When the first explosion shook the ground, Misha was so confused he stilled by his desk. Trapped in a room that locked from outside and had no windows, there was no way for him to know what was happening. He took a deep breath and pushed on the desk to roll his office chair to the door. A part of him was afraid he’d wake up Gary and make him furious, but when another explosion made the walls around him tremble, he hit the door with his fist. If that hadn’t woken Gary up, nothing could.
“Gary? Is this an earthquake? Can I stay with you in the living room?” he yelled, but there was no answer.
Misha’s heartbeat sped up when he heard what sounded like firecrackers exploding far away. Whatever the commotion was, maybe it would mean he’d get to leave Gary’s apartment. But how could he make a run for it if he didn’t even know what lay past the electronically locked door to Gary’s apartment? Misha was adept at using the wheelchair. He was fit and good at moving around despite his legs ending in stumps just below the knees. The lack of windows in the whole apartment suggested that it was located underground. He could easily use an elevator, and technically was capable of climbing the stairs, but if he wanted to move farther than that, he’d have to pull the wheelchair behind him every step of the way upstairs.
As his brain thought of ways to escape, conjuring visions of a new, better life that was actually worth living, the sound of firecrackers, which now seemed all too similar to gunshots, erupted again. He slid off the chair and pulled a blanket off his bed, which proved harder than he thought with his fingers stiff and trembling. Moving like an automaton, he rushed under the desk, pushing at the wood, as if it could somehow absorb him if he wanted it badly enough. It didn’t matter that he was twenty-two. In that moment, he was a little boy again, and nothing could possibly save him from the liquor-infused monsters falling over in the corridor.
Misha covered himself with the blanket and tried not to breathe, allowing as little air as possible into his lungs. He wanted to be invisible, melt into the furniture, and disappear out of the monster’s reach. He’d rather have Gary come in, laugh at him, and tell him he was silly for getting scared of some fireworks than risk a possibility that he was up against real danger.
His body trembled at the sound of a loud thud, followed by clatter, and yes, this time it was definitely gunshots. Misha cowered, curling up to seem as small as possible while the pulsing in his neck counted split seconds. There was a round of rapid fire, which suddenly came to a halt, leaving behind an eerie silence.
Misha listened, and while there were still sounds of explosives and gunfire somewhere in the background, he was certain he heard movement behind the door of the tiny space that had become his whole world. Each hair on his body stood up in anticipation of noise.
He squeezed his fingers into fists, unable to think of what he could use as a weapon. His room was the image of what most people believed teenager caves looked like. It contained posters of Russian bands, plastic trophies for swimming—which was especially pathetic since Misha didn’t even know how to swim—a desk, a computer without Internet access, and several books, but not a sharp object in sight or even a broom he could break and use for stabbing. What if Gary got shot and couldn’t protect him anymore? What if someone else took him? What if that person wanted to … hurt him again? Gary was far from a perfect man, but with him, Misha at least knew where he stood.
His heart stopped when the door handle moved. Someone was coming for him. Someone broke in here and would soon find Misha defenseless. If only he had a glass that wasn’t plastic, he’d cut his wrists before the monster could get to him, but in this situation, the best he could do was to repeatedly smash his head against the floor and dread the worst. The clang of the lock was like a punch in the gut, and Misha stared through the tiny gap in the blanket, breathless as the door slowly opened. The first thing he saw was heavy combat boots, which thudded against the floor as a man dressed in black walked in with a gun in his hand.
Seconds stretched into an eternity as the man took step after step inside the small room, but then he abruptly stopped and inhaled a big gulp of air.
“I smell fear,” he whispered, sounding happy about his discovery.
The man was tense, focused, but his face was a monstrosity that made Misha think it was Death himself coming for him. Only after a few moments did he realize the man was wearing a mask, which made his head look like a bare skull, with a pair of thin, well-cut lips visible through an opening that also revealed the man’s smooth chin.
The large, hollow eyes of the skull seemed to absorb light, and the inability to predict what the man was looking at was making Misha want to crawl inside his own body. But the man’s powerful muscles went lax, and he lowered his gun.
Misha’s lips trembled, and he had to bite them to stop his teeth from clattering. Despite all the horrors that he’d been subjected to, he didn’t want to die. Maybe one day he would become useful enough to Gary, and Misha’s world could expand beyond this room. If only he could stop breathing, the blanket would hide his presence. The room was dark without the extra lamp Gary brought in for shoots, so there was a chance the assailant would leave without noticing him.
But just as he thought that, those big black holes of eyes turned toward him, and the man slowly sank to his knee. Every hair on Misha’s body bristled. After an agonizing silence, the man finally spoke.
“Hey there, little bird,” he said, and his voice sounded like the richest, smoothest chocolate, not what Misha expected to come from someone who hid his face behind a mask.
