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A Turn of the Knife

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‘Don’t fall in love with me.’ 

It was a joked warning, so you thought at the time. He’d been laughing as he said it, the mood between the pair of you light and teasing as it always was when playing GO - a favorite game.

You’ll want to. But don’t.’

Not overly full of yourself at all, are you?’ 

You called his bluff but you could already feel the early traces of an attachment forming. A purely platonic love - you’d lied to yourself - the love between friends, between two people that knew the worst of one another and could see around it, through it. He was occasionally a first-rate asshole and you were sometimes a grade-A bitch. For whatever reason it worked as a friendship. 

It’s a well documented pattern. Just trust me. Keep your guard up.’

My guard’s always up.’

Good. We won’t have any problems, then.

None at all.’

He played the game like he drove, like he lived his life; fast but with purpose. Always demanded to play the black stones. Always gloated when he won. He hadn’t won that day. Ever the sore loser, he’d fallen sullen when you bested him, glaring between you and the board to try to figure out how it’d happened.

You’d simply smiled at him in return: 

Care to go again?’

‘One day I”ll figure you out. Your strategy-’ he’d said as he leaned back in his chair, ‘and then it’ll be over.’

That was his tell, the signal he was done with your company for the day. When he tipped his head back, started looking down his nose at you, that’s when it was time to part ways. 

Ransom Drysdale

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You can probably count on one hand how many family functions Ransom has dragged you to — for the fun of it, which in Ransom means for his own amusement — that haven’t ended in an argument in one form or another. It was usually Harlan, Ransom’s grandfather, and Ransom providing the cringe-worthy end-of-the-evening entertainment.

Not today. Today the family patriarch sits at the head of the table giving the rest of the room a critical stare. And Ransom? Your friend seems content, for the moment, to let the drama play out between Walt and Joni. Whatever had set the pair of them at each other’s throats has worked into a fever pitch of drama usually reserved for the blowouts between your friend and his grandfather.

The rest of the convened family seems just as content to let Joni and Walt snipe at one another, not yet to the point they’re willing to be swept into the disagreement. Time’s all that’s needed for that to change. Linda or Donna or Richard will weigh in and the argument will spread as it always does, engulfing the table before the night is through.

Following along or picking up the progress of the argument is impossible for the other conversations being held. It’s always been this way. If you want to have any sort of hope at conversation you had to borderline shout, at least until the inevitable storm out occurred. It’s quite possible that a sudden quiet follows, or maybe it hardly gives anyone pause. You were usually part of the quick exit — having learned that if you didn’t leave when Ransom jettisoned himself from their company it was a good long wait for a ride share or taxi.

Linda and Richard were never much help, to you or Ransom. They put up with your random appearances just about as well as they did their son’s — all parties agreeing to get along to a certain degree and agreeing to ignore each other all the rest. It’s Harlan that spoke the mostly highly of Ransom, supporting whatever whim’d captured his grandson’s fancy. That, and a love of the elder man’s eccentricities, keeps you saying yes every time Ransom mentions a visit to the Thrombey house.

You risk a glance across the table and frown. Ransom has settled askance in his chair, tipped with his shoulder turned away from his grandfather, turned towards the rest of the room. It’s the look in his eye that has you worried, one that spells trouble as he studies the battle taking place between his aunt and uncle. He’s watching the shouting match with a distinct glee, eyes flicking back and forth almost as though he already knows the pacing of the fury filled dance.

It’s an expression not dissimilar to the one currently worn by Harlan, though you know Harlan’s interest in the matter has different roots. The elder man has produced his little notebook and pen from somewhere on his person and is jotting down occasional notes — ever seeking plot points for future stories. No help from Harlan, then.

You catch Ransom’s eye, careful with the look you give him. If he notes your distinct desire that he not interject himself it will all but ensure that he does it. In response he darts his eyebrows up for a fraction of a second, the edge of his mouth curling into a smirk.

Shit.

Bringing your wine glass to your lips you swallow down a little more of the liquid that has likely been staining your lips and tongue a darker color. Silently you half-will Ransom to just eat his damn custard and stay out of the debate that his father has started weighing in on.

It was like broadcasting a green light. Ransom’s smile grows, and he issues a small nod to nobody in particular before he sweeps himself up out of his chair.

Fuck.

If you watch his progress through the room it’s only going to egg him on. You force your attention down to the last brownie on the platter, wondering if you can shove it in your mouth and make a hasty exit before the whole room is engaged in a passionate, but pointless, argument.

Harlan starts to hum a tune you can almost place just before you hear Walt snap, “Nobody asked your opinion, you little shit.”

In that little war that Ransom keeps waging against his family he’s likely granted himself another point for such an immediate, viciously delivered, response.

You roll your eyes and finish your wine, leaning to tap the table near Harlan’s notebook as you excuse yourself, “Thank you for another lovely evening.”

Harlan offers you a tight smile, his eyes sparkling as he darts his attention from the spectacle that is his family to look at you. “My pleasure, my dear. It was good to see you.”

You don’t bother to check if Ransom has even turned to clock your departure. He’ll seek you out when he runs out of steam. Escaping from the abrasive behavior is your immediate goal, maybe finding the buzz that should have accompanied the wine you’ve consumed over the course of the evening. It’s a nice enough night, if a little chilly. Perfect for sitting on the porch while you wait for your ride — either the same way you arrived, with Ransom in his BMW, or someone you end up calling.

No need to bother with seeking anyone out to reclaim your coat and gloves, you know where they’ve been stashed…. never mind the fact that most of the staff scattered when the shouting picked up in decibel. The real battle is untangling your things from Ransom’s in the coat closet, that god-awfully flamboyant scarf of his that makes Joni wince every time she sees it always tangling with everything else in close proximity.

“Half the fun is watching you try not to react.”

You fall still, two seconds away from simply using force to rip the buttons of your coat free of Ransom’s scarf. Glaring at him, you shake the garments once more for good — though ultimately ineffective — measure, “You’re such an asshole.”

“Yea, well—” He plucks your jacket and his scarf from your hands and gives them a little yank to separate them, a sharp ripping sound resulting from the motion. “Takes one to know one.”

At least your jacket is free? You start to reach out for it but something in his expression makes you pause and lick your lips. He’s still riled for an argument. The fact that he’s done almost all he can to annoy the snot out of his family tonight doesn’t matter, it clearly hasn’t fully satisfied that urge of his.

You’re used to being the one he argues with, lucky you, when his family isn’t around. That’s not what momentarily freezes you. You can argue with him all day and it not matter in the slightest… it’s the way he’s looking at you that’s different. Something you haven’t seen from him in awhile. Not down his nose - dismissive. Not with his chin tucked slightly, those blue eyes only showing a sliver through narrowed slats - mistrustful. Not even a wide eyed glare…

Not here. That can’t happen here.

You reroute your hand to brush your fingers over the obnoxious print of his scarf, the material now torn. “Oh, good job.” You reach out to pinch at one of the tears in his cable knit sweater, indicating one of the holes he hasn’t cared enough to have repaired. “But you do match a little better, now.”

His eyes flare wider for a moment before he takes a step towards you, quickly winding his scarf around your outstretched hand to keep you from being able to pull away from him.

Shit.

“That’s funny.” He tips his head ever so slightly to the side, all the while maintaining that heated hungry eye contact. “If memory serves, and trust me I remember everything, didn’t you cause this one?” He tilts his head ever so slightly to the side as he reaches up to finger the triangled hole in the hem of his collar, waiting for you to answer with a predatory smile on his lips.

Technically the answer is yes. Technically. You tip your eyebrows up at him, using your free hand to find a few of the other snags in his sweater. “You gave me that necklace.”

Pointing out those other frayed points was clearly exactly what he wanted you to do. He grins as he wraps the remainder of his scarf around your other wrist. You mutter a light curse, rolling your eyes at his growing smile, “Fuck.”

He settles your hands between the pair of you, letting you get a light grip on the front of his sweater before he takes the first step to push the pair of you backward, aiming to squeeze the both of you into the little bit of space left in the coat closet. The family shouting match is still going strong and echoing through the house when he dips his head, one word leaving his lips before his mouth covers yours: “Exactly.”

Ransom Drysdale has had enough of your shit

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Every action from Ransom while he’s near his family is always undertaken to twist their opinions of him a little further. The fact that you’d forced him to disengage from the argument that had started out between his aunt and uncle only fueled the heat currently passing between the pair of you. Each thrust of his hips is driven by his need to thumb his nose at his family, aimed not for pleasure but maximum fallout. 

Except he’s got his hand over your mouth, muffling the sounds he’s forcing out of you, the cold metal of his pinky ring cutting into the skin of your upper lip. He’s keeping his own grunts half-contained, his mouth pressed into a firm line, his teeth grinding. 

He’s watching your face, clearly half-absent, his head cocked to listen through the closed closet door to the ruckus still going strong in the rest of the house. Linda’s voice can be distinguished above the rest now, the eldest of siblings weighing in on the raging debate to try to command control of the evening. The argument seems to have moved from the dining room out into the foyer, drawing closer to where the pair of you are hidden away. If Linda were to discover her son railing you in the coat closet it would reroute the mayhem enveloping the house in an entirely different direction. 

There’s Walt again - the tones of his exasperation clear even muffled through the door, and Joni’s nasal whine - ever petulant. Ransom nearly unsheaths himself before jerking his hips hard into yours again, his hand pressing more firmly over your mouth as you react to how deep he’d driven himself. You half consider shifting your mouth to bite him, just to see how he’d react. The roughness of his actions are probably also a test to watch and see if the barrier between you still holds. Love was out of bounds, anything close to feelings, too. Anything beyond a cooperative effort to drive his family up the wall. Your casual sexcapades have always been simply a convenience, a quick way to fueling his family’s opinions of his character.

After a minute the shouting starts to quiet - the argument slowly dissipating and moving from how it had spilled out into the foyer to another room, likely the front parlor. With nobody heading to the closet to discover his antics Ransom’s movements start to ease, another moment longer and he pulls himself away from you entirely with an unsatisfied grunt. 

Mark down two for that sentiment. Typical Ransom behavior - fucking you just hard and long enough to wind you up but not long enough to finish the job. You arch your eyebrow at him as he unwinds his scarf from around your wrists and uses it to wipe at his groin, clearly intent on thoroughly destroying yet another article of clothing. Rather than moving on to adjust his pants he shifts, dropping that gaudy-material-covered hand between your legs, his shoulders jumping as he chuckles when you squirm against his heavy-handed ‘cleanup’ between your thighs. 

“Stop it,” you shove his hand free of your body, settling him with an annoyed expression, “Save it for the next performance. It’s clearly going to be awhile before Walt goes out for his cigar.” 

Ransom grins, his humor returning, though constrained. Clearly he’s scratched the itch that had driven the pair of you into the closet in the first place. 

There’s nobody around to witness the pair of you reemerging from among the coats, though muted conversation can be heard echoing through the house. You catch a flash of blonde from the direction of the parlor - Donna - but otherwise reach the front door without further interaction with any of the Thrombey clan, Ransom close at your heels. 

The blast of cold air as you step onto the porch is refreshing, much needed after the cloistering heat there among the family’s winter wear. You’ve had better experiences at the house, but the night definitely could have been much worse. You’ve made it down the porch steps, the gravel drive crunching beneath your shoes, when you hear someone call Ransom’s name - his given name sounding slightly foreign to your ears.

“… Hugh?” 

You turn back first, watching Ransom roll his eyes before pausing on the steps to follow suit. Fran stands framed in the doorway, something held pinched carefully between her fingers. 

His scarf. 

Ransom barks out a sharp laugh, his torso tipping back ever so slightly in his display of delight. You wouldn’t put it past him to have done it on purpose, dropped it as the pair of you walked through the foyer just to see what someone would do upon its discovery. Shame it wasn’t his mother…

Fran steps out onto the welcome mat, crossing the porch to hold out the soiled and torn article of clothing to its rightful owner - who hasn’t even lifted a hand to indicate he wants it back. 

Poor Fran. You trap the fleeting thought, pressing your mouth closed before you accidentally let anything slip… but not quick enough. Just there - there at the corner of Ransom’s gleeful smirk - you note the twitch of his lips. You roll your eyes at him and turn your back on the house, resuming walking towards his Beamer. 

Take it or leave it, you don’t care so long as he decides soon so the pair of you can start the drive back to the city. 

“Should I send it to be cleaned?” Fran’s figured out that he’ll just stand there, watching her hold out that godawful scarf, silently smirking at her. She lowers her arm again, holding the ruined fabric carefully away from her clothes. 

His stalling antics win him exactly what he was aiming for from the start, an audience. His father appears at the door, followed closely by his mother, and uncle. “Nah,” Ransom offers everyone a lazy wave of his hand as he turns to fully descend the porch stairs and start out onto the gravel drive, “It was destined for the trash anyway.” 

“Ransom!” Linda looks slightly stricken when she realizes what Fran has been holding. She calls out to her retreating son, “Really. Why can’t you take care of your things?” 

Ransom’s smile expands, locking eyes with you for a moment before he turns his head to shout back at the house. “I did, Mother. Up against your furs. That’s why she looks a little wobbly.”

You look up at the sky, plastering a pleasant smile onto your face. The handle of his BMV offers no safe haven from the ire launched at the pair of you from the vicinity of the porch. 

Ransom can’t resist leaving a potential moment for mayhem untouched. Ever. Every word hurled at him just seems to bounce off, brightening his mood with every failed attempt at a cutting comment.

His uncle’s cracked, pitchy protests - you’re not even sure that Walt is yelling about anything coherent, just yelling gibberish for the sake of it. 

His father’s gravelly, growled disapproval - typical Richard. If Ransom ever did anything that pleased his father it was drive another au pair away, requiring another be hired in her place. 

It’s his mother’s shouted threats of cleaning bills if she finds so much as a single stain on her precious coats that wins a parting wave from Ransom, unhurried as he rounds the front of the car towards the driver’s side door, “Eat shit, Mother!” 

You shake your head as you slide into the passenger’s seat, giving the family a tight smile as you pull the door shut - the action hardly blocking out their shouting at all, particularly for the way Ransom pauses to lean against the frame of the vehicle, driver’s side door open wide. 

It’s hard to say what feeds the reactions from the porch more, be it Ransom’s biting retort or simply the way he grins in response to their irritation. Everyone, save Fran, is shouting and tinging slightly pink in the face. Richard and Linda may be leading the furious tirades, but the former’s voice can be heard above the rest for having stepped down onto the stairs in front of the porch: “Crawl up your ass and sniff glue, you unappreciative little shit!” 

“What,” Ransom thrums his fingers on the hood of the Beamer, laughing back, “In that order?” 

He doesn’t wait for a reply from his father, just slides down into the driver’s seat, clearly pleased with the way the night is drawing to a close. Everyone is still shouting, their words lost to the pair of you for the insulation of the car’s revving engine. You watch in the rear-view mirror as Richard hurls his tumbler of whiskey, the arc of his throw pitiful, the glass shattering a few feet from the porch. 

You wait till the car’s tires hit paved road, unable to sit and listen to Ransom’s random chuckling any longer. “Why don’t you call them on any of their bullshit? Why let them believe the worst?” 

It’s not a subject frequently brought up - in fact you usually take pains to avoid any mention of it, not wanting to stir and prod his vicious streak. Maybe it’s because you’re frustrated. Maybe his family’s irritation with him was catching, is catching, and has infected you. 

Ransom’s mood settles, his lips pressing flat as he stares at the road. Those blue eyes cut to you for a moment before he flicks his attention forward again, focused on the drive. There’s still a slight chuckle of amusement in his voice, but it’s fading fast, “Easier to let them think what they want.” His shoulders give a little jerk as he laughs, curious enough - or amused enough - to entertain this discussion of his life-view.  “This way I get away with so much more. With murder.” 

“Jesus, Ransom.” You shake your head at him, “That’s no way to live.” 

“Says you. It’s fucking freeing. Get caught doing coke once and they don’t blink at anything else.” The corner of his mouth pulls a little, and he arcs an eyebrow up at the road, his gaze sliding to you for a second. “You’re mad about the closet.” 

“Irritated.” You correct him with a hard glare, “Irritated that you once again let them believe something that isn’t true.” 

“Oh?” 

Your frustration is bubbling over. Calling him on his shit is one thing. Letting him know how much he’s riled you is another. “Yes! If you really wanted to get caught in there? You wouldn’t have kept your hand over my mouth, Ransom. Never mind what you said to your mother.”

