Chapter Forty

.

Weeks later...

15th of January

Stefano Esposito Senior's Residential address,

Seattle,

Washington,

.

Jason wasn't ready for this sort of shit but Christian needed him. Side by side, the unlikely partnership, they walked straight into the mansion of Stefano Esposito senior, the grieving father of Slick. Christian stuck close to his usual bodyguard and said very little as they were both led forwards across a beautiful marble floor. Sawyer was trailing behind them both, the only form of security that they'd brought with them. Ideally, Christian wanted to bring an army of SEALs, Marines, Rangers... But at this point in his journey with the Esposito clan, Christian was mentally exhausted and knew the end was in sight. Ana knew where he was and so did Welch. If this was to be his end, the right people would know and be informed and the Esposito clan would be condemned.

Plus, Christian had been publically invited to do business with Stefano Senior, and Christian wasn't prepared to make another enemy with this family by coming completely manned with every single member of the security team. He wanted to leave this nightmare behind him. Slick was dead, Teddy and Jason had only witnessed his crimes and no one else's. There was no issue with the rest of the Esposito family and the Greys. Christian only hoped Senior would see it that way too and their families could begin the long and painful process of rebuilding their lives together.

"How's the arm?" Sawyer asked, breaking the silence, and both Christian and Jason turned to face him, each of them still tenderly wearing slings despite their sharp suits.

Jason was cradling his like a new born baby. Because of the nausea he suffered when he took pain medication, he'd stopped taking them twenty four hours ago specifically for this meeting today. Of all the times to suddenly be hit with the queasies, in the home of a criminal overlord was perhaps not the best moment. It was bandaged and held in a thick sling to protect it but Jason had wrapped his good arm around it to be sure it wasn't jarred as they walked. Despite his injury, however, the marine stood tall and proud, cutting a fearsome figure in his black tailored suit. Especially now that his hair was cut back in his usual preferred jarhead style.

Christian was envious of his bodyguard's injury; he'd end up having full function return with the help of physiotherapy to encourage the damaged muscles to work once more. Christian didn't think his own prognosis looked as promising despite his hard work to even just get his fingers wiggling. Like Taylor, Christian's arm was in a sling to support it but he wasn't letting himself appear weak and defeatist. He was walking tall with his chest puffed out and his head held high. He wasn't about to be bullied by these thugs. He was here for Teddy, for Ana and for Phoebe. He needed this nightmare to be over and he intended to end it now for his family; they'd all been through too fucking much these last months.

"Our arms are fine," Jason answered for them both, puffed up just like Christian. He, too, wasn't prepared to be intimidated which was helping Christian to calm his own nerves.

"Good," Sawyer responded, his jaw free of the wiring which had once held it shut. Christian had never seen a man so happy to eat a burger than he did the day Luke came back from the doctors with his mouth movable once more. It was getting it to close which was the problem now; no one had missed Sawyer's smart mouth.

They were being escorted through an impressive home, far more grad than Christian's own mansion. This place was show room condition, unlived in almost. Everything was sleek and modern but it all felt cold to Christian. The garden had been incredibly grand and Christian had admired the beautiful water fountains and hedgerows as Sawyer drove them up the cobbled driveway in the Q7. The house itself was set in the heart of the countryside, away from everyone, upon a large hill which made the place feel like a fortress. It was similar to the Greys but lacked a homeliness which Ana had instilled the moment the kids came along. There were no kids toys littered around, there were few photos of family members, no cushions or throws, nothing which made Christian feel at home.

Out front they'd been greeted by four men in suits and shades, two of which asked to check Christian, Luke and Jason for weapons. Upon losing their guns and also their mobile phones, Luke and Jason had become tense, no doubt because they felt overwhelmingly vulnerable and naked as they walked closer and closer into the lion's den. They were led into the house by the other two of the Esposito's goons who said nothing to them whatsoever which was fine by Christian; it meant that they didn't have to attempt any sort of mother fucking small talk with the bastards who'd tried and failed to murder his son.

