You’re a runner,
and I am my father’s son
I am my father’s son
I am my father’s son
For lack of any better word, it was forbidden. Not ill advised, or a bad idea, or a preference their families once uttered. No, this prohibition ran deep within their veins, their blood different colors for all they knew. Desires such as theirs were the verboten fruit in paradise the likes of which sent empires to their knees — not their sexual preferences, but this specific need would meet with hell on earth, fire and brimstone raining from the heavens, worse than the original sin itself.
Any interaction between the Smythe and Anderson family that wasn't business or murder was unthinkable.
And for the past seven months they'd committed every unthinkable offence known to their fathers. Fornication, lies, an affair stitched along the seams that held their worlds together and threatened to unravel them every single time they crashed together.
They could both lose their families over this carnal defiance. They could lose their lives should the wrong people find out.
But they risk it.
It started with blood.
A gang war between the Andersons and the Smythes that raged for months; blood ran free in the gutters, guts painted the sidewalks red, and fear blanketed the city in a cold dead quiet.
Other families, the Sylvestris and Jiulia alike, regarded the violence as a good thing; with the Smythes and Andersons at war their businesses boomed, and nothing could persuade them to intervene.
By the time the two families sit down for negotiations eight are dead, casualties on both sides, including Landon Anderson’s eldest son Cooper. They agree on the flimsiest of terms, a precarious agreement built on fresh graves, a need to cease the killing, stop all the violence, institute a time of mourning for all those lost to the mindlessness of violence.
Sebastian Smythe witnesses the handshake between Vincent Smythe and Landon Anderson with veiled disdain — he lost his best friend Hunter in a shooting last week, and while he understands the politics inherent to his world, while that handshake will become law the moment they leave this room, he can’t help but wonder who the next casualty might be. His father? Quinn? Marley?
Blaine Anderson, a self-educated young man, traces his thumb along the trigger of the gun hidden at the small of his back, apprehensive about the fragile cease-fire. The last bullet fired from his gun split through Hunter Clarington’s skull like butter, and the Smythes’ heir apparent, Sebastian, has never let go of a grudge without exacting his own private form of revenge. Sebastian had been at college for several years receiving the same education his father, grandfather and great-grandfather enjoyed, but a tiger didn’t change its stripes. Not in their world. The stories spread far and wide, of people disappeared, people gone in the wake of Sebastian’s rancor, though Blaine’s not worried.
He can handle a Smythe.
“Stay on your side of the Corridor, Landon,” the senior Smythe advises, a threat latent in the words he doesn’t utter as his eyes trip along Blaine’s body. Wouldn’t want you to lose another son.
But neither of them knows who fired the first shot.
So it remains unsaid.
Three days later Cooper Anderson is interred at the local cemetery next to his grandfather. Landon Anderson doesn’t speak all day, but never leaves his wife’s side as she cries, screams at God, loses herself in hysteria. Blaine and Rachel are by their sister-in-law’s side as instructed, their nephew too young to understand what’s happening.
Across town Hunter Clarington is buried next to his father, who died in much the same way he did. No one can tell his mother what happened, her heart too frail to take the truth.
Few people attend, but Sebastian stands over his friend’s grave vowing vengeance.
The divide between the families traced back to Prohibition in the 1920s, when both the Smythes and Andersons had a stake in illegal alcohol production, smuggling, and speakeasies tucked away in shadowy alleys. On top of that the Smythes brought in expensive tobacco, the Andersons Irish whiskey no politician, police commander, or harbormaster could resist. There was an unspoken agreement that one family wouldn’t impinge on the other’s territory and vice versa, and one family wouldn’t attempt to poach the other’s trade.
Unfortunately, as all great stories would have it, love sent it all tumbling down.
A great great third cousin Smythe had once married a great great aunt Anderson, but neither family made a big deal out of it. Until Francis Smythe, head of the family in 1928, caught his wife in bed with Blaine’s great uncle— Cecilia Smythe never saw the light of day again; Walter Anderson fell off the top of a high rise in a supposed drunken stupor.
The relationship between the Andersons and the Smythes had been hostile ever since.
Neither was to blame. Both were to blame. Depended on who you asked.
The Smythes and Andersons stuck to much the same business ventures in the decades that followed; tobacco, high-priced booze, branching out into clubs that ran girls and drugs. Landon Anderson laundered money through various dummy corporations hiding behind real estate purchases; Vincent Smythe ran a casino on the outskirts of town. Both attracted high profile clientele. Both greased the palms of quite a few local politicians.
An area known to locals as the Corridor remained the sole neutral ground — a broad lively boardwalk of nightclubs, shops, bordellos and bars, the Corridor ran through the territories carved out by either family like a demarcation line.
No Smythe ventured East of the Corridor unless they had a death wish.
No Anderson ventured West.
Blaine spent most of his Friday nights at the local gay club Azure.
Modeled after the old Playboy Club of the 1960s its Old Hollywood glitz and glamor offered private booths of black leather lining the walls, small round tables dotted around a dance floor, a stage for artists, the bar a black gleaming marble, and scantily clad waiters managed by the charming Adam Crawford. The Cohen-Chang family privately owned the club, but Adam proved his managing skills years ago when he whipped the inexperienced bunch of hired monkeys into professional waiters. Boys and men alike now begged to work at Azure, despite the work uniform — tiny black shorts, and a stylish black bowtie.
On his worst days Azure was a feast to the eye; he could sit and drink without interruption, enjoy good music, and watch the waiters do their dance. Their hot bodies fueled fantasies of normalcy and anonymity, even at times complacency, and he could pretend there wasn’t a gun fitted snug around his ankle, pressing patterns into his skin.