“Eat shit?” That grin is back. He’s enjoying this. 

“No.” You shake your head. Fuck how you want to wipe that grin off his face. You’d just be playing into his hands. You reach around and unbuckle your seat belt. “Never mind. Just - just stop the car.” 

That gives him a second’s pause. 

“What?” 

“You heard me. Stop. The. Car.”

He starts to slow down, the car moving at something closer to the speed limit and not his usual break-neck pace. “What’re you gonna do? Walk back?” 

You put your hand on the door handle, hooking your fingers under the lip of it. “Stop the car, Ransom, or I swear I’ll bail out.” 

“Your choice for the road rash….” His expression conveys confusion, maybe even a little doubt, but he knows you well enough to believe you for that tone you have in your voice and applies a little more pressure to the brakes.

Ransom Drysdale and the BMW

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You thought he was going to leave as soon as you got out of the car. It was what he’d threatened to do - drive off and leave you to walk just as you’d sworn you were going to do. He probably thought about it. Knowing him he’d sat there entertaining the idea of making the Beamer’s tires squeal, just for effect. 

Instead he sat there watching you get out of the car, slamming the door for good measure, with the oddest expression on his face. 

It was another test. It was just another way to try to call your bluff. 

You glare at him through the passenger’s side window of his BMW before turning to start down the shoulder of the road, starting that long walk to home you have ahead of you. There’s enough light left, and the occasional street lamp… you’ll be able to see yourself home alright. Who needs to ride around in a stupid little sports car, anyway? With your coat and gloves, hastily shoved on though they were, you won’t be feeling the cold anytime soon. 

Plus there’s your anger - irritation, whatever - over the way the night has ended. 

If he’d just have gotten you off like he’d claimed to his mother - to half his family. If he’d stop always trying to live up to that horrible reputation that they’ve cultivated and shoved at him since infancy. 

Ok, yes, he’s good at being exactly what they’ve always thought of him, and worse - but that didn’t mean… What did that mean? You glance back, over your shoulder to look through the windshield at the man behind the wheel, and find Ransom pretty much wearing the same annoyed expression that you currently are. 

Then he lays on the horn, the sharp blast of sound making you jump. 

You flip him off and face forward again, glaring hard at the roadside stretching out before you, and your lengthening shadow. More distance. There needs to be more distance between you and that asshole behind the wheel of his precious Beamer. You fully expect to hear the rev of the engine and a flash of white passing you by, followed by tail lights quickly fading from view. 

Nothing happens. 

Exhaling a sharp breath you fold your arms across your chest, determined not to look back again. It’s probably what he’s waiting for. 

There. There’s the rev of the engine, and the slight swing of your shadow as he moves the car - finally - from the spot where he’d stopped and you’d gotten out. But the rest –

Ransom draws the vehicle up beside you, the engine calming to a purr, and leans to be able to talk to you through the few inch gap now showing above the passenger’s side window. That’s what he’d been doing while your back was turned. 

“C’mon. Get back in the car.” 

You glance over at him, eyes sliding to note the loose way he’s gripping the steering wheel before snapping your attention back to his face. You shake your head in the negative, “Go away, Ransom.” 

“You’re being stupid. Get in.” 

Stupid? ‘Stoopid, with two Os’ - a favorite phrase of his passes through your head, netting him a hard glare before you moodily turn away and keep walking. He just creeps the car along beside you, probably alternating between watching the road and glaring at you in return. 

Cars occasionally whizz by, veering into the other lane to avoid him, but Ransom maintains the slow almost-idle roll alongside you. He doesn’t even bother continuing to issue demands. As much as he loves arguing he’s also the master of wielding weaponized silence. He’d out stubborn the sun so long as he thought there was something in it for him. 

Question is: what does he think the benefit is for waiting out your anger, ultimately driving you home? You puzzle that over while you walk, your anger ebbing towards annoyance as time passes, all the while Ransom’s Beamer inching along at your side. 

He fiddles with the radio, letting an evening telecaster squawk for a few seconds before scanning to a new station. A few seconds of airtime, just enough to possibly pick up on what song is playing, and then he changes the station again - either scanning for something specific or just trying to prove how little attention he’s paying to you. 

Or to the increasing traffic. 

He’s pulled similar stunts at public venues - the action less gentlemanly than most outsiders interpret it to be. It wasn’t that he was showing a preference for someone, companionship or kindness. He did it to peacock, to make his presence known, but also to cockblock you, too. 

Radio on. Radio off. Radio on. The steady roll of his tires in contrast to the other vehicles on the road roaring past. The occasional horn expressing the unhappiness of the other motorists regarding his antics. The routine doesn’t vary even as you get closer to the outskirts of the city. He keeps it up right up to the intersection leading into your neighborhood where you stop and stand, determined not to move another step towards home until he drives away. 

Ransom tips his hand away from the wheel, motioning in the direction of your house with a wave of his fingers, maintaining the silence between the pair of you while still conveying his intentions. He’ll see you to your door. You shake your head and flip him off in return, watching the muscles in his jaw clench and bunch as he rolls his eyes. He takes both hands off the wheel and gives his head an exasperated shake - fine! - before swerving out into traffic, finally doing what you’d asked from the start and venturing towards his house. 

About damn time. Now you can let your guard down a little, belatedly realizing that being on the defensive all night had worn you out more than you’d thought. Your house and bed are waiting, warm and inviting. A smile starts to press itself onto your lips as you think about the next sequence of events. You’ll change, leaving the shower for the morning, and satisfy yourself the way he refuses to, and then settle for a bit of well deserved rest.  

It’s not your fault that Ransom’s face is there, flashing into your mind as you orgasm - it’s his. He’s the one that had gotten you part of the way there earlier in the evening. It was his hand you felt over your mouth as he’d fucked you, and pressing between your legs to torment you during his heavy-handed ‘cleanup’. His fingers always knew exactly which buttons to push, and in what sequence, to have you wet and panting for him in a mere few moments. 

Damn him

You stretch out in the darkness, restless, doing your best to get Ransom out of your head. It’s the worst place he can be, in your head and under your skin. You flip onto your stomach, your sleep shirt bunching and twisting from the motion, the pair of boxers you’d thrown on hanging loose on your hips. Closing your eyes, you groan. 

This was why your sexploits with Ransom were a bad idea. It was hard to recover, particularly when he left you wanting. When you start to finally drift he’s there waiting for you, that same self-satisfied smirk tormenting you in your dreams. 

The quiet sound of movement pulls you from your delicious dreams, footsteps and the rustle of clothing along with breathing - your brain immediately identifying the sound coupled with the scent of his cologne: 

Ransom

Annoyed - turned on - tired - you can’t quite decide on the way you want to respond. You stretch and exhale as the bed shifts, the sheets pulling away from your body as his hands search to make contact.  You’d swat at him but one arm is trapped beneath your pillow and the other is slightly numb for the way you were sleeping on it. “Go ‘way.” 

His skin is slightly chilled - the temperature must have dropped a little more since you last saw him - his mouth finding your shoulder and shifting up your neck. He inhales long and slow as he settles his body against yours, murmuring against your skin, “You smell delicious.” 

Goosebumps prickle across your arms as you shake the haze of your dreams from your mind. What you smell like? You smell like sweat, and perfume. You smell like the Thrombey house, and wine. You smell like sex and - your irritation spikes and you wiggle a little to try to get him to settle down. “New scent. Fucked and left to sleep it off.” 

His reply isn’t intelligible, his words suctioned into your skin. Ransom angles his hips, maneuvering his torso to push the sheet out of his way. It doesn’t take long for his hands to slide down your sides and start to shimmy the thin boxers down your hips. 

Where is this coming from? Your body is reacting of its own accord, already having experienced a fabulous fucking from him only moments before in your dreamworld. You groan at the betrayal of your body, hiding the half-smile trying to appear on your lips by burrowing your face a little more into your pillow. “Nggh. Go scratch that itch somewhere eeeelse.” 

This time his lips leave your skin, though his hands continue to burrow, wedging the thin material down your hips, “Hpmh. Maybe I will.” 

You wait a second before tipping your chin, lifting your head just enough to be able to look askance at him over your shoulder. He’s still wearing that damned sweater. Has he even gone home? And where is his jacket? “… you’re not getting up.” 

Ransom gives you an odd little shrug, unwilling to remove his hands from the outsides of your upper thighs. “You’re not putting much effort into kicking me out.” 

His fingers flex and you roll to trap one of those wandering hands between your body and the mattress. Won’t help by much, persuasive as he is with other parts of his body, but it’s a start. It’s a little annoying how willing your body is to bend the way he wants, shifting into different positions with barely a touch. “I’m tired.” 

He glances down, smiling at the way you’ve started to arch your back. Your hips seem more than willing to allow themselves to be pulled towards his. He’s almost entirely exposed your ass and probably wants to examine his handiwork.

“Huh. I – are… those my boxers?”

You snort, shifting and freeing his other hand from beneath your body as you roll further onto your side. Talking is - good. Talking is a distraction from what your body seems to be craving, the thing you shouldn’t encourage or risk making it a thousand times worse. 

“Dunno. Probably. Just pulled on the first thing I found in the drawer. You leave your shit everywhere.” You push behind you, your hand colliding with his stomach. There’s tension there, in his stomach and leading lower. You feel the jump of his muscles when he chuckles in response. 

Otherwise he doesn’t move. 

In the darkness you watch him over your shoulder, how he blinks and then swallows, his fingers seeming to itch to touch, the pad of his thumb running over the first few knuckles of his digits. He slowly forces his gaze away from his pair of boxers that have settled well below your hips, a sharp smile appearing as his focus rises. Ransom ducks down to nip lightly at your neck before biting with a bit more force into the meat of your shoulder. 

“Nnngh.” The sound you make is the same as all the others you made in protest, but rooted in an entirely different region. 

Ransom loosens the pressure of his teeth, turning his head without letting his lips leave your skin, “Gonna tell me to get out again?” 

“Just to get out of your clothes.” 

You feel the vibrations of his amusement as he laughs, “You too.” But then he inhales sharply, “No. Actually. I’ll do that for you.” 

Have you accidentally discovered something else that turns Ransom on? Oh no - does that mean he’ll leave more of his dirty laundry laying around? Things to consider at another time. Right now you’d much rather focus on the man working his way through getting the both of you naked. 

There goes that well-worn cable knit sweater, yanked over his head and tossed to land you-don’t-know-where. He pulls his undershirt off and launches it behind him in a similar fashion before lowering back down from how he’d drawn up onto his knees, pausing to unbuckle and unzip his pants. He’ll deal with the rest when he wants to. You focus on moving along with his hands once he starts to shift your body, removing what little clothing you had to start with. 

Something else belatedly occurs to you as Ransom slides his long-forgotten-at-your-place piece of clothing down past your knees, one of his hands hooking beneath your leg, “How’d you get in? The door was locked.” 

Ransom pulls the leg he’d been manipulating free of that side of the boxers, abandoning that particular task with a humor tinged grunt as he answers, “What. Like it’s hard to get a key copied?” 

 

 


Chapter Text


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Ransom groans in complaint of the sound of your alarm but otherwise seems dead to the world. He doesn’t even react when you reach across him, planting your hand in the middle of his back to balance as you reach to silence your phone’s morning alarm. 

“I’ve got to go to work.” 

Silence. The man is a lump in the bed beside you, laying there on his stomach with the sheet twisted half beneath him. A gorgeous, stupid - oh God how many times did you scream his name last night? - lazy lump that looses a small snore when you nudge him. 

“Ransom…” 

He’s awake. He’s deliberately being a pain in your ass - laying there pretending to sleep and doing a piss poor job of it. You can see that smirk. Ooooh. Tender noises escape you as you start to stretch, parts of your body protesting being moved in that manner after such strenuous activity the night before. 

Now you’ve got his attention. 

“Are you going to shower here, or–” You swat at him when he reaches out, his hand moving towards your waist. Better to move out of his reach or risk being pulled back into the consequences-aren’t-a-thing-I-acknowledge zone that he seems to perpetually live in. “Some of us have schedules to keep, you know. Jobs.” 

Ransom rolls, the sheet almost drifting along with the motion to keep him modest. Almost. His body shakes as he laughs when your gaze drifts down, following the well toned muscle definition south to the freshly exposed section of skin. You’re working on too little sleep and have entirely too many endorphins pulsing through your system to keep your thoughts masked from him. Your body is littered with imprints of his teeth, hickeys already forming in all manner of creative places. You do not need to test who has better endurance with him right now, no matter how tempting it may be. 

He reaches behind his head to grasp the metal frame of your headboard, his lazy smile lingering as he stares you down. “You don’t have a job,” he scoffs. “You’re art - decoration used to sell useless things to useless people.” 

That’s the crudest way anyone has ever described what you do in the gallery. Ok, you didn’t interview for it - it was a family favor from a friend of a friend. No, there was no real set schedule that you were expected to keep, you simply enjoyed being there in the morning to have a more quiet time with the art. Yes, you stand there in pretty dresses and smile at the clients and try to convince them to buy pieces to display in their homes. 

All of that considered together didn’t make it any less a job. 

It’s tempting, for all of a moment, to keep standing there with your hands on your hips and argue the point with him - but then it hits you: that’s just what he wants. You’d withdrawn the first option he’d wordlessly suggested simply by moving your naked body out of his reach. Naturally his second inclination is to start an argument. 

You roll your eyes at him and head towards the bathroom. “You know where the kitchen is.” Your voice echoes around you, bouncing off the tiled surfaces, “And don’t think I’ve forgotten about that key! I want it back before you leave!” 

“Not a chance.” 

As you lean to turn on the water for your shower you shake your head, muttering a petulant echo of his words under your breath. “Not a chance.” 

Ransom is still in bed when you reemerge from the bathroom, clean and wrapped in a plush bathrobe, a puff of steam escaping the bathroom as well. If it weren’t for the mug of coffee on the nightstand that hadn’t been there before you might’ve assumed he’d simply rolled back over the moment you shut the bathroom door.

Standing there letting your eyes roam over his exposed skin is dangerous. Dangerous and distracting. Did he even get dressed to go to the kitchen and back? 

You squint at him for a second before scooping up the warm mug off the nightstand and taking a sip of the dark liquid. "Your turn.” 

He smiles in the direction of your voice, his eyes still closed, inhaling and stretching - taking his sweet time - before opening his eyes to look at you. The moment those blue eyes hit the mug in your hands his expression drops into a half-scowl. “That was mine.” 

“Yes, and now it’s mine. Get up. Get showered. And get out so I can go to work.” 

Ransom heaves himself up, exhaling hard as he pulls one arm across his chest and twists to crack his spine. He rolls his shoulders and drops his focus down, hooking his thumb into the waistband of his boxers to lower the material and expose the bite mark you’d left between his hip bone and his groin. He prods it with the index and middle fingers of his opposite hand before quirking an eyebrow at you.

At least he’d put something on rather than wandering around your house without a stitch on. 

When you start to sidestep to make space for him to head towards the bathroom he abandons his idle exploration of the results of the night before and reaches out, gripping the handle of the mug over your hand. You narrow your eyes at him as he guides both the mug and you towards him - pulling your hand along to allow his lips to reach the rim of the mug, his eyes meet yours over the cup. Something about this whole ordeal is amusing him endlessly. 

You’re not about to make the mistake of asking him what. 

He seems to consider the coffee a moment before swallowing, finally sidestepping around you to make his way into the bathroom. Even after he shuts the door you wait until you hear the water running before you continue getting ready for the day. 

Abandoning the mug of coffee on your dresser you move to the mirror to check that the dress you’re thinking of wearing will cover any evidence of what transpired between the pair of you. No visible marks should show above the neckline. Good. You shift the robe just far enough to expose the ripening imprint he’d left on your shoulder. That bruise will last.

‘A decoration used to sell useless things to useless people.’ 

You frown at yourself in the mirror. Didn’t the entire extended Thrombey clan have accounts with the gallery, save the children? How’s that for useless people? Actually, he’d probably agree with you there. But. Oh. Now that’s a thought. You smile at yourself in the mirror before flicking your attention, for a moment, in the direction of the bathroom. He’ll be in there for awhile. He’s not been any sort of rush this morning. 

It only takes you a moment to locate his pants - as tempting as it is to pluck his card from his wallet, no, you don’t even need that. Just his phone. You need to make a call. 

