Can't Go Back

by: Romano | Complete Story | Last updated Feb 24, 2015

Eric West is a big bad corporate lawyer and Zach is his right hand man. Their easy, working relationship suddenly delves into something totally unexpected after a peculiar mishap in a lab changes everything for the mentor and mentee.

Chapter 1

A/N: Some of you might be familiar with my story Changing Hunter that I posted here before the crash. If so, this is like a more elaborate, enhanced version of that with different characters. The pace is a lot slower than most AR stories, I should probably warn, but hopefully the story is enjoyable nevertheless. It is quite sweet or ’fluffy’ as some may say, and therefore, not for everyone.

The lighting’s dim, dingy - not his regular hangout, though similar. He has pretty low standards lately - and the place is practically deserted.

But that’s okay.

Zach could use the quiet.

Head pounding, he shakily climbs onto the bar stool and wrestles with his nervous gag reflex, cursing his stupid stomach for fooling around for no apparent reason. Sure, the bar reeks of cheap whiskey, sweat and booze, and the air is hazy with swirls of soft smoke, but he should be accustomed to that traditional stench by now and all its sickening glory. After all, he was once the king of house parties, partial to a little weed on the side and a one night stand every weekend.

Key word there, though. Was.

Zach was the king.

Six months ago, he turned it all around the day his life crossed paths with the ever-so-suave, diabolical Eric West. With a renewed sense of self-belief and an unremitting stubbornness to succeed, the lifestyle that was already becoming wearisome, instantly lost its appeal. And, to be honest, he hasn’t ever truly missed it.

Not even now could Zach bring himself to revisit those former glory days of cheap, empty thrills.

Now when nothing is making any sense and he’s all alone and his cell buzzes in pocket for what is likely his twentieth missed call, but he hasn’t got the guts to answer it.

He’s a fool. A stupid, cowardly fool. Yet, at least Zach’s kept his wits about him.

However, as glad as Zach may be that he’s not holed up in some dodgy shit-hole getting high with a bunch of whack-jobs, all he really wants is to drink away his sorrows. Not that he would. He’s not totally irresponsible.

Zach knows that right now his tolerance for alcohol is disturbingly deficient and that if he so desired, he could get absurdly smashed with very little effort on his part, which is something the young man does, amazingly, wish to avoid.

Nonetheless, Zach figures one beer can’t hurt, provided he actually gets served. It’ll be a real bummer if he has to leave here stone-cold sober. Man, he hopes that’s not the case. Zach just doesn’t think he could do it. Though, chances are… that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

For reasons unknown to him, not only can he not drink as much any longer, nobody wants him to. Lately, everyone has become so unbelievably disapproving and watchful. All Zach ever hears anymore is no. Like anybody has any real say over his actions - as if his well-being matters somehow.

"No, I am telling you now, there is no way in hell I am letting you walk home alone at this hour. It’s already dark. Let me grab my coat, I’ll take you."

Eric had been a serious pain in the ass that night. Sorry, evening - it was only six frickin o’clock.

Subsequent to wheedling him into the back of a cab, his boss had held him hostage at his apartment, (a detour he’d been conned into taking with the promise of unfinished paperwork, an unforeseen luxury he’d found himself sorely missing) claiming that Zach was in dire need of a home-cooked meal and declaring - after reaching for the hem of his shirt and unceremoniously scrunching it upwards to ’check that his ribs aren’t poking out’ to Zach’s unadulterated horror - that the younger man could really stand to gain a few pounds.

Under Eric’s razor-sharp glare, he’d quickly eaten until his languid tummy swelled with warmth and an over-abundance of food that it was far from accustomed to, before unintentionally dropping off on the sofa. Zach awakened with a start to discover that he had been wrapped up and mummified in a soft, fleece blanket dotted with cars and trucks from some kid’s TV show, and staggered beyond belief, wondered A: where the hell had such a horrendously juvenile article come from? And, more importantly, B: had Eric West seriously tucked him in?

And that’s not even the worst of it. There are countless examples of this bizarre phenomenon that only Zach seems to be on familiar terms with.

Such as the time he was banned from a meeting by Eric’s personal assistant, Cory, who was disturbed because the guy (an insanely wealthy client who happened to have one tribal tattoo that Zach bet was simply a drunken slip-up from his youth) appeared ’dangerous’ and was obviously ’from a rougher part of town.’ Never mind the fact that he lives in a extravagant, multi-million-dollar mansion in New Jersey and owns a string of high-class restaurants that Zach could never hope to dine in, even if he booked the reservation three years in advance and saved the entire duration in between.

