Arctic Restitution (Arctic Absolution #3)

As he approaches his twenty-second birthday, the three-year anniversary of the brutal attack in an alley that nearly cost him his life in a few different ways, Jaye Larson thinks he’s left behind the ghosts from his years spent incarcerated, but when he’s delivered a mysterious letter with terrifying implications, old monsters rear their ugly heads. His normal new life in remote Zus, Alaska, with his lover, Dixon Rowe, the heart of a found-family that supports Jaye in ways he’s never before dreamed possible, is threatened by old deals and ties he begins to fear may never be broken. While old alliances strive to draw Jaye backward, Dixon and the rest of their family are called to step up to keep him steady. When the letter turns out to be just the first clue in a chain leading both Jaye and Dixon back inside the walls of the Federal Corrections Institute of Sheridan, Oregon, all of them are left facing carefully-held secrets and terrible new truths that refuse to be ignored. (M/M)

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Chapter 11: Johnny for Cash

Dixon made the coffee and carried the steaming mugs back to bed where Jaye was curled up on his side beneath the blankets. A new fire was banishing the morning chill. Soon, they would have to get ready for work, but there was some time to talk first. Jaye was glad. There were things he needed to know.

With his head nestled in a pillow, and most of his drowsiness shaken off, Jaye mentally shuffled the stack of notes he’d privately taken while scrutinizing Dixon’s behavior since he got home the night before. He’d already pieced together some of what Dixon was about to say, but was eager to learn how the pieces would fit together.

“He called you, didn’t he?”

“Yeah,” Dixon admitted.

“And what’s the verdict?”

“You don’t want to know what he had to say?”

“Not really. I know him pretty well. You don’t. This was more about you and him than me. But I do want to know what you plan to do next, because I can tell you’ve decided.”

Dixon sat heavily on the side of the bed and cupped his hands around his favorite porcelain mug. It had a hand-painted moose on the side and a chip on the handle. Jaye steered clear of using it if there was a chance Dixon might need it. But if Dixon had already gone to work, sometimes Jaye used it specifically because he knew how much Dixon loved it.

“He was different than I expected,” Dixon muttered, like he would have rather been getting a root canal than talking about this. “And not. I don’t know. I mean, I get the whole doesn’t-take-any-shit thing. He’s gotta project an image, after all. But I didn’t think he’d…” Dixon shifted restlessly, tucking one leg under the other.


“He needs to talk to you.”

Jaye breathed out a laugh and sat up. “I fucking know that. Yeah.”

“No, I mean the whole thing. I’m sure there’s a favor involved here somehow. He didn’t get into it. But I’m pretty sure that to him, getting to talk to you and making sure you’re okay is the whole point. He was…” Dixon exhaled heavily and rolled his head on his shoulders. When he started to talk again, he gestured with his hand, getting more agitated. “He really laid into me so I understood I would never have met you without him. He says I owe him for that. And what he wants to even the scales is to talk to you.”

With wonder, Jaye guessed, “And you’re going to let it happen, aren’t you?” If the tables were turned, Jaye would have never relented like that.

Dixon glanced sideways at him. Jaye still felt flushed with a happy glow from the night before, followed by a solid night’s rest at last. It had been over a week since he’d slept so good.

Dixon took Jaye’s hand and brought it up so he could kiss the knuckles. The tenderness in the gesture touched Jaye in ways that reminded him who Dixon Rowe really was — a sensitive soul who questioned himself more than he should, because of assholes who’d taken advantage of him for too long, and a man who knew the true value of the good things in his life and would never be too proud to show his appreciation.

“There was something panicked in his voice,” Dixon confessed. “Not for your sake. He doesn’t think you’re in trouble. It’s more… he loves you, Jaye. I could tell. I think he really just needs to see you’re doing better.”

Jaye sank back into the pillows. Brushing the soft, thick, golden hair on Dixon’s forearm, Jaye said with a downturned gaze and remorseful feeling, “Yeah, well. Like I told you, we didn’t part well. That’s probably part of it. It’s hard to accept something’s over when there’s no closure.”

“Tell me more about it.”

“He was afraid. And you heard the guy. He’s never scared of anything, but leading up to my release date, Cash was fucking scared. And they knew. They saw it. So, they set him up with the stashed drugs. Threw him in ad-seg a solid week before I left, just so we couldn’t have those last few days to say goodbye to each other. I heard him… screaming… when they carried him off. The sound of that? The helplessness? After everything he’d done for me when he never had to do a thing? It killed me.” He made eye contact, showing Dixon some of the hard-earned wisdom his youthful face sometimes masked. “I didn’t love him back, okay? It was always just a deal to me. At most, I was thankful he was nice to me in private. He was a means to an end, but he deserved to get to have goodbye. And I was too much a coward to be able to go back and see him in there once I was out.”

