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.
The next time it happens, it doesn’t start with a kiss, not even with the slightest hint of a touch.
He sits idle at his regular table at Azure, drinks two whiskey sours before that room key invitation –number 7– gets sent his way. He enters the room first, Sebastian following a few minutes later, and while he has trouble breathing, while the single exit starts sputtering around the edges to be noticed, he fights his impulse to run; if only to catch the lack of that same instinct in Sebastian’s eyes.
It’s confirmation. It’s affirmation. Most of all, it’s permission.
Green eyes read the heavy rise and fall of his chest, the set of his shoulders, and must find all that amusing, because a smile curls mischief into Sebastian’s features.
He doesn’t move.
Neither of them does.
But there’s no mistake. They’re both here for the same thing.
A cold sweat trips up the back of his neck, a hint of nausea. An animal aware it’s trapped.
Sebastian tosses his pack of cigarettes on the bed, eyes a playful request for something in return. His move.
Uncertain of the game they’re playing –who caves first, who surrenders– he pockets his watch.
Sebastian huffs a laugh, the predator pleased to have found a playmate, and shrugs out of his jacket. Cocks an eyebrow.
His jaw clenches as patience gestates below his skin, making his feet lighter. In a way they’re consigned to this, to the secrecy and immorality of the act. The repetition they risk. The deadly game they’ve started. But that doesn’t make him comfortable. They’re only ever bodies in this small tucked-away room, their names don’t matter, but Sebastian gives him far too much space to think.
“Come on, Anderson.”
One of Sebastian’s hands slides into a pocket of his jeans, palming at his groin, unknotting a detail he’d almost forgotten: there’s a pay-off. He’s not here for Sebastian, not his name, but his body.
“Rude to keep a guy waiting.”
He licks his lips. Pulls his black Henley over his head and discards it on the floor.
Anger hooks beneath his skin, even more so when Sebastian’s eyes take note of the clench of his fists and that same sly smile nears cocky; he’s not someone’s pet, not a marionette Sebastian can make dance to his tune. Yet the tug at his sternum, of the inescapable, of Sebastian between him and his only exit — that’s his greatest weakness.
And when Sebastian’s shirt comes off in a lithe movement all his conscious mind can reach around are Sebastian’s hips. He wants those slotted between his thighs again.
His eyes trace over the delicate rise of collarbone along Sebastian’s shoulder, five dots tattooed there.
Four arranged in a square. One in the dead center.
“Juvie,” Sebastian offers by way of explanation, but doesn’t go into detail, or explain the other tattoo over his ribs, the line of scar tissue below his ribcage.
He unbuckles his belt, undoes his trousers, discarding the small gun holster at his ankle. Soon he’s stripped down to his boxers. Naked. Exposed. About to be ensnared.
Sebastian pulls his belt free. Drops it to the floor.
His throat runs dry.
“Never said I’d play fair.” Sebastian winks, hands at his hips. “Your turn.”
He should run, he should get out of there before Sebastian’s games spin him into the same pitiful creature. Before he starts liking what they’re doing. But the thought of running doesn’t scare him near as much as not getting what he came here for; Sebastian’s hips, his mouth, his body. He wants all of that.
Without another thought he strips out of his boxers, stomping them out with his feet, and he shivers, he writhes beneath Sebastian’s hot gaze tracing down his chest, scrutinizing every inch of him while wetting his lips, the curious tilt of his head more animal-like than human.
“The things I want to do to you, Anderson.”
Hairs at the back of his neck stand on end.
The things he would let Sebastian do to him.
His hands fail to settle anywhere in particular so he keeps them at his sides, clenching and unclenching, unable to ignore the interested twitch below his waist when Sebastian loses his pants. No underwear.
He envies Sebastian his calm, his exuberant ease with being stark naked, telling of a life lived in the light; he doesn’t hide like a creature afraid of the sun, but he’s far more comfortable in the shadows, wrapped in layers and secrets so people might never divine what makes him tick. Being naked like this in front of Sebastian, a man meant to be his enemy — no, a man who is his enemy, might be the most arduous demand anyone has ever made.
“How many times have you done this?” he dares ask, swallowing around the misconception that it would matter, that it would change his mind, that it would in any way make a shred of difference. He’s here body and soul, and he couldn’t run if he tried. Sebastian could’ve slept with a hundred different men and it would make this easier. He’d be another notch in his belt. Nothing more.
Sebastian chances a step closer. “This?”
He closes his eyes.
“Guys like me.”
“I think it’s safe to say there’s never been a guy like you,” Sebastian says, followed by a warm hand touching his cheek — it chases any apprehension he’d held onto out of the room, on the heels of his dignity, his pride.
Not his shame.
That’s alive hissing at him in the recesses of his mind.
His eyes open to a smug smile, a thumb rubbing circles into his jaw. “Does that scare you?”