On his best days, there were the private rooms at the back of the club where customers could satiate their more explicit appetites. It wasn’t always easy, his name being what it was, but he managed a fling once every few months or so. Brief, but satisfying.
Since Cooper was to inherit their father’s empire it made no difference to his family where his tastes lay, and so he never hid his proclivities.
Ever since his brother died there’d been talks about him taking over the reins should his father step down before his nephew’s old enough, though he can’t see that happening. His father was a businessman, first and foremost, and saw most things in life as trades and deals to be closed — he’d been deemed unfit to fill that position a long time ago, and nothing’s changed since.
Unlike him, Landon Anderson demanded attention wherever he went. No violent man by any means his father proved ruthless nonetheless, sending others out to do his dirty work — most often that task fell on his shoulders. It’s what he was good at, so that became his bespoke place in the empire.
In the meantime there was no need for him to pretend. He wasn’t about to tiptoe back into the closet for appearance’s sake.
“Same as usual, Mr. Anderson?”
Adam walks over, always keen on serving him, especially when Sebastian made an appearance too.
“Thanks, Adam,” he says, eyes trained on the far corner of the room, where Sebastian sat drinking alone as well. Cigarette smoke curled around him like a veil, he flirted with the waiters, and drank the finest bourbon.
Not too long ago Sebastian only had eyes for Adam. The two of them were in a relationship for years until Sebastian got tapped as his father’s heir. Sebastian’s older brother, Alexander, generally regarded as irresponsible, lazy, and feeble-minded, would be passed up in favor of Sebastian, who’d proved he had a head for business as well as academia. Now engaged to Quinn Fabray, a girl from a wealthy and highly respectable family, Sebastian broke things off with Adam last year, which didn’t go over well with the handsome Brit.
Every time Sebastian came around the club now Adam promptly gave him the cold shoulder, and showered him with some extra attention. Not that he asked for it.
As the club stood on neutral ground both he and Sebastian stuck to their own corners when their paths crossed; Sebastian never wanted to cause trouble for Adam, and his volatility extended solely to those who provoked him. His interactions with Sebastian remained limited to the occasional hostile stare, and he had no intention of expanding them beyond that.
Adam comes his way again, balancing a whiskey sour on a golden tray, right next to an ornamental cast iron room key. Number 7.
“Courtesy of the gentleman at the bar.”
Adam slinks away with a suggestive wink and a shake of his ass, leaving the key and the drink on the table.
It’s a clear and bold invitation.
A stranger asking to have a good time with him in one of the backrooms of the club without learning his name, without knowing much of anything about him. The thought makes his blood weighty in his veins. He glances toward the bar, where a young man raises his drink at him. Spiky light hair, a tall and lanky build, legs that go on for days. Just his type.
He raises his own glass in greeting and sips his drink, thinking over his options.
Sending the key back with a no, thank you would leave him to his fantasies, no harm, no need to explain the gun, but a yes—
It’s a split second decision, as these things usually are. He downs the rest of his drink and picks up the key, making sure the boy at the bar sees him before he heads for the backrooms, number 7 in particular.
He inserts the key, turns the lock, soon inside a darkened room lit only by light strips lining the floor.
He locks the door behind him and pockets the key. House rules.
A small bathroom on the far side of the room holds a shower and a sink lined with scented oils and shampoos, dark towels camouflaged against mosaic tiles. To his right stood a cupboard, no doubt loaded with toys, the mirror above it rimmed with heavy gold leaf. The king-size bed drew most of the attention, draped in dark colors too, condoms on the pillows. Small as it is, the room has all the necessities, clean enough for his tastes.
The lock snaps in the door behind him as the twin nr°7 key grants access to the room. He turns back in time to make out a tall and lanky silhouette, jeans, leather jacket, before the closing door chases most of the light from the room.
“Mind if we keep the lights down?” comes a soft voice– Curious. He imagined the boy would sound different. “I’m kind of shy.”
He smiles, easily charmed by that kind of shyness. “No problem.”
Shrugged out of his jacket the nameless boy shuffles closer, the room electrified, and his shoulders crawl with the anticipation of the sweetest kind of release. The times he allows himself these flings are few and far between, and he’s not sure why. As his father puts it, he has the world at his feet; he could have anyone he wanted. Yet the few flings he’s had were fast and rushed, over before they really started.
“I can’t believe I’m with the infamous Blaine Anderson.”
Lips trip haphazardly up the back of his neck, along with a weighted shiver at being recognized so easily.
“You’re not armed, are you?”
He laughs as greedy hands slip around his waist, lost in the clean-cut scent of an anonymous man, no cologne, a little sweat and soap, a scent that can only come from another man.
One hand travels down and brushes over his crotch, palming slow circles as lips explore bare skin. His head falls back and meets a bony shoulder, body unlocking under the gentle ministrations; his breathing stutters, dick hardening at the thought of what’s about to happen.
“You like that, huh?” the boy’s voice lowers, sparking down his spine like fireworks.
He bites down on his lower lip to keep from moaning, turning in his lover’s arms. Soft lips find his instantly, a hot tongue running along his mouth — his head turns foggy but he surrenders all the same, his bones aching with a need for this.
Warning bells trip through him ceding control to another man, suppressed in favor of his desire. He doesn’t always have to be the man his father taught him to be, who walks into a room and takes note of all the exits, logs any and all escape routes and carries a backup piece around his ankle. Tonight, in the wake of losing Cooper, in the wake of all the tragedy that dredged up painful events he’s loath to remember — tonight he can let go, he can surrender, he can stop being the man this life spun him into and be faceless, nameless, get off with a complete stranger. It’s a heedless dream he entertains from time to time, a normal nine-to-five, driving off into the sunset, living a life where death would come to collect when he turns gray and old.