There was nowhere to run, but Misha still pulled the blanket tighter around him and pushed against the corner under the desk as if it could somehow turn into a portal to another dimension and swallow him whole. He didn’t like strangers. They only ever brought pain and misery with them, and this unannounced guest, who came here with a firearm, seemed like the embodiment of Misha’s nightmares. “Please don’t take me,” Misha whispered, unable to blink. “I’m fine here, just ask Gary.”
The man crooked his head, and his shapely lips moved, pale against the matte black of his outfit. “Who’s Gary?”
“My b-b-b-boyfriend.” And there it was. Misha’s teeth clattered. He pushed against the wooden desk when the man shifted closer, and now, in the light coming from the desktop lamp, Misha could see that black mesh covered the eyeholes of the mask.
“Was he the one to lock you up from outside?”
Misha bit his lips again until he drew blood. Only now, it occurred to him. What if this was a test of loyalty? What if Gary considered giving him more freedom but needed to make sure Misha wouldn’t betray him once his leash was loosened?
“I …” Misha licked his lips. His breathing became erratic, and he started wheezing in panic.
The man put the gun into a holster underneath his arm and reached out a hand in a leather glove. “Come out. I won’t hurt you.”
Misha didn’t grab the hand, but he slowly pulled the blanket off his head, knowing he wouldn’t have a choice in the matter anyway. “Does Gary know you’re here?” he whimpered, his mind spiraling into a million directions. In Misha’s experience, a mask meant the man was here to do horrible things in front of Gary’s camera without being recognized. Misha wouldn’t even know his name. “Please just tell him I don’t want to go.” This shitty, somewhat damp room was a long way from heaven, but who knew what hell would await Misha outside? He’d rather stay than risk any more pain.
The man shifted closer, and his chest fell with a loud exhale. “Andrey? Is that really you?”
This was bad. The man knew Misha’s porn name. He was close enough for the upper half of his body to duck under the desk, and Misha could smell his sweat, entangled with a rich cologne that was already twisting around Misha’s throat, about to choke him. “Yes. Who are you? Did Gary send you here? Did you pay him?”
The masked man growled, and for a brief moment, his accent slipped into deeper, somewhat twangy tones. “I know no Gary.” He took a deep breath, and his Adam’s apple bobbed. “I knew I recognized this room from somewhere, but weren’t you supposed to be in Russia? What is this?”
Misha watched the man’s every move. His life or death could depend on assessing this situation correctly. “It’s made up. To avoid stalkers … Who are you?” Now that he thought about it, Misha realized he hadn’t met any new people within the last two years. It was always only him and Gary, and sometimes some of Gary’s friends or the on-call beautician who took care of Misha’s body hair and nails. And without anyone to introduce this man, Misha had no idea how to act.
The masked man reached out all the way to Misha’s face. His leather-encased fingers smelled of gunpowder, which only made Misha more rigid as the soft, smooth glove touched his skin. “You’re so pretty in real life.”
“Are you here to kill me?” Misha blurted out, unable to keep that question inside him anymore. The man had burst in with a gun and looked like a modern version of the Grim Reaper, so it would only make sense. He could be making sure he had the right person before he put a deadly piece of lead inside Misha’s skull.
“No. I’d never do that. Promise,” said the masked man and held up his hand with his pinky extended.
Misha knew not to trust promises, but it was always worth acknowledging one. In a surreal moment, he hooked his pinky with the man in a skull mask. “Thank you.”
“Will you come out now?” asked the man, gently pulling on Misha’s hand.
“Okay, but we have to find Gary … I can’t go anywhere without his consent.” Misha looked away from the man’s face and crawled out from underneath the blanket. He wore his ridiculously long hair down, because Gary liked it that way, but in these circumstances, he pulled a hair band out of the pocket of his shorts and gathered the long strands back into a loose bun. He couldn’t help but think that if this man knew his porn name, he’d seen him in circumstances much worse than this. He needed to calm down and retain some dignity.
He raised his head, but the question he intended to ask died on his lips when he noticed the stranger staring straight at the ugly stumps once they emerged from underneath the blanket. In a horrifying moment, the man’s leather-encased hand moved to cup one of them. Misha clenched his teeth so hard his jaw ached, and he went still. He only moved his eyes and let them glance at the stranger’s crotch and the large bulge in his pants. Of course, the man would be an amputation fetishist if he knew Misha’s porn persona. They called themselves “devotees,” but in Misha’s experience, the only thing they were devoted to were the stumps, not the amputee himself. Misha didn’t feel comfortable around those men, and each unwelcome touch sent him deeper into his own mind.
The large hand massaged the stump, squeezing it gently, as if it were a pert buttock. This was wrong, and four years of taking it with a fake smile couldn’t teach Misha otherwise.
“You will be safe with me,” said the man, pulling Misha toward him with surprising strength.
Misha’s eyes went wide when he was forced up close to the skull printed on the mask the stranger wore over his face, but it was getting a faint glimpse of the man’s eyes behind the mesh that freaked him out. He wouldn’t be safe anywhere, just like he hadn’t been safe here. Just because the man’s body was sturdy, as if made out of brick, didn’t make him less flesh and bone, less vulnerable to a bullet or a chainsaw.