One of Sebastian’s fingers curls under his chin, the fox casting its come-hither spell, and he shudders at the mass it leaves on his chest; he’s scared to death of how much he wants this, how the conditions of his surrender include Sebastian’s equal willingness to be here with him, to self-annihilate, to destroy one another.
He’s terrified he might actually need this.
When Sebastian’s not with him he’s a runner for his father.
In the olden days of numbers games a runner collected policy slips and cash and crossed the distance between the betting parlors and headquarters — Sebastian still collected bets, ran cash between the casino and several of his father’s clubs, and made sure people made good on their money.
Sebastian rarely got his hands dirty, had a way of outsourcing that to people like Hunter Clarington, or people he could pay off, and he definitely had a charm about him that demanded respect. A charm that enchanted, tore down walls, made people put their trust in him.
Sebastian would make a great businessman. Just like his father.
“You didn’t wash your hair,” Sebastian says the moment he exits the bathroom — as if he hadn’t ordered him to shower thoroughly fifteen minutes ago.
Sebastian stripped out of his jacket, the top buttons of his shirt undone, while his thumbs and index fingers rub together at his sides; he edges to the balls of his feet every few seconds.
Maybe he had taken his time, scrubbed at his neck, his stomach, his ass; all the places Sebastian might venture. Maybe he didn’t want to leave Sebastian with the impression he could be bossed around. The small victory shouldn’t give him the satisfaction it does either, since he’s here all the same showing little to no resistance, and his body burns with all the things Sebastian could have planned. All the things Sebastian could do to him.
He rolls his shoulders back. “Should I have?” he asks, his shirt too big with the sleeves unbuttoned, a pinch of cold against his warm skin where his shirt hangs upon — he put his boxers on again too, and no, he hadn’t washed the gel out of his hair, hadn’t so much as let the water touch it. Perhaps it would have been a concession too many.
Sebastian closes the distance between them with a few languid strides, his shoulders set wide like he lacks the space to breathe properly, and for a moment or two he’s convinced Sebastian will simply take what he wants, have him like he’s had him before, outline his territory with teeth, fingers that bruise, crush into his chest and curl up there like a misshapen heart.
But Sebastian stops short of his claim, a gasp at the back of his throat when Sebastian’s lips –his mouth, his tongue– resist the urge to dirty his a bloody red. A thumb catches at his bottom lip, sweeps across it, blurring the lead pencil lines between Sebastian’s desire and his own, eyes intent on the action.
Heat draws down his body, along the edges Sebastian plays with, the distance they shorten every time they meet. Sebastian teases closer, his breath staining his lips and draws back shy of a kiss, over and over, carbon copying his frustration onto him.
His fingers knit into Sebastian’s waist, right where the desperation lives, Sebastian’s body wound so tight the wrong touch might make him snap — he can’t stop to wonder what might be wrong, what may have caused this irritation, because that’s touching too close to a pressure point he wouldn’t want exploited either.
He digs his nails deeper while teeth snap at Sebastian’s lips, earning him a self-satisfied grin he means to tear to pieces.
“Up against the wall,” Sebastian growls before he gets the chance to, but he winds long fingers around his throat and guides him there, their lips coming together as his skull connects with the wall — nerve endings crack with the most minute kind of pain, and he moans into Sebastian’s mouth as his hands are forced over his head.
Sebastian pushes the length of his body against his, and when he tries to lower his arms Sebastian slams them back, leaving bruises along his wrists. So he keeps them there, even as Sebastian’s fingers scale down his arms, the lips tearing down his throat threatening to rip it out, lips and hands too everywhere for any coherent thought to come — lips at his nipples, teeth corroding his skin, a hand not too gently shoved inside his boxers and a rhythm, a pace, that would drive any man out of his mind.
He doesn’t touch Sebastian. He has no need to. Not with Sebastian in control, Sebastian making the decisions. His desire in the hands of an enemy.
“Turn around,” Sebastian commands, falling to his knees, and he gives way without any protest, even though he longs to feel Sebastian’s mouth around him, hips bucking into tight heat chasing his release.
Gently, almost caring, Sebastian lowers his boxers down his hips, bites at his ass, and he braces against the wall with both hands, hot breath knitting into the wallpaper. Sebastian squeezes his ass and pushes kisses along his cheeks, drawing lines from his hips down to his thighs to get him to relax.
No one has ever done this to him, but he’s thought about it, thought about someone’s mouth on him, inside him, slowly opening him up. It’d been nothing but a shameful fantasy, because what man would relinquish control like that? What kind of man would drop his guard? A weak man, or a strong one?
Sebastian spits and circles a finger around his hole, and it’s all he can do to keep from crying out. He punches the wall, his skin crawling from the exposure; vulnerable, shaking, an animal lured away from the rest of the herd about to be picked off by the apex predator. It’s shameful how he needs this, the gentle caress of Sebastian’s finger, fantasy come to life.