But that’s not what life has in store for him.
He breathes the boy in like cigarette smoke, his lungs opening up around an acidic burn, a tension unspooling in his chest he rarely acknowledges as his constant companion. A thumb circles one of his temples, fingers massaging the base of his skull, and he dares to sneak a hand over the boy’s crotch, still soft.
“No need to skip right to dessert,” the boy whispers, and a few seconds later he’s shoved face-first up against the wall, his heart beating dents into the wallpaper. Yes, he needs to be owned, he needs to be dominated, needs to be taken so hard he loses all bearings and can’t sit comfortably for a week.
Cold metal presses hard against the back of his skull.
Followed by the too distinct cock of a trigger.
Ice coats his veins.
“Bang,” the boy says, the muzzle of the gun digging into his skin. “You’re dead.”
His heart calms. He draws in a breath. Refocuses.
Finger on the trigger implies an amateur. One he let far too close.
“You’re making a huge mistake.”
“How’s that?” the boy asks. “An eye for an eye. Isn’t that what the Good Book says? You kill Hunter. I kill you.”
Only then does he recognize the voice.
Bile rises in his throat, fingernails digging into the wall, every muscle in his body primed.
Not yet. No guarantee he can get the upper hand.
“Maybe I should kill the Evans kid,” Sebastian says. “You two are close, right?”
“Fight’s over, Sebastian. Our fathers–”
“Our fathers know jack shit!” Sebastian shouts, losing control as the gun skids down his neck, the magazine audibly shaking in its encasing.
Still lethal. Too risky.
“You shot my best friend in the back of the head. Couldn’t even tell his mother what happened.”
He could try and reason with Sebastian, tell him he isn’t some trigger-happy monkey that shoots at anything that moves. He follows orders. But Sebastian’s right, their fathers had no clue what it was like to be on the streets anymore, locked behind their desks each day barking orders. They don’t know what they lost. Does Sebastian know what he lost? What Cooper’s wife lost? Does he realize Cooper’s son will only ever have stories of his father, not memories?
He grits his teeth together. “Your family took my brother.”
Sebastian expels a breath, the gun sinking down to his shoulder, and he takes his chance—
He grabs back for Sebastian’s gun arm and turns around, the .38 dropping to the floor. He socks Sebastian in the jaw and takes advantage of the confusion to reach down for the backup gun strapped to his ankle. Pushing Sebastian face-down onto the bed he straddles him around the waist, effectively trapping his arms too, and presses his gun to the back of Sebastian’s head.
Two can play that game.
And he plays it a whole lot better.
But he’s mindful of the handshake their fathers shared not a week ago.
He won’t pull the trigger. He won’t start another war.
“Not going soft on me, are you, killer?” Sebastian laughs, nearly coughing up his lungs once he runs out of air.
“Hunter tried to sell our boys some of your stuff.” He leans in, breath breezing along Sebastian’s cheek. “Added his own profit margin. That’s what got him killed.”
Sebastian struggles to break free. “You’re a goddamn liar, Anderson.”
He climbs off Sebastian, securing the .38 behind his back, and unlocks the door.
One way out.
“Believe what you want. If it hadn’t been me it would’ve been Puck. And you know he leaves a much bigger mess.”
Noah ‘Puck’ Puckerman was the go-to guy for hits that didn’t need to happen strictly in-house, and worked for whoever paid the most. He got theatrical in his methods of disposal. It made for a scary deterrent, but some kills didn’t need visibility. The only signature he ever left behind was a bullet.
Sebastian sits up and wipes at the blood on his lips. “You said you weren’t armed.”
“Word of advice, Smythe. I’m always armed.”
He straps his own gun back around his ankle.
“You do anything like that again and I bury you next to your friend.”
Sebastian jumps up. “This isn’t over, Anderson.”
He leaves the room nearly tripping over his own feet, his right hand opening and closing at his side. Skin too tight, too loose in other places his heartbeat picks up again and he can’t stand still and goddamn— How could he be so stupid? How could he drop his guard? How could he let himself be taken for a fool?
He walks home along the boardwalk, seeing nothing, no one, his skin threadbare; he takes a sharp left once he reaches the mansion and heads straight for the fitness room, promptly ignoring whatever greetings he receives along the way, if any.
He strips out of his shirt and tapes up his hands, almost breaking out in tears the second his fist hits the black leather punching bag. So stupid. So goddamn stupid. An Anderson doesn’t let his guard down. Least of all around a Smythe.
“Not in the mood, Rachel,” he utters between two punches, disregarding his twin sister’s pleas. She means well, she always does, but few people can reason with him when he’s focused on the pain, on the technique of it, the telltale rip of skin not unlike the tension threatening to rip the house apart.
It’s been like that for days, the mood so sharp it could cut skin, while they all precariously tried to move around the space Cooper used to occupy. He and his brother were never close, circumstances stood in the way of that, but in his world there was no value greater than that of family.
Cooper wasn’t meant to die, his life expectancy lay much higher than his or people like Noah Puckerman — Cooper had been destined to lead, to take their father’s place, not perish in the street like a common foot soldier. His father lost the son he couldn’t bear to lose, his mother cried for another child, and Rachel shrunk ever smaller in a house filled with the malaise of loss.
The Smythes killed his brother and he let Sebastian kiss him. What’s wrong with him?
“Stop hurting yourself.”
Rachel grabs his left wrist when the tape around his hand stains darker, the skin broken underneath, but he needs the pain. He understands pain. Sometimes he thinks it’s the only goddamn thing in this world he does understand. If he shoots a man above the knee he inflicts limited damage but a maximum amount of distress, a great way to extort information; if he shoots at someone’s throat at the right angle he can paralyze them, inflict pain without the victim being able to move.