“After everything you endured in there? Of course you didn’t want to go back. It’s a miracle you survived at all. Don’t blame yourself for that. You earned the right to be selfish for once and make your own decisions.”

Jaye picked up his coffee from the nightstand and sipped it.

“I trust you completely,” Dixon told him. “You know that. I’ll leave it up to you whether you want to get on the call or not. You’ve more than earned the right to make that choice, too. I can’t tell you what to do here, and I can tell my judgment is clouded. I still fucking hate that guy.”

Jaye smiled, but Dixon didn’t.

“I’m serious.”

“Oh, I know,” Jaye assured him. “But there’s always that whole ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ thing with Cash. There are worse guys who’ve had me in their sights. And Cash goes to war with those bastards every bleeding day.”

“You hated Marcus. You should know how hard this is for me. You would have never volunteered me for a sit-down with him.”

“Marcus broke your fucking nose on purpose by slamming your face into a wall just to get out of a holiday party. That’s who Marcus is. Was. May he rot in Hell.”

“Oh yeah, tough guy,” Dixon said quietly. “You look me in the eye and tell me Cash never did just as bad to you. Directly or otherwise.”

Jaye started to speak, but then his memory coughed up a gem from the gang rape in ad-seg, filmed for the sexual pleasure scumbags, as well as the way Cash had fucked him later that night too, like clockwork, even though Jaye was in agony and sobbing uncontrollably. He remembered trying to play mental gymnastics to get through it, while he had guy after guy going to town on his shackled and helpless body from both ends. He remembered Hax threatening in a dead voice to break Jaye’s jaw if he felt any teeth, and feeling certain he would have done it, Cash be damned.

A hand folded over his. “Hey… I’m sorry. I should know better than to make you go back there and remember that shit. Let’s just stop talking about it, okay? The whole point of last night was to help, not hurt, I — ”

“Dix, you can’t save me from my past, anymore than I can save you. And last night was incredible. You’re right, okay? There’s plenty of reason why you should want to keep me away from Cash, and why you should hate him. I won’t lie about that. But where’s the harm in some closure? I mean, really? What’s he gonna say that could hurt me more than I already am? Especially if you got the vibe that he just wants to check in for sentimental reasons.”

“You don’t owe him that.”

“I know. But I know how much it fucks with you when people you care about are just suddenly gone, forever.”

Dixon tugged him by the hand, pulling him into a loose hug that Jaye melted into.

Staying in the warm hold against Dixon’s chest, Jaye heard him murmur by his ear, “That’s another thing I hate. So, if you need some closure there too, I won’t keep you from it.”

“Thank you.”

“So you do want to talk to him?”

“Yeah. I think I need to, not that I totally want to. I’d rather not have to reopen that door, but it’s not just about me. Plus…”


Jaye thought about how to say it. “There’s no way he’s doing this only for sentimental reasons. That’s not the kind of guy he is. But something tells me he pulled the emotional card in order to get me on the phone, like he wants to tell me what’s going on instead of telling you. I want to know why.”

“Just promise me you’re not going to fall for his shit or guilt trips. He doesn’t get to tell you what to do anymore.”


Chain Link

The second call came later that day, around the same time. Dixon had been out on the road, but made sure he came back to the station, just in case. If that was when Cash had access to the inmate phones, Dixon would plan to be there to facilitate them figuring this out once and for all. He was sick of seeing the worry in Jaye’s eyes.

The call didn’t last long.

“Hey, Trooper,” Cash said in greeting.


“You thought about what I said?”

“I did. I don’t like you. I trust you about as far as I can throw you, but if you want to talk to him, and he’s okay with it, I won’t stand in the way. But that’s all it is. Talking. I hear a word of threat in what you say to him, you’re done for good.”

“Why the fuck would I threaten Johnny?”

“His name isn’t Johnny. It’s Jaye. Like the bird.”

“So you threaten me to keep me from threatening him? That’s how this works?”

“If it has to. Helps that I’ve got the law on my side, too. I know the kind of shit you did to him. Maybe not all of it. There’s some he won’t talk about, even with me, but I know enough to know what kind of man you are, deep down. He’s not your property anymore. He’s a man with his own fucking life and he doesn’t need you.”