No control. No more exits. No time to run.
Sebastian licks over his hole, leaving him boneless, spineless, too weak underneath the weight of the entire world bearing down on him.
He’s a body, not an Anderson, in this room.
His knees nearly give out, Sebastian’s tongue hot and greedy, one of his hands coming around to jerk him off; he pushes back against Sebastian’s mouth, reaches around and scratches at Sebastian’s scalp, so hard it draws blood.
Red underneath his fingernails.
The inescapable snuggling near the base of his spine.
An hour before bed, Rachel’s taken to practicing the violin.
It quiets his parents, soothes his mother’s tears, and lulled him into a false sense of security that allows him to sleep for at least a few hours. His time with Sebastian leaves him exhausted, his skin split down to the bone, corrosive and aching. He’s primed for action every moment he’s with Sebastian, and even though Sebastian’s body offers release, offers the eye rather than the storm itself, the trigger rather than the bullet, at some point something will have to give.
Maybe even his life.
Condensation traipses up the light curve of the car windows, their labored breathing fogging up the glass. They can’t crack any of the windows or the doors, else they might be discovered, and they’ve taken such care despite the danger they invoke. They’re parked behind a club Sebastian’s uncle owns in an unmarked car with stolen plates, the doors locked, keys in the ignition. Just in case they need to make a quick run for it, race out of town so neither of their families can exact the death penalty.
It’s overly cautious. But anything could happen.
The Corridor has become their playground, two miles of boardwalk lined with clubs and bars and storefronts, neutral places where their names aren’t Anderson or Smythe, not Blaine, not Sebastian. They’re bodies instead, flesh and blood.
Ash, and dust.
It’s how he justifies it, in any case.
Sebastian works his hand up and down, while he does the same to Sebastian, their lips caught together as they sit side by side, Sebastian behind the wheel, he in the passenger seat. The position fails to do much for either of them, but they hadn’t dared risk the backseat while the club was packed, so they’ve set this maddening pace instead.
As if to test who will break the rules of this game first.
Ten minutes ago he would’ve sworn it wouldn’t be him, but then Sebastian’s hand started on him warm and slow, working lewdly up and down his length, pausing for a few moments, squeezing around the tip, and surely coiled him into a mess that ached and throbbed and hurt.
He hates that Sebastian has this power, but not nearly as much as he fears breaking ties altogether.
And while Sebastian had begged, “Grab it tighter,” no six seconds ago his resolve wavers in pursuit of his release, the escape of his sin at the thought of coming all over Sebastian’s hand and feeling Sebastian drip all over his, and he can’t take it anymore — he grabs around Sebastian’s wrist and pulls it free from him, twisting in his seat so he can fall forward into Sebastian’s lap.
Maybe he gives up control. Maybe he takes it.
He can’t see beyond the thick blurred lines inextricable and tangled between them anymore.
Sebastian gasps as he puts his mouth on him, his head lolling back against the headrest. “Anderson,” he sighs, and bucks up into the heat of his mouth, winding fingers into his hair, unleashing his carefully groomed curls as he’s done so often. He closes his eyes and sucks, tries to ignore how his own body screams to be touched.
“Just like that,” Sebastian breathes, followed by a groan and hum and the sound of one of his feet tapping out a tuneless rhythm; he must be as far gone as he is, ready to spill into his mouth any moment, ready to give himself over to this release yet again. Their shared need for shame.
Not before Sebastian draws a hand down his back, inching his fingers well past the waistband of his boxers and kneads at his ass, circles a finger around his hole — he damn near crawls out of his skin, lips tightening around Sebastian and as the pad of Sebastian’s finger settles below his balls he loses any control he might’ve had, feels all control seep from Sebastian’s body at the same time, hot on his tongue, thick citrus and copper bitter down his throat.
He swallows and thrashes and as his forehead lands on Sebastian’s thigh, as he lies catching his breath in the stifling confines of the space their world allows, he swears he sees it again.
In the corners of his eyes.
Sebastian forces his long fingers into his hair, as if another good boy, well done, another lie he spins so he doesn’t take it as a thank you or anything more loving he wouldn’t know how to decipher. He lingers for exactly three seconds, before he decides he’s not a pet curled in Sebastian’s lap, and sits up.
Unlike many other of their elicit meet-ups, so carefully conducted in the shadows, reality comes crashing back surprisingly fast; music from the club filters into the car as Sebastian cracks a window, the cool night air catching at the sweat on his skin.
The car had been a bad idea.
They both clean up as best as they can, tug themselves back into their pants, and zip up.
Sebastian starts the car. He can’t think why. It’s not like they can go somewhere and share a drink. That isn’t something they’ll ever be able to share. No nightcaps without locking the doors. No public appearances lest their fathers catch on.
It’s late now.
He should head home.
“Hey,” Sebastian calls.
It starts a pressure behind his eyes.