“What’s your name?” Misha gasped and grabbed on to the man’s neck when he was picked up as if he weighed nothing.
There was a deep growl somewhere in the depths of the man’s throat, but he finally looked straight at Misha and squeezed his hand on the flesh of his thigh. “I’m Grim. And I’m a fan,” he said, carrying Misha out of the room where he had spent the greater part of the last two years.
Even though Grim’s touch was gentle, the lust hiding behind it made Misha nauseated. A fan? Was Grim a crazy stalker abducting him just so he could have Misha to himself? Where would he take him? What would he do to him?
Misha slid his hand down to Grim’s chest, and the man’s heart was thudding just as hard as Misha’s. “You … watch a lot of my vids?” he uttered, desperate for any scrap of information.
The masked man nodded, completely ignoring the sounds of gunfire somewhere in the background as he entered Gary’s living room. “I watch them all the time. I was the one to send you the new Xbox to the PO Box. Did you get it?” he asked quickly, rocking Misha in his arms.
Misha’s lips parted, and he couldn’t believe his ears. Not to mention they felt hot as hellfire. He’d never actually met any of his subscribers. “I … I did actually. And the games. Thank you,” he added quickly, afraid to offend the man. “Did you … break in here?” Misha looked around the living room when they walked out into the bright light of white lamps. The TV was knocked over and lay facedown on the floor, and a broken glass vase was scattered over the rug like sesame seeds on bread.
“Yes,” said Grim. “I’m sorry I scared you, but you were the last person I expected to find.”
Misha looked toward the black granite and steel of the modern kitchen, and Gary’s absence was putting him further on edge by the second. Gary was the only person standing between Misha, and … those other people.
“Who were you looking for?”
Grim was silent for a few moments as he approached the door, which was strangely crooked and covered with soot. “The wolves who run this place.”
Misha was about to say he didn’t know where they were exactly, but when Grim reached the door, Misha swiped his gaze over the room one last time and spotted a familiar shape behind the black leather sofa where Gary had fucked him just last week.
Gary’s fingers were twitching on the floor, and Misha screamed out in horror as his eyes met the bloodied face. This couldn’t be happening. Grim sure as fuck was no policeman, so he was here to take all the assets. Misha pushed his hand into Grim’s face and kicked his stomach with the stump, trying to get out of the steel grip. His brain was in a frenzy.
“Gary! Please, don’t let them take me! You promised! You promised I would only be yours!”
Grim tried to keep him still, but as Misha continued to struggle, the floor finally got closer. Grim released him, and Gary’s body lying on the smooth floor became the sole focus of Misha’s existence. On his hands and knees, he moved forward, hardly even remembering to avoid the glass scattered all over the living room.
Grim’s voice came like out of a different dimension. “He’s dead. Don’t bother.”
“No!” Misha whined, but once he got up close to the gunshot wounds, the blood, and the smell of piss, he didn’t have any hope left. Even the twitching he earlier noticed might have been an illusion he clung to, because Gary’s still-warm body was motionless. His eyes were wide, blood no longer trickling from a hole in the middle of his forehead, his mouth was open, and his tongue lay slack in the corner of his mouth. Misha had lost his lifeline.
He shuddered, staring at the red stains gluing Gary’s favorite Star Wars T-shirt to his chest. Misha’s brain refused to come up with answers. With Grim approaching, Misha took a deep breath and leaned over Gary in a desperate attempt to buy himself some time. The smell of urine and sweat was hard to stand, but on a hunch, Misha discreetly dipped his hand into the front pocket of Gary’s pants. The cool steel of the flashdrive Gary never parted with was a shock to Misha’s system, but he quickly fished it out, hugging the dead body. No matter how detestable Gary was as a human being, he did protect Misha from further harm. Maybe he would continue to do so thanks to any intel about the nameless organization that owned Misha’s life. Still, looking into Gary’s glazed-over eyes meant the end of an era.
Misha wouldn’t miss Gary’s cock forcefully entering his throat or Gary’s hands wandering all over his stumps as they watched movies, but he already missed the safety this place provided, because he knew what the alternative was. The presence behind him was impossible to ignore.
“He was a bad man. You will be safe with me,” said Grim.
Misha clenched his fingers on Gary’s T-shirt. The only place he’d ever be safe was at the bottom of the ocean, wearing concrete shoes. “He had friends … maybe we could find them, maybe they could—” Misha’s breath became too erratic for him to speak. He was sure he was in the US, since most people who visited, now including Grim, had American accents, but other than that? He had nothing. No papers. No money. No possessions. And no fucking legs.
Grim pulled on Misha’s shoulder. “Have you ever piggybacked? I need to get you out of here quick.”
Misha swallowed, now wondering if piggybacking was only an excuse for Grim to feel Misha’s cock on his back, but a deafening rattle of gunshots pushed him into action. He looked up at Grim and nodded, reluctantly outstretching his arms to his new captor.