Pain makes a weak man weaker. It makes a strong man stronger.
One look into Rachel’s hazel eyes nearly sends him to his knees. Is he a weak man or a strong man? He let a Smythe touch him. He let a Smythe kiss him.
A Smythe killed his brother.
“I made a mistake,” he chokes out, his anger transmuting into learnt disgust.
“We all make mistakes, Blaine,” Rachel says, their grandmother’s wisdom in her voice. “It’s how we learn from them that defines us.”
Can he live with this? Can he learn? All he’d wanted was to let go, surrender to a body with such heedless abandon he could forget his own name, lose control and forget about death for a while, forget the ever-growing list of souls he ferried on his shoulders. Maybe he’d even wanted shame, weakness tied into his sexual desires, a need for a whole different kind of release than the one a bullet provided.
“Oh, little brother,” Rachel says, even though she’s mere minutes older than him, and draws him into her chest. “Everything will be okay. You’ll see.”
Rachel’s hand strokes down his back the way their grandmother’s used to, followed by a phrase that once had the power to lift his spirits.
“It’ll all seem less daunting in the morning sun.”
He folds his arms tighter around Rachel and closes his eyes, but highly doubts this pit in his stomach will disappear overnight. The thought that spins through his mind is too distressing.
He let Sebastian Smythe kiss him. And he liked it.
If he were any other man, with a normal life, he would have disappeared in his bed for a few days without coming up for air, nourished this dark sense of shame into an honest mistake, one he wouldn’t make again. But he’s his father’s son and he’s expected to be strong, without shame, incorruptible in a world built on immorality.
In the bathroom he stares at his own reflection in the mirror long and hard, his dark heavy eyebrows identical to his father’s, his brown eyes too, the same good looks that ran in the family. Right now, uncertainty plays around his lips, mouth assailed with the press of another’s, an enemy’s, and for what? Revenge?
It was bound to happen sooner or later; he’s taken too many lives not to attract attention, attract enemies, and Sebastian took a calculated risk. Azure was neutral ground, and if he’d succeeded, if he’d splattered his brains across the wall of that backroom both their fathers would have known how little their truce meant. The Smythes took his brother, he killed one of their lieutenants — a handshake didn’t erase that.
He runs his fingers through his thick wet curls, pauses over the imaginary impression of the muzzle of a gun. Decides to let it go. Sebastian tried and failed. He won’t get another shot. There’s no point lingering on this.
Shoulders righted, he began the arduous task of combing back his hair, slicking it back with gel to tame it into submission, hiding the curls he used to give free rein. They’re his mother’s curls, his grandmother’s, and more often than not they got in the way.
He dresses in black slacks, a black button-up and a black tie. Holsters a gun around his right ankle. Secures a Smith & Wesson pistol behind his back. Shrugs into a black jacket.
In the mirror he sees a younger version of his father: professional, chic, put together, even though he’ll never measure up. He’ll never be the businessman his father is, his brother was, nor the right hand man who can pull strings, grease the right palms. He lost that potential a long time ago.
His mother comes over with a cup of coffee the moment he steps into the kitchen, fussing over his tie a few seconds. He doesn’t hug her, and she’s stopped expecting him to, but she finds other ways to touch him. She tends his wounds when he gets hurt, mends his clothes, checks in with him whenever she can.
He wished he could touch her in return, but then his eyes would fall to her dress, or sweater, or lipstick, registering the green-gray his brain can’t translate.
Red is his father’s favorite color on his mother.
He wishes she wouldn’t wear it quite so often.
“Your father said you’re with Sam all day?”
“Money transport.” He nods. “Shouldn’t be any trouble.”
Sam Evans, his closest friend, or rather the man he’s tasked to protect as often as his father, drove the nondescript van from the Fairfax building where dozens of his father’s employees worked day and night to launder money, to a bank the next town over that handled their business discreetly. He sat up-front with Sam, one guard in the back with the money, an unmarked car tailing them.
Whenever his mother learned he’d work with Sam something unspooled in her expression. He couldn’t say why — a money transport was a prime target not only for rival families but random thugs as well. Over the past ten years five transports had been attacked, only one of those under his supervision. He’d taken a bullet to the shoulder and his mom hadn’t given him a moment’s rest during his recovery, so her relief when he set out on another run with Sam seemed odd.
But his mother liked Sam, his quick jokes and glib charm, and the fact that he was a family man. He often wondered if his mother saw in Sam what she missed in him.
As for him, Sam was an easy person to be around — he talked a lot, about the latest pop culture gossip, science fiction and superheroes, his obsession with The Great British Bake-Off. Sam didn’t require a lot of maintenance.
He sits next to Sam all day with his mind elsewhere, his fingertips tracing along the harsh outline of last night’s memory, his skin catching where Sebastian’s tongue had teased over his lips.
“What’s with you today, man?” Sam asks, clinking their beers together. He hasn’t touched his. Tradition dictated one of them bought the others a round after a successful drop, a tradition he respected as best he could.
“Nothing.” He shrugs, tossing a five-dollar bill on top of the bar. “I’m heading home.”
“You need a ride?” Sam offers, even though experience taught him Sam would be here for another few hours and catch a cab home, ever so reluctant to head home where there’s a crying baby waiting for him.
“I’ll walk,” he throws back over his shoulder, headed for the bar’s back exit.
For a moment or two he considers a visit to Azure, maybe loosen up around a few more whiskeys and call a cab at the end of the night too, but he’s still too shaken. It’ll never cease to amaze him how a place can change when tainted by experience, how red can disappear in the wake of trauma, how Azure now tasted like—
“Sebastian,” he hisses as he steps into the alley behind the bar, the other man leaning back against a black Mercedes-Benz, CLS Class, Black Bison. Wide open to assault.