He knows Sebastian means to beg a kiss, bookend their night together, but he can’t bring himself to face him. His shame blurs his vision in the form of tears.
Sebastian’s fingers brush his cheek. “Why are you here if you don’t want to be?”
“Why are you?”
It’s not a denial, but it’s not exactly an avowal either. Truth is he’s been where he wanted to be since that night Sebastian failed to take his revenge, and it’s an insult for Sebastian to believe him an unassuming agent. Some of his agency lies in the alluring lines of Sebastian’s body, no doubt, but it’s the way his body crashes into Sebastian’s that keeps him coming back.
An affair isn’t an affair without two willing participants.
His shame stems from his quick lies, from the ease with which Sebastian slithered into his life and made him want this.
Sebastian lay bare a part of him that had never seen the light of day, and if he’s not careful he’ll die from exposure. His bullets will ricochet and take them both out.
“What makes you think I’m not exactly where I want to be?”
This time he can’t control it. He looks at Sebastian sideways, the fingers on his cheek brushing over his lips, and he turns blind, deaf and mute, because things like this should never be spoken.
What they’re doing is forbidden.
“Does that scare you?” Sebastian asks, fingers playing over his mouth.
It scares him senseless.
But even if he’d somehow found the strength to answer it wouldn’t have mattered; Sebastian’s gaze falters and his fingers fall away — he stares out into oblivion, hands at the wheel, feet at the pedals. It’s surprising to find Sebastian capable of making mistakes too.
He steps out of the car.
Shuts the door behind him.
Watches Sebastian speed away.
And he can’t help but shudder. Sebastian’s committed to this completely, his shame and want are at war and each of their trespasses encourages him, emboldens his actions. How long can they keep that up before there’s no going back?
Where is their point of no return?
“You’re late,” his father calls, but doesn’t spare him a second glance as he makes his way over. The basement of the new high-rise development smells of cement and glue, warm and thick like the spaces he claims with Sebastian.
He rights his tie and rolls his shoulders, Sebastian’s fresh teeth marks raw against the fabric of his shirt. At least no blood will show through the black.
His father won’t expect an apology; now that he’s here he’s expected to follow orders, put the family business first, think, though not entirely independently. That’s how it works.
There’s a man bound and gagged at their feet whose face he doesn’t recognize, but then he rarely knows the strangers his father wants dead, never bothers learning the names of the souls he ferries.
Cooper once asked if that made it easier.
He hadn’t answered.
But it didn’t.
“What do you want me to do with him?” he asks, and watches the man grab at his father’s shoes, sniveling and whimpering, as if it might delay his execution. Fool.
His father takes a prompt step back.
“Mr. Roderick here took it upon himself to inform Sue Silvestri of some of my new business ventures.”
Small bloody footprints paint themselves over memories of that night in the field. Even after all these years, the name stands his hairs on end; Sue Silvestri, the matriarch who escaped his father’s wrath.
“Take care of it,” comes his father’s order.
There’d been a time, one he can barely remember, where the orders came more clearly, were delineated by the proper noun for the act, for murder, for execution, for the lead of his bullets. Now he needs but a few referential cues.
Death, then, he thinks, for the rat in their midst.
Landon Anderson leaves, and Blaine waits for his father’s footsteps to die out before he unearths the 9mm from the small of his back.
The man on the floor turns on his stomach and pulls himself forward on his elbows, trying to escape his reach, both his legs helpless sacks adding too much weight; someone must’ve taken a bat to them before bringing him here. There was really no point in running; there’s no one around to register his screams, nowhere to run to, and no one who will hear the gunshot.
He follows behind the man, the next notch on his belt, and pushes a foot between his shoulder blades once he catches up.
The man screams.
He breathes in deep.
Pulls the trigger.
His peripheral vision blurs to green, then gray, then a stark black he’s intimately familiar with, all over again.
Sebastian sinks his teeth deep into his shoulder as he inches inside him one shallow thrust at a time, opening older marks that never even got the chance to heal. He’s grown used to the scars Sebastian leaves, much easier to carry than the ones etched on the inside of his skin, living tattoos crawling, sniveling and whimpering. Names he never bothered to learn. Compared to those he carried Sebastian on his skin with a disgusting modicum of pride, a dirty secret his alone.
He’s never had anything his alone that didn’t ache like a festering wound.
Having a Smythe there, one he tries his best to reduce into a nameless faceless stranger, shouldn’t give him any satisfaction; Smythes are the enemy, the West to the Anderson East, yet he cowers at the thought of having no enemy at all. Who would he be, without that gun in his hand?
Better to hate Sebastian and take his fill than linger on thoughts that have never been relevant. That gun will always be in his hand, growing ever lighter — at least when he’s with Sebastian he doesn’t have to think about it.