“Ain’t that the truth. But he needs you, Trooper Dixon Rowe?”

“We need each other.”

Cash breathed out a laugh. “How nice. So, if I call tomorrow, same time, he’ll be there?”

“He’ll be here. But so will I.”

Chain Link

It turned into a late workday for both of them, with Dixon out on a call in the far northern end of their territory, and Jaye also out on a call, fixing the wiring for a couple living on the west end of town after a tree fell and severed the lines running from their solar panel array and their home.

By the time they both got home, after eating dinner on the run, all they wanted to do was sleep. Crawling in bed together, they cuddled up close and drifted off. The following morning they made their plans. Jaye was ready for it, anticipating the arrangement before Dixon said a word about it. In fact, he’d even shifted his work schedule that day, so he wasn’t due in until afternoon.

For the morning, he went with Dixon, tagging along on a call and his usual patrol loop in the Expedition. There was no flirting for once. He didn’t think it would have been appropriate or appreciated, even if he’d had the stomach for it. Psychological echoes from so much constant whoring in Sheridan kept Jaye quiet and withdrawn, especially without being able to anticipate what the real task was going to be. He’d been trying to guess, and couldn’t.

Once in a while, Dixon would stop the car and look over at Jaye, curled up in the passenger seat with his knees to his chest, trying to tuck into a ball and deflect anything that came his way, shutting out the whole world. Dixon wouldn’t say much, or try to take Jaye’s hand, but he would ask, “What can I do?”

“Just be here.”


Maybe he was finally growing up, but Jaye did feel shame for how he’d hooked both Cash and Dixon, using his body as a weapon or tool. For so long, he’d wanted to be more than that, but survival had to come first. Now, he was past surviving. The danger of death was more remote than it had ever been. He had a job, a devoted lover, a family, friends, community, and home. He didn’t need to turn it on as strong just to ensure he would make it through the day. He could relax, and be himself. And the fear of the unknown chewed his gut, causing any sort of seductive act to seem highly distasteful. He also wanted to make sure when he did talk to Cash, that he didn’t get the wrong idea. He didn’t want to send any signals to indicate he could still be treated the way he used to be. Jaye wasn’t anyone’s whore any longer, and he never would be again.

They returned to the station well before they needed to. Dixon sat Jaye at his desk and fetched him some coffee to sip. When Sesi and Debbie tried to come over to make conversation, Dixon diplomatically headed them off, asking for a little time and space until the call was done. Jaye appreciated it more than he could say.

Hunched over by the phone, clasping the paper cup half-filled with bitter, weak coffee, Jaye stared at the phone, daring it to ring.

When it finally did, his mouth was completely dry. He let Dixon answer to accept the charges. Then Dixon said, “Yep,” and passed the phone over.

Jaye took it, letting it hang by his side for a long moment before gathering his wits and chewed guts for a conversation he’d been anticipating since the day they’d carried Cash away, screaming.

He felt cold and thin as he answered, “Yeah. It’s me.”

“Damn good to hear your voice, kid. You doing well?”


“You got a job?”

“Yeah, I’m an electrician.”

“Good. That’s real good.”

“Look,” Jaye said, taking a breath to help feed his courage, feeling the creeping touch of old, unwanted ghosts begin to caress over his thighs. “I’m sorry it ended the way it did. I truly am. But it’s way too late to make up for that now.”

“You don’t think I know that? You think I’m stupid?”

“No. Of course not.”

“I know you’ve got someone new to watch your ass. You’ve got the law and a guy who isn’t too much of a pussy to talk to me on your behalf, even if his name is Dixon.”

A small smile curled Jaye’s lips, but he kept his head down, leaning on the desk.

“Dix for short.”

“Well, see, that makes more sense.”

Jaye laughed. He could feel the force of Dixon’s stare, boring into him.

“I bet he’s pretty, too, huh?”

“He’s not bad.”

“Anything’s gotta be an improvement on me, huh?”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“He treat you good?”

“Yeah. Better than I probably deserve.”

“Ahh, kid…” Cash sighed.

Jaye rubbed his eyes, keeping his head low, trying to control his breathing. He hadn’t had enough goodbyes in his life to be able to appreciate how much they could absolutely suck, but now he was starting to get the picture.

“It makes it easier, knowing you’re safe and protected.”

Yeah, but you’re not, are ya, boss?

