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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2317615
In which we are introduced to Jet's adoptive family, who give good advice
The last thing Jet expects when he walks into Kit’s condo is to find it full of people.

And food.

A mouthwatering array of Som Tum, Panang curry, Pad Krapow, Tom Kha Gai, spring rolls and a medley of Kluai Thot, Khao Niaow Ma Muang, Khao Tom Mud are spread across the length of the bar. Both of Kit’s brothers and their partners are gathered around the front room with full plates in their hands. Five pairs of eyes turn to him as he stands in the doorway, and five faces look at him with varying expressions of interest.

“Your whole family’s here?” The words are out of Jet’s mouth before he can stop them, and Kit grins at him.

“I told you, Saturday night is family dinner.”

“Actually,” Zone corrects his older brother. “If you want to get really technical, this is a family dinner and a corporate meeting.”

Jet’s eyebrows quirk. “Manirat Nexus has corporate meetings in the front rooms of condos now?”

“Only the automotive branches.” This time, Zone’s and Kit’s brother Kam does the correcting. “Easier for all employees concerned.”

Kit flips him the bird, and both Kit and Zone flip it back.

Manirat Nexus, Inc. is a family company with diverse branches, two of which deal solely with the automotive industry: Manirat Luxe--which operates out of Bangkok--focuses on luxury car sales; and ManiratInfiniteDrift--run by Kit and Jet--which operates on a more international level and deals with the buying, selling, and restoring of cars, as well as cover for their Interpol activities.

Kit's brothers, Kam and Zone, play integral roles within the family company. Kam, who is one of those people able to wear black without breaking a sweat even in the midst of Bangkok’s scorching summer, owns Manirat Luxe and possesses expertise in selling modern luxury cars and restoring classics. Zone, blessed with male idol good looks but still at university, is the literal face of Manirat Nexus Inc., currently endorsing luxury cars and Kam's skills to attract clientele while building a loyal fanbase in both Italy and Thailand through his racing prowess.

Kam's boyfriend, Bel, had caught Jet’s attention when he first appeared on Kam’s Instagram feed. Jet had been surprised when he heard Kam was finally off the market, and even moreso when he saw the person who had won Kam over. Bel’s turquoise streaked-black hair and fashion-forward aesthetic seemed to fit with Kam’s more rugged, biker-come-mechanic inspired appearance for reasons Jet didn’t quite understand; but seeing how happy his friend was, Jet wasn’t going to question it, either.

Zone’s girlfriend, Iris, is even less familiar. Jet actually has no information on how Zone and Iris got together. In spite of her relative unfamiliarity, however, there is an innate elegance and grace that radiates from her, and not just because she looks like she could easily model for Gucci. She and Zone also seem to be the perfect match.

In a family where individuality was always celebrated, the contrasting dynamics of Kam and Zone’s romantic partnerships add an interesting layer to the Manirat family as a whole. Jet knows the Manirat brothers aren’t just siblings, but each other’s anchors, complete with matching tattoos circling their wrists, their own shorthand language and shared wicked sense of humor. The addition of Bel and Iris seems to have reinforced the already tight-knit family circle. It’s a sharp reminder of what Jet no longer has, and as his argument with Kai resurfaces in his mind, he can’t help but feel a twinge of both admiration and envy as he watches them.

“I’ll wait downstairs. Tell me when you get to the corporate meeting part.” Jet backs toward the door to leave them to it, but Kit stops him.

“Get your ass over here, you count as family.”

Bel turns to Kam with his eyebrows raised. “You told me you had two brothers.”

“I do,” Kam confirms. “Jet is adoptive.”

“You mean ‘adopted’.” Bel corrects him.

“No, Kam’s right,” Kit takes a seat at the bar, since there is nowhere else to sit. “Jet is an adoptive Manirat, just not acquired by a literal adoption. Although, we can arrange that, if he wants.”

Jet can’t help but smile as he fills his plate. The easy camaraderie in this room is a stark contrast to the disaster he’d encountered with Kai at the night market. It’s clear from the looks on the faces of the other people in the room that they want to ask him about that, but Jet isn’t in the mood. He deliberately steers the conversation away from himself. “Why is this a corporate meeting?”