Someone picks up at the gallery on the second ring - one never leaves a potential client waiting

It’s second nature to adopt the bright greeting that tinges your voice. “Good morning. Yes, I’ll be in shortly… I’ve been talking to Ransom - yes, Hugh Drysdale.” You meet your own gaze in the mirror before flicking your attention towards the bathroom. He’s still in there enjoying the water pressure. You turn back to the mirror and smile at yourself. “He’d like to make some changes at the house. We were thinking - a half dozen pieces or so? Maybe more. On his account. Yes. Delivery? Oh, yes, that will be perfect. He’d like to have them installed by the end of the week at the latest.” 

Chapter Text

Ransom Drysdale at home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Did you get a little carried away selecting pieces to be charged to Ransom’s account? Maybe. Maybe not. You had to sell the claimed overhaul of his decor, after all - and make sure it provided a big enough dent in his funds to get his attention. 

To celebrate you treat yourself to a victory pair of shoes, smiling at them every time you look down. Oh if you could have talked your way into being there just to see the look on his face as it was unloaded - piece after piece - as it hit him what you’d done. He’d know, or at least start to form an inkling, the moment the transport vehicle pulled up with the gallery logo on the side and began to unload.

He’d left your place at the start of the week without returning that key he’d made, a too-pleased-with-himself grin plastered on his face as he strolled to his car that morning. You hadn’t noticed in the rush to leave for work, but upon returning home you’d discovered his sweater still half hidden under the bureau, and a pair of boxers in the floor near the closet - likely the ones he’d peeled off your body, though there was also the chance he’d worn that pair home? 

Better to not read too much into the forgotten articles of clothing. And the key? That was a problem solved easily enough during your morning commute - that second phone call of the morning equally as important as the first. This one not to work, but to schedule some work to be done: a locksmith, to change the locks at your place. 

You ignore the first call from Ransom, occurring mid-morning, roughly coinciding with the estimated delivery time for his newly acquired Basquiats. No voicemail alert - not that you would have checked it if he had bothered to leave a message. Leave the floor and miss selling another ‘useless thing’ to another ‘useless person’? Not a chance. 

The next time your phone lights up, the screen illuminating with his name, it’s a little after lunch. It’s tempting to excuse yourself and answer, gloat a little and see how he’s enjoying each of the pieces you carefully selected for him. It’s far more fun to let the line ring and ring, imagining how he’s reacting with every additional moment you let it go unanswered. 

The third call comes through mid-afternoon, just as you’re collecting your things to leave for the day. You carefully shoulder your purse as you smile at the inanimate device on the desktop. It is doing it’s job, cheerfully vibrating in short little bursts to alert you that he’s calling. Leaning to snag your jacket and then balance over the chair you’d just retrieved it from, you coo at the screen of your phone - at the name displayed on the screen, “Who’s ‘just decoration’ now, Ransom?” 

“Still you. Not that there’s room to have you on the wall.” 

Speak his name and the devil will appear, offering a snide retort.

Leaving your jacket thrown over the back of the chair you straighten yourself out and turn to face him. He’s leaning against the long partition that separates the gallery from the desks where everyone’s things are stored, his arms crossed. He’s got his chin jutted out and his jaw clenched - a bad combination for the murderous glare he’s locked onto you.

Ransom snorts, unfolding his arms as he takes a step closer, “Seriously, though. What the hell.” 

You feign an innocent expression, the corners of your mouth fighting to let your satisfaction show. “Hmm?” 

The light blue-grey of today’s sweater makes Ransom’s eyes look like a storm-churned sea. He drops his voice lower as drives the words out, the hard emphasis coupled with a shake of his head. “You know damn well what. Don’t hmmmm me.” 

God it’s fun getting under his skin, winding him up. Your smile refuses to remain contained, airing as you give a light shrug of your shoulders. How much further can you push him before he erupts? 

You turn your back to him, glancing down to watch him move to close the distance between the pair of you. He doesn’t grab your arm, spinning you around to face him again. He opts instead to reach around you to claim your jacket. 

It works towards the same end goal, all the same. You still turn to face him, finding his jaw working when you turn and arc an eyebrow at him. “Cancel it. Refund it. Return them.” 

“You know I can’t do that.” A quick check tells you that nobody is paying the pair of you much attention, and nobody is close enough to hear what’s being said. You keep a sunny smile on your face just in case someone is discreetly monitoring the pair of you.

“No?” 

Ransom dips his hands away from yours, keeping your jacket out of your reach, half stepping to his right to force you to have to swivel to maintain eye contact. It’s a manipulation tactic to see if he can unsettle you from this victory you’ve claimed simply by making you unsure of your footing, unsteady in your stance. It won’t work. 

Except. Shit. Your boss has noticed who you’re standing there with. That a Drysdale has appeared in the building. Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here. No need to walk over and engage a riled Ransom in conversation....  

You test the waters to see if Ransom will continue this weird slow dance that the pair of you have started. If you can get him to follow suit, to keep turning, you might be able to keep Ransom’s so-far-from-pleased expression from being witnessed by your boss. That’s all you have to do - manage that miracle and keep that sickly-sweet smile on your face. “No. You know I can’t.” 

“Twelve. Twelve pieces.” 

“Yes.” Giggling as you nod is such a bad idea at the moment, but you can’t help it. Something more rooted in genuine mirth appears on your lips, sidelining the forced expression you’ve been trying to hold in place, “I counted them, too.” 

“Hmph.”

Maybe if you can just - move this conversation outside. Maybe if he’s in motion rather than rooted at your desk, rooted and angry. Rooted, angry, and - oh, shit - very aware of the exact location of your boss, and that your boss has pinged his presence. Ransom exaggerates the motion as he tips his head up, looking away from you to direct a polite nod towards the main gallery before darting his eyes in your direction. It’s not quite an invitation, but the establishment of an awareness - an alert for your boss to keep an eye out for an upcoming summons.

Fuck

Your victorious high ground slowly starts to shift beneath the soles of your new shoes. You don’t like that look in Ransom’s eye. Not one bit.

He moves his lips carefully, keeping the words so that they’ll only pass between the pair of you, “What’ll they make of you cleaning out my account? Making a purchase I didn’t authorize?” 

In a blink the roles have reversed, the expressions worn by the pair of you swapped within that small fraction of a moment. He’s the one wearing a humor-tinged smirk, his eyebrows tipping up as you fight against murderous scowl. 

“It’ll be a game of he-said, she-said.” Something else occurs to you, another avenue to attempt if he forces it. You tip one shoulder up, “Or that you’re experiencing a little buyer’s remorse regarding the expense.” 

He reads your bluff in your expression, his lips twitching as squares his focus onto you again. “Might be a fun theory to test. See who’ll win.”

“We can always start a claim. See if we can get a portion of your funds ba -- Ransom.” Your fast-talking humor dies out as he folds your jacket over one arm and waves the other to summon your boss - the friend of a friend of the family - over to join the pair of you. He simply grins over at you after the action is complete, delighting over the way you spiraled to the point of hissing his name. 

The asshole is going to try to get you fired. You just know it.

“I hope everything was to your liking, Mr. Drysdale.” 

You barely contain the eye-roll, tensing for what comes next. But Ransom’s expression has cleared. The murderous man is gone, replaced by charming and sociable Ransom. You narrow your eyes at him. What game is he playing? 

“Yes! We were just discussing which of the pieces I’ll be keeping, and which are going to be auctioned.”

Auctioned? He’s going to try to profit off the whole experience! 

Damn him.

His focus flits to you for a moment before he continues, as though your attention would have drifted anywhere else. “Just making sure the details were in place before I left. Ski trip.” 

He’s showboating - deliberately making it clear that throwing around huge amounts of money didn’t put the slightest damper on his lifestyle. Oh to have the golden parachute of your grandfather’s fortune at your disposal. 

That will likely be Ransom’s next stop. All the better to coordinate a replenishment of his account after he outs your misbehavior to your boss. That other shoe is coming. You’re braced, waiting for it - that sudden kick to the shins. 

“Of course. You’re in good hands here. We are -” your boss casts a glance in your direction, including you in the collective ‘we’ in a way that makes you want to throw up but you hold your faux-smile in place, “very appreciative of your family’s continued patronage.” 

Ransom’s eyebrows drift up, clearly entertained by your boss’ perfect opening and how it set him up nicely to divulge your misdeeds. Maybe that’s his aim, forcing you to find something else to do with your time. Just because he spends his copious free time jumping from fascination to fascination... Who cares that you enjoy being here with the art.

He unfolds your jacket, shifting it in his arms to silently signal his intention to wrap up the conversation. When he’s done everyone else is too. 

You sidestep Ransom standing there waiting with your jacket, choosing to snag your phone rather than fall in line with his wordless cue. You can’t just take your jacket from him, no matter how much you want to snatch it out of his hands - not while the pair of you are pretending politeness under the supervision of a third party. It’s the game you always play with him - playact one scenario while another lurks beneath the surface. 

“Is there anything else we can do for you today, Mr. Drysdale?” 

Your boss is laying it on as thick as ever as Ransom settles your jacket over your shoulders. 

“Actually...” You fall still as Ransom clears his throat, gently resting his hands on your upper arms. “I’d love to borrow the best hands in the business, here, to oversee the installation of the pieces I’m keeping. To make sure everything is displayed with proper care.” 

You attempt to worm out of his grasp - all the better to see his face - but he maintains his grip. He holds you firmly in place just where he wants you. That’s what this is about? Getting you out of the gallery, stuck in his place for a few days? You try again to move, rotating your shoulder, but find yourself stuck fast.

Stuck, until your boss agrees - all too quickly and with extended apologies for the oversight - to have a small team, and you, dedicated to installing the newly acquired pieces over the next three days. It’s only after your boss leaves to get the paperwork coordinated that Ransom releases your shoulders, tucking you under one arm as he turns to guide the pair of you towards the door. 

“The next time you pull a stunt like this,” he ducks his head down, shifting back to the yep-I’m-annoyed-with-you tones as he side-eyes you, “won’t be the one kissing my grandfather’s ass for more money.” 

“No?” The implication there is that you’ll be the one doing it. You loose a rueful smile, “That where you’re headed next?” 

Ransom shakes his head, finally releasing you out from under his arm as the pair of you approach the exit. He shoves the door open and waits for you to pass through it, “God, no. That’s the first thing I did after I saw how much you spent.” He pauses, half muttering into the wind as the pair of you emerge from the building out onto the sidewalk - 12 Basquiats.  

The order had cost him a pretty penny. You’re not even the slightest bit sorry now that you know he won’t be aiming to get you fired. Never mind the fact that he’s found a way to profit from it. 

You watch him, the way he shoves his hands into his pockets and shifts his shoulders against the breeze. He nods in the opposite direction of his car - the Beamer easily identifiable parked a few spaces down in one of the spots on the street - somehow guessing, without so much as a glance, the correct side-street where you’d parked your car. Maybe he did a little recon before storming into the gallery to confront you. 

“What outlandish lie did you tell this time?” 

“To granddad?” He chuffs out a laugh, looking away from you as his expression shifts. He shrugs as he turns back, those stormy blue eyes clouding slightly darker, “There’d be no point. Told him the truth.” He blinks and swallows, losing his focus on you for a moment before zeroing in on your face again, a slow smile reemerging to sharpen his features, “Sat there in his office and laid it all out. He was fucking delighted. Said to tell you ‘well played’.” 

That’s... something. The pair of them have the strangest relationship - at each other’s throats one minute, sharing unfiltered truths the next. It makes you wonder what else Harlan knows about what goes on between you and his grandson. 

Ransom brings you out of your thoughts when he stops short at the end of the building - well before the end of the block, or the side-street where your car is parked. Clearly he’s said all he plans to and it about to take his leave. 

Except he doesn’t turnabout and head back towards his car. Not yet. He points, instead, towards your shoes, “I wouldn’t wear those tomorrow.” 

He’s not worried about the floors of his place. He’s never objected, or had much concern regarding footwear worn in his house before. Where his abrupt halt had garnered him a double take, this time you glance between him and your new shoes, puzzled by his statement. “I - wasn’t planning on it?” You wave your hand at him and resume walking towards your car, still talking to him over your shoulder without bothering to raise your voice at all, “Anyway, whatsit matter to you? You’ll be halfway to Aspen, or wherever.” 

“Oh, I’ll be there.” 

There. At the house? You stop walking and turn back to face him again, your expression inquisitive. It only makes him smile brighter, asshole that he is. 

Ransom nods at you, lifting his voice to reach you across the distance established between the pair of you, motioning with his hand to indicate how he might sprawl out on one of his beloved pieces of leather furniture. “Stretched out in the recliner, I think.” 

“I thought you said...” 

“Trip isn’t for another week, at least.” He interjects, “Plenty of time to supervise your supervision.” 

You blink at him, exasperation getting the better of you. Shaking your head, you re-situate the way your jacket hangs from your shoulders. You should just give up and slide your arms into it - or stop arguing with Ransom out here on the sidewalk. 

You don’t do either. 

“You’re such an asshole. You’re just gonna sit there and do nothing to help, aren’t you.” 

"Watching’s not nothing. And, please. I’m the asshole?” He points at himself, half-laughing. “This from the bitch that tried to spend all my money on painted pieces of--” 

Ok. You’re not that far from the gallery that you’re comfortable with him shouting that little detail in the middle of the sidewalk. Never mind the fact that you’d selected a couple of pieces towards the end of the lot that you thought he actually might like. Downfalls of the job, enjoying your work, knowing him so well, and how very carried away you’d gotten in the selection process. 

You cut off his rant, delivering one of your own: “Useless. Shit. I know. Did you even look at all of them? No. Don’t answer that. I’ll find out tomorrow when I see what you haven’t bothered to unwrap.” 

You shake your head at him, wanting to turn away and continue down the sidewalk but finding yourself unable. You want to get a rise out of him. You want to make him riled and fidgety. Instead you get to watch him tuck his hands back into his pockets, widening his stance as he gets comfortable where he stands. The asshole is enjoying himself at your expense, as usual. 

Not for long.

“You throw your money - your grandfather’s money - around at whatever catches your eye like it doesn’t even matter, and then judge people for spending it on something they enjoy, Ransom. It’s hypocritical bullshit.”

It should get a rise out of him. It should make him narrow his eyes at you and grind his teeth, the mention that the money he throws around actually belongs to someone else. His sense of entitlement, his victim complex, should guarantee a reaction. But he just stands there with one of his eyebrows raised, calculating, humor coloring his features. 

Ransom flexes his hands in his pockets, taking a leisurely step and then another closer to you. “Does it piss you off more that I called something you’re passionate about useless - bits of paint thrown on a canvas - or that I complemented you? Said you’re a work of art?” 

He clearly didn’t hear your jab about his funds - or has tucked it away to return to at a later time, his attention occupied with delivering his own whittled comment. He’s entirely too good at getting under your skin, and picking moments in time to turn you about, throwing you off balance and giving you conversational whiplash. “That’s - not the point.” 

“I think it is.” He tips one shoulder up, that stupid smirk still plastered on his face. 

Exhaling, you press your lips together for a moment. Humoring him is getting you nowhere. Better to regroup and prepare for tomorrow, for the next few days spent at his place. You’ll find a way to punish him for forcing your presence, and forcing your intended lesson to fall flat. 

Ah. But maybe you know just how you’ll get started with that effort. You offer him a little wave paired with a bright smile, “See you at eight.” 

That makes that smirk of his lessen by a fraction. “Eight? We said ten.” 

There goes his lazy early morning routine. You nod, “For the rest of them. But we’ll need to sort through everything currently on your walls, as well as the new pieces. You don’t want everyone standing around doing nothing, do you?” 

Ransom flexes his hands in his pockets again, his expression shifting a little more as he studies you. He’ll catch on quick enough in the morning. He plans to do nothing but watch you work? You’re going to put on a show and make him regret that decision. 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 


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Morning sunlight cuts through the trees, slicing the meandering driveway with thin ribbons of light as you approach Ransom’s house. The seclusion works well for 10 Kenoak Street, the numerous windows in the modernist structure making privacy all but otherwise impossible, at least for the majority of the ground floor. 

It felt odd to you the first time you saw it, the design so very different from that of the Thrombey house. But maybe that had been the point. Ransom had decided to find something that on its base level invoked an entirely different vibe. 