The metal door behind him screeches shut, nothing but the night’s air between them.
“You’re a hard man to find,” Sebastian says, feet crossed at the ankles, dipped in the glow of a street lantern.
He reaches behind his back on instinct. “And you must have a death wish.”
Exit to his left. Exit to his right. Door behind him opens from the inside.
But is Sebastian even armed?
“You were right.”
Sebastian takes a long drag of the cigarette resting between his lips, a perfect ‘o’ around the filter.
“I asked around about Hunter. Did us both a favor.”
His jaw locks. “Didn’t do it for you.”
“No.” Sebastian oscillates a step closer, eyes a lewd trip down his limbs, the air steadily growing thinner. “I don’t imagine you did.”
The cigarette discarded on the ground, Sebastian licks his lips. They’re inches apart and he can’t tell what’s happening, whether Sebastian means to intimidate or simply size him up, but he can’t shake thoughts of quicksilver. Wild and elusive.
Sebastian captures his lips with his.
He reels back, his back hitting brick while Sebastian continues his forward assault. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Finishing what we started.”
His stomach bottoms out, a wild panic traces up his spine, but he’s bolted in place. “You’re insane,” he breathes, that minute shock alloying with a near sense of excitement.
Sebastian clutches a hand around his chin and sneers, “Maybe I am.”
He shoves at Sebastian’s chest, but he gives easily.
“Seemed pretty eager the other day.”
“I didn’t know it was you.”
“You were willing to screw a complete stranger. Other than knowing my face, isn’t that exactly what I am to you?”
His lungs fill with water. “I know your name too.”
“My name.” Sebastian smiles deviously, like he isn’t finished trying by a long shot, and chances another step in the wrong direction. “My name doesn’t matter this part of town.”
Sebastian reaches out a hand and runs a thumb along his lips. It’s wrong, it’s not allowed, but doesn’t his world rest on principles of lawlessness in the first place?
“Neither does yours.”
He smacks at Sebastian’s arm, torn apart by impossible choices. “Go to hell”—he grits his teeth together, but when Sebastian doesn’t back down he hits him in the face. Closed fist. Sebastian staggers a few steps back and that could be his way out, it should be, but what Sebastian said stirred a deep desire inside him. His name doesn’t matter. It hadn’t at Azure and it doesn’t — does it? Does it matter now?
Two strong arms catch him off guard, his head smacking hard off the wall as his entire body collides with it, a fist to his face breaking the skin over his lips. His eyesight blurs under the force of the collision, his skull throbbing.
“You look so fine bleeding, Anderson.” Sebastian’s breath tickles coppery along his lips and his hand closes around his throat, the touch leaving something to be desired.
He understands pain. Maybe he even craves it.
He shoves hard at Sebastian’s chest again, catching him by surprise because he tumbles backward, barely able to hold himself up by the hood of his car.
Sebastian’s eyes catch in his, while a filthy grin pulls at his lips, bound to be as bloody as his. “We about done here?”
Spitting, he drags the back of his hand over his mouth, wiping off as much blood as he can before he closes the distance between their bruised bodies.
“Not even close,” he growls, and grabs Sebastian around the neck, pulling him down until their mouths crash together — his name doesn’t matter, only their bodies do, only the pain does. Screw duty and his rules, screw the empire built on blood and bones. Screw both these great men who have no clue what their lives are like. Their fathers know jack shit.
Sebastian tastes like blood and cheap cigarettes as he forces his tongue into his mouth, the taller ripping at his shoulders, his shirt, at stitches never healed before biting at his bloodied lip. He hisses at the pain, but yanks at Sebastian’s hair in response, biting along his jawline, down his neck, drawing blood at his collarbone, eliciting noises from Sebastian that worm their way inside like parasites.
Before long he impacts with the wall again, face-first this time, his lips leaving smears of blood in the grain of the brick — he’s the one gone insane allowing this but Sebastian wastes no time, no room for him to second guess; his lips are at his neck and he kicks his feet apart, Sebastian’s groin settling against the cleft of his ass, hard for him already.
Much like last night Sebastian reaches around, but instead of palming him through his pants Sebastian undoes the button, pulls down the zipper, the ensuing skin-to-skin contact deafening his doubt. In his abandon he lets out a deep throaty groan, one that emboldens Sebastian’s hand, jerking him off with a few rough strokes. He pushes back against Sebastian’s chest in a mad attempt at escape, but lacks the conviction to follow through. He wants this, the inescapable humiliation at the hands of an enemy, the tension, the fight-or-flight responses in both their bodies. The thought that there are no exits at all.
It’s a volatile sort of torture, Sebastian tilting his hips against his ass, his grunts and groans and hisses, his hand matching the rhythm of his body. Neither of them speaks. Neither of them needs to. They’re just bodies. Nameless. Faceless. Writhing as one.
He hits the wall with a closed fist as he comes, seeing red for a few releasing moments, before the color seeps from the visible spectrum again. He bleeds red as he thrashes into Sebastian’s body, his hand unrelenting — he lets Sebastian stroke him until it hurts, until the white hot haze floods his peripheral vision and Sebastian groans his orgasm too, shaking against him.
They breathe hard and he’s held together solely by the graces of Sebastian’s arm around him, his knees too weak to bear his weight.
What now, he thinks, do they go back to being Blaine and Sebastian? Do they reclaim their names, pretend like nothing happened and turn into enemies once again?
Sebastian moves first, takes a step back, untangling their arms, no other sound but the night hesitantly whispering their names. Smythe. Anderson. What have they done?
He zips up his pants but doesn’t turn around, too ashamed to face his enemy.