Kit gives him an odd look, but answers the question. “It’s more of a celebration. Manirat Nexus just bought into a nightclub.”

“You make it sound so formal,” Bel rolls his eyes a little bit. “We didn't even sign any paperwork.”

“It helps that you're dating a member of the Mainrat family.” Zone points out. “Easier to find financial backers.”

Bel tosses a cherry tomato at him. “Now you’re making me sound mercenary.”

“But isn’t it true?” Iris asks. “I mean, Kam is your boyfriend, and he’s also Nightshade’s primary financial backer.”

“My sister helped, too.” Now Bel is on the defensive. “and it’s not like I forced either of them to buy into it in the first place.”

“I bought into Nightshade because I wanted to,” Kam puts an arm around his irate boyfriend. “And so does Kit, so stop sulking and just say ‘thank you’.”

“You own Nightshade?” Jet breaks in before the banter can turn into an argument. Bel nods.

“Yeah. I worked there when it was called something else, and then a couple of months ago, circumstances changed and I was able to buy it.” The words are light, but the look on his face tells Jet not to ask what those circumstances were. “And so now Manirat Nexus owns part of it, too.”

Jet acknowledges the look and asks a different question. “Do you even know what nightshade is?”

“Don’t try to convince him to change the name,” Kam says. “I already failed multiple times.”

“Actually, I was going to say the name fits the aesthetic. I’m serious, it’s really impressive. I’ll buy into it if you need more financial backers.”

“Really?” Bel grins at Jet’s compliment. “When have you been there?”

“Last night,” Jet confirms. “It’s where I found Kai.”

It was true. Jet had been genuinely impressed with everything that the nightclub--the lighting, the decor, the nice convenient dark corners where someone could sit without being noticed. Jet had sat in one of those corners last night and watched his estranged brother at the bar, flirting with the bartender, being intimidated and dragged out by the gel-haired punk, who then proceeded to kick Kai’s ass until Jet had intervened. As if reading Jet’s thoughts, Zone chooses that moment to change the subject.

“Soooo how did your ‘family dinner’ go, then?”

Jet keeps his expression neutral as he meets Zone’s gaze. “You know about that.”

“Kai’s my roommate,” there’s a tiny accusatory buzz in Zone’s tone. “So I know a lot more than you think. Did you lie to him about why you’re here?”

“I don’t know,” Jet deadpans. “What did my Google results tell you?”

Iris stuffs a piece of Khao Tom Mud into her boyfriend’s gaping mouth, casting Jet an apologetic look. “Chew first, interrogations later.”

Bel is also staring, but at Zone. “You Googled him?”

“Kai asked me to,” Zone’s words are garbled as he answers around the rice and banana in his mouth, and he swallows before continuing. “He was curious and so was I and Google was right there so--”

“You cyberstalked him,” Iris is grinning at her boyfriend. Zone shoots her a defensive look.

“I didn’t know he and Jet were related until today.”

“That makes two of us.” Kit mutters.

“Three,” Kam corrects him, with a glance at Jet. “But we also never asked. I’m guessing by the look on your face that the ‘family dinner’ Zone is referring to didn’t go well?”

“That’s an understatement,” Jet confirms. “And it was hardly dinner.”

“What did you tell him?” Kit asks, steering the conversation back to its original subject.

“Exactly what you and Mali told me to say.” Jet sighs. “He didn’t want to hear it.”

“Did you tell him why you were here, though?” Zone asks a second time, dodging the hand Iris tries to clap over his mouth. “That’s what he wanted when he went to meet you tonight.”

“We didn’t get that far.” Jet admits.

“You think it would make a difference if you did tell him?” Kit asks.

Jet shrugs. “He doesn’t want to talk to me.”

“I wouldn’t either if my brother left me behind,” Zone points out. “You know he’s got a right to be mad.”

“Obviously Jet knows that! Why else would he be trying so hard to make up for it?” Iris turns to Jet. “You are trying, right? You’re not just going to give up this easily. If he won’t pick up your calls and he won’t see you then you need to try something else.”

