talk over Jesper’s atrocious singing. Jesper laughed instead of answering, going back to the chorus.

YMCA, it’s how they do it in the YMCA - holy shit Wylan, people are doing it in the audience.”

Wylan craned his head over Jesper before giving up and looking around him. Surely enough, there were a couple dozen people all making the letters above their heads, screaming it as well. “Why are they doing this as well?” Wylan asked.

Jesper shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe more people will catch on.”

Wylan disagreed.

Unfortunately, the universe decided to side with Jesper that day.

Barely a couple minutes later, the entire audience was enthusiastically moving their hands to sing the song and the commentators of the game had stopped actually commenting on the game, and instead chose to loudly play the song itself through their microphones. The players had stopped running around and were looking confused as they looked at their rabid fans, all moving their hands in coordination.

“Wylan look,” Jesper said laughing as he pointed to the screen. “They’ve stopped screening and the game and are now just showing the lyrics on the massive screen.”

Wylan almost choked on his laughter. He tried looking at the commenting booth, but saw that they were talking to people (that were probably trying to control them and have them start doing their jobs). Even the players had began to slowly mimic the movements, one outright belting out the lyrics like Jesper had done.

Wylan sighed. “Jesper,” he said giving the tall boy a glare. “If Puja kills me for this, I want you to know that this is all your fault.”

Jesper gave Wylan a wink. “I’ll save you,” he said flirtily. “As long as you faint into my arms.”

Wylan turned bright red and turned back to face the insane audience. Puja was definitely going to kill him for this, but he found that the thought didn’t seem so bad.

At least having Jesper and a good thousand people YMCA- ing around was better than drawing countless images of the game, he thought with a smile.

It’s fun to stay at the YMCA,

It’s fun to stay at the YMCA,

You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal, you can do whatever you feel…

Chapter Text

E X T R A

(Because surprisingly, YMCA is a really good way to get yourself into the writing mood)

SHOT FROM THE PRANK WAR

***

Ty che blyad !”

Matthias’ loud cursing filled the hall and Inej quietly swung straight back inside the vents, quickly crawling back toward the JIN base (made up of Jesper, Inej, and Nina and was more commonly known as Jesper’s room). His voice covered up any sounds Inej might have made (though she already knew that she was and would always be silent). Coming up to the vent she’d once marked with some red paint to tell where it was, she quickly loosened it and swung down, lowering herself gracefully next to Nina and Jesper. Jes was playing some kind of game on his phone, while Nina was making strange faces at herself in the mirror. She coughed to alert them of her presence.

“I hooked it up and he got the brunt of it,” she told them. Jesper and Nina exchanged mischievous looks as Jesper hiked off the bed and carelessly threw the phone onto the soft bed. “Kaz is next.”

“Where even is Kaz?” Jesper asked. “Inej did you see him?”

Inej nodded, remembering seeing the black-haired boy in Haskell’s office. Their guardian, Per Haskell, often asked Kaz for help with taking care of the money it took to run an orphanage.

“Alright, so the plan goes that while we take it out, we need you to distract him,” Nina ordered Inej. Inej arched an eyebrow.

“I know. But wouldn’t it make more sense for me to take it out with somebody else? That way if you need an escape, you can just swing into my room. Which is only a couple meters away from his.”

Jesper bit his lip. “I know, but Kaz’ll think we’re distracting him if we try. You’re the only one he won’t suspect.”

Inej raised her eyebrow higher. “And why is that?”

The two exchanged looks. “No idea,” they chorused and Inej remembered something wise her father once said.

When there are people annoying you, take vengeance but hide your tracks!

It was actually her nine year old cousin Rai who had said that, but she took it as good advice either way.

She considered only distracting Kaz for a while and letting him know of their plans, but she figured that death was a little too extreme and it didn’t bother her that much.

“Alright,” she finally agreed. “I’ll go and distract him while you two begin your work.”

As Jesper and Nina began gathering their supplies, Inej quickly crawled straight back up the vent and headed for Haskell’s office.

*

“Inej,” Kaz nodded as she leaped down from the vent, not even looking up from his papers. She frowned - Kaz was never the least bit startled when she appeared out of nowhere.

“Kaz,” she said with a small smile as her heart skipped for no reason. She hoped it didn’t show on her face. “Doing Haskell’s paperwork again?”

Kaz arched an eyebrow as he finally raised his gaze to look at her. “If I do his paperwork then I get to learn laws about orphanages that Haskell might not be keeping,” he offered. Inej wasn’t impressed.

“And what evidence do you have saying that Haskell is trying to cheat you out of something?” Inej asked.

He paused. “I don’t. I just don’t trust him.”

She rolled her eyes to the sky and looked at the clock while she was at it. She had to keep up the conversation for a few more minutes.

After a pause, she finally asked. “What kind of papers are you looking through?”
Kaz shrugged, the gesture looking oddly loose on his tight figure. “Mostly financial,” he said shuffling through a couple. He handed one to her and she scanned the adoption sheet.

“Are you getting rid of the adoption requests for Jesper, Nina and you?” she asked incredulously. He shot her a rare dazzling grin, the smile reaching his eyes before he managed to pretend it hadn’t come to life.

“Yes.”

Inej laughed, bumping into his shoulder. “You care about them.”

“No,” he denied. “It’d just be inconvenient to have to travel miles to talk to them.”

“So you like talking to them?” Inej challenged, raising her eyebrow.

“No!” he said. “I’d just rather have the people I use close to me.”

Inej nodded, pretending to wholeheartedly believe him. “I understand,” she said sagely. His face was relieved for a while before she finished. “I understand that sometimes you just want some love and enjoy believing that Jesper and Nina are yours.”

His face grew stormy and she pulled away, laughing. Something unknown sparkled in his eyes, making it the coffee brown shade she’d known she liked ever since she first saw it across from her window.

“You misunderstand,” Kaz protested vainly. “You’re wrong .”

“I agree two hundred percent,” Inej said laughing. “I completely understand.”

Kaz made a face that vaguely resembled a pout and Inej felt like she did when she walked on the tightrope during one of the shows her family made.

Free.

But not as free as she felt when she laughed herself hoarse at Kaz’s reaction to seeing every single spare cane of his spray-painted in hot pink and covered in One Direction pictures.

Chapter Text

Click.

Wylan enjoyed many different things, he thought as he played the trailer of his own life. Wylan enjoyed the various science fields - engineering, biology, chemistry and many more - he enjoyed art and photography, and he enjoyed playing his piano (which had been left at home) or on a good day, his flute (which he barely had any time for). Another one of his favorite pastimes, he continued in his head. was dangling off high-rise buildings with no support to keep him off when he invariably fell the two hundred stories and became a Van Eck sized science experiment and lesson for every pre-school teacher to tell their students.

Currently he was indulging in the last hobby of his, and Wylan was doing it with about as much precarious caution as one could have when two hundred stories in the air with nothing keeping him securely onto the roof.

Click.

He took another picture.

Shuffling backwards off the edge a tiny bit, he shifted the camera angle and took a few more images, one of the crows flying overhead and a couple of the people filing the busy streets of Amsterdam. The bicycle stand was where it always was, filled to the top with dusty bikes that would be swept down at night. He took another picture, zooming in while trying to make sure it wouldn't be blurry.

He was currently on the roof of one of his college buildings, this one directly facing the side of the campus. All the other buildings were just as tall though, perhaps with a small height difference between them. He briefly mused that he could run and jump between the buildings but quickly whisked the thought away. With his luck, he would probably die if he tried.

Wylan took another picture, zooming in on a newspaper left lying on the roof of some building that was just a little off of official campus borders. Squinting, he tried to clear his camera on the newspaper. Musician needed for wedding, it read, He snapped the picture, revealing the image of a young couple underneath the advertisement, both smiling widely.

Finally he packed his camera away, carefully placing it into the velvety encasing of his bag and swinging it around his shoulder. Before he left, he stared at the high rise view he rarely got the time to visit.

The wind picked up and threaded through his hair. Not for the first time, he decided he loved it.

"I always come up here because it reminds me of home. What's your excuse?"

Wylan jumped a solid three feet and whipped around to see Inej Ghafa, clad in dark clothing and simple leather shoes and gloves. She gave Wylan a welcoming smile as if she had not just pulled a total Kaz and appeared out of nowhere. At least, Wylan reasoned with himself. She didn't act like he was supposed to know she was there.

"I come here for the view," Wylan raised his camera bag and gestured to the open skies around him. "And…" he trailed off, fading away from the sarcastic remark. Rather he chose a different ending. "the company." His lips rose into the faintest smile.

Inej raised an eyebrow, refraining from mentioning the obvious irony in his words. "I see," she said simply. Wylan briefly wondered exactly how she had become friends with everybody else in their group - Kaz and Jesper and Nina all acted like a certain brand of… people, he finally decided. Matthias had eventually joined in, both with dating Nina and being heavily versed in sarcasm but Inej? Inej he had no idea.

"Something to say?" Inej said mildly, looking at Wylan expectantly. Wylan blinked rapidly, trying to dispel his thoughts. "You're giving me a rather thoughtful look."

"Nothing," Wylan said shaking his head. "Just remembering something Jesper told me." Inej didn't say anything in response, and Wylan elaborated quickly. "You used to have a window right next to Kaz? Across houses?"
Inej smiled at that a little, as if remembering the days of her childhood. "Yes," she nodded. "We, I rather, used to climb into his room often and we'd be joined by Jesper and Nina and eventually Matthias. We were close."

Wylan nodded. Suddenly the crows overhead cawed loudly, and they both looked up to see the black winged creatures perched on various buildings. Inej smiled a little. "Crows would often come to Kaz's window," she said with an odd uplift to her lip. "He never fed them. That was me."

Wylan nodded quietly, imagining a younger Inej and Kaz. It was difficult to imagine them both as children though - they both had a quiet kind of aura around them, one that suggested that they had grown up far before they were supposed to. "Do you have any pictures?" he asked suddenly, imaging a younger Jesper. That was far easier. Jesper as a child he imagined, would have the same crooked grin and sparkle to his eyes, His hair would curl a bit more, and he wasn't the ridiculous height he was now.

Inej nodded, as if coming back from a memory herself. "So," she said, changing the topic. Her hands clapped together and she looked longingly at the other buildings, before looking back at Wylan. Finally she relaxed, as if having made her decision.

"What?" Wylan asked.

She shook her head. "I generally do something on these roofs," she told Wylan. "And it is illegal and highly frowned upon in the university, so I will need to believe that you will not tell anybody about this."

"Of course not," Wylan said, a slight of hesitation in his voice. "What is it exactly?"
Inej smiled at him, taking a few steps forward until she was at the edge of the building he had been at before. "It's simple," she said calmly, lifting a leg easily. Wylan's eyes grew as he rushed forward.

His heart beat so loudly he could hear it in his ears as he ran. "Holy shit are you going to jum-?"
Inej calmly slipped cleanly from the edge and disappeared,

He finished his run to the very edge of the building and stared with wide eyes at the empty street. Where was Inej? He looked around frantically until he saw a smooth blur easily jumping from one side of the building to another, hanging onto something he couldn't see. The figure moved up easily until it was on the building right next to him. It was Inej.

"I love parkour," she called to Wylan. "It's a form of release for me." She nodded to the camera hooked on Wylan's shoulder, and the sleeping bags under his eyes. "I assume photography is a similar release for you?"

He nodded, hurriedly slipping his camera out. "Can I at least take pictures?" he asked. "I won't show anybody it's just - holy shit Inej, you're amazing."

Inej smiled at Wylan, a broad smile that reminded him of a regular college student, simply enjoying something she loved. It was nice to see somebody generally so serious enjoying life the way she was supposed to. Then he remembered that if was a dangerous sport that would end in an Inej sized splatter and lesson for aforementioned pre-school teacher's lessons, and immediately the contentedness fell away.

"Inej what the hell are you doing?" he finally squawked, a few seconds late. "You might die like that!"

Inej looked at him curiously, as if she couldn't hear him over the sound of the whipping wind or the distance she had already managed to clear. She turned around and took a different pathway of buildings to reach him and despite his concerns, Wylan's fingers automatically sought out his camera and clicked an image of a fearless girl soaring through the air between skyscrapers. He made a mental note to give it to either Jesper or Inej. Or paint it, he thought to himself.

"What did you say?" Inej asked when she was on the building directly next to his own once again. Wylan opened his mouth to speak but she quickly continued. "If this is concern over me losing a bone or my life," she interrupted calmly, "do not worry. I was trained in the circus by my own parents who would not risk such a thing. Kaz has also given me a lecture. Jesper has dared me to do it with rap music playing so loudly I could not hear myself think." Wylan made a mental note to hit Jesper for (potentially) ending the only sane girl in their group's life. "I am well aware of the risks, and do not think they pose an issue."

Wylan closed his mouth. "Alright," he said weakly. "But can I take pictures of you to paint later? I'll give them to you if you want, it's just…" he trailed off, thinking about her form in the building. He imagined Kaz, wearing his heavy coat and his dark cane dragging on the ground, almost as if it was keeping him down. Maybe opposites do attract, he thought as he thought about Inej and Kaz, Nina and Matthias. "Be careful," he finally finished, not ending nearly the way he wanted to.

Inej gave Wylan a soft smile as if guessing his thoughts. "Do not worry," she said calmly. "I am not ready for my life to end just yet."

"It's still really dangerous," Wylan weakly added. "What's Nina said about it?"

Inej shrugged. "She understands the will to be what you once were," she said vaguely. "Do not worry about me." The edges of her lips twitch up again, and Wylan nods.

He barely knew, but as he watched her figure leap from building to building, he thought that being apart of it all - Nina and her attitude, Matthias and his fear of heights, Kaz and his disturbing ability to appear out of nowhere, Inej and her apparent suicidal intentions, and Jesper with his goddamned smile and beautiful eyes - was something he would love to be apart of forever.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t like he needed money, Wylan thought as he imagined his bank account. There were a lot of disappointment his father had in stock for him, but he was ninety percent sure he wouldn’t be left out of the house starving. Probably part of the reason his credit card still worked.

But he was going to need a job eventually (seriously, he was surprised his father hadn’t cut him off yet) and so lo behold, there he was at the wedding awkwardly holding his flute and praying that it wasn’t a secret attempt to lure musicians somewhere and plan a mass murder.

He thought back to the newspaper he had taken a picture of, and the happy couple in it, both grinning widely. The address was clear and in bold, so Wylan halfheartedly tugged on formal clothing and studied the address once more. He looked up at the street around him, and then at the address. His phone told him that he was on the right place, but as he looked around him, he couldn’t help but question himself if was going to volunteer to photograph two members of the local mafia’s wedding.

Nobody has luck that bad , he told himself. Nobody. Not even you Wylan.

But then again, he had somehow managed to get himself stuck in an elevator between two of the most sexually charged people he had ever been around, heard their confessions of love to each other, and then had to physically climb his way out of the damn thing. He wouldn’t be surprised if it really was a wedding for the local mafia.

He looked at his phone for the address again before raising his head to see the bare buildings surrounding him. He was on a seemingly empty street, with leaves flying around due to the breeze. Even the sides of the buildings were suspicious - covered in half-hearted graffiti that spoke about equality and the evil government. The paint was long faded, and even the basic layer of building paint was cracking and layering off.

He tugged his phone out again and looked at the address. It had told him to go to the building on his left, but it looked like the shadiest of them all. He resisted the urge to call Jesper.

Screw it .

Switching to the message app, he dialed in the number of Jesper and pressed the phone to his ear, silently thanking whatever existed in the world for the idea of asking Jesper for his phone number after the trauma of the whole YMCA thing. A smile rose on his face as the beginning of the song began to play in the back of his head. Hastily he tried shutting it off once more.

“Hello?” Jesper’s warm voice spoke and for a while Wylan wasn’t sure whether it was just Jesper that managed to sound amazing all the time or his phone finally not ruining a voice.

“Hey, Jesper,” Wylan started awkwardly. “Okay, so this wasn’t meant to happen but I wanted to earn some money and I saw this advertisement in the newspaper that was like ‘Musician for wedding needed’ and I was like, hey I need money and they need music - easy but I got to the address and the building they want me to come in is chipped and honest to god looks like the mafia holds their meetings there and ohmygod I’m going to die like this Jesper.” He took a long breath trying to reclaim all the lost air in his lungs. “ I am going to die .”

“Hold on merchling,” Jesper said loudly, fitting his own soothing voice in. “You’re not going to die, and I’m pretty sure Kaz has contacts with all the mafias around this area and Inej can probably convince him to trade you for something if you get kidnapped and why are we even talking about this? The mafia isn’t going to release their address in the newspaper okay Wylan? It’s okay. It’s just a shady neighborhood.”

It’s not okay ,” Wylan hissed. “It’s terrifying and the buildings are all graffiti-ed and they look like criminal activity will happen there. I swear, it’s not me being a rich kid right now, everybody here will immediately turn around and walk away and oh dear God I’m going to die like this and also a virgin and-”

“You know if you actually looked at me when I looked at you, I’m pretty sure the virgin thing wouldn’t be an issue right now,” Jesper said (jokingly, he hoped?) and Wylan almost began choking.

“Not the point right now!” he whispered loudly, looking around once again. “Seriously Jesper I’m freaking out and the time the newspaper ad gave is in like, a minute and oh God Jes-”

Suddenly the door to the building he was supposed to enter opened.

Wylan’s heart stopped.

A large bald man clambered out of the building wearing a loose black shirt and his muscles - holy shit he wasn’t over exaggerating he really was going to die like this - looked like mountains and he scanned around before seeing Wylan, a five foot three kid who probably looked like he was about to drop everything and run as far away from there as he could. He was sure his expression resembled the expression of his father’s employees. Terrified and halfway to probable death already.

The bald man raised an eyebrow. “You?” he spoke in a thick Amsterdam accent and Wylan realized he had accidentally cut the phone off. “Are you here for the advertisement in the newspaper?” The tattoos on him rippled as he spoke and Wylan swallowed loudly.

“Yes?” he said, the voice coming out as more of a squeak. He tried to clear his throat as the muscled tattood probably-mafia man squinted at him. “Yes,” he repeated. “I can play the piano and the flute.”

The tattooed mafia man nodded as if satisfied. Briefly Wylan wondered what his expression would be if he couldn’t play either instrument, and then decided that he didn’t want to think about it.

“So,” the man grumbled. “Are you just going to stay there? Come inside and we’ll talk about it all.”

Wylan swallowed the chalk and sand in his throat before taking a few hesitant steps forward and reaching the door. The man’s eyebrow stiffened minutely, and Wylan swung the door open quickly, letting the much larger man in.

He didn’t respond other than to quickly enter, so Wylan entered and let it shut behind him.

Inside was in marginally better condition than the outside, but it was still… not normal. The lighting was dangling off of the ceiling weakly, and the carpet had odd marks here and there, as if something sharp regularly got stuck in it. The walls were painted an odd colour, and Wylan’s eyes widened as he saw a distinct red mark on the wall. There was a counter in a side of the room as well, and tables and a seating area all around the room.

“Welcome,” the man told him in his ridiculously deep voice, muscles moving as he talked. “Sit. Somebody else will be here shortly.”

Wylan sat in the seat closest to the door, without a table to block his process. The man left through a door Wylan hadn’t even seen, and Wylan sat terrified. Oh my god , he thought to himself. I really am in the presence of mafia. I am going to die . Doesn’t the mafia hate people that aren’t straight ?

His mind was awhirl for a while, thinking of every brutal possibility possible. Somehow they were going to figure out that he wasn’t into girls and then they were going to murder him. He checked his phone to see about a half dozen texts from Jesper.

Wylan why did you suddenly cut the phone off

Wylan what the fuck answer the phone

answer the phone

WYLAN

W

Y

L

A

N

if you don’t answer in five seconds I’m going to have Kaz track your phone

that’s it I’m going to Kaz (who is right next to me)

holy shit that’s the location of an active mafia according to Kaz

we’re coming

as soon as I figure out how to hotwire a car

ACTIVE MAFIA?

ACTIVE FUCKING MAFIA?

HOW THE HELL DID HE GET HIMSELF INTO SITUATIONS LIKE THESE?!??

“Hello!” came a loud voice and Wylan almost dropped his phone, turning his head and expecting to see another brutally massive man. He wasn’t disappointed, and was soon face to face (or rather, head to lower chest) with another man with mountains for muscles and endless tattoos on his arms. Even his face had a tattoo on it, and Wylan swore he could see scarring on his neck and disappearing underneath a black shirt.

Wylan stood up instinctively and craned his head up to see this new man with patches of black hair pasted to his head with a hand held out. Wylan took his hand and the man shook it firmly. As the man released his hand, Wylan swore he felt the bones in his hand scream in pain.

“Hello,” Wylan weakly replied, his voice sounding a lot like the squeak it had been earlier. “Hi.”

The man nodded at him as if satisfied before taking a few steps back (probably to help Wylan whose neck was starting to hurt at being stuck at such an odd angle). He took a seat across the table and across from Wylan. Wylan looked at him before sitting down as well.

“So you saw the advertisement in the newspaper?” the man boomed. Wylan nodded a tiny bit.

“Yes,” he managed. He cleared his throat and tried again, sure his eyes were as wide as saucers. The words mafiamafiamafia were running through his head and making it sound a lot like you’redeadyou’redeadyou’redead .

“So what instruments can you play?” the man asked loudly. Wylan winced at his voice.

“The flute and the piano,” he answered in a (finally) normal voice. “I’m pretty good at both.”

And finally, the man on the other side of him did the unbelievable.

He smiled .

The man’s teeth were surprisingly a gleaming white, bright and unbelievably blinding. His entire demeanour loosened and Wylan swore his expression was goofy . “That’s great,” the man said grinning impishly. “You don’t know how happy I am to know that!”

Wylan leaned backwards into his seat, face still pale and clammy. Not as happy as I am , he thought internally. I might just be getting out of here alive .

“Yeah,” he said swallowing. “I have a feeling I’m the happier one here.”

The man’s smile got even larger as he happily shook Wylan’s hand once more. “Let me call the others,” he excitedly told Wylan, clapping his massive paws together. “This is going to be great!”

Suddenly Wylan found himself doubting the mafia theory. He wondered exactly how the man-to-chihuahua thing happened, but then decided not to question it.

“Yeah…” Wylan trailed off before the words processed. “No! Trust me - you absolutely do not need to call the others.”
The large man looked confused, resembling a puppy. Then Wylan registered the massive muscles and decided that comparing him to a puppy was a bad life decision. “I mean,” Wylan hastily reiterated. “I’d love to see them.”

He nodded before extending a hand again. “Sergie.”
“Sergei?” Wylan asked, trying to pronounce it. The man shook his head rapidly.

“My parents named me Sergei,” he explained. “But I fucking,” -the curse word flowed strangely on the tongue of somebody so happy- “hate that name! I would rip it out of every dictionary alive if I could!” he smiled pleasantly again, and Wylan wondered if Sergie knew that he looked as if he would knit the word Sergei warm blankets in the winter rather than mass murder.

“Yeah,” Wylan nodded, pretending to understand what he meant. “Alright Sergie.”

The massive man sent him another goofy grin and he decided that, despite the shady surroundings and Jesper’s text and the other man, he couldn’t be meeting somebody from the mafia.

And then the goddamned door swung open again and revealed yet another terrifying human being.

Кто он ?” the woman asked immediately, sending the room a dark narrowed glare. Finally her gaze focused on Sergie and himself and somehow looked even darker. Suddenly all doubts about the place being related to the mafia flew out the window. He was definitely going to die.

“This is…” Sergie trailed off awkwardly, looking at Wylan. “What is your name?”
Wylan brushed a curl behind his ear and swallowed hard. “Wylan,” he choked out. “Wylan… er, Eck.” He didn’t think they would take too kindly to knowing that they had the son of Jan Van Eck there.

Hendricks, dammit, Hendricks ! Start using that name!

The woman halfheartedly extended a hand, quickly saying some long name Wylan couldn’t keep track of. “So are you the wedding musician?” she asked, the words curling into a threatening tone. Wylan swallowed once more, and willed himself not to shiver.

“Yes,” he said chewing on his lip. “If you’ll take me?”
She took a step back and steadily examined him. “Alright,” she finally said grudgingly. He relaxed for a moment, and Sergie clapped his hands happily. “We’ll need you to play Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky.”

Wylan nodded, trying to remember if he had ever gotten the sheet music to play it. Sergie suddenly began speaking though before he could tell the woman of his agreement.

“No!” Sergie complained, oblivious to her death glare. She sent him a razor look but he plowed on, though looking a little daunted as soon as he saw her eyes. “I want to hear Chum Drum Bedrum by the weird Russian singer. Please Oksanochka?”

Oksanochka continued the death glare she was sending Sergie, but finally relented as soon as he began making a puppy-dog face at her. “ Fine ,” she said reluctantly. “Do you know Chum Drum Bedrum ?”

“No?” Wylan asked hesitantly. She nodded as if she was expecting that answer, and turned around before disappearing into the door again. Wylan looked at Sergie.

“What is she doing?” Wylan whispered at Sergie. The massive man shrugged, looking largely like a gigantic third grader. The smile on his face returned in a flash.

“I’m sure it’s not a plan to k-” he cut off hastily. “A plan to…” he didn’t finish his sentence and Wylan paled once again.

Active fucking mafia zone.

Holy shit whAT WAS HE DOING HERE ??

The door swung open dramatically once more (seriously, did nobody open it gently?) and the terrifying Oksanochka returned, this time holding a couple sheets of paper. Wylan nervously held them in his hands, quickly scanning through them before realizing that they were actually sheet music. Another page containing words was also handed to him, and he looked at Oksanochka and hoped she was going to tell him what they were about.

“Details,” she said grudgingly. “Do not be late. We value earliness,” she gave him a meaningful look and he nodded rapidly.

“Good. Sign here.”

She pointed to a line on the sheet and Wylan tried to translate it as fast as he could, finally discerning the words ‘agreement’ and ‘wedding’. “It is asking for your permission and legal agreement,” she said in her thick accent. Wylan tried to read through the papers again urgently. He’d heard about people being sold into slavery, and privately thought that signing papers he couldn’t even read was probably a bad idea.

Bang!
Wylan and Sergie jumped a good three feet and they all turned around to see Jesper, Kaz, Matthias and Nina all there, looking a little out of breath. Wylan’s body relaxed with relief as Jesper took a few steps forward and Nina and Matthias stayed at the door. Kaz and Jesper joined him at his sides.

“What is the meaning of this?” Oksanochka started indignantly. “You cannot just barge into our territory, Brekker .” She spat the name as an insult and Wylan stiffened again, There was a warm hand at his hip, and he looked next to him to see Jesper standing there reassuringly.

“Why is he here?” Jesper demanded, sending both Sergie and Oksanochka a harsh look. Sergie’s puppy-dog expression was gone and was replaced with a harsh look.

“He came here willingly,” Oksanochka hissed. “He’s playing at the wedding.”

There was a loud snort from Nina in the back, but Jesper looked at the papers in Wylan’s hands. Scanning through them, Jesper’s brow furrowed as he read through the lines Wylan couldn’t understand. Finally he looked up at Kaz. “It looks legit,” he admitted as he handed the papers back to Wylan. “I mean, I can’t possibly understand why they’re playing the song Chum Drum Bedrum at the wedding, but aside from that it doesn’t look like anything is wrong.”

Kaz nodded, looking back at Oksanochka. “See?” she asked, glaring at him. “Brekker boy, always putting your nose into everything. Learn to stay out of business that isn’t your own.”

“Wylan is our business,” Nina interrupted again and Wylan’s cheeks flared red. “How were we supposed to know what you were planning?”

Oksanochka pointed to the papers. “They are valid,” she said in her thick accent. “I just need the boy to sign them to agree with the terms, and then come to the wedding rehearsal and the wedding. We have no other need for him.”

Kaz and Wylan looked at Jesper, who nodded. “That’s all the papers say,” he agreed. “Doesn’t look like there’s anything that says ‘agreement to a lifetime of slavery’ or anything.”

Wylan shuddered as he took the paper in his hands, finding the long blank line. He bit his lip as he thought about whether or not to sign it. “Alright,” he finally said. They all released a collective breath as he nodded determinedly. Mafia wedding? he thought. I got this . “I’ll sign it.”

He looked back at his papers and put them down on the table, preparing to write his name down before pausing. “ What ?” Oksanochka demanded as they all took an instinctive step forward.

“I need a pen,” Wylan said sheepishly.

Kaz rolled his eyes before pulling a pen out of nowhere.
Briefly thanking him, Wylan signed his name on the dotted line while silently feeling like he was selling his soul to the devil. Keeping the sheet music, the two mafia members nodded a satisfied nod before looking disgustedly at the entire group. “Now leave,” Oksanochka said harshly. “We don’t want you back - ever.”

Wylan hurriedly turned around but Nina, Kaz, and Jesper all took their time. Matthias and Wylan were the first to open the door and get out into the sunlight. Wylan took a deep breath, relishing in the fresh air he had found so terrifying before.

“What the fuck were you doing there?” Matthias asked as soon as the door shut behind them. Wylan turned his head to see the three other expectant faces, and scrunched up his eyebrows in confusion as he saw Inej suddenly there as well. She sent him a small smile in welcome, and he returned it with a confused one. Had she been there?

“I-I was signing up to play at a wedding,” Wylan said slowly. “And I think I’m going to need you guys to come to that wedding with me. In case I die.”

Kaz snorted. “I will never be your bodyguard,” he told Wylan brusquely as Inej elbowed him.

“Definitely,” she told Wylan kindly. Jesper swung a long arm around Wylan and wrapped it around his slighter figure.

“For future notice,” he whispered as the other three sped up their pace and headed to a car he hadn’t noticed as there. “Do not ever enter mafia territory without any of us. Ever , merchling.”

Wylan shot him a grateful look. “Thanks,” he whispered back. “Thanks for looking out for me.”

“Anytime, merchling.”

Chapter Text

Dress casual

Wylan stared at the simple two words on his phone with slight disbelief before 180° straight back around and heading for his closet. Deftly avoiding the spider that was currently gracing his presence, he opened the shelves and began rummaging through the clothing he had acquired over the years, trying to find something nice but…not.

“What does dress casual even mean?” Wylan asked the spider. “Is this Jesper’s way of taking me out to a date he never told me the actual date of?” The spider crawled away and Wylan made a face at it.

His phone beeped again, and Wylan had it out in an instant.

I’m picking you up at 7

Wylan looked at the current time at the top of his phone and cursed again. “Fuck,” he muttered. “It’s like, six thirty right now. Six thirty is not enough time to go out on an unplanned date. What happened to cordiality?”

What happened to cordiality? he quickly punched out the text and sent it to Jesper. A few moments later, he got his response.

It got replaced with romantic mystery

He cracked a grin at that. That sounds more like a book genre , he sent back in response.

Well it’d be a damn good book. Now get ready - I’m picking you up exactly at 7

Wylan looked at the time again and realized a minute had passed. Fuck .

Quickly wrestling on a simple pair of jeans and a t-shirt, he stared at it for a while before diving back into his closet, tugging out drawers and choosing a different outfit. Staring at his mirror, he made a face and switched it out again. What did ‘casual’ even mean? he thought desperately. Nice-casual? Bad-casual? Did bad-casual even exist during a date?

Finally he settled for a simple pair of jeans and forest green flannel he had always been told had brought out his eyes, before looking hesitantly at a scarf. He wrapped it around his neck before making a face and quickly taking it off, musing that Jesper would look far better in it than he would. Checking the time again - 6:52 - he went to his shoe collection and pulled out a pair of worn down sneakers that were immediately rejected. A pair of UGGS quickly joined that list, followed by sandals and crocs he hadn’t even known he had. After that, black and white converse were his only remaining option.

He checked his phone again. 6:59.

Not too bad , he thought to himself contently. He looked at the mirror before immediately running a panicked hand down his hair. Crap , he thought to himself. I resemble a used mop.

As his phone finally turned the last digit, the doorbell rang immediately after that and Wylan hurried to open the door, realizing that he had never actually told Jesper where he lived.

He swung the ridiculously creaky door open with his question in his mind. Jesper was on the other side of the door and Wylan’s heart stopped as he stared at the much taller (much more handsome) boy, his head partly eclipsed by the doorframe. Jesper shot Wylan a cheeky grin, as if conscious of Wylan’s gaping.

“Hello merchling,” he said calmly. Wylan floundered for a response for a while, cursing mentally as he probably resembled a tomato once again. The phrases how do you know where I live and I have a spider in my house and finally you’re so tall floated around his head before he finally blurted something out.

“I have a tall spider where I live,” he finally managed. Jesper sent a smirk to Wylan as he tried to fix his sentence. He flushed, running an absent-minded hand through his hair. “I have a spider in my house,” he finally chose. “And you’re really tall. Also how do you know where I live?”
Jesper blinked, probably not expected the barrage of statements. Wylan sent him a half-hearted grin, trying to save the conversation. “Well it’s probably a good thing I don’t have arachnophobia for all my future visits to your house,” he replied with a grace that should not be legal. “Also, if you think I’m tall, you should meet my mother. And I asked Kaz, who knows a scary amount of information on anybody and everything, though I half suspect it comes from Inej first.” He sent Wylan a bold grin, and Wylan finally got himself together.

“Yeah,” he said with a small smile. “And that’s pretty creepy.”

“The mother thing or the Kaz thing?”
“Kaz thing.”

Jesper sent Wylan a half-smirk that did strange things to his heart. “Why don’t I tell you that interesting story during the drive,” he answered pointing to the car parked on the street. Wylan finally turned his head to see a mildly beaten up car gracing his apartment and he smiled at Jesper.

“Let’s go,” he said, aware of the faintest blush spreading onto his cheeks. Jesper smiled back at him, an element changing to his mouth once he recognized the familiar tinge.

“So where are we going?” Wylan asked conversationally as soon as they were in the car. The seats were a worn down leather, and he found that he preferred it largely to his father’s almost clinically oriented car. Jesper turned his head and flashed a smile at Wylan rather than answering.

“Well how old are you?” he asked instead. Wylan blinked, not expected the strange question.

“Um, twenty-one,” he said in response, the statement ending in more of a question.

Jesper nodded satisfied. “I remember you saying that,” he removed a hand from the wheel to run it through his messy hair and Wylan’s heart stuttered, “and, well, how high is your alcohol tolerance?”
“I’m not sure where this is going and I have half a mind to revert back to the kidnapper theory I used when we first met,” Wylan said instead. “And it’s pretty high - the only way I got through my dad’s grand parties and stuff were by having a lot of the champagne.”

Jesper grinned crookedly, turning his face into one Wylan really wanted to draw just then. “Then I’m sure you’ll love this, merchling.”

#

“Holy shit,” Wylan breathed out as Jesper led him to the front of a building. “Jesper, oh my God did you-”

Jesper flashed him a wide smile, one that looked surprisingly pure for Jesper’s normal look. He decided he liked it. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly, running a hand through his hair again. “I remember you mentioning that you really liked painting and drawing but college left you with no time for any of that, so,” he gestured vaguely to the building they were in front of, proudly holding a sign that read ‘Flute & Ink’, one of the most popular locations for artists like Wylan who had always wanted to go, but rarely had time and even then it was difficult to get a position.

“How did you even get a spot?” he asked Jesper incredulously. “I know this is like, ridiculously tough to get, and even then it’s booked for months.”

Jesper smirked as if remembering something. “I know the owner,” he responded vaguely. “Let’s just say that without Nina and me, they wouldn’t be selling wine, but really low-priced coffee instead.” Wylan drew back to give him a suspicious look but Jesper laughed it off, reaching for the front door.

Flute & Ink was one of the best places to go when you wanted simply to drink wine and paint, Wylan thought excitedly. He had literally wanted to go since forever. As the door opened and they walked in to see a couple other people - three, specifically - all standing in a casual circle and talking, Wylan tentatively reached out with his hand and hooked it around Jesper’s. His breath caught and for a moment he wondered if Jesper was going to pull away.

Jesper didn’t pull away.

The tiniest smile began growing on his lips as they joined the circle of chairs, the lead artist at the front of the room and checking in with them. The artist began giving the basic directions, instructing them to get more alcohol whenever they felt, and that it was a ‘judgement free zone’, a phrase they said jokingly, that they had learned to start using when their sister failed at things.

Finally they were set off on their own, Wylan taking an easel right next to Jesper. The other boy immediately went for the glass of alcohol, sipping at it and wincing a little at the (probable) bitterness.

“So you like art?” Wylan asked curiously, beginning to thumb through his materials while trying to get a feel for them.

Jesper flashed Wylan a heart-stopping grin. “I figured this would be a win-win situation,” he said easily. “You can paint, while I can drink endlessly.” He extended his hands teasingly, almost as if he was about to shake them into jazz hands while Wylan stifled a snort of laughter.

“Remember, be creative ,” they both suddenly heard and they turned their head to the instructor who was still speaking. “If you have a flash of inspiration, go for it. And, madame , no smoking please.”

Wylan turned to see Jesper’s other side and saw the woman scowl disappointedly before placing her lighter next to her paintbrushes and other supplies. The cigarette was slipped back into her pocket, and a flute of champagne immediately replaced it.

“So what do you think I should paint, merchling?” Jesper whispered quietly. “I was thinking about the most stunning red haired boy I’ve ever met, has the nicest blush too.” Wylan’s cheeks burnt at that and he sent Jesper a glare.

Jesper winked and the glare immediately faded away, replaced with something he didn’t want to admit was amusement.

Wylan turned back to his own canvas and immediately chose to go with warmer happier colors. The general demeanour of the room was nice, and the cool breeze attacking them outside was gone in favor of a nice warmth pervading his bones. He wanted his painting to match that, he thought contentedly.

A couple strokes lined his paper, and soon enough a vague image began to appear. He frowned and added some more lines, contemplating whether a modern or historical look would look better. Time flew over his head as he painted, not paying attention to his surroundings.

After a while he absent-mindedly reached for a glass of alcohol, bringing it to his lips and swallowing it. It didn’t taste bad, he thought to himself. Not as good as the wine his father had at his company, but he appreciated the glass in front of him marginally more than the company events.

“So what the fuck should I draw?” Wylan heard quietly and he turned to see Jesper’s few lines in a brilliant red, marking the canvas in several spots. Jesper’s hand reached out for another glass of wine, and - Wylan squinted to make sure he was actually seeing this - he swore he saw Jesper’s eyes dilate the faintest bit.

Jesper was drunk, Wylan realized suddenly as he saw the (normally) graceful arm awkwardly rise and create a bright green dot in the middle of the canvas. Another followed it, and just as a third was about to come into existence as well, Jesper suddenly drew back and tried to paint his own arm.

“Jesper,” Wylan whispered trying not to laugh. “Jes, you’re so drunk and I’m pretty sure we’re like,” he checked the time and saw that thirty minutes had passed since they started, “only like, a fifth of the way in.”

“I’m not drunk,” Jesper protested weakly, turning around and wrapping two long arms around Wylan. “I’m not drunk Wy.” His arms were long and soothing, and Wylan unwillingly relaxed against them.

Wylan tried to reassuringly pat Jesper’s back. “Of course you’re not,” he said calmly, trying to draw back the slightest bit. Jesper’s arms refused to move, and Wylan resigned himself to simply staying close to Jesper for a while, feeling boneless as his head started to lay on the other boy’s shoulder. He noticed after a beat that Jesper was slouching down for him, trying to account for his height. His heart warmed at that, and he tried uselessly to fight back the blush.

Suddenly Jesper drew back and Wylan let out a half-conscious whine of protest.

“I have an idea!” Jesper said excitedly out of the blue. Wylan’s eyebrow raised as a black was dabbed quickly and added to the sheet, but seeing Jesper’s body was out of harm's  way, he warily turned his gaze back to his own easel.

“I need something,” Jesper murmured slightly, and Wylan turned back to Jesper’s paper once again. “I… Instructor what did you tell us to be?” he waved his hand clumsily and Wylan bit his lip as the slightly taken instructor replied.

“Er,” they bit their lip as they tried to recall what they were speaking about. “Be creative?”

Jesper shot them a grin, eyes sparkling. “Can I use anything in this room?”
The instructor shrugged. “Go for it.”

Jesper’s eyes returned to his canvas and he painted yet another black dot, followed with a darker red. Wylan didn’t even try to look at his own canvas at that point - he kept his eyes firmly on Jesper in case he got into any trouble.

At one point Jesper paused and made Wylan tense up, but only to pick up another glass of wine. Hastily Wylan grabbed the glass and tried to tug it away.

“Wylan,” Jesper slurred, “you should know by now that you don’t have to compete with the wine for my attention.” Wylan’s cheeks burned red and he tried with a newer ferocity to take the glass away from him.

“You can’t drink anymore,” Wylan hissed, aware of everybody else in the room. “It’s going to be bad for you.”
Jesper nodded sagely. “I understand,” he said calmly and Wylan relaxed his grip on the glass, turning away. “But I had my fingers crossed.”
The glass was drank like a shot and Wylan watched horrified as the contents of it disappeared. “Jesper,” he whispered, trying not to laugh at his current situation. Others would probably be horrified, he thought, but honestly, the only thing he could do was laugh.

“What do I paint?” Jesper asked drunkenly to Wylan. Wylan bit his lip and tried not to smile at a helpless Jesper.

“Whatever you want.”
The other boy slumped at that before perking straight back up, staring at his paper with wide eyes. “I know!” he said enthusiastically. “A fire!”
Wylan nodded and turned back to his canvas, but not before keeping a firm hand on Jesper’s shoulder in case anything happened. Jesper didn’t do anything though, and for a while Wylan thought they were in the clear.

Fire !” he suddenly heard, and he turned his head to see Jesper’s canvas covered in bright flames. Jesper was enthusiastically dripping wine onto it - he wrestled away the glass before Jesper could pour some more into it - and didn’t seem concerned. Everybody else in the room had their eyes on the extremely hot paper, and the edges of it were licking the canvas of the woman next to Jesper.

“I thought you said you were going to paint a fire!” Wylan gasped as he stood up from his seat to stand away from it. He dragged Jesper with him there as well, trying not to overbalance from the additional weight. “Not start one!”
“I thought it’d be a good idea,” Jesper pouted, looking ridiculously adorable. Wylan tried not to smile at him. “And it’s not like anybody else did it. I was creative.”

“You started a fire!” the instructor shrieked. “What is the code for this?! Someone tell me where the fire-extinguisher is!”

The other three goggled at the instructor who was still panicking. “Don’t you know where the basic fire safety things are?” somebody asked. The woman next to Jesper was now pacing near the wall, giving him a deathly glare.

“He stole my lighter,” she snapped. “He just took it, and used it on his own canvas. Now look!”
Wylan’s eyebrows rose horrified as he saw the fire had spread from Jesper’s canvas to the woman’s (admittedly beautiful) image of an arm bearing tattoos. Soon to follow was another man’s canvas with little flames licking at the edges. He stifled a snicker at the woman’s - hereby referred to as lighter-lady - face, which was a shade as red as his own hair. Possibly Nina’s.

Strangely the fire on Jesper’s canvas hadn’t touched his own yet, but the warmth and rapidly filling smoke of the room was probably making him miss things.

“Alright,” Wylan said slowly, trying to keep calm. “Jes - Jesper !”

The other boy was gone from his side and had started walking to Wylan’s easel, keeping two firm hands on either sides of it and ignoring the flames and heat. Wylan watched horrified as he casually lifted it and walked away, as if nearing massive flames was a usual thing for him.

“I got it,” Jesper grinned at Wylan, his movements still off-kilter. “I have your painting.”

Wylan’s cheeks burned red at that (how did he still manage to be like this when drunk ???) and he resisted the urge to kiss Jesper. “You - you,” he stuttered. “Thanks.” His cheeks felt like they were on fire, and he knew he was grinning like an idiot as he turned back to the growing flames and the panicking instructor.

“Alright, everybody clear out,” a woman from the group finally said. “Get out, everybody, it’s too small to burn the entire place down but we want to be cautious. The smoke might hurt some people. Start filing out guys, it’s going to be fine.”
Halfheartedly a man left, but the majority of them kept staring at the paintings that were still burning at a rapid pace. His own canvas was still being guarded in Jesper’s long arms - his cheeks were still tinged red and he looked away hastily - and he tried not to laugh at the hilarity nobody else found in this situation.

“Do you find this funny ?” Lighter-lady demanded. “How dare you?”

Wylan’s lips rose falteringly and he tried to straighten them uselessly. “I mean,” he managed, “it is hilarious. This is comedic gold. I want to write a story about this.”

Lighter-lady didn’t look amused and instead strengthened her death glare. Jesper on the other hand began laughing as well.

“I like that,” he said pointing to the flames. He pouted before adding, “I want to paint that.”

Wylan just about lost it, falling to his knees with a fit of laughter. “I know,” he said trying to stand back up. Jesper shot him a lopsided grin and offered a hand, his canvas still balanced in the other. “I know Jes, this is amazing. Best first date ever, regardless if we get kicked out or not.”

Lighter-lady didn’t seem to agree but he really didn’t give a damn.

“How dare you,” she hissed, “filthy people with absolutely no self respect to come here swaggering with absolute dirt and-”

She was cut off by a loud noise and the four other canvas’ all brilliantly on fire were covered with a strange white foam. The woman holding the fire extinguisher shifted her feet minutely seconds later a large portion of white foam covered Lighter-lady from head to toe, her body barely visible underneath it all.

“Well she was annoying,” said the woman handling the fire extinguisher. She sent a toothy grin to both Jesper and Wylan. “I hate people like that. Hope you two have a lovely… well, continuing date.”

Jesper shot her a radiant smile, completely unabashed while Wylan blushed and stuttered out a thanks, all three ignoring the lighter-lady’s hysterical screaming,

“So where exactly did the instructor go?” Wylan finally asked as he took note of everything in the room. The middle of it was an absolute mess of white foam, but thankfully nothing else had gotten damaged. Jesper woozily rested an arm around Wylan’s shoulder and he blushed but did nothing to get it off. Lighter-lady was standing in front of them, fuming as large globs of white foam fell off of her and she began directing her death-stare at the woman holding the fire-extinguisher. She in turn did nothing but wink.

“I found it!” they suddenly heard, and before Wylan knew it the instructor had run out and pulled out another fire extinguisher.

Promptly spraying Lighter-lady all over once again.

Chapter Text

His head fucking hurt.

His head really fucking hurt.

Wylan fluttered his eyes open and squinted at the soft light filtering through the blinds. He frowned at them and buried himself under the blankets, moaning softly as a pounding feeling in his head registered.

And as luck would have it, it happened just when the stop sign injury had been fading.

Fuck.

Twisting around in his blankets, he tried diving further down into his bed and pulled a pillow over it, probably sounding similarly to a walrus at that point.

“Here, I have Aleve and water.”

Wylan paused abruptly before a horrifying thought came to him. He peeked his head up from below the blankets to see Jesper with perfect hair and perfect eyes and no goddamn hangover staring at him with a perfect concerned expression.

Jesper, who had just witnessed him sound like aforementioned walrus.

It was too early for this bullshit,

Sinking his head back into the pillows with a loud moan, he tried balancing out the mortification and the throbbing in his head at the same time by badly ignoring Jesper. The other boy on the other hand, rather than leaving him alone, chose to nudge his blankets.

Poke. “Wylan.” Poke. “Wylan, come on.” Poke. Poke. Poke. “Wy, get out of the bed and drink some water.” Poke. Poke. Poke. “Just have an Aleve and I will let you get back to sleep alright?” Poke. Poke. Poke. Poke. “If you don’t stop I’m going to keep on poking you-”
Wylan hurtled upwards with ferocious speed before giving him a glare that would make Kaz proud. Jesper didn’t look impressed though (he cursed Kaz - nobody could ever one-up his glares) and instead peeled curls off of his face and back into his general hair mass before handing him the glass of water and two pills.

“Come on,” Jesper crooned, “it’ll make you feel better.”

Wylan made a face at his voice that definitely didn’t make his head feel better (lies). He reluctantly took the water and pill before quickly drinking it down. Immediately afterwards he sunk his head back into his bed and refused to move, despite Jesper’s nudging.

Finally, there was a pause. Wylan tried listening over the pounding of his own head but when he couldn’t detect anything, he smiled inwardly and relaxed as best as he could.

“Merchling if you don’t wake up I’m going to strip down to my boxers and climb right into that bed with you.”

Fuck.

With record time, Wylan had gotten himself untangled with the blanket, managed to avoid Jesper entirely and was heading for the bathroom so fast he was pretty sure he resembled nothing but a red streak to the other boy. Diving for the locked door, he frowned as Jesper swiftly opened it immediately after (he needed desperately to get the locks on his doors checked) and casually leaned against the other wall, as if standing in the same room as Wylan brushing and all around looking like a disconcerted mess was alright .

It was not .

“What happened last night?” Wylan finally asked with some difficulty as he splashed water into his face and winced at the pounding in his head. “I didn’t drink water before sleeping which is why I feel like hell. You?” He smeared toothpaste into his brush and rubbed it hard against his teeth, determined to get the disgusting remaining flavour out of his mouth.

Jesper (holy shit - did he blush???) made a face before running a hand through his hair awkwardly. “So I got drunk,” he said after a pause. Wylan nodded, remembering that portion of the night. “I don’t think you were drunk though right?”

Wylan nodded, spitting out some toothpaste while trying to make it look graceful. “High tolerance from my dad’s parties.” he explained. “I still get the hangover though. Which is unfair.”
Jesper grinned at that and ignored Wylan’s returning scowl, running a hand swiftly through Wylan’s beyond messy bedhead. “I’m the exact opposite,” he explained. “I can get really drunk and still stay perfectly without a hangover. Anyways, from what I remember there was a fire? And then we came back to your apartment and crashed because I woke up next to you.”

Wylan choked on his toothpaste, spitting it out violently. Jesper rubbed a hand on his back, soothingly in small circles and he regained his breath. “ What ?” he asked.

“We both had clothes on,” Jesper said assuredly. “We just happened to fall asleep together. Anyways, I made breakfast and saw the lovely painting you made last night - no idea how that survived the fire but it was too beautiful to burn - and so I propped it up in your living area.”

Wylan gave Jesper a grateful nod, spitting out his toothpaste again. “Bleh,” he said making a face. “And thanks, I really appreciate it.”

Jesper smiled at Wylan, this time definitely blushing. “I did not mean to get drunk though,” he said apologetically. “I am so sorry for completely ruining our first date.”

“You kidding me?” Wylan asked laughing, packing away his toothbrush. “It was great. It was so much more interesting than any other first date I’ve ever been too, and honestly I loved spending time with Drunk Jesper.” He gave Jesper a fond look. “It was fun. Don’t worry about it.”

“I still feel terrible,” Jesper said. Before Wylan could give him any more reassurances though, he spoke again. “And that’s why I’m going to be your Plus one at the mafia wedding to make up for it.”

Wylan choked again.

Chapter Text

“So do you have a suit?” Wylan kept the phone underneath his head, keeping it secure between his shoulder and head. He was sorting through his closet while trying to find an outfit nice enough to wear at a rehearsal, yet not the wedding itself.

“Yeah,” came Jesper’s voice through his phone. “I found a tuxedo. You?”

Wylan nodded before remembering that Jesper couldn’t see him. “Yeah, I have a suit,” he said distractedly. “Anyways, the rehearsal is in like, fifteen minutes and-”
“-I’m at your door,” Jesper responded instantly. Wylan sighed and put his phone away abruptly, not even bothering to say goodbye. Seconds later the door swung open and Jesper sauntered through, throwing himself into Wylan’s bed and ignoring the red in Wylan’s face.

“I need better locks,” Wylan muttered as he turned his attention back to his suits. “And I also really need an outfit good for a rehearsal. Jes, what are you wearing?”
He turned his head to see the boy looking ridiculously good in a simple set of jeans and a t-shirt. “Uh Jes,” he managed, cheeks turning red once more. “I don’t think that’s the dress code.”

Jes smiled at him innocently, battering his eyelashes and somehow pulling it off. “What,” he said pouting, “I don’t look handsome?”

Wylan turned back to his closet and chose not to dignify that with a response. “I’m going to go with this,” he finally said, pulling out a nice outfit he reserved for dinner parties. Shutting the closet, he turned around to see Jesper still lying there. “Jes, you have to go.”

“But do I?” Jesper lazily lifted his head and gave Wylan a half smirk. “I’ll see it all eventually.” He winked seducingly at Wylan while his own cheeks went bright red, blending in with his hair.

Out .”

After shoving the much taller boy out (while still laughing - Wylan suspected Jesper hadn’t been trying to stop him) he pulled on his own clothing before wrapping a casual tie around his neck and getting out of the room. Jesper was waiting patiently outside the room and his eyes traveled through Wylan’s body deliberately, slowing down purposely at his hips. Wylan tensed, his cheeks tinging pink with purpose.

Finally he smiled, a dark one filled with promise.

Wylan tried to avoid looking at his face in general.

“Let’s go,” Jesper finally said motioning with his head to the car. “We have… ten minutes before the bride or groom kills us, and seeing how it’s a mafia wedding rehearsal that is entirely possible.”

The tension cracked and Wylan let out a burst of laughter. “At least it’s going to be interesting,” he offered to the other boy as they made their way to the car. “And do you think we’ll have time to stop for coffee?”

Jesper’s look made him rethink because if Jesper thought it was a good idea, then it was probably a bad one.

#

“You’re late !”

Wylan flinched and Jesper protectively wrapped a hand around his shoulder. They both sent confused looks to the best man of the wedding (upon further research, Wylan had learned that his name was Vasily and he was primarily Italian).

“We’re late by,” Jesper checked his watch, “twenty-two seconds. To the rehearsal.”

Vasily nodded. “ Exactly ,” he said exasperatedly. “We cannot be twenty-two seconds late. We have to be twenty-two seconds early .”

Wylan raised his hand. “But what would be the point of that?” he asked. “Wouldn’t the twenty-two seconds be caught up on something else?”

Vasily nodded vigorously, throwing his hands up in the air and almost hitting Jesper. “Exactly!” he said pointing at Wylan. “There is the point I have been trying to make!”

“-But you weren’t even making it, you were saying something else,” Wylan tried to speak as Vasily abruptly began to walk away, leaving them to stand at the open front doors of the massive studio they were apparently hosting the wedding rehearsal at.

Wylan and Jesper exchanged looks before Jes shrugged. “We might as well keep going from here,” he told him. “You have your instrument right?” Wylan nodded and shifted his grip on his flute case.