Their trespasses were going to lead to this no matter what, his final bare-naked surrender, his body played with and opened up and sunk down over Sebastian’s dick. He hadn’t had the strength to face him, so he’d turned his back and opened his legs like a prostitute, leaned back on both arms for support, letting Sebastian thrust up into him.
It’s a surrender in its own right in its lewdness, but he wouldn’t know what to do with himself should he meet with the light in Sebastian’s eyes, a temptation inviting him ever closer, down the rabbit hole where there’s a language he can’t speak. He won’t.
A language Sebastian spoke to Adam.
No. Better to be owned and taken and cut open to the bone, where there are compound fractures the shape of his shame and pride. All indistinguishable now.
Hands on his ass Sebastian drives up into him at a torturous pace, and their combined gasps and moans do little to stifle his need for more, for something harder that’ll erase his train of thought, that’ll weaken his ties to the world as he knows it.
Sebastian’s an escape, if anything.
Then, at one fell swoop, Sebastian sits up and stills their movements, while one of his hands caresses down the length of his spine in an almost loving gesture.
“Beg me for it,” Sebastian says, breathing heavily.
He blinks a few times, eyes opening to a stifling dark.
Beg him? His enemy?
In his mind’s eye he struggles free, leaves Sebastian high and dry, but in reality the words near pour out of him, Please, Sebastian, and it’s that very fact that traps them behind his teeth. He won’t do this, yield this power to Sebastian like he’s yielded most everything else, he won’t be another puppet in another game, even if it’s one he helped start.
It’s been three months of this sweet agony and it’d be a lie if he said he wished it to end, but this—
He won’t become less than who he is.
“Beg. Me. For. It,” Sebastian enunciates, each word underscored by a swift angle in his hips, while his chest settles against his back, his hands everywhere, his languid body gravity and oxygen all at once. The trouble is Sebastian charts the outlines of his desires all too well, chips at his resolve with fingertips growing ever more careful, ever less whimsical, carving out new pathways of their own.
But no, this command borders humiliation, this nears hunkering down onto his knees and praying. He won’t beg. He’ll leave before he begs.
“Come on, Anderson.” Sebastian grabs around his throat, forces their bodies closer together and continues his other hand downward, where he folds fingers around him and gently jerks him off. He bears his hips down and rolls them, all in pursuit of more friction, but Sebastian barely budges.
“Let me hear you say it,” Sebastian whispers, teeth snapping at his ear. “We both know you want it.”
He does want it; he wants it so shamefully bad he can’t even bring himself to admit it, for the amalgam of quicksilver in Sebastian’s veins to flow through his own, for his toxicity levels to rise until his blood vessels silt and turn liquid, filling with the ecstasy of sensory deprivation.
He grabs back and rips at Sebastian’s hair, drawing bloody lines his hands have learned too easily. Sebastian’s hips snap up sharply, and they cry out in unison, their stillness having set underneath their skins.
“God damn it, Anderson, you’re eager,” Sebastian hisses, and musses a hand through his curls for good measure, loose and sweaty against his skull. “Do you want it?” He pants. “Tell me how badly you want it.”
A whine escapes the back of his throat, and he pushes back into Sebastian’s body, but all Sebastian does is lie back against the sheets, kneads at his ass as if he’d be content to remain like this, stare up at him naked and exposed. Gloat over his total and fatal control over him.
He gives into it.
The weight on his shoulders and his heedless desire has him turning his head, and he twists his body around like a contortionist’s, all in pursuit of what only Sebastian can give. His lips part. His hips roll. His arms start shaking.
For a moment or two, he watches Sebastian hesitate — his gaze skips from his eyes to his lips, and a tentative hand strokes at his hip, before Sebastian meets him halfway. Their tongues meet, and they lick at each other open mouthed, their breathing growing heavier, but any weightier demands dissipating.
He can’t think of it as a power he holds over Sebastian in turn, like somehow an attachment has grown between them that gives him influence over his actions, because frankly, that’s too terrifying a thought to have. He holds no care for Sebastian but over his body, and it’s the same for Sebastian.
At least he hopes so.
He lies back draped over Sebastian’s body at an odd angle, a hand closing around his throat and Sebastian reduced to groans, and sighs, and small sputtering breaths as hips pick up their previous pace.
“God, you’re a sight, Anderson,” Sebastian breathes and bites at his jaw, sucking another mark into his skin.
What a sight they must be, indeed.
Afterwards, he lies back on the sheets, stares up at the ceiling, lulled into a restless calm by the sound of the shower running. Sebastian never takes long, never seems to have quite as much sin to scrub at. Or maybe he wears it with pride.
So little about Sebastian ever makes sense.
By the time Sebastian makes it out of the bathroom, snags his pants off the floor and buttons up his shirt again, he’s sitting up, staring at the door.
Wondering when it ceased to be a plausible exit.
When he stopped needing it to be one.
“You want to know why I’m here, Anderson?”