"No, Zach. Did you see his tattoos? Eric can handle this one by himself. You keep me company instead. We can work on some of these neat little puzzles together, hmm? Doesn’t that sound like fun?"

It certainly did not sound like fun.

All the same, he’d pasted on a nervous smile, which was stiff and crooked and not the least bit convincing, and lowered himself onto his knees, selecting a jig-saw puzzle at random and emptying the box, scouring the pieces and turning them the right side up, much to the delight of Eric and his slightly frightening assistant.

One instance really stands out in his mind, though, as the moment when Zach genuinely contemplated the theory that he was cooking all of this up in his head - the only logical explanation, he rationalized - because Eric West could not possibly be on the verge of a panic attack at the mere prospect of him filing.

"The answer is no," he had all but snarled, as he paced the length of his office and tugged anxiously at strands of his hair with one hand, "I don’t like the idea of you down in the file rooms by yourself. What if you bumped your head or tripped or fell asleep and I couldn’t find you? Those boxes are too heavy for you, Zach; what if you couldn’t manage to lift one and ended up toppling it over? You could get seriously hurt."

The hardest thing to swallow was that the typically brisk, dispassionate man wasn’t even remotely kidding.

Thunderstruck, he’d stood there, gaping, for five solid minutes, before being sent back to his desk with firm instructions not to budge without notifying either Eric or Cory, not even to go to the bathroom.

The entire situation has gotten so far out of hand that work has pretty much become unbearable.

It’s as if he needs a babysitter or he’ll do something stupid like, heaven forbid, cross the road without holding someone’s goddamn hand. Gasp. What a shocker.

It’s so bad that his best friend, Layla, even tied his shoelaces yesterday. She asked if he needed any help, (which he totally didn’t) and before he could politely decline, she simply bent down and laced them up anyway, walking away with zero explanation.

It is driving Zach insane.

So… here he is. Like a mother-fucking adult. Doing adult things. And no-one - not Eric or Cory or Layla - not anyone can stop him.

How’d you like that, world? Screw your ridiculous rules and concerned supervision and all the other bullshit that’s been going on lately.

Oh, and just for the record, asswipes, he can swear if he bloody well wants to!

By this stage Zach’s chest is heaving, and he gasps for air, glaring at the stupid speck of dirt in front of him with mindless ferocity.

"Hey, kid," he suddenly hears a velvety voice call out and growls under his breath, infuriated by the interruption. "You’re a little young to be parked up at the bar, you hear?"

Her tone’s light, slapdash, and Zach gets the feeling she’s not the type many take seriously. Smirking despite himself, he relaxes, feeling the tension slowly fade from his muscles.

"Yeah, well, I’m having a pretty shitty day," Zach grimly confesses, mouth twisting as the bartender picks up a washcloth and begins to wipe down the counter.

"Oh, yeah?" she says inquiringly, hitching up a brow. "Wanna tell me about it?"

He flicks a glance at her in disbelief.

"Oh, sure," the younger man responds, heavy on the sarcasm. "Let me fill you in on all the intimate details of my life. No problem."

The bartender rolls her eyes. "Alright." She shrugs nonchalantly. "Whatever. No biggie. Just trying to help a guy out. A listening ear and all that. No need to be such a dick about it."

Immediately feeling guilty for giving the innocent woman such snark, he sighs, shoving a hand through his hair and sagging slightly. It’s not her fault everything’s gone to crap.

"I’m sorry," Zach sheepishly murmurs, scratching the nape of his neck. "It’s been a rough day. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. I guess, I forgot my manners."

"Yeah," the stranger grumbles with a muffled scoff, "If you ever had any to begin with," and he laughs.

"No, I mean it. I apologise for being such an ass."

"No problem. Happens all the time." She rolls her shoulders, as casual as ever. "So, what’ll you be having? You know I can’t serve you any alcohol, right? You can’t be more than.. what? Fifteen? Sixteen?"

Oh, for Christ’s sake!

Grimacing at the assumption and recalling his misplaced ID, Zach scarcely retrains himself from banging his head against the bar in order to reply dejectedly, "Sure, don’t worry about it."

"How about some fruit juice instead?" she offers up in its place. "It’s pretty good."

Searching her face for any sign of teasing, all Zach can detect is pure sincerity. Great, he thinks bitterly, Just great. "Um…" Still feeling somewhat embarrassed about earlier, he agrees reluctantly, unable to stop his nose from wrinkling, "Uh… ’kay..."

She snorts. "Don’t sound too enthusiastic."

He grins. "I’ll try."