And inside? The warm hues of the tanned leather sofa and chair, the medium stained wood cabinets and tables, and red tones of the brick fireplace spoke to a man that Ransom, upon first glance, very much wasn’t. It was almost like catching the glimmer of a shadow in a foggy mirror, glimpsing the man he could have been underneath the man he’s been trained to be since birth.  

He answers the door in standard attire, pinstriped slacks and a casual pullover. He’s still barefoot, either opting to skip that step today or just not quite there yet in his morning routine. The fact that his hair is still mussed from the way he’d toweled dry forces you to lean towards the latter of the two options. It’s likely all by design to lead you down the path that makes you think of him in the shower, which is exactly what you’re doing. His eyebrows inch up, delighted. 

One point - Ransom. 

But you came prepared to play that game, today. 

The scoop neck shirt you’re wearing will sag away from your body when you lean over, exposing a fair amount of skin. You checked in the mirror to make sure that he’ll be able to spot the hickey he’d suckled into existence on your chest. It’s not a mark as large, not a bruise as deep as the one on your shoulder, but it’ll do the trick since he made it clear he would be watching without any intention of helping. You’d considered wearing something a little more sheer than the white cotton shirt but that would’ve tipped your hand the moment he opened the door. As for the pencil skirt you’ve selected, you’ll have to see how long it will take him to realize the absence of the ridge of a pantyline. You’re aiming for a metered torture, a tempered tease.

You slip past him, inhaling as the aroma of brewing coffee hits you and issues a summons to the kitchen. “Morning, sunshine.” Casting a glance over your shoulder, you smile gently at him, “Ready to get started?” 

The lightest frown knits his features as he closes the front door, gone before he’s turned to follow you deeper into the house. Ransom works his jaw, chewing his words and swallowing as he pads along behind you in the direction of the kitchen.

One point - you, sort of.

It’s a reaction from him, but not quite what you were aiming for or expecting. You stop short when you glance aside at the living room and note that the majority of the furniture has been shoved aside to make space for the gallery team to work. Another unexpected move from the man that swore he was just going to supervise the supervision of the work being done. Maybe he’s changed his mind on having extra bodies in his house for a few day span. 

Ransom bumps past you, a secret smile tucking itself away in your peripheral vision before you’re left watching him disappear into the kitchen. “Ready when you are.” 

His morning cup of coffee waits on the counter next to the newspaper that he’s spread wide to take up most of the rest of the surface. It’s an odd puzzle piece to consider; has he been up, reading and enjoying the morning, or has he just gotten up and showered? The evidence presented is conflicting. 

Opening the cupboard to retrieve a mug for yourself you pause with your hand on the knob of the open cabinet door. You recognize one of the mugs nestled in with the rest. It’s one of yours. Why would he have taken it? When would he have taken it? You certainly didn’t bring it over. Before you had the locks changed, sure, but how long has it been absent from your place? 

No - that’s just - it makes little sense. It’s just a mug that looks suspiciously like one you have and just haven’t seen, used, cleaned, or put away in awhile. Yours is probably stashed in the back of your stockpile of cups. You reach for it, intending to look for the crack at the bottom of the handle, but feel Ransom draw closer behind you and opt instead to snag a different mug from the shelf. Your main focus is to drive him crazy today, that and get a little work done.

He’s within your personal space when you turn around to check, his eyes a hazy blue this morning, and narrowed. “You know–” 

It’s a look you recognize, and one that should be listened to. Forget the coffee cup you think you recognize, or the java boost to your system. Forget two hours spent dealing with him on your own before the gallery team arrives. You should be heading for the door - instead you step back to steady yourself against the kitchen cabinetry. 

Has he already spotted the absence of underwear, aiming for a bit of intimidation before a morning fuck? 

Ransom takes the empty cup out of your hands and sets it on the counter top, his cool eyes never leaving your face. One of his broad palms slides into place around your neck just under your jaw, the pads of his fingers digging lightly around the back of your throat. 

His mouth twitches before he speaks again, perhaps because your small smile hasn’t lessened in the slightest. His lips part in mirror to the movement of yours, and he takes a breath before continuing, “When I saw that bill – I coulda killed you.” 

His eyes drift down to your mouth, watching you close your mouth and swallow but not doing the same. His gaze drops further to his hand gripping your throat, and down further still to the place you reach up and touch his wrist just under the bulge of his watch. Your fingers find his pulse through the material of his pullover - strong and steady - and you swallow again, feeling the way your muscles fight against the pressure he’s applying. 

You let your hand drift his with arm as he releases your neck, his fingers trailing down to snag at your collar and pull just enough to expose the lingering mark of his teeth on your shoulder. You watch his breathing - deep inhale, deep exhale - as he focuses on the healing bruise he’d left. 

“Thought about it.” 

His words are softly spoken, his tone cold. 

Goosebumps ripple over your skin. Does that mean he already knows that you’ve changed the locks to your place since that night of his unexpected arrival and exhausting fuck session? Had he tried again to use that key? And would simply changing the locks really stop him if he was that determined to gain entry and wasn’t focused on a sleepless night in bed? Is this just one of his more vicious moments, one of his moods meant to solidify everyone’s poor opinion of him? Cause his tone really makes that threat he just leveled seem less like a figure of speech and more like he means it.

He lifts his gaze and locks those icy eyes on yours, unlocking the sequence of events in your mind. He’d shown up at the gallery after seeing his grandfather. Once his funds had been replenished - well, you could have paid him back. It wouldn’t have been immediate, and you would have had to try to bridge relationships with family members that you’d burned years ago, but you could have done it. 

Would that have satisfied him? You ignore the little voice in your head whispering for you to keep quiet, keep still. - Curiosity killed the cat - “And now?”

He tips his eyebrows up at you in return, releasing the collar of your shirt as he shifts his stance, leaning to snag the coffee carafe off its base. 

It’s hard to get a read on his silence. Is that his answer? Is there an answer to be found in the way he turns his back, crossing the kitchen to refill his mug? He abandons the carafe on the counter near his newspaper, tilting his head in a silent beckon as he exits the room - you coming?

You remain stuck resting against the counter for a moment before finding your feet beneath you, loosing yourself from the way you’d become rooted. Retrieving the carafe, you pour yourself a cup, nearly filling the dark liquid to the brim of the mug before replacing the carafe on its base. 

This was definitely not the way you’d foreseen the day getting started. 

Another point - Ransom. 

Fuck.  

But – his focus had fallen to your mouth, tipped down to the marks he’d left on your skin. His menace had tripped and snagged on desire. Maybe the day can go as planned after all - a bit of distance, heavy hints handed out, and glimpses allowed of secret bits of skin. 

You take a sip of your coffee before lifting your free hand to trace your fingertips along the phantom grip of his hand at your throat. He’s the one that walked out onto the blade’s edge. Here you are, readying to follow, wondering which of the pair of you will cut yourself on it first. 

It only takes a moment to find him, settled into his leather lounger in the main room, a magazine held open with his attention fixed to it. It almost feels as though the pair of you are players, withdrawn to your respective corners to reset the board and start anew. Everything’s a game with him, always this prolonged game where he refuses to lose. 

You kick off your shoes, tucking them neatly at the edge of the room before turning your focus to the piece that hangs over the fireplace. “I’ve always loved that one there. Were you thinking of moving it into storage? To make room - or -” You catch his attention flicking to the numerous Basquiats now in his possession care of the order you’d placed. Nodding, you carry right on like nothing had happened a few moments ago in the kitchen. “No. You’re right. We should start by sorting through what you want to keep.” 

It wins you another light frown from him and the barest twitch of his mouth. Nothing more. 

He’d unwrapped some of the pieces - when they’d arrived, last night, or this morning - who knows. Easy enough to start with those, displaying them by lining them up on the far wall. It’s a tactic that benefits you twofold: it keeps a bit of distance between the pair of you to allow things to settle further, and it doesn’t use the space he’d created the way he’d probably intended. 

It’s easy enough to line up and display the canvases already unwrapped. The chore starts when you get to the pieces he’d left stacked together, leaning precariously likely in the very spot they’d been placed when the gallery delivered and unloaded them. 

Twelve pieces probably had been pushing it. You certainly had riled him, even if you saw the true results a day belated. Your mind drifts to the way his hand had gripped your throat and the strength of his fingers, then to the way his eyes had snagged on the bite mark he’d shifted your collar to reveal. But then you wander further and get lost thinking of the many other ways he’s used those talented fingers, how he’s manipulated your body with those hands. 

You draw a steadying breath, squirming at the tightening of your core as you do your best to push aside the craving threading through you. You’re here to tease him, to tempt him, to send him into a spiral of desire. Not the other way around. 

A quick check as you reroute in your crisscross of the room tells you Ransom’s attention has fallen back to whatever article has caught his eye in this week’s New Yorker. Maybe he’d missed that wanton pulse through your system. The subtle shift of his hip and leg suggest otherwise. 

“There’s room for two.” His focus doesn’t waver from the glossy pages of the magazine he’s holding up, presumably reading. “– and plenty of time.” Only then does he tip the right corner down to settle you with a smirk and a raised brow. 

Asshole

You shake your head, gracing him with an eye-roll before turning your attention to the protective wrapping littering the middle of the floor. Some of it will be needed, once decisions are made, to be able to protect the artwork for transport or storage - all of that depending on the time frame he has in mind for the auction. 

Having been rejected, Ransom flexes the magazine to straighten the pages again, making it abundantly clear where his attention has gone. That won’t do. You hitch up your skirt a little on your thighs as you settle onto the floor to aid in maneuverability as to set to the task of organizing the bubble-wrap. If his gaze wanders to you while you’re working he might just catch a glimpse of one of the hickeys halfway up the insides of your thighs - or if the timing is right, maybe the purplish mark on your chest. 

“Those three leaning against the window there could go in the hallway upstairs. They go well together.” You swivel your attention from the task at hand to the three indicated pieces before turning your focus on Ransom. 

He hasn’t even lowered the magazine. 

You come to the end of the stack of bubble-wrap you’ve been working on and maneuver yourself up, standing to set the roll to the side of the room. “Unless you were planning on trying to auction them. As a set.” 

“Mpph.” 

A grunt is not a reply, neither a noise of objection or assent. 

You set to work on the next stack of wrapping, getting it rolled together quicker than the last. Everything’s easier once you figure out a decent strategy. You settle a little further, moving from being elevated on your knees to sitting back and tucking your feet beneath you. You weren’t lying before when you told him you liked the piece that he’s had displayed above the fireplace. It would be a shame for him to decide to tuck that one away somewhere - but it was his choice. 

Actually, it is really odd that he’s bothering to keep any of the art you’d acquired on his behalf. Finding yourself frowning at the mantel, you shake the expression, blinking it away as you tuck the ends of the bubble-wrap into the roll to hold it until the item is needed again. Ransom flips through a few pages as you set to work on the next stack, your mind wandering through the task at hand. Choices need to be made, decisions set, before the gallery team arrives.  

“How many pieces are you going to keep?” You attempt again to engage him, carefully flipping one of the rolls towards the outside of the room only to watch it bounce and ultimately topple the first roll when it tumbles to a stop. Rolling the second will cause less of a mess, but then what does it matter? “That is a start for how we can narrow this down.” 

You pull your attention away from the now-haphazard rolls of bubble-wrap to find that Ransom has finally lowered the magazine enough that you can fully see his face from where you’re seated on the floor. His attention is stuck fast, which is mostly what you wanted - except that you now need an answer from him. 

“Ransom?”

He lifts his gaze slowly, not the slightest bit of shame showing in his expression as those blue eyes lift from your legs and rake up your body, “Yea?”

“Your input?”

There’s that tiny shake of his head accompanying the shift of his hip, his grin growing as he settles himself back in his chair a little more, “You’re doing just fine.”

“I asked you a question.”

“I just answered a question.”

You quirk an eyebrow at him in return, considering how best to reply. You wanted him to be distracted by you, so why are you also annoyed as hell? You straighten how you’re sitting with your feet tucked beneath you, pressing your hands down on the tops of your thighs as you stare him down. “What if I choose the most god-awful color combination of the lot to put in your room?”  

“Something might happen to it.” He tips his eyebrows up before adding, “Accidentally.”

“You wouldn’t dare.” He might not care that Basquiats are extremely sought after expensive pieces of art, but you do. 

“Anyway,” he lowers the magazine further, dropping it face-down into his lap, “what makes you think I’ll be the only one that suffers through having to look at it?”

You narrow your eyes at him as you translate that - his meaning being that you should show some compassion for everyone that would be subjected to the artwork on his walls, all the many women he brings home, you included. Keeping your mouth shut takes effort, but that’s better than airing a few more choice words in his direction - an activity that would only encourage him. 

Even your silence furthers his mood. He tips his head back for a second before lowering it again, his focus flitting to the ceiling before zeroing in on you again. “I meant what I said earlier.” 

Without thinking you lift your fingers, tipping your fingertips up to touch your neck just below your jaw. 

He shakes his head, his humor evident as his torso, hips, and legs all shift slightly, “No. Not that.” Ransom snags the cuff of his pullover to expose his watch, eyes dropping to his wrist. He settles both hands back onto the armrests of his chair, fingers thrumming the well worn surface, “That two can fit. And there’s plenty of time. Now. Are you going to come here, or are you gonna make me get up?” 

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Chapter Text

A Turn of the Knife collage

Ransom stops thrumming his fingers on the armrests of his leather chair, hauling himself forward from his reclined position without actually following through with the motion. He’s poised, waiting perched at the chair’s edge, for your answer. Are you going to get up from where you’ve seated yourself in the middle of the floor? Are you going to test to see if he’ll get up and come to you?  

He’d vowed, yesterday at the gallery, that he wasn’t going to do anything today other than sit and - how had he phrased it - supervise the supervision. But he’s been very hands on today. Very hands on. 

He thrums his fingers again against the worn leather, just once from pinky to pointer, to make you blink him back into focus. “Well? What’s it gonna be?” 

You straighten your shoulders, holding his steady gaze as you wave to the art you’ve displayed around the edges of the room. “Pick one.” 

That slight frown that had appeared and then disappeared the moment he answered the door resurfaces to wrinkle the space between his eyebrows, gone again in a blink. He wants you in his lap, moaning at his every touch - for the room, the house, to smell like sex at 10 when the team sent by the gallery arrives. It’s not something that falls as high on your To Do list.

Ransom narrows his eyes, studying you, “Why.” 

“Pick one,” you shrug, “And I’ll guess if it stays or goes.” 

Ah, a new game. Not quite what he was after, but he seems willing enough to play. He tips his eyebrows up as his focus strays from your face. He takes his sweet time letting his attention drift. “– what’ll I get if you’re wrong?” 

You roll your eyes at him and counter, “What do get if I’m right?” 

Terms are trivialities that can be ironed out later. Ransom flicks his attention away from you, darting his eyes over to the row of artwork displayed at the side of the room closer to the fireplace. “That one.” 

“Which?” He’d looked off to his right, meaning anything behind you or displayed to his left aren’t likely but that could be a misdirect. You run your fingers over the taut material of your skirt, slipping your hands down over your thighs to rest on your knees as you lean forward, shifting your weight. It isn’t to settle more securely on the floor but in prep for standing – not to go to him, but to retrieve the indicated piece of art. “Describe it.” 

“Red and yellow.” Ransom quirks his eyebrow at you. That detail doesn’t help narrow things down by much. Quite a few are in that color scheme. He thrums his fingers against the armrest again, perhaps giving you a hint without realizing it. “Black and white. Reminds me of boarding school, how we thought we were kings and nearly drove – oh.” He pauses, tucking his chin down a fraction, and takes a breath. “Naughty. Clever trick to get me to tell you what I’m thinking.”

Trumpet.” Pleased that his eye has been drawn to it, you turn your attention to that piece without waiting for his nod of confirmation. There’d been a story told – probably one night surrounded by the rest of the Thrombey family – that had sprung to mind the moment you saw it in the listings. A note written home to Linda and Richard regarding Ransom’s foolishness – the ringleader in a group of troublesome boys. “1984. Acrylic and oil stick on canvas and just where do you plan on putting it?”

Ransom shakes his head. That’s right – you’re supposed to be guessing if they stay or go. This could eat up quite a bit of time if you play it right, particularly with the larger of the oversized pieces. Hard to say which he even has room for…

Your skirt inches up a bit more as you rise to your feet. You reach to adjust it back to where you had it, midway up your thigh, but Ransom clears his throat - the slightest movement of his head telling you to leave it. He tracks you from the middle of the room to the indicated art, motionless expect for the turn of his head and the lightest twitch of his ring, middle, and pointer fingers of his right hand.