His lips pucker around the butt of the cigarette Sebastian lit for him, the question one he’d pondered weeks ago. He smiles when he recognizes the frustrated sigh Sebastian expels at his unresponsiveness, but he manages to wipe it clean. A power they don’t share.
Sebastian reaches down and grabs around his chin, forcing him to meet his eye.
“You’re the only one who understands.”
It’s not hard to translate Sebastian’s words, but he averts his eyes nonetheless. They’re both caged animals expected to serve, expected to follow orders. Expected not to sleep with their enemies.
What little left of those rules is what keeps them enemies, keeps them strangers to a certain extent. There’s still a line between them, and though blurred, he won’t cross that. Maybe of all the boys in all the world it had to be Sebastian to rip him to pieces. But pieces they’ll remain.
“You think you’re like all the others?”
“Others?” he dares ask.
“The other boys I invited into my bed?”
He shudders at the use of the past tense — Sebastian his alone, and he Sebastian’s.
Months ago he told Sebastian this couldn’t be more than what it was, and he still won’t be considered different than any other of Sebastian’s conquests. But how can he not be, his name being what it is? How can he deny that name, especially around a Smythe, simply because they decided to make it so?
How has this whole thing not been a lie from the beginning?
They started the most dangerous game. They signed their own death sentences.
He swallows hard, but whatever it is goes down like acid.
Sebastian chuckles, a disrespectful sound. “You want to be, don’t you?”
This time, he does beg.
“Why can’t you let me be?”
This would be so much easier.
Sebastian leans in. He closes his eyes and lets himself be kissed, seduced once more by the fox casting its spell, grown stronger yet. In so many ways Sebastian draws strength from his weakness, a trade implicit in their interactions. Sebastian takes and he gives, or maybe it’s the other way around; he’s never bothered tracking the boundaries of his own weakness.
Even though he should.
“I’m not the one who chose this.”
Sebastian stands and shrugs into his jacket, grabbing his nr°7 key before unlocking the door. Disappears through it.
And he agrees.
He didn’t choose this either.
Over two decades ago, they were both born into this.
There’s a gun to his head.
There’s a gun to Sebastian’s head.
Time will catch up eventually but they keep going anyway, a futile attempt at evading fate.
His days pale in comparison to his nights with Sebastian; not every night, but a few times every week they meet up at the club, or wherever one of them might be along the Corridor at any given time. They each buy an untraceable burner phone –Sebastian’s idea– so they know when and where to meet, and if anyone ever asked, having a burner phone on him wasn’t an oddity.
Adam hasn’t noticed, or if he has he chooses not to say anything, and he does question why Sebastian can suffer this with him and not Adam. Was it that Sebastian still loved Adam and couldn’t stand the thought of dragging him into their world? Or did Sebastian like the danger of his body, the idea that they were both trapped and they shared this secret? If it ever got out, they were both doomed, no matter what happened.
Mutually assured destruction.
It’s an addiction more than anything. He doesn’t need the bullets and guns nearly as much as he needs Sebastian’s body. Not nearly as much as the disrespect they show two empires erected by mortal sins.
He stops saying no altogether, gives into Sebastian every time he calls, and makes his own fair share of requests. They screw behind a local convenience store, his legs around Sebastian’s waist as he thrusts into him, leaves a bite mark over his collarbone that won’t heal for days. Sebastian meets him at an abandoned warehouse where they blow each other between empty crates of fish and shrimp, the scent so strong he needs to change at home and throw away his clothes before having dinner with his parents. He straddles Sebastian’s lap and rides him in some back office of a nightclub Sebastian took his fiancée, smuggling him in through a back door.
And it always ends, like it usually does, with the crippling shame of knowing he surrendered again, that he proved weak in the face of his darkest desires, all those Sebastian fulfilled, and all those he had yet to.
Hot water and soap dissolved the muck of murder, of blood, of his own weakness, but no matter how hard he scrubs his skin after he shares a bed with Sebastian, some of the taint remains. Some of Sebastian remains. Bruises on his thighs. Bite marks over his ribs. His ass sore where Sebastian got rough.
The way he liked it.
What he keeps coming back for.
Sometimes at night he can still smell Sebastian on his skin, the ghost of a hand down his back, lips at his neck, a body heavy over his, and he wishes he did sleep.
If only for the momentary reprieve.
Every time they smash together it becomes worse. They risk so much for each other’s bodies alone and it would be laughable if they didn’t tempt their own self-destruction time and again. Sebastian can make him come by playing with his ass alone, or they watch each other jerk off, or Sebastian secures his hands to the headboard with his tie, his to do with as he pleases. Sebastian’s had him every which way; with his legs around his shoulders, on top of him, on the floor, the backseat of his car, the shower, anywhere they knew they wouldn’t be caught; on his back, on his stomach, on all fours.
On his knees.
Begging and cowering.