Luke growled suddenly as they took a left along another grand hallway and Christian turned to look at the Navy SEAL, following his train of sight and spying a large portrait of Stefano Esposito Junior; Slick. There were flowers and candles on the tiled floor before it, letters from loved ones and deepest sympathy cards too apparently. It made Christian's blood boil and his skin prickle. Sawyer looked at it just as furiously. In fact, Christian was sure that the man would have grabbed it from its wall mount and snapped it in half if they'd been alone. He couldn't imagine how Sawyer felt viewing the image of the man who'd kidnapped his wife and daughters and subjected them to all that they had.

"Easy," Jason's calm voice cooed, laying his hand on Luke's shoulder and pushing him forward, "Save it; you fuck up here and we're kissing our asses goodbye, Sawyer."

"Slick's dead," Christian reminded Luke, "We're here to end this, not piss off Slick's dad."

"Slick's dead but DeMiro isn't," Luke snapped, then added with eyes as black as a hungry shark, "Not yet."

Christian remembered Slick's own bodyguard briefly, though his memory of actually meeting the disgraced Marine was incredibly sketchy considering he'd spent most of the battle going into shock after the flesh of his arm had melted.

"Save it," Jason repeated firmly and pushed him harder this time, Luke's feet moving forward eventually as they passed the shrine the Esposito family had dedicated to their dead son.

They walked some more in silence before one of the two guards told them to stop outside a heavy oak door. Christian took a deep breath as the first guard knocked and then entered whilst the other stood directly behind them, prepared to herd them in like cattle it felt. He turned to look at Jason who was as cool as a cucumber, and then he looked at Luke who was more like a volcano preparing to blow. Perhaps taking Sawyer was a liability? The man was angry, every time he looked at his daughters his hatred burned all the deeper.

Christian could understand Sawyer's fury; he felt the exact same way about Slick for what he'd done to his boy. The fact that Slick was dead was perhaps Christian's only solace and he was able to focus on his son's recovery. He couldn't imagine how hard it was for Luke to know that the man who'd kidnapped and allowed the torture his daughters was still out there.

The first guard reappeared and grunted at the three of them, "Mr Esposito would like to see you now."

Christian nodded and pushed open the door without a second's hesitation; he was so fucking done with this shit.

"Mr Grey," an elderly voice called and Christian turned to his left to find…a pensioner sat on one of two adjacent sofas.

The man looked older in person than he had on the television mere months ago giving his first press conference. He was wrinkled and small of stature it appeared, wearing a woollen cardigan and a pair of trousers which were cord.

Cord.

What sort of dangerous criminal overlord wore cords?

Jason didn't seem as put off by the sight of the man, neither did Sawyer, but Christian couldn't believe that this man before him had once been a major player in drug and human trafficking in the West coast.

"Mr Esposito," Christian replied courtly, adjusting his lucky grey tie and he burrowed his eyes straight into Stefano Esposito's, "Thank you for meeting us."

"Thank you for coming," Stefano replied, waving his hand over the vacant sofa in front of him, "We've a lot to discuss. Please, take a seat."

"With all due respect," Sawyer choked out bitterly, "I'll stand."

"Fine," Stefano shrugged, looking back at Christian and raising a bushy white eyebrow, "Will you sit?"

Reluctantly, Christian approached the man and parked himself directly across from the human prune, Jason joining him whilst Sawyer kept back in a position which would allow him to react fast if he needed to. "Thank you for having us."

"Thank you for coming," Esposito said, cracking his knuckles and sitting back to study Jason closely, "I'm glad to hear that Mrs Taylor's tumour was non-cancerous."

Christian bit his lip to keep from saying something nasty. This man had paid for everyone's medical treatment. Welch had said that it was both a goodwill gesture and a warning to the family; that he was happy to see everyone recovering but that he also knew exactly where everyone had been from the get go as he'd covered Ryan and Gail's treatments in London. It made Christian sick to think that this evil, vile family had known where his girls were; that his Ana and Phoebe could have been in serious trouble.

"Thank you," Jason said coolly, "It was certainly a relief, especially when I couldn't be with her for security reasons during the surgery itself."

Esposito's lips turned into a smile, "Yes, I would imagine you visiting her would have been dangerous for you, and her; Junior was tenacious when he wanted something done."

"You say 'tenacious', but I prefer the term 'evil'," Jason rebutted, leaning forward onto his knees.