Sebastian gets in his car and drives off.
Forehead touched to the brick wall his breath hitches. He’s never felt this alive, so aware of every one of his limbs, lungs open and free, never this close to danger — gun fights left him less affected than Sebastian did. He blames the danger, the gun to his head, the shame he invites closer, the forbiddenness of the entire act.
He blames Sebastian, too.
That night, like every night, his mother cries. She mourns the son she lost, the grandson left without a father, her daughter-in-law widowed in a world that won’t see her remarried — it isn’t their way. She cries over the innocence he lost over a decade ago, over the kindness Rachel somehow managed to hold onto, and all the pain life dealt her since falling in love with his father.
He listens to his parents’ distant conversation, all the more urgent since his brother died. Sometimes they fight. Sometimes they apologize. One thing remains constant.
His mother cries for her children.
There’s a soft rap at his bedroom door, which opens moments later.
Rachel never waits for an answer. She knows he doesn’t sleep much.
“Can I stay here tonight?”
Wordlessly, he pulls back the sheets. They haven’t shared a bed in over ten years, but when Rachel lies down by his side, when her warmth starts filling the sheets, he can’t remember why he ever forced her to sleep on her own. Because his sister’s warmth whisks the touch of death off his shoulders, stops his bones from shaking shame and disgust. Makes him forget his split lip, the cracks in his armor, the headache pounding at the back of his head.
One finger at a time, he lets go of the gun stashed below his pillow.
“I got a new violin teacher today,” Rachel says, their parents’ voices fading into white noise. “His name’s Jesse. I really like him.”
Their father granted Rachel everything her heart desired, his only daughter the apple of his eye who could do no wrong — her latest obsession was the violin, even though she played most other instruments already, and had been taking singing lessons all her life. Whenever her voice rang through the hallways the house came to life, brightened with its strength and melody.
But Rachel hasn’t sung in weeks.
“Nothing.” Rachel shrugs. “He makes me laugh.”
In the dark of the room he identifies Rachel’s hesitation all too clearly; her new teacher knew nothing of their world, and it wouldn’t do her any good to get attached. The first and last boyfriend she brought home turned tail and ran when he found out what sort of business their family was in, and who could blame him? Their life didn’t lend itself to anonymity, not to safety, not to carefree love affairs.
But Rachel didn’t see their world as being black and white, right or wrong, but rather a whole array of colors; she had hopes and dreams that far exceeded his own and she pursued the things she wanted relentlessly. If she wanted Jesse, she would have him even at the risk of another broken heart, and there isn’t anything he or his father could do to dissuade her. He’d have to meet him, then, this Jesse, to make sure he was worthy of his sister’s affections.
Falling in love wasn’t something he could relate to, carrying the darkness he did. He’d had few lovers, no broken hearts to speak of. That wasn’t in the cards for him.
What he did with Sebastian — he’d crossed a line, committed sin with someone from the other side of the border, but he’d never felt so free, so unencumbered, so shameless in the few releasing moments exchanged.
The ghost of a muzzle digs into his temple. Dents around his doubt.
He wants to surrender again.
His foot settles in a steady tapping rhythm as the night drags on, up, down, up, down, up, down, his knee hitting the underside of the table every few seconds. He’s never been to Azure on a Sunday night and he suspects neither has Sebastian, but they’re both there. Watching each other carefully. As if either one of them could jump up and pull out a gun. As if neither of them would care about the casualties.
Adam serves them both, the other waiters steering clear for fear of falling victim to their feud.
He can’t say why he came, why there’s this undeniable magnetism between him and Sebastian now. They’re on opposite sides of a physical boundary, now living a secret on that very line — a secret that if uncovered could get them both killed. So what changed?
He dodged questions about his face all day, his swollen lip, the bruise on his jaw; Rachel had fussed, forced a few cold compresses on him and insisted on covering up most of the damage. His guilt damn near crippling him. How could he lie to his own sister? No two people were closer than him and Rachel — tragedy had ensured they only trusted each other and never kept anything a secret. His instincts were often to protect Rachel from having to see the seedy underside of their father’s world, but she never allowed him to carry that burden on his own. She never had. She knew the souls he carried as intimately as he did.
So to now lie to her to save him the shame of his family knowing — is he a weak man, or a strong one?
Weak, he decides, because as Adam walks over with a drink and that same room key he can’t help but lick his lips, glance at Sebastian, his breathing deepening around the recollection of their bodies colliding, writhing together in that alleyway. Hidden. Secretive. Forbidden.
“From the gentleman at the bar again.”
Adam effectively blocks his direct line of sight to Sebastian, and as his gaze skips to the same boy his eyes met on Friday, Sebastian slips past to get his hands on the nr°7 room key. More than ever he understands Sebastian’s need for secrecy; he may have used the boy for his own nefarious purposes –and Sebastian had to know it would bring back the sharp and bitter taste of that night–, but it seems Sebastian’s also willing to take that chance.
Maybe Sebastian’s as torn up about this as he is.
He takes his sweet time finishing his drink. He holds all the power now, while Sebastian waits for him in the room it all started. If he got up and went home it could all be over, he could stop the lies before he got in too deep and chalk this all up to a terribly misjudged call. No harm. No foul. Sebastian’s left the decision in his hands.
But as he gets up and stalks toward the backroom his usually steady hands tremble; he rattles with indecision, with doubt, with a desire he decidedly shouldn’t have. If so ordered he would shoot Sebastian without blinking, but when faced with this decision he might as well be putty in Sebastian’s hands.
He hates Sebastian. But he wants him all the same.
He inserts the key into the door, exhaling as he turns the lock. There’s no going back. Sebastian knows that too.