“Boys!” It was Vasily, reappearing into sight.  “I understand that you harbour a star-crossed romance that cannot be ignored but today it will be ignored. Come.”

Jesper sighed loudly at that before walking down with Vasily, one hand clutching Wylan’s while Wylan held his flute in the other. Vasily began randomly stating facts about the doors and the windows, pausing halfway at a random door and pointing.

Clapping a shoulder onto his back, he grabbed Jesper and began steering the taller boy away. “Have fun!” Vasily cried to a startled Jesper and Wylan. “That’s the groom’s door - Bollinger - so just open it and introduce yourself.”

They faded away into a small blur and Wylan turned back around to stare at the groom’s door. He raised his hand for a couple of seconds before drawing it back, hesitating. He tried again, and finally a few seconds later he lightly knocked it against the door. There was silence, and he frowned before rapping his fist against the door one more time.

“Come in!”

Wylan frowned. The voice was surprisingly cheerful for a mafia person. But then again… he thought of Sergie.

Shrugging it off, he swung the door open and blinked a few times to process the bright orange room he was in front of. He couldn’t even see the groom yet, but every corner of the room was covered with bright orange paint and yellow glitter, as well as a mannequin’s head haphazardly placed on top of a lopsided cabinet, missing a leg on its side. He swallowed before entering fully, turning right to see a large section of the room covered in mirrors and in front of those, a man in a chair doing his makeup.

“You’re Big Bollinger?” Wylan asked swallowing, wrapping his fingers tightly around his case. Bollinger was large, made mostly out of muscle similarly to the others around him. Bollinger nodded and gave him a tight smile, more out of etiquette than anything else.

“Do me a favor would you?” Bollinger asked after an awkward silence for a few seconds. “Can you make sure my eyeliner is even?”
Wylan hesitantly drew himself close to Bollinger's eye and nodded, before pausing and shaking his head. “A little off on the left eye,” he told Bollinger truthfully. The man nodded before turning back to the mirror himself and adjusting it.

“Now?”

He squinted. “Better but the blush is a little too prominent.” Was he trying to die ? he asked himself inwardly as his words finally registered. He had just told a massive mafia groom that his makeup wasn’t good. Death was almost certain for him.

“Dammit,” Bollinger cursed as he grabbed a small handkerchief and dabbed his cheek. “My blush is always a little too strong, but if I don’t put enough it never appears.” A small trail of cursing followed after that and it only stopped after Wylan gave him a satisfied awkward thumbs up.

“You’re sure I look good?” he fretted. Wylan nodded silently once more, rubbing his fingers against his flute case tightly.

“Positive,” he gave Bollinger a firm nod before looking at his flute case and then back at Bollinger. “Also, is there anyway I can tune this or have you listen to the flute music? I’m not sure about the music Sergie chose and…” he trailed off.

Bollinger nodded understandingly. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “Chum Drum Bedrum by the Weird Russian Singer, if I remember correctly?”

Wylan nodded, remembering the music video for it. “Yeah. The real name for it is 7th Element and the real singer is Vitas but yes.”

“It’s not actually made for the flute is it?” Bollinger asked curiously. “How did you do that?”

Wylan thought back to the music sheets he had been given and then the variation he had actually chosen to play of the song. “I listened to the music a lot,” he admitted, “and then I just kept on thinking about a way to play it that would sound good. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to play the background chords of the woman in the song, but aside from that issue, I should be good.”
Bollinger smiled. “I may have a solution for that,” he muttered and Wylan cocked his head.

“What?”

“Nothing,” the man brushed off. “Just the ramblings of a groom. Anyways, are you sure I look good for the wedding?”
“It’s just the rehearsal?” Wylan replied instead, scanning at the man’s fancy garb and well-done face. Bollinger nodded impatiently.

“I know, but seriously, do I look good?”

“Great?”
“Great!”
Bollinger clapped a large hand on Wylan’s shoulder and began guiding him out the room. “You’ll be surrounding the wedding group with your own group-” what group? he thought confused “-and your Plus one will be seated with us obviously. You’ll occasionally get brakes so you can dance with your Plus one - who will it be?” he paused and Wylan swallowed.

“Jesper,” he finally said. “Jesper Fahey.”
Bollinger’s eyes narrowed. “As in the boy who hangs out with Kaz Brekker? The boy who once bleached our buildings with a curse word so disgusting even we cringed?”
Wylan winced. “Yeah, he’s a really… “ he thought of Jesper when they’d first met - smiling and a dashing knight in shining armour (he absentmindedly blushed at the thought) - and then at their date, drunk and so innocent yet still cared enough to save his painting when the rest were burning. “Amazing,” he finally chose. “I’m sorry the two of you haven’t gotten along in the past.”

Bollinger studied Wylan carefully for a while. “I see you really like him,” he finally said grudgingly. “And who am I to invade the careful workings of love? After all,” he smiled vaguely and ignored Wylan’s choked sounds, “my beautiful Gretina is waiting for me and soon we shall be married.”

Wylan thought of Oksanochka and seriously doubted that Gretina was waiting for Bollinger as doe-eyed as he did her but figured that she must have loved him pretty much anyways. “Well,” Wylan finally said, shifting out of Bollinger’s grip. “How about we head for the dinner and I start playing the music we’ve prepared for the wedding.”

Bollinger nodded understandingly. “Of course, I can understand how you’d like to be prepared before you have to meet them.” Who the hell is them ? Wylan asked frustratedly.

“Who is… them?” Wylan finally asked hesitantly.

Bollinger blinked at Wylan a few times. “You’re joking right?” he asked Wylan before starting to walk away. “That’s funny.”
“I’m really not,” Wylan muttered under his breath as he hurried to catch up to the quickly disappearing figure. “Fuck, this is why you don’t offer to play at mafia weddings.”

#

“Well you can have a break for a while before we start and find Jesper,” the man made a face and Wylan wondered with a small amount of amusement whether Jesper set every place he visited on fire, “to… do your young things with. Make love if you will.”

Wylan’s face turned an alarming shade of red and he profusely thanked the Gods he didn’t believe in that Jesper wasn’t anywhere near him currently.

“See merchling?” His heart froze as he heard the familiar velvety voice. “Even the people that hate me think we’d make an amazing couple.”

Wylan turned around to see Jesper’s chest (and amazing muscles - he inwardly swooned and then scolded himself for it) before tilted his head upwards to see Jesper’s smirk. “What no response?” Jesper asked after more than a few seconds passed. “Could you be agreeing with me about us being in an amazing relationship?” he asked as his expression shifted into what looked like amusement and… desire. Wylan tried to hide his shiver. “Wylan…” he paused as Wylant tried to get a response together. “Do you want to find a corner and make our young love together?”
Instantly Wylan leaned forward and began hacking out a cough, regardless of the delicate flute in his hands that was still out in the open. Jesper immediately stepped forward and pulled his flute away from him, carefully resting it on the desk. He gently pulled Wylan into a hug and rubbed his back gently, helping him get his breath back.

“Jesus Jesper,” he finally managed after a few minutes. “You can’t just say stuff like that!”
Jesper tilted his head so they could look each other in the eye. “Actually,” he smiled a little and Wylan tried not to swoon again, “I was told never to lie about my future as a child.”

His face bled red and as a loud cry was heard from before them, he had never been so grateful. There was a call for ring bearer going around and Jesper gently untangled them before guiding Wylan to the person calling for the ring bearer.

“What are you doing?” Wylan asked as they were only a few steps away from the ring bearer. Jesper raised a hand at the man who, upon seeing his face cringed, but then gave him a small box. Jesper thanked him before turning back to Wylan.

“Did you just get the fake rings for the wedding?” Wylan asked confused.

Jesper grinned. “Apparently their ring bearer was the best man,” he explained to Wylan. “And apparently the best man has a penchant for misplacing things. He also punched the DJ thrice in the face which is why the DJ quiet and they had to get you instead, but the point is that they needed to get a reliable ring bearer and naturally I am the first one to fit the category.” He shot Wylan a breathtaking grin and Wylan swore his heart stuttered.

“You were also the only one around, I’m guessing,” Wylan said as dryly as possible. “And they explicitly told you that this was only for the rehearsal?”
Jesper pouted. “You’re such a buzzkiller,” he complained to Wylan. “Trust me, if Inej helps me I can totally get rid of the best man and I’ll just officially be part of this wedding! Super easy.”

“Is it even legal?” Wylan asked hesitantly. “Probably not, guessing that I’m talking about the mafia and you guys, but I really hope you aren’t killing him.”

Jesper winked. “Only a little.”

Wylan actually drew back at that, giving him a horrified look before Jesper broke out into laughter, leaning into Wylan just the tiniest bit. Wylan hid his smile before leaning back into him a little and the two began to make their way for one of the tables arranged in the center. In front of them was a small stage (probably where the actual ceremony was going to be held) and all around the tables was a massive space, closed off by the few feet rise in level and fancy decorated barriers.

“Jesper Llewellyn Fahey!” they heard after they sat down and Wylan sighed, preparing for another barrage of insults. Even Jesper sighed and they both turned their heads to where they had heard the voice.

Unsurprisingly, it was another man made up of nothing but muscle and tattoos. Wylan felt his breath pause from the sheer fear that arrived when seeing a six foot five bald man approach you but it disappeared. It seemed that Vasily and Bollinger had helped, Wylan thought to himself satisfied.

The man stopped at Jesper and Wylan’s table looking heavily out of breath before turning to look both in the eye individually, loud pants filling the air as he did. “What?” Jesper finally asked, raising an eyebrow after a couple of moments had passed.

The man blew out his breath once more. “Just got out of the claws of Bollinger,” he inhaled sharply, “and they say that Bridezillas exist, but this Groomzilla would blow ‘em right outta the water.” Wylan gave him a sympathetic look while Jesper just snorted with amusement.

“I’m not sure we would want to blow them out of the water for this category,” Jesper said with the smallest smirk and Wylan found himself agreeing with the dark skinned boy.

“Anyways,” the man sucked in another sharp breath, “Jesper doesn’t have a job does he? Everybody needs a job, so if he doesn’t have a job then Bollinger assigned one to him.”

“I have a job,” Jesper said offended. “I am the ring bearer.”
The man snorted, shooting him a glare. “Bullshit,” he said sharply. Giving Wylan a glance, he looked as though he wanted support from a sane person. “Right?”

Wylan bit his lip and sighed, ignoring Jesper’s puppy face to side with him. “No, Jes is actually the ring bearer,” he finally said barely managing to not roll his eyes. “Apparently the best man punched and misplaced things a little too many times so Jesper got put onto the job instead.”

The man bit his lip but ultimately decided that Wylan was correct. “Alright,” he finally said, albeit reluctantly. “Wylan then, since you’re not playing for the rehearsal-” why am I forced to stay for the entire thing then? Wylan thought/asked sadly, “-I’m going to need your help in the kitchen.”

Wylan squinted and him and even Jesper made a face. “Is that some messed up gay joke about how gay people should work in the kitchens while the ‘real men’ do the ‘real work’?” Jesper asked sharply, giving the man a cutthroat glare. “And how do you know my middle name?”
They all broke out of the conversation to give Jesper a look. “How does that even remotely apply currently?” Wylan asked exasperatedly. The man rolled his eyes skyward.

“Obviously because I am secretly God,” he said with a hundred percent confidence. “God knows it all child.”

Jesper shot him a sickly sweet smile and pantomimed cutting his head off as soon as the man’s face was turned to Wylan. He fought back a laugh. “Anyways,” the man said, “the head baker’s son got sick out of the blue and now he has to bring his son to the doctor. So we figured that you would know how to bake. So take it over.”

Wylan shot the man a squinty look. “I’ve baked twice in my life,” he informed the man coolly, ignoring Jesper’s snickering from behind. “Jes, seriously?”
“Just help them out,” Jesper said supportingly. “Trust me - if you screw up, then at least it’s the rehearsal dinner and now the real wedding. This is what these things are for. Also I can imagine you in a hot kitchen,” he bit his lip seducingly and Wylan’s cheeks flushed, “with some of your buttons undone from the heat and you’re all red and sweaty from the work-”

The man coughed loudly to interrupt. “Please continue when I’m not here,” he said loudly while Wylan choked with embarrassment, cheeks still a blazing red. Jesper just shot them both a smug smirk before wrapping a warm comforting hand to his side, either to help him or make him choke some more. I choke too much around these people, he thought to himself. Seriously, I’m going to die at forty.

They waited until the man had left to speak again. “You can’t just say that in front of people!” Wylan said loudly, turning to face Jesper.

“So I can do it when we’re alone?” Jesper asked, lowering his voice and looking around. “Because nobody’s looking at us right now so I can probably say the entire list of things I’ve been planning and-”

“I-,” Wylan broke in and Jesper shot him a dark smile, “I need to bake.”

Ignoring Jesper’s heavy gaze, he abruptly marched off and headed straight into one hall with absolutely no idea where he was going.

Chapter Text

Naturally he got hopelessly lost within the next five minutes and finally called it to an end when he reached a room filled with mannequins with wigs on them holding (real? fake?) guns in their hands.

“The mafia is strange,” Wylan muttered under his breath as he saw the open door. Quickly stepping forward, he swung the door closed before he could see anything else he didn’t want to see and turned around, glaring at the dark walls and long halls in front of him. He had no idea where to go.

“You!”

Wylan quickly turned his head to see Vasily come from another hall (where did Vasily even come from? On that issue, where did the hall come from???). “Hey,” he said weakly half worried that the mannequin room was actually the place where they kept their guns and strange Russian music videos. “I got lost.”

Vasily nodded impatiently. “I understand that. Now for the love of God, come with me.”

“But you don’t even know where I’m going-” Wylan started weakly before resigning himself to being dragged around uselessly by Vasily once again.

Several minutes later he found himself standing in front of the doors to the kitchen with Vasily walking off once more. “Wait,” Wylan called after his fading figure. “How did you even know where I was going… nevermind.” Vasily was already gone.

Shaking his head to ward off any creepy thoughts about mafia mind readers, he swung open the doors and stepped inside.

To an empty kitchen. A low constant hum filled the room, the kind that only came in important places that were usually filled by many people working on many big things. The counters were an expensive marble and filled to the top with bowls holding different substances. The walls had a bright lighting and the entire thing reminded him creepily of a ghost kitchen, filled with things that needed to have people working on them. There were half finished bowls everywhere and briefly Wylan wondered whether when the baker taking care of his sick child was actually a euphemism for twenty bakers taking care of an army. There were big black fridges on the sides, and he stepped inside and began looking around. Walking to a bowl, he looked at it and twisted it from side to side. It looked like a lemony mixture.

But then again, he had only baked like, twice in his life.

And he had gone through a good twenty-one years of life.

“Hello!”
Holy fuck!” Wylan screamed, jumping a good three feet in the air. Grabbing his hair at the roots and giving them a good tug, he spun around to see another man that looked like… Sergie.

“Wylan!”

The man pulled Wylan into one of the tightest hugs he had ever been in and then pushed him back, as if examining how much he had changed since the few weeks that had passed. “Hey,” Wylan said sheepishly to Sergie.

“You look so grown up!” Sergie blustered to him cheerfully. Wylan avoided raising an eyebrow, but he was pretty sure his expression was confused.

“You have longer hair, you have nice shoes, oh you look so mature!” Sergie exclaimed, pulling on a strand of Wylan’s hair teasingly. “How is that boy that came to get you from us? Jesper right? I hear you’re dating!”
What?” Wylan asked, trying to get a word in. “We went on a date, it went great,” - Sergie’s eyes sparkled mischievously at that and Wylan suddenly had a feeling that the local mafia ran Flute and Ink - “but we’re not dating. He’s here at the wedding. He’s my uh, Plus one.” If possible, Sergie smiled even larger at that. He laughed nervously. “Sergie, it hasn’t been that long.”

The larger man clapped his hands together loudly. “It’s been forever , Wylan. You’re like, my best friend. For ever .”

Fucking mafia.

“You’re a really good friend of mine too,” Wylan laughed nervously, clapping Sergie lightly on his arm. “And shouldn’t we be baking?”

“What’s your number?”

“Um,” Grabbing his phone, he pulled it out and began typing out the digit for the other man to write down. Sergie did the same and a few minutes later Wylan tried asking the question again. “Shouldn’t we be baking?”

Sergie clapped his hands together cheerfully. “Yes, we should. Oksanochka is going to ki- murde- dispose of us for not doing anything for the past few minutes.”

Wylan paled as he remembered the massive tattooed woman who had stared him down. “Christ, we should start baking then.”

Sergie nodded before leading him to a random bowl that was probably halfway through being made. It was thick and gooey and a rich dark brown, almost like chocolate cake. “That’s chocolate cake,” Sergie explained for him. “Well, unfinished but whatever.” At this he tossed his hair and vaguely resembled a shampoo model. “Just add eggs, flour, milk, and mix. And then repeat with every other bowl down this counter.”

Wylan looked at the fifteen or so bowls filled with varying shades shoved onto the counter of the massive kitchen and gave Sergie a questionable look. “Sergie,” he said slowly, “I don’t know anything about baking or things like that, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that.”

Sergie nodded rapidly. “I know that! That’s why when I heard you were coming to work with me, I arranged everything so all you need to do is add a one cup of all of those ingredients and mix it all together. It’s super easy.”

Wylan’s heart warmed at that and he gave Sergie a fond smile. “Thank you,” he told the man with gratitude heavy in his voice. Sergie gave him a surprisingly sober thumbs up.

“Now let’s go!” he clapped heavy hand on Wylan’s back. “We need to start baking.” He himself walked to the opposite side of the kitchen and began working. Wylan looked around for a while trying to find eggs, and finally found all the necessary ingredients gathered on the opposite counter from his designated one. “Thank you,” he muttered to Sergie once again, and grabbed a single egg. Feeling it out on his hand, he finally cracked it heavily against the side of the bowl, expecting a perfect crack to appear on the side of it.

Instead it exploded in his hand and about fifty shells fell into the bowl, half the yolk pouring out while another half of it decorated the side of the bowl. Even his hand was covered in the mixture and he glared at the mess. “Fuck!” he said loudly before cautiously looking at Sergie who was still happily baking on his side of the room. He looked at the yolk horrified before grabbing a paper towel and quietly cleaning up the side of the bowl and dirty countertop. Trying to find a trash bin before giving up, he looked at the shells in the bowl pensively.

“Well,” Wylan muttered to himself. “It’s a good thing it’s a rehearsal dinner.”

Briefly considering Googling whether you could take shattered egg shells out of a cake mix and whether it would still be healthy to eat the cake after it was baked, he thought about it and just as he was going to pull his phone out with a hand that wasn’t covered in egg-y nonsense Sergie began speaking. “Everything all right?”

Wylan gave the man a thumbs up. “It’s great!” He gave him a wonky smile before trying to straighten it out. “Trust me.”

Sergie nodded satisfied before returning to his own baking, face flat with concentration. Wylan looked back at his own bowl and the million shells. Fuck. He had to fix it before Sergie saw. Sergie had done so much to make sure it worked out for him. Quietly he tucked his hand into his back pocket and tried pulling his phone out.

“I think Big Bollinger and Gretina are a wonderful couple.”

Wylan’s head snapped out and he tried to hide his hand behind his back. Sergie was looking at him again and there was a brightness to his face. Wylan gave him another thumbs up. “I haven’t met Gretina, but I think Bollinger is a great person.”

Sergie sent him a goofy grin before returning the thumbs up and turning back to his baking. Wylan kept his eyes on Sergie before he was completely reassured that Sergie wasn’t going to look back at him again.

He slowly moved his hand toward his pocket and clasped his fingers around his phone, lightly tugg-

“Do you think the wedding is a little too early?”

Wylan’s fingers flew away from the bowl and he looked up at Sergie who was staring him in the face. Wylan bit his lip with frustration before replying. “I don’t know much about them,” he told Sergie carefully. “But Bollinger is definitely very much in love with Gretina.”

Sergie nodded slowly. “But they only became a couple a few months ago. This wedding is too early .” He bit his lip and made his face resemble a definite pout.

Mafia .

“Can I come over?”

Wylan finally gives up and pushes his bowl away from him the tiniest bit. “Sure,” he told Sergie and in a matter of seconds the other man was next to him while talking about the wedding.

“Sure I think Bollinger and Gretina are amazing people, but they’re so gooey and upfront about their love and it’s so irritating and I absolutely hate it but they’re so nice and Gretina can rip a man apart in five seconds and she’s so amazing and so is Bollinger but they’re not meant for each other and I find that so frustrating because it’s like they're throwing away their life-”

Wylan put a gentle hand on Sergie’s shoulder and drew him close. “Sergie,” he said slowly. “Do you love Bollinger or Gretina?”

Sergie pulled away softly and began tossing the appropriate measurements for the flour, milk and sugar into the chocolate mix without saying anything. Wylan thought about warning him about the shells but finally decided against it, letting the man mix it together in silence. Finally Sergie let out a loud sniffle.

“I’m poly and I love them both.” Another sniffle. “But they’re straight and love each other.”

“It’s okay,” Wylan said sympathetically. “There will be more people. And they will be poly.”

“But not Gretina or Bollinger!” Sergie said loudly, almost overturning the bowl. It shook for a while and they stared with terror until it stood still again. “Nobody in the world is like them.”

Wylan started patting him again. “Shh,” he crooned to the larger man. “Just keep on baking. It’s therapeutic.”

He had absolutely no idea what he was doing, but apparently it was helping.

Sergie sent him a watery smile before moving onto the next bowl and single-handedly cracking an egg. Wylan withheld his gasp of envy and admiration and chose to continue patting Sergie instead. “Don’t worry,” he told Sergie. “There are other people who will love you for being awesome Serg.”

“There will?” Sergie sniffed again.

Yes .”

“Positive?”
Yes.” They moved onto a new bowl.

And that was how they spent the next hour.

Chapter Text

“Oh my God how is it possible for food to smell this good?”

Wylan turned his head (and shifted his body from behind countless ovens that were not taller than he was dammit ) to see Jesper come in from the doorway he had arrived in, and pause to stare at the glory that was forty cakes Wylan had absolutely no hand in baking.

The man who had actually baked them was currently sleeping (in a hippie-like coloured hammock that was hidden behind some ovens??? What did this mafia even do ?) and snoring very loudly, so Jesper arched an eyebrow and stared at all the cakes Wylan had in front of him.

“So either you managed to bake all fifty of these cakes with absolutely no help and no previous experience,” Jesper said with the smallest smirk on his face, “or you didn’t help at all and the guy who actually did it is snoring from exhaustion and sleep deprivation because he had to make all of these.”

Wylan pretended to sniff pretentiously. “Obviously the first one, “ he said calmly. “Because I happen to know for a fact that the baker of all these cakes is actually sleeping in a hammock for another reason.”

If possible, Jesper’s eyebrow raised even higher. “Merchling,” Jesper said with the slightest bit of a laugh in his voice. “That could have sounded very different if I didn’t know that you were saving your heart for me.” He finished the sentence with an obtrusive wink and Wylan’s cheeks flushed their trademark red.

He crossed his arms and tried to look like he wasn’t the shade of a regular forest fire. “And how do you know that I am?”

Jesper sent Wylan another smirk before saying in a low voice, “Because if you weren’t I’d have to punish you.”

“No.” Wylan turned around and began to walk away, heading for the other door. “No.”

Jesper burst into bright laughter at him before following him, leaving no distance between them as he slung an arm around his waist. Wylan tried not to lean into him too much and failed. “Well, the fake ceremony starts soon,” he told Wylan, “and we’re going to need to wake up a giant and get to the ceremony.”

“Ugh, yeah,” Wylan muttered. Poor Sergie. It wasn’t his fault he was in love with two people that weren’t poly. “And you have literally no right to call Sergie a giant. You too, are a giant.”

“Ah but I’m a hot giant,” Jesper said winking, “and that automatically gives me a get-out-of-jail free card.”

Wylan raised his eyebrow. “In what world?”
“The world where you’re the police officer in,” he wriggled his eyebrows, “charge of me.”

“No.”

Trying to ignore the warm arm around his waist, he shifted to his side so he could head toward Sergie. Jesper matched his steps (which had to be a feat because he knew for a fact that Jesper had a much longer stride) and they headed toward the multicolored hippie hammock he was on. Staring dubiously at his figure, Wylan looked at Jesper. “You want to wake him up?”

Jesper shrugged before shaking his shoulder lightly. “Up you go mate.”

Nothing happened.

Wylan gave Jesper a questionable look before trying himself. “Up,” he said shaking Sergie’s shoulder. “C’mon Sergie, let’s go.”

Nothing.

Jesper threw his hands up in exasperation before looking around and disappearing from view. Wylan bit his lip before refraining from questioning it and just kept shaking Sergie’s shoulder uselessly. Steadily he got a little more violent until Sergie’s entire body was shaking.

Nope, still nothing.

“Head’s up!”
Wylan turned his head quickly to see Jesper carrying two massive metal bowls in a cymbal like position. Quickly realizing what he was going to do, Wylan clutched his ears tightly.

Bang!”
The crash was ear-splitting and Wylan winced, sinking a little away from Sergie. He turned to see Jesper grimacing himself. They looked at Sergie.

Who was still motionless.

It was official, the man had died in his sleep.

“Maybe try again?” Wylan suggested reluctantly and Jesper hid his grimace before crashing the two bowls against themselves loudly again.

Bang !”

Several bowls fell out of their positions and Wylan swore he heard the floor shake. Wylan looked at Sergie. Nothing.

He threw his hands up in the air with exasperation. “Jesus Christ!” he said loudly, “what wakes this man up?”
Jesper put the two massive metal bowls on the floor before stepping up next to Wylan. “Maybe we can suffocate him into waking up?” he suggested, though Wylan suspected it was more of a strategy to murder him than anything else.

No , Jesper, we’re not killing him.”

Jesper pouted and looked ridiculously adorable.

No .”

“Alright then,” he finally decided. “You grab his…. hold on!”

Shoving his hands in his pockets, he dug through them before finding the prototype of the flash bomb he had finally officially put together. “Here, Jesper close your eyes and ears.”

Wylan directed himself near Sergie yet not exactly there and closed his eyes himself before throwing his flash bomb high into the air. Hitting the ground with a loud crack , it suddenly exploded into a massive cloud of light and smoke. Covering himself with his arms, he turned to see Jesper doing the same.

“Here,” Jesper muttered, covering Wylan with his arms effectively. Then he hid his face into Wylan’s back. He tried not to shiver from the close exposure to him, but he was pretty sure he had failed. Jesper was so ho…

…. and he was not going there when he was pressed so tightly against the taller boy.

“What the fuck!?!”

Wylan and Jesper slowly pulled apart to see Sergie’s figure almost jump out of the hammock. He yawned sleepily and looked at the flash bomb cloud of smoke before covering his own face. “What the fuck happened here?”

Wylan bit his lip sheepishly. “We were trying to wake you up.”

“Why what time is it?”

“Almost time for the fake ceremony,” Jesper informed them. “We really have to go - I’m the ring bearer.”

Fuck !”

Chapter Text

As the fake ceremony happened, Wylan quietly played his flute in the background and tried to ignore Jesper’s various advances/facial features/being in general. He watched a tall woman (who was somehow larger than Bollinger??? How did that even happen?) walk down an aisle with a massive smile on her face, despite it not being real. Bollinger smiled just as widely on the other end, the both of them exchanging adoring expressions.

Wylan winced and looked at Sergie who was watching the (fake) proceedings with a heartbreaking expression.

Slowly panning out, he watched silently with the rest of the Ketterdam Mafia as Jesper held out a box of rings and Gretina slowly slid a ring up Bollinger’s finger. Bollinger did the same and finally they kissed lightly.

Wylan swallowed and looked back at Sergie, who’s expression hadn’t changed. Quietly he moved himself from the corner of the room to one of the back pews where he quietly watched the rest of the proceedings happen. A few moments later Jesper joined him as the wedding planner began talking them through what happened next.

“What happened to Sergie is really sad,” Wylan whispered turning his head to see Jesper-

-who was apparently now a heavily muscled six feet tall woman with killer shark eyes and went by the name Oksanochka the last time he had seen her.

“Fuck.”

Oksanochka turned her head to Wylan and pursed her lips. “I know what Sergie is going through,” she said quietly in return. “It isn’t a secret to me.”

Wylan nodded. “Ah. So do you run this gang or…?”
She shook her head. “I run this gang directly, but there’s a bigger mafia we’re apart of. We’re just this branch of it.”

Wylan had no idea if regular mafia’s worked like this, but he didn’t want to question anything when a woman with a (probable) gun on her was right next to him.

“So Sergie told you?” she said quietly, in a tone that told him it wasn’t a question. “He’s a heartbroken man.”

Wylan nodded again. “Yeah,” he said quietly. Didn’t mafia etiquette dictate that they all had to be super tough all the time? He didn’t mention the fact that Sergie had cried on his shoulder, figuring it would mess with his image.

Oksanochka nodded before sighing heavily. “Oh these people,” she said quietly. “When I joined a gang, I didn’t expect to love them all by the time I was done.”

“You’re retiring?” he asked, scanning her face. She didn’t look very old - maybe hitting thirty or a little over - but she was still far younger than his father. She smiled a little, a strange smile that made her look a little less human than she already did.

“In my business,” she said lowly, “nobody really stays a long time. We all go after a while. We are all eventually too old for the job.”

Wylan swallowed at that, remembering some of the stuff the mafia did in their free time. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “That makes sense.”

She let out a long sigh as she scanned the quiet room once again. “I’m going to have to tell everybody in this room eventually,” she said slowly, exhaling as if it pained her. “Gretina and Bollinger will be the new heads of this branch.”

Wylan stayed quiet, not sure if she wanted him to say anything. Privately he thought she sounded much more like an age old grandmother than a mafia branch owner, but then again, this mafia didn’t really fit any of the regular stereotypes.

“I’m sure they’ll understand,” he finally said after a couple beats of silence.

Oksanochka shot him a small smile, a real one. It was so different to the figure he had first met. “Maybe in a while. Stay with him alright?”
“Who?”

“Sergie,” she patted his arm. “He’s a good man. Maybe a little too volatile, but he’s got a big heart.”

Wylan’s throat dried. “Um, Oksanochka, madame , um I hate to tell you but-”

“You really like Jesper?” she asked with a hint of amusement in her voice. “I’m aware. Just stay friends with Sergie. He’s a good man.”

Wylan nodded dully, fully intending on staying in contact with Sergie even after the wedding.

“And with Jesper too. You really like that boy.”
She was gone before Wylan could come up with a response, but then again, he figured later, that there wouldn’t really be one even if she had stayed.

Chapter Text

E X T R A

KNOCKOUT

in which she is not a lynx, but a fighter

***

Dodging left takes a surprising amount of skill, Inej learns. The girl in front of her is a whirl of punches and kicks and Inej hides her wince as another fist makes contact and breaks skin. It will be a nasty bruise in the morning, one that will slow her down during her next fight.

Forgive me , Inej prays to her Saints silently. The girl in front of her is so young, only around her own age. She still moves like her younger cousin once did though - awkwardly, as if scared of the world approaching her - and it is this resemblance that makes it hard to find it in herself to take the other girl out. A problem, Inej notes dryly, that the other girl is not having by any means.

She pauses for a split second, urging the anger inside her to rise up. It always does - Tante Heleen’s smiles, her slaps, her bloody pinches and hugs - will never fail to make it all drown out with rage and Inej prays for herself as the punch lands directly onto the other girl’s nose. She prays for the young girl in front of her, falling to her knees with a loud bang .

The next moments come in a blur, as they always do. She is granted her ever growing pile of kruge and just as she is used too, the entire thing is handed to Heleen in less than a minute. The woman herself gives an ever present gloating smile to Inej before hugging her tightly around the waist and hissing sharp reprimands about never being distracted during a fight again. She lets go and Inej walks out and takes a deep breath - her first since the fight.

“Impressive fight out there.”

A rasp. Inej’s head turns sharply to see a boy on the other side of her, clad in a dark coat that reaches his long legs and a haircut shaved on one side, meant to give him a menacing look she figures. He has cheap black gloves on his hands and emblazoning it all is a silver cane, pushed into the ground and rusty with overuse.

She doesn’t say anything - merely looks at this tall handsome odd boy - and he takes this as his chance to go on.

“Inej Ghafa,” he says slowly and then waits a beat, as if waiting for something from her. She doesn’t respond, but he continues nonetheless. “I can help you.”

Silently she stares at this dark boy, who looks about as old as she is. But at the same time there is something different about him and it only comes with living in the harsh reality that is Ketterdam. He is not like the other fools that come to her, waving their hips and hair in a manner they hope is appealing to her.

She will die in a few years if she lives like this. That she knows. Being a street fighter for Heleen is a slow death, a thousand cuts making their way on her and eventually she will fall from them. Something needs to happen and she needs a way out of this life if she wants to return to her home.

This boy may be her only chance at living another life.

Very slowly, she finally gives her response. “What is your offer?”

***

E N D   O F   E X T R A

Chapter Text

For once in his life, things were going pretty normal for him. He was at his coffee shop again, drinking it plain black. Henry and Dana were at it again, with Muzzen and Paja egging both sides on individually. For once, the mafia wasn’t right there, Jesper wasn’t turning him the shade of a stop sign, he wasn’t worried Inej was going to fall to her very bad and painful death from a seventy-four story building, Nina and Matthias weren’t exchanging love confessions (and ultimately making him feel like a very dedicated pervert), and Kaz wasn’t appearing out of nowhere. Life was going pretty well.

“Hello Wylan.”

“What the fuck!” He slammed his coffee down onto the table loudly and stared at Kaz’s figure in front of him, which had definitely not been there before. Screw what he had been thinking earlier - he was never going to be free of Kaz’s ability to stalk everybody at the same time .

Kaz frowned. “I was positively loud that time,” he told Wylan. “You could hear my footsteps.”

Wylan exhaled slowly, letting his heart rate return to normal before he died from a heart attack. ‘Killed by Kaz Brekker’s silence’, he mused in his head, wouldn’t be a very bad label for his gravestone.

“No Kaz,” Wylan said inhaling now. “You were not ‘positively’ loud. I’m not sure you’re positively anything.”

Kaz considered this silently for a while before giving the tiniest grin that made him look a little less than human. “That might not be entirely inaccurate.”

Keeping both eyes on Kaz, Wylan slowly lifted his coffee to his lips again and drank a couple more sips. Kaz on the other hand, lazily scanned the room before sitting down in the chair on the other side of him. Wylan bit his lip and didn’t say anything.

“So is there a reason to why you’re here?” Wylan finally ventured to ask. Kaz examined Wylan carefully, before looking behind him in a strangely paranoid fashion. “Do you need help with anything?”

Kaz scoffed, before making a strange hand gesture at the window that looked a bit like a deranged crow. Was he signaling to Inej? “I wouldn’t ask you for help. I would blackmail it out of you.”

Wylan chose not to say anything to that.

Seconds later, Inej walked into the coffee shop casually before scanning the room out and seeing the two of them there. Wylan watched as Inej sat down next to Kaz and he figured that this was probably the part where they told him not to hurt Jesper or they’d murder him. That was pretty much how every ridiculous romcom worked anyway.

“Hi Wylan,” she greeted cheerfully and Wylan shot her a nice smile, reminded of why he liked Inej more than her boyfriend/crush/vandalizing hooligan he had never actually seen doing anything criminal. “It’s nice to see you here.”

“It’s great to see you too,” Wylan responded smiling. “Lately I’ve been a little busy.”

She pursed her lips, and Wylan’s brow creased as he realized that Inej hadn’t looked at Kaz a single time during the conversation. “I heard of the mafia wedding rehearsal and everything. If something goes wrong, just call us and we’ll answer immediately.”

“Thanks,” Wylan said gratefully, taking another long sip out of his coffee cup. “Also, I don’t think I ever actually thanked you for getting me out of the mafia building the first time. I was absolutely terrified of that place and you guys really helped.” He looked at Kaz (who was subtly looking at Inej) and Inej (who was determinedly staring Wylan in the face and nowhere else).

Inej nodded serenely. “Nina and I have a tradition of going out to a pretty small waffle place called the Barrell every Friday. You’re invited, if you want to come.”

“I thought Friday was for the gang’s movie night?” Kaz interrupted immediately, cutting Wylan off of his sentence. Inej shot him an annoyed look, and Wylan realized.

The two of them were having a fight .

Fuck. He was being brought into the fight. Also, Kaz was signaling the weird deranged crow hand figure to somebody that was not Inej.

“You interrupted Wylan,” Inej said instead. “Apologize Kaz.”

Kaz raised an eyebrow at her and they stared silently for a while. Wylan took another sip out of his cup and took out his phone, making a mental note to send the picture he was taking to Jesper and Nina.

Click .

Both heads turned his way as he sheepishly remembered that his flash was back on. Giving them both a meek smile, he tucked his phone away again and took another sip of coffee. “So…” he said, trying to remember what they had been discussing. “The waffle place on Friday?”

Inej nodded. “Yes, we’d be really glad if you could join,” she said conversationally, icing Kaz out once more. “Nina and I would have a chance to get to know you better, and that’d be nice. There’s an official ‘no romance’ rule, which is why we don’t bring Matthias, and since you’re coming that excludes Jesper. And obviously, Kaz hates waffles.”

Kaz pouted a little at that statement, as if he wanted to disagree but didn’t want to say so.

Wylan’s cheeks began tinting red as he remembered that everybody knew about whatever was going on between Jesper and himself. What was going on? he thought vaguely. They hadn’t really kissed yet, but they had gone on a date (two if you included the semi-disastrous wedding rehearsal). Was Jesper waiting for him to kiss Jesper? Or was he going to kiss Wylan? Or did he just not want to have a physical relationship? Did he have a ‘no kissing until the fifth date’ rule? But he made so many innuendoes…

Kaz snorted, interrupting his flow of thoughts. “Calm down, Eck ,” the boy said rolling his eyes. “We all know about what’s going on between the two of you.”

Inej gave him a reproachful look before looking away, right as Kaz turned his face to subtly look at her. Wylan felt like banging his head against the table. “I don’t have your number,” Inej told Wylan, “so can I have your phone so I can put it in?”

“Sure,” Wylan said slipping his phone out once more. Inej did the same and Wylan had never felt so conscious of Kaz’s staring before. It had gotten a lot more hawk-like in the past five seconds.

“Well,” Inej shot him a nice smile as she stood up again and slid out of the booth. “It was nice talking to you. Goodbye.”

They watched in silence as Inej left, walking even quieter than Kaz had. Wylan looked at Kaz who was also beginning to stand up. “I’m guessing you just came so you could talk to Inej?” Wylan asked, realizing that somewhere along the way he had gotten less fearful of the boy.

Kaz glared at him, eyes looking like they were piercing into his soul. Wylan raised his hands in a surrendering motion.

“Hey,” he told the other boy raising his hands in a surrendering position, “it’s not my place to say anything. If you two are having a fight, I will not intrude. I won’t tell anybody else anything either.”

Kaz bit his lip before giving what looked like the barest of a smile to Wylan. “If you wanted to date Jesper,” he finally said looking like this was taking an enormous amount of strength, “I and the rest of the group, would not be entirely opposed to it and perhaps we would not reject you.”

Wylan took this to mean that Kaz wouldn’t hate him if they officially decided to go out.

“Got it,” he said just as awkwardly, giving the man a deep nod. “I would be grateful if that happened.”

Kaz nodded once more in return, looking like he was about to say something else. Wylan waited in silence, but all he received was another nod before the man walked away.

All in all, Wylan decided, it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened with him and a fighting Inej and Kaz in the same room together.

#

“No no no no no no…” Wylan mumbled as his alarm rang. Lazily he rolled out of his bed and almost hit the floor before hoisting himself up. Shit, his apartment was freezing. Teeth chattering, he gazed at his wardrobe before sleepily taking out a pair of pants and a shirt for him to wear. Limping to the bathroom to begin his morning routine, he almost collapsed into the shower. He sighed with relief as lukewarm water began pouring down his back and down his legs and slowly, he actually woke up.

Getting out of the shower, (and shuddering at the temperature change once again - was his heater broken ? It was only November) he slowly threw together a few things to eat before glancing at the time and realizing that there wasn’t much time for him left before he needed to get to class. Reasoning that a trip to Dime Lion’s was the only thing he had time for, he almost ran out of the house (and resolved to get a fucking coffee machine before he performed the impossible task of making his father broke from paying for a ridiculous amount of coffee).

Fuck he was going to be so late.

Also, how the fuck was it so cold? He could have sworn it was only around ten degrees yesterday. His ears were going to freeze off in this temperature. Vaguely he debated whether he should turn back to his apartment and get a coat but figured that the coffee was going to warm him up, and his apartment was too far away by then.

Stumbling to a stop at Dime Lion’s doors, he swung them open weakly before heading straight for the counter. The cafe was refreshingly warm and Wylan badly hid his flush of relief. Paja who was working the counter, saw him and nodded before automatically turning around and making his order.

Wylan hid his smile. The perks of being a (disturbingly regular) regular.

“So you come here often?”

Wylan was struggling to distinguish between whether that was genuinely a question or actually a really terrible pick up line before he turned his head and saw an awkward Matthias Helvar standing there, and chose that no , it had to be option 1.

“Hrmph,” Wylan chose instead. His pre-morning coffee speech wasn’t very good.

“I’m guessing that’s a yes,” Matthias chose instead. Wylan nodded.

Several awkward minutes later Wylan thanked (and paid) Paja for the coffee he was handed before turning around to head for the doors. Tiredly swinging them open, he took a few steps out before promptly turning around and heading straight back for the coffee shop.

“Hello?” Paja and Matthias’ confused faces greeted him once more.

“It’s snowing ,” Wylan said tiredly pressing his hot coffee cup onto his face. “It’s fucking November and it’s snowing. It’s like, November 13th. It’s still Autumn. I have got to be suffering from sleep deprivation.”

The disbelief was clear on both of their faces before Matthias ducked out of the shop, only to return seconds later. “What do you mean it’s snowing?” Matthias asked with rhetoric outrage. “It’s fucking November! It was ten degrees yesterday!”

“Hell, it was ten degrees when I came to work ,” Paja said angrily. “Fucking weather. I don’t even have a decent winter coat. How bad is it?”

“Snow storming,” Wylan said immediately and Matthias nodded gravely.

“My hometown doesn’t even have snow this bad generally, and I come from Russia ,” Matthias said grinding his teeth. “How are we going to get to class?”

“Fuck that, we’re going to be snowed into the shop,” Paja snapped. “If it’s snow storming and none of us brought winter coats because it was ten degrees like, five minutes ago, then - what the fuck is that hail ?”

They all exchanged horrified looks before diving for the window this time, the three of them crowding around it. It was not in fact, hailing, but rather larger snow was falling from the sky and it looked a lot like some angry god was throwing snowballs down from the heavens at extreme rates.

“Djel,” Matthias said under his breath, referencing some random god Wylan hadn’t heard of. “I told Jesper his actions came with consequences.”

Wylan’s head snapped to Matthias. “ What ?” he asked confused. “What are you talking about?”

Matthias scowled fiercely and ran a giant hand down his massive blonde mess. “He was planning on pranking Kaz today.” he explained to the both of them. “And I told him if he did then Kaz was going to smite him down with some inexplicable force.”

Paja nodded, muttering something under her breath that sounded a lot like “Fucking Brekker and his fucking control over everything.”

At this point, Wylan wasn’t going to put it past Kaz to be able to manipulate the weather.

“So are we snowed in?” Wylan asked, glancing at the massive amounts of snow already piling up on the ground. “Holy shit, it’s been five minutes and I think we’re snowed in.”

Matthias and Paja ran to the door and he watched as they fruitlessly tugged at it. Paja threw her hands up in the air with defeat. “It’s locked!” she said disbelievingly. “Motherfucker, it’s locked.”

Suddenly his phone beeped and Wylan slipped it out of his pocket.

So are you aware of the freaking snow storm we have outside right now?

It was from Jesper. Skimming the words he couldn’t understand, he grabbed a pair of earbuds out of his pocket and went to Settings to switch on Voice Command. Adjusting it so Siri would read all the incoming texts, he switched back to his screen and began typing out his reply.

Yes, I’m currently locked inside the Dime Lions with Matthias and Paja. I’m going to miss class

Siri’s voice said in a calm voice, Class is canceled merchling. Nobody can get to class

Following the text was a close up of Kaz’s frowning face, followed by an image of a serene Inej mediating calmly on the table behind his figure. Wylan stifled his laugh and he looked back up to see Paja and Matthias still scowling fiercely at the weather, as if it would go away if they got mad enough.

Quickly taking a shot, he sent it to Jesper who quickly replied with several laughing emojis.

“Fuck off snow, nobody wants you”

Who do they think they are

Beating off the mighty power of the infernal snow storm going on

Wylan bit his lip to keep from laughing at that.

We came up with a few theories on why it was snowing during November , he quickly typed back. and we came up with a really good reason for it to be snowing

Yeah?

It’s all Kaz’s fault

There was a pause at that and suddenly a new influx of texts began coming through.

gkjgha, Siri stuttered suddenly.

Wylan frowned because he wasn’t sure if it was voice command malfunctioning (which was strange because it was ordinarily really reliable) or if Jesper was beginning to get it too.

ghjk

sdfghjk,

dfghj mnm

pokjhbnmg

erfgvbnm,uhb  mjkm lo

Jes?

Jesper?
What’s going on?

Did a wild snowstorm monster attack you?

Or was it an alpaca?

Because judging by the impossible weather right now, both seem entirely plausible

Hello

Wylan frowned at his phone.

Jesper is currently unavailable

As he is currently tackling Kaz and attempting to get his phone back

Despite it being in my hands currently

Is this you Inej?

Instead of a response all he got was a photo of Kaz hanging onto Jesper’s back while the taller boy was rearing into the wall. The next photo was of Inej’s face, looking distorted between regret and mirth. He took it as a yes and tried not to giggle in an undignified manner.

That’s hilarious

I think so too

But Jesper and Kaz do not

How is Matthias faring being locked in the Dime Lions?

Wylan looked up from his phone to see a now pouting Matthias, who was staring at his phone and texting something. Paja was doing the same.

I think he’s texting Nina

Oh no

Matthias hates texting people

It must be desperate in there

Wait

Jesper is currently pulling Kaz’s hair

And Kaz is tugging on his jacket

They look a bit like they’re going to fight/have wild sex

Sorry Wylan your relationship might have just crashed

Wylan bit lis lip even harder.

Can you send me a picture?

I don’t think my heart can take this heartbreak without a picture to chronicle my woes

Who do you think I am?

Seconds later another picture arrived of Jesper tugging on Kaz’s hair (he winced - it looked both painful and childish) while Kaz had resolved to pulling at Jesper’s light jacket (he didn’t know what for but judging from his expression, it looked like it was semi-strangling him.

Should I be concerned?

For your relationship or your future boyfriend’s life?

Both

Depends on what Nina will do when she gets here

She’s currently in the bathroom

Wylan suddenly looked up with a horrible feeling. He looked at Matthias (who had by now migrated to behind the counter). Matthias’ face was red and he was biting his lip while staring intensely at his phone. Wylan paled as he swore he heard a light moan from his direction…

Quickly he looked down back at his own screen.

GROSS

GROSS

EWWWW

What?

I THINK NINA AND MATTHIAS ARE HAVING PHONE SEX

There was a pause before Inej’s response came.

EWWW

GROSS

THAT IS DISGUSTING

AND SOMEHOW THAT SEEMS ENTIRELY PLAUSIBLE KNOWING THE TWO OF THEM

WHY DID YOU PUT THE IMAGE IN MY HEAD

IT’S NOT MY FAULT

THEY’RE THE DISGUSTING ONES

I WILL NEVER BE THE SAME

MY MIND IS SCARRED

TRY MY MIND I’M FRIENDS WITH NINA

I HAVE TO LOOK HER IN THE EYE NOW

AND I HAVE TO DO THE SAME WITH MATTHIAS

EWWW

GROSSS

I’M GOING TO DIEEEEEE

NINA AND I WILL NEVER SPEAK AGAIIIIIIIN

Suddenly a new message appeared on his phone and Wylan squinted to see a message appear on his phone. Hastily clicking it, his face fell as Siri read that “the phone line has been taken down by the snow, and therefore calling/texting is impossible”. Taking out his earbuds, he slipped both devices into his pocket.

“Did you get the message too?” Matthias asked as he finally returned to the three of them. Wylan’s face flushed red and he hastily avoided eye contact. Paja, instead, nodded and Wylan did the same, studying the floor with immense interest.

“So are you dyslexic or not?” Paja asked Wylan curiously making him look up at her. She looked apologetically at Matthias and he brushed it off easily, trying to let her know that he was fine with him knowing. “Sorry, I’ve seen you mess some things up sometimes so I was wondering…”

“Yeah I am,” he said. Matthias stayed silent and he forged on. “I need earbuds to read me what other people text me, or else it’ll take forever and I hate having to play word scramble whenever I want to read anything.”

She nodded, muttering that it made sense under her breath.

“Well,” Matthias said resignedly looking at Paja and then Wylan. “Since we’re snowed in, does that mean free drinks?”
Paja’s face was thoughtful as she thought about the question. “I mean,” she looked at Wylan. “I’m up for it. And it’s not like the boss cares that much. He’ll get it - it’s fucking snowing so hard right now.”

“Hold on,” Wylan said suddenly, making the both of them pause as they headed for the counter again. “Can we make our own drinks?”
“Sure,” Paja shrugged, unaware that she had just fulfilled a dream of Wylan’s since he was a five year old. “Why not?”

He grinned.

Chapter Text

He was definitely suffering from the sugar rush.

Three mocha frappuccinos, one melted strawberry dipped in chocolate, two minty chocolate chip blast, one s’mores drink, three croissants, one granola bar, four sugary green teas and two and a half bathroom trips later, Wylan’s head was jerking from the sudden inhalation of sugar, and judging from Matthias and Paja’s expressions, they weren’t doing any better. Well, Matthias’ (who actually was doing vastly better). Paja was lying on the floor in a fetal position, and he wasn’t sure if she was conscious or not.

Thump . He tilted his twitching head and watched as Paja’s figure uncurled and fell hard onto the floor, extending her arms and legs into an obtrusive starfish position.

Lazily, Matthias hiked himself up from the chair he had sat on and observed Paja with a dubious expression. “Do you think she’s alright?” he inquired, having had much less sugar then both Paja and Wylan.

Wylan shrugged, trying to get his head to stop shaking so much. “Probably,” he said in response as he looked at himself in the mirror. “I’m more concerned about my permanent twitch I have going on. What if it never stops?” he made a face as his hands lifted to physically restrain his head and did nothing. “ Fuck .”

Matthias’ hand moved slowly as he extended it and dropped it directly onto Wylan’s head, the weight of it forcing his skull to stop. Wylan shot Matthias a half-smile. “Thanks.” He wasn’t really sure about the etiquette for dealing with somebody that stopped you from twitching like a lunatic.

Matthias shrugged it off without making another comment and Wylan bit his lip before he said something he would regret. Finally, he decided to just go for it. “So how are you and Nina doing right now?” he asked, blushing as he thought of what had happened in the elevator.

Matthias’ cheeks tinted red as well and Wylan was relieved that he wasn’t the only one that had to deal with a seductive… the thought trailed off and he wondered what him and Jesper were. Jesper had made plenty of comments about how he looked like, or just a lot of sex jokes, but had never said anything referring to them being together.

Like, together together.

“We’re doing pretty well now,” Matthias said instead, flashing Wylan a tentative existential smile. “I, um… I’m sorry about what you went through in the elevator.”

Wylan tried shaking his head but it was useless, due to the fact that Matthias’ hand was still on his head. Instead, he settled for words. “It’s fine, honestly,” he said truthfully. “Sure, I was the colour of a tomato the entire time that happened. And yeah, it was kind of cringe-y. But at the same time from what I heard, I’m glad you worked through all your issues.”

Matthias’ blue eyes searched him thoroughly, as if trying to find a lie in his statement. Wylan didn’t look away, and after a while his blue eyes slid away from him, as if finding what he wanted. “Thanks,” Matthias said softly. “It wasn’t easy. Nina and I had a lot of issues to work through.”

“Oh?” Wylan asked, trying not to pry. Jesper and Inej had mentioned a lot about Matthias’ backstory, and from what he heard it was pretty rough. They hadn’t said much about Nina though.

“Yes,” Matthias murmured, eyes lost in thought. “I… my hometown was hit by my country’s own military. They say it was an accident, but I’ve looked into it and they don’t fire weapons of such high grade destruction that easily. They were targeting civilians, and wanted to play it off as a mistake.”

Wylan hid his sharp intake of shock, choosing instead to lightly pat the massive blonde’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” Wylan said apologetically. “This can’t be easy to relive.”

Matthias shook his head but didn’t stop. “And my stepfather - Jarl Brum - wasn’t any better. He was my foster father after I had to move out of my hometown, and Djel knows why but he was constantly attacking my hometown. Said the people in it were poisonous. He tried to turn me against them too.”

He didn’t really know what to do in response to all of this, but he tried to keep up a steady level of patting. Matthias didn’t stop though, or seem to notice him at all. “I think that left scars,” Matthias said softly. “And Nina, Djel knows she’s been through a lot too.”

“I’m sorry,” Wylan whispered, keeping quiet. The sugar high had died down, but Matthias kept his hand on his head. “I’m so sorry about everything that happened to you.”
Matthias shook his head again, keeping his blue eyes trained solely on Wylan. “No,” he told Wylan. “Don’t be. I met some amazing people - even Kaz, that snow-storm starting bastard - and I don’t regret it. I regret the imprints Brum left on me, but aside from that I am happy with how it turned out.”

His eyes twinkled at the memories, and Wylan hid a smile. He thought back to his own childhood and as he looked back up at Matthias’ eyes, he realized that it was probably his turn to say something.

He swallowed. “Well, my dad is actually somebody pretty famous. He’s a globally known CEO and when he found out that he had a dyslexic gay son, he wasn’t too happy. He’s also pretty controlling, so moving to my own apartment for college is pretty much one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.” He kept quiet about all the other shit his father had done to him. Jan Van Eck had a habit of looking down at anybody that wasn’t himself - something Wylan hadn’t been subject to until he was officially registered as a moron on medical records - and that meant little comments. Comments designed, not to hurt, but to remind him of his own disability in case he was getting too cheerful.