“Stays.” You declare, tipping your head in appreciation of the art before turning to check his reaction, confident in your choice. “And I don’t need to be clever to know what you’re thinking.”

The pair of you consider each other for a moment, Ransom working his jaw from side to side before he hems and selects another piece without even allowing you to finish shifting Trumpet away from the rest of the lot. You leave the next three he selects right where they sit – all designated as ones for auction – choosing to settle on the opposite end of the sofa that stretches along the side of the room towards the front door.  

Time continues to creep on and on, closer and closer to the 10 am arrival time for the few-man team the gallery was sending to install the pieces. Piece, you mentally correct. His descriptions are becoming increasingly careful, and increasingly vague.  

“Ransom.” Expelling a breath, you shake your head at him, “That could be – any of – at least three of them. More details, please.” You wiggle your fingers in a mime of summoning those very details from the depths of him.

His eyebrows tip up before a broad, sly smile engulfs his face, “I could be persuaded.”

Persuaded. Right. Folding and unfolding your arms over your chest, you offer him a dubious look, “That so.”

“Mm.”

It’s almost too easy to wipe that smug expression off his face. He tips his head back as he watches you stand, clearly of the mind that you’re annoyed enough that you’ll be tempted to saunter over to fall within his reach. Instead, you pad across the room to the fireplace to retrieve your mug of forgotten coffee, now cold and only partially consumed. That was his fault, for distracting you, and yours for allowing yourself to be distracted. You can’t very well blame the art.

The squelch of the leather of his chair tells you he’s unhappy, but a glance over at him to check confirms what you suspect: he’s still seated. As always, it is his way or no way – he’s seated, just not reclined as fully as he was just a moment ago.

“You’re not going to ask me how?”

Touching your mug to your lips you almost take a sip but decide to lower the mug again to shake your head at him, offering him a quiet smile, “No. I know what methods you’d suggest.” You look away from him as he starts to shift his left leg back and forth, back and forth. There are still so many pieces displayed around the circumference of the room. “And I’d much rather figure this out before anyone else gets here.”

Ransom snorts, his chair noisily announcing how he’s sprawling out within it again. Always going out of his way to take up as much room as possible. Maybe that’s why he’s refusing to help you narrow down the art selections. He’s enjoying how the large canvases take up space.

With his focus safely squared back on the magazine you roam the room again, pausing once in awhile to consider one piece or another. Exu should stay. And the rest? Was he serious in his intentions to auction the rest of them? Was that part of some understanding he’d come to with Harlan, perhaps… that he’d auction off some of the pieces and pay his grandfather back for —

The thought nearly makes you laugh aloud. No. Neither Harlan nor his grandson would ever come to any such agreement. They’d let it become a point of contention, doomed to boil over at a later date. Funny how ‘at a later date’ usually coincided with a family function.

You set your mug down to move Exu over to join the other piece, catching the tip of Ransom’s eyebrow quirking up. Again, there no voice of approval or disapproval – just letting you slide with the decision made. Maybe he’ll call everyone’s attention to it after work gets started, probably after everything’s been packaged in prep for being moved. He’ll make everyone stand around, uncomfortable, and then do twice as much work to undo something that’s already been done.

Bzzz-zzz-zzz

Ransom works his phone out of his pocket, emits a – tsk – at the screen, and then answers: “Hello, Mother.”

Good. Another something to keep him occupied. He’s quiet, listening to her greeting or maybe the reason for her call. Linda never was one to mince words. Added bonus, with his focus turned inward you have a little more freedom to move around the room.  

“How did you—”

You start at his outburst, turning to find him scowling as his mother’s sharp words rattle the tiny device held to his ear. Linda can always be relied upon to sour her son’s mood, twisting him up a little more with every word.

He adjusts his spine, shifting his torso to settle himself back down into the cushions of the chair as he hems, “Of course someone told you. Ever well informed when it’s something that could benefit…” He pauses, pursing his lips before sucking in the lower one and slowly releasing it through his teeth. His eyes flick quickly over to fix on you, his gaze steely, “No.”  

Curiosity stirs within you, almost pulling you closer. Are you the subject of their conversation? Is it simply about the art? The purchase made at the gallery – broad strokes – and the upcoming auction, if he goes ahead with his plans as claimed.

You deliberately turn your back, but even that could be interpreted as eavesdropping. Not that you can make out a word of what Linda is saying but – still… It would be better to remove yourself entirely. Going out to the car is a no. Too cold and you didn’t bring your jacket in with you. It’s an oversight that you mean to remedy when the others arrive. You’ll ask one of them to snag it from your vehicle for you.

Coffee. You spy your own cup and immediately turn to look for his. You could busy yourself in the kitchen – wait there until the conversation is completed.

His attention has strayed to the opposite side of the room, to the glass blocks that still allow the morning light in but muddy the view of the drive up to the house. You mime the offer – more coffee? – as you approach him, a frown forming as he studies your hands but clearing as he offers you a tight nod and you draw closer.

Keeping the phone pressed to his ear he reaches around himself to retrieve his mug for you, interjecting light words and noises all the while – either meant in response to questions posed in the conversation or just to interrupt her every few moments. Instead of handing it off to you he makes you wait, turning it up to his lips to pull whatever bit of liquid might still be contained into his mouth, and swallowing. His jaw pops as he opens his mouth again, still refusing to hand off the now empty cup, resting it – and his arm – instead on the armrest of the chair. “That’s not your call to make, is it.”

Aiming for as much patience as you can convey in your expression you press your fingertips to the back of his hand, trying to get him to relinquish the mug.

“To impress her?”

See. This is why you wanted to be elsewhere, occupied with fresh cups of… oh shoot you haven’t even picked up your own mug. Never mind that. You can bring the carafe back in with you if he’ll just give up his cup. He can say whatever he wants to his mother after you’ve gone into the other room. You’d rather not hear how he plans to twist –

Success! Ransom releases his mug into your grip but hooks the hem of your shirt with a finger and tugs you back towards the chair the moment you try to step away. He darts an eyebrow up at you as you scowl at him and silently mouth – let go – only to have him shake his head in the negative in response.  

“Hmmph. What makes you say that?”

He tilts his head, his eyes drifting again to the opposite side of the room. His apparent focus may have moved away, but he keeps you hooked close with a finger caught in your clothing. As he listens, he turns his hand, allowing the hem of your shirt to fall free only to slide his index and middle fingers around your side towards the zipper of your skirt. It’s almost an absent motion the way he traces along the stitching but each time you sway to test if you can step away his fingers hook beneath the edge of the material again.

“That’s an interesting theory, Linda. But wrong.”

He hardly ever calls her by her name. It’s only ever when he wants to piss her off further. Not a good sign for the path of the conversation. Ransom stirs himself forward, shifting to reseat himself, stretching his legs out to trap yours as his hand drifts down from your waist, a quick maneuver to find the rucked-up bottom hem of the material already positioned halfway up your thighs.

You really should have fixed your skirt before walking over.

You hiss at him, eliciting a chuckle as his hand drifts up the inside of your thigh, the pressure of his palm keeping you fixed to the spot. Forget re-situating your skirt, you shouldn’t have overplayed your hand and forgone panties today.

Both of his eyebrows arc up as he discovers that fact, silent laughter breaking through whatever irritation his mother had stirred up. Ransom grins, leaning forward to watch your mouth drop open as his wandering fingers explore. “I’ve got ‘that gallery girl’ wrapped around my fingers.”

Reaching down, you only halfheartedly push at his wrist to try to maneuver his hand from between your legs. It just makes him redouble his efforts. Who is winning this game between the pair of you now? Are either of you even keeping score?

“Mm.” He grunts at whatever she’s just said. Or maybe in response to the way you’ve twisted in response to the way he curled his fingers. Hard to say which. “She’d agree with you, actually. I might ask her when she’s less busy… But I thought I might put them up for auction.”

That wins him a squawk of alarm over the phone. Not that you care. You probably should care. Had he said might put them up for auction?

He’s grinning, happily driving two women crazy at once. “And mother? If I do, you’ll bid like everyone else.”

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Chapter Text

ATotK 9 photoset

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Shit.” Ransom utters a sharp, short curse and slides his slick fingers away from their task, anchoring his right hand ever so slightly down your inner thigh as he shifts in his chair.

You loosen your grip on his wrist, taking a breath in the hopes that it will steady the way your knees are threatening to buckle beneath you. Damn Ransom and how good he is with his hands. Damn the way you want him. This wasn’t the plan for the day at all, but you’re this close to throwing the plan out the window all the same.

A quick check tells you what’s happened. He’d tucked his phone between his shoulder and his ear to free up his left hand – more than ready to follow along with the new plan – but only got his zipper halfway down before his phone had slipped from where he’d secured it.

His laugh as he twists further in the chair, mouth open with his jaw slightly skewed, tells you he hasn’t yet hung up on his mother. You’re caught somewhere between wanting him to leave the phone where it is so that the pair of you can get on with things and wanting him to redirect his attention to said device so that you can route the moment back, get the day back on the correct track. There’s only a little over half an hour left, regardless of either scenario. Either way there’s cleanup to consider.

But – there – that might have been the sound of a car door slam. Maybe you don’t have upwards of half an hour after all. Using his distraction to your advantage, you pull yourself free of his grasp. It’ll work, so long as he remains seated.

Your movement pulls those piercing eyes away from the task of digging between the cushions of his chair, swinging them around to zero a frown in on you. “Shit,” he repeats. This time the utterance of the curse as it leaves his lips is light, his humor showing through even with his eyebrows drawn together. He knows how much you want him, and how much you’re fighting it.

Bzzz-zzzz-zzz

“I think I heard—” you tip your attention towards the front door. It’s a risk, moving your focus away. You only allow yourself a quick peek, one second, before you turn back to look at Ransom again. Internally you will him to – stay seated, don’t move, don’t get up, don’t blink. Laughing, you take another step or two to expand the space between the pair of you even though you want to do the exact opposite. “You need to answer your phone. Your mother. And – I think the team is here.”

Your bright humor stands in contrast to the sharpness of his. Ransom’s smile is predatory as he responds, shaking his head, “They can wait.”

“It’s – too cold out.” Finding the bottom hem of your skirt and giving it a tug you take another slipped side-step towards the door. It’s a little too tempting to agree with him, too, that the others can wait outside for a few minutes. Your body is providing a lengthy bulleted counterargument to the logical argument presented by your head, the first of which is simply an extended wail of frustration.  

Later – you promise yourself – later – even as your body demands – NOW.

He’s up. He’s up and out of the big leather chair. Liar that he is, he isn’t spending the whole day reclined on the furniture simply observing. That’s your fault, something you’ll happily own up to later. He’s up and his attention is focused solely on you. Not his slacks, half-undone that you itch to help him lower a little further, not the phone he’d lost in his chair, not the possibility of an early arrival of the install team.

Bzzz-zzz-zzzz

At least the call had dropped before he’d dropped his phone. When exactly it had dropped is a question for another time. It’ll surely be brought up at some point – how much she’d heard after his assurance that she’d have to bid on the auctioned art just like everyone else. Try as you might you hadn’t been able to keep entirely quiet as he’d flexed those talented fingers between your legs.

If he’s going to auction any of it. You hadn’t missed that jab he’d aimed at his mother.

“Fix your zipper.” It’s a fight to keep your attention focused on his face as you try to shake yourself into something a little closer to presentable. This wouldn’t be the worst thing your team has been greeted with but there’s no need aim for top twenty. “I’ll get the door. Let them in.”

Bzzz-zzz-zzz

You watch the way he shifts his body, the way he narrows his eyes at you as he sorts out which move he wants to make. He’s considering it, saying a mighty fuck you to everything else – everything but the notion of fucking you.

Taking another step, not a half-movement but a full stride, you shake your head at him. Maybe he’ll give in, maybe he won’t. “Answer your phone. Before your mother –-”

For whatever reason that seems to do the trick. He presses his lips together and snorts a short burst of air out through his nose before slowly gathering up the bottom edge of his pullover to wipe his fingers clean. His expression turns flinty as he drops his hands to reaffix the button of his slacks and tend to the zipper, his eyes caught down to the left – not the floor itself, something unseen. “She’s probably already on her way over.”

It’s your turn to narrow your eyes, studying him. That was entirely too easy. But – maybe, probably, he’ll make you pay for it later. You still wait until he turns away from you to finally turn your back on him. Brushing your hands over your clothes for a final straightening of your appearance, you cross the remainder of the room to the front door.

Shoes. You forgot to slip your shoes back on. Oh well. You weren’t planning on running out to the car, anyway, just asking if someone would – you swing the door open but only find your car and Ransom’s parked in the drive. Blinking against the chill – is it getting colder as the day progresses? – you shut the door again, coughing out a quiet curse, “Fuck.”

“That was the offer.”

You roll your eyes at his retort. Yes, it was the offer… one that you were, are, dangerously close to considering. That was the trouble with trying to tempt him, trying to tease him. You always ended up torturing yourself in the process. It’s hard as hell to guard against, one of the many reasons you don’t necessarily mind when Ransom disappears in the pursuit of other things that have caught his attention - the reprieve. 

Ransom is bent, digging in the crevasse between the cushions to try to find his still buzzing phone. His exasperation can be clearly read from his posture. You toss another point into your mental tally. His left hand is clasped in a fist, supporting his weight – his knuckles white against the armrest as he jabs the other hand around in search for the device.

Bzzz-zzz-zzzz

Was he right? Is Linda now on her way over? Does she simply want to supervise the installation? That’s only partially insulting. She thinks you and the gallery team can’t handle the job? But there’s the possibility that she’ll take one look at the lot of pieces and realize that they don’t fall in line with her son’s tastes. There was a distance there, a strain in that relationship, but to claim that Linda didn’t at least have an inkling as to her son’s preferences would be a wildly inaccurate insult to her intelligence.

She’ll likely have your head on a platter before lunch.

You need to get the situation under control. Ransom needs to make some choices, set-in-stone choices, regarding the artwork spread around the room. And confirm if he’s going to try to completely nullify the whole point of what you’d done – the lesson you’d been hoping to teach him – by selling some of the pieces. Damn if he doesn’t usually find a way to twist things to his advantage every time.

First you need to solve the problem of what you’re wearing, or rather, what you’re not. “Fuck,” you shake your head as you repeat yourself, muttering as you wander further into the room, “I really should’ve worn underwear.”

It was more a statement meant to be under your breath than anything else. Possibly an important note to self for future reference. Ransom chooses to respond, chuffing out a laugh as he turns to slouch back down into his chair, the missing – temporarily silent – device held in his hands. “I’m glad you didn’t.” He adds an afterthought with the tilt of his head, “Mostly.”  

“I didn’t think your mother would be present today.”

“No,” he acknowledges with a slow nod, “Just you, me – and the install team.” His expression flattens as he looks to the door, and then tips into faint amusement as his focus returns to you, “They’re not ready to get to work?”

You work your jaw, fighting the temptation to laugh by clenching your teeth as you continue to take slow steps further into the room. Is he suggesting that you told them they’d have to wait outside because they were early or is it his way of insulting the gallery team’s work ethic? Like he’s got room to criticize. You shift your body in a half-shrug, “False alarm, apparently.”

He keeps his eyebrows arched, his amusement shifting slightly as he watches you. Whatever he’s thinking it’s probably nothing good. “Then there’s still time to fuck you,” he juts his chin out in a quick motion, “in front of my favorite piece in the house.”

Your core clenches at the thought and you take a half-step closer to him. He’s waiting for you to argue against the suggestion, for you to try to debate him or reroute his line of thinking. When it doesn’t happen, his smile grows. It’s like he’s pulled an invisible string, reaching out to pluck it with nothing but words, reeling you in. Sucking in your lower lip, you turn to glance at the artwork hanging over the mantel, to your favorite piece of art in the house. Here? Among the Basquiats you’d forced on him?

Ransom’s chuckle pulls your attention back, “No.” He shakes his head, tossing his phone away from him with a little flip as he stands. It lands on one of the middle cushions of the sofa with a soft thud. There goes that possible interruption. “Not that one.”

‘Not that one.’ Ok… You flick your attention upwards in the direction of the one in his bedroom that you’d threatened to replace with the most annoying piece of the newly acquired lot.

“Wrong again.”