With a voice too thick with emotion, Jaye blurted, “Why? Why did you send it? Why are you saying this shit to me? Can you just tell me already, because it doesn’t make any sense and — ”

“I know you’re a realist, kid, but fuck. You really think that little of me? You think I’d just forget you after they walk you out those doors? That I’d stop worrying who’s coming for you next, now that you’ve got no look-out? My crew is my family! My — ”

“What the fuck happened in there, Cash? Why are you being like this? You’re freaking me out. Why — ”

“Fine.” A heavy breath. “Fine.”

“Tell me!”

“It’s Jinx, okay?”

“What about Jinx? What the fuck happened to Jinx?”

Tony ‘Jinx’ Jaconelli was the youngest member of the Disciples, not counting Jaye. A chill went up Jaye’s spine as previously unrealized possibilities flooded his imagination.

“Well,” Cash started, sounding worn down, “we don’t call him that no more. Tony. Not Jinx. And, with you gone, he was the youngest, right? They still wanted to go after me through the backdoor. Same as always. Same as they did with you.”

“They didn’t… they didn’t fucking…”

Fingers down his throat, up his ass. Piggy, piggy, piggy… You like that? Say thank you…

“Tony was stronger than you, to start with. He held his own. Tough as nails. You can’t just go for someone like that without a little muscle. A little extra force. You’ve gotta break ‘em, right? Then, while they’re down, you keep hitting until they’re nothing but a smear of blood on the concrete.”

Jaye couldn’t breathe. Dixon had crouched down beside him, was gripping Jaye’s shoulder like he was panicked too.

Jaye tried to speak, but an awful, pleading sound came out instead.

“He only had a year left on his sentence, when they started. He was so damn close.”

“Cash, I swear to Christ!” Jaye screamed, his naturally soft voice shattering.

For a full minute there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. And Jaye nearly had another meltdown thinking they’d been cut off.

“He’s, uh… he’s alive, but…”

Jaye said a prayer, pressed the heel of his hand into his eye.

“I think that sadist was pissed you left. I think he went a little nuts without you to ream out on the regular. Then there was the fight. You remember the fight? Before he was transferred?”

Jaye did remember. Kett and Tug had staged a fight in order to get Ecker in trouble, to get him transferred out of their unit so Jaye would be able to recover from the constant attacks and have a little peace. If Ecker knew they’d done it on purpose to get rid of him, of course he’d want payback.

“Just tell me, please?” Jaye begged.

Anything that had happened to Jinx could have happened to Jaye, or should have happened to him, or happened to Jinx because of him. He had to know.

“Got him in the exercise yard. Held him down, stuffed a shirt in his mouth to muffle the screaming, and dropped weights on both of his hands until they were like… fucking pulp.”

“Oh Jesus,” Jaye moaned.

“Then in… in recovery, after they’d tried to piece the bones back together as best they could, they still came for him. They raped him, regularly. They weren’t even trying to get him to talk or nothin’. They just wanted him to hurt. They wanted to hurt us. I went to O’Neill, filed a report, but I didn’t have any other names. I knew that piece of shit had help, but Tony wouldn’t talk, not even to save himself.” Cash cleared his throat. “So when we heard that something had happened to him, we weren’t surprised they were investigating everyone. They thought it might be the blacks, targeting him to clean house, sweep the board of dead weight. That’s, uh, that’s what we think, too. But there’s been no official ruling.”

Jaye slowly began to breathe again, understanding that Cash couldn’t talk about it anymore than that, or explain their part in it, whatever it was. They monitored the calls. He couldn’t implicate himself.

“Did it stop? Did they stop?”

“Yeah, but kid… It was too late.”

Jaye punched the desk. Sesi and Debbie were there, listening, but he didn’t look at them, or Dixon.

“He’s getting out soon?”

“Yeah. Yeah, he is, but he ain’t got no one, and he can’t do for himself. He’s out of the life, you get me? He don’t talk much anymore. They’ve had him on suicide watch for months. He needs… he needs someone to… he needs someone.”

Jaye took a deep breath and blew it out. He sat back in the chair, eyes closed and let it settle down on him.

“Maybe he could push a mop someplace? Earn some money to rent a room? He don’t need much. I think, if we told him he’d be near a familiar face, it might get him through this. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have to, kid. You think it over, okay? I’ve gotta go. You take care of you.”

The call ended. Jaye let Dixon take the phone, then covered his face and moaned. Dixon pulled him into a hug and Jaye held on as tight as he could.

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