They generally weren’t too bad (that came in when he was around fifteen) but before that, it had only been small mocking comments. When he had turned fifteen was when it had really began to spiral downwards. It had gotten so bad, his mother had called desperately for a divorce. After getting it, she had moved out as soon as she could. The last of Jan’s love for Wylan had disappeared with the fading memory of Marya Hendricks.

Belatedly, Wylan realized why he hadn’t taken his mother’s last name.

Why didn’t you take me with you Mom? he wondered inside his own head. You knew what Dad was doing to me. You could see it happening.

Marya Hendricks had abandoned him when he needed her most, and as a result, Wylan hadn’t seen a trace of her since he had watched her walk resolutely out of his father’s house.

“Wylan?”
Wylan blinked back the flow of memories and looked at Matthias, who was shaking his shoulders. “Sorry, yes?”

“Are you okay Wylan?”

Wylan sighed. “Yeah Matthias,” he said after a beat. “I’m good.”

Matthias didn’t take his hand off of Wylan’s head, and it was in the quiet comfort of the moment that made Wylan’s eyes flutter close and finally let him sleep.

Chapter Text

BANG!
BANG!
BANG!

Wylan jolted awake. “Are we being shot at?” he yelled desperately to Paja. Matthias wasn’t anywhere in his immediate sight and he was still exhausted. The world was blurry.

Paja blinked. “Nope, go back to sleep,” she shouted in response. “Just some idiots at the door.”

Wylan nodded and rested his head back onto the table (he would later wonder how he moved from the counter to being seated on the warm chairs with his head resting on the table top, but until then he was fine where he was) and tried to sleep again.

BANG.

“LET US IN!” Somebody from the outside shouted. Wylan frowned. It sounded really familiar. “It’s below zero out here and my ass is frozen!”

“No!” Paja shouted back. “I’m not letting in any random strangers!”
Wylan paused and tiredly raised his head up again, thinking about the voice. “Hold on Paja, I think I know who…” he trailed off as the insistent banging got louder somehow.

WY-LAN !” Another loud voice boomed. This one sounded like… Nina? “ MATT-HIAS ! ANSWER YOU LOSERS !”

“Well now we’re even less likely to let you guys in,” Matthias grumbled from somewhere behind him. Wylan started and he realized that Matthias had been in one of the tables behind him the entire time.

“WE’RE NOT LETTING YOU IN!” Paja screamed. “YOU COULD BE SERIAL KILLERS!”
“Wait guys!” Wylan interrupted. “Guys, I really think that their not serial killers but actually-”

“YOU LITTLE INFERNAL HEATHENS LET US IN BEFORE WE DIE OF THE COLD!”

“Are you going to let them in anytime soon?”
Wylan, Matthias, and Paja all twisted their heads to see Inej standing in the hallway leading into the bathroom casually, smiling as if she had been there the entire time. “How long have you been here?” Paja asked concerned.

Inej shrugged. “Not too long. Only about… oh, ten minutes?”
Their eyes all got even larger and she hid a small smile. “I’m joking,” she reassured them. “It’s only been around,” she checked her watch, “nine minutes. So really, basically ten.”

“Inej are you-” Matthias started.

“Hold on - if you’re here,” Wylan interrupted Matthias’ next words. “Who’s outside?”

Inej hid a smile carefully. “Oh, only an angry Kaz, Nina, and Jesper who’ve been standing there for a good fifteen minutes in the snow to make sure you guys are alright and not murdered/frozen to death.”

Fuck !” Matthias jumped up to his feet and rushed to the door, desperately trying to loosen the door. “It’s not our fault the door won’t op-”

The door swung open seamlessly and they watched in silence as it hit Matthias in the face and brought him down with a loud thud .

Wylan winced and twisted around the table to see Jesper and Kaz casually step right over his body and hurry into the cafe. Nina was the only one to shut the door and actually help him up. It would have been a nice gesture, but she was cackling so loud it made the action less significant.

“So who’s idea was it to lock us out for fifteen minutes?” Kaz demanded loudly as Jesper’s eyes scanned around the room. Wylan’s cheeks burned red with embarrassment and he fought the urge to slip under the table and hide.

“Technically it was all Paja and Matthias’ fault,” Wylan blurted out. “I was sleeping.”

Jesper, Nina, and Kaz all looked at Inej, who nodded sagely. “It’s true.”

“My fault?” Paja demanded loudly. “You were knocking so loudly I thought we were going to die!”

They all looked at Inej again, who simply kept on nodding. “Wylan woke up thinking we were being shot at,” she volunteered plainly.

Jesper raised an eyebrow at Wylan who’s cheeks flushed again. “Okay, in my defense I’ve never actually been shot at, and you were knocking really loudly.”

“But Matthias!” Jesper pointed accusingly at the blonde who had now gotten to his feet, limped to a table and shot them all a ferocious glare. “You know our voices! You can identify us.”

Matthias shrugged calmly. “I thought it was amusing.”

“Oh come on ,” Nina complained. “Don’t be a Kaz.”

Kaz shot an offended look at Nina before biting his lip and agreeing with a “That does sound like something I would do”. Inej silently scooted toward him and hit him sharply on the shoulder.

They all let out a collective sigh of disgruntlement before Paja picked the conversation up once more. “You knew who they were?” she asked accusingly. “You helped me think they were serial killers coming to murder us!”
Inej hid a smile and calmingly patted Paja’s shoulder. “No serial killer goes to a coffee shops and kills people inside of them.”

“Literally none,” Jesper added, sauntering over to where Wylan sat and throwing an arm around his shoulder. Wylan shivered at the cold that had reached his bones while they had waited outside, and a flash of guilt rushed through him. “Not even second rate coffee shops.”

Nina and Kaz rolled their eyes to the sky and Wylan felt like this wasn’t a new complaint of Jesper’s.

“You’re freezing,” he whispered to Jesper. “I’m so sorry for not making them let you in. I was asleep for most of it.”

Jesper shook his head calmly. “Don’t worry about it,” he said in response. “Especially if you’re willing to warm me up?” he winked seductively and Wylan contemplated whether he wanted to make a response to that.

Well, he was pretty guilty that Jesper was freezing…

… he was completely insane for thinking of this.

“Fine,” Wylan whispered back before huddling closer to Jesper, practically on his lap by the end of it. He edged himself backward until Jesper’s chin came in contact with the back of his head and he rested it against his chest. “Better?”

Jesper purred - yes, an actual purr that reminded him freakishly of the cat he had once wanted when he was younger - and wrapped two arms around his chest, effectively locking him in place. “Much.”

Wylan looked back up to see Nina wriggling her eyebrows at them and Kaz making a face. “Oh shut up,” he told them both sharply. “As if you two don’t do it with Matthias and Inej. In fact, Inej and I have a story about you and Matthias.”

Inej snorted with badly concealed humour and he felt a flush of gratefulness that she was the only one not mocking them. “Ah yes, Wylan,” she said exchanging a small smile with him. “Exactly what were the two of you doing before the campus phone service cut out?”
Matthias’ splutters filled the room as Jesper quietly tilted toward Wylan to whisper - in a really hot breathy whisper Wylan totally didn’t swoon out (because who swoons these days? Also, Jesper’s arms were thankfully saving him from that particular embarrassment) - “Oh yes, I was reading those texts and were you laughing at my heroic struggles?”
Wylan’s chest shook as he tried not to laugh too hard as he remembered their conversation. “To be fair, it did look pretty intense.”

“Also,” Jesper made a face, “in what world would I even remotely be into Kaz?”

Wylan bit his lip to keep from laughing. “I’m glad,” he finally told Jesper jokingly. “I don’t think my heart would be able to bear the heartbreak if you left me for a six foot tall grump with a permanent scowl.”

“That sounds more like Matthias,” Jesper whispered, just as Kaz interrupted.

“Anything to tell me Wylan?” he asked sharply, arching an eyebrow up.

“He also read the text messages,” Jesper said belatedly.

“Um… well,” he looked around and nobody seemed to want to help him out. “Huh, please don’t run away to Tahiti with Jesper and get married?” he finally blurted out awkwardly, laughing in a very high pitched tone.

Nina, Matthias, and Paja all gave him strange looks while Jesper laughed so hard he shook. Wylan let out a quiet shriek and gripped Jesper’s arms tightly. Inej wasn’t far from where Jesper was - her face had contorted and she looked a bit like she was trying not to laugh at a funeral - and Kaz had just raised an eyebrow.

“Exactly how much thought did you put into this?” Kaz asked after a beat.

They dissolved into laughter once again after that.

#

“So how exactly did you end up here?” Wylan asked Jesper after a while. “How were you let off the main hall?”
Jesper shrugged and Wylan inwardly revelled in the body heat Jesper was exuding. “It is surprisingly easy to get out of a highly secure main campus building with permanent locks on and no power,” he informed Wylan.

“Seriously?”

“No.” Jesper made a face. “We had Nina distract her while Kaz picked the lock and Inej glided out and created a safer exit for us. Then we booked it. Seriously, we’re lucky Nina doesn’t have Professor Rollins or else we’d be screwed.”

“Professor Rollins?” Wylan asked incredulously. “You mean the scary one with the really creepy glare?”

“Yeah, he hates Kaz too,” Jesper said snickering. “And Kaz does the same to him. Something about him mistaking Rollins for another professor he actually needed and Rollins making a fool out of him for that. He’s never forgiven Professor Rollins, and Rollins by default hates him now. And because we’re friends with him…” he trailed off.

“He hates all of you guys,” Wylan finished.

“Pretty much,” Jesper nodded. “Oh, and you too now.”

“Wait what ?” Wylan asked sharply. “I’m not… part of your group though.”

The taller boy shrugged and Wylan instinctively held tighter to Jesper’s arms as the motion ran through his body. “Well, almost all of the campus has seen you hang around us on a daily basis. And the YMCA thing was pretty big, as well as the fact that you were stuck in the elevator with Nina and Matthias for a long time, and the rumours surrounding you after that spread it even more.”

“How do you know all of this?” Wylan asked, partly confused and partly joking. “Do you like, keep an ear out so you can call yourself a Gossip Queen?”

Jesper made a face. “Actually, Inej would be great at gossiping if she actually… y’know, gossiped . She’s scarily good at catching all of this, and most of the time she doesn’t even try. If you need to know anything about anybody , she’s your girl.”

Wylan nodded, impressed. “Cool, cool,” he said after a pause. “So Inej is the gossip queen in your group?”

Jesper flashed Wylan a smile - a real one, wide and it made Wylan smile himself. “Technically, Inej is our gossip queen and the cool aunt that makes sure we’re all good.”

“Would that make Kaz the uncle?” Wylan wondered aloud.

“Absolutely not ,” they heard loudly and Wylan jumped. Jesper instantly tightened his arms and Wylan went back to relaxing in them. They both stared at Kaz who was casually lounging on the couch, legs stretched on the table. “As if I would be the uncle to a crowd of handwringing nursemaids.”

Jesper rolled his eyes. “Old joke,” he muttered to Wylan. “Apparently we were being to cautious about Inej almost dying.”

“Do I want to know?” Wylan asked, and as Jesper shook his head he decided he didn’t.

“Okay, so Kaz is totally the uncle that pretends he’s too cool to be seen with the rest of the family,” Jesper whispered. “Inej is the cool aunt we all love. Matthias is totally the mom. Like, no jokes.”

Matthias ?” Wylan asked squinting at him. “You’re sure?”

“He’s always telling us to put a jacket on and eat our vegetables,” Jesper confirmed. “And when Kaz was sick that one time, he wouldn’t stop bringing him chicken soup and more blankets. You would have thought he doubled as a raccoon in his free time if you saw the small mountain of blankets Matthias had given him.”

Wylan stifled his laughter. “Matthias even brought me to the table after I fell asleep on him,” he told Jesper, who in turn raised an eyebrow.

“You fell asleep on him?” he asked. “Should I fear for my relationship?”
“Is that what this is?” Wylan asked hesitating. “Are we dating?”
Jesper frowned. “Do you want to date?”
Wylan bit his lip nervously, reaching his hand up to run a hand through his hair but he stopped as he realized that he would probably hit Jesper’s chin if he did. “I mean, if you want to then I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to it…”

“Wylan,” Jesper said gently, forcing the other boy to twist around until they were facing each other. Lightly putting a hand on his chin, he forced him to look the taller boy right in the eye. Wylan swallowed. His eyes were so dark. “Do you want to officially go out?”

“Yeah,” Wylan whispered softly. “Yeah, I would really like that.”
Quietly he reached forward just as Jesper began to lean down and lightly, ever so lightly their lips began to tou-

Finally !”

Wylan let out a shriek and pulled away in a second, almost falling out of Jesper’s lap. Quickly the other boy wrapped his arms around him and kept him from falling, making sure he stayed square on his lap, practically straddling him.

“What the hell Nina?” It was Matthias, and Wylan craned his head backward to see the scene going out. Oh god , he thought terrified. Oh my god that entire ordeal happened like, five yards away from everybody else.

“Seriously?” Jesper demanded loudly, his voice carrying out through the room. “We have one moment and you won’t let us make out like the dignified college students we deserve to be. We’re like, not even friends anymore. Don’t like, sit next to me at, like, lunch.”

Wylan cringed as another barrage of voices hit and he silently sank back into Jesper’s embrace until he paused. “Jesper,” he asked quietly. “Do you have something in your pocket?”
Jesper froze alarmed, and just as Wylan’s incredible luck went, the entire room had heard.

Chapter Text

“The snow’s stopped.”

Wylan groggily lifted his head up (from Jesper’s chest - he blushed) to see Nina peering out the window curiously.

“Are we still stuck inside though?”

She tried the door. “Yep.”

“Then let me sleep.” He rested his head back against Jesper’s chest and decided not to think too hard about it. Moments later, darkness flitted back into his eyes and he fell silent once more.

#

“Wake up merchling.” Two large hands were on his shoulders and they were being shaken. Groaning, Wylan fluttered his eyelashes and twisted around to see Jesper’s familiar grin. “The door’s still jammed, but on the bright side Paja made coffee and gave us all membership cards.”

Wylan gave him a confused thumbs up as he crawled off the other boy’s lap. “Coffee?” he mumbled tiredly, stretching out various limbs that were stiff from the sleep. As his hands grasped vaguely in the air, his shirt rose and Jesper gave his partly revealed waist an interested glance. Turning red, Wylan immediately dropped his position.

“Coffee,” Wylan said instead, and shuffled his way to the coffee counter as fast as he could. Thanking Paja, he desperately grasped his coffee between both hands and drank deeply, taking in as much as possible without burning his mouth. Finally pausing for a breath, he tilted his head backwards and finished it off with a single swig.

Low applause filled the room when he was done. Wylan sheepishly lowered his head and gave them all a smile as Nina showed him the picture she had taken of him drinking the coffee.

“That.” Matthias said with no little respect, “was impressive.”

As Wylan was learning, the word ‘impressive’ for Matthias was synonymous to him finding a golden unicorn that doubled as Matthias’ nephew in the Saharan Desert.

Muttering a thanks, he shot a grateful look to Paja as another cup of coffee made its way in front of her. This one he drank slowly, giving the cup of coffee a look not unsimilar to worship.

“You look like you just discovered religion,” Jesper said promptly and caused Wylan to almost spill scalding hot coffee on himself.

Jesus !” Wylan said jumping, quickly putting the cup onto the counter. “Jesper you almost made me spill this on myself.”

“I’d give you my shirt to wear then,” Jesper said flashing him a wink. Wylan gave him an exasperated look, which he was pretty sure looked more fond than anything else. “And then-”

“- do not finish that sentence ,” Wylan interrupted Jesper. “There are others in this room.”

Thank you ,” Kaz said, once again appearing out of nowhere. Wylan inhaled sharply, but aside from that kept still. I’m getting used to it , Wylan thought triumphantly. Beat that mafia!

“Anyways,” Jesper shifted his focus, peering anxiously at the door. “How long have we been in the Dime Lions?”
Nina shrugged, pulling out her phone. “Um… Inej you have anything?”

Inej checked her watch, “Around sixteen hours in total, but we spent nine hours in the main building,” she explained, “and we just slept for roughly four hours.”

Wylan quietly let out a curse. “My sleep cycle is completely screwed up,” he muttered under his breath. “And for once, I can’t blame college. What time is it anyway?” he asked, raising his voice.

Matthias slipped out his phone. “Three o’clock in the morning,” he said making a face. “But hopefully we’ll get the all clear sign and be allowed to leave this place soon.”

“I wouldn’t be too happy,” Kaz warned. “After all, even if it doesn’t start snowing again we have to worry about getting out of this cafe. The door’s jammed.”

“Matthias can just un-jam it,” Jesper said dismissively. “He’s such a strong , handsome guy.” At this Jesper turned toward Matthias and fluttered his eyelashes. Wylan stifled a snicker at the blonde’s look of extreme discomfort.

“Can’t Inej just help us get out?” Paja asked loudly, over the newest clamor of voices.

Inej made a face. “I have extremely advanced gymnastics training,” she told her apologetically. “I can’t guarantee that any of you can replicate that without injuring yourself.”

“That archetype is sweet though,” Wylan whispered to Jesper. “The fact that Kaz has a cane and Inej is super flexible.”

“Right?” Jesper whispered back. “That’s what we’ve been telling them for years!”
“Stop whispering.”

They both shot a glare to Kaz, who didn’t hesitate to return it.

Fuck !” they suddenly heard and Wylan snapped his head to see Nina at the window again. “God-fucking-dammit, the snow started up again!”

Nooo,” Jesper cried dramatically, falling to his knees. “Not again! Oh goodbye world! Goodbye family! I shall forever miss you as I am stuck in these hell-damned four walls for the rest of my life! I may never see the su-”
Wylan chose to turn a blind eye as Kaz kicked him.

#

Three excruciatingly painful hours later, Jesper made a marvelous discovery.

“We have alcohol!” he screamed suddenly, bolting up from behind the counter. In his hands were two (very) large bottles of whiskey and Nina let out another victorious whoop .

No ,” Matthias said firmly. “When we get drunk, bad things happen.”

Mom friend , Jesper mouthed obviously to Wylan. Wylan tried not to snort too loudly at that.

“I say we drink it,” Inej said in a surprising turn of events. “Those who wish not too, don’t have too.”

“Absolutely not,” Kaz said sharply, backing Matthias. “Have you all forgotten what happened on the night of Incident That Shall Not Be Named #27,389? Or for that matter, Incident That Shall Not Be Named #19, 539?”

They all shuddered unanimously, and Wylan and Paja exchanged similarly befuddled looks.

You ask , he mouthed to her.

No, you ask , she mouthed back. They’re your friends.

Yeah but they’re also completely insane .

You choose to date on of them, you ask about their crazy events.

That was not in the terms and conditions sheet!

There was no terms and conditions sheet dumbass.

Okay, there practically was. It wasn’t physically there, but you could imagine it.

“As amusing as that exchange was,” Kaz drawled, “no, the whole point of naming it ‘Incident That Shall Not Be Named’ is because we never speak of it again.”

“But,” Nina tempted Paja, “if you get us drunk we might!”

“Alright,” Paja shrugged. “Let’s go bitches. Grab a bottle and we’ll play Never Have I Ever. Or Truth or Dare, which one?”
“Let’s not,” Matthias deadpanned. “How about ‘Let’s Kick Out the Barista?”

Paja scowled at him. “What about ‘Let’s Kick Out the Blonde?”

“Nina, I’m being bullied,” he said in response, wrapping his arms around his girlfriend. “Nina, save me. I am being bullied by a bully. You bully.”

As the two began to heatedly make out, everybody else rolled their eyes and reached for a bottle of whiskey.

#

The next couple of hours went by in flashes.

He was pretty sure he had seen Matthias and Kaz (the two straightest people he had ever met, hands down - and this included his father and Professor Rollins) make out on top of a table. He wasn’t sure which part of the statement was more shocking.

He was pretty sure Nina had flirted with everything she had seen (this included the chairs, the table, and a half filled cup of coffee that still had her lipstick stains on the side of it).

Inej had flat out disappeared sometime into it and then reappeared later with two of her shoes gone, as well as featuring Kaz’s gloves on both of her hands. Her hair was also mussed, and he didn’t want to think about what had gone on in the storage closet he was (pretty sure) they had their grand adventure in.

Paja was lying on the counter completely dead to the world.

And Jesper had… well..

Wylan groggily stared around the room where they were all laying in positions that looked vaguely uncomfortable in some way or another. Kaz had his legs stretched out onto the couch next to him, Matthias was leaning against the wall in a position that looked extraordinarily military-esque, and Nina was right next to him reducing the effect by having her face in a cup of something he didn’t want to think about. Jesper was (Wylan blushed at what he was pretty sure they had spent the majority of their time drinking doing) holding two pens in a way that looked like he was wielding two guns instead, and somehow had a fidget spinner on his head that was still weakly twitching.

Inej was gone.

Also, to top it all off, his head didn’t feel like murder. Which was new. And completely unexpected. And a little unsettling.

“Coffee?”

Jesus Christ!” Wylan screamed, jumping a good five feet into the air. “Oh my God - Inej! I thought you were gone!”
Inej, who was now serenely sitting on the counter Paja was (still) lying face down on handed him a large cup which he gratefully drained.

“Oh my God,” Wylan muttered, “we’re going to have hell to pay when the owner of his coffee shop is notified about everything we drank.”

Inej sent him a small smile. “Actually, I’m pretty sure we could get sued but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Wylan incredulously raised an eyebrow at that explanation. “We could get sued ?” he asked. “Oh man, I’m going to have to ask my… “ his mouth twisted, “ dad a favor.”

“Oh, Van Eck right?” Inej asked calmly. “My apologies for looking into you by the way, but we had to make sure Jesper was getting involved with the right person. I applaud you for your sixth grade science trophy.”

Wylan’s cheeks burned at the mention of Jesper. “You looked into me?” he asked. “I didn’t think anybody that wasn’t ex-Interpol and not in a ridiculous crime movie/novel did that anymore to their siblings boyfriend.”

Inej sent him a small smile. “Don’t worry -  you checked through no problem. And to be fair, Van Eck to just Eck is a little…”

“Stupid?” Wylan finished. “Yeah, my mother’s last name is just a little painful to use so it was the only other option.”

“I understand,” Inej said, lightly clapping a hand on her shoulder. “If you want, I can track her down for you.”

“You know about tha…” he trailed off. “You know what? I’m not going to ask about how you know about that. What I am going to say is that I’m good, and maybe I’ll ask later but for now I’m good.”

Inej sent him a small smile that reassured him more than somebody who had looked into his life and knew most of his personal secrets should have.

“Also,” she said, switching topics, “I noticed you and Jesper had some… enthusiastic fun last night.” A corner of her mouth tipped up with amusement and Wylan’s cheeks dyed red.

“In my defense,” he replied looking down, “We were both incredibly drunk.”

“I know,” she said smirking. “Your lips are still swollen.”

Wylan promptly choked on his coffee and needed Inej’s help to get it down. “Hey, Kaz was no saint either okay?” he said defensively on his way back up. “I saw him make out with Matthias on a table for a good fifteen minutes, and then I’m pretty sure you two had sex in the storage room.”

Inej arched an eyebrow. “And you know this because?”

Wylan ducked his head with embarrassment again and protested, “Okay you know what? I was completely within my right to notice what’s going on around the room. And to be fair, Kaz and Matthias making out drunk is possible one of the most unexpected things to ever happen.”

“Right?” Inej agreed. “They’re so straight.”

“So does that mean you two have made up?” Wylan asked hesitantly, unwilling the poke the bear.

She sent him a small smile. “I believe being stuck in a campus building for several hours doesn’t leave much space for two people to continue being angry at each other. We’ve…” she paused. “We’ve still got our issues, but hopefully one day we will figure them out.”

Wylan nodded, giving her a serious look. “For what it’s worth, I’m rooting for the two of you,” he told her honestly. “I really hope the two of you figure it all out.”

She smiled tiredly. “One day. Now,” she clapped her hands and gave Wylan an anticipatory glance. “How did it feel to make out with Jesper for four hours straight?”

Wylan’s face flushed bright red. Oh dear god .  

Chapter Text

Jesper

 

Wylan is a blushing wriggling hot mess and Jesper is just sober enough to regret that he won't be coherent enough to remember this in the morning. His tongue clashes with Wylan's and he takes it as an opportunity to make the kiss even deeper. The kiss is a mess - Wylan may be cute as all fuck and downright gorgeous when he's being a nerd - but it's obvious this is his first kiss - maybe second, but no more than that - from the amount of time their teeth have hit. He doesn't hold it against Wylan though - for some reason, all it does it make it better. Makes the moment seem more real . Wylan Van Eck is an amazing kisser, who's terrible at kissing. This somehow applies to the merchling.

But now is not the time for thoughts like this. Wylan lets out a moan that sounds absolutely filthy and only serves to make the bulge in Jesper's pants larger as he grinds into his lap. "Wylan," he lets out a gasp as they finally pull apart for air. "Unless you really want your first time to be done drunk and in front of our friends, I really suggest you stop grinding on me ."

Wylan gives him a wicked smirk and holy shit he's never going to forget that look. It'll haunt his wet dreams forever, but for reasons Jesper doesn't feel like thinking about, it doesn't bother him. "And what if I do want our first time to be like that?"

Jesper's breath catches and he pulls the merchling even closer to himself if possible. "No, you don't," he whispers into the other boy's ear. "But I can show you a wild time until it does come." He bites the ginger's ear and swirls his tongue around the hollow of it. Wylan involuntarily thrusts and he lets out a moan.

"Alright," he whispers back, and one of his hands have made their way into Jesper's hair and are now pulling at the roots. Jesper's pretty sure he moans. "But we don't stop until our friends are asleep and our lips are numb."

There is no response to that other than to shove the merchling's back against the wall. Automatically his legs wrap around Jesper's waist and squeeze, forcing him to keep Wylan propped up on his own strength. He smiles - at least, he thinks he does - and arches his head before sinking into another long kiss with Wylan.

Their lips are numb long before they stop.

 

#

 

He woke up groggily to the smell of black coffee - without sugar, ew - and something sweet. His head also hurt like hell and if he had ever gone through a museum dedicated to playing ever chainsaw ever created the world, he would probably just substitute the effort of even finding that place with a terrible hangover. Really, he's proud of himself for even coming up with that analogy - metaphor? He can't fucking remember and he can't bring himself to care - because it feels like somebody has been cracking skulls against his own. Like one of those creepy Nutcracker Dolls that always looked disappointed in you.

"You want to stop narrating your terrible hangover to us now?"

Jesper's head snapped up to see Nina's ever present smirk and immediately accepted the cup of coffee she had in her hands. "No," he stubbornly replied. He took a deep swig and nearly spat it all back in. It's fucking black and didn't have the sugar he needed to function in life. The coffee is a disgrace, he decided. A disgrace to humanity.

"Well, that's still my coffee," Nina said wryly, wrenching the mug away from his hands again. "Get your own."

He shook his head and tried to sit up. Wincing as an ache made itself known in his shoulder, he rolled it backwards and tried to work it out. "No thanks. I don't think I can think well enough to do anything right now."

"I, um, brought you coffee for that." Jesper turned his head to see a practically neon red Wylan - he grinned, it'd be fun working that blush out of him again, especially after last night - holding a cup of coffee and from how well he could smell it from three feet away from the merchling and his blessed coffee it's probably filled to the brim with sugar.

"Oh you angel," Jesper crowed at Wylan, temporarily forgetting his killer headache. In his defense, Wylan was really adorable - and forget after-sex glow, the after heavy-make out session glow looked amazing on him. One hand clutched his head to try to stop the painful throbs and he tried uselessly to prop himself upright, keeping a knowing eye on Wylan as he exaggerated his struggle.

True to his suspicions, the merchling surged forward and placed a warm hand on his back to help get him upright. Jesper smiled at that and grabbed the arm connecting to it. Pulling it towards him, Wylan stumbled the distance between them before tripping - Jesper smirked and shifted Wylan around a bit mid fall - and landing him right into his lap. Immediately he moved his hands to wrap around the merchling's waist and secure him there.

"Jesper!" Wylan gasped, and Jesper privately thought it was a pity he couldn't see the other boy's face.

Nina whistled, interrupting their moment like the ruthless Drama Queen she was. "Well," she said smirking at Jesper. "That was smooth as fuck, and I'm probably going to do that to Matthias one day." Giving them both a mock salute and a smirk, she turned on her heel and left them to their small private corner.

"Jesper," Wylan repeated exasperatedly. "Jes, we need to talk about last night-"

"Do you regret what happened last night?" Jesper asked, forcing Wylan to shift around him again. His legs wrapped around Jesper's hips automatically and with no small amount of glee, he noted the merchling's bright red cheeks. He practically blended in with his hair.

"I mean," Wylan flushed heavily. "I don't regret it but we did spend hours making out and-"

"Good." Jesper smirked. Leaning forward, he arched his mouth and pressed his lips against the merchling's, locking them both into another long kiss. Wylan let out a moan and wrapped his arms around Jesper's shirt, one hand slipping underneath it and pressing his skin instead. The other hand sank into his hair and pulled at the roots. He moaned in appreciation and pulled away a little, lowering his kisses and focusing them mostly on his neck where - he glowed inwardly, Wylan had at least five hickey's -

" Hm hm ."

Wylan broke apart from him immediately, face turning bright red once again. They turned their head to see Matthias awkwardly standing there, holding a pastry with the rest of the group watching from the counter.

"They told me to tell you guys to stop having sex," he said awkwardly, determinedly keeping his eyes away from them. Wylan's hand immediately drew away from under his shirt and Jesper pouted, pushing Wylan into himself even more in return.

"Jesper!" the merchling hissed before tilting his head to face Matthias. "Um-"

"We weren't having sex," Jesper interrupted, rolling his eyes. Wylan quietly removed himself from his lap and instead chose to sit next to him instead. He mourned the loss in his head. "It isn't anything worse than what you and Kaz did last night."

Matthias choked and vaguely, Kaz's yelling started up about it. Jesper tracked Nina down and gave her and Inej a thumbs up that they both returned.

"I even have it on video!" Nina sighed happily. "Who wants to see it on tape?"

Jesper laughed, swung an arm around Wylan and tried starting a chant.

Chapter Text

Wylan

 

It was two hours later when his phone died and he drew a line.

“Alright, how are we going to get out of here?” Wylan asked, heatedly placing his phone onto the table. He’d been texting an old friend and his phone just suddenly cut off. Though to be fair, it did have a staggeringly low amount of charge - 2%.

Kaz sighed, being the only other person paying attention. Inej and Matthias were talking in quiet voices, while Jesper and Nina were playing a strange game that looked like it entailed doing things Wylan did not want to know about. Paja had disappeared a while ago and was yet to make her appearance.

“I told you,” Kaz snapped. “The door’s jammed again and reception is shaky. Nobody except for Inej can get out.”

“How are we going to leave then?” Wylan asked. “Can’t we get Matthias to loosen it again?”
Kaz shook his head. “It’s locked solid with ice.”

Wylan frowned. “So we’re waiting for a search and rescue team to save us?”

“As much as I hate to rely on the school’s resources for it,” Kaz scowled, emphasizing his distaste, “it’s the only thing to do. Unless you can somehow loosen the door?” he raised his eyebrow.

Wylan’s mind was awhirl with different possibilities. He considered all the resources he had in the coffee shop, and the strength of the crows.

We have hot coffee… something to heat the,.. there’s the matter of disassembling it…. take apart the mechanism for… the microwave or the oven or the dishwasher and… then if we use it on the door and then… Matthias tries opening it while I loosen it… it’ll swing right open.

Silently ducking around and Matthias and Inej’s conversation he made his way to the back of the counter where he found a large supply of machines. Quickly making himself a cup of coffee, he quietly went to the door, unaware of the rest of the Crows eyes on him. Pouring it through the sides of the door, he tried the knob and let out a curse. “Fuck,” he muttered. The door knob was frozen solid, but the actual sides of the door would be loose with a bit of help.

Going back to the counter, he made two more cups of coffee and went back to the door, leaning up on his toes to slip it through the very sides of the doors. The coffee spilled through the crack seamlessly. Moving to the other side of the door corner, he took the other cup and did the same thing. Hopefully it would work, he thought. There was no way of being sure until the door knob was unfrozen.

Heading for the counter once again, he dug through the various supplies and finally took out a small machine that resembled a torch. Frowning at it, he clicked a button and it burst into electric blue flames. Arching an eyebrow at it (and remembering later that it was called a culinary torch and was used to make the ten million creme brulee his father and him had eaten at those fancy parties they used to attend) he flipped it on its side and read the warning.

DO NOT USE ON IRON.

“Goddammit,” he muttered to himself. Twisting it around to the back, he found the area to put in the gas, half full. Ignoring the section, he moved to the complicated tangle of wires and frowned as he took it apart some more, carefully putting pieces of metal onto the table top. Seeing the mainframe of it, he gently pulled it out, bringing the tangle of wires with it as it moved.

It was a small cube sized mechanism with wires connecting every side possible. Twisting it around in his hands, he frowned as he recognized some wires and where they connected. “That’s for the safety of it,” he muttered, “and that’s to power the… fuck.”

He would have to cut it.

Looking up for a knife, he snatched it up and held the wire taut as the other hand dug the knife through it. It snapped immediately and the mechanism sharply shook. Biting his lip (and hoping he didn’t get electrocuted) he popped the mechanism back into the torch system and attached the gas back in as well. Hitting the button, the stream of fire released from it again but orange instead. He grinned.

Walking to the door once again, he lit it up carefully and held it against the door knob. Slowly, the hardened layer above it began fading away and he shut the torch off. He couldn’t touch the knob without any protection, so he grabbed the nearest cloth he could find absentmindedly and wrapped it around his hand. Tugging at the knob, it easily slid open and he pulled as hard as he could.

The door seamlessly swung open and a good four feet of snow greeted Wylan. Tentative he poked the massive mound and hoped it wouldn’t fall on him. Snow packs , he reminded himself. It won’t fall on you. With luck.

Shivering from the cold, he took a few steps backward to check the door at a side angle now. Running a hand through the edges, he made a mental note to himself to grease both the door and the doorway with coffee regularly, as well as the knob on the other side of the coffee shop. Shivering as a gust of cold air blew, snowflakes dropped onto his hair and he swung the door shut immediately, returning back into the general warmth of the coffee shop.

“Congratulations, you figured it out.”

Wylan let out a shriek and turned around to see an expectant Jesper, Nina, Inej, Matthias, and Kaz all staring at him. Paja had reappeared and was sleeping on the chair.

Jesper was beaming and crossed the expanse of the room quickly, pulling him into his arms and heatedly kissing him. Warmth pooled into his bones again and Wylan eagerly began kissing him back.

“Guys, could you stop for like a second!” Matthias snapped. “Anyways, it’s not like opening the door did anything. We can’t leave. All that snow is probably frozen solid. We need a search and rescue team.”

Reluctantly pulling back, a blush rose to his cheeks and Jesper pulled him closer to his chest. “That was amazing,” he whispered to Wylan. “Also, did you know that when you get into that mood nothing distracts you. Inej and Kaz called your name a couple of times and you didn’t do anything.”

“Oops,” he whispered back. “And plus, it’s not like I did anything. We’ll probably need to wait for somebody to run through all that snow, and who knows what’ll happen by then. It wasn’t that great or anything, I just-”

Fiercely, Jesper pulled Wylan into another kiss and refused to listen to more

Chapter Text

“Do you hear that?” Kaz asked suddenly, cocking his head to the side. Wylan jumped from his seat next to Jesper and looked at him confused.

“What?”

“Listen,” Matthias shushed him and they all went quiet. There was a distant hummm filling the air and Wylan frowned.

“That’s a snow plow,” Matthias said immediately. “I’d recognize it anywhere.”

Jesper snorted. “Really, Matthias?” he asked making a face at the blonde. “Is now really the time to be pulling snow-rank, because when it c-”

Shh !” Nina hissed as Wylan hit Jesper’s shoulder. Jesper immediately pouted at Wylan, who resolutely ignored it.

“Where’s Inej?” Wylan realized after a beat, tilting his head to see the girl gone. The rest of them shrugged, except for Kaz.

“She’ll be back,” he said simply. “Probably through the front door.”
They frowned in confusion and realization suddenly dawned on Wylan. “She’s-” he started before Kaz cut him off with a glare. “Alright, that makes sense.”

Nina sighed, shaking her head fondly. “Hey where’s Paja?” she asked after a beat. Wylan twisted his head around as well and found the girl missing.

“She’s either missing or sleeping,” Jesper volunteered. “I really don’t think finding her’s going to be too difficult.”

Matthias snorted. “Have you seen her do anything other than sleep or disappear?”

They all collectively pondered it and decided that no, Paja hadn’t done anything other than sleep or disappear. “Maybe the Snow Plow will think we killed her,” Jesper suggested with a smirk. “Maybe we’ll get arrested again?”

Wylan raised an eyebrow and it was probably a testament to how comfortable he now was with them all because of his lack of concern. “I feel like the only reason you’d ever get arrested is because you got really drunk, let your guard down and did something wild.”

“It involved pole dancing,” Nina informed Wylan smiling, who promptly choked in response. “But that wasn’t the first time we were arrested.”

“Well,” Kaz said looking vaguely amused, “I believe we’ve been arrested before because the locals hated us.”

“Aren’t we all technically locals?” Wylan asked snorting. “I mean, you guys were raised in the orphanage so really…” he faded out awkwardly, not sure not to finish the sentence without offending them.

Nina cracked a smile at that while Kaz raised an eyebrow at Wylan. “Oh?” he asked sharply. “Are we a ‘we’ now?”

Wylan’s face flushed and he scrambled for a retort. “Well, considering I’ve had no interaction with anybody but you guys as well as my friend who’s across the Earth for the past seventy-two hours or so, I’m going to go with yes.”

Kaz’s face distantly mirrored grudging approval as Jesper and Nina made a show of silently applauding him.

Suddenly there was a knock on the door and Wylan jumped, Matthias already heading for the door. Swinging it open Inej followed his large figure seconds later back into the room. “They’re coming for us,” she told them face flushed from the cold. “I gave them specific instructions and they started paving the path.”

Wylan silently began to make her a cup of coffee as she burrowed into Nina’s side for warmth. “Here,” he said after a couple of minutes. She gratefully accepted the cup and kept it between her hands for warmth, murmuring her thanks.

The hmmmm got louder and Matthias translated. “The snow plow should be here in roughly five minutes,” he told them.

“I had no idea you spoke Snow Plow. Fascinating dialect, give me a lesson in it someday?” Jesper shot back sarcastically. Inej shot Nina and Wylan a look that clearly communicated please control your boyfriends. Matthias bristled just as Wylan mouthed back what am I supposed to do? and Nina shrugged helplessly.

“If you weren’t so irritating -

“Alright,” Inej broke in loudly, shooting both Nina and Wylan an exasperated look. “Clearly none of us are at our best right now because we’ve been stuck in here for so long but-”

“Oh quit it Mother Teresa-” Jesper rolled his eyes.

“-don’t insult her,” Wylan replied just as Kaz broke in.

“Jesper, don’t you dare mock her for being nice when you know that you’ve got your own problems . Gambled away all your cash lately?” he began viciously. Wylan cut him off furiously.

“Don’t bring his problems against him. We all have our issues!” he yelled at the dark haired boy, scowling heavily at him. Distantly he wondered what Kaz was talking about when he said ‘gambling problems’. So far he hadn’t seen anything but maybe Jesper was… he trailed off. Jesper would tell him in time when he was ready.

“Oh yeah, because you can say much for yourself,” Kaz sneered at him. “You still read at the pace of a concussed second grader.” Wylan’s cheeks burned red and he floundered for a response that Inej and Jesper readily provided, venom layering their words.

“Kaz I swear to God if you start-” Jesper shouted at Kaz, beginning to take a step towards him. Matthias and Nina silently kept a hand on him, making sure he stayed in his seat.

“Don’t you dare use what I told you against him,” Inej said in a low voice. “Remember what I said?”

Kaz scowled at her. “It’s not my fault he’s got the illiteracy of-”

- a dog . Nothing but a worthless dog.

The sentence finished in his own ears and Wylan stared at the blank wall in horror, remembering his father’s words. He had been sixteen and sentenced to the confinement of one of their empty guest rooms. His paints and markers and science documentaries had been taken away from him, replacing them all with a book instead. Those two weeks had been torture, with nothing to do other than read the same pages that made no sense. The family staff had sympathetically slipped him food through a door that was only allowed to be cracked open in order to be given food, but aside from that their fear of Jan Van Eck was too strong to even give him a pencil or a piece of paper.

He’s being a fool. He’s nothing but a fool.”

“But sir, sir please, this is an actual condition. It’s called Dyslexia and it’s a serious problem-”

“My son has no condition or problems. He’s just too stupid to learn how to read.”

He bit his lip hard at all the taunts and punishments Jan had given him while growing up. There had never been a break to it all - not a single moment Jan Van Eck had ever spent smiling at him for winning the goddamn state science competition, proceeding to nationals which quickly turned into internationals. Every year . He’d brought back so many awards - math and science and music with the occasional robotics one - and Jan Van Eck had never stopped glaring at him. Never stopped calling him stupid. God, he was so fucking stupid.

“Wylan?” Inej asked him softly, shaking his arm. He started and looked up at her, who had moved out of the seat next to Nina and had taken the seat Jesper abandoned.

“Sorry,” he self consciously ran a hand through his hair. “I’m good, I swear I’m good.” Jesper was still yelling at Kaz, who’s expression was growing dark with fury. Matthias was on the sidelines loudly putting in his own opinion and Nina was yelling her support for Jesper.

Thankfully she didn’t question his clearly untrue statement, just wrapped an arm around his neck and drew him closer to her. “It’s alright to hate your father,” she told him sagely. “I’m assuming Kaz’s comment made you think of him?”
“Yeah,” Wylan said sighing. “There’s been plenty of comments throughout the years like the one Kaz just said. I guess I just flashbacked.”

She looked tired. “I’m sorry about Kaz,” she told him honestly. “I’ll get him to apologize. He had no place telling you those things.”

He shook his head. “It’s fine,” he said, voice breaking despite himself. “And plus,” he gave a self-deprecating bitter grin to her, “whatever he was going to say about my illiteracy, it was probably true.”

Inej shook her head. “That’s just your father’s words,” she said strongly. “You’re worth so much more than that.”

He shrugged. He thought about all the recent days, of Inej inviting him to Friday Waffles and Jesper seeking him out. Asking him out on dates. Starting YMCA chants. Matthias hugging him, and Nina offering him a friendly greeting and a conversation whenever they met. Even Kaz’s tiniest nods and looks of approval. “Yeah,” he finally decided. “I know.”

Inej didn’t look too convinced but he dropped his head into the crook of her neck. Inej had a warm, not quite mother-like aura to her that made Wylan’s stomach ache for something he couldn’t recall. Marya Hendricks? He couldn’t remember her face very well these days, and even most of his good memories with her were fading. Could he even call her his mother? She had walked out on him. Mothers weren’t supposed to do that, were they?

“The snow plow should be here soon,” Inej said quietly into his ear. “And then we can all walk away from each other, recollect. It’s not easy spending so much time together with no privacy to speak of.”
Wylan sighed appreciatively and burrowed himself deeper into Inej’s side.

Right as his eyelids began to dim, a massive HMMM filled the air and they watched horrified as the door promptly exploded into millions of tiny pieces of wood, followed by a massive pile of snow. Wylan hid his wince as he noticed Matthias’ entire body almost completely covered in snow.

“Sorry?” he heard from the snow plow. “But this cafe’s pretty much covered up, so it’s difficult to gauge distance and substance.”

Kaz immediately turned away, looking like he was struggling to keep a straight face while Jesper and Nina didn’t even try. Matthias furiously took an aggressive step forward and wildly swung his arms out, throwing the snow in every direction possible. Wylan winced as bits of it fell onto Inej and himself, but the majority of it attacked Kaz (That was karma. He loved karma.)

A head sheepishly popped through the door. “Well, you guys want to come in?” they asked, running a hand through locks of hair. “The plow might get a little crowded, but it’s better than, y’know, waiting for an actual method of travel.”

Kaz squinted at the man who looked strikingly familiar. “Are you Roeger?” he asked after a beat. “Wylan’s partner in Demo?”
Jesper twisted his head, answering for Wylan. “No, that’s not Roeger,” he said confidently. Wylan nodded behind him to assure everybody of this, before taking a closer look. The man looked offended and Jesper looked at him again. “Oops,” he said sheepishly. “that is Roeger. Have you grown a beard?”

The man flashed Jesper a half-snarl half-growl. “Yes, I have,” he snapped irritably. “Anyways, hi Wylan!” This was said with so much enthusiasm that Wylan awkwardly raised his own hand and waved.

“Hey Ro’,” he said after a beat. “How’s it going?” They had never been that close, but Roeger had always been extraordinarily nice to him. And got him coffee sometimes. And insisted on walking him home sometimes. Roeger was strange.

Jesper frowned for some reason as Roeger happily answered him. “It’s going great,” he told the other boy excitedly. “And plowing isn’t supposed to be fun, but it’s really great to see you. By the way, did you know that they moved up midterms? The new dates are,” he began rattling off dates that Wylan immediately tried keeping track of in his head.

“We have midterms?” Matthias gasped, interrupting Roeger. “That’s impossible! I can’t do that!”
Roeger gave him a sympathetic look. “It’s in about a week and a half, so I’d suggest getting onto reviewing that coursework as soon as possible.” He moved his gaze back to Wylan enthusiastically. “I was hoping you and I could study together?”

Jesper made a loud coughing noise as he glared at Roeger for some reason. Wylan frowned. “Sure,” he told him. “I need to check my Advanced chem notes anyway, and I’ve heard you’re pretty good at it?”

Roeger’s face flushed and he enthusiastically squeaked his assent. “ Anyways ,” Kaz snapped rolling his eyes. “Could we move onto more important topics, such as, how we’re going to get out of this place?”

“Yeah, well,” Roeger ran a hand through his hair and looked back at the plow. “Like I said, it’s going to be tough to fit all of you guys in, but we should be able to do it if somebody sits in somebody else’s lap.”

They considered this and Inej calmly raised her hand. “Why can’t we just take two trips?” she asked confused.

“Because the plow has other places to go,” Matthias explained for him. “Shockingly enough, we can’t take up that much time because I bet there are a lot of other students that are also trapped in various buildings.”

Roeger nodded assertively. “Yeah, believe it or not there’s a group of students - who call themselves ‘the Black Tips’ - which makes like zero sense because I’m pretty sure none of them are even remotely multi-cultural, they all just look really German to me - but one had torn their shirt off and wore it on their head like a bandana, and another had made a cane for themselves and pretended to be dying from a wounded leg that had actually just been stubbed against a door, so I really need to hurry because that is something I don’t want to see again.”

Kaz raised an eyebrow at him. “‘Torn their shirt off and wore it on their head like a bandana’?” he quoted disdainfully.

Jesper snorted. “Pictures or it didn’t happen,” he told Roeger nastily. Wylan rolled his eyes and began arranging his stuff, something he noticed Inej and Matthias had already began doing. Packing away the extra cups they had taken out, he quietly began loading the stores dishwasher as Nina, Kaz, and Jesper interrogated poor Roeger.

“Here, I’ve got it,” Matthias said in a low voice as he wet a rag underneath the faucet. “I’m wiping the tables and Inej is arranging the room so it looks like it’s supposed to.”

Wylan nodded and stacked the mugs inside of the dishwasher. “I’ve consumed nothing but sugary junk food for the past seventy or so hours,” Matthias suddenly whispered to him. “I’m looking forward to a nice hot meal of actual food .”

He nodded appreciatively, imagining anything other than coffee and the occasional stale croissant - even the really old ramen packet from before he had moved in - would be delicious. “Do you know if Jesper and the others are any closer to finishing their interrogation?”

Inej who had silently appeared by his side shook her head gravely. “I think Jesper is determined to make him wet himself,” she said making a face. “He doesn’t appear to be too excited about Roeger’s arrival.”
Wylan shrugged. “Why?” he asked, suddenly conscious of their disbelieving stares on him. “We’ve talked about him in passing before, and Jesper’s never made any comment about not liking him.”

Inej sighed and patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry about it kid,” Matthias advised instead and left the back of the counter. Wylan made a face at Inej that she jokingly returned.

“So…?” he looked at her expectantly.

“Don’t worry about it,” she chose instead. “Now I think Nina’s about to punch Kaz in the face so do you want to deal with that, or should we let Matthias?”
Instantly he swiveled around to watch the catastrophe begin to happen and he shook his head. “Let’s let Matthias deal with it,” he said. “Or we could let Nina miss and Jesper would get hit instead. I’m sure Roeger would be happy about that.”
Inej snorted. “Yes, he would,” she said and then muttered something else underneath her breath. “I just want to leave soon.”

#

They’d made it across half the campus and was just making their way to the main hall where they’d declare themselves back from their seventy hour fiasco when they realized they’d forgotten Paja.

#

"Is this your stop?" Roeger finally asked Wylan as the plow came to a stop. All the others had slipped off a little earlier - they all lived together in a place fondly nicknamed the Barrel (being there himself, he had no idea why it was named that, but it was and they refused to change it) and he had ushered off the ones reluctant to leave him alone in the snow plow with Roeger ("But what if he kidnaps our baby?" Nina had said dramatically, ignoring how Wylan was trying to make his grand escape by sinking into the seats).

"Yeah," Wylan said flashing him a smile. Roeger made a strange noise and he furrowed his eyebrows. "Ro are you okay?"

"Totally," he said in a high pitched voice. "Yeah, um, byeee!"

Wylan waved at him before slipping out of the plow, almost slipping in turn on the ice that had gathered there, and forcing his way into the front steps of his apartment. Slipping his key there (and panicking briefly about whether he could open his door or not) he started with surprise as the door easily swung open for him and-

He stopped short to see pieces of what looked like his sofa inches away from his feet. The entire apartment had been trashed.

"What the fuck ," Wylan whispered in horror.

Chapter Text

He swung the microwave door shut and to his absolute horror, it swung straight back at him and snapped straight off. “They even ruined my microwave ?” he muttered, looking at the broken piece of equipment in disbelief. “They ruined my microwave.”

Pulling on the roots of his hair as tightly as possible, he scanned the room and took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. Even his bed had been ruined - somebody had run a knife right down the middle of it.

Everything was overturned, broken, or undone. His toothbrush had been dunked in something red (that he definitely didn’t want to think of) and every photo frame he had painstakingly bought to decorate his apartment had been shattered and thrown onto the ground. Even the painting from Jesper and his date had been torn in half and one part of it was scribbled on in what looked like charcoal.

He took another shaking breath and tried not to cry.

“Alright Wylan, think,” he muttered to himself. Taking his phone out of his pocket, he debated his options. “Police, Jesper and the others or… “ he trailed off and thought about something Sergie had told him. If you ever need any help…

The mafia would be able to help him, wouldn’t they?
“Mafia it is then,” he said blowing his breath out. “Okay Wylan, calm down, your apartment might be a total disaster right now but you can work through this. Alright. It’s okay.”

The words weren’t helping and as he uselessly clicked on his power button, he remembered his phone was out of charge.

“God- fucking -dammit!” he suddenly screamed, slamming his phone onto the ruined table. A scrap of something caught in his leg and he viciously kicked it away, hearing a satisfying bang as it smashed against the wall. “God fucking dammit,” he repeated slowly, looking at his ruined apartment again. “God fucking dammit.”

A hot rush of water filled his eyes and furiously he pinched a bit of skin, looking up to try to stop them. “You stupid -” he started, raking a hand through his eyes furiously. “Stupid, crying, over emotional dumbass .”

Leaning against the ruined table, he slowly slid down to the ground and willed himself to stop crying. Pinching his eyes, he raked his hands over them again viciously and tried to think of the next step.

“Alright, you need to plug your phone into charge,” he started, keeping his eyes on the ceiling. He would not cry. “Then call Sergie and ask him about…whatever. Then…”

He thought about going to Jesper and the others. They wouldn’t refuse to let him in (Inej and Matthias would probably force them to accept) but he couldn’t put that on them, especially after the seventy hour fiasco that had just taken place.

“Oh ?” Kaz had said. “Are we a ‘we’ now?”

Yeah, he couldn’t ask them for help.

“Sergie it is,” he decided, grabbing the top of the table to pull himself up. His legs ached and his eyes still burned with unshed tears. His own voice was clammy and he needed to sleep. “Tomorrow. I’ll put my phone to charge and then I’ll grab a spare linen or something and sleep on the ground.”

Taking another deep breath, he quietly padded to his bedroom and hunted for some extra linens. Pulling a couple out, he looked around for something soft and when he couldn’t find something, took his pillow and blanket with him. Dumping them on a bit of space he’d cleared out earlier, he looked around for his charger (which was hanging on the towel rack - he bit his lip so hard blood began to seep down it) and plugged it into an outlet, joining it with his phone. It vibrated to life, and he left it there.

Arranging the assortment on a bit of space he’d cleared out, he lay the linen down and grabbed four scrap pieces to keep all the corners in their spaces. Putting his pillow and blanket down, he winced at the coldness of the incredibly hard floor that seeped straight through the linens and wrapped his blanket around himself.

He fell asleep seconds afterwards, but could only keep his eyes shut for a couple of hours.

#

Ring-ring.

Ring-ring.

Ring-ring.

Groggily Wylan’s eyes opened and he moaned as the pain made across his body made itself known. Grabbing his shoulder, he rubbed it as hard as he could, cringing as the pain sparked sharply across his legs and shoulder-blades. God, this was why beds were made , he thought irritably.

“Hello?” he mumbled, putting the phone on speaker. Distantly he noticed that it had reached a hundred percent. He could call Sergie as soon as this was over.

“Hey Wylan.” It was Inej and he almost raised his eyebrows with surprise. “I know we just spent a long time around each other, but tomorrow’s the Friday Waffle thing and I wanted to know if you were still going to come.”

“Oh yeah, the waffle thing,” he said distantly, rubbing at a bit of saliva on his lips. “Um, I… I’m still invited?”
“Oh my god totally!” Nina’s voice boomed through his phone, and he guessed that Inej had stolen it. “Why’d you think we’d uninvited you?”

Um,” he started again, “totally I’ll come. Should I bring anything?”
“It’s all on me,” Inej said (probably stealing her phone back). “Don’t worry about money or anything. And the owner knows us because we did him a favor so it’s at a much cheaper rate.”