He is staying to the outskirt of the room, closing the distance in a way that makes you shift on your feet to track his progress. It helps to mask the way he’s got you squirming, your body begging for the promise of his touch. You knit your eyebrows together in a small frown, loosing your bottom lip from your teeth to reply with a dubious tone, “It’s not something new…”

His chuckle is almost silent. “No.” 

At the prompting of the drop of his eyes you lower your hands, curling your fingers into the material of your skirt to start to tug it up your thighs again. Where’s your willpower? Where’s the desire to not have the house smell like sex?

Gone.

“Would you like to keep guessing?” Ransom tilts his head towards the front of the house, etching a firmer scowl into your features.

Is this another hint? Another misdirect? Several Basquiats still line that wall, with a gaping hole betraying the space where Exu had resided. But he said that it wasn’t a new piece of art. This is punishment for making him make selections earlier, for making him play the selection game… although you had then been the one guessing if he was selecting a piece that he wanted to keep or potentially sell.

You shake your head, shifting your hands from the material of your skirt to the waistband of his slacks when he comes within reach. He pushes your hands away with a swipe of his arm, his hands then moving to slide over your hips and turn you towards the front of the house. Seriously. It can’t be anything but the Basquiats. He isn’t referring to the furniture, or the cabinetry that extends from the edge of the fireplace into the corner of the room. There’s nothing left - nothing else for him to be referring to.

Ransom presses himself against you, keeping one arm snaked around your side to hold you close as he steps the pair of you forward one pace, then another. Is he talking about the way the window frames the woods? The view allowed, and the way the trees are highlighted by the rays of the sun?

The way he’s grinding is all well and good but it’s not what he promised and there’s only so much time before the arrival of the others. You’ll play guessing games with him later – it’s later now, your libido coos with delight – if he’ll just stop fooling around. You emit a tiny whine as he hitches his hips, stalling the progress of the pair of you as he slides his hand down your abdomen. “Ransom….”

He tips your body forward slightly with his torso while his hand finds the edge of your skirt and hikes it higher, allowing his fingers access between your legs again. You try inching up onto the balls of your feet but with the way he’s got you held there’s nowhere really that you can go. He laughs, moving just enough that his voice echoing in his chest is no longer rumbling into your spine, “You really can’t guess? I thought you said you were clever.”

Yes, you’d made that claim earlier. You glance aside, arching a little as you look at him over your shoulder. God, you want to tell him to just - shut up and fuck you - but find him not looking down at you with some cheeky grin, but forward – out the large windows at the front of the house. There is no view of the driveway, and as you’d discovered just a few minutes ago there’s no other cars in the drive but Ransom’s and your own. Is this exhibitionist ass putting on a show for the forest creatures now?

It only takes you a second, turning your attention forward again, to figure it out. He’s putting on a show for himself.

A breathy, rueful laugh escapes you, “Narcissus would be proud.”

Ransom’s heated gaze drops from his own reflected stare to burn into you, a sharp smile etched onto his lips. Watching his movements mirrored back, you feel his free hand shift between the pair of you. You try to give him space without losing your balance, but he refuses to let you get far, his right hand shifting to provide a steadying grip on your hip. Ransom’s reflection opens his mouth when you feel the light flutter of cloth sliding down the backs of your legs and the delightful attention of his hidden hand as he aligns himself.

“You think I’m just watching me?” The smallest look of surprise flickers in the glass, his attention switching between the pair of you even as he attempts to question your assertion.

Yes. Yes, you do, hence the comment. He’s getting off on this. It’s a wonder he doesn’t have mirrors all around his bedroom for just this purpose. Maybe for Christmas -- 

With both hands sliding to get a more steadying grip on your hips he pushes himself inside you, his gaze locked on to the way your mouth drops open to loose a quiet moan. This wasn’t the plan. This wasn’t the plan but then this day hasn’t really gone to plan from the moment you walked in the door. But fuck the plan. This is better.

You voice a small protest as Ransom shifts his hips back without even coming close to fully sheathing himself inside you. That’s not the way the pair of you do things. You push each other to your limits, press boundaries – each of you determined to out-do the other. He’s not really looking for much of a reply in terms of one formed with words. Not right now.

His movements are slow, deliberate as he presses his chest against your back again, “I’m watching you. I’m watching us.”  He thrusts again, both of you watching the reactions of the other, the combined reflection a creature with too many limbs, it’s movements bewitching. 

knifebreak

Chapter Text

A Turn of the Knife 10 photoset

knife pagebreak

Your morning is thoroughly derailed, and you are thoroughly fucked, with the day barely underway. Ransom has you on the balls of your feet and spiraling, twisting what you meant to happen to his advantage as he sinks himself deeper behind your defenses.

“Ransom.”

In the mirrored image of the window his grip slips as he shushes you, his left hand sliding from your hip to keep you planted where he wants you as he drifts his right hand up your body. He doesn’t pause to tug at your collar and expose the bite mark he’d left on your shoulder but anchors his hand around your throat just under your jaw. His grunts in your ear are a familiar echo, a welcome accompaniment to the tiny moans he’s driving out of you with every thrust of his hips.

He tips his head down, his eyes falling away from yours as his sure movements slow and stutter. You expect to watch him bare his teeth, nipping at the tender skin of your neck just below where he’s anchored his thumb. His mouth connects but the hard pinch of teeth doesn’t follow. Instead you catch the intensity of his groan, the vibrations trapped in the negligible space between his mouth and your skin.

The slightest pump of his hips as he pulses through his release is all that’s needed to trip you into your own orgasm. He slips his hand from around your neck, his head snapping up as he wraps his arm across your upper body. His steady grip on your shoulder keeps you close even as your body tries to fall away, his movements keeping the pair of you upright. Nonsensical words threaten to leave your lips, quick quiet curses or sounds of delight. But they can’t. Not with him. They have to stay hidden, held within.

Ransom’s hold slackens as you find your footing. You loosen a light laugh as the pair of you finally separate and you’re able to face him once more. It was less noticeable in the reflection of the glass, but he’ll need to go back upstairs and apply a little more hair gel before anyone arrives. Apparently at some point your hands had done a little wandering of their own causing his still drying locks to stand on end in places. Actually, he probably wouldn’t much mind the fact that he looks freshly fucked. It’s you that it matters to.

A check of your reflection shows you just as worse for wear, if not more so. With a simple straightening of his slacks and shirt, and the application hair gel, he’ll be back to presentable in five minutes or less. In comparison? You tug your skirt back to its modest length, already feeling the evidence of this most recent sexploit begining to drip down your inner thigh. Your shirt has been pulled out of shape – from his wandering hands or attempts to keep the pair of you standing, or both. There’s no easy fix for that, no quick remedy.

Except the last time you’d woken up at his place, what was that – a few months ago now? – you’d discovered a tucked away pile of forgotten belongings in your hunt for where he’d slung your shoes the night before. It was a mystifying discovery of relics kept rather than returned or thrown away. When questioned, he’d offered a lazy shrug from the general vicinity of the center of the bed, and the answer: 'Not my stuff, not my problem. Maybe they’ll remember them if there’s a next time. Maybe I’ll trash it all when I need the space.'

There’s always the off chance there’s something salvageable among the items… if he hadn’t thrown everything out in the meantime. It’s a risk you’ve got to take, all because he’d refused to answer the phone when his mother tried to call him back.

With precious little time for questions or explanations you make the choice and turn for the stairs, removing your misshapen shirt before you’ve hit the first step. Your shirt has one good function left to it – you swipe between your legs to start to cleanup.

The moment’s pause required is all that’s necessary to finally pull Ransom’s attention away from straightening himself using his reflection. “Really.”

Movement accompanies his laughter. If he crosses the room and catches you…  

You shake your head at him quickly, ending that train of thought before he can put more effort into further derailing the day. “No. Ye- no.” Abandoning your crude attempt at wiping away the slick between your legs, you start up the stairs, “You haven’t had anybody come by to clean lately, have you?”

His curiosity keeps him from simply waiting for you to descend again, or at least that’s why you imagine he follows, padding quickly up the stairs behind you as you beeline for his bedroom. “No?”

You catch his puzzled reflection in the floor length mirror aimed at his bedroom door. Hardly surprising that his closet is open, the rows of disorganized clothes visible for anybody that comes up the stairs. What does it matter when you live alone, even if you have periodic guests? It must help to never expect to see many of them again. “Good. Maybe there’ll be something I can use.”

Realization dawns when you lift a random scarf to show him. His narrow, steely-eyed expression clears though his mouth remains in the same oddly held line.

Maybe this won’t work. You flit through a silky, slinky dress, another scarf, a forgotten jacket, and – ew, a pair of panty hose and forgotten underwear. Maybe that’s why he’s just standing there watching you rather than moving on. He’s two steps ahead, already sure that this option isn’t an option and is waiting for the provided amusement your reaction will bring when you finally draw the same conclusion. You’re not so desperate as to wear someone else’s dirty things.

The expulsion of air through his nose is answer enough as you finally sink to rest your weight down on your knees rather than continuing to stoop. A check over your shoulder wins you a sly smile and tipped eyebrow as he moves from the doorway of his bedroom, aiming for the master bathroom. “No one will care. No one will know.”

I’ll know, Ransom.” Frowning, you shove the pile of dirty clothes back out of view.

He’s moved on. You can hear the bump and shuffle of bottles as he moves around in the bathroom, preening in the mirror again knowing him. There’s still the hint of laughter as his voice echoes to you, “Then pick something and wash it.”

As you stand to prepare to wheel on him and tell him exactly what you think of that suggestion something catches your eye. Several crisp white dress shirts hang together, tucked between the hodgepodge disorder of his nice slacks and patterned button downs. That could solve one of your problems. There’s no doubt if they’re clean.

You pluck one of the shirts off its hanger and slip it on while considering yourself in the closet mirror. It will just require – well, no bra, and a careful arrangement of the material of the shirt to keep certain bruises left by certain people hidden, but it’s a solution. It’s not like you haven’t worn any of his shirts before. Or any of his underwear. Oh. That could be the other problem solved.

You leave the shirt unbuttoned as you turn towards his bureau. The baggy boxers like those he’d abandoned at your place won’t work. There’s always the chance he’s got a pair of more fitted briefs tucked away. For all the disorganized chaos of his closet you find what you’re after in his dresser drawers quickly enough, and are back to making adjustments to the way his shirt covers your skin while staring at yourself in the mirror well before he wanders out of the bathroom again, slightly more put together than he was before he’d wandered in.

Ransom meanders over to stand behind you and observe, his eyes making a quick appraisal before drifting back to the way you’re adjusting one sleeve, tucking the cuff securely in place. He’s noticed which shoulder you’ve chosen to leave bare, arcing an eyebrow as his focus drops and wanders again, “Found something that works.”

The smallest frown wrinkles the space just above his nose as you answer, barely lifting your attention away from the task at hand to lock onto his expression in the mirror. Easier – more fun for you – to watch him out of the corner of your eye and keep your chin tucked. “Mmmhmm.”

The other eyebrow lifts. Has he noticed that you’ve removed your bra? He hasn’t tipped his head or turned to see if he can seek it out. You’ve left it out on the bureau. Maybe he noticed that as he walked over. Yes. He’s definitely noticed the lack of a bra. There’s the barest pull to the corners of his mouth. It’s the way he narrows his eyes that you’re curious about. It’s an almost pinched expression. What is it? What’s the reason for it?

You lift your chin, clothing now situated to suit you, to square your focus more fully on his reflection. Your demanding question is poised on your lips, curiosity and a need for understanding driving your actions. What. What’s wrong with what you’ve chosen?

Ransom tilts his head, speaking before you get the chance to, narrowing his eyes to show only the barest bit of blue, “That’s my shirt.”

Yes. Yes, it is. You nod as your turn to face him, pleased by his expression. He’s momentarily frozen, stuck in the stranglehold of whatever is going on internally – somewhere between surprise, annoyance, puzzlement, and maybe a speck of not-quite-hidden delight.

Swiveling to step around him, you collect your bra and head for the bedroom door.  “Yes,” your reply is tickled with laughter, “Problem solved without any washing.”

There’s just enough time to return to the kitchen and start a fresh pot of coffee before noises from the driveway announce the arrival of the install team. Hopefully the fragrant, dark blend will mask the scent of sex. As you wander past the stairs, back towards the front door, you also catch notes of Ransom’s cologne and soap. Was it simply the finishing touches to his morning routine, something you’d missed for being focused on problem solving your apparel and being surrounded by the scent of him? Maybe even just the hint of him rising from the material of his shirt that you’re wearing as it heats against your skin?

“They’re here. I—” You’ve lost track of him after descending the stairs and heading to the kitchen. Probably back at his station in his leather chair waiting to give direction and dictate the actions of the day while not lifting a finger. Hard to say if that’s really what you want.

The squelch of leather from the direction of the living room confirms what you thought. He’s gone back to his earlier promise to watch, nothing more.

You mutter under your breath, holding a careful smile on your face as you reach for the door handle, “Guess I’m letting them in.”

The cold blast of air hits, once again reminding you that you really should have put your shoes on before opening the door. A quick wave and shouted hello offered you start issuing directions once someone is in range of your normal speaking voice. You could slip into the living room and step into your shoes again, but you stay put, monitoring how the materials are unloaded. Everything carries the gallery logo somewhere on it: work bags of tools, tarps, even the ladders. The few-man install team has everything needed, and probably more, to make quick work of hanging the two pieces Ransom has selected from the lot… so long as he cooperates and makes clear decisions about where he wants the pieces to be hung.

You’re about to call back into the house to point that fact out when another car appears around the bend of the driveway, slowly approaching the house. The dark grey SUV is instantly recognizable as one of the Drysdale’s vehicles.

But it’s not Linda behind the wheel.  

Today might not end with your head on a platter, after all. You watch as the SUV parks in line with yours, tipping your chin towards your shoulder to alert Ransom of this new development, “Hey. Your father is here.”

“What?” The sound of shifting leather cushions quickly follows the pitched question, along with another sharply spoken word, “Great.”

Great. Yes. You couldn’t agree more, though from Ransom’s tone he’s none-too-happy about the arrival of a parent, regardless of which one it is. Should have answered that earlier call and maybe it could have been avoided. Your humor falters as Richard extracts himself from the vehicle, his voice raised enough that you can partially make out what’s being said over the bustle of the install team setting up inside.

“Honey,” the term of endearment leaves Richard’s lips without any warmth to it at all. His focus is angled down at the device held in his hand, “I just got here. Let me get to the door and—” He pauses when he glances up and finds you watching his progress towards the house. The same tight smile he’d been offering his phone, one that doesn’t reach his eyes by a mile, accompanies a tip of his head in acknowledgement of your presence.

His clear discomfort makes you squirm where you stand even as you return a polite wave. Richard on his own you can handle. Richard under the influence of Linda is something else altogether. They’ve probably been caught in this not-quite-argument ever since Ransom cut his earlier call with Linda short. You take a step back, your heel coming down on the soft leather of a loafer as you bump into a cashmere clad form.

Something could lure Ransom from the cushions of the sofa after all.

“Son.” Richard’s tone sounds half-disgusted, half-defeated and he hasn’t even made it to the welcome mat.

Ransom fires back as you look at him over your shoulder, his expression hard, his smile humorless, “Father.”

A squawked noise almost resembling Richard’s name makes him jump, pulling a hard flinch out of you.

Right. Linda.

As Richard lifts the device and turns it you feel Ransom’s hand settle on your ass and shove you lightly forward. At least you weren’t wearing your heels, not that your weight on his toes probably feels much better with you barefoot.

“Ransom! Richard get me closer. Ransom how dare you –”

Ransom looses a put-upon exhale, “Hello, Mother.”

Wanting to get well out of dodge of her ire you try to slip down the hallway towards the living room. Entangling yourself with the work to be done will allow the two of them – three of them – time enough to settle matters. Ransom will refuse to bend to whatever demands Linda throws at him, Richard will look miserable and frustrated and echo her sentiments, and they’ll part ways much the same way they met – furious with each other and brooding.

knife pagebreak

Chapter Text

A Turn of the Knife 11 photoset

It’s not —————-.’

Ransom’s voice comes unevenly, some words muffled and some crystal clear though he and his father had moved into a different room from where you and the installation team are working. Ransom leads the argument behind closed doors – the action dictated by his too-busy-to-be-present-but-still-making-her-displeasure-known mother, aided in her mission to keep the airing of dirty laundry somewhat contained by his unhappy-about-all-of-this father.