He tasted Sebastian in his mouth, swallowed and spit, felt semen drip down his chin, his stomach, out of his ass into the sheets, and he– he can’t give it up anymore. Not the release. Not the specific body providing it.
He’d denied himself many things for as long as he can remember, hadn’t made any connections because he didn’t know how. Who would’ve taught him? No one ever told him his desires were allowed, no one taught him how to love, how to be with another man. He mostly stuck to his own hand, the few times he did sleep with someone meant to be experimental, to figure out what he liked and what he didn’t like — and he didn’t like the idea of willingly giving himself over to a stranger, relinquishing the control so meticulously holding his skin together.
Yet that’s exactly what he does when Sebastian calls.
It would be easier to walk away if Sebastian left him a shell of a man, a shadow even, but when they’re together he doesn’t think. He surrenders to his lust, to a man determined to take his control from him and mold it into sin. Something red. So red.
Sebastian owns and takes and dominates and never leaves any room for doubt. In Sebastian’s hands he’ll be teased, Sebastian will ease back and leave him wanting, make him beg, but he’ll never deny him the pleasure of the most exquisite pain.
“You look better without any gel in your hair,” Sebastian says in a haze of cigarette smoke.
He leaves Sebastian’s remark unanswered; his opinion hardly matters. It’s bad enough he feels more exposed with his curls loose than he’s so far felt in Sebastian’s presence, that Sebastian’s fingers root through his hair as often as he can, just to taunt him.
He straps his backup gun to his ankle and puts on his pants, buttons up his shirt in the hopes it might chase away some of Sebastian’s scent — the room’s still drenched in it, a mixture of them both, and he doubts that it will ever leave him again.
“What made you this way?” Sebastian adds, almost as if an afterthought, one that hadn’t occurred until he chose to ignore him.
Punishment. In a way.
He sits down on the bed, stepping into his shoes, carefully avoiding Sebastian’s question; they’re always too direct, always with the intent to reveal, expose, leave him a little more naked than he’s been up until now.
Purposely teasing around pressure points an enemy should never be able to locate.
Sebastian pushes a kiss to his shoulder. “A killer.”
His fingers shake around his shoelaces. How can Sebastian speak the noun so callously, like he’d made a conscious choice, like it was ever a choice to begin with? Circumstances made him into this. Their world forced this onto him.
“Someone tried to kill me when I was ten,” he says, the man’s face delineated with molten charcoal lines in his memory. All he ever sees is the gun, the deafening sound of the cornfield giving way to a body, Rachel’s arms around his chest so tight it cut off his breathing. “I killed him first.”
Five seconds tick by between the breath Sebastian draws in and his next question.
“Was it a hit?”
Was it us? the question echoes, Was it my father? but Sebastian can rest assured that if it had been a hit ordered by the Smythe patriarch, few of them would still be standing.
His father tore through that crime family like napalm, burned down houses with people inside, cut up bodies even though he didn’t usually get his hands dirty, flayed the skin off their patriarch.
When your enemies go to ground, one should take the ground they run to. Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
His grandparents’ house wasn’t only a safe haven for him and Rachel, but for his father too, for Cooper. The Sylvestris had sought to destroy that. Much of their past with the Sylvestris lay tainted with blood and bodies, tumultuous since both the families settled here over a century ago. His father had underestimated their greed.
Our fathers know jack shit.
Sebastian’s words echo deep in the depths of his own mind. Perhaps he was right all along. What do their fathers know? What do their transgressions matter in a world of blood and guts and untimely death? The handshake that sealed their truce with the Smythes grew weaker the more time he spent with Sebastian. What did it mean?
“I’m sorry,” Sebastian says, a sudden gravity to his voice.
“What’s there to be sorry for?”
His trauma isn’t Sebastian’s, it’s not even Rachel’s; he got broken, something split his heart and soul in half so that everything that came after could never be like it had been before. He carries the weight of that night, the consequences of his actions, and he’d do it every single time. He’d choose protecting Rachel over preserving his sanity for all the days to come.
What would his sanity be worth without Rachel, anyway?
“Shit, Blaine, you were ten years old.”
Sebastian sits up beside him, dressed only in the sheets they soiled, speaks his name like they’re familiar with each other the way that friends are, the spaces their bodies occupy mundane and everyday, like it’s a conversation between any two guys with normal lives who’ve started an affair that’ll lead somewhere. But they’re enemies. Sebastian doesn’t know him, never will, won’t learn the outlines of his trauma the way he’s come to understand it — just like he won’t learn the depths of Sebastian’s relationship with his family, simply because that would be considered treason on both sides of the Corridor.
He doesn’t care about Sebastian.
He never will.
“I did what I needed to do.”
Sebastian fishes his pants from the floor and quickly steps into them.
“Is that what you tell yourself?” he asks, standing tall in front of him, looking down on him, demanding answers he doesn’t have. He couldn’t say what drives him beyond the darkness colored inside his chest. “What, when you’re out there shooting people? When you shot Hunter?”