“And by cheaper rate,” Nina interrupted again, “we mean basically all tips, and we even pay those because Inej insists on paying twenty dollars on tips.”

He grinned despite himself, feeling his mood lightening. “Alright, I’ll definitely be there. And I’ll bring a bit of money for the tips as well.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Inej responded. “Bye.” The phone cut off and he sighed, looking at the state of his apartment. Scrolling through his contacts, he found Sergie’s and hesitated, thumb hovering only a couple centimeters above it.

“Hello?” Sergie’s voice boomed from the phone and Wylan almost grinned again. Sergie might be terrifying to be around (generally - after the crying debacle, he’d stopped seeing Sergie as a reliable distant person to call instead of dealing directly with the terrifying Oksanochka, and more as a reliable close friend).

“Hey Sergie, this is Wy-” he winced as the voice crack made itself known, “-lan, um, Wylan, I was… I…I need…  “

“Wylan?” Sergie’s voice broke through, the concern in his voice palpable. “Is everything alright?”

He flushed and ran a hand through his roots again. “Um, well funny story,” he said laughing bitterly. “Somebody broke into my apartment? And they tore it apart and slit the bed and everything and I don’t know what to do.”

“Oh my - I’ll be there as soon as possible.”

#

Wylan swung the door open for Sergie nervously and let the man in. Sergie scanned the room through quickly and stared at Wylan in shock.

“How did this happen?” he asked concerned, and then saw the pile of linens and blankets on the ground. “Did you sleep here?”

“Well yeah,” he admitted blushing a bit. “It was a bit uncomfortable, but whatever.”

“And you didn’t ask Fahey?” Suddenly his eyes darkened and he looked angry as he asked the next question. “Did he do this?”
“God no!” Wylan said quickly, before Sergie’s mind went places. “It’s just that - well - we just spent seventy hours together with the entire crew - everybody - and I feel like they could all use a break before having to deal with me in close quarters again. So I just decided to sleep here and I called you.”

“Did you buy a lock for your door so it didn’t happen again while you were sleeping?” Sergie asked (thankfully choosing to ignore the seventy-hour thing) and Wylan flushed as the realization of his stupidity hit him.

“Umm… no? I just need help looking into who did this,” he explained, “and then I’ll probably buy a hotel room for a couple of nights.”

“Do you want to spend the night at my place?” Sergie offered. “I’m sure Oksanochka won’t mind. You can stay for as long as you’d like.”

Wylan hesitated but then thought of another night of sleeping on the godawful floor. “Alright,” he finally said gratefully. “That’d be amazing.”
“I’ll get some mafia members to clean up the apartment,” Sergie said, running a hand through his hair. “And I’m sure it’ll be fine soon. I can also scan for fingerprints?”

Thank you ,” Wylan said gratefully. “You’re an amazing friend. I’ll buy coffee and a muffin for you if you want.”

Sergie’s smile was hopeful. “Jelly?”

Anything .”

#

Newly armed with a jelly doughnuts and coffee, the two headed inside the mafia building, Sergie with joy, and Wylan with heavy apprehension.

“We have a guest room I can give to you,” he offered to Wylan as they dumped out their coffee cups. “Or you can drag a mattress into my room.”

He shrugged, not willing to part ways with Sergie just yet. His massive frame seemed to be the only thing keeping Wylan from not running straight out the door they came from, but judging from the countless winding halls his escape method would probably get him more lost than anything else. “Whatever’s easier.”

They continued walking for a bit more before they entered a large space that looked like a cafeteria. “Hello Sergie!” Wylan suddenly heard and he watched horrified as Sergie got separated from him by two other people that he recognized as Bollinger and Gretina.

“Hey,” Sergie said coldly and Bollinger and Gretina visibly drew back, faces nervous. Wylan resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow. Sergie was never cold. Sergie was the nicest person he had ever met.

“Sergie, please forgive us,” Bollinger began to plead but Sergie shook his head and grabbed Wylan’s wrist.

“If you’ll excuse us,” he said firmly. “I have to set Wylan up in my room.”

Gretina and Bollinger shot Wylan a ferocious look that he returned as best as he could. “I’m okay taking the guest room,” he said after a beat of awkward silence. “It’s really no problem.”

Gretina nodded coldly. “I think that’s for the best,” she advised Sergie. “And after that, Oksanochka has given us orders to carry out, and I’d hate to have to kill your friend because he overheard them.” The look she gave Wylan was terrifying.

“Alright then,” he said awkwardly. “Sergie, can you…”

Silently Sergie stalked away, Wylan’s forearm gripped firmly in his hand and they marched to a random room that (hopefully) was clean. “Here,” he said angrily. Cringing, he rescinded his statement. “I’m sorry, it’s just that - I’ve been having some trouble with Bollinger and Gretina.”

“Sure what happened?” Wylan asked immediately, shutting the door in front of him. “If I can help…”

Sergie waved him off. “No, it’s fine. Problems that come with unrequited love I suppose.” He laughed bitterly and Wylan patted his shoulder sympathetically.

“I’m so sorry,” he said genuinely. “If my presence is bothersome, I can definitely leave.”

“It-it’s fine,” Sergie said sadly. “Would you mind if I talked about it?”

“Not at all,” he said immediately. “What happened?”

“Well,” Sergie sniffled lightly, “Bollinger and Gretina share a room now - obviously, because they’re planning on being married - but one dinner I was eating out because they are so affectionate during mealtimes that I cannot stand it, and they came up to me.”

“And,” Wylan prompted.

He let out another sniffle. “They joked about me being jealous of their relationship, and,” he let another sniffle, “told me that I could join in the next time I was jealous. And then they invited me to their bed - as, as, as, a joke !”

“What did you do?” Wylan asked horrified, thinking of Gretina and Bollinger’s casual affection. For poor Sergie, it must have been incredibly hard to hide the pain he felt when they were just being disgustingly affectionate, let alone when they were screwing around like that.

“I told them to stop messing around like that,” Sergie said sadly. “And then I left and I haven’t turned back since.”

Wylan stopped. “What do you mean, ‘left and haven’t turned back since’?”

Sergie gave Wylan a sad look. “Oksanochka told me that she will be retiring soon,” he told Wylan.”I asked for a transfer, and I will be leaving for America in a month.”

“Sergie I’m so sorry,” he said softly, wrapping his arms around the larger man. “I’m so sorry it didn’t work out.”

He shrugged. “Not all things do.” Sergie sounded far older than his normal self, and Wylan felt a rush of loathing for Gretina and Bollinger.

“Do they know?”

“No, I haven’t told them,” he told Wylan. “I’m planning on telling them right before I leave.”

He nodded somberly and reflected that, though they had only met a few times, Wylan would miss Sergie. “Are you leaving before the wedding?” he asked Sergie seriously.

He smiled sadly. “I’ll come back for the wedding, but I will leave right after it’s over.”

Wylan nodded and suddenly his phone buzzed. Sticking an earbud into his ear, he quickly heard Siri’s voice speak.

hey where are you

do you want to hang out

hey

hey

wylan

sunshine answer me

hey, hey, ho, ho, this new ban has got to go!

please talk to me

pleeeeeasseeeee

i just looked up your pho

ARE YOU IN MAFIA TERRITORY AGAIN??!!!

Wylan apologetically looked up at Sergie who dismissed him easily. “Don’t worry about it, go back to Fahey and reassure him,” he said genially and Wylan hurriedly began his response.

don’t worry about me

in here for a reason

my apartment’s been having some difficulties and i need a place to crash - Sergie’s a good friend and offered the mafia guest bedroom.

okay sunshine

i’m not sure when the book ‘dumb ways to die’ became your motto, because crashing at mafia’s hq is NOT A GOOD LIFE PLAN

do you need backup

blink twice for backup

hold on no i can’t see you blink

respond if you’re in trouble

jes no

jes yes

that rhymed

i should be a poet

pls no

i’m fine

please

just having some difficulties

are you ok???

fine

trust me - i’m still going to friday waffles with nina and inej

alright

you’d tell me though, right?

Wylan thought about Jesper and the Crows. He remembered Kaz’s comment, his ice cold, ‘ Are we a ‘we’ now?’

Taking a shaky breath, he cursed quietly before responding with shaky fingers.

of course i’d tell you if i was going through any trouble!

aight

be safe merchling

pls

don’t worry ;)

Heart heavy, he watched as Jesper logged off. Shaking suddenly as abrupt yelling began from somewhere outside the guest room, he bit his lip as a loud glass shatter sounded. Sergie didn’t look at all worried, just kept on texting.

“Hey Sergie?” Wylan asked uncertainly looking up. Sergie who had also been on his phone looked up as well. “I don’t think I can stay here for long.”

He nodded understandingly. “This may not be my place, but I think the Brekker’s group wouldn’t hesitate to take you,” Sergie said gently. “I wouldn’t be worried about asking them too.”

Smiling, Wylan wrapped his arms around the other man. He would miss him.

Chapter Text

The Lid was the name of the waffle place, and it was also a testament to how protected his life was that Wylan had no idea it existed.

The Lid was located just a couple of blocks away from Haskell’s Orphanage (and judging from how Inej and Nina avoided it while passing by the windows of it, they hadn’t left the place on a good note). The orphanage wasn’t necessarily located in a safe place - a couple of police officers had once been permanently stationed there because of the frequent criminal activity, but it had soon be shut down mysteriously - and Wylan wondered if that was how the rest of them learned the odd skillsets they had. He’d once seen Jesper throw a dart at a dartboard and watch it hit dead center. Inej had the uncanny ability to disappear and dance on rooftops. Matthias was as built as a linebacker. Kaz, well, Kaz was obvious. He wondered if Nina had a special talent like that, and then realized that yeah, she probably did.

“So this is The Lid,” Inej told him as they walked around a corner. Instantly a delicious smell arose and his eyebrows rose with it (he’d lived twenty-one years in Amsterdam, how had he not known about this place?). A bright pink store greeted them as Nina swung the door open, and the smell only grew stronger. “Over there’s Retvenko - he owes us a favor and decided to pay for it with unlimited waffles.”

“Or two, or three,” Nina sang, dropping her head onto Inej’s shoulder. “Retvenko’s owes us his life.”

Inej rolled her eyes. “But we choose not to brag about it, don’t we?” She tilted her head to Nina who only winked.

“Not all of us can be merciful saints,” she whispered to Wylan as Inej left to go to the counter. “Anyways, what are you going to get?”

Wylan shrugged. “Chocolate waffles? I can never go wrong with chocolate.” The waffle store was classily designed - there were large containers of candy on one side of the room, each one styled like they were in the eighties - and fancy chairs on the sides of the room. The counter itself separated them from the rest of the room, which had countless waffle makers hidden, as well as syrup and from what he could see, ice cream. “So when I know what I want, do I just go up there?”

“I’ll go with you,” Nina said, climbing off the chair she’d sat on. “After all, we don’t want to make you pay either.”

The two headed for the counter and during the silence that filled the air as they waited, Wylan thought about his ruined apartment. The moon was rising slowly, but by the time they would be done it would be securely positioned in the sky.

“So whatcha thinking about?” Nina asked lightly, patting his shoulder. He startled, looking up at her in a daze.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “I haven’t been sleeping very well lately.”

Nina shot him a crooked grin. “Same here. But it was a relief to be back in my bed yesterday.”

He laughed at that, thinking of the pile of linens still in a mess on the ground. “Yeah,” he said softly. “It’s been great.”

Nina’s eyebrows furrowed as she looked at him and shook his shoulder again. “You okay?” she asked, an uncertain note filling her voice. “You don’t look really great - bags underneath your eyes, frown marks are pretty dark - you really don’t look great.”

Wylan sighed. “I-I can I talk to you and Inej about this? As soon as we’re all sitting down at the table I’ve got to ask a massive favor of you guys.”

Nina brushed it off. “Of course. But you should know,” a flash of dread filled Wylan momentarily, “that the words ‘massive favor’ is probably nothing compared to what I’ve been asked.”

Wylan hesitated. “No, it’s a pretty  big favor.”

She laughed and they moved up in the line. “Trust me - one time I was called to Kaz’s room at two in the morning to help him and Matthias shift everything in Haskell’s room exactly two inches to the right.”

Wylan snorted. “I hope Haskell didn’t come back home soon.”

She made a face. “No. Haskell was sleeping inside his room while we made the changes. God, moving his bed was terrifying.”

His eyebrows rose. “You moved everything with him inside his room?”

“Yep. And another time, I was called to the zoo and instructed to bring a pair of earrings and borrow Teapot’s - another kid in the orphanage - hijab and then when I got there I realized that they were staging a freaking crow protest.”

“Hold on - you guys were the ones behind that?” Wylan squawked outraged. “I distinctly remember there being actual crows and somehow, somebody had put signs on them and they were trotting around the zoo! My um, my,” he licked his lips, “my friend Kuweii and I were at the zoo that day and we saw it all happen. Kaz planned that?”

Nina winked. “He’s got a pretty big heart when it comes to crows.”

They moved up in the line again and began ordering, Wylan barely keeping his questions to himself until it was over. “So what was the protest actually for?” he asked, as soon as they were done ordering and heading back to their table.

Nina made a face. “No idea. But Kaz harbors an age-old obsession with crows.”

“Maybe he was a crow-whisperer in another life,” Wylan suggested and Nina almost started choking, falling forward with laughter.

“Are we talking about Kaz’s crow obsession?” Inej asked as they reached the table. Wylan nodded, pressing his lips together tightly. Inej cracked a smile. “Yeah, he almost convinced me to house a small family over the summer. I still feed the ones that come to the Barrel in the morning.”

Wylan nodded, thinking of the summer he and Kuweii had spent together. “Did you know that pigeons and doves are from the same family?” he asked randomly. “Also, crows are scientifically from the corvidae family.”

“Huh,” Nina said impressed. “Wait, how do you know that?”

Wylan shrugged. “Always liked science. Easier than numbers, anyway.”

They both accepted this silently and Wylan smiled. Turning his head to look at the store again, he frowned as he noticed the darkening sky again. He’d have to bring it up.

“So, I told Nina this but I have a really big favor to ask,” Wylan said nervously. “It’s kind of a big deal.”

“What is it?” Inej asked automatically, looking at him.

“Food!” they suddenly heard, and they turned their heads to see the waiter come by, drop off their waffles, and then leave quickly. Biting into the chocolate waffle he’d ordered, he waited a couple of seconds before speaking again.

“Um, these are great. But I need to ask a massive favor,” Wylan said biting his lip. Inej and Nina nodded.

“Hold on - before we start, can we be sure that if it’s anything illegal we will sign a blood oath and chant ritualistically to bond eternally so we can make sure that if the cops choose to pull a prisoners dilemma, we will never betray each other?” Nina cut in quickly and Inej sighed. Wylan shrugged.

“I’d be open to it,” Wylan volunteered and Nina preened before kissing his cheek.

See Inej?” she crowed. “I’m going to go find an enchanted parchment that we can sign in blood so this deal holds.”

But first ,” Inej said, dragging Nina back down onto her seat. “What do you want to say Wylan?”

He swallowed. “My apartment got trashed when I returned from it,” he admitted nervously. “And I really need a place to crash until I can find another solution.”

Nina gasped. “What do you mean ‘it got trashed’?”

Wylan shrugged, pulling his phone out. Sergie had told him to take pictures of the damage, just in case there was an emergency. “Here,” he told them, showing the remains of his apartment.

“Oh my god,” Inej said softly. “Wylan are you okay?”

The heavy burning returned to Wylan’s eyes and he shrugged again. “I mean - like - what do you even say to something like this?” he asked. “I just came home one day and saw all of this in front of me so I grabbed as many linens as I had, threw them onto the floor, and slept like that.”

“You can stay at our apartment,” Inej said immediately. “You can stay indefinitely, don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t you guys need to ask the others though?” Wylan squirmed nervously. “I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

Nina laughed. “If they’re accusing you of intruding, tell them to come to us. Your back must have hurt like hell after last night.”

Wylan winced, remembering the aching feeling. “Yeah, I felt like I was ancient and experiencing back pains,” he told them. Taking another bite of his waffles, he gave them a grateful weak smile. “Thanks though - I really just need a place to stay for a while. Even a couch would be fine.”

“We have an extra guest room,” Inej said automatically. “Nobody will care. Why didn’t you come to us sooner?”

He made a face, remembering Kaz’s comment. “We’d just been through the whole, seventy hour thing,” he told them awkwardly. “And I feel like if you guys had just spent seventy hours in the company of, well, me , then you should probably take a little break before you had to deal with more time from me.”

Nina sharply thwacked his arm. “Wylan trust me, hanging out with you is great ,” she told him reproachfully.

Inej nodded. “Kaz’s an idiot,” she added offhandedly. “If any of his comments were the ones to discourage you from asking. So after waffles, do you just want to walk home with us? Do you have any stuff that hasn’t been ruined?”

Wylan cringed. “Sadly, no.”

“Is anybody checking into this?” Nina asked in a low voice. “Like, the police… or?”

“The mafia actually,” Wylan told them to their obvious surprise. “Sergie’s started being a pretty good friend, and the two of us hit it off a while ago. He’s super reliable, and offered me the mafia’s guest room but then I had to decline because, well…” he trailed off, thinking of all the chaos he had walked into.

Inej nodded sympathetically. “I know the feeling. Gretina, Bollinger, and Sergie have something really big going on, don’t they?”

“Yeah,” Wylan said sadly, thinking of Sergie. “Wait how do you know?”

“Anyways,” Nina cut in, “how are the waffles? Waffles are the greatest. Did I ever tell you about the time we tried colouring Matthias’s waffles bright orange, green, and black, the exact opposite colors to the Russian flag…”

#

“So this is the Barrel,” Inej told him as they swung the door open. Wylan blinked at the semi-familiar surroundings that greeted him.

“Yeah, I was here when the whole concussion thing happened,” he told them. Inej nodded. “I remember.”

“We’ve gotten so far since then,” Nina said grinning at them as she moved to take her coat off. “Inej, Wylan, coffee?”

“Yes please ,” Inej automatically said, and Wylan hesitated before agreeing sheepishly. “Have you begun studying for midterms?”

He shrugged. “It’s been pretty busy on my end, but I’m definitely going to stop by the college, grab my stuff, and start hardcore studying soon. I already know most of the material though, so I should be good.”

Inej nodded and Nina whistled from her spot on the kettle. “That sounds like so much work,” she told them. “Personally, my own midterms passed a while ago.”

“Really?” Wylan’s eyebrows rose in disbelief. “Oh - you’re in med school,” he remembered. “So how’d that go?”

She shot him a grin. “Aced it.”

Wylan high-fived her and she laughed, spinning him around gleefully.

“And you Inej?” he remembered, looking at her. “Oh wait, you’re also studying for midterms.”

Inej laughed. “They’re pretty stressful, but as long as I study enough I’m sure I’ll get good grades.”

In hindsight, he wasn’t sure what else he had expected from her.

Loud footsteps suddenly began coming to the kitchen, and they all turned their heads to see Jesper, Kaz, and Matthias come in.

“Hey,” Wylan said belatedly after the three had seen Jesper. “So I came home with Nina and Inej.”

“He llo merchling,” Jesper said back, swooping down to kiss his cheek. Wylan blushed as Jesper shot him a grin.

“So what’s he doing here?” Matthias asked in confusion. Wylan awkwardly shuffled around before Inej spoke for him.

“His apartment was trashed for some unknown reason,” she said. Kaz’s eyebrow raised and Wylan bit his lip.

“I’m having it investigated,” he told them and Jesper looked at him concerned.

“You okay sunshine?” he asked, pulling Wylan in for another kiss. He relaxed into his arms for a while before drawing back again.

“Yeah, I’m good,” he told Jesper. “It’s just been a rough couple of nights.”

“So what’s he doing here ?” Kaz repeated, looking at Wylan carefully. “Is he taking our guest room because he needs a place to sleep?”

“My mattress was slashed,” Wylan told them flushing. “So yeah, I kind of need a place to sleep. I slept on the ground last night, but it pretty much killed my back, so…” he trailed off awkwardly and Matthias immediately spoke up.

“That’s torture for your body,” he said almost indignantly. “You should have come to us! Do you need any help settling in?”

Mom-friend Wylan remembered Jesper had said.

And speaking of Jesper, he turned to look at Jesper who was frowning. “Is it alright if I stay here for a while?” he asked Jesper nervously. “You’re being really quiet.”

“It’s fine,” Kaz said brusquely, answering for Jesper. They collectively shot him stunned looks and he twisted his mouth in return. “What? He’s staying in our guest room for a while. Any vetoes will be ignored.”

Dramatically he turned and left, (then returned a few seconds later, took a cup of coffee Nina had made, and left once again). Matthias snorted before patting Wylan sympathetically and leaving himself. Even Inej and Nina grabbed a cup of coffee before heading out of the room.

“Are you okay?” Wylan asked to Jesper who was still silent. “Jes?”

“It’s fine,” Jesper said roughly, pulling away from Wylan. Wylan bit his lip, a spark of hurt rushing through him.

“Alright then, thanks,” Wylan said slowly, taking a couple of steps backwards himself. “I’m just going to…”

“Yeah,” Jesper said nodding. “You should go.”

He paused at that, looking at Jesper. “Jes are you-”

“I’m fine,” Jesper cut him off. “I’ve got to go. Bye.”

As he watched his boyfriend hurriedly leave him, he bit his lip and sighed. The last couple of days had been hell.

Chapter Text

“So this is the guest room,” Matthias told him gesturing to the room. His eyebrows rose - this place was massive when compared to his old place. Scanning the room, his eyes focused on a brass pole in the middle of the room - right next the bed, which was shoved into the corner - and he raised his eyebrow.

“Um, is that a stripper pole?” he asked Matthias.

Matthias sighed. “Yeah. There was another apartment I wanted to get, but Jes, Nina, Inej, and Kaz outvoted me in favor of the stripper pole.”

Inej and Kaz voted for the stripper pole?” Wylan asked bewildered.

“Nina voted for the stripper pole,” he clarified. “Inej voted for Nina.”

Realization hit Wylan. “And by default, that means Kaz voted for Inej,” he said. Matthias laughed uncharacteristically.

“You’ve gotten the hang of us that means,” he said smiling. Wylan laughed at that, before remembering Jesper’s silence. The laugh faded and there was silence for a while.

“Hey do you know why Jesper was acting weird about me staying here for a while?” Wylan asked uncertainly, not sure if Matthias was willing to talk about it.

Matthias hesitated before shrugging. “Jesper has some problems,” he said slowly, looking at Wylan’s expression.

“I know that, Kaz mentioned them. But Jes’ never told me about them, so I decided to wait until he did,” Wylan explained. Matthias nodded.

“They exist, and I think he’s scared that if you see them, you’ll decide that he’s not worth… being with ,” Matthias said with some difficulty. Wylan’s mouth opened with outrage.

What? In what world would I decide that leaving Jespe-”

“I’m not saying that you will!” he defended, raising his arms in a surrender position. “I’m saying that in Jesper’s head, he might think so. He’s scared Wylan.”

Wylan nodded. “I should go speak to him about this, shouldn’t I?” he asked Matthias. “Yeah, I’m going to.”

Matthias shook his head. “It’s late.” Wylan’s lips pursed as he saw the 11:00 on his watch. “Why don’t I help you get settled in this room, and then you guys talk about it tomorrow?”

He sighed wearily, thinking about Jesper. Images ran through his head - Jesper starting the YMCA chant, Jesper getting the position of ring bearer in a completely unorthodox way (that may or may not have actually involved getting rid of the actual ring bearer), Jesper laughing, carefree and wild. His chest hurt.

“Sure,” he decided. “But tomorrow morning, the two of us are going to talk about this.”

#

Hours later Wylan was staring at the ceiling of the room (which, he had discovered, had shockingly good glow in the dark paint - and who and why did anybody think that was a good idea?) tiredly. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered to himself, listening to the words fade into the air.

His mind flashed back to his life before Jesper, before the rest of them all. Before Sergie. Would his apartment still be ruined?

I could call father , he thought to himself. He laughed to himself - the day Jan Van Eck willingly helped his son would be the day Wylan proceeded to check him into an asylum.

Pit-pat. Pit-pat.

Wylan frowned. Was it raining?

Sitting up wearily, he winced as bits of his body ached in protest to the unfamiliar position and looked out the window. It was a beautiful clear night, and he could see every star sparkling in the sky. He smiled despite himself.

Pit-pat. Pit-pat .

He frowned. Footsteps. Maybe one of them was getting back home late.

Pit-pat. Pit-pat. Pit-pat.

Nope, he couldn’t ignore the sounds.

Getting up from his bed, he tiredly hunted for his castaway shirt before trudging slowly to the hall. The lights were on in the hall, and he blinked disconcertingly, listening for the footsteps. They were louder, towards the kitchen.

Where was his phone again? He frowned before remembering that he had shoved it underneath his pillow. Turning back into his room to get it, he checked the time and frowned again. It was two o’clock in the morning.

Quietly he walked to the kitchen, blinking heavily at the light. Hiding in the shadows just before he entered the kitchen, he frowned as he saw Jesper at the kitchen table, pulling out…

Money. He was counting money.

Gambled away all your cash lately, Jesper ?” Kaz had sneered. There were more than a couple times when they had referenced Jesper’s gambling problems, and Matthias had implied that Jesper had a few problems that he might have wanted to hide from Wylan…

Quite simply, Wylan realized, Jesper had a gambling problem.

Resigning himself to the possibility of a terrible encounter, Wylan coughed loudly, forcing Jesper to look up from the small bunch of bills in his hand. “Who’s there?” Jesper asked, putting the money down. “I swear to God guys, if this is another intervention…”

“Just me,” Wylan said quietly, stepping out of the shadows. Jesper’s expression went through an odd cycle at that point - surprise, alarm, fear, anxiety, anger - before a mask covered his face completely. Wylan almost shuddered - Jesper’s face wasn’t meant to be masked.

Jesper paused, looking down at himself before looking at the clock hung over the stove. “It’s two in the morning,” he said wearily. “Stalker much, merchling?”

Wylan walked towards Jesper before sitting on the chair directly across from him. “Jesper,” he said quietly. The taller boy flinched and drew back. Hurriedly Wylan reached out to grab his hand before Jesper snatched that back as well. “I think we both know what this is about.”

Jesper raised an eyebrow, attempting to look casual. His body betrayed him though - every muscle was tense, and Wylan’s eyes flickered as they noted the flush on his cheeks. “I’m not a hundred percent sure what this is about,” he said immediately. “Are you sure you don’t want to go back to sleep? It’s early. It’s two. You’re hallucinating.”

Wylan was unimpressed. “You’re the one that told me I looked cuter when I was being smart,” he replied instantly. “I’m not sure why you’d want your boyfriend to look dumb right now.”

Jesper exhaled slowly at that, almost like he was releasing a deep drag from a cigarette. “So…” he said quietly, looking at the small pile of money on the table. “What do you think this is?”

“I think this is you coming back from the casino,” he said softly, reaching his hand out to grab Jesper’s. He flinched but didn’t draw back again. “And I think this is the part where you count the money you lost and regret the whole evening.”

Jesper let out a long sigh, closing his eyes and leaning against the chair. “I’m sorry,” he suddenly told Wylan. “I-I should have told you this. I should have told you that you were dating a, a complete human trainwreck.”

Disbelievingly, Wylan responded. “What do you mean I’m dating a human trainwreck?”

“I literally go out and gamble every night,” said Jesper, voice beginning to rise with anger. “I spend bucket-loads of cash that I can’t afford , to play games that only land me in even more debt, and yet I’m still stupid enough to keep going back, and-” Jesper’s voice cracked and he looked at Wylan helplessly. “I-” he cut off again, letting out a wild gasp. “I can’t-”

Silently Wylan got up from his seat and pulled Jesper into a long hug, burying his face into the taller boy’s hair. “It’s okay,” Wylan said quietly, rubbing small circles into Jesper’s back. “It’s going to be alright.”

Jesper pulled Wylan into himself, drawing into the smaller boy completely, still gasping wildly. “I-” he said breathlessly when Wylan looked him in the face. “I-I-, Wylan .”

Quietly Wylan went onto his tiptoes and pressed his lips to Jesper’s scalp, making his way around his face, his neck, his collarbones. “It’s going to be okay Jes,” he told the other boy calmly. “I promise Jes, it’s going to be okay, I promise.”

“But what if it’s not?” Jesper gasped into his neck, pressing his face deep into him. “What if I can’t ever stop? I’m so sorry sunshine, I should have told you that you were getting into a relationship with a complete disaster of a person-”

“Hey,” Wylan said firmly, pulling away from Jesper and looking him in the eye. “You are not a disaster. I don’t care about the gambling. We can work through it, but you’ve got to let me help you. I’m going to help you.”

Jesper let another small gasp that he tried to smother by diving into Wylan’s chest. He let him, though the angle was strange because of the height difference. Wrapping his hands around Jesper’s head, Wylan let out a deep breath as Jesper relaxed into him.

“It’s going to be okay,” he told the taller boy. “Trust me - we’ll work through this.”

#

Wylan woke up to the shuffling of bedspreads, and the feeling of arms being detangled from him. “What’s going on?” he asked woozily. The last couple of hours had been a little terrifying, if he admitted it to himself. A broken Jesper was not somebody he was used to - or somebody he wanted to be used to.

“Hey sunshine.” Wylan smiled despite himself as he felt a gentle kiss press against his forehead. “I’m just going to go to the bathroom. And then…” he trailed off.

Wylan sighed. “We have to talk about last night.”

“Yeah, that,” Jesper said uncomfortably, disappearing from sight.

Wylan let out another long exhale, looking around the room they were in. At some point Wylan had managed to herd Jesper into a room - the guest room he was staying in, actually - and Jesper proceeded to fall asleep, still wrapped in Wylan’s arms. Wylan on the hand, had stayed up for hours listening to the other boy’s quiet heartbeat.

It was almost peaceful in the dark, a quiet bum -bum bum, bum -bum bum, pressed against him, bidding him to sleep. Wylan hadn’t slept though. Just clutched onto Jesper and thought.

“So you didn’t get much sleep, did you?” Jesper guessed as he walked through the door. Wylan turned to see his face glowing, like he had just washed it.

“I was thinking,” Wylan said evenly. “About everything last night.”

They both gave the window - and the disgustingly bright light in the sky - a glance and Wylan made a face as he noted the time. It was nine.

“I’m sorry,” Jesper said softly. “For dumping all my issues onto you, especially because I didn’t tell you anything before we started dating so it’s like you’re forced to deal with all my issues-”

“I want to help you,” Wylan broke in fiercely. “I’m not doing it because I pity you or something stupid. I’m going to help you, because you’re my boyfriend , and I care about you.”

Jesper gave Wylan an almost touched look. “I don’t want you to feel pressured or anything-” he started.

Silently, Wylan walked up to the taller boy and rose to his toes again, sinking them both into a deep kiss. Jesper moaned into him and Wylan’s back arched involuntarily, almost landing them both into the bed. Finally they broke apart panting, and Wylan raked his hair out of his vision.

“I care about you,” Wylan said breathlessly, “so until you stop saying stupid shit like that, I’m just going to keep making out with you.”

Jesper sent him a hopeful smile that looked strange on a face that always held a smirk. “So we’re good?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Wylan said with a grin. “Yeah, we’re great.”

“Good, because I haven’t ever woken up beside you and sunshine you look radiant .”

The blush that spread to Wylan’s cheeks somehow reassured the both of them.

Chapter Text

Pekka Rollins’ class sucked.

Why Wylan, you might ask. Is it because he drolls on and on endlessly about topics nobody cares about ? Is it because he paces around the freakin’ lecture hall and his voice is either too soft when you’re actually trying to pay attention, and too loud when all you want to do is sleep? Is it because Wylan dreams of punching his stupid face in with an iron hammer and then shoving his entire fat body into an easy bake oven where it will cook for three eterni-

“Okay,” Inej (who he had recently discovered also attended the same torturous Rollins class as him) said slowly, pulling at Wylan’s arm. “I understand that we all hate Rollins but murder is not the way to go.”

“But is it?” Wylan asked quietly, shooting the man in question a glare. “I’m telling you - he hates us because we ate his stock while we were stuck in his cafe.”

Inej scoffed. “Of course he does,” she said calmly. “Pekka Rollins is a businessman. The fact that we ate his food instead of starving to death like civilised people irritates him. But he’s still your teacher, so you need to at least pretend to like him so you can get good grades in his class.”

“But he woke me up,” Wylan complained, rubbing the sides of his eyes. “You can say whatever you want about him, but the fact remains that he woke me up and it was for no reason other than to tell me my shoe was untied. Which, by the way, it wasn’t.”
Inej made a face. “I mean, you did fall asleep in his class.”

“I did but,” Wylan yawned, loud enough to make other students look at them curiously. Wylan blushed at the attention, but Inej simply raised an eyebrow until they all stopped. “Thanks,” he said gratefully and she brushed it off. “Anyways, I was exhausted. Do you know how much sleep I got last night?”

Inej arched an eyebrow. “Well, I did see you in a bed with Jesper, but then again you were fully clothed and I didn’t hear Kaz’s disgusted yelling so there wasn’t any sex. Yet Jesper seems to be extremely happy and giddy, like he’s been unburdened from a secret, so I’m going to assume that he told you about the gambling and you took it in a good way, promising to help him out with it?”

Wylan’s jaw dropped. He wanted to ask her how she did that, but on the other hand he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.

Inej stayed silent. Well , he thought to himself. That’s that .

“Hey. you draw right?” Inej asked suddenly, and Wylan tilted his head swinging his bag to the front of his chest.

“Yeah, why?” he asked, riffling through to find his sketchpad.

“Well, the wedding is coming up soon and I kind of don’t want to give the mafia a wedding gift they can use on crime, so I was thinking that if you gifted them a painting then that would be okay.”

Wylan considered it nodding. “I think that’d be good,” he said. “I mean, are you guys coming to the wedding? Are you even allowed to?”

“Yeah, Gretina’s an old friend of mine,” Inej said. “Nina’s my ‘plus one’, and Kaz got invited because Bollinger has an age-old obsession with one-upping him, and for some reason he thinks that if Kaz sees him getting married he’ll consider himself one-upped by the man.”

Wylan considered this, hand still absentmindedly ruffling through his bag. “So Matthias’ is going to be Kaz’s ‘plus one’? But really, it’s going to be Matthias and Nina, and you and Kaz?”

“Yes,” Inej confirmed. “What are you looking for?”

Frowning, Wylan purposely looked through his bag again. “I can’t find my sketchbook,” he murmured. “Crap, I think I left it in Pekka Rollins’ class.”

“That’s not… good,” Inej said, raising an eyebrow. “Do you want me to go and get it to save you his death glare?”

“It’s fine, I’ve got it,” he murmured under his breath. “Thanks for the offer though. Can you just, come with me so if he tries to murder me I have backup?”

Inej gave him a mock salute as they turned around and quickly walked back the way they came from. It was only a couple minutes walk, and they both ignored the curious stares wondering why they were voluntarily going back into Satan’s classroom.

Come to think of it, had people been staring at him before he had met Jesper, he probably would have blushed and mumbled something underneath his breath. Hanging out with Jesper and his friends had definitely changed him, Wylan reflected.

“Hanging out with your new friends,” Inej corrected mid step. Wylan’s head flashed towards her.

“How did you know what I was thinking?” he asked bewildered. She smiled mysteriously.

“Nevermind,” he amended and she flashed a wink at him.

Hesitating as he reached the doorframe, Inej sighed and pulled him inside the lecture hall. Rollins was all the way in the front of the classroom, arranging his papers. Silently, he raised his gaze from the papers to stare at them before beckoning them towards him.

“Oh god we have to walk all that with him staring at us like that?” Wylan muttered under his breath, quickening his pace. They both semi-jogged up to him, the entire time Wylan cursing his awkward jog in comparison to Inej’s smooth semi-jog (which he had no idea how she pulled off).

“So,” he finally said as they reached Rollins. “Um, I think I left my sketchbook here.” He eyed the sketchbook on the man’s desk that definitely had his name printed on hit (he blushed at the Wylan Eck printed on it).

“Yes,” Rollins said smoothly. “Speaking of which, I do business with your father. I had no idea you had dropped the ‘Van’ in your name.”

A blush rose to his cheeks and Wylan inwardly cursed his life. If Rollins met with his dad soon, then he was bound to mention the ‘Eck’ to his father, and then his father would murder him for the dishonor or whatever bullshit came with unofficially disavowing your terrible parent.

“Yes, he did,” Inej said evenly, taking the sketchbook for him. “Thank you for your time Professor. We’re going to leave now, please.”

“Actually,” Rollins said eyes glittering. “I’d like to remind Wylan not to fall asleep in my class.”

Wylan swallowed. “Yeah totally, I’m just sorry I was running low on sleep.”

“Ah yes,” Rollins said delicately, malice running through his eyes. “I’m just saying - you wouldn’t want your father to hear about this, would you?”

Terror crept up his spine, solidifying into ice that in turn spread through his veins.

“Well,” Inej said, a touch of coldness entering her own voice. “I’m sure his father would understand falling asleep from sleep deprivation.”

Rollins smiled, looking like a wolf. “I’m sure he would, wouldn’t he? But if not… maybe he would lose some privileges. Something to his apartment, maybe?”

Inej and Wylan both stilled, Wylan staring at the man with wide eyes. “Well, we’re going to go,” Wylan finally choked out. “Have a nice day professor.”

Rollins smiled charmingly. “Yes, you too students. Try not to fall asleep in class from now on. Have a nice day.”

Wylan turned around and tried to walk away from the man as fast as he could without breaking into a sprint.

#

“Oh my god,” Wylan said breathlessly as soon as they got out of the lecture hall. “Did he just threaten me?”

Inej bit her lip, looking troubled. “I think he was referencing what happened to your apartment,” she told Wylan. “And… Kaz and I built a file on the man a long time ago, and we’ve been updating it since. We know he’s been involved with illegal activity for a long time, and that he’s a serious businessman.”

Wylan ran a hand through his hair, instinctively looking behind him to see whether Rollins was there. It was a stupid move - obviously his teacher wouldn’t have followed them - but even when they were only a couple minutes away from the Barrel it was still an urge. “I know that he knows my father,” he explained to Inej. “And I’ve seen him for a couple of company dinners and stuff like that. There was even a brief time period when I thought Pekka Rollins was hired by my dad to keep an eye on me earlier in college.”

Inej cocked her head questionably, a glint of anger entering her eyes. “Did he follow you or…”

He shrugged. “I saw him everywhere around campus, and he was always looking at me. It was terrifying, but then I asked another kid and they told me that everybody always thought Rollins kept an eye on them. Apparently he’s just one of those people.”

Inej frowned. “That’s probably not true.” Wylan hastened to agree, but at the time it hadn’t bothered him. He had figured it was just one of those things.

“Well,” Inej ran a hand through her hair. “I’m going to look back into the files. What did the mafia say after they looked at your apartment?”

“There was no style of trashing that they recognized,” Wylan said. “Apparently every mafia or gang has a distinctive way they ruin things, or even go about doing things, and Sergie told me that whoever had done it wasn’t anybody they had personally interacted with. He told me he’d check with the other branches but…” he trailed off. “I literally did nothing to warrant this.”

Inej hummed as they reached the Barrel, looking at the mailbox. “We got mail,” she noted. “How odd. Do you think Matthias is ordering Russian historical magazines so he can yell at their inaccuracies again?”

Wylan shrugged. “No idea, but that sounds like something he would do.”

“Unfortunately, the last time he did made him yell so loudly our neighbors threatened to shove him into the river. We’ve banned him since.”

She moved to the mailbox and pulled down the flap, pulling out an unmarked envelope simply marked Wylan .

They both frowned. “I haven’t ever gotten mail,” he said frowning. “Well, I rarely get it. Like, ever.”

“And how do they know that you’ve been living with us?” Inej asked. “Wouldn’t they send it to your old location?”

Curiously she passed it to him and he opened it (not before struggling and handing it to Inej first), pulling out a pure white paper. Unfolding it, he froze as he saw the bold letters across the page.

 

moving somewhere else isnt going to help you wylan

its not over yet

 

“Jesus Christ,” he whispered, scanning the page. There was nothing else on it.

Inej exhaled sharply. “We’ve got to tell the others.”

Chapter Text

In Wylan’s life, he had generally accepted that letters sent through mailboxes were probably not a good thing. If not only because he was dyslexic, and anybody who ignored that fact tended to be of the asshole variety.

Seriously, it could take a good thirty minutes to read two hundred words, and sometimes that made Wylan only want to translate the name of the sender and then go to aforementioned sender and punch them in their forgetful face, all without reading the rest of the letter.

He was pretty confident when he told the gang though, that no, despite the assholes who sent him personal letters throughout the years (sadly, this list mainly included his father, an ex-friend, and who was supposed to be an ex-friend’s dog when he ignored the first letter sent by the previously mentioned ex-friend), nobody had been quite asshole-y enough to handwrite a threat letter.

This was new, and if Wylan was being honest, he was terrified.

“Do you know anybody that would do this?” Matthias asked as he paced the room frustratedly. Wylan shrugged, gnawing on his lip.

“My professor, Professor Rollins, made a kind of strange threat-ish thing today,” he told them hesitantly. “Inej was there.”

Inej nodded from her perfect perch on the windowsill, despite it only being about five inches thick. “Professor Rollins said something strange, referencing his father and his apartment,” she explained. “There’s no way he could have been casually mentioning it - he looked like he knew what he was talking about, and the apartment mention was incredibly direct. He also included Wylan’s dad though…” she frowned, thinking about it. “Though that might only have been because he wanted to fit in the reference to his apartment being trashed.”

Jesper slung an arm around Wylan’s shoulder, drawing him into the taller boy. “Are you okay, sunshine?” he murmured concernedly. “I know this has been terrifying, and it’s been so soon that you had to deal with your trashed apartment.”

Wylan shrugged, leaning into Jesper’s heat. “It’s been rough,” he told the other boy honestly. “I mean, I tried putting my apartment out of my mind and for a while it worked but this threat letter is terrifying. I mean, it scares the crap out of me Jes.”

Jesper brushed soft kisses down his hairline and gratefully Wylan curled up by him even more.

“Well, on the bright side,” Nina said from the armchair. “At least - I’m sorry I have to address this but Matthias stop pacing. You’re stressing me out, imagine what you’re doing to poor Wylan. Sit down,” she pet the altogether too small space next to her and ignored Matthias’ glower. “Anyway, Wylan, honey, this was a terrible threat letter. By far the worst I’ve ever seen. Two out of ten, would not recommend.”

Wylan made a snorting sound of amusement, while Kaz let out a sigh of exasperation.

“All of you are ignoring the bigger problem though,” Kaz said seriously, twisting his long cane between his hands. “We can, reasonably suspect Pekka Rollins to be apart of this situation, and the Amsterdam mafia officially confirmed that they don’t recognize the kind of trashing done to Wylan’s apartment. Rollins has a distinctive way of doing things, and he’s been in crime for a long time. That means he’s working with somebody. Who is he working with? Well, we can assume from the fact that Pekka Rollins adores his son, and mentioned your father in his threat that he’s jealous that his son was a catastrophic failure rather than you. Therefore, he’s planning on killing you to make up for the number of times you’ve shown up his son. His son’s name is Ferdinerd the Thirty-second - I’m told it’s a family name from when ‘nerd’ was not a term. Let’s make our plans from there.”

“How did he get all the way there?” Wylan whispered to Jesper, who simply shrugged.

“Who knows? Maybe he’s being dramatic.”

“He’s definitely being dramatic,” Nina stage-whispered to the both of them, loud enough to make Jesper give her a flat look. “Also the two of you suck at whispering. Two out of ten, would not recommend. Do not get a job working for special forces or anything the least bit classified.”

Wylan sheepishly looked at Kaz who was glowering at them, and Inej who was hiding her laughter.

“I’m not being dramatic ,” Kaz said sharply in a way that largely resembled the peacock Wylan was pretty sure a distant relative of his owned. “I’m simply being logical and I think it’s complet-”

“You’ve been using the phrase ‘two out of ten would not recommend’ a lot lately,” Inej cut in suddenly, saving them from a thirty minute (completely untrue, Jesper had whispered the first, second, and eighth time they had been forced to sit through it) lecture on the Supreme Dignity of Kaz Brekker. “Where’d you pick that up?”
Wylan, Jesper, and Matthias unsubtly shot Inej grateful looks as Nina pondered the question. “I think it was Costco actually. I was in the line checking out my healthy-free blueberry muffins when there were a group of guys behind me that wouldn’t stop sayi-”

Hhh ,” Kaz coughed, interrupting her. “Can we get back to the matter at hand?”

Wylan’s grin faded at the reminder of the mess he was involved with and his attention drifted back to Kaz.

“So I think I got a little overboard earlier,” Kaz continued, staring each one of them down in the eye. Wylan winced. “But we can reasonably assume that Rollins is working with somebody else.”

“I disagree Kaz,” Jesper said shaking his head. “That’s a pretty large guess to make. Who says he hasn’t changed his signature way of trashing apartments?”

“That doesn’t generally happen,” Inej broke in. “You don’t just change your habit of destruction, much like one doesn’t typically change their morning routine. It’s something instilled in you, and if he went through the trouble of changing the way he destroyed something then that’s a clue in and of itself. Why would he?”
“But guys,” Nina said, “You’re treating this like Rollins was there himself. He wasn’t. A man like him doesn’t get his hands dirty - he’s exactly like Haskell,” - here, Wylan noted they all made a face of distaste - “they just don’t do things for themself. They hire others. Maybe Rollins hired new recruits and they have a different way of doing things?”

“Nope,” Jesper said. “I call bullshit.”

“Hmm,” Matthias nodded with agreement. “Rollins is friends with Wylan’s father - close, from what I’ve heard?” Wylan nodded. “Then if - since we haven’t guaranteed he was involved in this at all -  he was involved, he would be careful and use reliable people, the very best of his crew. And we’ve seen their work plenty of times.”

They all made a noise of assent and Wylan wondered whether he had stumbled into another gang. Goddamn it - how had they all been involved with Rollins’ illegal doings before? And for that matter, why the hell did his Aerodynamic Engineering professor moonlight as a mafia boss?

“Okay guys,” Kaz finally said after a few beats, “The plan is to wait. Wylan, tell your contact at the Amsterdam mafia about the threat letter. Ask them if they recognizes handwriting, ink, paper type, anything. Meanwhile Inej and I will work on what we already know about Rollins and see if we can figure anything else out about the man, and I want to instill buddy system with Wylan.”

He let out a groan, directing it to Kaz.

“If you get hurt, I’m not paying hospital fees,” Kaz informed him coolly. “Wylan can’t be left alone.”

“So I’m the only one being guarded?” Wylan asked incredulously, a faint blush rising to his cheeks. “You don’t have to do that, trust me I’ll be fine.”

Kaz arched an eyebrow, just as Jesper began to argue back. “Whatever Jes was going to say before I interrupted was probably right,” he told Wylan grimly. “You’re not going to be alone anymore. It’s too dangerous. Now, finals are ridiculously close and I need to study. Meeting adjourned.”

#

 “What are you doing here?” Gretina asked nastily, raising an eyebrow at Wylan. He swallowed nervously, holding out the package in his hands.

“I need to see Sergie,” he told the woman, craning his head back. “I’m allowed in.”

She scoffed. “No, you don’t, and no you aren’t. Leave the premises, or I’ll teach you what happens to fools who don’t understand the boundaries of mafia territory.”

Wylan bit his lip, steeling himself against the far more formidable woman. She had even gotten a new piercing since the last time they had spoken. Dear god he was dead. “No,” he said strongly, remembering Sergie’s heartbroken face. “I need to see Sergie. I brought him something. Please allow me in.”

Gretina raised an eyebrow. “Does he know you’re coming?”

Anxiously Wylan looked around the still-graffiti covered buildings and the cement walkways. The mafia territory still terrified him (it had taken fifty minutes at a coffee shop drinking caffeine just to steel himself to visit Sergie, and he probably would have spent the next hour there if not for Paja, who had kicked him out). “Yes?” he asked hesitating, then seeing Gretina’s terrifying face he switched tack. “... no?”

She sighed. “What are you going to do with him?”
He gestured to the package and she opened it trepidatiously, frowning at the contents. “Seriously?”

“Please,” he finally said tiredly. “I - I really need to see him.”

“I thought you were dating the other boy,” she said sharply. “It’s not going too well then, I presume?”
He flushed with indignation. “Jesper and I are fine,” he said angrily. “We’re not having any issues.”

“Then why is Nina Zenik in the car behind you, rather than the Fahey boy?”

That was fair. But between Nina and Jesper, Nina was far more likely to let him go into mafia territory for something he could totally just use a phone for, and she was also done with her exams. That saved him from depriving anybody from studying for finals (the finals, he thought ruefully, that he would fail if he continued to procrastinate).

Wylan’s phone suddenly buzzed and he drew his phone out to see Nina had sent a text. Casting a wary glance at Gretina, she made a do whatever you want gesture before he carefully balanced the package in one hand and put an earbud into one of his ears.

need any help? It was Nina.

i’m fine , he hastily responded. But it’d be great if you could help me get past Gretina….

on it wy - fear no more

Inwardly wondering what she would do, the answer was solved seconds later when Nina casually exited the car behind them and walked up to Gretina.

“So now there are two of you?” she sighed dramatically as Wylan tucked the earbuds into his pocket again. “Dear god. Neither of you are allowed to see Sergie.”

“Well,” Nina said determinedly. “How about a deal. If I beat you at arm-wrestling, you let us see him. If I don’t, we never see him again. Ever.”

Wylan swallowed nervously. The stakes seemed a little high, but Gretina’s eyes flashed with satisfaction. “Deal,” the woman said smugly.

“No deal,” Wylan whispered to Nina. “What are you doing? I can’t never see Sergie again, he’s a friend.”

“Then guide me to a counter and we’ll arm-wrestle,” Nina said sneering, effectively ignoring him. Gretina seemed entirely preoccupied as well, the both of them entering the building and after a moment of hesitation, Wylan followed.

Instantly Gretina navigated them through unrecognizable halls, yet at one door Wylan stopped at quietly, realizing it was Sergie’s. Anxiously looking at Gretina and Nina’s quickly fading forms, he hid a smile. Gretina was entirely too focused on beating Nina at arm-wrestling. She wasn’t aware of him anymore.

Knocking carefully at the door, he quietly said into the thick frame, “Sergie? It’s me.”

Seconds later it swung open to reveal the man himself, who pulled Wylan into a tight hug. “Hello friend,” Sergie said miserably as he swung the door shut seconds later. Wylan blinked at the state of Sergie’s room - boxes were being filled as well as a complete clutter everywhere and he struggled to hide his disappointment. “I see you are doing well. Brekker’s gang took it well?”

He hid a grin, figuring it wasn’t appropriate with Sergie looking so down. “Yeah,” he told Sergie sheepishly. “Also, this package is for you.”

Sad red tinted eyes gazed at the package before shaking his head. “If you’re trying to discourage me from leaving,” he said determinedly. “I won’t.”

“Open it,” Wylan encouraged and Sergie gingerly lifted the plastic top.

“Oh my god,” he gawked, expression lightening. “Are these a going away present?”

He shrugged. “More like a, ‘thanks for being an amazing friend’ present.”

Quickly he was pulled into a tight hug, only for Sergie to draw away, put the box of jam doughnuts carefully onto the ground as he would a child, and return to the tight hug. After several moments of feeling his blood circulation stop, Sergie finally pulled away with bright joyful eyes.

“Thank you so much for the jam doughnuts!” he said gleefully. “How did you get past Gretina? I know she wouldn’t let you in voluntarily.”

Wylan shrugged. “Nina challenged her to an arm wrestling match.”

“Figures,” the man said thoughtfully, “she never could resist arm-wrestling. Anyways, what did you come here for? Did something else happen? Apologies - I’ve been packing and investigating your apartment for the past couple of days, that’s literally it.”

“Thanks,” Wylan said honestly, eyes burning a bit at the thought of Sergie leaving. “But I got a threat letter. It was terrifying and,” - here he paused, pulled out the letter and handed it to the bemused man - “we wanted to know if you recognized this.”

Sergie paled almost comically upon seeing it. “When did you get this?” he asked Wylan urgently.

He shrugged. “Yesterday, around five-ish. My classes were just over, I was walking home with Inej. Why? What’s wrong?”

Sergie anxiously bit his lips. “Wylan,” he said slowly, “Today I got a letter that looked exactly like this one, telling me to stop looking into whoever trashed your apartment. At risk of death.”

Chapter Text

Wylan had figured it all out.

Every single detail, written to the core. It had been so well done, an excellent plan executed to the very finest edges. It was a ruthless plan, designed to screw him over as hard as it could.

Whoever had designed it was evil. He would personally make sure they died painfully, screaming and sobbing for whatever they had inside of them, because nobody with a bit of heart would dare do something this cruel.

“Alright Wylan,” Inej said patiently vindictively. “I highly doubt this was their intention.”
“Nope,” Wylan said shaking his head rapidly. “I’m telling you Inej - this is their plan, and it’s the worst thing anybody could ever have done to me. It’s evil.”

“Wylan,” she said with remarkable gravitas. “It’s not their fault you forgot to study for finals.”

It was two AM, December seventh and exactly eight hours before Wylan had to take the tests for the end of the semester. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to study until then due to everything else that had come up in his life, and now Inej (who was a saint) was the only other one awake so they could study together despite the hour. Matthias had gone to sleep five hours ago, after making them both cup’pa noodles and telling them to go to sleep before one. Jesper was stress-studying in the other room, and Wylan reminded himself to check on the other boy before going to bed himself.

Naturally, they hadn’t.

“At least after this we have winter break for a good two weeks,” Inej said stretching out. “Come on, we only have a few problems left.”

Wylan narrowed his eyes as he removed an earbud. “What’d you say?” he asked distractedly, pausing the audio book that was recapping most of the semesters notes.

“We have winter break after this,” Inej repeated. “Hurrah.”

He made a face. “Yeah. Hurrah.”

His father generally wanted him back home around this time, so rather than having fun or anything, he would probably be at the mansion bored out of his skull and terrified of hearing the door open for fear of his father returning. When he was younger, he used to go to Kuweii’s, but their relationship wasn’t the best anymore so it was generally just a text-as-a-last-resort kind of thing. Kuweii didn’t even know about his recent issues.