"He wasn't evil," Esposito snapped, his eyes narrowing angrily. He didn't resemble an elderly old man now. In fact, he looked rather intimidating, Christian thought, even for an old man, "He was ill."

"Ill?" Christian echoed, intervening before Jason continued to play bad cop and get them into some serious trouble.

"Junior was always troubled. His childhood psychiatrist told us he had attachment issues," Esposito said and Christian could barely hold back his tongue; no kidding, old man. "He was a loner in school, he didn't have much friends. In fact, Damen DeMiro was perhaps the closest thing to a friend Junior had."

"Well that's awkward," Sawyer blurted out, "Because DeMiro, apparently, murdered him."

Esposito narrowed his eyes and looked directly at Christian, "I do not know what possessed Damen to murder my son," he stressed, "Whatever happened between them, whatever argument or feud, he murdered my son."

He was absolutely bullshitting, Christian could tell just by how Jason was shaking his head. Taylor had been there and witnessed DeMiro answering his mobile phone before shooting Slick multiple times and executing him after Ted had been gut shot.

"DeMiro is no friend of my family," Esposito sighed dramatically, before looking back at Christian, "Whatever problems was had between my family and yours…I can assure you are finished with. They died with my son."

"What?" Christian scoffed, "Just like that? Just like that this is done?"

"Junior played a big game, Mr Grey. When I was thirty-nine I was imprisoned and after my sentence I vowed to focus on my family and my community. I needed to protect those I loved and having a….questionable source of income wouldn't cut it," Esposito explained, "Having kids motivated me to move my interests away from crime and venture into legal business plans to safeguard our futures. Junior seemed to think I was a soft touch, that he could make a name for himself as some hard man based on being an Esposito alone. I knew he was into drugs and dabbling with prostitution rings in that fucking building of his. What he didn't understand was that his actions were putting my family at risk."

Christian watched as the old man sat forward angrily and tapped his finger on to coffee table between them. "I told him once, I told him a thousand times that I had his sisters and mother to protect. But would he listen to me? No. My family is my most precious treasure, Mr Grey. I miss my boy every single day, but he's better off dead. There were hundreds of people out there who wanted to see him murdered in the most inhumane way, who would hurt my daughters to get his attention. I can sleep better at nights now knowing that everyone and everything is at rest. I hope you can agree, Mr Grey, that there is nothing better than going to sleep in the knowledge that your loved ones are safe?"

"Are we safe?" Christian asked, point blank, "Is my son safe?"

"Yes," Esposito nodded, crossing his arms over his plump little frame, "Provided he, or anyone else for that matter, doesn't seek out DeMiro."

"What do you mean?" Luke growled, "You've just sat there bullshitting us for twenty minutes that DeMiro shot your son. Aren't you hunting him down to bring your son justice? Are you honestly trying to convince me that you're letting that monster roam free?"

"As long as you don't go looking for DeMiro, everyone is safe," Esposito reiterated, staring at Christian intently as though he were warning him. If they pressed charges and encouraged the manhunt for Damen DeMiro, they would all be in very real and terrifying danger. Ana, Teddy, Phoebe, Gail, Danni, the Sawyer Girls, Nora and Ryan, Reynolds, Craig and Mei, Elliot, Kate, Mia…everyone they knew. They would all be in very real danger.

Not hunting DeMiro worked for Christian; he'd no intentions of doing so especially now that he knew Esposito would not allow it to happen without repercussions to them all. However, Christian knew without even looking at Sawyer that not seeking revenge for his daughters' abuse was not going to happen.

And if Luke ignored Esposito's warning, this nightmare would never end for them all.

Christian turned then to study Luke, unable to read his narrow expression. He wasn't happy but he wasn't giving away his intentions either. Maybe, Christian prayed, he'd realise DeMiro wasn't worth it?

Damn SEALs were so determined.

"I think we've put to sleep some dangerous issues," Jason began, looking at his watch before gazing at Esposito, "Thank you for your time, Sir. But we should head back to our families now."

"Absolutely, Mr Taylor," Esposito smiled, "I'm glad we've come to an understanding. Hopefully you won't be hearing from me again."

"Hopefully not," Christian sighed, unable to take his eyes away from Luke Sawyer's unreadable expression.