‘Oh, yeah? Then explain it to me,” Richard’s indignation hasn’t wavered even once, “– uh, us.’

Bits of what come next are garbled, lost behind the movements and tepid chatter of the installation team.  ‘—— don’t ——— explain shit.’  

You don’t need to play Mad Libs to fill in the rest of the sentence. It’s far too easy to sympathize – a dangerous activity while still trapped under the same roof. As similar as your situation is to Ransom’s, you’d at least managed to distance yourself from your family’s reach. The 6-plus-hour drive from Boston to Baltimore is daunting enough to keep your people as physically distant as they are emotionally, something that suits all parties involved. For all Ransom’s talk about wanting nothing to do with his family, his actions say otherwise. Ever since you met him, lazing on the campus green with a book all those years ago, he’s always been quick to engage in any argument broached, always keen to twist the knife he’d jabbed in their backs, or sides.

‘Are you ever going to grow up? Open your eyes to the way the world actually works.’

‘That’s a goddamn riot coming from you.’

There’s a pause during which everyone else in the house deliberately attempts to be as noisy as possible. Nobody is listening in, waiting for the inevitable end as they pretend complete and total preoccupation with the task at hand. Linda must be weighing in, her words no less sharply delivered through the speaker of the phone than they would have been in person. Whatever is said, it brings another barked outburst out of Ransom.

‘And there it is. You know what – I’ve got more right to the proceeds from those books—’

‘Son,’ Richard’s control is long gone, strain pitching his voice, ‘just cause you spent a summer with him doing god-knows-what…’

Oh. You pause in the application of an identification label, staring blankly at the sequence of digits half concealed by your thumb. Ransom was always quick to throw that around at family functions when the subject of his work status – or lack of it – came up. His summer internship with his grandfather, research provided to fuel his murder mysteries. That’s how he’d always played it, how he’d always presented it to the family.

It was one of the many conflicting things that you’d learned about him – that it wasn’t simply that he’d done a little research for Harlan, but that he’d ghostwritten several of the books for his grandfather. Every time the subject was broached it wasn’t the rest of the family you watched for flinches of acknowledgement – it was always Harlan, the family patriarch, that you watched out of the corner of your eye, curious if he’d ever give up any of his closely guarded secrets. The reason why Ransom kept his mouth shut about it was easy enough to guess: the money that Harlan shoveled into the trust in Ransom’s name.

‘Ask him. Ask granddad if he’s really up to 54 books.’ Ransom spits out the words moments before the partition bursts open and he storms back into the living room.

“Ransom!” Richard’s face is flushed a deep magenta, nearly purple in places beneath the spray-on-tan-of-leisure he sports. “What does that mean. Ransom. Get back here.” He’s still holding his phone out in front of him, almost like it might bite him at any moment, that or his wife might jump from it. On the screen of the device, Linda’s scowl matches the ferocity of the one worn by her son.

All movement in the house stops. Everyone is poised, waiting, watching to see what will happen next, only daring to blink and draw shallow breaths.

Did Ransom mean to out himself as the mind behind at least two of the books published under his grandfather’s name? Had his pride finally won out, or was it meant as a way to shake Linda’s faith in her father? You quirk an eyebrow up at him, halfway happy that he’d finally leveled that truth to his parents… that they could learn that fact about their son.

Shame it hadn’t happened under better circumstances.

Ransom stands in the middle of the room clenching and unclenching his fists. His low growl pulls your focus up to his mouth, his jaw held rigid, “Get out.”

Every set of eyes belonging to the installation team tip away from Ransom to square onto you. The workday has only just begun. Is everyone being thrown out of the client’s house – a client as important to the gallery as a Drysdale? You blindly affix the identification label to the packaging protecting the Basquiat, refusing to shift your attention away from Ransom while doing your best to keep from showing any reaction to the anger he’s hardly bothering to hide.

“Yes. That would be best,” Linda drops back into her composure first, running a hand down the front of her teal power suit as she nods on the tiny screen, “So we can sort this out privately. They can come back tom—”

“No.” You catch the flinch, the tinniest tell that ripples the skin beneath Ransom’s left eye that happens moments before he wheels around to face his father and proxied mother, “Everyone. Everyone get out.”

Swallowing, you blink at Ransom’s back. The discomfort that had been slowly building since Richard and Ransom had disappeared into the other room stirs and morphs into surprise, jumping from coworker to coworker until it makes the final leap to spear you. With nothing hung and several pieces still uncovered, unprotected, it’s unheard of to just up and leave. Richard and Ransom may be locked onto one another, but everyone else’s attention is on you. The installation team waits, uncertain, looking for direction.

Client says leave, it’s time to leave. You give a small shrug of your shoulders and nod, quickly changing it to a shake of your head at the silent question that follows from every one of them: do we pack everything up and take all the gear? No. If things don’t settle enough for work to resume later today then you’ll just have to start again tomorrow morning. Maybe Ransom had foreseen this. He’d negotiated several days from your boss, hadn’t he?

Once again the asshole seems to be getting exactly what he asked for.

“Richard don’t take another step.”

With Linda only able to see the things she’s aimed at he is free to roll his eyes towards the ceiling, giving his head a little shake as he does so. He’s careful to keep his arm as steady as possible rather than let his movements and desire to head for the door be known to his wife.

Since several of the pieces are already contained in protective wrapping there’s less chance that Linda will be able to come as quickly to the conclusion you’d feared, even if she has Richard walk around the room to examine the rest. That small comfort only goes so far, but it is enough to tip you towards honoring his wishes. Ransom wants an empty house for the remainder of the day? You can make that happen.

As you open your mouth to speak you inhale, your lips emitting a soft tsk. The sound pulls Ransom’s scowl away from his parents, his sharp glare locking onto you. “We’ll be back to finish tomorrow,” you slip a carefully neutral expression onto your face, determinedly holding it steady as Ransom squints in your direction, his jaw slowly shifting side to side. He won’t find any push back from you. Not right now. “Same time, unless I hear from you sooner.”

The delay is an inconvenience, sure, but it gets you out from under Ransom’s thumb for a little while – a much needed thing considering how deep he’d driven himself beneath your skin this morning. There might be the slightest tinge of guilt within you as you shut the front door, watching the installation team load back into their vehicle… but ongoing battle between Ransom and his parents is his problem to deal with. He’s always been able to hold his own against them. Always had. Always will.

Explaining things to the gallery owner is about as much fun as sitting in traffic while needing to use the restroom, but he eventually accepts the situation for what it is and moves on to other things. There are other jobs to keep everyone busy, things to do both at the gallery and at the storage facility to prep for the incoming collection – the remainder of the Basquiats stored on Ransom’s behalf until he makes up his mind regarding the possibility of a public or private auction.  

It’s well into the afternoon when Ransom’s name pops up on your phone. Has he only just ousted his father and dialed-in mother, or has it taken this long for him to settle down after that flare in his temper this morning? You were waiting for a call, to be honest, to discuss what was going to happen tomorrow – that or no communication at all. It wouldn’t have been surprising for him to simply blow off steam in whatever creative way he could come up with and renew his antics upon the arrival of the installation team the following morning.

‘I want my shirt back.’

A simple, short, demanding text. No hint as to what happened with his parents. No hint of warning that his mother might be on the warpath, if she was still fuming or if he’d managed to get his father to leave shortly after you had driven away from his place. You half wonder if Linda could still be stuck trying to figure out the truth in her son’s claims – if she actually believed Ransom could so convincingly emulate his grandfather’s writing style. Even after sectioning the collection down to the few that had been published within a reasonably estimated time-frame Ransom had given you it had still taken you months to narrow your guesses down further.

‘Ok. I’ll bring it tomorrow.’ You pause before adding another quick message closely on the heels of the first response for clarification. ’10 am.’

His reply is near immediate. ‘now’

Now. Now doesn’t work for you. Now is unideal for so many reasons, but that was likely the point, the very reason why he’d said it.

‘No. I’ll get it dry cleaned and bring it tomorrow.’

You have things to finish sorting out. Notices to draft for the potential listing of art won’t just make themselves, if-and-when you can get him to make any solid decisions on that front. Between that you’ve got commissions to collect, people to talk into buying things they don’t really need for the sake of further padding your bank account.

Those thoughts bring the edge of a frown and move into adding another text to the sequence – ‘Well done today telling them the truth. But… careful how much you push them. Might end up like me with your trust fund all tied up with conditions & strings.’

‘Not tomorrow.’ He flat out ignores your warning, focusing instead on trying to get you to magically reappear at his house. ‘Now.’

Your turn for a single word in reply – no.

With that answer tapped out you set your phone aside and turn your attention back to the ducks you need to line up in a row. You did this to yourself, determined as you were to get his attention with the purchase of the artwork. Everything that resulted was part of the package.

A dull ache starts to form just above your eyes, just above the bridge of your nose. That’s your doing, too. Sitting back in your chair you straighten your spine, pressing your fingertips to the tender spot on your forehead and working them in small circular patterns, closing your eyes to the bustle of the gallery.

Ransom is waiting for you as soon as you close your eyes, the mental projection of him all too keen to show you all the lascivious things that could happen if you simply did as his text requested and left work now. It’s dangerous chasing those thoughts in public, particularly when you’re wrapped in things that belong to him. You swear you can feel his hands snaking over your body, ultimately driving – as they always do – down to amplify the aching heat between your legs.

Fluttering your eyes open you tip forward and adjust the angle of your hips, clenching your thighs together as you fight to regain control. You’re stronger than the lust coursing through your system. No giving in to desire. Not like you did this morning.

It takes a few hours to get things settled, the files organized to your satisfaction – offers sent, drafts of notices written, paperwork duplicated, and tasks delegated for things needed that you couldn’t immediately procure. Your house calls to you: wine, an early dinner, and bed. It’s been a long day, longer than you’d intended when you got behind the wheel this morning. Is that your fault or Ransom’s? Both… if you were being honest with yourself.

The scent of him finds your nose as you shift into your jacket. It’s not the notes of his cologne, likely stirring up from the fabric of his shirt, but something that makes you contemplate your decision to head towards home. Home means a quiet house, dinner at a table set for one, and an empty bed….

You flip your phone in your hands, finally touching the screen to illuminate the device.

There’s a message waiting from him, delivered a few minutes after your final response – that last no you’d sent him.

‘You’ll regret that.’

You suck your bottom lip between your teeth, slow to release it. The delay in his response and silence that followed – along with the words he’d written – is telling: he’s furious you didn’t give in. It’s a wonder he hadn’t shown up at the gallery to cause a scene.

As you step out into the cold of the evening you shudder, as you tip your phone into your jacket pocket, desire once again welling up to play merry hell with your resolve as you walk to your car. “I already do, Ransom.” You mutter a quiet reply into the night, your body begging for the scorch marks his lips sear onto your skin. “I already do.”

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Chapter Text

ATotK Chapter 12 photoset

The night is longer than it has any right to be, your bed refusing the comfort and gift of sleep. No reprieve found between the sheets, you wrap yourself in your plush bathrobe and wander the house, seeking out the space that will shake you free of this insomnia. Something has shifted, changed, though you can’t seem to be able to identify what. The feeling leaves you restless, ghosting from room to room, unable to find a place to settle.

If you’d caved, if you’d gone back to see Ransom you likely wouldn’t be having this problem. He would have left you mentally and physically exhausted. But that’s part of it, isn’t it? He’s part of what’s keeping you awake.

It’s not just the highs that result from the fabulous fuck sessions, the sexploits meant to thumb your noses at the expectations of your respective parents. You tried solving that problem on your own after a long soak in a hot bath. The pleasure found by your own hand had only served to fleetingly lull you into a false sense of satisfaction that had disappeared the moment your head hit your pillow.

The whitewash walls of your house offer no answers to the questions you pose. Your mood worsens with each pass you make, with every circuit of the house and return visit to every cushion, every corner of every room. For some reason you end up in the guest room, loosely wrapped in floral patterned sheets that you have no idea how you came to possess. It’s the only place you can’t smell him, feel him – the last place left untouched.

“Fuck.” You sigh out the near-silent curse as the hues of the room begin to shift in the pre-dawn of morning. You shudder at the thought of getting up, doubtful that you managed even an hour of sleep, but the day can’t present anything worse than the night. An early start will give you additional time to do what you want with your morning, allowing for some time spent at the gallery versus forcing you to focus entirely on the collision course that will land you square in Ransom’s sights.

By the time you’re dressed, downstairs, and consuming your first hit of caffeine for the day your mood has shifted in a better direction. The only power anyone holds over you is the power you give them. It’s about time you started telling Ransom no again, started finding distance between the pair of you again. Let his attention drift to someone else for a while. Maybe he’ll find a better fuckbuddy – someone better suited to stimulate and spur those deep seeded passions he likes to pretend he doesn’t have.

After breakfast you still find yourself staring into the recesses of your cabinets, not sure what you’re looking for. It’s still much too early to head into the gallery or stop by to pick up Ransom’s shirt. Restless, you start moving things around, trashing what you’re willing to part with – the few magazines you’d left sitting out after flipping through them – and relocating the rest to give yourself a sense of purpose, if nothing else.

At least you don’t look as tired as you feel. Catching your reflection in the hallway mirror, you find some comfort in what you see. The clean-cut dress is a silent message to Ransom that you won’t be spending all day humoring him or playing his games. You’ve got more to coordinate at the gallery than simply getting his maybe-so, maybe-not auction lined up. There’s also the artist exhibition to help prep for, the notices for which you’ve been ignoring every time they chime an alert.

Your renewed resolve gets you out the door, by the drycleaner's, and to the gallery before it starts to wobble. Insufficient sleep is to blame. It’s certainly not that you enjoy being the fuckbuddy that sometimes even challenges Ransom out of his comfort zone. It couldn’t be that.

You attempt to mentally iron out that unwanted wrinkle in the fabric of your life as you finally acknowledge and respond to the gallery owner’s reminder about the artist showcase. It turns out to be the perfect distraction, your curiosity pushing you to peruse the packet of information already collected and linked. Several artists catch your eye as you skim the files: three from the west coast, one from the midwest, the rest all from the eastern seaboard.

This is exactly what you need: to focus on the backgrounds of the talent that the gallery wants to pursue. Ransom will just have to – he’ll likely find someone while away on the ski trip he’s purportedly going on soon and voila!

Not twenty minutes pass and your inbox chimes again. It’s not a response from your boss about the showcase, as you expect, but an email of a different sort from a different sender: your family.

You skip the header and what clearly is your sister’s latest attempt at getting there to create a connection between you and your parents. They’d done better by her – or perhaps just realized that they didn’t have the energy to cope with two daughters that were complete strangers to them.

As you will be traveling at the end of the month –

A summons? That little glimmer of hope for the day evaporates as you click to reply. Today will clearly just be one of those days you want to be over, no matter what you do to try to pretend otherwise. They have ways of finding out how well you’re holding to the terms of your arrangement. There’s no need for a visit.

For how quickly the email appeared after your confirmation of the art expo their current source of information is easy enough to guess. It’s a new wrinkle that you’ll have to sort out sooner or later. You offer a now-standard explanation in return: your schedule is full, care of the job that they had demanded you find, but you’ll answer any questions they care to send to you – in your own time.

They weren’t looking to know if you were enjoying yourself in Boston, not unless it would then turn into an analysis about your choice of places to settle. Why not New York? Why not come home to Baltimore? Why not let them use a few more of their contacts, now that you’ve established yourself a little in the industry, and see if they could open a door or two… It was always something they had set their sights on and wanted to push onto you – rooted, of course, in how it would benefit them directly, or otherwise boost the family name. Their motives always settled into one of the two camps: money, or bragging rights.

You wait for a follow-up email from your parents, their dry prose carefully worded to express their displeasure without betraying anything close to an emotion, but none comes. The lack of pushback from your family has you distracted and tense, hardly hearing the banter volleyed through the vehicle by the installation team for the duration of the commute from the gallery to Ransom’s house. Nothing said is at your expense, nothing that you catch, but you can feel it humming there under the road noise within the cabin – the questions, the jibes. You offer them half-focused promises when the subject of the events of the day before comes up. No, today will not be like yesterday. If you have anything to say about it the lot of you will have everything hung, packed up, stored away, and back to work as usual at the gallery before noon… two at the latest.

Carrying Ransom’s shirt hooked on one finger and draped over your shoulder you let the team lead the way up to the house. Ransom answers the door in much the same attire, but with the finishing touches that had been missing the day before. Today’s torso hugging sweater is dark teal, his slacks brown and lacking the pinstripe he’d opted for yesterday, his well-worn loafers offering his feet protection from the cold.