“Thank you,” Jet doesn’t bother to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“What’s he like, this brother of yours?” Bel asks.

“A stubborn hothead who thinks with his fists rather than his brain,” Jet can’t help but smile.

“So he’d get along really well with Bel.” Kam casts a mischievous glance at his boyfriend and Bel smacks his arm. “Ouch! What was that for? It’s true. We could use another hothead.”

Bel doesn’t smack his boyfriend a second time, but he does stick his tongue out at him. “I’ll rephrase. What does your brother like? To do, I mean.”

Jet shrugs as his conscience gives another twinge. “No idea.”

“He seemed genuinely impressed when you mentioned Muay Thai,” Kit points out. “Yes, I heard that--you left the door open enough for me to listen.”

Zone raises an eyebrow. “You want Kai to learn to kick his brother’s ass?”

“It might make them both feel better,” Kam’s comment earns him a glare from Jet. “Don’t tell me I’m wrong.”

Across town, Kai is also glaring. “The hell do you mean I have time off?”

“Exactly what I said,” His sister and her boyfriend are sitting across the table from him with similar stubborn expressions on their faces, but Mali is the one who answers. “Rome got you time off and you’re going to take it.”

“Because I have a couple of bruises?” Kai rolls his eyes, then grimaces because the movement still makes his head hurt a little bit. “I’m fine. And anyway I’m not getting paid, so I don’t qualify for time off anyway.”

“But you can get medical leave like everyone else,” Rome points out. “So that’s what you’ve got.”

“But I--”

“You need it, and you’re going to take it.” Mali’s voice drowns out Kai’s protest. “At least until you no longer look like you got hit by a truck.”


“If Nail can decide to use you as a punching bag,” It’s Rome that interrupts Kai this time. “Then you can keep your head down for a few days.”

Kai opens his mouth to protest, then closes it again. Clearly, the more he protests, the harder Mali and Rome will push back. He stares at his food instead. Since he’d had only a couple of satays when he met Jet earlier, he should be starving. But his stomach doesn't want food. It feels like he’s swallowed lead. One thing after another has come crashing down around him, and food is not going to solve any of his problems, any more than time off will. But he can’t say that, because he doubts either Mali or Rome will understand. Everything had been going so well before Jet had showed up.

“Say ‘thank you’,” Mali prompts him, which doesn’t do anything to help Kai’s mood.

“I’m not four years old.”

“Then don’t act like it.”

There’s another short silence while Kai stares at his plate and Rome and Mali eat. It’s Rome who finally breaks the silence. “What exactly did you do to piss off Nail?”

“Nothing!” Kai’s head jerks up. “Being around that jackass is enough to piss him off.”

“Nail doesn’t stomp people into the ground for no reason.” Rome pushes, and Kai’s eyes flash.

“Mali, your boyfriend is interrogating me.”

“Because he’s worried about you,” Mali says. “Just like I am. So will you please answer the question?”

This time, Kai’s eyes drop back to his plate. “I can’t.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Mali is not backing off.

“Exactly what I said.” Neither is Kai.

“Mali,” Rome puts a hand on her arm, before she can speak again. “Can you give us a minute?”

Mali glances between her boyfriend and her brother, taking in the stubborn tension in Kai’s body, and the calm reassurance in Rome’s face. After a minute, she nods, and gets to her feet. “If you can get him to say anything, you’re a miracle worker.”

She leaves the room and Rome makes sure the door is closed before turning back to Kai. Now that his sister is out of the room, Kai looks less like an angry puppy and more like a kicked one. He doesn’t look up as Rome comes back to the table, but he does pick up his spoon and start playing with his food. The tension is gone, and now he just looks incredibly guilty. Rome lets him sit in silence for another minute before speaking.

“Mali is really worried about you, you know.”

“I know,” Kai raises his eyes to meet Rome’s gaze. “But I can’t answer her questions. You know that.”

“You’ll have to tell her eventually.”

“That her boyfriend is an Interpol agent or that you recruited me to take down your uncle?”

If Kai is expecting a reaction from Rome, he doesn’t get it. Instead, Rome smiles at him. “Mali knows I’m with Interpol. What she doesn’t know is that you’re involved, or that my looking into Chalam’s affairs isn’t an official assignment.”

