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“He likes you.”

Ciro doesn’t look up from the workbench. The glossy brochure in his hands is a few years out of date, and the photos are fading. But they’re clear enough to piece together a good idea of what the Romano brothers’ car showroom looks like. Where to go in. Where the staff will be. It’s not a difficult job.

“Did you see the look on his face when I brought him in and then stuck around? Disappointed. I think the kid has a crush.”

“Yeah?” Ciro’s lips twitch. “You’d know if he was gay. Are you jealous?”

“Not me,” Rosario says. “I have better taste.” He drops what’s left of his cigarette to the ground. In the dimly lit garage, the end glows red until it snuffs out under his shoe. Ciro sets the brochure on the table. He slides it over as Rosario approaches to take a look. There’s work to do.

“You don’t have taste,” Ciro says. “Sucking strange guys off in bars, you think that counts as taste?”

“Now who’s jealous?”

“Not me,” Ciro says. “I’m not on my knees for anyone.”

“Just the holy virgin,” Rosario tells him, crass, nodding over at a nearby wall. There's a calendar; a picture of a naked girl with her tits in her hands and an outdated betting slip tacked gracelessly over her face. The veiled Madonna. Rosario’s joke. Like most of his jokes, not actually funny. But Ciro laughs anyway. He lets himself be drawn into the game, leaning a hip against the steel workbench, leaning his forehead against Rosario’s and putting some weight behind it. Hardheaded, both of them. Stubborn. They press against each other like bulls in rut.

“I don’t give a fuck what the kid thinks,” Ciro says. “He’s eager. Ambitious. Maybe he’ll prove himself and stick around, or maybe not. Maybe he’ll die. Right now he’s useful.”

“And he’ll do anything for you. You heard what he said? Whatever you want, Ciro.”

“I want him to show up when I tell him to and leave when the job’s done.”

“Is that all?”

The joke is a stupid one, but Rosario gets like that when the mood takes him. And it’s good in some ways; Ciro tenses up before jobs. He thinks too much. Fine when the gun meets his hand, but the waiting beforehand gets under his skin if he doesn’t keep himself in check. He’s better with Rosario’s distractions. His stupid jokes. If he had an actual problem with eager young Daniele they’d be using someone else for the Romano job, and the kid’s days would be even more numbered than they already are. When Rosario gets truly jealous, he doesn’t joke about it. He makes sure Ciro knows.

“Will you have my back tomorrow?” Ciro presses his forehead hard against Rosario’s. “I’m going to war, are you coming with me?”

“You know I am.” Rosario pushes back. His hands find Ciro’s shoulders, digging deep into the flesh of his upper arms.

“Are you going to follow me?” One-handed, Ciro grabs the back of his neck.

“I always do, Ciro. Why do you even have to ask?” They’re rough, they’ll leave bruises if they can. It’s love. Pain just makes it real. You hurt for the ones you love. Ciro’s fingers draw furrows in Rosario’s hair, the gel sticking to his skin as he massages the other man’s scalp without gentleness.

“You keep asking about the kid. Maybe you like him.”

“Fuck off,” Rosario says amiably. “He’s too young. When he screws up a job and goes crying to the police, I’ll kill him for you. Alright?”

Ciro pulls back, tugging Rosario’s head down to kiss his forehead. “No, he’s my problem,” he says into Rosario’s skin, breathing in the smell of his hair gel and the cigarette he was just smoking. Acrid, inviting; nicotine craving sets in like a kick to the gut. “I’ll kill him if I have to. You can help me with the body.”

“Like I always do.”

“I know.”

Things aren’t so good with the Savastanos right now. The things Ciro says are ignored. Gennaro only listens when the warnings come true and the problems begin; and then, he only listens for as long as it takes him to tell Ciro to fix it. This job with the Romano brothers. It didn’t need to happen. There was room to negotiate if they’d acted sooner, and ways to keep the showroom up and running if they’d looked for leverage over its owners. Ciro spoke up. Genny ignored him. Now a lot of people have to die, and it’s Ciro’s problem, just like young Daniele is Ciro’s problem.

He has a lot of problems these days. Rosario isn’t one of them. He’s the single steady landmark in Ciro’s life; like a mountain on the horizon, leading a lost man home. Ciro kisses his cheek, hard, breathing in the smell of cigarette smoke. The ache is in him now. The craving. The last time wasn’t too long ago, and still too long by far.

Rosario’s fingers dig into his upper arms. He won’t act first. He rarely does, he’s more patient than Ciro. He finishes the things Ciro starts.

“This job tomorrow might not be the end of it,” Ciro mutters. “There’s another war coming. I feel it. And if I’m right, I’ll need the kid’s help. And then I’ll need you.”

“For what?”

“It doesn’t matter yet.”

He kisses Rosario’s mouth, their lips pressed hard together, the ashen aftertaste of nicotine between them. He should have more control; there are very few cravings he can’t set aside, but everyone has a vice or two. This is his. He angles his head, lips parting, his tongue easing into Rosario’s mouth. Rosario makes a startled sound, but there’s no resistance from him. He’s eager.