He gives you a onceover, narrowing his eyes in his return analysis of your appearance, the exact cut of your dress halfway hidden by your knee-length outerwear. Is it going to be message received? Is today going to go smoother, be all about getting the work done and moving on? When you swivel his shirt around your body in preparation for handing it off to him, he tips his head slightly, jutting his chin out just enough to give you your answer: nope. He’s clearly not swallowing the silent signal to play things cool today. He’s taking it as a challenge.

Fuck.

Ransom wiggles his lower jaw in a quick side-to-side motion, preparing to say something you’re probably not going to like as he looks down his nose at you. You’re having none of it. You shove the plastic wrapped shirt into his hands and settle him with a glare all your own. There. Apparel returned, even if it wasn’t quite in the timeframe he’d wanted. That text he’d sent – NOW – it was a demand for more than the return of his shirt. No use trying to pretend otherwise, and no taking back the fact that you’d declined him.

“Welcome back.”

You ignore his tone, turning away from him to seek out and supervise the team as they set about finishing the job. There’s the sound of footfall and the shifting of the plastic protecting his freshly cleaned shirt to tell you that Ransom is following.

A black leather duffel is sitting at the bottom of the stairs, bulging a little with whatever has been packed within it. Is it meant as a show of being ready to get away, his attention already shifting on to the purported ski trip with his family?

You tip your chin towards your shoulder, briefly, while refusing to take the bait he’s laid out. “We’ll be finished a little after noon, I think.”

He grunts in response, not quite calling your bluff, but not agreeing with your estimation either.

Believe it or not that’s the way it’s going to be. You and the team will move on, store the pieces he doesn’t want to hang, or hang on to, and move forward with everything expected of the lot of you. Expected. Even thinking about the concept of what’s expected brings your shoulders up again, pulling along thoughts of that summons you’d been sent by your parents.

Frowning, you cross your arms over your chest as you slow your steps, stopping at the edge of the room to better supervise the team as they organize the pieces. Soon they’ll start carrying a few of them out to the van to create more room, beginning the process of restoring Ransom’s den back to its original arrangement. You may be free of Ransom sooner than you thought – free to stew, waiting for further argument from your family.

Right. Because that’s the better use of your time.

Time to start needling Ransom over his insistence that you be present. What better way to distract yourself than a meaningless back-and-forth? Before you can turn to face him he exhales a hard breath through his nose. By the time you’ve swiveled on your heel he’s already retracing his steps towards the front door. Is he going to scoop up that travel bag and leave you to close up the house, satisfied that the work will get completed? As you move to follow him you note the hint of whiskey on the air, but there’s no bottle in sight. A late night spent drinking to blame? Or maybe a splash of drink spilled, something unseen at the moment but found out eventually…

Ransom bypasses the stairs without snagging his bag, strutting straight past his front door. He’s headed for the kitchen. Curiosity, a foul mood that refuses to morph into anything else, and a desire for distraction, keep you in pursuit. Your annoyance spikes when you step into the kitchen to find that he’s tossed his fresh-from-the-dry-cleaners shirt over the back of one of the kitchen chairs, leaving it to wrinkle. The back-and-forth he’d had with his mother at the Thrombey house echoes in your head, making you grind your teeth all the more:

                Why can’t you take care of your things?

                I did, Mother. Up in your furs. That’s why she’s all wobbly.

There’s a partially consumed bloody mary on the counter, apparently what Ransom is after. Unlike yesterday there’s no newspaper spread across the countertop, no magazines discarded, nothing – save the drink – to indicate what he was up to this morning. Careful to keep your distance, you watch from the doorway to the kitchen as he claims and takes a long sip from the glass. That’s probably the source of the hints of whiskey you smelled earlier. Not his usual morning drink, you’re left to assume that it’s the choice method for battling how much he consumed last night, which brings the following question: why.

He’s quarter-turned towards you, not quite showing you his profile, but not quite keeping you in his sights. Your sour mood spurs you to scoff out a comment, unable to simply stand and watch him with the bumps and thumps of the install team in the background, “Breakfast of champions.”

Ransom swallows, barely tipping the glass down and away from his lips before rethinking the action, raising it to drain the last of the drink. He’s stalling… or, as the master of weaponizing silence, simply enjoying the fact that you’re unable to let the silence ride.

You need him to engage and give you a place to focus your aggression. “Must’ve been some night.”

Come on, Ransom. Argue with me.

No reaction. He doesn’t even flinch. Instead of setting those blue eyes on you he swallows the last of the blood red mixture and returns the glass to the countertop. Without a word he puts his back towards you, focusing instead on the refrigerator.

Making himself another? Some night, indeed.

You shake your head, fighting to keep the thought of him drinking the night away in the company of someone else from gaining too much traction – particularly when you spent it restless and alone. Hard as you fight against it, it still finds a foothold, intertwining with your irritation, “Some night in the company of some girl.”

That breaks through the determined focus on mixing his next drink. He sets the components down, forgoing the most important part – the liquor – and aims a hard glare across the kitchen. The deep edges of his frown age his boyish looks, the slouch of his shoulders betray a night spent with little sleep. Like recognizing like, you feel a sympathetic pang bubbling up in the swirls of irritation. Aside from the hangover, you’re pretty much in the same boat – so long as you ignore the fact that his restless night was spent entirely different than yours.

Sleep. That’s all you want. Need. Sleep – that blessed feeling of being well rested. But really what you’re craving, what might at least serve as a more immediate fix, is coffee. He can keep nursing that headache, that weariness, with mixed drinks all he likes but you plan to battle yours with caffeine. Lots of it.

You swing your attention over to carafe, belatedly realizing that the scent of his favorite rich dark brew is missing from the house this morning. Knowing he prefers whole beans, grinding enough to brew and leaving the rest to sit, you exhale a warning, “Go nurse that hangover somewhere else so I can make some coffee.”

“Don’t you have some art you should be watching them hang?”

There’s the snark, the bite to his tone that you were trying to summon. You keep your satisfied smirk hidden from him, focusing on the cabinet doors behind which sit the needed supplies. “They know what they’re doing,” you deflect his accusatory tone with a shrug. The aroma of the beans as you go about prepping the grinder knocks you off the course you were intending, away from the path towards an argument, giving your subsequent words more the air of conversation. “With so little sleep they really don’t need me hovering.”

Ransom doesn’t miss the chance to jump on that quiet assertion, “And who kept you occupied.”

You. You shove aside the first word that wants to tumble from your lips, and the thought that follows. None of your damn business. You. You. You try to shrug off the sharp jab of his words, dumping the beans into the grinder and pressing the lid down to have it whirrrrr to life with slightly more force than entirely necessary.

SSSSKKKKRRRRRRRRR ----

The machine vibrates beneath your hand as it whirs away, creating the fine dust that is required for his coffee maker. You should make something up to answer him just to see him narrow that glare a little further.

RRRRRGGGGGGGRRRRRRRR----

Or maybe see how well he can balance a discussion about how things went after you left yesterday on top of the idea that you spent the night with someone else. He always adores giving you conversation whiplash, making you unsteady. Turnabout is fair play.

Not that he’s entirely to blame for the way your night went, or your morning, for that matter… but he had a hand in it. If you admitted the truth, that you’d fought with yourself all night long over the fact that you wanted to do exactly what he said? He’d be all too delighted to use it to his advantage, or end the friendship, just like he promised all those years ago.

Those were the rules.

RRRRRRNNNNNNNNNNNN

He really shouldn’t keep feeding that hangover with alcohol, regardless of how irritable you feel. Tried and true though the method may be, it’ll only make things worse in the long run. The least you can do is offer a reminder that he might make more headway if he switches over to caffeine. As you tip the lid up to prepare to pour the grounds into his machine you turn, sentence halting as you glance over your shoulder, “Would you like a – cup?”

Ransom’s bloody mary sits on the counter, right where he set it down in the middle of making it. The man that went to the trouble of mixing that bright red drink? – gone.

The triumphant feeling for successfully running him out of the room lands somewhat off-center. You got what you wanted, a little more distance between the pair of you, yet once again you’re left unsatisfied.

While waiting for the coffee to brew you start to wrestle yourself out of your jacket, only to hear the pulsing tones of your phone alerting you to an incoming call. Your boss – checking in to make sure there isn’t a repeat of yesterday? Perhaps a client has arrived at the gallery and is requesting your presence? Anything that gets you out of here sooner is welcome.

That fervent wish to be anywhere else is probably precisely why the caller ID reads out a 410 area code. Baltimore.

Fuck.

You’re stymied for all of a moment, wondering what might happen if you just hit ignore, but then your own warning issued to Ransom the night before echoes in your head: careful how much you push them. Your past actions were the reason your trust fund access is as limited as it is.

“Hello?” You try to keep your voice down as you accept the call and hold your breath while waiting to hear which member of the household is on the other end of the line.

“Hey.”

It’s your little sister. There was just enough of a delay before her light, polite but informal greeting to make you absolutely sure that she’s sitting in the same room as your parents, the three of them exchanging falsely pleasant smiles. You squint at Ransom’s abandoned drink and start to pace. “Can I call you back? Now’s not great –”

You can all but hear how hard she rolls her eyes and carries on in an uncanny mimicry of your mother’s tone. And to think, that could have been you if they’d wanted to bother with having a relationship with their offspring rather than foster you off on caregivers. “Talking to us never seems to be ideal, for you.”

“Hannah, I’m at a client’s house. Whatever this is – it can wait.”

“We’d like to coordinate when you’ll be here for the showcase.”

“I’m hanging up now.”

“Wait…” There’s another pause during which you catch the bustle and bump of movement, along with the click of a door. When your sister drops the detached politeness act you put two and two together: she’s moved into another room. She’ll still report back whatever has been said but she’s less likely to be speaking in code, now. “Look I get that you get off on being adversarial—”

“Good word usage.”

“Thank you – towards them. And really? I love it. It makes me the golden child by default.”

You circle back towards the percolating coffee, feeling halfway cooped up in Ransom’s kitchen. “Name one time when you weren’t the golden child.”

“—but sometimes your fuckery fucks us both.”

“Talk to me about being fucked over by them after you graduate and move out of their house.”

“Can’t you pretend to care?”

That one stings. You tried keeping her in your life, being involved with hers as she grew up, but the way your parents doted on her made that difficult. She didn’t understand the chasm that existed, or your disinterest at shouldering the sole responsibility for building any sort of bridge. Tsking, you sidestep her accusation, “I have two months. Tell them – tell them there’s no reason they can’t wait till then.”

“Most people don’t view the holidays as a trial.” Hanna pouts.

You cough out a laugh, struggling to keep the kitchen from grasping every word that you say to slingshot through the house, “Have you met most people? That’s exactly…. oh, never mind. Look, I really need to go.”

“Please.”

“Wow.” You trace your finger through some of the condensation forming on Ransom’s abandoned glass. “Did that hurt?”

“You’re such a bitch!”

“Yea, well, I learned from the best.” Idly curious, you lean to sniff at Ransom’s drink to see if you can pick out the various ingredients he used. “Not that Karen and the matrons at Mount Marie didn’t do their best…. How is Karen, by the way?”

“Come home and see for yourself.”

From her tone you can tell she thinks she’s got you. Poor sweet attempting-to-manipulate-but-way-out-of-her-depth child. “I’ll just set a reminder to call her later. I’m hanging up now.”

“You know I hate being the go-between. Just do what they want. It’s—”

“Please don’t say easier.” You cut her off before taking a breath, inhaling the aroma of coffee that is much needed in your system. There will probably be enough brewed at this point… Time to get off the phone. “They can grill me all they want in two months, or they can email whatever it is that’s so important to know now.”

The stamp of her foot on carpeted flooring accompanies a heavy huff she exhales, “God! Just because you didn’t get the childhood you think—”

She’s still ranting her frustrations as you say goodbye, probably a little too brightly wishing her well with her report back regarding the conversation. You’ll likely pay for it, either in the questionnaire sent digitally, or during the visit in a few months’ time. The benefit, for the moment, is that the urge to start an argument with Ransom has been satisfied by the exchange.

Before fixing your cup of coffee you toss your jacket over the back of the chair next to the one where Ransom tossed his dry-cleaned shirt, vowing to yourself that you’d get that shirt where it belonged before leaving the house. If not getting it upstairs and into the closet, you’ll at least get it to the banister at the bottom of the stairs. The wrinkles he caused will be his to deal with.

You juggle your mug and the dry-cleaning, feeling a little more at peace as you prepare to exit the kitchen, but at the last minute reroute to retrieve Ransom’s drink. Wherever he’s gone he’ll be needing it. It takes another quick moment of problem solving to figure out how to deposit Ransom’s shirt at the bottom of the stairs without spilling either drink, but you manage. From there you just head towards the noise.

The team has all but gotten the furniture downstairs pushed back into place. Had you taken that long dealing first with Ransom and then on the phone with your sister? A glance out the front windows answers where your team is: working on loading up the art into the van. They’ve clearly gotten the un-needed tools stacked and stored to their liking. The art is always the last piece of the puzzle, aside from the ladders that are carted around on the roof of the vehicle.

But where is Ransom? Not out supervising the way the van is being loaded. Not stretched out on his leather sofa. Not pretending absorption in a magazine, tucked into his chair. The rustle of paper and a dry cough pulls your attention towards the dining room to find him tucked in at the table, leaning forward to balance on one elbow, taking refuge in the same room that he’d vanished into the day before for his unexpected interaction with his parents. One of the pieces hangs on the wall opposite him. He’d likely watched them hang the piece and then couldn’t be bothered to follow when they moved on.

“That looks good in here.” You carefully set his drink down on top of the discarded pile of newsprint to his left, swinging your attention to the art on the wall. It suited the room well enough that it could have been designed around the décor from the start rather than being a new addition.

“Hmm.”

His quick grunt makes you frown as you turn back to him, catching the wince on his face as he swallows a bit of his bloody mary. Maybe you should have brought him a coffee, after all. “You disagree? Better tell me now before they pack everything up.”

Ransom swallows as he sets his drink down, roving his tongue over his teeth behind closed lips before giving his head a careful shake, “No. That was agreement.” He arches his eyebrows up slightly as he swivels his shoulders away from the table, twisting in his seat to face you, “Nowhere better suited, anyway. Unless you have a plan for where to move the tv – hang it on that wall…”

“That would be your problem to solve if you wanted it in there,” you turn on your heel to glance back into the living room at the wall opposite the fireplace where the giant flatscreen hangs. The team leader of the installation team gives you a little nod-and-wave as he reenters the room – indicating that things are almost set for your departure – prompting you to turn back to face Ransom again. “But if that’s what you want, we can always wrap the tv up in packaging until…”

Something about the way he’s flattened his expression while your back was turned brings your guard back up. You know better than to ask him the reason for it, though. Open a door and he’ll gladly step right on through it, wearing a devilish grin.

“Things are getting tight in there.”

You swap your light frown from Ransom over to your coworker. “What?” There should be more room in the vehicle now that some of the artwork is hanging on the walls. Oh – but you’d taken things down in order to make room for the new art, hadn’t you... plus the space the tools took up.

Shit.

He answers, shifting an uneasy look from you to Ransom, and back again, confirming the conclusion you’d just drawn. “With the packaging and the tools, we, um. We might all fit?”

“That’s fine. I’ll take her home.”

“What?” You repeat yourself, but word comes out slightly higher in tone than the previous utterance as you fix your focus on Ransom.

Ransom lifts his arms, stretching his shoulders as a smile slides into place. He tilts his head, ignoring your coworker’s hesitant muttering, all but daring you to contradict or decline his offer. He’ll drive you home? Please. You’ll end up calling a ride and paying for it, and both of you know it. A dull ache is starting to make itself known, forming behind your eyes and spreading fast.

“I’ll take her home.” Ransom flicks his eyes away from yours for a second, glancing at your coworker as though to say – stop his uncomfortable rambling before I MAKE him stop – before returning his attention to you.

You clench your teeth, granting Ransom a half-twitch of your lips before setting your mug down on the table and adopting your ‘The Client is Right’ persona to assure your coworker that this new plan is for the best. You should have seen this coming this morning. If you hadn’t been sleep-deprived and juggling an unexpected interaction with your family, you might have caught the complication. Now – you’ve just got to make the best of it.

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