“You told me that.” Kai crosses his arms. “But you never explained why.”

“If I tell you, then will you tell Mali you’re helping me so she’ll stop worrying?” Rome pauses just long enough to give Kai a chance to answer, yet knowing that he won’t. That kid is so damn stubborn sometimes Rome wants to shake him. “I’m Chalam’s nephew, and you’re an intern. So far as Chalam is aware, I will protect him and the reputation of OmniVentures so that my own reputation stays intact. You are on the lowest step of the corporate ladder, and easily forgotten. We can go places and have access to files in the company that no one else does. Provided we don’t get caught.”

“I didn’t didn’t get caught!” Kai is on the defensive again, and he glances at the closed door before lowering his voice. “I made sure no one saw me, and I put everything back where it was, I swear. You were supposed to turn the CCTV cameras off.”

“Then you must have missed something,” Rome tries to keep the reprimanding note out of his voice, but it still slips through. “Chalam knows something is missing, and that’s why he sent Nail to stomp you into the ground.”

“But I didn’t take anything,” Kai bites his lip. “Anything that would be noticed, that is. I went in empty handed, and left empty handed, just like you told me I should.”

His hand strays to the pocket where his phone is. The movement is unconscious, but Rome notices. Kai had found something, but clearly he wasn’t willing to share it just yet. Rather than press the younger man, Rome takes a breath.

“Fine. I believe you, but only because Chalam told me he got whatever it is back.”

“So, no more ‘medical leave’ then?” Kai can’t help but put the term in air quotes. Rome shakes his head.

“If you set one foot inside OmniVentures after last night, Nail will drag you into some storage room, and then dispose of your corpse. You’ll disappear like everyone else who crossed my uncle.”

“I’m not afraid of Nail,” Kai insists. “And you telling me I should be isn’t going to work. How am I supposed to help you if I can’t work?”

“You’re helping by keeping your head down and staying out of trouble for a few days.” Rome tries to put a note of reassurance in his voice this time. “You’re on medical leave. I’ve already temporarily deactivated your ID, so you can get into the building anyway.”

“What am I supposed to do, then?” Kai is aware he sounds sulky and doesn’t bother to cover it.

Rome shrugs. “Go to class, or study, or whatever you want, just don’t go to OmniVentures. I mean it, Kai.”

“I know. I got it.”

Kai still looks less than happy when he leaves Mali’s condo, but he doesn’t say another word about going back to OmniVentures for the time being. Mali watches her little brother from the window as he drives away. She hadn’t even had the chance to ask about whether or not Kai had met Jet, but maybe that was a good thing. Kai could only be pushed so far, and if she couldn’t talk to Kai, then she could ask Jet. The phone is in her hand, but she can’t quite bring herself to dial.

“I don’t like lying to Kai,” Rome’s voice sounds from the doorway. “Not when he wants the same things that you do.”

“You said you wanted to help me.” Mali keeps looking out the window. “This is how you do that. Kai is my younger brother but he has always felt that he needs to look out for me. He gets protective and impulsive and that gets him into trouble.”

“And not telling him that I recruited both of you to take Chalam down will keep him safe?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Not in so many words.”

“You shouldn’t have got him involved in the first place.” Mali can’t quite keep the tension out of her voice. “This time Kai got attacked just on suspicion.What happens next time?”

Rome is quiet for a minute. “If Kai is taking time off, then we should too.”

“Meaning?” Mail finally turns to face him and Rome knows she won’t like his answer but he says it anyway.

“We play the Waiting Game.” The expression on Rome’s face makes it clear that he feels the same way Mali does about their current situation. “Just return to everything as usual and don’t ask any questions. Don’t give Chalam any reason to suspect anything. If we’re lucky, he’ll think Kai trying to steal something was just a fluke.”

Mali gives him a very tiny smile. “I really hope you’re as confident as you sound.”

“Yeah,” Rome puts his arms around her. “Me too.”

Kai doesn't go home.

He goes to Nightshade instead.

