Ellis Parker is a lucky man: he escaped his persecuting family, survived his tour of duty, and met Maxwell Clark in the city of New Amsterdam. Clark showed Ellis more than the ropes; Clark helped Ellis figure out who he is -- a gay submissive with a massive fixation on a beautiful, mysterious ballet dancer named Bryn Rothe. Ellis knows a Good Man when he sees one, and he wants nothing more than to score a first date with Bryn.
Little does Ellis know Bryn has a violent past that is crawling out of shallow graves to haunt him. Even his hectic schedule and beloved stage aren't enough to distract him. It's impossible for Bryn to figure out how he feels about Ellis with his demons between them, but when Ellis saves Bryn not once but twice, Bryn is forced to admit there's something about Ellis Bryn might not merely want but need.
Together they journey to the scene of Bryn's original crime: Charles Towne, South Carolina. There they will dig up secrets that might explain Bryn's tortured life, but might also be his -- and Ellis's -- undoing.
In these moments, Bryn was more than alive. He was whole.
Whenever he hit the wings, Bryn drank water and stretched, and the hours went by in a blur. When the moment came for his solo, he sailed through the variations with three thousand people watching him try to attain perfection before their very eyes. Bryn knew he'd come close when the roar went up and the lights went down. More dancing, more living and breathing through movement, and as quickly and suddenly and bittersweetly as it began, the night was over. Suddenly Jules was there, by his side again, and the corps was congratulating him. The lights came on when the curtain went back up, and now he could see them: every god-turned-human on their feet and flowers flying through the air. Bryn bent and picked one up, giving it to Jules before they bowed together and then as individuals.
Slowly, painfully, reality returned, and Bryn was shaking as he checked the schedule posted next to the sign-in board. He had a full day off before going to work on the next and final ballet of the season. Not to mention the benefit on Wednesday. He couldn't worry about that now, though. He needed more water, some food, and about fourteen hours of sleep.
"You did great," Jules said as they passed one another on the way to their respective dressing rooms.
They touched the tips of their index fingers to each other and parted ways. Maybe it'd be strange to some people how he and Jules were partners but not exactly friends. Jules respected Bryn's boundaries, and Bryn treated Jules like gold because she was, in many ways, fragile. Strong but not tough, more apt for the sprint than the endurance race of life. He knew this because he danced with her. She undoubtedly knew Bryn for the same reason. He'd never be able to explain to anyone who wasn't in dance that they knew each other so well, they didn't need to know anything else about one another. No amount of hanging out would tell them what their time on stage together hadn't already confirmed.
Bryn smiled to himself, thinking of Jules and hoping her rib was okay after tonight, but when he rounded the corner and saw a man walk into his dressing room, every good moment generated by dance drained out of him as though someone had found his personal misery faucet and turned it on full blast. Bryn was running for his door before he could catch himself and he stopped a fellow dancer in the hallway. "Did you see someone go in there?"
The dancer shook his head, laughing at something his friend said and escaping Bryn's hold to catch up with the group. Bryn watched them leave, their voices echoing and then fading. Bryn put his hand on the doorknob and his head against the door. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, and he wasn't sure how long he would have kept standing there if he hadn't heard the familiar bars of his phone's ringtone. He shoved into his dressing room.
It was empty. The bathroom door was open. There was nobody home.
Bryn staggered over to the chair in front of the dressing table and collapsed. The lights around the mirror glowed sunny yellow, and his reflection was sweaty, tired, and tense. Bryn frowned, picking up the phone. He'd missed four calls. They were all from the same number. He had six new voice mails. They were all from her.
Bryn thumbed the screens. His finger hovered over the contact, ready to dial, but he just couldn't quite press it. When he heard a shuffling sound from behind him, he shut his eyes and said a silent prayer. He didn't believe in God, but he definitely believed in evil, and he still held out hope that somewhere, something was trying to combat it.
Just not right here and now.
Mouth dry and eyes watering, Bryn faced his reflection. There was nobody behind him, and for a single, tiny instant, relief flooded through Bryn.
"Hey," said a ragged, scratchy, hoarse voice. "Hey. Hey, Bryn. Down here, man."
Bryn's insides quaked, liquefied, and he thought he might piss himself. Slowly, he tipped down his chin and made eye contact with the man who had crawled under Bryn's chair and was lying on the floor, facing up and smiling at Bryn. He was pale blue from lack of oxygen. His tongue was swollen, and his eyes bulged like an astronaut in space without a helmet, desperately seeking atmosphere and not finding any. Around his neck was a ring of nasty bruises and rope burn.
Jared grinned at Bryn. "You should probably answer that."