It’s not how they usually kiss; not like a friend, more like a wife. It’s out of line, and Ciro knows it. He knows. But he also knows Rosario won’t refuse him anything, and his own self-control is frayed to pieces these days. He chases the nicotine on Rosario’s willing tongue, the cigarettes they’re both constantly talking about quitting, the cravings they both know could kill them eventually. His insides are too hot, too cold, aching the way they always do when he tests the boundaries of what Rosario will let him have. When he looks for limits he’s never found, because Rosario will give him anything. A second gun at a massacre. A friend at his back. A hand on the clasp of his belt, fingers gripping the buckle, waiting.

“Whatever you need,” Rosario says. His breath comes shakily, but the rest of him is as steady as ever. He tugs open the clasp of Ciro’s belt, pulling it loose with all the ease of a man who does this far more often than he’ll admit when Ciro asks. “Want someone killed? I’ll kill them for you. Want to start a war? We can do that. Whatever you need, I’m here.”

He pauses, a hand on the zipper of Ciro’s jeans. Always the patient one. Glancing at Ciro’s mouth, absently licking his lips. But he won’t move. Not him.

He’s the only thing in this world Ciro still knows how to predict.

Again, Ciro leans his forehead against Rosario’s, making quick work of his belt, feeling the breath on his cheeks come unevenly. They breathe on each other, pressing close. Rosario’s hand finds his cock, the other on his hip, as if to hold him in place. Maybe he thinks he needs to. Maybe he’s right; Ciro still flinches slightly, tensing up at Rosario’s rough palm and the nauseating skill in the way he moves his hand. He’s good. It’s as if he knows how Ciro would do it himself, or maybe they just like it the same way. Hard and unforgiving, the smell of cigarette smoke on their skin.

They don’t kiss now. Rosario doesn’t need to be told, and Ciro wouldn’t know how to tell him. Not while they’re doing this. It’s a step too far. A craving can be forgiven, but a kiss right now would mean destruction. They press their foreheads together and finally Ciro pushes past Rosario’s zipper, grabbing his cock through his underwear.

The shocked sound Rosario makes is destabilising, a flood of heat that Ciro feels in his gut. He presses harder, moulding his hand to the shape of Rosario’s cock, solid against his palm. Closing his eyes. It’s easier that way. Better. Mouth open, he pants against Rosario’s parted lips and works a hand up and down the clothed outline of his best friend’s cock.

He’s not as good at this as Rosario, and they both know it. He doesn’t practice. Happy going home to Debora and her moods, because he doesn’t need this like Rosario does. It’s just a craving. The hand on his cock works him until he sees an end looming up behind his closed eyelids, and squeezes his eyes closed tighter until the darkness forms patterns like stars.

His head drops to Rosario’s shoulder. He fumbles gracelessly with Rosario’s cock, the weight of him, the things he needs and doesn’t ask for. Mouths at his shoulder where the hem of his t-shirt gives way to skin and the taste of sweat. Of cigarettes. Ciro thinks he’d kill for one right now, but he’ll settle. He can wait. He licks the crook of Rosario’s shoulder.

Maybe it’s the permission he was looking for, or he’s just tired of Ciro’s directionless fumbling; Rosario nudges Ciro’s hand aside, forgiving his hesitancy without words. He draws his own cock out from his underwear. Steps up into Ciro’s space, until he can slot his cock and Ciro’s into one hand and work them both together.

Ciro watches him do it. When watching overwhelms him with the beginnings of understanding, with god, what are we doing?, he closes his eyes again. Feels the strength in Rosario’s grip, and the clumsy rut where their cocks slide together, until that’s too much too and he’s done. He comes into the spaces between Rosario’s fingers, shuddering, feeling Rosario shudder with him. They’re good at that. In sync. Moving together until neither moves at all.

Unsteady, Ciro mouths at Rosario’s cheek. Rosario gives a put-upon sigh and turns his head for a real kiss. He claims it like something he’s owed. Ciro gives it to him, lips parted, accepting the wet heat of Rosario’s tongue on his own.

Is it like this for you with all those strangers you fuck, in the bars where no one knows you? 

He’s always wanted to ask, and never found the moment for it. Or the courage. But he doesn’t feel the need to; the question must be written on his face every time, because he sees the answer on Rosario’s. No, this isn’t the same. What they do with each other is something totally different. Less shameful, and more. Something they’ll never confess. Something they can’t talk about. They don’t have the words for this.

In the morning they’ll drive out together to the Romano car showroom, where an over-eager kid on a bike will meet them to hand over the weapons. There’ll be a massacre. Ciro will fix another problem. And then he’ll go back to Gennaro and hope to god that it’s enough to wake him up from whatever daydream he’s living in these days. If he is, they might have peace. If he isn’t, more people will have to die.

Either way, Rosario will be where Ciro needs him.