Cigarette smoke fills the room, Sebastian appearing like a specter, lying in wait to ensnare him like a fox stalking its prey. It should snap him out of his lustful fog. It should make him want to start a war. But it doesn’t.
“You took your time.”
He locks the door. Backs into it.
No exit left.
“I shouldn’t be here.”
Sebastian casts a lazy smile and stubs out his cigarette, closing the distance between them with as much care as he does intent; he moves with the grace and majesty of a fox, a deliberate precision in his movements that he finds difficult to resist.
Sebastian cocks an eyebrow. “But you are.”
The fox always does prefer sly cunning to brute force.
“This–” He swallows hard, eyes skipping to Sebastian’s lips — No names. Just bodies. “–can’t be more than what it is.”
Sebastian ventures another step closer, a finger teasing at the button of his pants, down along the zipper — he loses all sense of what’s up and what’s down, in and out, right or wrong. Strength or weakness. He can taste Sebastian in the air, the minty after-burn of his cigarette, cologne sweet and rosy on his skin.
“And what’s that?” Sebastian asks softly, his voice setting dark and heavy on his diaphragm, the tears that burn in the corners of his eyes not so much informed by sadness or sorrow as they are by the most authentic kind of distress. They’re enemies on opposite sides of the Corridor. They’re not friends, not even—
“Just this,” he whispers, blinking away tears that betray his true wishes, that could destroy him, but Sebastian doesn’t give them the chance to; his lips close over his, a hand ghosts over his crotch, and his gut twists with a razor-sharp itch.
Grabbing around Sebastian’s neck his tongue snags behind his teeth. Sebastian sucks at his tongue, their mouths a filthy mess of ragged breaths and saliva, would-be bruises and all the fight still left in them. They shouldn’t. But they do. Sebastian’s hips skip uncoordinated along his in search of more friction, their bodies close. So close.
He reaches down and undoes Sebastian’s pants, pushing the fabric down impossibly slim hips, Sebastian in his hand a few moments later. Sebastian moans to his lips and makes quick work to do the same to him, as if he can’t get off fast enough, as if the world could end tomorrow, they’ll be discovered and they’ll be forced to account for their sins.
As if there’s a gun to his head too.
The thought gives him pause, and he makes the unmentionable mistake of finding Sebastian’s eyes, because he hesitates too, halting any friction between their bodies. But where his heart wraps around the fear that they’re starting something they’ll never be able to come back from, while he almost turns tail and runs before he gets in too deep, Sebastian’s eyes relay a clear challenge, highlighted by a flick of his thumb, a near imperceptible squeeze of his hand around his dick.
With a smirk he leaves Sebastian high and dry and settles back against the door, hiking up his shirt to watch himself get played with.
Sebastian’s shoulders roll with beautifully contained frustration, quickly replaced with that all-encompassing slick smile that traps a snarl behind his teeth. “Always figured one of you Andersons had to have a kinky side.”
Sebastian’s body sways into his, his hand a delicate stroke, his breath tickling along his ear.
“Underneath all that tight control,” Sebastian whispers, while he gasps a shuddery breath, both at the unrelenting ease of Sebastian’s hand and the sight of his limp dick. “Underneath all this black. Those gloves. Those trench coats.”
He wears black for a good reason, though one not currently preoccupying his conscious mind, not with Sebastian driving him insane, his words and ministrations spun right alongside his dark dissatisfied need.
“I bet you don’t even touch yourself,” –another challenge– “do you, Anderson?”
“You talk too much,” he breathes, and suddenly his hands are at Sebastian’s chest, suddenly they’re propelled toward the bed, suddenly he’s on top of Sebastian and they’re both rushing to get clothing out of the way, pants down, shirts hiked up until their hips slot together, and a slow grind starts them breathing again.
He steals the words right out of Sebastian’s mouth with his lips, even though there’s nothing he’d rather do than have that sharp tongue hollow him out, soften hard edges, but impatience rubs and bumps them together in an ungraceful manner. He tugs at the sheets below them, bears his hips down to chase the aching throb, but fails to alleviate any of the pressure. So he grabs down around them both, his fingers a tight ring slicked with precome, the enemies now lovers against their better judgment.
He licks a wet line up Sebastian’s throat, a restrained bob beneath his tongue once he bites behind his ear — hands fly down and grab around his ass; his hips, Sebastian’s hips, a rhythm so tight sin itself weaves into their skin.
Afterwards, they lie side by side on the bed. Partly clothed. Both of them coated all over Sebastian’s stomach, his right hand, select sections of the sheets. They pass a cigarette between them, smoke knitting into their clothes and the room at large. His shame lies matted on the floor, from his spot in the bar tracking to this room, drying thick in the small hairs on the back of his hand. He could track it by its taste and scent, copper and citrusy with a bitter aftertaste. Yet something he could swallow.
“Is it true? What they say about you?” Sebastian asks as he daintily plucks the cigarette from between his lips. Another cheap one. Not one of his father’s imports.
He wipes his hand along the sheets, zips up his pants.
There are plenty of rumors about him — how he’s the worst among men, how he’d kill hundreds, entire families should his father ask, how he’s killed men with his bare hands. How he wears black to slip by unnoticed in the shadows, to hide exactly how cozily death sits hunched on his shoulders. Some modicum of a lie. Some modicum of truth.
“That you can’t see red?”
His shoulders lift off the bed.
He closes his eyes as he sits up. Rearranges the sheets around him. Exhales. He’s armed. Sebastian isn’t.
“I can’t,” he confesses.
It’s not a rumor, not one in a long line of others but what he thought to be a carefully guarded secret. The Smythes, however, much like other players in this elaborately dangerous chess game of theirs, had ways of uncovering hidden truths. What does it matter? He can’t distinguish red from black. Hardly the end of the world.