“Get back to your studying,” Inej said, whacking the side of his head (but like, gently). “It’s two in the morning and I’m exhausted.”

He smiled. “You know, you can go to bed right? You don’t have to stay with me here. I’ll just play music and listen to my notes again.”

“How does that work? Doesn’t the music mess with the audio for the notes?” Inej asked.

He shrugged. “One earbud plays music, and the other earbud plays the actual stuff I need to study. The music is softer, so I can hear what I need to. And vice versa, if I want the teacher to think I’m studying but I’m not really.”

Inej nodded, looking amused. “Alright, well,” she yawned despite herself and Wylan smiled.

“You should probably go get some rest,” he told her and she nodded looking tired. “You look exhausted.”

Ruffling his hair, she reminded him to go to bed soon before disappearing into the hall. Watching her fading figure for a few moments, he clicked the unpause button and lapsed back into silence, listening to the monotone voice explain the importance of angling pneumatic pistons to increase the efficiency of fluid thermodynamics of a hypothetical model vehicle’s systems.

Ring ring

He scowled, pausing the narrator again. Twisting around to look for his phone, his eyes narrowed as he saw the headline: Kuweii

“Why are you calling me?” Wylan muttered underneath his breath, pulling the phone closer to him. “It’s like, two firstly, and I am studying for my life right now.” Clicking the answer button, he held it up to his ears as he removed an earbud.

“Hello?”

“Hey, this is Wylan,” he responded. “Kuweii?”

“Hey, um, Wylan,” Kuweii responded. “I wanted to talk because my college lets out in a week for winter break so I wanted to know if…” he trailed off.

“What?” Wylan asked, exhaustion seeping into him. “It’s like, two Kuweii. I’m studying, and finals are today morning.”

“Ah,” Kuweii said delicately. “Well, do you want to come over for winter break? I know you and your dad don’t have the greatest relationship ever, so…” he trailed off again and Wylan’s brow creased with confusion. Kuweii and him hadn’t talked in forever - they texted, sure, but they had just grown apart over time. It had been years since the last time they had seen each other.

Well, it was better than his father, and he was sure the rest of the Barrel had their own plans.

“Sure,” he chose. “I’d love to. That’d be great. Thanks.”

“Cool, cool,” Kuweii said awkwardly in return. There was another long pause before he spoke again. “Well,” - a sound like he was clapping his hands together - “I’m going to leave you to your studying, bye?”
“Bye,” Wylan said before cutting off. As he put it down, he frowned at it briefly.

That had been strange.

#

AHHH !” Wylan screamed, clutching onto Matthias. “Let me goooo!”

“NO,” Matthias yelled back. “Get up !”

“NO!”

YES !” With a mighty tug, he grabbed Wylan’s hips and yanked him straight out of the bed. He landed on the floor with a clatter, and helplessly grabbed the bedpost to make up for the loss of warmth. God, he was exhausted. And cold. Matthias was a bully .

“NO.”

“YES.”

“NO.”

“YES - hold on -”

NO!

“I HAVE COFFEE.”

Wylan paused, suspiciously gazing at him until Matthias heaved a sigh and revealed the cup that had been left on his bedside table. Pouting, he mumbled his assent before climbing off the floor and drinking the coffee all in one go, tipping it back.

“Wait that’s fresh-”

Holy shit !” he practically screamed, putting the cup onto the table. “Motherfucking son of a - something - crapton of shit Jesus Joseph and Mary on a mother-fucking bicycle that’s hot !”

“I told you that,” Matthias said irritably, now that Wylan was fully awake. “You didn’t have to burn your throat.”

“I need water,” he croaked miserably. “And I need to brush my teeth. And I need a shower.”

Tossing him a towel and some spare clothes, Matthias gestured to a door somewhere. “Go for it,” he told him. “You have exactly five minutes to get all of that done, so I hope you run.”

Grumbling under his breath, Wylan walked to the bathroom until Matthias screamed “RUN!” and made him burst into a run to cover the whole five foot distance.

“Goddammit,” he mumbled under his breath as he reached the shower. Walking - clothes and all - into the shower, he peeled them off while inside, grabbing his toothbrush and brushing his teeth while inside the shower as well.

It wasn’t graceful, but five minutes later he was out of the shower with soaking ginger hair and smelling of Eucalyptus leaves.

“Hello,” Kaz greeted with no small amusement when he entered the kitchen. Of them all, he seemed the calmest - Jesper was at the oven cooking something and almost neurotically gave Wylan a wink, paused, thought about it, and gave him another wink which honestly made it seem like his eye was spazzing out on him - Inej had her head buried in her toast and Kaz was subtly trying to make sure her face avoided the food itself, Nina wasn’t there at all (bitterly he remembered that she was done with semester finals already), and Matthias was drinking something that looked a lot like tea, but smelled like a cross between a small wet dog and something strongly citrus based. Maybe it was Russian.

“Waffles?” Kaz offered, giving him a small plate filled with them. “I hear there was quite a commotion with Matthias trying to get you out of bed this morning.” Wylan made a face as he accepted and began digging in, rushing up a bit as he saw the time.

“Yeah, Matthias is a lifesaver,” he said honestly. “Thanks.”

The man in question gave a distracted hymn and blankly swallowed, cringed, made a face of immense enjoyment, and then repeated the process. Wylan watched this with fascination.

“It’s Russian,” Kaz explained. “Apparently at first it tastes like something you’d expect a small wet dog to smell like, but then it turns into something amazingly citrus-y.” Wylan blinked. His guess had been surprisingly accurate.

“Has he tried orange juice yet? Lemonade?” Wylan hazarded.

“Only ten million times,” Jesper added, walking towards them with a platter filled with bacon. Silently Wylan reached over and took a couple, Jesper in return stealing a waffle. Kissing his cheek affectionately, he returned to his waffles and thoughtfully ran over some sums in his head.

“You two are gross,” Nina complained as she entered the room in a rush. “Also are you guys okay? I remember last testing season and hoo boy was it stressful.”

Kaz rolled his eyes. “Yes Nina,” he said sarcastically. “We’re ready.”

“Is Inej ready?” Jesper asked, cocking his head. “She looks about ready to drown in her toast.”

Wylan recalled how easily Inej had repeated each concept and nodded. “She’ll do fine,” he said confidently. “C’mon Inej - get up from your toast and actually eat them.”

Inej hesitantly lifted her head, gave one a nibble before making a face. Pushing them away from her, she looked at Wylan’s waffles and grudgingly he handed her one.

“Does anybody want some,” - here Matthias pronounced a word so disastrously complex Wylan tuned it out entirely - “with their own breakfast? It really helps me during tests.”

They all made a face. “You can keep your small wet dog slash citrus drink,” Kaz said distastefully. “We don’t want to be poisoned.”

Matthias looked offended until his eyes caught sight of the time, let out a sharp squawk of horror, dragged Wylan, Jesper, Kaz, and Inej up, and promptly ran out of the room silently.

“What was that about?” Jesper asked before they all looked at the time and let out a curse.

Run ! We’re going to be late !”

#

Semester finals were over.

They were finally over.

They were ovER.

Wylan was exactly five minutes away from ducking into the nearest bathroom and breaking into sobs of gratitude, while thanking a god he didn’t actually believe existed with eternal loyalty. Maybe not eternal loyalty, he reiterated as he thought about it, but there would definitely be some loyalty. At least another fifty seconds, possibly an entire minute if he got good scores on his test.

Screw it - if he got a good grade on his test he would definitely devote an entire minute and a-fucking- half ( bam non-existent god above, beat that ) of faithful faith to a god.

Oh who was he kidding? This was a job done seventy percent by Inej [as soon as he tracked her down he was going to choke her to death with a hug and then probably die because if he knew Inej then she was roof-leaping again and with his coordination (or lack thereof) they were going to plummet off the very edge and die. But at least he would die after taking his semester finals.] twenty-five percent himself, and five percent the idiots that decided to force him to procrastinate studying for semester finals. Evidently, it hadn’t turned out all that bad.

Of course, unless he had just failed his finals.

In which case the job was a full fucking hundred percent the job of the godawful people that made him procrastinate studying.

“Wow you’re really sleep deprived aren’t you?” Jesper mused with a small smirk, eyeing him over. Wylan sleepily mussed his hair and cocked his head in confusion.

“You’ve been saying all your thoughts aloud for the past couple of minutes,” Jesper said mildly. Wylan’s cheeks began beating a furious red and he pulled the shorter boy into a kiss that lasted only a few lovely seconds before Matthias coughed and shoved them away from each other hurriedly.

“Please guys, not in front of me,” Matthias pleaded. A sparkle lit in Jesper’s eyes and as a protest began to be told, Wylan quietly laid a hand on his arm.

“Jes, not now,” he begged. “I’m tired,” - this was interrupted by a loud yawn which he felt really only proved his point - “and I just really want to spend the rest of the day cuddling with you.”

Jesper’s gaze softened as he looked at the lilac creases under Wylan’s normally bright green eyes and instead kissed his forehead gently. “Of course,” he said softly, “you need to catch up on sleep.”

Matthias snorted. “You both need to catch up on sleep. Shoo, shoo.” Making a distinct shooing gesture with his arms, Wylan stumbled a few feet in his hurry to speed up, only to slow down, take a few normal steps, and stumble again. After witnessing this Jesper let out a sigh and picked him up easily in a bridal style position.

“Jesper!” he began to protest weakly, already sinking into the other boy’s warmth. “Jes…”

“Let me do this for you,” Jesper said smirking. “After all - it’s not like you’re not going to fall asleep right now or anything.”
Wylan would have protested, but unfortunately, he was too busy proving Jesper right.

Chapter Text

“Oh my god this is so good. This is better than sex. Hell, this is better than my relationship . Matthias - I’m officially replacing you.” Nina gloriously held up her ice cream sundae into the air, touting it around their faces.

Matthias looked at it surreptitiously, before giving Nina a nod. “I don’t deserve you as a girlfriend,” he deadpanned.

Nina smirked. “Naturally. Eat up hon, we have a hell of a night ahead of us.”

As Matthias blanched an interesting shade of vermillion (Wylan mentally applauded his new and improved art vocabulary that came as a result of stress-painting/stress-drawing during and after semester finals) he smiled at the store’s interior. It was an atrocity - bright pink was haphazardly thrown beside a cyan that honestly blinded him - but the ice cream was amazing, and the chairs were comfy.

Plus, college students got to pay half-price!

“That was information we didn’t need to know,” Kaz said distastefully, right as Jesper let out a mocking cat-call that altogether resembled the frat boys at their college way too much.

“Please stop,” Wylan whispered longsufferingly. “You sound like…” he trailed off, trying to think of a frat boy he knew. “... somebody that’s involved in a frat. A frat boy.”

Jesper pretended to shudder in fear. “Not the frat boys ,” he said horrified. “ Never the frat boys!”

Pretending to shake his head in disappointment, Wylan patted his shoulder. “There there,” he said gently. “Acceptance is the first path towards a better future.”

“But if we’re being serious,” Inej piped in, “what kind of future comes with being a frat boy?”

Wylan shrugged as Jesper feigned being shot. “I just keep on being hurt by the people I love ,” he said in a pained voice. Wylan almost choked on his own ice cream, just as Jesper began patting his back gingerly.

“Speaking of which,” Jesper said, changing the subject. “what are we all doing for winter break?”

Wylan instantly remembered Kuweii’s strange invitation and a strange feeling in his stomach rose. He chose to ignore it.

“Well, I was going to visit my aunt who’s currently living in India, but it’s too expensive,” Inej explained. “So I’m probably just going to be in Denmark with Kaz.”

Kaz shrugged. “Family,” he said wordlessly. Wylan’s brows narrowed as he remembered that Kaz had lived in an orphanage for a large part of his life, but chose to ignore it.

“He visits their graves,” Jesper whispered to Wylan quietly amidst all the chaos of them eating their ice cream. He nodded sadly, thinking of them all. What family did they all return to during winter break? Did he have any right to complain about his own family?

“Anyways,” Nina said shaking her head. “Matthias and I are going to my old home. I have a lot of… “ she trailed off, looking for the right word. “ People I know,” she finally chose, “that stay there. I need to go back and keep in touch.”

“What about you, Jes?” Wylan asked. The boy shrugged, and it occurred to him that Jes hadn’t actually said anything about what his break was going to look like.

“Well, I’m going to visit my father,” he said, giving him a careful look. “Sorry -  I know we haven’t talked about this at all but-” Wylan raised up a hand to stop him.

“It’s fine,” he said easily, “and plus, I’ve got to go see an old friend for winter break.”

“What old friend?” Jesper asked curiously, straightening up a little. The rest of them all turned their heads to look at him and his cheeks instinctively darkened at the attention.

“Well,” he said shrugging, “Kuweii’s a really old friend, and - well.” He broke off, searching for the words to describe their relationship. “It’s better than being at my father’s, to be honest.”

They all nodded seriously, and Jesper wrapped an easy arm around Wylan, drawing him closer. “If you have any trouble,” Jesper said seriously, “don’t hesitated to call.”

Wylan gave him a grateful look. “Thanks Jes,” he said gently. “But I think I’m going to be alright. I should be, I mean, the last time I saw Kuweii he was still under ninety pounds and this was when we were fifteen.”

“Well,” Jesper said mildly. “I suppose I shouldn’t worry about him being the person to wreck your apartment?”

“Under ninety pounds Jes,” Wylan said smiling, kissing him softly. “I’m pretty sure he’s just as harmless now.”

“Well anyways ,” Kaz broke in sharply, causing them both to jump in surprise. “For anybody that’s interested, Nina’s trying to manipulate Matthias into intimidating the cashier so they can get more food for free, and Inej’s subtly trying to steal some more. If you two are curious.” He lifted a shoulder in an empty shrug.

“Oh my god ,” Wylan said in disbelief, staring at the three of them. “Jesper - Jesper are you going to-”

Without another word, Jesper happily lept onto his feet and began assisting Inej with the blatant thievery.

“So…” Wylan said awkwardly, staring at Kaz’s dead black eyes. “How’s life Kaz?”

The man looked at him dead. “You’ve been dating Jesper for a while, right Wylan?” he asked suddenly, and Wylan nodded slowly.

“Yeah, why?”

“It’s been getting pretty serious?”

Wylan thought about the recent events - smiling instinctively as Jesper entered the room, enjoying his company, finding his quirks ridiculously adorable, rather than just ridiculous. “Yeah,” he chose honestly. “It’s been getting pretty serious.”

Kaz smiled viciously - the smile of a shark, getting ready to crush its prey into the dust. “Hurt him and I promise you - we will not hesitate to attach you onto the nearest pole and set your bones on fire.”

With that threat planted freshly in Wylan’s mind, Kaz gave him a nod before standing up and helping Matthias terrify the cashier into giving them more food.

#

“Byeeee!” Nina said cheerfully, waving at him. Holding his suitcase in one hand, he reached across the distance between them and hugged her. Evidently not expecting this, Nina’s grip was loose for a beat before wrapping him into an even tighter hug that nearly killed him.

“Let him breathe,” Matthias chided gently. “Bye Wylan. Be safe. Make sure you get food and refreshments for the entirety of the plane ride.”

Wylan gave him a nod before Matthias grudgingly pulled him into a hug and Wylan hugged him back. Two weeks or not, he had grown used to everybody’s constant presence.

“See you,” Inej said easily, waving. Kaz was silently at her side - they hadn’t mentioned his threat ever since, and Wylan had given him plenty of opportunities - but he let the corners of his mouth tip upwards and nodded.

That was probably the greatest he could get.

“Bye sunshine,” Jesper said softly after he was done with all of them. Wylan gave him a small smile in return, going onto the tips of his toes to kiss the other boy.

Sinking into the immediate warmth Jesper offered, they melted into each other for a while before he finally pulled away. “Bye,” Wylan said, lightly kissing his mouth again. “I’ll call everyday.”

“Make sure you do,” Matthias said strongly. “And remember what I said - food and refreshments for the whole plane ride. Dehydration is a major concern during things like these.”

Nina snorted, mocking him for his parenting and the two began to draw away.

“They’ve got their own plane to catch,” Inej said softly. “And, well, we have a train ride we should start preparing for.” Beginning to head off, Inej stopped part way through to wrap Wylan into a long hug. “Be safe,” she whispered into his ear. The pit in his stomach didn’t reduce.

“Thanks Inej,” Wylan whispered back. “You too.”

Kaz waved one last time and the two began fading away, silently, as the two of them did,

As the two disappeared, he looked up again and Jesper. “Bye,” he repeated, beginning to step away.

“Bye,” Jesper repeated quietly. “You’ve got a plane to catch, merchling.”

Turning around to start checking in for the plane, Wylan tried to keep his eyes on the other boy for as long as he could, until finally they had both disappeared in the distance.

Chapter Text

When somebody was exhausted and suffering from sleep deprivation, there were a couple different ways to tell. The most identifiable sign though, was the darkened circles under their eyes. Those came as a result of the dehydration and dullness that their skin suffered when they weren’t sleeping. When their skin became dehydrated and dull, the area below the eyes - already thin and incredibly susceptible - allowed dark blood vessels and tissue to appear through the skin and create dark circles.

Wylan had regularly suffered from dark circles when he was younger. During that one week when he had been locked inside his room, the dark circles had grown so strong he looked ill. The night of his exams had also produced large lilac spots under his eyes, as well as the night his apartment had gotten trashed, the couple days when the group was locked inside the cafe, the time he had gotten the threat letter, the time Jesper was blocking him out.

He knew the signs of sleep deprivation like the back of his hand. Dark dark circles spiraling around your eyes - so dark they reflected a purple night sky - , a slowness to step, a delayed weariness filling your veins and pumping your blood. It was an aura that surrounded you - contagious, like a biting snake, lashing out and wrapping around others.

Kuweii reeked of exhaustion.

#

“Hey Wylan.”

Wylan twisted around to see Kuweii standing there randomly, gesturing to his suitcase. He resisted the urge to jump from shock, and rather just gave his old friend a smile. “Hey Kuweii,” he responded tiredly. “It’s great to see you again.”

Kuweii had long dark circles under his eyes, so deep Wylan could probably go shopping with them. His hair was as messy as possible - shaggy black angles fell everywhere, curling at the tip of his neck - and the gold eyes Wylan had remembered were dulled, by age and weariness. Quite simply, Kuweii looked like he was about to fall asleep right there and then.

“Yeah, you too,” Kuweii responded. “Do you want me to take your bag?”

Wylan shook his head, dragging the long handle behind him easily. “It’s fine. You look exhausted by the way - do you want to grab a coffee on the way?”

Kuweii let out a sharp sound that Wylan shifted uneasily at. “No thanks,” he said exhaustedly. “It’s just allergens .”

He raised an eyebrow, but decided not to ask why Kuweii had used the scientific name for allergies rather than just saying the word himself. “Alright,” he said. “If you need Claritin or anything, just ask. I’m pretty sure a pharmacy is nearby and I’ll be happy to pick it up for you.”

Kuweii gave him a watery smile and gestured to some obscure exit, covered by lines of people. “Well let’s go,” he said softly. “Singapore’s not going to wait forever, my friend.”

#

Kuweii’s house was about as large as Wylan remembered it. There was still a massive pool by the side of the house, complete with a kitchen as large as his old apartment - the thought of it brought a frown to his face - and a buzzing staff, that came to Kuweii immediately. “Do you want us to make anything sir?” they asked, before looking at Wylan.

He shrugged. “Wylan?”

Wylan hesitated before asking for a coffee, and the two made their way upstairs.

Kuweii pointed to various things as Wylan’s eyes caught on them and he raised an eyebrow as he noted various different belongings. There were chemical equations written on a blackboard, scientific journals and textbooks littering the staircase, and a poster with every single Einstein quote ever said, running through exactly three rooms. “Wow,” Wylan said quietly. “These decorations are amazing Kuweii.”

Kuweii shrugged, looking at a textbook briefly before throwing it aside. Wylan winced as it carelessly hit the side of the bed and knocked to the ground. “I mean - whatever,” he brushed off. “Like, I mean, whatever. I study a lot, just like you. Right?”

Wylan immediately thought of his college finals and snickered quietly. “Yep.” he said nodding slowly. “Lots of studying.”

There were a couple more minutes of silence, filled with Kuweii walking Wylan to another corridor to show him his room. Kuweii’s room was a bit far away from him - and it was locked shut, with Kuweii making no attempt to open it - and Wylan’s eyebrow rose as he saw the room he was stepping in.

“Sorry about the pink,” Kuweii said apologetically. “It was supposed to be for a little sister my father was going to adopt, but over the summer there were a lot of complications so it didn’t ever turn out.”

Wylan nodded, processing all the various shades of pink before instinctively frowning. “Isn’t that a little stereotypical?” he asked Kuweii hesitantly. “You know - the whole trope about girls liking pink, and boys liking blue?”

“Oh my god, you agree with things like that?” Kuweii asked snorting. “That’s hilarious. College really has changed you.”

Wylan resisted the urge to argue that before choosing his next words. “Anyways,” he said changing the subject. “I saw all the textbooks and binders. You’re really into science and engineering now right? You’ve joined the nerd faction?”

Kuweii’s face soured immediately and Wylan realized he’d said the wrong thing. “I mean like, sure, I study a lot,” he admitted. “And yes, I absolutely love science and engineering and all that fun stuff but hey! Let’s not talk about boring things like that. Why don’t we eat lunch and talk about everything , and then I’ll let you unpack. You’re staying here for two weeks, right? You have to. It’s been forever since the last time I saw you.”

“Well, yeah,” Wylan said, his head spinning from all the unusual behavior. Generally Kuweii acted nothing like this. “I mean, sure. So, lunch?”

The confusion probably showed on his face clearly, but Kuweii ignored it in favor of dragging him back downstairs to eat.

#

“So how’s college going?” Kuweii asked interestedly, spooning ramen into his mouth. Wylan sat back, swallowing hard as he thought about how to explain his life.

“Well, it’s been going… pretty well,” he said hesitantly, not sure if he should talk about his apartment being trashed, or getting the threat note. “Um, there have been down sides though.”

Kuweii cocked his head. “Oh?”

“Yeah, I mean college classes are pretty interesting, my grades are high, I’ve got great friends and…” he paused before adding, “I’m dating somebody.”

What ?” Kuweii asked, eyebrows raising to an almost comedic high. “Oh my god - details .”

He swallowed nervously before taking out his phone to scroll through images and find a good one of Jesper. “Well, at first I was really nervous around him, because he was really hot and confident, and basically a lot of things I wasn’t,” he started nervously. “But then Jesper - that’s his name - kept at it and eventually I decided to give it a shot because I figured that if he hadn’t decided I was a loser from all the incidents that came along with spending time with him, then we would probably be pretty good for each other. We’ve had our rough patches,” - he decided not to mention the gambling, that was something only Jesper could tell people - “but we got through them and it’s going pretty well.” He blushed.

“Um, pictures ?” Kuweii asked incredulously. Wylan decided not to tell him he sounded a lot like a mean girl from the movies, but instead just pulled out a picture Nina had taken, of Wylan reading an engineering book and Jesper’s head on his shoulder. It was obvious that he wasn’t studying at the time, but rather just laughing at whatever Jesper had said. It was a nice picture.

“Oh my god,” Kuweii said slowly, eyes fixating on the picture. “Oh my… Jesper is certainly… something.”

Wylan swallowed, wondering if he should ask Kuweii about his behavior but decided against it. After all, they were spending the next two weeks with each other.

“So,” he tried weakly. “What about you?”

Kuweii stiffened. “What about me?” he asked slowly. “I’m boring.”

“You know,” he tried weakly. “With your dad. And that science degree. And… everything?” Last time Wylan had hung out with Kuweii, they had argued about Bo Yul-Bayur and Jan Van Eck. Father issues was likely one of the only similarities between the both of them.

“Oh, that,” Kuweii said, brushing it off. “That’s all history. There’s nothing there anymore.”

“Okay,” Wylan said uncertainly. “Well, how’s college going?”

Kuweii shrugged unconvincingly, eyes darkened for some reason. “You know how college is,” he said, sounding like he was talking through a mouthful of cotton. “It’s easy. Simple. Biology is going to be easy ,” - he sounded like he was spitting the words out - “when your father is Bo Yul-Bayur.”

Wylan stayed silent, not sure if he should say anything. “I don’t get along with my dad,” he said slowly. Kuweii shot him a look, and he winced but barrelled through. “And well, I’ve cut ties with him. All of it,” he added, referencing the massive mansion of a house that Kuweii was living in. “I don’t really… well, we don’t talk.”

“I know,” Kuweii said softly. “So you’re never going to go back to his house?”
Wylan thought about it, thinking of Jan Van Eck. He thought about all the emotional abuse he had suffered at his hands, and he thought about Marya Hendriks. Would he ever go back, voluntarily?

No.

Kuweii seemed to read his face and nodded, looking down quietly. “So, Wylan,” the boy said lowly. “You’ve changed.”

“You have too.”

That much was true. Wylan uneasily searched for more words to speak but nothing came out. Kuweii seemed lost in thoughts, staring ahead into an empty space. His golden eyes seemed to flicker, though they seemed pale in favor of the purple circles lathering his eyes.

“Well,” he said quietly as he ate the last of his ramen. “You’d better unpack.”

“Yeah,” Wylan answered uncertainly. “Alright. I’m going to… go.”

Chapter Text

Wylan lay awake in his bed, staring up at the tinted pink ceiling as his phone buzzed behind his ear. Twisting around to make it closer to himself, he pulled it up to his ear. “Hello?”

“Hey sunshine,” Jesper said. “Why are you awake?”

Wylan resisted the urge to roll his eyes (but like, fondly ). “You did call Jes,” he said smiling into his phone. He wished he could see Jesper. “Shouldn’t you be glad I answered?”

“Well, I did call to make sure you weren’t staying up late again,” Jesper answered calmly. “And you failed the test gorgeous. Go to sleep.”

Wylan sighed and ignored the familiar red flush on his cheeks, choosing instead to turn around on his back and stare up at the tinted pink ceiling again. “Well, Kuweii’s been acting weird and I just remembered why the two of us fell out of touch,” he told Jesper honestly. “I - we - we’re just not good friends anymore.”

“I hate it when that happens,” Jesper answered. “Well you’ve still got two weeks left. What happened?”

“I - just - he’s got his own interests, I’ve got mine,” Wylan said helplessly, moving to an upright position. “I just don’t understand him anymore. He’s being really… “ he trailed off, uncomfortable about saying anything rude.

“Cryptic? Irritating? Stuffy?” Jesper offered. “My dad just gave me a look and - oh! Speaking of, you want to talk to him?”

A furious blush rose onto Wylan’s cheeks. Did he want to talk to Jesper’s father ? Wasn’t the whole meeting the parents thing something that happened for a long term relationship? Had they hit the meet-the-parents stage? Was it required? Oh my god - did Jesper want to meet his father ? Did Jesper want to meet his mother ? Where even were mothers that abandoned their sons during key times of their life and didn’t reappear until it was time for their son's boyfriend to meet them? Was there a facility? A small unheard of island? Maybe Wylan could leave off Jesper meeting Jan Van Eck until they got married - yes, that was the plan. He was leaving it until - wait , marriage ?

“I can literally hear you over thinking this,” Jesper interrupted calmly. “Don’t worry. I’m handing my father the phone right now. We’ll talk about prospective wedding venues when we both get home.”

“Wait what ?!” Wylan almost choked as he heard audible movement on the other side. There was a long exasperated sigh coming from somebody, before some more movement was heard. Finally he heard a rougher voice - like Jes’, but not - speak a reluctant hello.

Oh my god what if he hates me?

“- hello sir,” Wylan blurted out of the blue, mind going completely blank. Goddammit what manners did he use when talking to his own father? Last time they had spoken had been cold and cut off. Oh my god what was Jesper’s father saying?

“... hellooo?”

The greeting was repeated and incredibly dragged out, voice filled with uncertainty. Wylan blinked rapidly as he scrambled for a response.

“Hello,” he finally settled on.

“Hello,” Jesper’s father repeated.

“Hi,” he answered feebly.

Jesper’s father didn’t seem to know how to respond to that. “Hello.”

Oh my god ,” he heard from a fainter voice. Jesper. “Is that all you’re going to say, because if so then hand me the damn phone and let me speak to my boyfriend.”

“Jesper,” his father said sternly. “I raised you better than this. Let me speak to Wylan. Now Wylan,” Wylan took a deep breath of preparation, ready for whatever Colm Fahey was going to say next. “... um, hello Wylan.”

His shoulders fell back down gratefully. “Hello,” he said, taking a short breath. “This is Wylan. You must be Jesper’s father. Pleasure to meet you.”

“You too Wylan,” he responded. “I’m Colm Fahey, please just call me Colm.”

“Yes sir,” he said automatically and then cringed. What was the proper protocol for this ? Oh my god why wasn’t there a handbook for this? With detailed directions?

Quickly making sure the call was still going on, he began googling ‘how to talk to your boyfriend’s parents’ on his internet app, while Colm was beginning to speak again. “Oh like I said, please just call me Colm.”

“Alright si- Colm,” Wylan responded, the words tasting strange in his mouth. His phone immediately got back results and he squinted at the first answer.

Get some background information. Talk to your boyfriend well before the meeting and ask what his parents like and don’t like…

Well, Jesper had ensured that that wouldn’t happen, he grumbled to himself instinctively. Realizing the silence on the other end was there so he could speak, Wylan scrambled for words until he finally blurted out, “So Jesper loves waffles what about you?”

“Yes, yes I love waffles as well,” Colm answered immediately.

Silence.

Wylan bit his lip as he went back to the internet tab to look at more advice. He frowned at the options that appeared.

 

  • Listen attentively to everyone who speaks to you…
  • Ask questions…
  • Stay out of arguments…
  • Find things in common…
  • Talk about yourself…
  • Be yourself…

 

“Um… so how’s your year going?” Wylan finally said again.

“It’s been going pretty well,” Colm replied instantly. “How about - erm, yes, yes it’s been going very well.”

Finally Wylan heard an aggravated sigh from Jesper and another clutter of movement. “Hey Wy, I’m back,” Jesper said conversationally and Wylan heard loud footsteps. “And really? ‘Jesper loves waffles what about you’?”

Wylan rolled his eyes, halfheartedly cringing from the conversation. “Oh my god that was terrible,” Wylan confessed. “I was searching up ‘how to talk to your boyfriend’s parents’ and the advice was all like, ‘ask questions’ and ‘listen attentively to everyone who speaks to you’ and know some fucking background ! Jes I’m going to murder you for just springing that on me.”

“Wait seriously?” Jesper asked incredulously. “You actually searched that up? I can’t decide if that was weird or endearing. Or just flat out - wait I have to tell my dad. this is hilarious.”

Don’t you fucking dare ,” Wylan almost choked, glaring at his phone. “Jesper don’t you dare or else when we get back I’m not making out with you for a week .”

“I think we both know that’s not happening,” Jesper retorted smoothly. Distantly Wylan heard a, “Hey dad,” and he cringed, readying himself for the humiliation.

“Hey dad,” Jesper’s voice faintly said, “So you know how you were googling, ‘how to talk to your son’s boyfriend’? Well apparently Wylan was searching up the same thing, just in reverse.”

Wylan paused in his complete mortification, staring at his phone. “Jesper…” he said slowly as he whipped out the internet app again. Stabbing in the words Jesper had said, he stared at the results.

“Treat the new partner with interest, courtesy, and respect, and do more listening than talking,” the article was saying. “Although you may be dying to know what her parents’ door is if he plans to finish college, keep the grilling to a minimum. One of my friends’ sons had this rule: Only one question per night, Mom…”

Keep the grilling to a minimum, Wylan thought to himself. Was that why Colm had refrained from asking him questions in return? Because the stupid website he had looked at had stated to ‘talk less and listen more’. How the hell could he have done that if Colm’s website said the exact same thing?

“That’s why you weren’t talking much!” he overheard faintly and Wylan blushed bright red. Colm must have done the exact same thing as him and seen the results that appeared. Oh God.

“Oh you two are hilarious,” Jesper said in a laughing tone.

“One week,” Wylan hissed at him, eyes narrowing into slits. “I swear to god Jes. One week.”

Jesper was still laughing as he cut off the phone, and despite himself, Wylan was smiling as well.

#

“Good morning Wylan,” Kuweii nodded at him. Wylan groggily walked down the stairs, staring at him. Kuweii’s dark circles hadn’t lessened in the least - if possible, they looked like they had darkened - and his eyes were still red-rimmed and filled with weariness. Wylan smiled at him and thanked the staff as they placed a cup of tea and another one of coffee at his seat.

“Hey Kuweii,” he said tiredly as he drank the coffee down. “You look exhausted. Did you not get any sleep last night?”

Kuweii shrugged and for an odd reason his cheeks blushed a light red. “Oh you know,” Kuweii said casually, “I stay up late naturally. My body’s just programmed to be like that.” He shrugged, acting like it was a what can you do? kind of affair and Wylan bit his lip. Kuweii was lying, and was a terrible liar at that.

“Have you tried sleeping pills?” he asked and Kuweii gestured to a handful of bottles that he hadn’t seen previously. They were all on the counter and Wylan raised his eyebrows as he noted at least ten scattered there.

“Yeah. They aren’t really effective,” he explained and Wylan nodded, taking another long sip of his coffee.

“That sucks.”

“It does.”

Kuweii didn’t say anything more and Wylan’s eyes nervously flicked onto Kuweii again. To his surprise Kuweii had been watching him silently, eyes dark and mouth set in an angry look. As he saw Wylan look at him, his own face immediately cleared up.

“You okay?” Wylan asked nervously. Kuweii looked borderline homicidal.

Kuweii looked at him before standing up. “I’m good,” he said, and quickly walked away.

A staff member walked by and delivered Kuweii and Wylan’s breakfast to the table. They looked at the empty seat and shot Wylan a confused look. “Do you know what happened?” the staff member asked.

Wylan shrugged. “I have no idea, but I think I made him… “ he trailed off, and the staff member took this as a cue to leave.

#

Kuweii’s acting really weird

like weird-weird or I-just-got-my-period-for-the-first-time weird

Do I want to know how you know how weird that is?

actually i’d be a little confused if you knew how weird that was. i know bc nina’s awesome and she came to me like a sad confused duckling the first time she got her cycle. we snuck out the orphanage and ran to the nearest pharmacy. it was exciting.

Not for Nina I’m guessing

def not. she was terrified that she was going to die.

Well, Kuweii’s been acting really weird and I’m kind of scared now

sunshine what happened?

Kuweii keeps on glaring at me and looking vaguely homicidal. And he has really dark circles under his eyes - like he’s really stressed, even though his college is also on winter break - and he keeps on disappearing into his room.

merchling… you said that the call from kuweii was random right

Yeah. Why?

bc what if it wasn’t random? what if it had something to do with your apartment being trashed, and that threat letter you got?

You think Kuweii did it for some reason?

think about it: your apartment got absolutely trashed, you got a mysterious threat letter, and for some random-ass reason kuweii called out of nowhere so he could stay with you during winter break. suspicious? especially because you’re not close friends with him, and everytime you two meet it seems like he’s got a problem with you

Wylan bit his lip as he thought about it. Terrifyingly enough, it seemed plausible.

You may have a point , he bit his lip hard, thinking about whether Jesper had a point. What do I do? Should I talk to him about it?

idk merchling. pls be careful - i can’t afford a plane trip to singapore but maybe you should come back home

Should he? Was that even a possibility? His plane ticket had already been bought for the appropriate time, and the company didn’t offer refunds. He would have to spend even more money on another plane ticket at an earlier time and that would attract Jan Van Eck’s attention. Large sums of money coming out of his account would surely alert the man that something was wrong, and then who knew how that conversation would turn out?

I think I should talk to him

i think so too. but please be careful sunshine.

Alright I’m going to. Bye

bye

Wylan took a deep breath and unplugged his earbuds, slipping them onto the bed. Getting up, he wearily crept to the door, slid it open and locked it behind him, and then headed for Kuweii’s bedroom. He knocked at the door quietly.

“Kuweii?” he called. “Kuweii, are you in there?”

There was no response, and he slid the knob open. Maybe Kuweii was listening to music really loudly.

The door slid open effortlessly and he frowned at the empty bedroom. Last he had checked, Kuweii had been inside and hadn’t gotten out again. Maybe he was out buying groceries?

Wylan remembered the sheer amount of staff Kuweii had and figured he was wrong.

“Kuweii?” he called wearily, but nothing happened. He wasn’t in his room.

Preparing to turn around, he frowned at a stack of letters falling onto the floor near him and he crouched to pick them up. Turning them face up, his eyebrows rose as he saw the familiar stamp. Squinting at the contents of the letter, he clumsily pieced together the words ‘expulsion’ and ‘university’.

It was an expulsion letter from Nanyang, University of Technology and Arts, he realized.

Biting his lip to keep from gasping out loud, Wylan put the letter away and his eyes focused on another letter. This one was from Jan Van Eck, the writing familiar.

Why the hell was Kuweii getting letters from his dad?

An uneasy feeling rose as Wylan opened it and the words blurred seamlessly in front of him. Quickly taking his phone out, he sent a quick text to Jesper.

Can you read me what this means?

Taking a picture of the letter, he sent it to Jesper and looked behind him. The door was still carefully shut. Hopefully Kuweii wouldn’t come in soon.

The phone rang and he answered it, bringing it up to his ear. “Jesper, what does it mean?” he asked, fear rising in his chest. His stomach seemed to be in knots, tangled and twisted like a set of sparking wires.

“Wylan…” Jesper said, fear thick on his voice. Wylan swallowed uneasily, his throat feeling like jagged claws running down them. “Your dad offered Kuweii ten thousand dollars to send you that threat letter.”

Chapter Text

Wylan was no stranger to pain.

After all - he had been raised by Marya and Jan Van Eck, two human beings that could hardly be considered wildly successful on the parenting scale - and his heart had been ripped apart the day Marya had left them. Wylan had been there when Jan locked him in his own room for a week. Wylan had been there when he learned to throw up silently, terrified Jan was going to catch him and punish him for being so weak - so damn weak he made himself throw up from his own disgust of himself.

Wylan had been there during every goddamn award ceremony and competition that Jan had missed, and Wylan had been there when the seat reserved for his father was left empty. Wylan had been there when Jan yelled at him for being a worthless idiot. Wylan had been there when he ruined his precious paints - scattered into so many gorgeous droplets, bright red and absolutely broken.

“Wylan?” Jesper’s voice was faint.

“I’ll call you back,” Wylan said vaguely as he prepared to cut the call.

“Wylan, listen ,” Jesper said pleadingly on the other side, “please think about what you’re going to do okay? Just come back home. Please sunshine I don’t think you’re thinking-”

Wylan cut the call and tilted his head backwards, blinking rapidly to dissolve the gathering tears on his eyelids. A strange feeling swirled in his chest, pounding against the inside of it and threatening to let out. Raw wet tears began to pour down his cheeks uselessly, and he made half-hearted attempts to breathe again that were swallowed up by his rapid panting, so fast his breath caught and he desperately clutched at his throat as he began gagging.

The panic attack continued for a while as he lay against the side of Kuweii’s bed, hurting his chest so badly it felt like he’d been punched there. Wheezing noises barely made it out of his throat and Wylan clutched his throat as he gagged, bending over as clear liquid hit the clean wooden floor. His eyes caught on the letter again and his chest heaved, sending another wave of bile onto the ground.

Wylan couldn’t bring himself to care.

#

It took twenty minutes to collect himself and finally pull himself out of Kuweii’s room, mouth bitter and still tasting of his own vomit. Stumbling to a bathroom, he turned the tap on and began gargling the water out as best he could, hands shaking from the energy it took.

He looked up at himself in the mirror and hated .

God, he couldn’t stand himself - no wonder his father had ordered Kuweii to send him a death threat. He lacked the basic skills that equipped a first grader and god he was such an idiot. Why the hell had he thought that he could’ve gotten rid of his father just by changing his last name? Wylan was a goddamn idiot.

Biting his lips, he urged himself not to break down into tears again as he leant down to wash his face. Scrubbing the pale skin there thoroughly, he bit his lips in an effort not to break down sobbing again.

His own father .

Distantly Wylan heard Jesper’s ringtone from Kuweii’s bedroom and he sighed. He had to go get his phone from that goddamn bedroom - where the letter was. Why would Kuweii betray him like this? Why did his father want him dead?

Stumbling back into Kuweii’s room, Wylan flinched as he noted the piles of vomit still arranged around Kuweii’s bedroom, as well as the prickly salt-tang of his own tears. The side of Kuweii’s bed was wet - with what, he didn’t want to know - and Wylan bent over and answered the phone, swallowing hard at the thought of talking again.

“Hey sunshine, I’m so glad you picked up this time please don’t do-” Jesper sounded like he was pleading.

“You’ve been calling?” Wylan asked confused. His throat was raw from his panic attack earlier, and he still felt… dirty.

God, Wylan wanted to go back home.

“Wylan?” Jesper was saying. “Sunshine please answer me!”
“I’m here,” Wylan said hoarsely. “I’m sorry Jes - I’m so so sorry Jes,” he crumpled even as he spoke, falling back onto Kuweii’s bed. Tears began to stream down his cheeks again and he cursed himself for being weak. “I’m a fucking mess right now and I’m sorry - I just had a panic attack and then I threw up twice and now I feel sick and I want to go home.” His voice cracked at the end and Wylan’s head lowered as he caved within himself, forming a strange ball-like shape. “God Jes - what do I do? Is there even anything to do? Aren’t father’s supposed to love their sons?”

Even as he spoke the words he knew they weren’t true. Jan Van Eck didn’t love him - he never had, ever since he learned about how Wylan couldn’t read a single. fucking. word . Christ he was pathetic; he was a disaster and he didn’t blame Jan for not wanting him.

Wylan Van Eck ,” Jesper said firmly from the other side of the phone. “Wylan, sunshine, answer me please.”

Wylan’s shaking slowed down and he tearily pressed the phone to his ears. “Yeah?” he asked faintly. “Jes - Jes .”

“Wylan,” Jesper repeated calmly. “I can’t do anything right now. I am so sorry Wylan, but I’m taking the first train back to campus as soon as possible. Meanwhile, you need to come back as well. I know you already bought the plane ticket for two weeks but-”

“-yeah,” Wylan said hoarsely, thinking of all he had to do. “I know. I’m coming back home.”

“Don’t stay there any longer,” Jesper said fiercely, voice strong even though the phone. “Wylan, baby, just come home.”

#

He lied.

He had one more thing to do, and Wylan’s stomach knotted at the thought of it.

Nervously he signaled for the kitchen staff to leave and they sent him confused glances, even as he tried to give them encouraging looks. Slowly each one left and he was left alone in the massive room, sitting at the table and waiting for Kuweii to come back from wherever the hell he was.

His hands shook and Wylan winced as he felt the cold metal of the knife underneath his jacket press against his skin.

“Hey I’m back!” Kuweii’s carefree voice rang as he showed up in Wylan’s view. His eyes narrowed as he saw the empty kitchen and he shot Wylan a confused look. “Hey what happened?”

“We need to talk,” Wylan said slowly, feeling like his mouth was stuffed with cotton.

A chill ran through the room and Kuweii’s face visibly shuttered, morphing into a much colder mask that left Wylan glad for the knife he had behind his jacket. Not for the first time he wished for Jesper and the others.

“So you saw the letters, then?” Kuweii asked slowly, walking up to Wylan and sitting down at the table. A flicker ran through Wylan as he heard that there were multiple letters - he had barely managed one - and visible discomfort ran through his face. Well, he should have thought of that before sending me a threat letter , Wylan thought bitterly.

“Why?” Wylan’s voice was so much rawer than he wanted, the crack audibly in his voice. He didn’t sound strong and resilient right then - he sounded shattered, like his heart was feeling right now. Weariness clogged his veins and and Wylan wet his lips as he watched Kuweii flinch at his voice.

“Wylan…” Kuweii trailed off, looking at him before flicking his gaze away quickly. “It’s a long story.”

“Fine.” Wylan gestured to the table in front of them. “We have time.”

#

“As you know, my father and I have never had the best relationship. He’s always influenced engineering and chemistry on me, whereas I’ve always enjoyed biology. And nobody really understands - to others, they’re all just science. Who cares about the type?
“Well, I got accepted into Nanyang, and I was so happy. But instead of getting to do what I loved, my father signed me up for engineering and chemistry - and well, I’m just not good at either of them. My first love will always unfailingly be biology, so it didn’t take long for my grades to begin spiralling down. I was no longer a straight A student, my lab notebook was filled with drawings of the hot guy sitting next to me rather than the subject my teacher was teaching… it was a downward spiral into failing out of college, and as far as my father was concerned, it was an embarrassment to have one of the greatest chemists in all time’s son fail out of college.

“After our conversation, my father decided that the only thing to do was to threaten my dowry. And because I was - if I didn’t fail out before - getting two degrees in both chemistry and engineering, I was going to be screwed in the job aspect. And so I did the only thing I could to bring my grades back up. I’ve always been really good with computers, so I funneled a small part of the money from my dowry into taking hacking classes, and they paid off. I soon learned how to hack well enough to get into the college system, change my grades, and make sure I left no tracks.

“Apparently I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. The college sent me a phone call two weeks later and because they had a very strict ‘no cheating’ policy, I was expelled - effective immediately. So I gathered my things and my father than gave me a phone call… he was so furious. God, I can still remember his voice… But he called to tell me that he had heard about the news, and my dowry was officially being given away to aid him in his research. I had to support myself, and the only thing I could keep was this house and the staff working inside it. He’d pay for that, but other than that, I was on my own. I’d also have no help paying off the college debt I had acquired - especially because I had paid for all four years of college, and the college didn’t provide any refunds. I had, roughly over hundred thousand dollars to pay back and I had exactly none of the amount.

“Soon after I got an email from your father. He told me that he had found about my situation, and he’d pay a third of the college debt off for me if I housed you for winter break. I accepted immediately - hell, I needed all the money I could. I called you and you accepted, and for a while I thought it was weird but I put it out of my head. I figured the two of you were having some trouble as usual, but it wasn’t any of my business. I let it go.

“A while after Jan Van Eck sent me an email, and he told me to send you a threat letter or else the details of my expulsion would make their way around the world, ruining my father’s reputation. Can you imagine the PR nightmare that comes along with having a son fail out of college for the very same reason my father was famous? I couldn’t do anything but agree so I did. Jan told me what to include roughly in the letter, and then after I sent you the letter, Jan sent me another third of the money for my college debt.

“He’s been silent ever since you got the letter, but I’m expecting him to ask me for another thing. I’m… Wylan I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you or anything - I’ve been up every night from the guilt I’ve been feeling. I just really need the money for college.”

#

Wylan looked at Kuweii with disbelieving eyes, wide and still red-rimmed from his panic attack. His chest swirled uncomfortably in light of the situation and he watched the other boy fiddle with the napkin arranged on his side of the table. The knife behind his jacket shifted and he winced as the metal pressed against him again.

Silently, Wylan took the knife out of his jacket and placed it onto the table.

Kuweii watched with wide eyes as the entire process happened and Wylan’s lips pursed as he thought the information over. Should he forgive Kuweii? Was it his fault? Was Kuweii even telling the truth? Could he trust somebody that had so blatantly screwed him over?

Should he blame Kuweii?

“Please say something,” Kuweii pleaded from the other side of the table, eyes wide and fixed onto the knife on the table. “Wylan - please - I’m so sorry I didn’t mean for it to be the way it was I just needed money for college and-”

Wylan abruptly cut him off and stood, raking a tired hand through his curls. “So my father reached out to you?” he demanded, already reaching for his phone. “Kuweii - I have to get onto a plane and get back to college but… Kuweii…” he trailed off wordlessly and stared the other boy in the eyes.

Kuweii looked terrified, dull brown eyes sparking with an unnatural gleam that came from fear. “Wylan I’m so sorry,” he told Wylan, desperation streaking on his face. “ Please believe me when I tell you that.”

Wylan looked at him steadily, looking at the dark circles under his eyes. The fear glinting in his eyes; the desperation running through his face.

“Kuweii…” Wylan started. He didn’t know how to end.

Chapter Text

Stress packing was not fun, Wylan reflected as he watched the cities go by. Currently he was in a pair of jeans that was exactly two sizes two loose, and he was pretty sure the belt was malfunctioning (how did belts even malfunction??? And why the hell was is Wylan’s luck to somehow wear the only malfunctioning belt in the world?) so he looked like double the idiot.

“Don’t worry Jes, I’ll be home soon,” Wylan assured the older boy as he tucked the phone behind his ear. “Yeah, I’m almost there. I couldn’t get a plane ticket on such a short notice, so I had to take a train ride instead.” A rush of guilt ran through him and hastily he added, “Sorry I made you miss part of your vacation with your father.”

A stream of expletives assaulted Wylan’s ears and he attempted to make a stern face, though the both of them knew that he was grinning through it.

“Alright Jes!” Wylan said laughing slightly. “I’ll stop apologizing! I’m sorry!”

He waited a beat before Jesper’s response and he grinned at it. “Yeah Jes, bye. I think the train station is coming to a stop and I need some more food if I’m going to survive the next five hours alive. M’kay, love you, bye.” Cutting the phone, he looked at the contact picture for Jesper (a picture of the boy grinning at his phone, wild-eyed and looking just the slightest bit on drugs) with affection before switching the phone off.

“Oh honey , were you just on the phone with your girlfriend?” he heard cooing, and startled Wylan looked up to see the face of a grinning old man. Looking around the compartment, he noticed that he and the other old man were the only people inside it.

“Um - well - actually,” Wylan stammered for a while. “Um, my boyfriend actually.” He waited for the old man’s face to sour and bit his lip, preparing for it. To his surprise, the man didn’t seem the least bit put off by the fact.

“Oh, well, that’s adorable as well,” he reassured Wylan. “Though, so young! Yet so in love!”
Wylan almost choked at the words and he gazed at the man with wide eyes. “What do you mean - ‘so in love’?” he asked, staring at the old man.

“Well, you said it yourself,” the old man shrugged nonchalantly. “You told your boyfriend ‘m’kay, love you, bye’.”

And then it hit Wylan. He had ended the phone call with those words - so nonchalantly, he had just added it onto the end of the phone call and fucking ended it and had Jesper noticed? Was he choking right now? Did Jesper think he meant it?

Did he mean it?

Did he love Jesper? Could you even love somebody after being with them after so short a time? But hadn’t they been through a lot together? They had been snowed into a building together, a YMCA chant had been started, Jesper had discovered the truth behind his last name and refrained from freaking out, Wylan’s apartment had been trashed, he had found out about Jesper’s gambling and late-night habits, Jesper had kept him sane after he was dealing with the shock of hearing Kuweii’s confession… fuck they had even moved in together ! Did it count as moving in together if there were other people there?

They hadn’t had sex yet, Wylan considered. Was that a factor in love? He supposed not, considering acesexual couples, but would Jesper consider it one? Christ - did Jesper want sex with him? He had never had sex with somebody in his life! He had always planned to give it away to somebody special - and after all, didn’t Jesper count as ‘someone special’? But he hadn’t wanted to give it away in college. Jesus Christ, why hadn’t they talked about this at all?

“I-I-I,” Wylan stammered, looking at the man with wide eyes. “I - um, I think I… I love you Jesper?”

“Brava!” the man cheered, clapping at him. “Now you just have to tell him that!”

“Oh my god,” Wylan muttered to himself. “Oh my god .”

#

The train finally cranked to a stop and Wylan gave his seat a nervous look. The old man had left a long time ago - not before giving Wylan an uncomfortably tight hug and telling him to have a ‘happy marriage’ with Jesper (which had, naturally, made him choke up even more). Wylan was alone, and not for the first time, he wished he had accepted Jesper’s offer to meet him at the train station.

You can do things yourself , Wylan scolded himself as he gathered his bags with him. Slow steps carried him to the exit door and he smiled at the attendant there before carefully stepping out.

Goddamn it was brighter than he thought.

Squinting at the light coming through the windows, Wylan hitched his bags higher on his shoulder and started walking to the train station exit. Maybe there was a taxi there.

“Wylan!”
Distantly he heard his name being called and Wylan twisted his head, searching for the person. His eyes focused on nobody in particular, and he righted himself-

-only to see them right in front of him.

“Hello Wylan,” Jan Van Eck said smiling at him. Three men were by his side and before Wylan could protest, two had grabbed his bags from him, while another was suddenly at his back, a careful hand touching his spine and sending chills up his back. Wylan restrained the urge to shiver. “It’s good to see you again.”

“F-f-father?” Wylan stammered, looking around helplessly. Nobody was looking. “F-father?”

“I heard that you came back from Kuweii’s house early,” the man purred, a sickly sweet smile on his face. “I think it’s time you came home for a while.”

Chapter Text

“Father?” Wylan repeated once they were in the car. “W-w-what are you doing here?”

“I see you still have that horrific stutter,” Jan said smoothly, his lip curling just the slightest at the end of the sentence. “And I believe I’ve already answered that question - I’m here because I haven’t talked or heard from you all year long. A father does want to hear about their only son on occasion.”

Wylan twitched with the urge to yell at him, but he knew he was in a bad position. The three men were right behind him and his father was right in front of him. The limo was large and spacious, but there was no way Wylan would be able to run or get out without his father or his men getting him first.

“You’ve never seemed interested before,” he managed to get out weakly. “I didn’t think this time would be any different.”

His father doesn’t react to that - in fact, he doesn’t even seem to hear him - and right then Wylan’s phone buzzed. Success , Wylan thought to himself as he pulled out his phone and earbud. The caption had the familiar lengths and curves he’s managed to acquaint with Jesper’s name. Just as he was about to unlock his phone, his father smoothly reached over and plucked it from his grasp.

Father -” Wylan began in a strange tone, like the air has been punched out from him.

“Really Wylan?” his father asked calmly, arching an ice-cold eyebrow at him. “Who is Jesper , and why are you so eager to spend time with him when we could be catching up?”

Silently Wylan goggled at his father. Had he developed a sense of humour in the past couple of months?

“Until you leave our house to return to college,” Jan decided with a smirk. “You don’t get to have your phone. I’m keeping it until then.”

His phone - worn, unremarkable, his - then slipped into Jan’s deep coat pocket and a strange feeling rose in Wylan’s chest.

Trashed apartment.

Threat letter.

Bribing Kuweii into keeping him for winter break.

Taking his phone .