Because it’s Monday, and still early, business is slow. Since it’s the start of the work week, most people in the city just want to go home, but like everything else, there are always exceptions. While there are people at the bar and seated at tables around the club, there’s not a lot of conversation, since they are either sitting alone, or with one other person. When the people do talk to each other, Kai can hear every word of the conversation.

Kai chooses to sit alone.

The ironic thing is that he’s chosen the same corner where Jet sat the other night, which gives him a clear view of the bar and is also close to the door. Pepper has Mondays off, so she’s not at the bar, which makes it easier for Kai to hide in this corner. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and stares at it. For a minute he’s tempted to unlock it and look at what he’s stored on there, but it won’t do him any good. Instead of unlocking his phone, he tosses it on the table and stares at it.

Rome had thought he was doing Kai a favor by giving him medical leave. Instead, Kai was now at a dead end. He hadn’t found what he was looking for the first time, and now he’d have to wait for the second time because he couldn’t even get into OmniVentures’ main building.

A glass filled with ice and a couple of napkins appear on the table in front of him. Kai looks up into Luca’s concerned face. “What’s this for?”

“You need it,” Luca taps one finger against his own cheekbone to illustrate his point. “Purple is usually stunning, but it doesn’t look so good on your face.”

Kai puts a couple of ice cubes in a napkin and presses it against his bruised cheek. His skin goes instantly numb, and the throbbing slowly subsides. Luca sits down next to him.

“You’re sitting in the dark tonight.”

“Oh, you noticed?” Kai keeps his eyes on the ice in the glass. Maybe Luca will get the hint and leave.

No such luck.

“Kai,” Luca’s serious expression is a stark contrast to his usual flirtatious look. “You don’t usually come and sit in the dark.”

“You don’t usually act like you care.” Kai doesn’t mean to snap, but it comes out that way anyway. He forces his lips into the ghost of his old snarky grin. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I should be asking you that.” Luca leans forward, his gaze locking with Kai’s, daring him to look away.“What’s the matter? And don’t say nothing, cause you can't lie worth shit.”

Kai hesitates. “I did something really stupid.”

“I see,” Luca waits for Kai to say more, but he doesn’t. “Are you going to elaborate or do I have to pry it out of you some other way?”

“You can’t get me drunk.”

A mischievous glint flickers across Luca’s eyes. “You think your allergy is going to stop me? There are more persuasive methods than alcohol. Methods that work even if I’m not your type. I’ll ask again, and this time I want an answer. What’s going on with you? ”

“It’s…a long list.” Kai admits. “With a lot of problems that I can’t solve, and you can’t help.”

““Not if I don’t know details.” Luca’s push is gentle, but insistent. “Does it have something to do with what happened the other night?”

Kai nods. It’s the easiest way to answer without giving too much away. As if to add credibility to what he said, his phone buzzes. The phone is in Luca’s hand before Kai can move, and Luca grins at the name that appears on the screen.

“‘Asshole’? Is this one of your problems?” The question is rhetorical and they both know it. Kai doesn’t make a grab for the phone, and Luca doesn’t answer it. Once the buzzing stops and the screen goes dark, Luca asks another question. “What makes you think this one can’t be solved? Don’t shrug; give me a verbal answer.”

“Because that’s my brother,” Kai’s voice is reluctant. “And I don’t want to talk to him.”

“Clearly, he wants to talk to you; and from the look on your face, I’m not the first person to tell you that.” Luca puts the phone back on the table, tapping it for emphasis. “Running away from problems doesn’t solve them, Kai. This is one that you can easily fix.”

“But I already tried talking to him!”

“Did you?” Luca’s eyebrows rise. “Or was it more of a shouting match?”

Kai’s gaze drops back to the table. “How did you know?”

“You wouldn’t have your brother saved as ‘asshole’ for no reason, right? The next time he calls, or the next time you see him, have an actual conversation. You wouldn’t be this upset if you didn’t actually want him back in your life.”

This time Kai’s eyebrows go up. “Did you suddenly decide to become my mentor or something?”

“Only when business is this damn slow,” Luca grins. “Don’t tell anyone. I’d hate to spoil my reputation.”

"10. Deal

Read from beginning: "1. Ignored
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