“Color blind,” he preempts. “Dichromatic. In the red-green spectrum.”
Some say it’s what makes him a great killer. His brother had.
Now, the air merely trembles with a smile.
He didn’t start out this way.
As sons of Landon Anderson he and Cooper would be groomed for an important position within their father’s empire. It’s what sons did, without question, and Cooper had always been hungry for it. He attended business school, received self defense and gun training from the best in the trade, got personal introductions to several key members within the organization — the full premium package every first born son got.
Twelve years Cooper’s junior, he was destined for the same things.
For the first ten years of their lives he and Rachel lived with their grandparents on their mother’s side, out in the country where the city was nothing but a blip on the radar, a memory that never took hold. Cooper needed to develop independently of his siblings while he and Rachel needed to be safe from his father’s enemies, and his parents wanted them to have a normal childhood.
The house stood alone in endless wide-open fields, grass and corn and wheat as far as the eye could reach along the horizon. A double swing set in the backyard, the dogs running around freely, a barn for the horses.
There wasn’t a day that went by when he and Rachel weren’t running around in the fields playing tag, hide-and-seek in the rows of corn, taking turns sitting on their grandfather’s lap to drive the tractor around. And when his parents and Cooper visited in the weekends, they marveled at the games their older brother invented, laughing and cheering every night until the sun went down.
His grandparents’ house was the safest place he’d ever known.
Until the night that ended too.
The gunmen came in the dark of night. Maybe they’d followed his parents there one weekend, maybe someone betrayed them, but his childhood would end that early morning.
He woke up at 2am to the deafening sound of a gunshot. His ears rang as he reached for Rachel underneath the sheets, asleep by his side.
The floorboards outside the door creaked and he foolishly called out, “Grandma?” which served to bring the footsteps closer. He grabbed Rachel’s arm and forced her under the bed as the door handle shook, calculating they’d never make it to the window, they’d never get it open in time, they’d never slip away unseen.
He’d been ten years old. But he already knew his place in the world as described by his brother and father.
The door opened to two black boots and he covered Rachel’s mouth to keep her from screaming, but a second shot rang out, his ears popping along with his heart, a blind panic seizing his entire body. A strange man slumped down on the floor, his head hitting the floorboards in a sickening thump that would haunt his dreams for years to come.
His grandfather’s voice.
He and Rachel scrambled out from under the bed, racing toward the safety their grandfather offered, ecstatic to see the shotgun he armed himself with. Rachel tiptoed around the blood, making sure none of it touched her toes, while he trailed bloody footprints around the house.
“Where’s grandma?” Rachel had whispered, clutching at his arm, but he had no idea; he didn’t understand what was happening, why people would want to harm them, his eyes seeing red, nothing but red.
No. He did know why. They wanted to hurt his dad.
His grandfather led them downstairs, through the kitchen, straight to the back door. “Run for the cornfield as fast as you can.”
Then, his grandfather did what he never did, what he only allowed when they shot beer cans out in the fields, what their grandmother would never have approved of if– if– if they weren’t currently being hunted like prey.
His grandfather pushed a revolver into his hand. The six-shooter he’d been taught to shoot.
“Hide,” he said, “You hear me, son? Keep your sister safe. Don’t look back. Shoot anything that comes at you.”
He nodded. It seemed like the only thing to do, the gun a burden his hands hadn’t yet learned.
Rachel started crying.
“Grandpa–” fear stuttered in his throat, but footsteps in the other room deafened all selfless thought; everything he’d been taught kicked in and he took Rachel’s hand, pushed through the back door and ran, they ran as fast as their feet would carry them, the grass and weeds cutting into their skin, and Rachel cried, she cried so hard as they ducked into the cornfield.
The dark distorted his sense of direction, even though he knew the field like the back of his hand — they were running from the house, but where to? How far? How deep did they have to push before they were safe?
Two more gunshots stopped them dead in their tracks.
Rachel choked back a scream.
He raised the gun to where the noise came from, ready to slay the dark itself.
Then, the rustle started in the field. The wind traipsed through the stalks, but this was different, heavier, like– like someone big digging their way through the field in search of them. He swallowed hard, added pressure to the trigger, which made his hand shake, the weight of the revolver too much. But the rustling wouldn’t stop and he needed to be strong, needed to protect Rachel, needed to be the man his father told him to be.
He let go of Rachel’s hand, her arms circling his waist, both his hands coming together around the gun. All he heard was his own ragged breathing, his heart hammering in his chest, a monster about to find them.
A body pushed between two corn stalks.
He shut his eyes and squeezed the trigger.
Birds shot up in the field. Rachel screamed. A body dropped dead at his feet.
And the color red ceased to exist.
Two days later police officers pulled him and Rachel out of the cornfield, dehydrated but their bellies full of corn. His grandparents both shot dead. Two gunmen dead in the house. One in the field. He couldn’t see the blood on his feet, nor the red on Rachel’s nightshirt, couldn’t see the red of the ambulance lights as anything but a soft shade of gray.
He moved home with his parents and Cooper, no longer sharing a bed with Rachel.
A great deal of his father’s money went to shrinks trying to fix him, but he never saw red again. The violence tainted him black and blue on the inside, a dull gray on the outside, a deep crimson red where his heart bled out in his chest. Inside. Where no one could reach. He learned more about the world he was meant to grow up in that one night than he would the rest of his life.
In the years that followed he picked up on the numbers and the people to pay off, the players in the dangerous game they played, mastered hand-to-hand combat but applied himself to firearms the most, trained in the masterful art of deducing a man’s strengths and weaknesses.
He would never be that same carefree boy running in the fields again.
So he became what he feared the most instead.