Wylan’s chest pumped rapidly as he took a faltering breath. His father had already gone so far, consequences be damned.

Where was the end? What did Jan even want from him?

#  

Somehow, he ended up in his old room.

A part of his chest beat uneasily as he stared at it all. Everything was the same - science and math notes, all drawn out because he couldn’t write for his life hung on the wall; drawings and various awards were hanging proudly on a shelf. Wylan scowled at the display of it all.

He really missed his under-heated, way too small, barely functional and now trashed apartment of his. He even missed the goddamn spider.

You know you’ve hit a sad point in life when you find yourself missing that spider you initially freaked out over, Wylan thought sadly.

What was he supposed to do now? He was stuck in his father’s house - trapped, without a phone, under his father’s constant gaze. But… Wylan trails off, thinking of the threat letter. What reason did his father have for basically kidnapping him? Why would his father send him the threat letter? What was the reason for the trashed apartment?

Shouldn’t Jan Van Eck have been content to just do away with him to the rest of the world, while Wylan tried his hardest to disassociate himself from the family empire?

Suddenly Wylan stiffened as he heard three rapid knocks on the door. Checking himself in the mirror quickly, he made sure he looked presentable before answering the door. One of the servants were on the other side of the door, and he sent them a fleeting smile.

“Welcome home Master Wylan,” the boy said, flashing him a smile. Wylan’s eyebrows furrowed. He didn’t remember this boy.

“Hello,” Wylan replied carefully. “And you are…?”

“Adem Bajan,” the servant replied smiling calmly. “Although you can just call me Bajan.”

A hint of unease ran through Wylan. This man looked a couple years older than him, but he looked… so different in comparison to all the other servants who used to work for Jan. They had always looked sleep deprived, terrified, quiet and mousy - in short, they looked nothing like Bajan did right now.

“Thanks,” Wylan said nodding. “Can I ask why…?” he trailed off and Bajan turned backwards a little nervously, shifting his eyes to the floor. There it is , Wylan thought as he detected a hint of fear in Bajan’s eyes.

“Master Van Eck has requested it,” he told Wylan with a recovered smile. “Dinner is being served currently.”

Wylan studied the boy’s face for a while before nodding. Walking out of the room, he carefully shut the door and turned back to Bajan. He still looked incredibly cheerful, but something had happened on his face. Something different.

“Bajan…” Wylan started carefully, keeping a hand wrapped around the other’s wrist in order to keep him in place. “Do you… have you… “

Bajan smiled and nodded reassuringly.

“Seen anything?” Wylan finally finished. “Heard anything?”

Bajan flashed him an easy wink that seemed entirely too inappropriate for the mansion they were in. “If it is your father you are worrying about, I would not,” he said giving him a grin. “Believe me - Mister Van Eck is remarkably kind and patient.”

Doubt clouding his mind, Wylan reluctantly followed Bajan down the stars and ran the man’s words through his head. Mister Van Eck is remarkably kind and patient .

This entire affair was making Wylan sick, and as he took another step, his mind pulsed out a cry that sounded suspiciously like Jesper.

#

Jesper

“Kaz I swear to god I’m going to murder your ass one day,” Jesper growled into his phone. “Like, dead dead .”

“Oh heavens no,” Kaz deadpanned from the other side of the call. “Not the ass. I need my ass.”

Jesper scowled at his phone. “I didn’t mean that and you knew it you smartass,” he snapped at the phone. “Anyways, Wylan was supposed to get home like, three minutes ago and he’s not here. Kaz heeeeeeelp me.”

“You’re pathetic. He’s probably stuck in traffic,” Kaz said monotonically and Jesper resisted the urge to begin making I-O-U-Brekker-One-Punch-In-The-Face coins. On second thought, they might actually be a really good idea. Matthias would definitely pay to buy them, and Nina wouldn’t be far behind.

“He was supposed to get here three minutes ago ,” Jesper whined as he rolled around in his bed. Wylan’s last words echoed through his head and he smiled instinctively, a ridiculous smile rising on his face. Goddammit, what had that blushing ginger done to him?

Love you .

Jesper’s eyes fluttered as he remembered the last words his sunshine had told him and how it had taken a while for it to sink in.

And by ‘a while’ he meant he had registered it and spent the next ten minutes snoopy dancing to Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me .

No seriously, he had his arms up and everything.

“Alright fine, you want to know the real reason I’m so nervous,” Jesper confessed to Kaz, twisting around in his bed again. “Just… don’t laugh, okay?”

Despite the thousands of miles in between them, Jesper could hear his eyebrow rise.

“I can see your eyebrow rise,” Jesper insisted, scowling at his phone. “And just - just, Wylan told me he…” he trailed off, not sure how to end the sentence. Goddammit, when did he turn into the incoherent one? Maybe Wylan really was rubbing off on him.

“What did Wylan do?” Kaz asked in a vaguely dangerous voice.

Jesper jolted at the sound of his voice. “Don’t kill him!” he said urgently. “And Wylan told me he loved me . Even I haven’t told him it yet, and it’s been running through my mind for the past couple of… well, days.”

There was a silence on the other end.

“Hello?” Jesper asked, frowning at the phone. “Kaz, did you cut the conversation because you hate dealing with real human emotions? Kaz !”

“Jesper,” Kaz said in a careful voice. “Don’t you think the two of you are going a little fast?”

“What are you talking about?” Jesper defended fiercely. “We’ve been through a lot together. And okay fine, maybe it’s only been like, three months but trust me Kaz!”

Kaz sighed. “Ugh. Is this why you’ve been so excited to see Wylan?”

Yes ,” Jesper said empathetically, grinning brightly. “Also I decided. I wanted to have the whole… sex talk with him tonight. You know, the-”

“-I do not need to know this,” Kaz broke in reluctantly. “Also, don’t you dare lecture me on the safe sex talk. I remember giving it to you Jesper. Right around senior year of high school when you were getting a little too interested in having a one-night stand every night.”

Jesper rolled his eyes. “Well, Wylan and I have been taking it slow, and I don’t want to rush him. We’ve just been making out. And if he doesn’t want to have sex until our wedding, then I’ll totally be comfortable with it.”

“Wedding day?” Kaz repeated incredulously. “For Christ’s sake Jes, you’re twenty-two.”

“I am a strong independent black woman that also happens to be a twenty-two year old die-hard romantic,” Jesper retorted, snapping his fingers in an odd ‘z’ pattern. “And Wylan doesn’t mind.”

“That’s because Wylan’s weird.”

“Your girlfriend’s weird,” Jesper shot back pettily.

“Inej can also be weird,” Kaz addressed, and a grin rose onto Jesper’s face.

“Well, leave my boyfriend alone,” he told the boy on the other side of the call. “I’m going to call Wylan because he was supposed to come here ten minutes ago and I was going to confess my love in a dramatic heartfelt way so he turns five million different shades of the most gorgeous red.”

“Again, too much detail,” Kaz growled at him before cutting the phone off.

Grinning, Jesper punched in Wylan’s number and send him a text. No response came, and Jesper gave his phone a confused look.

“Probably just paranoid,” Jesper muttered to himself, shaking his head. “Wylan’s going to come home soon enough.”

Chapter Text

The Van Eck mansion never quite lost its nonexistent charm.

As a wee child, Wylan remembered walking through the endless halls, tripping over his own feet, almost tripping down the banister, smiling at the widely spread portraits of various ancestors and descendants.

The portraits were painted, framed, and hung high. It didn’t matter what member of the family you were - the black sheep, like a distant third-uncle of his (now deceased, by mysterious circumstances his distant third-aunt had put down to heart failure), the best and brightest one (his father, obviously), or simply average (his great grandmother, for having the audacity to be a woman, despite her various successes to push the company far further than say, his own father did).

Wylan, mindful of Bajan’s presence behind him, stopped suddenly to look at a portrait of himself.

“That wasn’t here when I left,” Wylan muttered under his breath, staring at his own unfamiliar face. The portrait didn’t wear his own face - rather, a stranger with cold blue eyes and perfect ginger curls stared back at him. Bajan sent him a genial smile and Wylan tried to move his lips into a semblance of one.

“Master Van Eck was proud to hang such a portrait of his dashing son,” Bajan said with a grin and Wylan sighed, turning his head. Weariness filled his veins and he felt the need to ask his father - why? Why go through the charade he had gone through? What was the point of trashing his apartment, of sending him and Sergie threat letters, of forcing others to house him against their will? What was the endgame?
Wylan suddenly needed to know these answers, and sped up his pace. Hurriedly walking down the halls - down the first row of stairs, passing another hall or two, down the second flight of stairs - he finally reached the bottom floor, where Bajan, hurrying after him, urged him to the first dining hall.

“Thank you,” Wylan told him in an obvious dismissal. Bajan stared at him wordlessly for a while before blinking rapidly and hurrying away. Blowing the air out of his cheeks, Wylan quickly went to the door for the first dining hall and stopped a few feet away from the entrance.

“Come in where I can see you,” Jan snapped from his position at the table. Wylan took a deep breath before quickly walking in and saw him seated at the table.

“Hello father,” Wylan said softly as he sat at the area arranged for him. His father looked him up and down briefly before his lips curled.

“I see you haven’t changed yet,” he examined coldly and Wylan nodded.

“I haven’t,” he replied. “I’d like my phone back so I can tell my friends I’ve arrived back safely, and to tell them I’m with you so they don’t worry.”

Jan Van Eck sneered at him. “As if they really care. They’re just pretending Wylan. Nobody really cares about you - not your friends.”

Wylan’s face flushed at that, red burning through his cheeks as he ducked his head. “M-my boyfriend,” he managed. “I’m dating somebody. Jesper cares about me.”

Jan snorted at that, raising an eyebrow critically. “Are you sure he doesn’t just want your money?” he asked Wylan. His voice oozed with faux concern and Wylan wasn’t sure if he wanted to yell at his father, or curl up in his room and lock himself in there until winter break was over and he needed to attend his college classes again.

“Why don’t we talk about the thing we both really want to talk about?” Wylan asked finally, blinking several times to get the words down. “Can we talk about how my apartment got trashed? Or how I got a threat letter? Or how Sergie - a good friend of mine who was doing me a favor - also got a threat letter? Or how you blackmailed Kuweii into doing all of this?”

Jan shot him another look, this one a barely concealed smirk. “Wylan,” he asked in fake horror. “Your apartment got trashed? How horrible .” He made a face of fake pity. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me. I could have helped you.”

“My friends helped me,” Wylan said, gritting his teeth. “They offered me a place to live. In fact - you know the place - because you forced Kuweii to send me a threat letter.”

“Again with your fake accusations,” Jan said with fake appalment. “But ignoring your terrible behavior, if your apartment is getting trashed then perhaps you should move back in with me. Permanently.”
Wylan physically flinched at that. “No thanks father.”

“It’s not a suggestion,” Jan’s voice hardened and he sent his son a glare. “Wylan, you’re moving back in. It’s simply not safe for you. And now you’re getting threat letters?”

Wylan stared at him in horror. “Father you were the one to-!”

“Have a nice night Wylan,” Jan said smoothly, spooning the first bit of soup. He made a face of distaste and stood up, beginning to walk away. “And ask the servants to clear the soup away, would you? Tonight’s meal is horrific. See to it that they’re fired as well.”

Jan …” Wylan whispered as Jan disappeared out the door.

#

Jesper

 

“He’s not here,” Jesper stressed to Inej on the phone. “Please do something. Can you ask Kaz to use his creepy gang skills and track Wylan’s iPhone?”

“How long has it been?” Inej asked, concern in her voice.

Jesper bit his lip. “Six hours. Inej, I think something happened. He’s not responding to texts, he was supposed to be here six hours ago , he told me he loved me…” he trailed off purposely, knowing Inej would catch onto the last one.

“Okay, firstly, I’m so happy for you Jes,” Inej said, a spark of amusement in her voice. “But also, that’s worrying. Especially with the threat letter and the trashed apartment. Are you sure he didn’t just stay at Kuweii’s apartment and change his mind?”

“I know for sure,” Jesper stressed. Hesitation passed his face before he brushed it off and he added, “Okay so, Wylan told me the entire story, but apparently Kuweii was blackmailed into it by Jan Van Eck, Wylan’s emotionally and probably physically abusive father.”

There was a long silence on the other side.

“Jes?” Inej finally said. “You think that?”
“Yeah. Yeah I do,”

“I think so as well,” Inej finally admitted. “Alright Jesper, I’m going to herd Kaz into a plane - you know his absolute terror of planes - and we’re going to be home as soon as possible. Nina and Matthias will arrive as well. And I swear to god Jesper, the five of us are going to find Wylan as soon as possible. He will be brought home soon.”

Jesper swallowed hard, wincing as he felt the saliva travel down his throat. What if they found Wylan too late ?

Chapter Text

Inej : A Brief Respite

 

“I’m really worried about Wylan,” Inej told Kaz as she packed her bags. “What if something happened to him?”

Kaz bit his lip, and Inej knew him well enough to know he was worried. “Then we’ll drag him out of there,” Kaz said dismissively. “The boy’s managed to find his way into mafia territory several times - and we both know Oksanochka’s no joke.”

Inej shrugged. “She’s gotten older. She’s less harsh these days - and the mafia’s getting handed over to Bollinger and Gretina anyway.”

Kaz gave her a careful glance. “Are you telling me Wylan’s unable to hold his own?”

Inej shook her head. “He’s went through getting his apartment trashed, getting a threat letter, and making close friends with mafia members in the past couple months. I wouldn’t embarrass him like that.”

Kaz considered her words. “Perhaps you wouldn’t, but I doubt this father’s trust in his own son,” Kaz said, lip curling with distaste. Inej knew Kaz’s hatred for family disloyalty. Nothing is stronger than blood was once Kaz’s words when he had first transferred to the orphanage. Inej hadn’t the heart to tell him he was wrong, but she felt he had learned over time.

“Ever the hatred for filicide,” Inej said lightly, but Kaz nodded. His mind was clearly no longer by her side and lightly she ran a hand down his shoulder.

“Kaz, you’re no longer there,” she told him firmly. “And we’ll get Wylan back. I want to get on the plane fast enough so we can get back to Amsterdam by the time it’s nine. Jes is freaking out.”

“I can’t believe you booked a plane,” Kaz told her darkly. “What happened to loyalty? You know my hatred of them.”

Inej smiled at the familiar whining tone in his voice, and she knew nobody else was allowed to see him like this - bare, unrestrained, like the boy he was supposed to be before everything else happened. Her thoughts were tainted of Wylan though, so she quickly rubbed his shoulder and moved on.

“For once, let’s ignore your fear of airplanes and just save Wylan from whoever,” Inej said, and for once Kaz silently went along with what she said.

#

Evidently, Kaz had not silently gone along with what she said and had planned a train ride while she went on the airplane.

“Kaz,” she said exasperatedly. “We are not travelling separately. You are not taking a train back to Amsterdam, and arriving five hours later than I am. I can’t believe you tried to sneak away from me. Me !”

“I can’t believe it didn’t work,” Kaz grumbled as Inej clutched onto his forearm with enough strength to keep him by her side.

“You do that again and I’ll take your cane from you,” Inej threatened and Kaz gave her an answering sneer. Both of them were aware that it wouldn’t stop him, but it would make his trip an uncomfortable one.

Kaz stayed silent as she checked in both of their bags but even as they walked into the waiting area, Inej kept a grip on his forearm, letting it slowly slide down into his hands.

“I don’t want to go on the plane - I can just drive myself,” he insisted and Inej gave him a dry look.

“In what world would I let you do that?” she asked rhetorically. “If I’m not even letting you take a train ride why would I let you drive yourself?”

“Speed limits?”

“You mean, ‘breaking speed limits’?” Inej suggested and Kaz gave her a warm smile, brightening his coal dark eyes into a light coffee mixture.

“Obviously not, Inej darling,” he said sweetly. “What do you take me for - a criminal ?”

“Never a criminal,” Inej said sarcastically. “What? Little old you?”

“I’m about as innocent as they come,” Kaz agreed sagely, shaking his head. “Like the little boy in the-” as Inej turned her head to check their boarding passes, Kaz suddenly removed his hand from hers and bolted.

Inej didn’t hesitate, and took off without missing a beat. Kaz’s cane was slowing him down and that was obvious enough to the both of them. Inej had the advantage - she had always been light and graceful, whereas Kaz had, well, he had a bad leg and a limp - and she used it as she simply went down the stairs by four, in full knowledge that Kaz was slower and had to use every step.

It didn’t mean Kaz wasn’t tricky though. Suddenly his dark figure escaped from her sight and Inej turned her head rapidly to try and find him. She knew all of his tricks - she had used a couple of them herself, and one of Kaz’s favorites were to disguise himself among the crowd rather than lose in an outright footrace.

“You never were one for sports,” Inej muttered thoughtfully as she saw a dark Kaz-like figure in the sports section. He was talking to an employee, and was - Inej squinted as she saw him walk inside the store further to where job interviews were probably taking place.

Was Kaz impersonating a sports store employee-hopeful?

Hurrying inside the store herself, she kept her feet quiet and her eyebrows rose as she saw the employee nervously look at the Kaz figure - she squinted and yes it was Kaz answering questions about various sport events.

Creeping closer to the interview place, she kept an ear to the door and listened carefully.

“So why would you like to apply for a job here, Mr. Walters?”

Kaz’s response was dry. “My mother made me.”

“Er… it says here that you’re a forty year old man with two children.”

“I age really well,” Kaz deadpanned, and Inej smiled despite herself.

Well, they still needed to get Wylan, and as much as she was enjoying the conversation, a forty year old man had just walked into the store as well and was probably expecting a job.

“Hello Mr. Walters,” she said professionally as she walked up to him. He nodded and stuttered a bit.

“Er, ma’am, I’m here for my job interview?”

“Right this way,” she said promptly and without hesitating, opened the interview door to reveal a terrified store employee and Kaz’s I’m-bored-please-murder me face. Everyone’s faces immediately turned to her and she gave Kaz her best I-will-murder-you-soon-don’t-worry face. “You can just take Mr. Walter’s chair,” she told the actual Mr. Walters smiling. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”

Ignoring the stuttering store employee, she glared at Kaz until he lazily rose from his chair and followed her out of the interview room.

“Really?” Inej hissed at him. “You tried to get a job at a sports store to avoid getting on the damn plane?”

Kaz gave her a smirk. “Well, the plane is boarding in five minutes and I don’t think it’s possible to get on it in five minutes so I guess we’ll just have to take the train inste-”

Inej turned around and ran, dragging Kaz alongside her. She’d be damned if they missed the plane.

#

“I hate you,” Kaz stated and Inej calmly flipped the magazine to its next page.

“Be nice, Kaz,” she tutted as he glared at the five year old child sitting to the right of him. Inej was on his other side, and Kaz had given her a glare when she had triumphantly taken the window seat.

“I thoroughly dislike you,” he revised and continued to glare at the five year old, who - to Inej’s approval - didn’t seem the least bit scared of him.

“Boo!” she wailed and stuck her tongue out at Kaz. “Baba! Wa wa wa wa! Strange man!”

“God I hate planes,” Kaz made a face and pressed his head against Inej’s shoulders. “Get me out of here, Did you feel that bump? I think you feel bumps when the airplane’s system is malfunctioning. I think we’re going to crash Inej I’m going to die-”

“Please excuse this moment of mild turbulence,” the overhead speaker said calmly and if possible, Kaz’s face went whiter than she had ever seen.

Inej cackled triumphantly, and patted Kaz’s head as he hid his face in her shoulder again.

 

Chapter Text

Wylan

Goddammit - how was this possible? How had he been locked into his own room? For god’s sake - his room locked from the inside ? How did Jan Van Eck manage to lock him in it, while simultaneously never entering himself, and therefore not locking himself inside Wylan’s room with him?

“Jesus Christ,” Wylan muttered as he violently shook the door handle. Fear rose up through him in a flood and he swallowed as he tried to figure out what to do. Would his father just sit around and wait for him to die?

(Wylan was also privately grateful for the bathroom that connected to his room. Dear god, that could have gotten really embarrassing.)

“Okay, Wylan calm down,” he ordered himself. “Let’s go through everything possible. Phone? Father has it. Food? Might starve soon. Basic necessities? Again, have some, others might not be given to me and I might die a sad lonely death. Escape route?”
He looked outside the window and tried to gauge the distance.

Could he fall thirty feet? A part of him that let him dangle off of buildings dramatically was repeating ‘YES WYLAN’ enthusiastically, but another part of him thought that might be a little too broad a claim.

Was it really? Was a thirty foot drop really that much in the face of desperation and possible death?

He checked the window again and concluded that yes, yes it was.

“Breakfast for Master Wylan?” a servant’s timid voice called and Wylan’s head snapped as the door opened and the servant dropped off a steaming platter of food.

“Hi,” Wylan said immediately, “I have no idea what’s going on right now can you-?” The servant stared at Wylan with massive eyes, clearly terrified of something.

“I can’t really talk right now,” they whispered, voice cracking partly through their sentence. “I have to go, I’m so sorry Master Wylan, but please enjoy your breakfast.”

Dumbfounded, Wylan looked at what he had gotten.

Then he took a double take.

Because right on the silver platter of food, was a small glass of hydrogen peroxide, and what looked (and smelled) strongly of vinegar.

Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide can create peracetic acid, he remembered. They were also common cleaning materials, so if his father tried to say anything, he could always just say one of the servants had left it behind! And Jan knew nothing about science - he would be safe.

Carefully setting to work mixing the two chemicals, he knew it wouldn’t be enough. But hopefully he would get more liquid to work with through his meals, and soon enough, he would be able to cut through the wood on his door frame.

#

Jesper stared at Nina in disbelief. Inej stared at Nina in disbelief. Kaz stared at Nina in disbelief. Matthias stared at Nina in disbelief.

Nina calmly blew her nails and attempted to give one of the most terrifying women in the local mafia a high-five.

“Thanks Gretina,” Nina said grinning. “I’m so glad you’re helping us with this.”

Gretina scowled at her. “I’m not doing this for you ,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Frankly, I care about absolutely none of you.”

Kaz clasped Inej’s arm a little tighter and the sound of ground teeth could be heard.

“Thanks anyway,” Jesper said stiffly, staring at Gretina. “What are you saying? You’re willing to offer the help of your mafia to aid our efforts to save Wylan?”

Gretina glared at him. “Firstly, I’m not doing this for Wylan ,” she bit the words out. “I’m doing this to get Sergie back. For some reason, Sergie seems to care a lot about him . And secondly, this is still Oksanochka’s gang. She is the leader.” She bared her teeth.

This time it was Jesper grinding his teeth.

“Okay calm down,” Matthias muttered. “Thank you Gretina. We are grateful for your help. Speaking of which, where is Sergie?”

“Sergie’s going to arrive in about five minutes, and apparently he got a random passenger on the way.” somebody said. They all snapped their heads to see Bollinger walk up to them, a good ten or so people standing behind the man. “I assembled as many of them as I could on the spot - they’re willing to fight. The rest are going to scope out the outside of the building. Provided we can figure out where Wylan is?”

“I know somebody that can do that,” Kaz said secretively and three people scowled, but nobody said anything. Jesper breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh hell no!” somebody said.

“Goddammit,” Jesper muttered.

“You will listen to his orders,” Gretina snapped and then hesitated. “Well, within reason. But you will save this,” she hesitated and only spoke her next sentence due to whatever Nina had muttered, “ boy . He’s playing at my wedding. I want him to actually be alive for that.”

Disgruntled murmurs rose but for the most part, they all stayed quiet.

“I have him!” they heard a triumphant yell and once again, two people entered the room. Smiling, Jesper grinned as he saw Sergie enter the room, worry flushing his face.

The grin promptly fell as he saw the person next to be Sergie.

The person who - from Wylan’s description - could only be Kuweii Yul-Bayur.

Chapter Text

Jesper

Naturally, the only appropriate response to that was to lunge forward and try to strangle that lying son of a bastard that had put Wylan into so much trouble.

Lunging forward, Jesper shoved aside the others in the room and finally wrapped his hands around the shorter boy. Dull gold eyes stared at Jesper with shock as he made guttural noises and gagged from the pressure around his throat.

“Jesper!”

Jesper flinched as Kaz’s cane hit his wrist with a loud snap and forced him to step backwards. Inej stepped up to his side and pressed an arm around his side, dragging him back into the mass of people. Meanwhile, Sergie grudgingly looked at Kuweii, who was now gagging and spitting on the cement.

“Really?” Sergie shot Jesper a glare. “It was hard enough to convince him to come.”

“Perhaps he shouldn’t have betrayed Wylan, then,” Kaz said coldly, adjusting his grip on his cane and positioning it on the vulnerable part of Kuweii’s neck. “Why are you here, Yul-Bayur?”

Kuweii wheezed his response through pants of air. “I want-” a desperate intake of air, “-to help bring-” another shallow breath, “-Wylan back .”

“You want to help ?” Jesper barked angrily, glaring at the boy. “After you helped terrify him? After you wrote those fucking letters? I bet he’s still working with Van Eck.” His wrist stung a little from Kaz’s cane, but he ignored it.

Inej bit her lip thoughtfully and she exchanged a look with Kaz. Matthias and Nina shouldered their way to the front alongside Gretina, who sucked in a breath as she looked at Sergie.

“Hello Sergie,” she said softly, just as Bollinger joined Gretina’s side.

Sergie’s face was as hard as stone, and he avoided their looks. “Jesper,” he said instead. “Believe me - I can see the difference between a lie and the truth, and Kuweii’s spitting truths right now.”

Kaz nodded. “He’s not lying,” he told Jesper. “But I still don’t trust him. Who’s to say Van Eck isn’t indirectly controlling him?”

Kuweii was still gasping desperately, and irritated, Kaz hit his back solidly with his thick cane. “Shut up,” Kaz commanded. “And tell us everything. Why are you here?”

“I-I,” Kuweii stammered, face flushing a bright red. “I felt guilty after Wylan left, so I tried to call him. I didn’t get a response, and so I called, and finally Van Eck sent me a private message and told me to stop contacting his son or he’d withdraw the money he’s already given me. That was when I figured out that Wylan was in danger.”

Inej looked at him thoughtfully. “Does Van Eck know where you are right now?” she asked, narrowing her eyes on his face.

Kuweii shook his head. “N-no,” he gasped out. “I swear! Please don’t hit me with that,” he pleaded with Kaz, and almost as if he’d been commanded, Kaz flicked his cane hard onto Kuweii’s lower back.

Kuweii moaned and clutched his back. “Pl-please,” he begged pathetically. “Serige? I swear, I’m here to help.”

Sergie nodded slowly. “He’s not lying,” he affirmed and Kaz rolled his eyes.

“The matter isn’t that he’s lying,” Kaz snapped. “Have you ever been physically in contact with Van Eck?”

“What do you mean?” Kuweii asked brokenly, still clutching his back. Jesper gave a snort of derision and Inej’s grip on his shoulder tightened.

“I think we need him,” Inej murmured. “He knows the Van Eck mansion the best.”

“I think so too,” Matthias added. “We have our best shot at freeing Wylan if we know where the Van Eck mansion is, and also if-”

“It’s a small city,” Nina broke in, rolling her eyes. “Matthias, Ketterdam isn’t that big. Kaz already knows where the Van Eck mansion is. We just need a general layout. Maybe Kuweii can help us figure out something with Van Eck, so we can scare him into never touching Wylan again?”

“I already have a solution for that,” Kaz answered. “We don’t need him.”

“We do,” Sergie argued. “He has insider information with the Van Eck mansion, knows exactly how it works, knows Wylan fairly well, - I hate to say it, but we may need him.”

“What if he’s working for Van Eck?” Gretina asked, her heavy accent curling the v . “Then we suffer the losses.”

Kuweii spluttered a response to that, but Sergie cut him off, staring straight into Gretina’s eyes. “Then I can kill him myself,” he said solemnly.

The room was silent as the two exchanged glances.

“Then it’s all settled,” Kaz finally said reluctantly/ Hitting his cane against Kuweii’s back, he glared at the boy. “See to it that you don’t betray us.”

Gasping, Kuweii dropped to the floor and clutched his back.

#

Wylan felt dizzy. Staring at the seemingly tiny room around him (it was funny how claustrophobic he felt in his massive bedroom, when his tiny apartment had always been so comforting to him) he clutched his head and tried to remember why the thirty feet drop was an unappealing option.

Possible death , he tried to remind himself, but in light of everything else, it wasn’t that bad.

He had a few vials of peracetic acid around his room, but they were carefully hidden and hardly enough to burn through the doorknob. He’d need a bit more of either ingredient until there was enough.

At the rate this was going out, he’d jump out the window before he could burn through the door.

Gut rolling, he tried to think of Jesper and the others. Maybe they’re thinking of me? he thought hopefully. Maybe they’ll save me from father .

In light of the countless days he’d spent in this mansion - Oh? Are we a ‘we’ now? - Kaz’s words rang uselessly through his head and he tried to convince himself that they were - hopefully - coming.

At least I got to tell Jesper that I love him , Wylan finally thought. If the peracetic acid doesn’t work out. At least Jesper knows that I love him.

Did Jesper love him back? Was that even a question he should be thinking at the moment, when trapped in his own childhood house?

“Ignore that,” Wylan forced his mind away from the all-too cliche does he love me back? question. “Ignore all of it. I have to focus on getting away from here alive.”

Right then, he heard a knocking sound and turned his head to see the door knocking and revealing a terrified butler.

“Here is your food,” the man whispered, and Wylan nodded gratefully as he saw two waiting vials, their position on the tray familiar now.

“Thank you,” he whispered and silently tried to bide his time.

He could get out of there alive. He just needed to stay patient, and remind himself of what he had outside of this hell.

Chapter Text

It was storming now, and Jesper’s gut felt a lot like the branches he saw getting pummeled by the winds. Sick .

Plan Save Wylan From His Sicko of a Dad - alternatively named Plan Bring Back Jesper’s Future Betrothed , Plan Don’t You Mean Soulmate, and Plan CHRIST Guys can we FOCUS? - was still being figured out, and as Kaz marked another possible location for a hitman to be placed, Jesper swallowed heavily.

His friends might have acted like a gang sometimes, but this was bringing them to yet another level he never thought he would reach. They all had rough pasts - hell, Jesper had been beaten up a few times for his addiction to gambling - and nobody except for Inej really knew what Kaz had gotten into, but everybody knew it was dark.

“What do you think, Jesper?”

Jesper was brought back to reality and he stared into Kaz’s dark eyes, expectantly awaiting a response. He looked at the map - god, this meeting should have been called war planning instead of whatever they actually had named it - and stared at the marks made on it. Kaz had recently outlined the words hitmen on a few massive trees that apparently existed, and Jesper was suddenly struck by the thought that Wylan could draw it better.

He could draw the trees better. He had better handwriting. He could draw the blueprint of the mansion better.

It was the ache that struck Jesper that made him respond, and he turned his head up back to Kaz. “I like it,” he said, forcing his voice to sound even. His heart beat uneven steps and silently, Inej reached across Nina to grasp his hand tightly.

Thank you , he mouthed, and she held on a little tighter.

Kaz nodded and circled the hitmen. Bollinger made an accepting noise, before turning to Kuweii. “Do you know where his room is, boy?” he asked gruffly and Kuweii nodded before pointing to a random door on the map.

“Here,” he said strongly. “I could remember that damn door anywhere.”

Jesper swallowed a mouthful of jealousy because this lying cheating idiot had-

Cutting off his train of thoughts purposefully, he focused again on the plan. “I’m good with guns,” he offered, as if he hadn't mentioned it a million times before. “Give me a gun and I’ll shoot Van Eck.”

Kaz shook his head strongly. “That’s not how it works,” the boy said. “Not Van Eck. He’s too powerful a target.”

Sergie made a deep rumbling noise. “You need to destroy him if you want him gone,” Sergie clarified. “Killing him will only create an even stronger ghost.”

“How would we manage that?” Nina asked, circling one of the many hallways leading to Wylan’s room. “I think we should take this route by the way, it looks like we can enter from the servants wing. But also, how would we destroy Van Eck?”

“Child abuse?” Matthias asked, as if he didn’t know that the courts would only agree with one of the men that ran Amsterdam, as opposed to six shady teenagers and a gang.

“Between one of the most powerful men in Amsterdam and a full-fledged gang, who would win?” Kuweii asked thoughtfully, and almost purposefully, Gretina, Bollinger and Sergie looked at Kaz.

The boy tilted his head with so much care that it gave Jesper a chill to be reminded of who he had spent his childhood playing with.

“It depends on the gang,” Kaz finally said. “It depends on the man.”

Chapter Text

MOTHERFUCKING SON OF A GODDAMNED BIT- ” Jesper hissed a breath in as he sucked his thumb. “Jesus Christ on a goddamn bike what the hell ? Why does this even exist? Why is this even a thing that can happen to human beings?”

Kaz gave him an unimpressed look. “Jes, you have a paper cut.”

Exactly ,” Jesper said, narrowing his eyes at Kaz. “Are you telling me the almighty power of the papercut doesn’t hurt worse than… something that hurts a lot?”

Kaz considered this for a beat before accepting it in silence. “Now be quiet. We need to be let in through the front door itself, and for that we need to act like dumb teenagers abusing his shrubbery.”

Jesper scowled. “For the record, I think your plan of getting in is stupid. What are the chances that Van Eck won’t answer his own door?”

“He’s a billionaire,” Nina piped up from the driver’s seat. “Now hush - be like Matthias.”

Jesper snorted. “Matthias is asleep.”

There was a beat, a loud indignant squawk from Matthias that sounded largely like a “ Kaz !”, and a harsh bang from the man in question losing his godforsaken cane to the massive blond. “Matthias is no longer asleep,” amended Jesper. “It appears he was beat to consciousness by Kaz.”

“Most do it the other way around, Brekker,” Matthias grumbled, “for gods sake let me sleep.”

Dammit, Jesper could feel Kaz’s grin. He briefly imagined Wylan’s reaction to that - probably a witty comment about how Inej was better at hiding her unconsciousness than Matthias - before he realized that Inej was also asleep in the seat next to Nina.

“Hey Inej,” he called. “Wake up. We’re only a few minutes away from Ice Court.”

Kaz snorted. “The fuck’s Ice Court?”

“Van Eck’s kingdom,” Jesper said indignantly. “I thought it was a perfectly accurate name for it. Ice, for Van Eck’s cold heart. Court, because he does his business there. You know? Like a king’s court?”
“As somebody who had an Ice Court in his own hometown,” Matthias interrupted, “I can object to the name, because my Ice Court was fun and amused many children and adults with dances and the such.”

Nina snorted. “I have seen your Ice Court Matthias, and it looks like a damn jail.”

“Lies,” Matthias said primly. “All lies.”

“Shut up all of you,” Inej finally said, sounding more awake than all of them (how did this girl do it?). “I think we’re here. Remember the plan?”

A chorus of grim assent returned and the van they were in (how did they even get a van in the first place? Who knew?) parked behind a rather large bush. “Now we walk,” Kaz said quietly, his voice barely audible.

“Duck behind shrubbery as soon as you see his house. Inej, Matthias, you two know what to do. Nina, Jesper - you two are with me.”

Quietly, they left the van and shivered from the chill in the air. “Dear god it’s cold,” Jesper muttered. “Crap.”

Was Wylan alright? Would he even be in his room? Was this all a bust?

They walked silently through the grounds, eyes focused on the shrubbery. Soon enough, a fucking massive mansion appeared atop of all the greenery (at this point, he was surprised Wylan was as comfortable as he was in the city) and Jesper whistled under his breath. “Rich people,” he muttered.

“I see the gang,” Inej said softly, and they all turned their heads to see figures posted throughout the trees. “I think they’re waiting for our signal that we’re here.”

They all automatically turned to Matthias, who scowled (but then again, when did he not?). “Well?” he hissed at them. “Why are you all staring at me?”

“You’re as tall as a tree and as blonde as a lightbulb, dear,” Nina said smirking. “We’re going to need you to stand up a bit more and wave around.”

Kaz and Inej bit their lips and tried to stop laughing. Nina and Jesper didn’t even try.

“Are you done laughing at me?” Matthias grumbled after swishing his arms about a few more times. “This is abuse.”

Nina’s phone rang with a soft ping , and they all turned to see Kaz nod approvingly. “It’s time,” he said slowly. “You know how this works. Jesper, Nina and I pretend to vandalize the lawn. Matthias and Inej - you’re working with Sergie and Kuweii.”

Quietly, Inej and Matthias left them (but not after Matthias’ outraged squawks about why they had him parade around like a fool if they had a phone with them the entire time). Jesper sighed, and stared at the massive lonely mansion.

Wylan was in there .

“Are we doing this or not?” he finally asked, looking at Nina and Kaz. Both were already looking at him. “Wylan’s in there. We don’t know what’s going on with him.”

Kaz nodded approvingly. “You know how this works,” he instructed. “Scream like hooligans, and trample as many bushes as possible.”

Jesper was about to slide around the thick bushes to get into the garden and then begin, but he paused as he saw Nina taking a deep breath beside him.

“Nina?” Kaz asked, arching an unimpressed eyebrow. “We still have to physically enter seeing distance.”

Nina scoffed. “Fools,” she said proudly. “This is how you’re supposed to act like wild hooligans.”

Taking a deep breath, Nina took a step backwards.

AAAAAAHHHH !!!” she howled, and without missing a beat dove straight into the thick bush in front of them. “ AAAAAAHHHH - Jesus Christ that hurts so much ohmygod - AAAAHHHHHH - ow, ow, ow, a twig goddammitgoddammit - AAAAHHHHH !”

Squeezing through a crack between two bushes, Jesper watched as Nina emerged from the other side (leaves and twigs sticking out of her hair) still screaming, and ran straight for the innocent flowers (that had somehow survived this winter? Did Van Eck drug his flowers as well?).

“Well that’s one way to do it,” Kaz said unimpressed as they watched Nina scream and run from side to side of the garden. “What about you?”

Jesper shot Kaz a glare. “I hate you so much.”

“This is for your future husband,” Kaz answered before smacking him on the back (thank god he’d left his cane behind in the apartment). “Now get to work.”

“Only with Kaz would running wildly around a rich person’s garden be considered ‘work’,” Jesper muttered as he slid through the bush, taking a deep breath as he emerged from the other side of it.

“Goddammit these twigs are hell - AAAAAAHHHH !”

#

Wylan

“This needs to work,” Wylan muttered as he feverishly mixed the two chemicals. The metal rod he was holding in his hand (extracted from a clock around his room) was burning up quickly, and Wylan mixed faster, pouring in more hydrogen peroxide. “Please work, please work.”

The two began to bubble, and he bit his lip in concentration. “Just need to mix it a little bit more,” he murmured, and right as he began to reach for another metal rod he heard a ear-piercing scream.

He froze.

Had his father done something? He wouldn’t dare - Jan Van Eck was a cruel man, but he wasn’t a torturer , was he?

Your father locked you inside your own room and threatened to keep you here , he reminded himself bitterly. Wylan didn’t know what limits his father had.

AAAAAHHHH !” he heard again. It was from the garden, and alarmed he opened his window, only to remember that the garden was on the other side of the house.

“Shit,” he muttered as he scanned the area. “There was be some way to help the person in the garden.”

Did he want to help the random person screaming and currently distracting him from escaping a literal jail cell and eternal hell?

He sighed.

“I really hate myself sometimes,” he muttered, before scanning the nearest tree to his window (five to seven yards away - an impossible jump) and once again, he calculated his chances of survival if he jumped.

Three story jump , he reminded himself. That’s death .

But what if he could soften the landing?

A sharp “ AAAAAHHHHH !” jarred him from his thoughts, and with a start he reminded himself of why he had even decided to take on this crazy idea.

He turned around and his eyes focused on the blankets on his bed, each heavily puffed up and fluffy (and incredibly expensive - he winced as he thought of his apartment’s blankets) and took one of them into his arms, opening the window some more and tossing the blanket outside the window.

It fell with a soft thump .

Unfortunately, the damn thing also refused to fall the way he wanted, so he would still break all his bones if he jumped onto that.

AAAAAHHHHH !” the screams continued, and he cringed at the sound of one. It sounded… it sounded a bit like Jesper, and the thought made his heart pound. He needed to get to them.

“Do I have more blankets?” Wylan muttered, examining his mattress. His mattress was a good option, but it was far too big for him to be able to throw it down. Grabbing another blanket, he tossed that out the window instead and vaguely he wondered what anybody watching would have thought. Quickly he hunted through his shelves and yet again, he grabbed another blanket. This one was much thinner. It wouldn’t do much help, but at least it was something. Throwing it out the window, he bit his lip unhappily.

Wylan examined his mattress again and tried to compare it to the window. His bed was queen size, and the windows… well, they weren’t queen sized. But the mattress was flexible, and he was out of blankets.

The ear-piercing scream sounded again, and with a jolt he hurried and knocked off everything on his bed before hoisting up the mattress, almost falling because of its weight. Taking a deep breath, he walked unevenly to the window and fitted a corner of the mattress outside the window.

With an almighty shove, he heaved all his strength forward and the mattress shifted position, bending in half while a third of it hung out the window. Taking a deep breath, Wylan pushed again and the mattress moved another inch or so.

I got this , he thought determinedly as the screams began again. I have to .

THUNK .

The mattress fell loose, and it hit the mass of blankets with a loud crash.

He swallowed, examining the fall again. Even after this, it wasn’t positive that he would survive the jump. But he had already tossed his mattress out the window - he had to take the final step of his plan, and take a borderline suicidal jump into the outside.

Wylan took a deep breath and stuck a foot outside his window, gripping onto the panes as hard as he could. Sticking another foot out, he positioned himself to sit on the ledge, letting his legs hang out.

I’ve done crazier than this , he tried to tell himself. He had climbed up an elevator cable. He had stuck two-thirds of his body (okay fine, one-third ) of his body out in the open while on a roof. He reminded himself of Inej, dancing joyfully on the rooftops.

I’ve got this , he tried to tell himself.

Not letting himself think any further than that, he ducked his head underneath the window and with a push of his arms, began to fall into the unforgiving emptiness.

#

Matthias

Is it raining blankets?

Concerned, Matthias stared at the open window with blankets hurtling out of it, falling onto the empty patch of grass underneath it. It was about three stories high, and he stared at it bewildered.

“Sergie,” he said carefully from his position up in a tree. The tree was about five to seven yards away from the window, and he carefully made sure he was obscured should anybody in the window see him.

Distantly he heard his girlfriend scream.

Or maybe that was Kaz?

Their screams were very similar, really.

“Sergie!” he repeated forcefully, and the other man in the tree turned to look at him.

“What is it Matthias?” asked Sergie.

“I think it’s raining blankets,” Matthias said after a beat, pointing as the window revealed yet another blanket from its jaws. “I’m… is this a common tradition in the Van Eck household?”

Sergie squinted. “I have no idea,”  he admitted. “I… Kuweii?” Grabbing his phone out, he began to type in Kuweii’s number. Kuweii was on the other side of the house, exactly opposing their position. He had insisted that was where Wylan’s room was.

What ?” Kuweii’s distorted voice hissed.

“Is it common for the Van Eck’s to throw blankets outside of their windows?” Matthias asked baffled, ignoring the boy’s disrespectful tone. “It appears a… mattress is currently being forced out of it now?”

WHAT ?” Kuweii asked, his voice spiking up so loudly both Matthias and Sergie winced.

With a loud crack , the mattress fell and hit the ground, landing on top of the blankets.

“What is happening ?” Sergie muttered. “Is this something they do whenever three people begin to vandalize the garden?”

Right then, they saw a leg swing out and land on the ledge shakily. Matthias stiffened, and he squinted as he tried to understand what was going on.

A few seconds passed before another leg swung out.

“Matthias…?” Sergie muttered. “Does that not bear a strong resemblance to Wylan’s legs?”

Matthias stiffened as he finally understood.

Because all of a sudden, plummeting to a nearly guaranteed death was Wylan Van Eck, body shaking and blue eyes wide with terror as he fell.

#

Jesper

Jesper blinked at the man who had been sent to collect them, and silently he judged them. Man, their fashion sense was bad.

“I struggle to see any fault in our actions,” Kaz said stiffly, as if they hadn’t just been caught trampling daisies. “I see no apparent wrongdoing.”

The man’s eye rose higher. “ No apparent wrongdoing?” he asked shocked. “ None ?”

“Not even one,” Nina said grinning. “Why, did we do something wrong?”

Aghast, the man stared at them with disbelief. “ NONE ?”

“Nope,” Jesper joined in grinning. “What? What happened?”

“You look a little faint,” Nina pitched in. “Sit down, my friend. Take a break. Drink some water.”

The man glared at them. “You just trampled the flowers of the Jan Van Eck,” he announced primly. “You must be aware of who Jan Van Eck is, correct?”

Jesper snapped his fingers. “I’m pretty sure he’s the gardener,” he said confidently. “At our old school, right Kaz? He used to plant these lovely little chrysanthemums everywhere.”

“Definitely,” Kaz said, nodding confidently. “I thought he was, like, homeless though. I didn’t know he, like, lived in a massive mansion.”

The man glared at them some more. “I am not talking about some high school gardener,” he spluttered in disbelief. “Jan Van Eck is one of the richest men in Amsterdam. He is simply incredible. Stunning.”
Jesper wondered if they were talking about the same middle aged asshole who had taken his boyfriend. At the thought of Wylan, he scowled and shifted on his feet. When was Kaz going to give the signal?

“Oh…” Nina said thoughtfully. “ That Jan Van Eck. That explains a lot, actually. I think I know who you’re talking about.”

The man smiled blissfully. “ Finally .”

“He’s ancient, isn’t he? Has a massive beer gut, spends his money on booze and I think the last time I saw him, he was walking into a brothel. Oh - that Jan Van Eck.”

The man resumed spluttering. “Absolutely no-!”

There was a massive crack and behind him, they saw Inej silently standing there, fist still raised from knocking him unconscious. She smiled as she saw the three of them.

“What took so long?” Kaz asked, fake persona switched off once more. “This process was supposed to be a bit more immediate.”

“That’s a helluva way to thank somebody,” Nina snorted as she picked up the man’s arms. “You pick up his legs Jes,” she told Jesper and the two began to move the man to a darkened corner of the massive sitting room they were in.

“Something happened with locating Wylan,” Inej said frowning. “He’s not in his room, according to Kuweii.”

“Kuweii’s sure he located the right room?” Jesper asked, impatience fueling him. “Where could Wylan be ? And what’s going on with the servant count?”

Inej frowned. “There are servants everywhere. I got by but with anybody else… rest assured, it wouldn’t end very well for them. I think we might have to hope Wylan has a good relationship with the servants, and they know about the abuse Van Eck puts Wylan through.”

“What’s going on with the mafia?” Kaz asked as he gestured for them to position them in the darkened side of the room. The door was on the other side of the room, and with it, the rest of the Van Eck mansion. Where his sunshine was.

“The mafia is correctly positioned,” Inej said in a low voice. “Matthias and Sergie are on a tree on the opposite side of where Wylan’s room is supposed to be. Just in case.”

Kaz nodded grimly. “You’re sure you know where Wylan’s room is?” he asked Inej.

Inej bit her lip. “Kuweii seemed certain.”

“Alright,” he said looking at them all. “Nina, you’re with me. Inej and Jesper - you’re going to wait for Wylan to return to his room.”

Chapter Text

Wylan

AAAHHHHH !” 

Now he was the one screaming.

His legs buckled as they slammed against the mattress, weakening at the impact. Overbalancing, Wylan fell against the mattress hard, wincing as his body smashed against the surface.

Jesus Christ . “I am never doing this again,” Wylan muttered to himself. His entire side ached against the mattress, but he remembered the screams and forced himself up onto his feet. Where had the screams come from? 

“WYLAN VAN ECK!”

Turning his head, he gaped at the sight of two six feet something men up in the tree next to his bedroom . “Matthias?” he yelled, staring up at them. “Sergie? What are you two doing here?”

“GETTING YOU OUT OF HERE,” Sergie screamed. “LET US CLIMB DOWN!”

Wylan clamped his mouth shut.

WHAT THE HELL? How long have Matthias and Sergie been there? Is Jesper here? Are any of the others here?

“You probably have a lot of questions,” Sergie said as soon as he hit the ground. Matthias followed, and shushed the both of them. Silently he took out his phone and shot an angry text to somebody. 

“What’s going on?” Wylan whispered at Matthias’ furious glare. 

“I need you to be quiet,” he said softly. “Kaz, Nina, Inej, and Jesper are all inside your house. They think you are inside of it. We need to get them out, but there are servants everywhere, and I do not know where Jan Van Eck is.”
“The servants should be okay,” Wylan said. “Most of them dislike my father anyways. The only one that I’ve ever seen display any fond emotion to him is…” he trailed off, frowning. “Bajan. He’s new.”

Matthias and Sergie frowned in concentration, faces contorting. Wylan felt tiny compared to the two giants - his five foot nothing frame compared to Matthias and Sergie’s six foot something must have looked amusing as hell to anybody watching from afar.

“Bajan?” Matthias asked, squinting. “If the man has one loyal servant out of many that hate him, he’s bound to have either a reason for it, or more servants that like him.”

Wylan frowned, thinking of the chemicals he had been snuck in order to break out. “I was given an escape strategy by the servants,” Wylan volunteered. “Some of the ones that work in this house raised me. I mean, most of them are probably fired by now, but some of them have been here since I was a little boy.”
Sergie made a face, before suddenly lighting up again. “At least we’ve got you back, friend!” he said cheerfully, pulling the ginger into a hug. Wylan choked from the lack of oxygen briefly, and made a face at a snickering Matthias. 

A Matthias, who had apparently come to save Wylan’s life.

A Matthias, who was now laughing at a Wylan in pain.

What a lie.

“Okay,” Wylan wheezed when he was let out of Sergie’s hold. “Love you too Serg.” The other man beamed, and Matthias snorted. “Do you have Jes’ phone number? Can’t we just call them or something?”
Sergie pursed his lips. “There’s a blocker in place,” Sergie said shaking his head. “We put it up in case Jan Van Eck called the police on us. As of five minutes ago, all calls or texts or any forms of communication in the house or outside the house within a mile radius communication won’t go through. You’ll just get the annoying sending message forever.”
“Can’t we take it down for a while?” Matthias asked. “And then put it back down?”

Sergie shook his head again. “That’s too dangerous,” he said. “I may,” his voice cracked, “my gang is… well, we’re a gang. We will get in large amounts of trouble if we’re caught by the police, targeting Jan Van Eck. I’m sorry, but it’s too high a call.”
Wylan bit his lip. “Okay, is there any other way to do it without physically having to enter the house ourselves?” he asked, turning to stare at the five story tall mansion he’d used to call a home. Now… where was his home?

Jesper , a part of him said. Jesper, and Inej, and Nina, and Matthias, and goddammit even Kaz sometimes

Matthias frowned suddenly. “Did you just jump out of your bedroom window?” he asked suddenly, turning to stare out of the still-lit room. You couldn’t see the inside of his room, but it was clearly still alight. 

Wylan nodded.

Sergie and Matthias exchanged horrified glances. “We got the wrong information,” Matthias said, and Sergie muttered a curse under his breath. “ Goddammit - Wylan, what’s the room on the opposite side of your bedroom? On the other side of this house?”

“My father’s room,” Wylan said immediately. “It’s on the exact other side of my house.”

Fuck ,” Sergie cursed. “That bastard .”

“What happened?” Wylan asked urgently, staring at the two men in front of him. “Why are you guys so concerned?”

Matthias stared at Wylan with piercing blue eyes. “Kuweii told us that your room was on the other side of the house,” he finally said after a beat. “Sergie and I were just assigned this to make sure nothing happened on this end. We thought it was your bedroom on the other side of the house - Kaz and the others are probably heading there now.”

Wylan’s head spun. “You’re telling me Kuweii got involved and told you guys the blueprint to my house?”

“An incorrect blueprint,” Sergie said grimly. “And if we’re not careful, the others might be walking into a trap right now.”

#

Jesper

This was such a bad idea.

(Saving Wylan wasn’t a bad idea - no sir, not at all - but it was the breaking into Jan Van Eck’s house badly by drawing attention to themselves rather than just picking a lock but Jesper we can’t just pick a lock to get into Jan Van Eck’s house there’s a reason he’s a billionaire and has a lot of money the entrance probably has about seven different alarm systems, and I don’t have the time to pick seven different alarm systems and we all know that you can’t pick a lock for your  life - or apparently your boyfriends - so we’re going to go in by distracting them and using the front door, do you understand?)

“I’ve found it,” Inej said softly as they padded up the stairs. Jesper winced as the stair let out a particularly loud creak as soon as he stepped on it. Inej tensed and the two of them ducked under the banister as two servants walked down the hall they were just about to enter.

When they disappeared from view, Jesper turned to Inej. “I can’t believe Wylan came from… this,” he muttered, staring at the paintings hanging on the ridiculously high ceilings. “This… I… “ he trailed off, but Inej patted him with comforting eyes anyway.

“Hey, Wylan’s not like that,” she said softly. “He doesn’t judge anybody by their wealth - he’s awkward, and shy, and trips over his own feet, and he loves you.”

Jesper swallowed, and shot Inej his best attempt at a smile. “You think I can deserve it?” he asked quietly, rubbing his eyes. “I’m so scared of screwing this up. You know I don’t do relationships well. I never have.”

Inej bumped her shoulder against his. “You’ve got all of us,” she said instead of answering. “And so does Wylan. And I have so, so much faith that even if you screw up, one of you will do something right, and it will be alright in the end. You just have to have faith in yourselves, and Wylan. It’ll be alright.”

Jesper nodded. “I love him,” he said quietly, testing the words out on his tongue. “ I love him .”

Inej clapped her hand against his shoulder. “I know,” she said softly. “And, deep down, he does as well. We just need to get to him right now.”

 

Wylan

Later in his life, if Wylan ever had to recap the events that had occured, Wylan was fully prepared to tell his grandchildren/children/friend’s children/sad drunk guy (really it depended on how his life panned out) that the plan Sergie, Matthias and himself had made was a really fucking bad plan.

Emphasis on the ‘really’ ‘fucking’ and ‘bad’.

(And maybe italicized and bolded.)

As Wylan stared at the hell-house he had grown up in, he reflected on whether or not Jesper was currently looking at a five year jail sentence if he got caught by his father, and if Wylan would have the guts to break him out of jail.