When she hands him an honest-to-God plastic cup with a striped, swirly straw, it’s all he can do not to cringe. Slowly taking a sip, Zach is delightfully surprised to find that the juice is not so bad, some mixed-berry blend that’s both cool and sweet. He’s almost half-way done by the time his shirt pocket lights up and begins to vibrate for what feels like the millionth time. Zach rolls his eyes.

Shoulda turned it off when he had the chance.

"Aren’t you gonna get that?" the bartender asks, furrowing a brow. "S’probably your Mum or Dad wondering where you are."

"Nah," Zach brushes off, absently twirling the straw. "I doubt it’s anything important."

"You sure? You seem like the kinda kid that’d have somebody out there freaking out when their son’s not home by-" She throws a glance towards the clock on the far left wall, "-Twelve-thirty. I’m guessing curfew? And a strict one, at that."

I’m guessing you should mind your own frickin’ business.

Meanwhile, the buzzing continues. On and on and on, to his chagrin. God, he’s really not in the mood. Why can’t they just leave him alone? He’s twenty odd years too old for this shit.

"Go ahead," the stranger jerks her chin after a few minutes. "Might as well get it over with, am I right?"

She has a point, he supposes. He’s not so lucky that his self-appointed guardian is in any hurry to give up anytime soon.

Wiping his suddenly sweaty palms against his pants, Zach takes a deep breath and winces as he accepts the call.

"…H-hello?" he inquires tentatively.

"Zach? Zach, where the hell are you?" the muted voice is positively furious, but there’s an undercurrent of worry that makes his heart clench. "I’ve been calling you for hours! You are in so much trouble, young man."

Gulping, Zach tries to keep his voice steady as he responds, "I-I’m fine, alright? There’s no need to get so worked up-"

"Tell me where you are. I’m coming to pick you up."

"Eric, no, I don’t need you to-"

"Zach," he coolly remarks, "It is in your best interests right now not to argue with me. Cory has been going out of her mind with worry and to tell you the truth, I haven’t been particularly impressed by your little disappearing act either."

"I’m okay-" he asserts fruitlessly through gritted teeth.

"Tell. Me. Where. You. Are." Each word is sharp and punctuated, tone dangerously commanding, and Zach soon falters.

Why is being rebellious so damn hard all of a sudden?

"I-I’m at Sandino’s, okay?" he grudgingly divulges, voice dipping into petulant territory as his lips jut out into what is unquestionably not a pout. "Down by Seventh. But it doesn’t matter where I am, okay? I can hail a cab later. I don’t need you to come get me or whatever."

There’s silence on the other line.

"You.. went.. to a bar?" comes the ominously slow reply and feeling his heart quicken, Zach nervously bites his lip.

Eric exhales in exasperation, and Zach can just picture his tense jaw and aggravated glower clutching at his guilt with rigid, ravening fingers.

"It’s not a big deal-" he tries weakly.

"I’ll be there in five," his boss irately cuts in, terminating the call before Zach can get a word in edgewise.

"Dammit," he mutters to himself, squeezing his eyes shut and digging the heel of his hand into his right brow where the tension is already starting to fester.

Man, this sucks. Zach is so sick of being told what to do. Just who the hell does Eric think he is, anyway? He’s not the boss of-

Well, shoot.

Giving in to the urge, Zach groans and lays his head on his criss-crossing arms in front of him, squishing his nose against his wrist pathetically. The bartender does her best to look sympathetic, but this only highlights the relief that has replaced what he hadn’t even recognised as concern before.

Wonderful, he huffs in disbelief. Now he even has some complete stranger caring about his safety.

How in the world is this his life? Just because his facial hair has miraculously stopped growing, his suits have become startlingly loose as of late, and knotting ties is an intricate procedure he can’t quite accomplish on his own anymore, doesn’t mean that he’s a child that demands protection.

Not even if lately Zach’s been acting a little out of the ordinary himself.

Yeah, he’s a tad more emotional than usual, (the dark is scary, and it isn’t fair that they’re on the twenty-eighth floor, and Eric should never have told him off for scribbling a few spiders on some documents he’d left behind on his desk when they looked so much cooler - none of that is his fault) and maybe had a tantrum once or twice, and okay, so it is getting somewhat harder and harder to distinguish basic words and sometimes - just sometimes - he finds it difficult to sleep without his new blankie (it’s super soft and snug. Really, who can blame him?). Not to mention his attachment to his stuffed wolf, Jellybean.

...The same Jellybean he’d really like to cuddle right around now.

Feeling completely and utterly out of his depth, Zach sighs and begins kneading his tired, prickling eyes.

He is so, so beyond screwed.



End Chapter 1

Can't Go Back

by: Romano | Complete Story | Last updated Feb 24, 2015


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