“I’m not mad.”
Sam was a tall man, but in that moment he was more imposing than he had ever been. Arms crossed over his chest — Emma and Matthew taking a quiet moment to sigh over the stretch of his shirt as he moved — he surveyed the group before him, a general inspecting his troops.
Faraday was his main suspect. The man was sitting half slouched, one leg thrown over the arm of the chair while the other stretched out in front of him. The playing cards — a complete set Vasquez had picked up for him, finally driven to distraction by the mismatched pack Faraday had insisted on using before — snapped from one hand to the other, a riot of shifting colours.
Vasquez was next on the list. He was perched on the window sill, sun at his back and cigarette held loosely between two fingers, smoke curling towards his cheek like a caress. His eyes were half lidded — molten gold in the shadows — following Sam’s every moment as if preparing to pounce. His knitting lay temporarily abandoned on his lap, needles sticking from the ball like a banner.
Then came Billy. A frown creased his forehead as he carefully wove another plait into his hair, securing the end with another brightly coloured band — ignoring everything else around him. Tiny clips secured them away from his forehead, cheeks red with exertion. Bandages still covered his hands, having been dragged away from the garage for this meeting, the furthest point he could get from the rest of the group without leaving the house, restless energy coiling beneath his skin.
Goodnight met his gaze, barely managing to conceal a grin behind one hand. With a shake of his head, he raised the book — a heavy thing that made Sam’s head to hurt to look at it, tiny text blurring together, pages yellowed and dogeared; rescued by Goodnight’s eldest sister and dropped off in a hostage exchange for their mother’s old jewellery — as a shield between them. His feet were propped up in Billy’s lap, back resting against the arm of the chair in a pose Sam knew he would complain about in the morning.
Red escaped a higher place on his list by virtue of being asleep, however it did not make him entirely innocent. Dark eyes glared at Sam between furrowed brows, head pillowed on his arms. A cup of coffee — his seventh so far if Sam was keeping an accurate count — sat next to him, black and sweet, the message faded and cracked with age. He couldn’t drink it, pressed into the table by the weight of Teddy on top of him.
Teddy snored softly, muttering something into Red’s hair. His beard rasped against the growing edges of Red’s hair, eyes fluttering open for a moment. He grinned at Sam, a slow sleepy thing, raising up just enough to try and sip at his own coffee. Teddy grumbled, nose scrunching up into a conceterina of wrinkles, as he drank Red’s coffee by mistake.
Emma was sitting on Matthew’s lap, mouth pressed to his ear as she whispered to him, eyes slowly sweeping over Sam from his feet to pause at his eyes, before completing the movement again. Flour was dusted over one cheek and had settled in the dark hair at her temples. One leg bounced impatiently against the table setting the cups rattling.
Matthew sighed, tipping his head back to expose his throat, already littered with reddening marks.
“Sam, it’s honestly no big deal,” he said, pulling Emma closer so he could prop his chin on her shoulder. “I can just make some more.”
“Make some more what?” Red growled, raising his head just enough to direct his dead-eyed stare at Matthew.
“Someone stole all the treats I made for this night’s game,” Matthew said, hands already raised to calm the storm.
“I saw Faraday near the kitchen,” Vasquez called.
“Bullshit! It was Red.”
Matthew stood, lifting Emma with him — she giggled and kissed the spot beneath her ear — before he sat her on the edge of the table and moved to Sam’s side.
“Why the subterfuge?” he murmured, voice pitched below the growing argument, “I mean, it’ll pass the time but?”
“Tonight’s D and D game is a murder mystery. I want them so distrustful of each other they can barely stand it.”
“That’s deliciously evil,” Matthew whispered, kissing Sam quickly, grinning against his lips with the taste of chocolate clinging to him.