He had also never been told who the random screaming had been from, only that Kaz was one of the screamers (the really really high-pitched screams, Matthias told him grinning, were from Kaz), and that they were completely intentional.

“Are you ready?” Sergie asked him, staring up at the trees and signaling something to the shadow that hung from there. “We have to go soon.”
Wylan took a deep breath and looked at the house that had caused him so much fear - and anger, and hatred - as a child. “Yeah,” Wylan said softly. “I’m ready to go. You’ll be on the other end?” The comms he had been given hung uncomfortably in his ear, even though Matthias and Sergie both assured him that it was on correctly.

Sergie nodded his assent.

“Then I’m ready,” Wylan answered. Climbing back onto the pile of mattresses and blankets he had landed on, he looked at the walls and tried to find any way to climb back into his room. The novelty of trying to figure out a way back to his godforsaken room after trying for so long to escape it didn’t evade him.

Matthias snorted. “Do you want a boost?” the blonde giant asked, and Wylan shook his head as he found a place to start.

“I think I’m good,” Wylan responded and grabbed a brick area. Slowly, he started climbing up the side of the house. Can’t believe I’m trying to get back into this room after all the time I spent trying to get out , he grumbled to himself. “Fuck, fuck, fuck fuck,” Wylan muttered as he remembered the time he had had to climb the elevator cable. At least this time, the bottom was either Matthias’ arms or a heap of mattresses and blankets that had already broken his fall one time before.

Painstakingly, his fingers found broken edges to the bricks, and he pulled himself up the wall. Feet carefully positioned, Wylan winced and at last his fingers clutched the window ledge he had jumped off of not ten minutes ago.

Gaaaaah , he thought as his arm muscles screamed in protest. Jesus take me .

Arms burning, he pushed against the window ledge and pulled himself up, grasping the inside of his bedroom desperately. Climbing in awkwardly, he let out a relieved sigh as he finally spilled back into the room.

It was odd. Almost like he’d never left, but he could still feel the kiss of the cool night against his arms.

“I’m back up!” he said, poking his head through the window at a clearly terrified Sergie. Him and Matthias nodded, before the former left to go enact the second part of the plan.

Matthias adjusted his jaw. “I’ll be waiting here,” he told Wylan and silently Wylan mouthed a thank you to him.

Turning around, Wylan headed for the door and cursed as it proved as locked as it had always been. “Goddammit,” he muttered as he tried to find the formula from before. “This is going to have to do.”

Mixing it some more, he carefully examined the contents. If he wasted the precious (hopefully?) acid, he’d have to fall out the window again and get Matthias’ gun. Or try to catch the gun as Matthias threw it through the window, and Wylan was a fan of neither option.

“I think it’s alright,” Wylan murmured to himself as he finished mixing. Peeking through the lock, he carefully poured the liquid right into the empty hole and watched as it slowly seeped through the entire lock mechanism.

A quiet burning sound, and then -

Wylan clutched the door knob, twisted, and pulled the door open.

Chapter Text

Jesper

The door to his room was locked. Jesper tugged at the knob desperately but it refused to give way. “Shit,” Jesper cursed under his breath. “Inej, how much do you remember from Kaz’s lockpicking classes?”

Inej’s eyes were dark, and she looked around them with worry clear in her eyes. “Nothing.” she said honestly. “None of us paid attention to him when he taught us how to pick locks, remember?”

Jesper let out another series of cusses. “Why didn’t we pay attention again?” he asked, twisting his body to the side. Bracing himself, he rammed himself against the thicker part of the door and tried to break through the solid wood.

Stubbornly, the door stayed shut. Fuck you too, Jesper informed the door.

“Maybe we can call for Wylan?” Inej asked helplessly, kicking the door. A loud bang sounded, and Jesper jumped reflexively. 

“Too loud,” he answered. “This isn’t working .” Wylan was on the other side of his door, Jesper thought. His sunshine was so close . He just needed to get through this door. “It’s probably soundproof, too.” Scowling, Jesper kicked the door himself. And again. And again.

Will you stop this infernal racket? !”

Jesper and Inej froze in horror and looked at the solid wood door.

A loud click heard, and Jesper shot Inej a terrified look even as the door was beginning to swing open. “Run?” he hissed, but it was too late.

Because Jan Van Eck, clad in a nightgown and a little sleeping hat, was on the other side of the door.

#

The first thing Jesper noticed was that Jan Van Eck was shorter than he had expected, and he had to change the angle his head was pointing at pretty dramatically so he could look the man in the eye. Jan Van Eck was probably a grand total of three inches taller than his son, and judging from the fact that his son was approximately a foot and a half shorter than Jesper, it was still pretty damn short .

Secondly, Jesper was disgruntled at the obvious physical resemblances between Jan Van Eck and his sunshine. The genes were there - red hair, blue eyes, narrow figure - yet there was an obvious difference between son and father. Wylan’s cheeks were permanently red-tinged, and his eyes constantly displayed the emotions inside of him ridiculously clearly, no matter how hard he tried to disguise them.

Wylan’s father’s eyes were ice-cold, narrow, and very very displeased.

“So you’re Wylan’s friend?” the man asked, arching a gray-tinged eyebrow. “Just as idiotic as my son, I see.”

Jesper ground his teeth. “Where’s Wylan?”

“In his room,” Jan Van Eck replied smoothly. “Where he’ll stay . I advise you to leave these premises before I call the authorities on you, young man.”

Jesper chanced a look to his right and noticed that Inej had disappeared. He held back a grin. “How’bout I call the authorities on you for kidnapping and holding your own son against his will?” Jesper asked, taking a step towards Wylan’s father. “And then we can see how much trouble I get in.”
Van Eck laughed coldly, and Jesper tried not to shudder. His laugh - it sounded like somebody had taken Wylan’s laughter and froze it in a refrigerator for a while. “This city won’t do anything to me,” the man said softly, his voice menacing. Jesper thought of an eight-year old Wylan, staring at his father terrified. Blood rushed through his head and Jesper compared the distance between them.

I could knock him out with a punch. I’m stronger than him.

“The government and I have a deal,” Van Eck said, voice growing with every word. “Our government will sooner throw Wylan into jail for being a pathetic faggot-”
Jesper saw red. He pulled his arm back - felt the muscles strain, felt his own mouth twist into furious cold marble - tightened his fingers into a fist - motherfucker - and smashed it against Jan Van Eck’s nose. 

Wylan’s father fell with a bang . Jesper felt a vicious satisfaction as his head hit the cold marble floors, making no attempt to break the old man’s fall.

That had been for his sunshine.

“So did you knock him out, or did I?” Jesper heard. Raising his head, he raised his eyebrows to see Inej standing behind him, a frying pan in her hands positioned as if she had just hit him.

Jesper shrugged, the red slowly fading away. “Team effort?”
“Why not.”

 

As another security guard crossed the front floor, Wylan rapidly ducked and hid behind a large door frame. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath. “When did Father update his security so much?”
The security guard didn’t look like he was going to move from his post for awhile - goddammit, goddammit, Wylan needed to get to Jesper now - and hesitantly, Wylan nudged the door a little more shut, trying to close it silently. He had almost gotten it completely shut when - 

- a thick black cane rapped lightly on his knuckles and he flinched, more from surprise than anything else. He paused and turned around slowly.

“Hello, Wylan,” Kaz said calmly, terrifyingly pale face glowing oddly in the barely moonlit room. “Having a nice stay at your fathers?”

Waves of relief sank around him, and forgetting nearly every warning sign Kaz had ever given him, Wylan took massive steps forward and pulled Kaz into a hug. The man himself let out a grunt of surprise but surprisingly let himself be hugged by the ginger.

“I am so glad you’re here,” he said quietly to the stiff man on the other end of the hug. “I saw Matthias and Sergie but I didn’t really - I was kind of - I am so happy, and I just want to get out of here, I’m sorry for all the trouble my father and I are causing you.”

“T’s not your fault Wy,” a cheerful voice said from behind. “And what am I - chopped liver? Where’s my hug?”

Wylan released Kaz and spun around to see a grinning Nina, standing carefully behind the door so the guard wouldn’t be able to see them through the crack. “Nina!” he whispered, and the girl pulled him into another hug.

“Thank you,” he whispered, tightening his arms. “Thank you so much .”

Kaz snorted. “We weren’t going to leave you here with your asshole abusive father. What do you think we are - demons?”

Wylan shot the man a pointed look. “Kaz, I have heard the names Matthias calls you. And one of them is literally just the word ‘demon in Russian.”

“Matthias calls everybody names,” Nina brushed off, giving him a massive smile. “I’ve been called a witch by him before - and not even in the fun, seductress, kinky sex kind of way. More the ‘I hate your guts and want you to die in a hole’ way.”

Wylan winced, thankful that his own boyfriend was a lot more… Jesper-ish. Speaking of, “Where’s Jesper?” he asked, staring around the empty room. “I don’t suppose Inej and Jesper have just been keeping alarmingly quiet…?” 

The hope faded away after a few seconds, replaced by a throbbing ache. God , he just wanted to see Jes and Inej again, just to know that they were alright.

“We split up,” Kaz rumbled, his gravel-streaked voice sounding hard and unforgiving despite the slight apology in his eyes. “They’re currently at your door. Which - how did you even get out, and then get past them? Were you not in your room after all?”

Shit . “Kaz, Nina,” he remembered. “Kaz, Nina, we have to go, Kuweii hasn’t been here in ages, he’s probably forgotten. He didn’t send Jesper and Inej to my room. He sent them to my father’s .”

Kaz and Nina exchanged glances. Nina bit her lip determinedly. “How far is it from where we are now?”

Wylan gauged the distance. “Not long. We’re on the right floor, we just need to walk across this for a while. But that means getting past the security guards, and I have no idea when father hired them or even anything about them really. They don’t have a relationship with me, like I do the other servants in this house.”

Kaz examined the crack, face unreadable. “I don’t here any terrified squawking from either Jesper or Van Eck,” he finally said. “That means… he’s probably… they might... “ he trailed off, staring at Wylan with dark coffee eyes. “Wylan, how far does your father’s reign go? Outside of this house, how influential is he?”

“This entire region,” Wylan said honestly. “The only time we’re in the clear is as soon as we leave this region. It’s all under his control - he’s got blackmail on every resident that lives around here, and he’s rich and famous and people like him, and-” he broke off. “Yeah.”

Nina gently hip-bumped him. “What are you thinking Kaz?” she asked, looking at him carefully. “You have a scheming face on you.”

Kaz made another face. “I hate that phrase,” he informed her coolly. “And Wylan - how well can you drive a sports car?”

Wylan shrugged. “I’m pretty good with technology, biology, chemistry - I can figure it out.”

The smile that spread across Kaz’s face was both terrifying - and this, inanofitself was also terrifying - but his smile reassured both Wylan and Nina greatly.

#

“We got the wrong information,” Jesper said, glaring at the curtains. “I can’t believe that after all that, Kuweii double-crossed us and set us on a path straight for Van Eck.”

Inej pursed her lips. “I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but…” she trailed off, staring at the almost inhumanely organized room of Wylan’s father. “If Kaz has taught me anything, it is that traitors don’t deserve a second  - or third - chance. This was his second chance, and he knew that.”

Jesper sighed. “Wy could be anywhere. Are we even sure he’s in here?”

Inej clasped his hand firmly in her own, and stared into his eyes. “Jesper,” she said calmly. “We got the help of an entire mafia to get to Wylan. Oksanochka might not have our best interests in mind, but Sergie does, and that mafia will do anything for Sergie. Oksanochka has Sergie’s best interest in mind, which means she’ll try as hard as she can to get Wylan back.”

Jesper turned his eyes to look at Van Eck’s disgustingly white room. Sunshine would’ve hated this , he thought to himself.

Faggot , Jan had been about to say. How many times had Jan called his son that while growing up? How many times had Wylan believed him?

“Jes,” Inej said firmly, laying a hand across his bicep. “Clearly Wylan’s not here, but the mafia said he would be here in this house. It’s a massive manor, but if we search hard enough, we should be able to find him.”

Jesper bit his lip. “Are you sure?” he asked Inej exhaustedly. “I’m so tired of this - hell, I’m half-expecting Van Eck to pop back out of nowhere with a rifle and demand to duel to death.”

Inej let out a light laugh, twisting her head to the door as if to reflexively check that Jan’s body was still on it. Suddenly she froze, mouth twisting into an expression of alarm. Jesper’s head snapped to the door as well.

Jan Van Eck was gone, and in his place was a man - clad in a black mask with holes cut only for his eyes, clad in leather boots completely ruining the elegant aesthetic of the manor - holding a gun, pointed straight at Jesper.

Chapter Text

Jesper

“Hands up, would you?” the man asked, the grin obvious in his voice. “If I see any funny movements, pretty boy’s getting a bullet in the brain.”

Jesper let out a loud swallow and slowly put his hands up next to his head. Inej did the same, the two of them exchanging looks of alarm. “Calm down,” Inej said in a shaking voice.

As much trouble as they had gotten into, guns were a concept that had always seemed miles away. Even through their dealings with the mafia, even through Kaz’s fifty million ridiculously illegal activities.

This was serious. This was a weapon that could kill them where they stood - a weapon that could be triggered in seconds.

Jesper swallowed his urge to choke.

“Darlin’, I’m getting paid more than your entire life’s worth for this job,” the masked man snarled. “Easy does it sweetheart - you too, tall boy, against the window. Now .” He took a few steps into the room and waved the gun carelessly. Jesper withheld an instinctive flinch as the man almost dropped it. 

Jesper took a few steps back with Inej, pressing his back against the sleek curtains of Jan Van Eck. “Did Van Eck hire you to kill the people messing up his plan?” Jesper asked, trying to fight the flood of emotions he was feeling. He winced as he heard his voice crack. Ghezen, I’m not getting out of this alive, help me-

The man snorted. “You’re not worth enough to kill for. But if you happen to turn out more problematic than I originally intended,” he paused and brought the gun to his own temple. He mimed a gesture like shooting himself, before shrugging and-

Inej swung into action as soon as the gun was away from Jesper’s face. Falling low, she swept her legs out and hooked them around the gunman’s, forcing him to the ground. The man, caught off-guard, let out a shriek and screamed as Inej kicked him in the side as hard as she could. The man screamed and pulled his gun back into position, adjusting his grip on the metal. “I’m warning you if you-”

Jesper pulled the nearest weapon - a lamp, and a goddawful one at that - and swung it as hard as he could, jabbing the lamp-ish end of it into the man’s chest. Swinging it back, he tightened his grip on the neck of the lamp and smashed it against where the man’s dick was as hard as he could.

AAAAHHHHH !” the man howled, blindly pulling the trigger.

Bang .

Bang.

Bang.

Jesper hit the ground as fast as he could, ears ringing from the noise of the bullets. Holy shit , he thought terrified. Turning back to the still-flailing gunman, he watched horrified as Inej ignored the sounds of a weapon so powerful they could kill her instantly. Rather, she crawled over to where the man was laying and pulled her hand back, smashing it against the man’s face. “Fucking die !” Inej screamed as she tore into skin. Pulling her fist back once more, she aimed for the man’s teeth and watched viciously as they began bleeding a dark red. “ Leave my family alone !”

Jesper kept low as he crawled back to the two of them, staring at the lamp positioned between the man’s thighs. Hope he bleeds from it , Jesper thought darkly.

“Inej,” he panted exhausted, grabbing Inej’s arm and trying to drag her up. “We have to go, let’s go, Van Eck might call the cops on us. Is he even breathing?”

The man was completely unresponsive, eyes shut and mouth bloody. 

“I don’t know,” Inej spit, glaring at him. “I don’t care. I’m done , Jes, we need to find Wylan and the others, and then we’re leaving .”

 

They moved fast. Jesper kept his hand on Inej’s bicep and the two stumbled as they tried to rise, staring at the unmoving body of the man that had tried to kill them. 

“We have to go,” Jesper gasped, tripping over the motionless hand of the man. Righting himself, he finished the last few feet and Inej shut the door tightly. “Is he even breathing?”

Inej was shaking. “I have no clue,” she said, biting her lip. “We have to find Wylan and then we can leave. I-I - Van Eck,” she paused, “what do you think even happened to him?” She twisted in his grip and the two began to make their way down the hall as fast as they could go.

“I think he ordered that man on us,” Jesper said, hand shaking rapidly. 

Guns

Weapons of war .

They had entered an entirely new game, a path that college students - even college students like them - weren’t meant to tread on. But Wylan had been on this path his entire life. Had always lived with Jan Van Eck. Had he ever faced the end of a gun?

No. He couldn’t have. Wylan would have said something.

“Down the stairs,” Inej panted, and the two began bounding down the stairs. “Where could Wylan’s room even be?”

Jesper shrugged and pulled open a door. It revealed a storage closet, and he let out an exasperated sigh as he shut it again. “Why are there a million doors in here? Which one leads to Wylan’s room?”

“And where are the servants?” Inej asked, pulling open another door. She made a face as it revealed a bathroom. “Where is the man that let us in? Where is anybody ?”

Ghost manor , Jesper thought, and with a sinking feeling he remembered what the man had said. You’re not worth enough to kill for. But if you’re problematic enough…

“Van Eck was willing to kill us,” Jesper realized as he kicked open another door. It was an empty room, practically unused. “What if he evacuated the entire mansion to just… kill us all?”

Inej shook her head. “It’d be easier to play it off as a freak accident if all his servants and a handful of his son’s friends died in his mansion at once,” she said as she opened a door leading to the kitchen. Shutting it, she eyed the stairs again. They had made a full circle. “Back up?”

Jesper bit his lip. “Yeah.”

Quickly, they hurried back up the stairs. Shuddering as Jesper passed the familiar halls, they turned the opposite direction this time and began opening doors at random. He made a face as they passed a portrait of Jan Van Eck, only slowing down as they reached another portrait of Wylan himself. 

Jesper cringed. “That looks nothing like Wylan.”

The portrait featured an almost total stranger - chin raised regally, perfect ginger curls (Wylan’s real hair was almost always a mess, partly due to Jesper running his hands through them to mess it up all the time), and icy blue eyes. He seemed cold and formal, impossible to touch even through the portrait.

“It was probably added after Wylan had left for college,” Inej reasoned. “There’s no way Wylan would model for a portrait like that. The details aren’t even accurate.”

Jesper bit his lip, before turning his head. “Alright, let’s g- duck !”

Grabbing Inej, he swung open the closest door at random and shoved the both of them inside. Inej shot wide eyes at him and he pressed a finger to his lips. Silently, they listened to footsteps - that sounded suspiciously like soldiers, Jesper withheld a shudder - marching for a while, before fading away completely.

“Guess that’s where some of the servants went,” Inej whispered. Her voice was breathy - almost completely inaudible. Jesper nodded. 

Reaching for the light switch, Inej quickly pulled his hand away from there. “If they come back, they’ll see the light underneath the door,” she explained. “Although I think the coast is clear. We should leave.”
Jesper nodded, grasping the cool metal door knob firmly. Pulling the door open, Inej and him peeked out before they continued their journey down the hall.

“If we found a servant patrolling this hallway, we’re probably going the right way, aren’t we?” Jesper asked Inej as they passed another row of Van Eck blood portraits. “Like, that makes sense to you?”
Inej bit her lip and nodded. “That makes sense.”

Pulling at every door they saw, Jesper reached out and tugged at one. It was locked.

Inej and Jesper exchanged excited glances.

“It might be the room to his office or something,” Inej said, hesitating. “But this also might be Wylan’s room.”

There was something in Inej’s voice - the excitement leaking through, the hesitancy to get her hopes up - that triggered something in Jesper’s chest making him fall to his knees. Rattling the doorknob as ferociously as he could, he pounded against the wood as loudly as he could get away with, while also trying to hide from the servants/soldiers that prowled the house.

Inej swallowed and twisted her head back. “C’mon Wylan, do something and open the door.”

Jesper kept rattling the door. “Wylan?” he asked, raising his voice just the slightest bit. “Sunshine, are you insi-?”

The door swung open, almost causing Jesper to lose his balance.

Suddenly, they both gasped.

Because Wylan Van Eck, five foot nothing, bright-blue eyed abomination, ginger hair bright against the darkness of the house, pulled Jesper up awkwardly against his own body. The almost ridiculous height difference kicked in and Jesper leaned down as Wylan rose to the tips of his toes - and tilted his head.

“You’re here?” Wylan whispered, breath ghosting against Jesper’s lips. “You’re here .”

Jesper tilted his head and pressed Wylan’s chest against his own. Their legs lined up and Wylan’s arms wrapped around his own. 

It felt like an exhale after a hurricane. It felt like letting go of a lifeline. It felt like love .

Finally .

 

Chapter Text

Wylan

“Goddammit,” Kaz’s voice broke through the haze and they all jolted. “You just had to come in right now?”

Jesper shot him a glare. “Let me make out with my boyfriend.”

Wylan’s cheeks burned red, but he pulled away from Jesper reluctantly, resting his head against the side of Jes’ chest. “Alright, so I’m assuming we’re changing the plan?”

Inej nodded, padding into view. Wylan lifted his head sharply, twisting to give her a grin. “Hey Inej,” he said smiling, pulling her into a hug. She shot him a smile.

“Are you alright?” she asked quietly, so only Jes and her would be able to hear.

“I’m fine,” he said with a smile. “A little bruised, but that mainly came from jumping out of my window.”

Both Jesper and Inej pulled away and gave him a sharp look.

He grinned sheepishly.

Kaz and Nina hurriedly ushered Jesper and Inej into the room, locking it shut behind them. Nina and Inej pulled each other into tight hugs, before Inej slipped next to Kaz. “Alright, so what’s the new plan?” Jesper asked. “Seeing as though we’ve ruined your old one.”

Kaz scowled at the reminder. “I was so close to implementing it too,” he muttered under his breath. Inej subtly dug an elbow to his side. “Well, thankfully, we still have Matthias as our getaway driver,” he said, face morphing into a thoughtful mask. “Inej, Jesper - did the two of you find or see anybody while you roamed the mansion?”

Inej shook her head. “It’s become a ghost house,” Jesper said grimly. “There was a brief moment of terror - I think Van Eck hired him? I don’t know what happened, but he pulled a gun on us. We managed to fight him off.”

Wylan pulled away from Jesper once again to give him a horrified look. “He did what now?” Wylan asked, face darkening at the thought of his father hiring such a person. “He pulled a gun on you?”

He tried, vaguely, to align his views of his father with the new man. He’d always been cold and distant - that much had always existed - but to pull a gun on others? Hell, to hire such people? Wylan had always known his father was loose with the law, but this was a new level of misery his father condoned.

“I’m sorry,” he said, resting his head against Jesper’s chest once again. “I’m so sorry.”

Nina snorted. “It’s fine, Wylan. Plus, you have no control over your dad’s actions. You can’t do anything about his behavior.”

Inej nodded solemnly, and even Kaz looked angry on his behalf. “I have an idea,” he said instead, face morphing into something thoughtful. “Wylan, how much do you know about the corruption within Van Eck’s company?”

Wylan bit his lip. “I can’t read a lot of the papers because of my dyslexia,” he said hesitating. “But I know that it exists. It’s obvious. And from what I’ve gathered over the years, the board of directors at my father’s company are well aware of the corruption, but as long as it doesn’t affect them or it isn’t known about, they don’t care.”

“But as soon as it gets out in the open…?” Kaz said quietly. “He’d be ruined.”

Ruined . What would it look like - his father, the man who had terrorized him for most of his childhood - to be brought to his knees, no longer in power? No longer in power of him ?

“Yeah,” Wylan said quietly. “He’d be-” his voice cracked. “He’d be ruined.”

Jesper reached out and tightened his hand around his own.

Inej and Kaz looked at each other for a few seconds. “It’d take a lot of hard work,” Kaz said thoughtfully. “But if we all play our cards right, we should be able to pull it off.”

“I don’t like should’s ,” Inej said in response. “We’re not risking our lives for a should .”

“I’m okay with should’s if it means taking care of bastards like Jan Van Eck,” Nina piped in. Kaz shook his head. 

“This plan needs to be foolproof,” was all he said. “It needs… I’ve had a lot of plans tonight, but this needs to be our last.”

Jesper swallowed, the breath audible to all of them. The night could be over - they just needed Kaz to come in and do something akin to saving the day. Saving the day ? Wylan thought, almost amused. The thought was practically insane. He gripped Jesper’s hand tighter, leaning into the taller boy’s comforting presence. They were together again .

“How much corruption have the servants witnessed?” Kaz asked Wylan, eyes blazing suddenly. “And how far is the nearest house from here? Who is it owned by?”

“A lot,” Wylan said. “They’ve seen a lot, but they’re kept silent by either blackmail or really big paychecks. The nearest house from here is about a mile and a half away. It’s owned by my father - Jan. It’s owned by Jan as well. He owns most of the properties within the area.”

Kaz nodded. “What do you mean by properties? Does he own any of the small commercial properties?”

Wylan shook his head. “They’re largely aware of my father’s rule, but they keep quiet about it.”

A slow smile crept onto Kaz’s face. He looked a bit like a cobra narrowing in for the shot, close to finishing the last stage of a plan that could free him. Did Kaz know that he held Wylan’s freedom in his fists? If this - if this went badly, Wylan’s life could be over. His father… he might be kept in his father’s grip his entire life. And the rest of them might end up dead.

That man had a gun.

Kaz has a plan , Wylan reminded himself. It’s going to turn out alright . On his left, Jesper lifted his chin and lightly placed it into Wylan’s curls. Wylan felt himself sinking into the boy some more.

“Nina, how far away is the local diner?” Kaz asked, leaning backwards and stretching his legs. 

“A little further than the nearest property,” she responded immediately, voice clear against the darkness they all sat in. “Two miles? Three at most.”

Jesper snorted, the gesture shifting his chin and vibrating against Wylan’s scalp. “How do you know that?”

Nina made a face at him. “I was really hungry, okay? I was just keeping track of every available food source.”

“Silence,” Kaz demanded grandly, slowly raising onto his feet. A smile had crept onto his face, looking almost unnatural on his face. The pale moonlight from the window reflected off his skin, and his eyes glowed coal black. A dark coffee, actually, Wylan considered. He would have to figure out the exact shade later.

Kaz toned the smile down just a little. 

“I have a plan.”

Chapter Text

Inej

In her completely unbiased, professional, impersonal opinion, Kaz was completely suicidal. An absolute idiot that was going to one day get himself killed, and she would be stuck caring for his bony ass and stressing whenever the idiot got himself in trouble with the Russian authorities for what would likely be his last time (considering he’d already angered them a solid three times before).

Although the distinction wasn’t entire fair to make, she thought, forcing herself to calm down a little. Kaz worried after her leaping off buildings. He knew full well the consequences of a misplaced foot. 

But on the topic of the plan, it was suffice to say that the plan Kaz had crafted was insane. Full of possibilities for things to go wrong. If even a single person switched their mind or said something incorrectly, they’d all be dead. And Jan Van Eck had proven himself - he had hired a man specifically to hurt, or kill them.

This is going to work , Inej reminded herself. She wasn’t a fan of misplaced optimism (in her opinion, it was as bad as a misplaced foot) but Kaz had dragged them out of the darkest places before, sometimes simply by sheer force of will. With the six of them - Nina, Wylan, Jesper, Kaz, Matthias, and herself, there was a chance of this going well.

She sighed and opened the window. Easily slipping out, she clung to the side of the house as she carefully crept down silently. Her figure blended in easily with the darkness of the night, and soon Inej was traveling to where she knew Matthias’ post to be.

And there he was, the glorious sight of a worried blonde staring at into a ghost manor.

“Matthias,” she said urgently. Sergie was there as well - ah, Sergie, she smiled inwardly - and hurriedly, the tall blonde man climbed down from his post. 

“Inej,” he said, pulling her into a hug. “What’s been going on? We’ve heard nothing from anyone in… forever.”

Inej bristled with guilt. They’d forgotten the amount of stress Matthias must have been under, knowing all his friends were inside, yet having no clue of anything. “I’m sorry,” she said honestly, tightening her arms. “It’s been… I… I won’t forget about this night for a very long time Matthias.”

He pulled back and Sergie gave her a sympathetic smile. “The first few are always like this,” he said, pulling her into a hug as well. “It will get easier.”

Swallowing the words she wanted, she nodded and gave him a quiet thank you . “Kaz has a plan,” she said, staring at the two of them. “It’s a big plan. It’s likely to go wrong.”

“But if it all goes right…” Matthias finished. “We’ll be in the clear.”

“We’ll be in the clear forever ,” she corrected. “It’s likely Jan Van Eck will never recover if this goes well.”

Matthias’ eyebrows shot up. He knew her views on misplaced optimism. “If you say that he’ll never recover, then he will actually never recover,” he said warningly. “Inej, are we going to kill a man tonight?”

She shook her head. “Kaz wouldn’t go that far,” she said weakly, though they both knew she was wrong. Kaz’s limits were far further than either Matthias or Inej, and they both knew that. “But are you in?”

The question remained unasked and unanswered. How far would Kaz Brekker go for a plan?

Matthias heard the question as well, but he ignored it and shot her an exasperated smile. “What else could I be?” he asked, tilting his head. “I’m stuck with all you crazy people as friends.”

She laughed quietly. “Okay,” she murmured softly, looking between Sergie and Matthias. “This is what you two need to do.”

#

Jesper

“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Jesper muttered under his breath. Nina paused and held a finger up to her lips. They waited as a guard walked by.

“Is it just me, or are more and more of them appearing?” Nina asked. “I feel like there weren’t  this many before.”

“Definitely more than before.”

Nina grabbed Jes’ hand and the two of them hurried for the next door. They looked around before opening it and checking out yet another empty room. “Where could the servants be?” Nina muttered under her breath. “How could Jan have just… gotten rid of them all?”

“And where would they go?” Jesper asked, tilting his ear. He couldn’t hear any guards, but another one was bound to appear soon. “And where did these guards come from?”

Nina and Jesper paused, exchanging glances. “If all the servants disappeared, there must be a place near here where they went,” Nina reasoned. “This is a big house. If they were going far, they’d need, like, a plane. That’d be hard to disguise.”

“What if the guards and the servants switched place?” he asked suddenly, looking up at Nina. “What if there’s somewhere nearby, and for, like, every servant that got switched out , a guard is being switched in gradually.”

She nodded slowly. “It’d have to be close to here,” she said. “Maybe another house that Jan owns. Do you know if Wylan’s father owns the entire area?”

“Most of it,” he said. “I know that the farther out you go, the weaker the area of his control. For example, here he has absolute power. But at that coffee shop two or three miles down - you know the one we passed? Yeah, there he has a small amount of influence, but he in no way controls it.”

Nina processed the information and tilted her neck vaguely, examining the wallpaper of Wylan’s house with a look of distaste. “Kaz said to track down the servants,” she said frowning. “There must be another house nearby. It’d have to be pretty close.”

Jesper nodded. “What if we just followed a servant or something?” he asked. “They can’t have all gone at once, or else somebody would have alerted us somehow. There must be somewhere where they’re being forced - or told to - leave by Jan. Sunshine said they’d always sided with Wylan, so they might be forced to do this.”

“The basement?” Nina asked suddenly. “They might be hiding there? And then slowly, one by one they leave, and in their place a guard replaces them until soon enough we’re in a house crawling with armoured guards, and and possible allies are far away where we can’t be helped.”

“I mean, Inej and I were already on the first floor. They can’t be there then, we were pretty thorough. They might be a level below it though,” he said thoughtfully. “Then - as you said, all the servants that side with Wylan are out of the picture, replaced by hunks of muscle that are out to stop us.”

They exchanged dark looks. “So to the basement we go,” said Nina, turning her head down to the floor. “Good luck us.”

#

Wylan

“Are you sure you can do this in the amount of time we have?” Wylan fretted, staring at Kaz. The boy turned his head and stared back, inky pupils boring into his own lighter blue ones. “I don’t know if we can pull this off.”

“Relax,” Kaz snorted, fingers lightly caressing the doorknob in front of him. “I knew exactly how long everything would take. This is a good plan - we’re sticking to it.”

His eyes remained solid and firm, his very presence as reassuring as it was unnerving. Wylan might never get used to him, but as he studied his lean frame, Wylan suspected that Kaz was lying. The door in front of them was solid and nigh impossible to break through easily. A guard walked by every five minutes without fail, and three had already passed.

Wylan read the signs on Kaz’s body the best he could. His hands moved a little more than usual; his knee had an impatient jolt to them. Kaz didn’t trust his plan a hundred percent. Fuck , he thought to himself. We’re so screwed .

He swallowed, and tried to brush off his thoughts. “Okay,” he said, right as Kaz stood up. The door in front of them swung open smoothly and revealed a plain room, sparsely decorated but every corner was filled with stacks and stacks of various paperwork.

Kaz entered first, Wylan closely following behind. Carefully shutting the door behind them, Wylan bit his lip. This room was eerie - a little familiar, a little terrifying. His childhood had been spent getting yelled at in this room. 

Can you read this? Can you even read a simple set of graphs? Or are you too stupid to do even that?

He shook his head. 

“Time to find something on Jan Van Eck,” Kaz said slowly, staring around at the room. “Do you know where he keeps his most valuable papers? A man with an empire as big as his - it must be filled with corruption at every turn.”

Wylan shook his head. “My father was many things, but he wasn’t stupid,” he said wearily. “He’d have hidden his papers amongst others. He’d make it a challenge, purposefully.”

Kaz raised an eyebrow. “Luxury and power make men go arrogant and lazy,” he said sharply.

Wylan thought of his father. “No,” he said shaking his head, strengthening his voice. “Jan Van Eck would not be lazy about his business.”

The other boy nodded and turned instead to the stacks of paper laying around. He looked around, dark eyes examining the sheets surrounding them.“We need ro find something very substantial,” he said slowly. “Proof of his business deals with the mafia. To trash your house. Harassment - we can also charge him with neglect, although I’d like to focus on his business’ corruption first. Do you know why your mother left?”

Wylan bit his lip. “They… argued a lot. They never got along. She was tired of his attitude. I don’t know the details, he never really talks about her anymore.”

“Spouse abuse?” Kaz asked, tilting his head. “No, it happened too long back. That wouldn’t work. We need concrete proof of his mafia plannings, and evidence that he’s planning something else big.”

Wylan shrugged. “What could he be planning? He’s incredibly successful, owns a Fortune 500 business, earns billions of dollars - what more could he want?”

Kaz looked at Wylan slowly, examining the red locks and light blue eyes of his. “He kidnapped you, didn’t he?” Kaz asked, tilting his head. “Kidnapped you and kept you locked in your room, yet he didn’t starve you or physically injure you. Just left you there.”

Wylan nodded slowly. “So what does that mean? He’s not resorting to physical abuse yet?”

The boy sighed and began to quickly scan a few papers, before holding one out to Wylan. He took it absentmindedly, trying to understand his father’s plan. What was he going to do to Wylan?

“Who is Cornelius Smeet?” Kaz asked after a few minutes, holding out a document to Wylan.

“He’s my father’s lawyer,” said Wylan. “He represents a few of the members on my father’s board as well, though his first job is to be the family lawyer.”

Kaz nodded thoughtfully. “Look specifically for documents around Cornelius Smeet,” he said after a few seconds. “Also, this struck me as odd but I never said anything. Why aren’t there any computers in here?”

Wylan shrugged. “My father was always extremely paranoid,” he explained. “He hated computers. Swore he would never use them if he could help it.”

Kaz frowned. “Somebody on the board should object to that,” he said slowly. “That doesn’t sound right. Eventually, somebody would draw the line and force him to use technology. It’s the twenty-first century - nothing functions without the use of technology.”

Wylan bit his lip and tried to think about any computers he’d remembered seeing his father use. He drew a blank. “I don’t remember seeing my father ever use a computer,” he said. “I’m telling you Kaz, either he used one and I never saw it in my eighteen and so years of living here, or he just never used one. He was so paranoid of getting hacked, I swear.”

Kaz nodded grimly. “Okay, so we’re back to square one. Look through papers and try to find ones with the name of Cornelius Smeet on them. If any papers are going to show evidence of corruption, it’ll be those.”

 

Matthias

In his lifetime, Matthias had made more than a few mistakes.

Yet, as he drove just a little above the speed limit on his way back to his apartment with approximately one traitor and two more mafia members than he wanted alongside him, he thought of exactly what momentous occasion had occured to get him to this exact area in life, and exactly who to kill for causing said momentous occasion.

Maybe it had been a result of him being an asshole in a previous life.

Regardless, Matthias was going to kill probably-former-him-from-a-past-life. Although killed was such a light word - maybe maimed, burned, hung, and then drawn. Quartered if he still felt like it after all of that. 

Sergie, who was sitting in the seat across from him, shot him a glance. “Are you okay?” the man asked, and for a moment Matthias remembered belatedly that Sergie was older than him. It was odd - he looked like an adult, but as he stared at the other adult mafia members, he realized that he was technically still in school. Except for Kuweii, but Matthias prefered not to compare himself to the other boy.

Kuweii had retained his boyish looks - he didn’t look like an adult; he looked like he could reasonably pass as a high schooler. Perhaps his mental processes were one in the same - he was a college student, but mentally he could pass as a high schooler.

As for Matthias himself. Yes, he had the body of a man, but did he have the heart of one? The mind of one? It was fine to act in front of the others, but everything in Matthias tensed at the thought of what the night might lead to. What the others might have already done, in order to survive so long. Hell, even Kuweii Yul-Bayer. The boy who had lost everything to earn nothing. What had he done tonight?

“Are you okay?” Sergie said gently, cutting through his train of thoughts. 

The two had stayed up in that tree for a very long time, worrying for their friends and lovers. Sergie had talked briefly about his own life - his troubles with Gretina and Bollinger, his new planned life in America. Sergie was sweet. Sergie was naïve, and a little broken. But Matthias understood broken, and the two understood each other.   

“Are you okay?” Sergie repeated, his voice a little louder. 

“Yes,” he said quietly. “I think the other two are sleeping. I believe a whisper is appropriate.”

“Alright,” Sergie said, lowering his voice to a whisper. “If this night is too hard on you, you can take a step back and let me handle everything.”

Of course he could handle everything. The man was a mafia member, probably a good five years older than Matthias, and had far more muscle than he did. Yet Matthias’ hands clutched tighter to the steering wheel and he shook his head. “This is my fight,” he responded firmly. 

It was not his fight. But as Wylan’s friend, Matthias was going to help him.

“This is Wylan’s fight,” Sergie corrected, as if he’d plucked the words from his brain not a second ago. “We’re both helping, because he is our friend. But we both have equal claim to that duty - if you are feeling weak, or not up to the destruction of a human being, allow me to take over for you.”

The destruction of a human being .

What was Kaz planning? Would a man die tonight? Had one already died? He remembered hearing the faint sounds of something like gunshots - he remembered trying to leave his station at that, being dragged back by Sergie. He remembered almost becoming hysterical.

The car smoothly sailed by a stop sign without stopping. Matthias straightened up and adjusted his grip, narrowing his eyes at the citylights he could see, no longer hidden behind trees and other blackened figures.

“I can do this,” Matthias said as they reached another stop sign that they actually stopped that. He paused and turned to look at Sergie. They were close to the Barrell. “But you can do me a favor. Do you know where my phone is?”

“Yes?”

“Please set on the timer for exactly five minutes, then - do you see the button to enable the WiFi again?”

“Yes?”

“Enable it. And then send Kaz the vilest emoticon you can think of.”

Chapter Text

Jesper

Jesper and Nina traveled carefully, keeping underneath the shadows. Goddammit I wish Inej was here , he thought strongly. It would have been ten times easier with Inej there.

“Shh,” Nina hissed at him before ducking underneath a tree. “See where they’re going? We were right, they are heading for the next house.”

Jesper nodded in understanding. “I see it,” he muttered as they approached it. It was smaller than Jan Van Eck’s house - Wylan’s father , he reminded himself - but it was still larger than anything you could find in the city. Peeking around a bush, they exchanged a look.

“Backyard?”

“Backyard.”

Ducking behind various plants and bushes, the two made their way to the back of the house where the garage doors were open, and a myriad of men that looked almost exactly like those marching around Wylan’s house were gathered.

Nina cursed under her breath. “We were right,” she said quietly. “For every servant that enters this house, a bodyguard is entering Van Eck’s house. But for what?”

“Nobody would do this if they didn’t have a specific plan,” Jesper said quietly. “They know - or think - that we’re all with Wylan in the mansion, and we also know that the guards are willing to be ruthless and hurt people that get in their way.”

Nina nodded. “Jan Van Eck is planning something,” she agreed. “But for now, we need to figure out a way to stall the guards leaving this place. Or we need to stop servants from transitioning out. Either way, this exchange needs to stop.”

Jesper bit his lip. “Maybe we could set a fire alarm, and evacuate this house?”

Nina shook her head. “It needs to be controlled. Quiet, and practically undetectable. Van Eck can’t know his plan is going downhill.”

Jan Van Eck , Jesper suddenly realized. “Wait,” he whispered. “I think Jan’s in that house right now. Directing this all - right now . That makes our jobs so much harder if we want to stop the guards from leaving the house. We can’t even convince them that all the servants have left already or anything.”

Nina looked grim. “Whatever we do, we have to make our move before Kaz sends us the alert that the Wifi blocker has been taken down. Then we need to use our five minute window. But until then…”

“Until then, we figure out a way to stop the guards from entering the house,” said Jesper. “I think I have an id-”

Wait ,” Nina said suddenly, pointing at the house. “Shh, I think something’s happening.”

Jesper paused and shrunk down beneath the shrubbery some more. They watched silently as an irate Jan Van Eck entered the garage and headed for the door. He was saying something, but neither could hear the words.

“He’s heading out,” Nina said quietly. “I think something happened.”

“Handling a multi-billion dollar corruption agency can’t be all that easy,” Jesper muttered under his breath. “Hope you leave the country and come back to find out that we’ve ruined your entire life.” Quickly, Jan Van Eck drove away, rage still simmering on his face.

“Who’s going to organize them now that Van Eck’s gone?” Nina asked, craning her neck to see the garage better. “Wait, who’s that dude in the…?”

A man with a similar complexion to Inej’s walked into the garage’s light. He seemed to be struggling to deal with the guards, now that Van Eck was gone. Waving his hands exasperatedly, nothing happened, and the guards continued to disassemble unhappily.

“They must have been threatened into doing this,” Nina said quietly. 

Jesper nodded. “Something’s gone wrong. I think they’re mercenaries or something. People that aren’t loyal to Jan Van Eck.”

“This makes it easier to deal with them,” Nina said, echoing Jesper’s thoughts. “After all, we can just do what Kaz has been doing all these years.”

“Find the loose threads and pull,” Jesper finished. “If we can create enough chaos then…how much time do we have to raise hell until our five minute Wifi window?”

Nina checked her phone. “Half an hour. That should be enough time if we work fast enough.”

“Okay,” Jesper said, adjusting his position beneath the hedge once more. “So who’s going to play dress up, and who’s going to sit here and giggle wickedly?”

Nina snorted. “Well because these mercenaries are all tall, white men, I think it should be me.”

Jesper considered this. “I’m fine with giggling manically on the side. Go get them, tiger.”

Nina punched his shoulder and stood up. Carefully, he followed as well, and the two made their way to the front of the house. Positioning themselves at the front door, Nina pulled at the lock uselessly.

“Did anybody ever listen to Kaz when he was giving lockpicking demos back at the orphanage?” Nina asked Jesper quietly, still struggling with the lock.

He snorted, remembering an earlier conversation with Inej on the same topic. “Nope. I think it’s just wriggling two bobby pins there for a while though, so all hope shouldn’t be lost.”

Nina considered this and pulled out two hairpins out of her hair, letting a few strands fall into her face. She adjusted the shape of the hairpins and scrunched up her mouth. “Damn. I can’t ever use these again.”

“Sunshine will buy you all the hairpins you’ll ever need if you manage to take the company away from his father,” Jesper whispered, remembering to lower his voice. “Now come on .”

Nina fiddled with the lock for a few more minutes. “I don’t think it’s working,” she finally said, right as the door gave a little click . “Nevermind.”

She pulled the door open, and the two crept inside carefully. The layout was similar to Van Eck’s, so they exchanged glances and stared at the various halls. “What if we go into the kitchen?” Jesper asked. “Somebody’s always looking for a snack at our house. Between a million guards, somebody is going to want some milk.”

“Jesper, the only person that ever wants milk is you. We all outgrew that gross white stuff when we were ten.”

He kicked her ankle and the two headed for the kitchen. Ducking underneath a counter, Jesper barely withheld a grin as he saw a guard reaching into the fridge and pulling out-

-a jug of milk.

“See,” he hissed as Nina cursed under her breath. “I should have bet money on that.”

“Who was that?” the guard asked suddenly, putting down the jug of milk roughly. It clinked against the surface of the table, spilling a few drops. They both sized the man up - his figure would work with Nina’s, but he was a little too short for it to fit exactly. Still, it was good enough.

“Shit,” Jesper muttered. “Okay, time to go.”

Nina jumped up from their hiding place. The man flailed briefly before digging into his pocket. “Don’t let him pull out his gun,” Jesper yelled, jumping out from their hiding place as well. Nina lunged for his pockets, knocking him down onto the ground.

The grunts from the two of them wrestling was going to be overheard soon. They needed to knock his man out as soon as possible, or else the other guards would know something was going on. “Nina, hurry it up a bit,” he hissed, tentatively taking a step back.

“I’m trying ,” Nina grunted back as the man pulled on her hair desperately. “It’s not easy - mother fucker - ahhh , not the hair, not the hair -”

Jesper winced as she was knocked against the kitchen table roughly, and the man stood up triumphantly, grounding his foot into Nina’s chest. Panicked, Jesper grabbed the jug of milk and held it steady.

“I’ve already got your girlfriend on the ground,” the guard sneered as he straightened up. “Now, sit down and put your hands against your-”

Jesper smashed the bottle of milk against the man’s face as hard as he could. The guard flailed, and then doubled over as Nina blindly reached up from her spot on the floor and dug her nails against the crotch of his pants.

“FUC-” he started, right as Jesper poured the last of the milk onto the man’s eyes, whacking him with the jug again for good measure. Nina punched his crotch again, forcing him to the ground in pain.

“Now,” Nina hissed, switching their positions on the ground. “You’re going to give me your uniform and run away from here as fast as you can, okay? And you won’t let anyone see you. Because - I’m warning you - I’m a doctor. I can cause you a world of pain, and it’ll all be under the pretense that I’m actually trying to help you from a-” here she cut off and dug her shoe into his chest. “- mysterious -” she dug it in harder. Jesper watched impressed. “- condition .” 

“Fine!” he wheezed. “But why do you want my uniform? There are plenty of fresh ones upstairs! And plus, this one is gross and milky now.”

Nina and Jesper exchanged glances. “Going upstairs would be too much effort and we might get caught,” Jesper said in a low voice.

Nina made a face. “You’re not the one that’s going to be wearing the uniform.”

Still, she glared at the guard. “Strip. Give me your uniform, and then get the hell out of here.”

After a few minutes had passed, the guard had surrendered all of his clothing to Nina, and she was wearing his outfit in a grimace. Jesper was getting increasingly nervous - their struggle had been loud, and he didn’t want to have to fight another mercenary or two.

“Okay, I got it,” she said standing up. He checked it out - it didn’t fit perfectly, but it was passable. Even the milk stains were… okay they were a little noticeable, but hopefully in the awful lighting of the garage, nobody would see them too much.

“Alright, tie your hair up,” he directed. “That should be good, right?”

Nina nodded as she tucked her hair into her costume. “Perfect white dude,” she said, checking herself out against a stainless steel table. She looked up at Jesper. “Now let’s go and infiltrate a bunch of other white dudes.”

“You don’t look convincing,” the bitter underwear clad man said on the floor, glaring at the two of them. “You look like you caught a disease. Like you’re three hours from dying .”

The two college students glowered at him briefly, before Jesper let his smile come back. “You’re literally glaring at us in only underwear,” he shot back. “I don’t think you can really claim the upperhand in sass right now.”

“Okay,” Nina said, readying herself. “I’m going in. Are you going back to the bushes to watch it all happen, or…?”

Jesper nodded, before stepping forward and hugging the red-head. “I love you,” he said, kissing her cheek. “And I’m so ready for this night to be over.”

Nina gave him a weak smile. “Don’t worry,” she said, patting his shoulder. “You’ll be back with your sunshine in no time. And it’ll all be okay then.”

#

Inej

The car made a steady sound, and Inej relaxed against the steering wheel. She looked around reflexively - there was nobody in the car, and she relaxed a little more.

It will take a long time to forget tonight’s scars, Inej thought. 

In a strange juxtapose to her current situation, the sky was beautiful. A rich black, contrasted by thousands of sparkling stars. You couldn’t see all of them in Amsterdam, but when Inej was a child, she’d loved counting all the ones she could. She would lay her head next to Kaz’s unwilling one - Inej, I don’t want to sit here, I have work to do - and unrelenting, she would keep him there - come on Kaz, just for tonight

The children they had been.

Inej thought of Wylan - relatively small, thin, delicate hands holding Jesper’s and face caught mid-laugh. She thought of what he would be like as a child, and considered the portrait of Jan Van Eck. She couldn’t imagine the two coexisting - not Wylan, the shy, happy boy from college. Not Jan Van Eck, the man who’d hired men to come and shoot them if his wishes weren’t followed.

She stopped at the small complex Nina had sighted earlier. Parking the car, she found the waffle place and checked to make sure it was still open. Satisfied, she pushed the heavy glass door and walked through it.

Startled, the waiter turned to see her enter the deserted waffle store.

“Hi,” Inej said after a beat. “I’d like to order a few waffles. You stay open all night, correct?”
He nodded, bewildered.

“Lovely, Clark ,” she said, spotting it off his apron. She took a table and leisurely sat down, aware of the waiter’s confused eyes on her. “Do you have chocolate waffles here?”

Chapter Text

Wylan

He’d been staring blankly at swirled words and empty pieces of paper before Kaz’s phone buzzed. He jumped instinctively.

“I thought the Wi-Fi was supposed to be down?” Wylan asked, confused.

Kaz nodded and looked at his screen. He frowned. “We have exactly five minutes. Wylan, I need to you take your phone out and call Jesper.”

Bemused, Wylan pulled his phone out and called his boyfriend. In a few seconds, he could hear Jesper’s also confused ‘ Sunshine? ’ from the other side of the phone.

“Hey Jes,” he greeted. “Kaz’s orders - I promise calling you comes with a reason.”

“Y’know, a perfectly plausible reason would just be to hear the angelic baritone of my voice,” Jesper offered, and Wylan made a face as his cheeks began turning their familiar red. “I’ve been told it’s put many a maiden to sleep.”

“Can we continue with your godawful flirting when it’s not three in the morning or something?” Kaz demanded, glaring at the two of them. “I need a status update.”

“In the bushes,” Jesper said immediately. “Watching Nina try to be a large, white man. She’s already white, so now she’s puffing out her chest and trying to look like a dude. It’s a bit amusing, actually.”

Kaz sighed. “Regardless, I need you to start transitioning servants back into the house now . Start as soon as possible - do you think that’s something you can do from where you are right now?”

There was a few seconds pause - probably as Jesper tried to gauge where they were - before Jesper finally answered. “I can already see obvious unrest from my bush vantage point,” Jesper said. “Give it a few more minutes - we’ll have the guards so riled up, they won’t be doing anything. Then we can begin working on the servants around the house.”

“Okay,” Kaz said. “Hurry. This plan relies on everybody doing their part at the right time.”
Jesper made an awful finger-gunning noise. “Wylan?” he asked, a tone of insecurity creeping in. 

Wylan immediately responded. “Yeah?”

“Bye, sunshine,” he said. “I… “

“I love you,” Wylan said quietly to him, despite knowing full well Kaz could hear him. “You don’t have to say it back, but know that I love you, and according to Kaz’s urgent face, I have to go now. But I love you.”

Jesper sucked in his breath, but before he could respond Wylan cut the call and took a deep breath.

He smiled.

“I hate to interrupt young love, but we need to get back to work if we ever want this plan to work.”

“Oh shut up Kaz.”

 

Nina

There were a lot of things Nina envisioned she’d have to do for college, but impersonating a large semi-middle aged white man in order to rile up a small army of other large semi-middle aged white men so they wouldn’t do their jobs and could therefore be distracted into allowing the managerial staff at the Van Eck manor to return to the manor to save her friend who was being imprisoned and bullied by his corrupt father was not one of them. 

And Jesus Christ , was that a mouthful.

“Sir! Er, what did you say your name was again?” a random man asked, and Nina shot her head up, focusing on the situation again. She just had to get them a little angry at each other. She’d spread drama around the high school per Kaz’s evil bidding for fun all them time. She could do it here no problem. It would just take a little time.

Unfortunately, according to the ridiculous hand motions Jesper was making, she no longer had nearly as much time as she’d planned for. She would need to ramp this up fast.

“Fork,” she said firmly. That sounded vaguely masculine.

He looked confused. “Like a food fork?”

She leered at him, purposely stepping closer and making it a point to puff out her chest as much as possible, while still semi-hiding her breasts. She was ninety percent sure they still showed a little, but hopefully these men were loser-y enough to not have a clue on the general anatomy of women.

“Do you have a problem with my name, son?” Her voice was too light. Damn, she’d need to work to achieve a gravelly Kaz-like tone. That was masculine.
He squeaked out an indeterminate noise before nodding and saluting her. “Yes, Fork!”

She bit back a snicker. It actually did sound a little amusing.

As he walked away from her as fast as possible, she looked around consideringly. They were all walking up and down the garage, pacing and talking amongst themselves. There were obviously weak links - the chap she had just talked to, for example, but she couldn’t find another one that might… 

“Have you seen Matt’s shoes?” she overheard suddenly and bit back a grin. Potential.

Uh, yeah! They look like somebody dumped them for a dry-cleaning in Hell before giving it back to him. Oh my god, they’re, like, so ugly!”
Perfect.

Looking around, she spotted a disgruntled man who had an ear to the conversation, close enough to hear it but not enough to be apart of it. “Assholes aren’t they,” she said, deepening her voice. She sounded like Matthias. The cat was so in the bag.

“Yeah,” he said rolling his eyes. “We so don’t get paid enough for this.”

“Yeah,” she tried mimicking his voice. “Anyways, how dare they insult your shoes, right?”

He looked at her confused. “What are you talking about?”

She looked back at him. “What were you talking about?”

“What were you talking about?” he repeated. “I was talking about Jan Van Eck and the attitude problems of those that live at the top one percent.”

Oh. Oops. “Well, I was talking about them too!” she improvised. “I overheard Jan Van Eck insult your shoes to his butler. He was like, ‘oh my god, I hate that man’s” - she mimed pointing at him and then his shoes - “shoes, they’re so three years ago.”

He looked offended. “I bought these three weeks ago!” he replied indignantly, which Nina felt missed the point a little, but alright. “That’s it - I’m done. We haven’t gotten paid, and we’ve been standing here for a ridiculous amount of time. I’m done; I’m dragging all these other bastards down with me.”

Without another word, he ran up to the front of the garage and stepped on a (probably) priceless car to gain leverage on them all. Nina winced instinctively. 

“Jan Van Eck insulted my shoes!” he started in a roar, instantly shushing them all. “He’s insulted all of us! Called us names, hasn’t paid us our due sum, insulted our shoes . Isn’t it our time to revolt? Let’s face it. We’re not getting paid - no sir, Jan Van Eck is going to make us do his dirty work and then leave us in the mud!”

The general discontent of the mercenaries seemed to intensify. Nina pushed her way through the crowd until she too was at the foot of the car. Wincing, she climbed onto it.

“I can attest to that!” she roared, carefully lowering the tone of her voice.

The mercenaries stared at her in confusion.

“I second his statement!” she shouted instead.

They stayed silent.

“What does ‘attest’ and ‘second’ mean?” the man next to her asked.

“I yes him?” she tried instead.

A collective roar spread from all the mercenaries, loud and ferocious. Triumphantly, Nina watched as they all dropped their weapons and began stripping from their gear, laying it all on the floor. The man next to her jumped off of the car, and with a shout, out of the garage and into the general wilderness. The small army of mercenaries joined, and pretty soon the garage was just filled with guns and incredibly awful smelling cloth.

“Huh,” she said after a moment. “That worked better than I thought it would.”

Now they just had to - oh shit .

Where were any of the servants? Nina had been so spiked on general happiness and smug mischief-causing that she’d forgotten about the servants. Panic spread through her. None of them were in the garage, so logically they would be inside the house but… 

“Hey Nina,” she heard, and Nina turned to see Jesper entering the garage from the door that lead into the house. Distantly, she wondered when he had left his bush. 

“Jes, I just realized,” she said urgently, “we never tried found out where the servants were. We need to find them before-”

“Actually,” he interrupted, holding up a sign to calm her down. “I realized that after I talked to Wylan and Kaz, so I snuck into the house while you were doing your,” he paused to gesture wildly. “I explained the situation to them and everything. They asked for a few minutes, but then they’ll come to the garage and head back to the Van Eck manor as soon as they’re ready.”

“Jes,” she said slowly. “We’re two random strangers out of the middle of nowhere. Why would they trust us?”

Jesper smirked, teeth glinting sharply against the dim light. “I mentioned Wylan. He’s talked about it before, remember? The servants were on his side - for the most part - but they were only with his father because he paid them.”

“So what made them switch now?” Nina asked warily.

He snorted. “My natural charming charisma. Well, that, and the assurance that as soon as Wylan got his hands on the money he’d pay them without trapping them into a shitty contract.”

What the hell. When had Jesper become so responsible ?

Maybe being in a relationship really did do miracles. 

“Jesper, you are a goddamn angel . Wylan is a lucky man. Boy. Man?”

#

Matthias

Matthias was home. Relieved, he tossed his head back and took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh scent of five twenty-something year olds living together. There were couches on the ground, magazines tossed aside, and old cups of coffee-

“I don’t understand why I’m here,” a distinctive voice whined.

Matthias suppressed a sigh. “For the eleventh time, Kuweii, shut up.”

Kuweii Yul-Bayaar was currently gracing them with his presence by laying on the kitchen countertop (the same countertop, incidentally, that Matthias happened to eat on), arms and legs akimbo. “But why am I here?” he asked. “I thought I was supposed to come along so I could find some evidence of the blackmail.”

He sighed. “ Fine ,” he snapped. “Go. Go find the evidence of Jan Van Eck blackmailing Wylan. While you’re at it, go through Kaz’s room and look for evidence of yourself being blackmailed. Kaz said he had a folder labeled with your name in his room. Get it.”

Kuweii paused, halfway through rising from Matthias’ countertop. “Wait… I’m not going to get convicted alongside Van Eck, will I?” he asked nervously.

Matthias glared at him. “ Go ,” he ordered, his voice just a touch menacing.

As Sergie, another mafia member that he had never really bothered to learn the name of, and Matthias watched Kuweii pale and then scamper away, Matthias suddenly remembered. “Sergie, can you help me and make sure Kuweii doesn’t… do anything else?” he asked alarmed, suddenly remembering exactly how much incriminating evidence was in Kaz’s room. Sergie nudged the other mafia member, who saluted him before jogging after Kuweii.

“What are we looking for here?” Sergie asked, after it was just the two of them.

Matthias turned his head and began sweeping the floors for what he needed. Face brightening, he reached down and grabbed a cloth. “I need clothes, toothbrushes, combs - evidence of living somewhere,” he explained.

“What?”

Matthias began shoving clothes into a bag haphazardly. Finding a spatula, he considered it for a moment before leaving it where it was.

“Kaz needs us to look innocent,” he explained. “The problem is that if Jan Van Eck is suddenly found with all this suspicious evidence after years of looking completely clean, it could easily be blamed on somebody else. Namely, the five children that are at his house.”

“Can’t you five just leave before the authorities come?” he asked baffled.

Matthias shook his head. “That would leave Wylan alone with Van Eck and the authorities, and depending on which officers arrive, we need to be careful that they won’t be bribed. Another possibility is that Wylan’s blamed for planting false evidence himself.”

Sergie still looked confused. “But wouldn’t the officers just choose to mark you as Wylan’s friends? You’re all almost the same age - and you attend the same university. It wouldn’t be an odd explanation.”

“Kaz doesn’t trust Van Eck not to try and pin something on us,” Matthias explained. “As long as we look like we were invited and have been staying for a good amount of time, the police will see that we’ve been living under Van Eck’s rules and as a friend to Wylan. If instead we’re seen at the crime scene, casually hanging around a man who was just accused of some incredibly awful charges, it would be very easy to simply start questioning us.”

“But why not explain the whole Wylan situation?” Sergie asked.

Matthias paused. This was a question he had as well, but Inej had been adamant that Kaz knew where everything was going. “I was not told why we weren’t going to release the details of Wylan’s kidnapping,” he said instead. “Although Kaz Brekker is already notorious in the eyes of the law, so I assume that plays a part in this as well.”

Sergie sighed, loosening his muscles as he bent down to pick up a sock. “I do not know where this is going,” he said quietly, Reaching up, he carefully placed the single sock into the bag. “But I hope you know what you are doing.”

Matthias exhaled, words bitter on his tongue. “I hope so as well.”

Chapter Text

Hello!

It’s been - to quote a reader of mine - a hot minute since I updated this. I just want to start this message off by saying thank you so fucking much to the Archive of our Own community. Writing this has been such an amazing experience because I don’t really publish my work online a lot - writing is kind of an isolating adventure, so to constantly get such positive and supportive feedback was really amazing.

Unfortunately, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m finally calling it quits and discontinuing the story. It’s been so long since I was a part of the Six of Crows fandom, and even if I tried, I don’t think I could give my characters the justice they deserve. Bardugo wrote some truly fantastic characters, and I think I would just be ashamed if I butchered them any more.

If you ever read one of the first author’s notes I wrote, it stated that this story was supposed to be a quick, multi-chapter fic. I think that’s part of why the plot eventually became so haphazard and weird (and to every poor bastard that tried to legitimately understand what was going on towards the end, I apologize ). I got into fanfiction because the ability to elegantly and realistically develop characters is hard . It gets even harder when you’re given a character arc from another author altogether, try to deconstruct it in a way that makes sense with your modern twist, and then develop them again while still paying homage to who the author intended for them to be.

I’ve grown and learned so much from writing Tales of Wylan Van Eck , and I am so grateful for every reader that stuck through the forest to get here with me. Knowing just how many people have the ability to access my work is incredible, and, in effort not to sound kitschy and fifty years old, we kind of have a really cool thing going on here.

On that note, from one reader to another, it has always frustrated me beyond measures when a story is ended abruptly with no conclusion. In an effort to avoid that, I’ve prepared two things: a sixteen-page epilogue filled with shenanigans that takes place after this story-line finishes entirely, and my last notes on how this section ends. It’s Kaz’s master plan, copied word for word from myself a year ago, written on a scribbled down paper I found buried at the bottom of my writing cabinet.

And lastly, I think writer’s processes are fascinating and I’ve always enjoyed seeing the work an author has put into creation. I won’t paste it here because I personally despise the way A03 handles both photographs and text on their server, but for all those interested, please shoot me a comment! I would absolutely love to nerd out with you. Contents include many, many papers, a few story character boxes and a hand-drawn blueprint),

Thank you so much for sticking through with me. Regardless of whether I’ve responded or not, please know that I absolutely adore every comment I ever received, and have endlessly appreciated all the support that was given to me. You guys are amazing.

All my best,

keiyara

Chapter Text

END-NOTES

  • step one:
      • split the group up; wylan and kaz go into Jan’s office to find evidence of corruption
        • jesper and nina find the servants and jan;s location, they wait for signal
        • inej - as second in command - goes to tell matthias and the mafia the plan, then she heads to the nearest waffle house and waits for kaz’s signal
    • step two:
      • matthias and the mafia begin transitioning stuff by going back tot he Dregs and collecting evidence to be planted [when they reach, they drop the WiFi blocker for five minutes]
      • kuweii comes along, they grab evidence of all the blackmail
      • kaz takes the five minute WiFi drop to text Jesper and Nina to begin transitioning the servatns back=
  • step three:
      • WiFi blocker gets put back up
      • Matthias and company start coming back to the manor
      • Nina and Jes split up - Jes stays and helps sneak servants out, Nina returns tot he manor and begins to help the servants blend in
  • step four:
      • matthias and company reach the manor, drop the WiFi blocker for several minutes again
      • Kaz tells Inej to make the phone call and come back, tells Jes to come back as well
      • Matthias and company begin to transition all the stuff, Kaz and Wylan help
      • Amidst all the chaos, the hitmen start sneaking out (Rollins has realized what is going on, but cannot reach Jan because of WiFi problems)
  • step five
      • Jes arrives, moves the body downstairs
      • Matthias and Nina organizes mafia and servants, mafia takes up old position hiding around the outside of the manor, Nina works on cover stories with servants, running through lines
      • the dead/unconscious body is moved downstairs, room it used to be in was cleaned and covered
  • step six
      • inej just barely arrives, they run for Wylan’s room and pretend to have been there all along because there is no time to leave
      • Jan and police arrive at the same time, Van Eck tries to brush everything off but the servants reveal the body
  • step seven
    • palpable evidence forces police to all investigate further
    • Wylan and company leave room, pretend to have been there all along for a sleepover
    • servants bring out corruption and blackmail evidence in office, Kuweii pulls out his own from a file in Van Eck’s office
    • furious, Van Eck says it all
    • Kaz catches it on tape
    • he goes to jail - everybody is happy!

Chapter Text

The Wedding

Epilogue

 

Jesper

“They changed the venue,” Jesper muttered under his breath. “I can’t believe this. After all the fancy preparation at the other place, they changed the fucking venue .”

“I still don’t get why you’re so mad about this,” Wylan said from beside him, sounding confused. “It’s going to be fine Jes.”

“Is it though?” Jesper asked ominously, leaning towards Wylan to kiss him lightly. Wylan smiled through the kiss and despite himself, Jesper’s mood lightened.

“Yes, it’s going to be absolutely fine,” Wylan assured him, resting a hand on his arm. “Now drive , before we miss the wedding in its entirety.”

Flashing a wink at the ginger, he gave him a salute before scanning the GPS and taking a right. He scowled as he saw another tree and looked at Wylan again. “But why the woods though?” he whined, his voice taking on a higher tone. “I looked at pictures of it online, and it looks like a - a Satanic mansion , in the middle of the woods. It’s ancient . It looks like it belongs to the set of Paranormal Activity 3. And not like, the good Paranormal Activity. The bad one.”

Wylan shrugged, running the hand down his arm comfortingly. “I don’t know Jes,” he said, giving him a fond smile. Jesper returned it, staring at the ginger freckles that covered his face. Wylan was - no matter what he thought of himself - beautiful .

“Anyways, we should be here in a few more minutes,” Wylan said, looking at the GPS. “And you have no right to complain. You’d expect the Wi-Fi to be spotty or something, but no, it’s really good. Like, really good. Where even are the routers?” Wylan twisted in his seat to look around the woods they were currently driving through, and Jesper rolled his eyes at the other boy.

“Sunshine, I think the point of this location was so they’d be out of a Wi-Fi zone. However horrendous the idea might be.” He faked a shudder while taking another turn. “Hey, I think this is the path we have to take. I see other cars.”

 Soon enough, the two had parked alongside the rest of the cars and were heading toward the massive mansion that the wedding was being held in. There was an ivy-lined path leading them there and delicate fairy lights hung everywhere. Jesper snorted as he saw it all.

“Rich people,” he said, rolling his eyes. Wylan made a face beside him and Jesper cursed as he remembered Wylan’s upbringing. “Sunshine, you know you don’t count right?”

Wylan raised an eyebrow at him. “Why not? After everything that’s happened, I have inherited my father’s empire. I’m rich now. So so ridiculously rich.”

“But you’re not as ridiculous as these people,” Jesper said soothingly. “As long as you’re not the snotty-rich, you’re good.”

A blush rose on his face - that beautiful blush Jesper vowed to try to bring to his face at least once everyday - and Wylan leaned forward to gently kiss him. “Thank you,” Wylan exhaled against his skin and Jesper smiled, grabbing Wylan’s hand in his own. 

“As much as I appreciate the free viewing, I’d rather not,” came a loud drawl from behind them and Jesper rolled his eyes, running his other hand down Wylan’s back in a comforting way.

“Kaz, you voyeuristic asshole,” he called behind him and the two turned to see Inej and Kaz. For once, Kaz had been pulled out of his almost-mandatory uniform and was instead wearing a suit like Jesper and Wylan were. Inej on the other hand, had on a long gauzy lilac dress that almost flowed behind her in a faerie-like way. It matched her, he decided.

Wylan had beaten the both of them by far, but they did look nice.

“A pleasure,” Kaz said crisply, and Inej rolled her eyes at her boyfriend’s more dramatic tendencies.

“Well,” Inej clasped her hands. “I know Nina and Matthias are going to come later, so why don’t we head to the mansion? Wylan, I hope your performance goes well.” She shot his boyfriend - Jesper still reveled in the term, even all this time later - a comforting look.

Wylan sent Inej a soft smile. “Yeah. They have my instrument there at the manor itself - apparently Bolliger and Gretina brought it with them. So… yeah, I haven’t had much time to practice with college and,” -he cut himself off, but they all heard the words he had intended to say anyway - “and yeah. so yeah, hopefully it all works out.”

“It will,” Inej assured Wylan, and Jesper smiled at him. Kaz raised an eyebrow as he sped up and Wylan dropped back to talk to Inej. They walked a little ahead of the other two, and Kaz looked at him expectantly.

“You look happy,” Kaz said immediately instead of his usual nothing (because obviously a simple greeting, that would be way too hard for the King of Vampires And All Things Creepy). 

“Yeah I’m happy,” Jesper admitted to Kaz. “Life’s going pretty well. Wylan’s happy.”

Kaz looked at him carefully. “I’m not sure when Wylan’s happiness was pivotal to your own,” the other boy said slowly. “But - and I’m probably going to regret this in about five minutes - I’ve already given Wylan the shovel talk, and he gets along great with Inej.”

“You’ve what ?” Jesper repeated, giving Kaz an outraged look. “Kaz, you can’t just go around giving people shovel talks. Wylan doesn’t need your terrifying-ass trying to-”

“-and so ,” Kaz said loudly, speaking over him. “I have deemed him acceptable. Which…” Kaz trailed off, and Jesper stared at him silently. “Wylan’s an okay kid,” Kaz finally finished softly, looking at Jesper. “Stay with him.”

“I wasn’t going to leave him…?” Jesper trailed off confused even as Kaz faded back to Inej, and Wylan replaced him once again.

“What was that about?” Wylan asked Jesper. He shrugged, confused.

“What was your conversation with Inej about?”

“Sergie, Bolliger, and Gretina,” Wylan said lightly, smiling. “Sergie and I have kept in touch, and I’m so excited to meet him at the wedding! He’s not completely over Gretina and Bolliger yet, but… small steps. Sergie’s started to take more of them, and he’s beginning to understand that neither of them were worth the trouble of loving them.”

Jesper hummed. He had never really understood Sergie’s relationship with Wylan, but Sergie was helpful, and Wylan did care about him. “As long as he’s happy,” Jesper said, and Wylan smiled.

“Yeah.” Wylan echoed quietly, but the ghost of a beautiful smile betrayed his thoughts. “Happy.”

The four of them kept quiet for the rest of the walk, but Jesper could feel it in the air they all breathed.

Happy .

#

Wylan

Alas, Wylan was no longer happy.

“Wait, what ?” he asked, squinting at the orchestra he had been placed in front of. “Vasily, what the fuck!”

Vasily shot Wylan a smile. “Don’t you remember? We told you that an orchestra would be accompanying you and your clarinet.”

Wylan squinted at the man. “No. You literally never told me that.”

“Pity,” Vasily said simply, before gesturing grandly to the orchestra. “Well, there’s no time like the present. Here’s an orchestra that’s going to be accompanying you and your clarinet.”

Waving his hand in goodbye, Vasily turned on his heel and sauntered away.

“I have a flute…” Wylan whispered mournfully as Vasily disappeared into the distance. “ I have a flute .”

One timid orchestra player raised their hand, and Wylan looked at him distractedly. “Yes?” he asked, looking at the man that was - shorter than he was ?

This was unheard of. Wylan gloated silently, before remembering his predicament and his joyous mood ran off in a sort of hurried manner.

“We need to start practicing,” the man stuttered. “The wedding starts in three hours, and if we don’t play this song to perfection, all of our heads are on the line.”

Wylan thought of Oksanochka and her murderous glare. “Definitely,” Wylan nodded. “Speaking of, where are all of you guys from, anyway? Where did Vasily kidnap a random orchestra from?”
There were a stream of responses, ranging from We’re not allowed to say to Peru, and a horrified Wylan decided not to question them any further.

#

They were about forty-five minutes in when Jesper ran into the room. “I want a B here from the double bass section,” Wylan ordered. The double bass section - which, naturally, consisted of exactly three sad individuals -  hurriedly played a B , and Wylan inwardly wondered why Vasily hadn’t bothered to kidnap a good orchestra.

If you were going to kidnap an orchestra, why wouldn’t you bother to kidnap an above-average one? Why did Vasily have to kidnap a bad orchestra?

“That wasn’t a B ,” Wylan realized belatedly. “That was like, an F sharp from two people, and a C from the other one. How do you guys not know how to play a B ?”

Jesper cleared his throat from behind, and Wylan jumped. “Easy there. sunshine,” Jesper said as he kissed his cheek. “There’s a small problem.”

Wylan raised an eyebrow at his boyfriend. “I’ve just been instructed to direct an orchestra that’s apparently going to be accompanying me and get them ready in the next three hours and the double bass section - trio, really - currently cannot play a B , so no, I will not help you with whatever wild idea you have in mind.”

Jesper made a face. “For once,” he said. “It is not I, that is in trouble, my love. In fact, remember the DJ that got fired and replaced by you?”
Wylan shrugged and directed the double bass trio to play a C scale. “Gretina has mentioned the DJ to me in passing. Like, when she wants to threaten me to practice my flute so I won’t screw up at her wedding.”

Jesper pursed his lips. “Apparently the DJ got mad at you and in revenge, has stolen all the cars.” Nearby, the double basses butchered the C scale Wylan had given them, and the ginger winced.

Wylan squinted at his boyfriend. “What do you mean, ‘the DJ has stolen all the cars’?” Waving his hand, he directed the double basses to try the C scale again. 

“The DJ took every single car out of the lot and hid them somewhere out in the wild. Gretina is freaking out, and I think Bolliger passed out from the shock five minutes ago. Sergie is trying to find out if the honeymoon car was left alone, and the rest of us are currently stuck in the middle of nowhere until somebody can find out where all the cars were taken.”

The random notes played by the frankly terrible double bass section matched the horror in Wylan’s heart.

#

WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE’RE STUCK HERE? ” Wylan screamed as Jesper halfheartedly dragged him away from the orchestra and pulled him into an abandoned hallway instead. Distantly, he heard screaming from the (maybe?) Peruvian orchestra as they learned that they were trapped somewhere in the Amsterdam wilderness.

“Technically, we’re not stuck here,” Jesper corrected. “Inej and Kaz drove here as well, and the DJ is too terrified of them both to steal their car. So it’ll be an uncomfortably tight ride, but we can drive back with Inej and Kaz.”

Wylan raised his eyebrow at Jesper. “But what… what about our car?”

More screaming rang from the room Wylan and Jesper had just left, and Wylan gaped as he heard rapid footsteps. The door swung open, and Jesper pulled Wylan out of the way as roughly two hundred terrified (possible) Peruvians ran out the orchestra room. 

“Oh… that.” Jesper shot Wylan two finger guns and a grin as a flock of terrified instrument-wielding orchestra members fought to get through the narrow door-frame. “That was stolen.”

“By the DJ, or did you steal a car from some random civilians, which in turn got stolen by the DJ, because - before today - I’ve never seen the car you drove us here in?”

Jesper grinned. “The latter. Speaking of which, I really hope the person I stole the car from has insurance, because I was planning on returning it after today, but at the rate this is going, they might just never get their car back.”

Bewildered, Wylan waved his hands at Jesper and tried to ignore the blatant theft Jesper had just admitted to committing. “Okay,” he said, trying to calm himself down. “Okay, at least nothing else has gone wrong. Everything except for transport is alright. And with luck, the honeymoon car also hasn’t been stolen so at least the bride and the groom can go to their honeymoon and then we can all figure out how to leave.”

Right then, Wylan heard more rapid footsteps from his other side, and he turned to see a massive, purple-suited, sequin emblazoned apparition run straight to the two of them. Wylan tensed but relaxed as Jesper pressed his shoulder reassuringly, and informed him that this apparition, was, in fact, his long-time friend Sergie.

Sergie stopped and let out a hurried breath. “ Wylan ,” Sergie said, pulling Wylan into a hug. “You’re here !”

Wylan hugged the massive man back, grinning despite himself. “Yep,” he said sympathetically, remembering the pain Sergie was probably going through. “I am. How are you, with the wedding and everything?”

Sergie beamed. “Terrible. The idiot screwed up, and now we’re all in danger!”

“What do you mean ‘we’re all in danger’?” Jesper asked, staring at Sergie in confusion.

“The idiot - oh, I can’t even speak his name, it’s too terrible to utter - screwed up. Instead of ordering all the outfits to Amsterdam , he ordered them to Antwerp . As in, Belgium . All the ceremonial outfits are two hours away from here, and the wedding starts in two hours.”

#

Honestly, from the way things were going, Wylan couldn’t blame Bolliger for passing out.

“Slow down,” Jesper directed Sergie. “ All the outfits? What do you mean?”

“The bridesmaid, the maid of honour, the bride, the groom, the best man, the second best man, the second bridesmaid, the third bridesmaid, the flower girl, the flower boy, the illegal preacher, the legal preacher - all of them! We had outfits for all of them! And they’re currently in the wrong country .”

“Sergie?” Wylan asked, staring once again at his purple-sequined suit. “Aren’t you the ring bearer?”

Sergie smiled serenely. “Yes, I am.”

“... is this the outfit you’re going to wear during the wedding? Oksanochka, Gretina, Bolliger - they all approved it?”

“Definitely.” Sergie finger-gunned him, and Wylan wondered when his life had become the disaster he was currently living.

“Are you sure?”

“I think it’s wonderful,” Jesper defended Sergie with a grin. “It’s absolutely beautiful Wylan - are you doubting the power of the purple sequined suit?”

“Absolutely not,” Wylan rescinded any earlier suspicions at Sergie’s purple suit. He was grinning harder than Wylan had seen for a very long time (and judging from that fact that Sergie was always beaming, this was pretty novel). “I love your suit, Sergie.”

“Thank you Wylan,” Sergie said smiling pristinely. “I have to go check up on the food and make sure it’s not poisoned. Can you please figure out a way to get the outfits back in time for the wedding? And maybe somebody else can get the orchestra back and regroup so we’re all ready in two hours?”

Jesper tilted his head towards the nearest window and squinted at the flurry of orchestral instrument wielding people running through the forest.

“I think we’re a little too late to get them back,” he informed Sergie and Wylan. “I’m pretty sure they all just ran away.”

Sergie rolled his eyes. “Ugh, whatever. They’re Vasily’s problem, anyway .”

#

Inej shot Kaz a glare. “Is this secretly your doing?”

Kaz gave her an innocent look but stayed silent.

“I’m serious, because if I find out that you’ve ruined yet another wedding, I’m going to be furious.”

He smiled. “I’ve done nothing. I’ve been sitting here by your side this entire time.” Reaching out a hand, he grasped hers and the two tilted their heads to look around the venue. The wedding officially started in two hours, but people had already begun streaming in and they’d all surrounded the reception area. Appetizers were being served, and quiet music played from some corner of the room.

Inej tilted her head as Vasily Lantsov sauntered his way over to them and gestured for them to follow him. Kaz pretended not to see, instead choosing to grab a glass of champagne from a passing waiter.

“Kaz,” she scolded quietly.

“I see nothing,” he replied. “You see nothing. We are not following that fool.”

Rolling her eyes, she grabbed his bicep and tugged him over to where Vasily was. Vasily gestured them over to a relatively quiet corner of the reception area, a look of urgency on his face.

“I need your help,” he whispered dramatically. “ Please . You’re our only hope. Otherwise, we’re all dead. This is our lives on the li-”

“Absolutely not,” Kaz deadpanned.

“You haven’t even heard what I was going to ask!” the other man protested.

“I don’t need to. No.”

“Maybe we should hear him out,” Inej started cautiously, and Vasily began nodding rapidly.

“Listen to your girlfriend, Brekker. Listen to the love of your life-” Kaz scowled, and he quickly changed route. “ Please ? I really need this. Or else we’re all going to die - you, me, your girlfriend, everybody.”

Inej sighed. “What do you need, Vasily?”

“Okay, so how much as Wylan told you about the… car situation?” Vasily asked, tilting his head curiously.

“Car situation?” Kaz asked, arching an eyebrow. “What car situation?”
Vasily began giggling, an odd high-pitched noise that sounded more like the product of fifty hours of sleepless anxiety and less like genuine mirth. “So. You are aware of how Wylan replaced the old DJ?”

“...yes?”

“So, evidently, the DJ was infuriated and in revenge… he stole all the cars?”

“What do you mean, he ‘stole all the cars’?” Kaz asked slowly, narrowing his eyes at Vasily. “ Are you telling me he touched my damn car ?”

Inej gave him a look.

Are you telling me he touched Inej’s damn car ?” he amended.

Nervously, Vasily shook his head rapidly. “Everybody’s car except for yours,” he clarified. “And the honeymoon car. But more importantly, your car was left alone.”

Inej arched her eyebrow. “Okay. Good to know. We’re the only people that can leave this godforsaken jungle. So what do you need us for?”

He took another deep breath and glanced nervously at the nearest exit. Kaz and Inej instinctively took a step forward, trapping him in his little corner.

“Unfortunately, an idiot screwed up and accidentally ordered all the ceremonial outfits to Antwerp. Which, incidentally, is two hours away.”

Inej tilted her head. “The wedding starts in two hours, Vasily.”

He pursed his lips. “I’m aware. We’re planning on delaying for an hour. That leaves time for somebody to drive to Amsterdam-Centraal Train Station, go on the hour and fifteen minute ride to Antwerp, pick up the costumes, come back on the return train ride, and then drive back to this forest. Which would taken approximately two hours and forty-five minutes, all in all.”

“No,” Kaz said automatically. “I am not going on a two hour and forty-five minute adventure to rectify a mistake of your own doing, Vasily.”

He twisted his lips into a pout. “ Please ? Bolliger’s passed out in his dressing room, and Gretina’s beside herself. Plus, all of our orchestra members have run away, so we now only have - Wyatt? Wade? Wesley? - to be the musician.”

“Wasn’t Wylan always supposed to be the only musician?” Inej asked, confused.

“That’s his name?” Vasily replied instead. “ Wylan . Huh. Anyways, no. We informed him today that we kidnapped a Peruvian orchestra to play behind him. But then they all ran away, and they’re somewhere in the forest. I think a few got lost in the building. Someone might be stuck in an air vent.”

Kaz and Inej exchanged looks.

I don’t want to help . Kaz looked resolute.

She sighed. But we have to .

You’re the saint. You do what you want, but I’m going to sit here and laugh .

“I can go help Bolliger and Gretina calm down,” Inej finally said. “Matthias and Nina are coming in…”

“Twenty minutes,” Kaz supplied.

Vasily’s face brightened and he shot them both beams. “Thank god! We’ll finally have another car when they arrive.”

Inej winced. “Actually, Nina talked Matthias into a new exercise/environmental regimen. They can only drive about fifteen miles per week, and because they used up all their miles on Monday when Nina drove them out about seventy miles for a special waffle place, they’ve been biking everywhere ever since.”

“Are you telling me both Nina and Matthias are biking to the wedding venue?!”

Inej nodded sagely. “Pretty much.”

#

In the end, it was Sergie and a kidnapped Peruvian orchestral member found in the air vents of the kitchen who were sacrificed to go find the outfits in Antwerp.

“Why are we sending them both?” Jesper asked, confused. 

Wylan shrugged. “We were originally planning on just sending the kidnapped Peruvian orchestra member, but then he told us he was a viola player.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Jesper asked, looking even more confused.

“Nobody trusts a viola player,” Wylan said darkly. “Not even viola players trust viola players.”

Jesper still looked confused, but shrugged and moved on. “Okay? Anyways, so Sergie and a viola player are out heading to Antwerp. Vasily delayed the ceremony for an hour, but reception still ends in two hours, which means somebody needs to distract the crowd for a solid extra hour.”

“How are we going to do that?” Wylan asked, checking his phone. “Speaking of which, why are we planning this? What happened to Vasily, and Oksanochka, and hell - the bride and groom? Where is the wedding planner? Did they even hire a wedding planner?”

Jesper made a face. “Who knows? Inej went upstairs to try to coax Bolliger back to life, and I know Kaz is hanging around purely for his own amusement. Honestly, I don’t blame him.”

“That’s probably fair,” Wylan said, sighing. “Where’s Nina and Matthias again?”

“They’re biking here, remember?” Jesper prompted. “The exercise-slash-global health thing Nina convinced Matthias to do for her?”

“Ohh,” Wylan said, thinking of the Sunday Nina had brought it up. Matthias had been hesitant (and Kaz, Inej, Jesper and Wylan had all urged Matthias not to agree) but finally he’d relented, and sure enough, they’d ended up using all their miles on the first day. 

“Okay, so to recap, we do we have who to wrangle with now?”

“I think we got assigned to deal with the preachers and the orchestra members,” Wylan remembered. “Which, speaking of - can you please hunt down the orchestra members?”

Jesper shot him a smile and bent down to kiss his cheek. “Sure sunshine. Are you sure you don’t want me to deal with the two preachers? Which, by the way, why the hell do they have both a legal preacher and an illegal preacher?”

Wylan shrugged. “I’m pretty sure the ‘official’ preacher is the illegal one, but Bolliger’s aunt threw a tantrum and she’d taken a bullet for him five minutes prior or something.”

“But if they already had a legal preacher lying around, why the need for the illegal one?”

“Who knows with mafia customs?” Wylan answered, rising on his toes to kiss his boyfriend. He smiled as Jesper responded to it by tilting his mouth and deepening it, liquid warmth melting into his mouth. “ Jes ,” he breathed as-

“What the hell do the two of you think you’re doing?” 

They both hurriedly pulled apart to see an irate Oksanochka standing there, heavily-muscled arms crossed in disappointment. “Wylan. I thought I assigned you to the preachers. Fahey - you’re supposed to be hunting down the orchestra members.”

Jesper shot her a lazy grin, even as Wylan blushed a deep red. “I’m making out with my boyfriend,” he said innocently. “Surely you’re familiar with the concept?”
Oksanochka raised a sleek unimpressed eyebrow, and he saluted her as he began walking away.

“And I thought between Nina and Matthias, you were the better couple,” she deadpanned in a heavily accented voice. Wylan flushed as he remembered their last conversation. Stay with him , she’d told Wylan. God, it hadn’t been that long but it still seemed like it had happened a forever ago.

He blinked away the haze of memories and tried to focus. “So, what do you want me to do with the preachers?”

She sighed. “The impossible.”

“Come again?”

“You already know why we have the legal preacher?” she asked. Wylan nodded. “We need to take her out somehow. Sergie was supposed to work on a drugged tea, but we recently found out that she’s allergic to tea and stays three feet away from a cup at all times.”

“Are people even allergic to tea?” Wylan asked while warily taking a step away from her. He’d forgotten how much she terrified him. Evil fathers and gun-toting mercenaries aside - Oksanochka was hands down the scariest of them all. “So you want me to knock her unconscious somehow? Because I can’t cook for my life.”

“Believe me, I’m well-aware,” she said pointedly. Wylan flushed again. “I need you to put this-” she pulled out a clear syringe from her pocket, “-into her perfume. She’ll put it on in preparation for the ceremony, and will be out in five seconds.”

Steeling himself, he forced himself to look into her charcoal black eyes. “I’m not being an accomplice to murder,” he said. “This won’t kill her, will it?”

A half-smile crept onto her face. “No. Just knock her out for five to six hours. By then, the ceremony will be over.”

He took the syringe from her hands and turned it over in his hand. “So I pour all of this into her perfume?”

“Oh heavens no. Just half of it. Pour all of it and she’ll die.”

He paled and looked back up at her.

The half-smile quirked once again. “A joke.”

A world where people like Oksanochka joked. Prospective retirement did wonders for a person’s mood.

“Thanks, I guess,” Wylan said finally, nodding. “I don’t think I’ll ever see you again after today, but I hope you enjoy retirement.”

Her smile was slow to come, but she looked up and stared dead into Wylan’s eyes. “Keep being friends with Kaz Brekker and you will see me again.”

“Okay?”

She nodded. “Stay with them. They’re good for you.”

He raised his face to look her in the eyes in return. “I know. I will. Goodbye Oksanochka.”

She smiled, lightly touched his face, and walked away. 

#

Fifteen minutes later, when Nina and Matthias had finally made their way into the venue, they were both red in the face and ready to sit down. 

“I am never listening to you ever again,” he growled, glaring at his girlfriend.

“Do it for the calorie count,” she muttered weakly, laying her head against his. “Love you too, babe.”

Wylan awkwardly cleared his throat, making them both stiffen and turn to look at him. Kaz had appeared beside him some time ago, and the two had hunted around in an attempt to find Nina and Matthias.

“Hey Wylan!” Nina said brightly. climbing off her boyfriend. Pulling him into a hug, Wylan smiled as he gripped her tightly.

“Hey Nina, Matthias,” he nodded at the both of them. He vaguely registered Kaz nodding at the two of them as well. “Anyways - I’m sorry, I know you’re both really exhausted - but… well, there’s been a slight situation.”

Nina arched an eyebrow. “Define ‘situation’.”

“It seems that this is the wedding from hell,” Kaz intervened, leaning against his cane. “Inej coaxed the groom Bolliger back to consciousness a few minutes ago, but Gretina is still out of her mind with worry. The jilted DJ stole all of the cars out of anger, except for mine and the honeymoon car. The outfits have all been ordered to Antwerp by accident, so Sergie and a member of a kidnapped Peruvian orchestra have been sent to track him down. Speaking of said kidnapped Peruvian orchestra, Jesper has been sent to find the remaining members, so naturally we can expect exactly none of them to ever be found again.”

Matthias and Nina stared at Kaz in disbelief.

They swiveled their faces to Wylan, as if double-checking that Kaz wasn’t making a joke.

“Kaz isn’t joking,” Wylan said gravely. He ignored the offended “I never joke” from Kaz and continued. “Speaking of, I’ve been told to drug the legal preacher so she’ll miss the ceremony and allow the illegal preacher to do their work instead. Don’t ask me why we’re drugging the legal one, but we have to somehow, and I’m not sure how.” 

Matthias raised a skeptical blonde eyebrow. “And why are we doing all of this? We’re guests as well.”

Kaz sighed. “They’re calling in the favour for Wylan’s father. And anyways, would you rather sit in the reception bored out of your mind?”

Matthias and Nina shuddered.

“Okay, so Nina - in about an hour and a half, when everybody begins to file into the ceremony room, you need to find a way to distract them for an hour. Until then, help Wylan drug the legal preacher. Matthias, you’re going to track down where all the cars went, or else god save us all, I am not chauffeuring over fifty criminals in the back of my car.” 

“The cars,” Matthias said disbelievingly. “He stole all the cars.”

Nina whistled lowly. “Maybe it’s a good thing we biked,” she said, bumping his shoulder against her own. “At least our car didn’t get stolen. But did yours?” she looked at Wylan.

He nodded darkly. “Worst case scenario, Inej’s offered Jesper and I the use of her car.”

“Better than nothing,” Matthias said. “Okay - I’m going to get started on tracking down the cars. Kaz, you’re coming with me - I am not doing this by myself. Where is Inej?”

“She’s helping calm down the bride and groom,” Wylan explained. “Nina and I can go deal with the preacher, and then Nina can head off to distract the crowd for an hour. By then, Sergie and the kidnapped Peruvian should be back with the outfits.”

They all nodded. 

“Shouldn’t we be a bit more concerned that one, there’s a bunch of kidnapped Peruvian orchestra members running around, and two, Jesper ’s been sent to find them?” Nina asked suddenly. “I mean, I get that they’re a mafia but I feel like we should be just a little more worried.”

“I’ll negotiate the orchestra’s release later,” Kaz said dismissively. “Besides, I talked to Wylan about the one sent with Sergie, and he told me it was because he played the viola?”

Wylan nodded gravely. “You can’t trust viola players,” he confirmed. At Matthias, Nina, and Kaz’s vaguely confused face, he attempted to elaborate. “Viola players are suspicious,” he amended. “Shady.

They’re not… you have to watch them.”

“Okay?” Nina said. “Alright gang, I guess it’s time to go?”

With a shrug, the four disbanded. “This is going to be fun,” Matthias muttered under his breath. “And by that I mean we’re all fucked .”

#

Wylan stared at the door of the woman he was supposed to drug. “I got this,” he muttered under his breath as he took a step forward. 

She’s a mafia member , he reminded himself, and stepped backwards instead. She can kill you .

“I can kill her too,” he muttered. “I can be dangerous.” Daringly, he walked up to the door, only to walk straight back to his original position. “Okay, but she’s also really dangerous.”

He heard a clobbering of footsteps behind him and turned to see Nina rush into the empty hall. “Oh thank god,” she crowed loudly in relief. “You’re here.”

Desperately, Wylan shook his head and mouthed for silence but it was too late. The door in front of them swung open to reveal a short, mildly overweight balding woman. “Hello?” she said squinting at the two of them. “What is the point of all this hubbub?”

Nina made a weird snort-y noise behind him, bending over to conceal her laughter. Vaguely, he heard her mutter something about the word ‘hubbub’. The legal preacher squinted at Nina and snapped,

“Why is she bent over like that?”

“She’s, er,” Wylan’s mind raced for something to say and finally he went, “has a mental condition .” His voice dropped low and he pointed at Nina conspiratorially. “I’m her chaperone.”

Nina was going to kill him, but this was a problem for a later date. Instantly, the legal preacher made a noise of assent. “I understand,” she said in sympathy. “My stepson had one of those. Could never quite understand what was going on. Now, what seems to be all the fuss out here?”

Suddenly very aware of the liquid in Wylan’s pocket, something in his chest beat out and he grasped the vial. Was there any time to sneak it into her perfume? He didn’t think so.

“Street smarts!” Nina said suddenly, straightening and grabbing the vial from Wylan. Wylan whirled around to watch her uncap the bottle and toss it at the legal preacher’s face. 

Wha- ” the old woman started, but it was too late. She hit the floor in a dead collapse. 

“You didn’t use the entire bottle right?” Wylan asked, remembering Oksanochka’s instructions. “I think that might’ve killed her.”

Nina stared at the bottle, which was now completely empty. “Well,” she said after a second. “Do you want to dump her body into her dressing room and pretend we had nothing to do with it?”

He thought about it for a second, and deemed it the superior option to anything he could do. “Absolutely,” he said, and grabbed her arms. “You grab her legs and we’ll drag her into her room.”

Nina made a face but did as she was told, and pretty soon they had the legal preacher folded up on the floor of her dressing room. “Do you want to lift her on top of the couch or something?” Wylan asked, but considered how much might it would take. “Maybe not,” he answered himself.

“Absolutely not,” Nina corrected, wrinkling her nose. “Do you know how much this woman weighs? More than Sergie and Matthias combined , I’d say.”

In all honesty, she wasn’t wrong. Wylan hummed and considered checking her pulse. Nina watched him mull it over for a bit before shaking her head. “That way,” she explained, “if Matthias tries to yell at us for accidentally killing her, we’ll pretend we just thought she was asleep!”

It was terrible, but Wylan shrugged and shut the door firmly after both he and Nina had exited. Knowing his friends had definitely done a number on his mental processes, Wylan thought, and he was probably insane now.

“Anyways, why’d you come for me?” he asked Nina. “What happened?”

Nina sighed. “I’ve had to distract them for the past fifteen minutes and it went downhill so fast. I tried playing Just Dance with them, but I couldn’t merge my phone onto the big projector so we had to play it on a single phone.”

She stopped to shoot Wylan a single glare. “Do you know how hard it is to play Just Dance with fifty people on a single phone ?”

Wylan winced in sympathy. “That sounds rough,” he said patting her. “What happened after that?”

“I left,” Nina confessed in a dark voice. “It was getting painful. My dignity was leaving me too quickly.”
A sense of wariness rose in Wylan’s chest and he stopped walking. Wide-eyed, he shot Nina a worried look. “If you’re not distracting the guests, then who is?”

Her eyes grew wide too, and suddenly they were racing down the hall. “This way!” Nina said urgently and they skidded down corners to face a grand wooden door. She squinted at it for a second before shaking her head. “Back the way we came!”

It took about five more minutes than it probably should’ve, but finally Wylan and Nina were facing the right door. “Alright,” Nina said, taking a bracing step forward. “Let’s open the door and see what state the guests are in.”

Not allowing themselves a second more to ponder what disaster could have occurred, Nina threw open the grandly emblazoned arched wooden doors.

Considering this was a mafia wedding, Wylan had expected to find the guests caught in a massive fight. Maybe an abandoned daughter had come back from the dead to seek vengeance on her negligent father. Maybe a Peruvian orchestra member was being sacrificed.

He did not expect to find fifty or so dedicated mafia wedding guests dancing dutifully along to the projector. On it, perhaps by a stroke of sheer miracle, the Just Dance app was playing and a silhouette plus half a hundred people were bopping along to Katy Perry’s Teenage Dreams

“Huh,” Nina said after they’d stood in rapt attention for a few minutes. “Who would’ve thought?” From somewhere in the crowd, the two could heard a sharp shush -ing noise and she stuck her tongue out at their direction. Wylan batted a distracted hand at her.

“I guess we’re not needed here after all,” he said dazedly, and they shut the door in bewilderment.

They stared at each other. “Do you want to stay here and make sure nothing goes wrong?” he asked before Nina could ask the same thing of him. 

She glared at him, obviously knowing exactly what he had done. “Sure,” Nina said, reluctance obvious on her throat. “Scurry out of this one, Van Eck.”

He shot her a grin. “I’m going to find Matthias and try to figure out what we have to do next.” Nina nodded and checked her phone.

“You should hurry,” she said. “Maybe find Jesper. The ceremony begins in an hour and thirty-eight minutes, and so far we don’t have the honeymoon cars or the wedding outfits.”
Wylan sighed. “See you in a bit.” Waving a hand, he turned to go find Kaz. Kaz was probably up to no good.

#

“WHERE ARE YOU, BABE?”

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
WHERE ARE YOU?”

Wylan winced as he heard his echoes bounce off of the trees. Somewhere out there, a homeless man was plotting to kill him for disturbing his rest.

“BEAR FOR SUE?” On the other side of the phone, Jesper’s voice was masked with a layer of absolute confusion. “WHO’S SUE? WHY ARE WE GIVING HER A BEAR??”

He sighed, leaned back and geared up once more. “NO. WHERE ARE YOU?”

God knew what the absolute racket on Jesper’s side of the phone call was coming from, but Wylan would be damned if the members of the worst orchestra he had ever seen didn’t show up. He might lose a boyfriend in the process, but he would end this night overseeing orchestral music in some form or the other.

“OH!” Jesper finally shouted. “I’M ON MY WAY BACK FROM THE LIGHTHOUSE. I SHOULD BE BACK,” he took another deep breath before finishing his belt, “IN ABOUT TWENTY MINUTES.”

LIGHTHOUSE?” Wylan yelled, bewildered. He sighed and decided to choose his battles. “WHERE ARE YOU RIGHT NOW?”
“THERE’S A PROTEST HAPPENING ON ROUTE SEVEN. PEOPLE ARE,” Jes paused, “RUNNING AROUND WITH DRUMS AND,” another deep breath, “SIRENS.”

“BE HERE AS FAST AS YOU CAN.” Wylan ran a hand down his hair and stared at the empty woods in front of him. Half an hour was a long time to continue stalling. “BREAK LAWS IF YOU HAVE TO.”

“DON’T WORRY,” Jesper said after a heartbeat. “IF I HAVE TO, I’LL RUN PEOPLE OVER. ” His last words seemed to be directed at another person. 

“OKAY,” Wylan answered, and not knowing what else to say, decided to get on with the fifteen million other tasks he had to deal with instead. “I LOVE YOU. BYE.”

“DON’T YOU DARE , YOU SON OF A-” Jesper began, and the phone abruptly cut off. Wylan distantly wondered what the fate of the Peruvians Jesper had been sent to hunt down.

Okay , he thought to himself. Twenty minutes . That was manageable, right? Now there was only Sergie with the outfits, and Kaz and Matthias with the cars. Inej had hopefully finished comforting both the bride and groom, but even if she hadn’t managed, Wylan wasn’t above forcing one of the buff mafia members to carry Gretina and Bolliger if they weren’t up to it themselves.

“Two more phone calls,” Wylan promised himself. “Then you can go home.” Quickly, he dialed in Sergie’s number.

“کمکم کنید,” a man pleaded from the other end of the call. “من گرفته شده اند, و آنها مرا رها نخواهند کر.”

Wylan squinted, and then remembered the extra Peruvian that was accompanying Sergie on his quest to collect the outfits.

“SERGIE,” he screamed, and waited as he heard a loud thunk .

“My apologies!” Sergie boomed from the other end. “My friend picked the phone up, and then butterfingers over there dropped it!”

“Don’t worry about it. When are the wedding outfits going to be here?” He stared nervously at the woods again, and all the emptiness in front of him. Who knew how much you could play JustDance before trying to kill each other?

“We’ll be there in about ten minutes,” Sergie assured. “They’re a little beaten up, but it’ll be okay.”

Wylan let out a gigantic sign of relief. “Oh thank god ,” he said relieved. “This is really great news-”

“DON’T TOUCH THAT!” Sergie shouted suddenly. “Sorry Wylan,” he quickly said into the phone. “Gustav is fighting for control of the steering wheel. I must go.”

Horrified, Wylan listened to Sergie’s dial-tone. He gave himself a few seconds before typing in the digits for Matthias.

Immediately, Kaz’s dry tone reached Wylan. “We’ll be there in half an hour,” Kaz said shortly. “We needed to borrow a few tow trucks and truck drivers to haul everything back to the wedding site. Start the wedding without us.”

Not used to somebody answering his questions without a maddening introductory conversation, Wylan awkwardly cut of the beginning of his sentence. “Got it,” he said sheepishly, and then straightened. “Why is it taking thirty minutes? How far did the DJ bring their cars?”

Kaz snorted. “The DJ brought the cars about ten minutes away from the wedding. Matthias just wanted ice cream.”
Faintly, Wylan heard an outraged cry from Matthias. “You wanted some too!” 

“Just get here,” Wylan interrupted. “The wedding can start without all the cars getting returned, but for gods sake please just get back.”

The phone clicked off without an answer, because Kaz was a dramatic little bitch sometimes.

Wylan was more than a little used to it by now. He spun around and began heading back inside, giving a sigh of relief as he re-entered the building and found it was still quiet. Now relatively familiar with the layout with this madhouse, he took a side hallway and decided to find Inej instead.

#

“You thought I needed help?” Inej’s voice was soothing, but there was clear pity in it. “Oh, Wylan.”

Wylan crossed his arms at the two women in front of him, both completely composed. “I thought you might need help with calming Bolliger?”

Inej’s eyes somehow got even more pitying. “Oh, Wylan. I was finished with him forty minutes ago.”

He frowned at her.

#

“We do have a minor problem though,” Inej told him ten minutes later as they were hurtling back outside the entrance. “Kaz told me the flower girls got confused and thought this wedding was an assassination. They switched out their petals for poisonous ones.”

Wylan stopped mid-step, nearly tripping and falling on his face. “They think what ?”

Inej grabbed his arm and kept walking. “Don’t worry. I dealt with it.”

“You did what? ” he asked uselessly.

“I rectified the situation. Our small problem however is that I don’t know how to properly dispose of the chemical formula they painted their murderous flowers with. I was going to ask you to examine it.”

They were nearly at the entrance now, staring right at the extravagant double doors. “I’ll look at it afterwards,” Wylan promised, and then stopped them before they could actually leave. “Just to double-check: Jesper’s coming right now with the orchestra members. Nina’s entertaining the audience. The bride and groom are happy. Serige’s five minutes away and has everything. Kaz and Matthias have ice cream and about two-hundred cards. This is going to be okay, right?”

Inej smiled sweetly at him and grabbed both his hands. “This is going to be fine, Wylan,” and squeezed tightly. “And even if something does go wrong, that’s fine too. We can fix it.”

He looked at her, face shining just slightly as the sun rippled through the nearest window. She glowed almost ethereally. 

“Thank you,” he said quietly, trusting her to know his gratitude extended far further than this wedding. “I love you.”

Inej leaned close and kissed him on the cheek. She squeezed his hands again before letting go. “Let’s go get our clothes back,” she said with a crooked grin, and he couldn’t agree more.

 

Wylan was pleasantly surprised to find that Jesper had managed to break every speed limit he had encountered and arrive before even Sergie. Desperately shuffling all the orchestra members together, he turned and watched as Inej then did her level best to assure them they were allowed to leave after the day was over, Of course, Wylan once again regretted his whole life as he remembered exactly how much of a trainwreck his orchestra was, but their playing had at least improved in the sense that every member was no longer visibly shaking from terror.

He did his best to give them all a reassuring smile, guiding them into the formation they should be in at the hall. Sergie was going to come with the outfits any minute, and Wylan wanted the orchestra to start the ceremony as the bride and groom were wrangled into appropriate clothing.

“Play the E string for me, please!” Wylan called to a bedraggled looking violin player. She nervously did accordingly. “That’s a little sharp - tune your instrument some more.”
Steadily going through each section, Wylan jumped as the doors to the room they were in opened with a thud. He turned and saw Sergie and a long slender man carrying an enormous stack of outfits.

“I HAVE ARRIVED,” his friend screamed, “TRIUMPHANT FROM MY TRAVELS.”

Go !” Wylan urged, running towards the next set of doors Sergie would go through. “Go to Gretina and Bolliger - hurry!” As soon as Sergie left the room, Wylan whirled and gestured for the orchestra to get ready. “You’re all moving to the ball room now,” he directed. “Get ready to play as soon as you’re settled.”

As they transitioned, Nina sprinted down another side door (how many side doors did this place have??) and grinned madly at Wylan. “Every guest is seated and the entire wedding committee is getting dressed,” she said. “Now or never, baby.”

#

It was the most beautiful ceremony of his entire life. Wylan had attended many weddings as the son of a rich CEO, but he had never performed at one. His orchestra - perhaps struck by the beauty of the occasion or briefly animated by the spirit of Mozart - quietly crooned as Gretina walked down the aisle covered in non-poisonous flower petals. Her gown was gorgeous. Her smile even more.

Gently, Wylan directed the music to fade as the actual proceedings began. There was a lot of smiling and flustered vows. He turned and beamed at his friends as Gretina and Bolliger kissed. From the side, Sergie brushed a tear but gave Wylan a smile nevertheless.

After the ceremony was over, Wylan watched as Kaz and Matthias discreetly entered from yes, another side entrance. “The cars are all returned,” Matthias assured them.

“You have chocolate smeared on your face,” Nina shot back unimpressed, and Matthias show his girlfriend a bashful look. Kaz snickered and quieted as Inej hit him too.

“What losers,” Jesper piped up from the side. “Getting ice cream! You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Kaz narrowed his eyes at Jesper. “I could’ve left your car at the hands of that damned DJ,” he warned the taller boy. “I could’ve left it at a junkyard .”

The two began bickering as Wylan turned away and waved a hand at Sergie. The man was beaming now, all tears gone, looking joyous as he danced around the ballroom with some children.

Jesper broke off of his argument and smiled at Wylan. “You okay? I know I’ve said it before, but your music was absolutely beautiful.”

Leaning into his boyfriend, Wylan kissed him lightly and ignored Nina’s ewwws . “I’m just happy.”

“This is a happy day,” Inej said smiling at them both. 

“Or at least, it has been, until Gretina and Bolliger find out that the car that was supposed to drive them to their honeymoon is completely out of gas,” Jes snickered. “We burnt it all out. There’s nothing left in the tank.”

Wylan paled. “We should leave before they try to go on their honeymoon, shouldn’t we?” he asked, and shot a begging look at his friends. “I don’t want to be here for that.”

“Coward,” Kaz snorted and threaded his fingers through with Inej in an unusual display of affection. She kissed his cheek. 

“Let’s go home.”