He stands up, too short to match Sebastian’s height, so he turns his back, shoulders his shame, the souls, death personified while Sebastian’s question imposes itself.
There’s his pressure point.
His blind obedience to his father’s orders.
“It doesn’t give me any satisfaction if that’s what you mean. I’m just–” He buttons his sleeves to busy his hands, “–good at it.”
His training kept him focused, exhausted him to the point where his nightmares disappeared if it meant recharging after a heavy day — all so he could start over again the day after. He didn’t sleep for a year after the shooting, insomnia spun into his everyday routine, into his bones, up at all hours to learn more, become stronger; hand-to-hand combat, gun training, something that passed as homeschooling.
“It’s the day you went color blind, isn’t it?”
His shoulders tense under an icy chill, even though Sebastian draws closer, his chest to his back, and his hands squeeze around his shoulders.
Lips push against his hair.
How has he given Sebastian this power? How has Sebastian figured out all these things about him when they haven’t talked, they haven’t shared anything but each other’s bodies, and he’s certain the Smythes don’t know about what happened at his grandparents’ house? If they even knew about the house at all.
If he weren’t so convinced Sebastian’s shame mirrored his own, he’d think him a spy.
He’s let him too close. He risks too much.
He forces his pistol between their bodies, where it settles snug and reassuring at the small of his back. “I wish I could hate you.”
Sebastian’s hands fall away. “You do.”
He takes a deep breath. “Not enough.”
And then he leaves, closes another door, one he’ll find himself coming back to in due time.
Sometimes he wishes Sebastian had pulled the trigger, that he’d had the strength to say no to him, that they did consider each other a mortal enemy and stayed away; Sebastian encompassed all his regrets and all his desires, his loss of control all spun into a single body.
If he truly hated Sebastian he’d have the sense to walk away, to draw his gun, push it against Sebastian’s forehead and pull the trigger for ever assuming he could force him down to his knees.
But he comes back for more, all the same.
When he enters the house, the front door unlocked while security cameras register his every move, the first thing he hears are Rachel’s pleasant giggles touching every corner of the house. He smiles, adopting the ease of home, and tracks his sister’s mirth to the living room.
And finds her locking lips with her violin teacher.
He averts his eyes, initially, until the hard crash of another’s mouth imprints on his own lips and he looks again, the kisses Rachel trades with Jesse short and sweet, interspersed with both their laughter. A hand caresses lovingly down his spine, and he shakes his head, turning around to find no one there but a memory. A sin.
A gun falls weighty into his right hand; the six-shooter his grandfather forced into his hand.
What made you this way?
“Blaine?” Rachel calls.
He startles but a moment, before he’s hurrying up the stairs with Sebastian’s question nipping at his heels.
In rare moments of clarity he can see it bright as day, how that night didn’t make him a killer, he did that all by himself, through his training and his inability to see anything but the darkness of the cornfield. A reflection of his own fears.
Despite the shrinks his father paid for, despite all the therapies he tried, that night haunts him.
He walks over to the bed and slips his Smith & Wesson underneath the pillow, sitting down to disarm completely. His mom had no care for guns and would prefer them gone from the house altogether, but the only courtesy he and his father can give her is keeping them out of sight.
His fingers shake around his ankle holster, recalling how his hands had been tied together over his head no half an hour ago, Sebastian’s fingers curling inside him, his mouth hot and greedy all over him.
His feet start tapping out a nonsensical rhythm.
“Blaine?” comes Rachel’s sweet singsong voice, and he thought he’d berate her; he had a mind to yell at her for being so stupid with her music teacher, for drawing another boy into their world who doesn’t belong and who’ll end up breaking her heart.
But then something else Sebastian said comes to mind.
You’re the only one who understands.
Maybe in some twisted way it couldn’t have been anyone but Sebastian. He has no right to judge Rachel when she’d kill him should she find out about Sebastian, should she learn he’s been questioning his reasoning and every excuse that keeps leading him there. He’s so far down the rabbit hole he should consider learning that new language.
But he’s not sure he could even if he were to try.
It’s the day you went color blind, isn’t it?
He buries his face in the palm of his hands.
“What’s wrong?” Rachel asks, settling down by his side.
Sebastian had questioned his sanity like he had for years. How can he be anything but insane after what happened? After seeing what he saw? After having lost what he had? He’d been ten years old and he shot a man, one of the men who’d stalked into the safest place on earth and killed his grandparents. The people who raised him.
How can he be anything but insane?
“Do you think I’m broken?” he chokes out. Untouchable. Unlovable. Split in two.
“I think you’ve seen too much.” Rachel’s hand lands on his back, rubbing circles that unspool some of the hurt, whisk away the demons if for a moment. “And you expose yourself to it every time dad orders you to.”
“It’s my duty,” he says, a word he’s been conditioned to fall back on. “My birthright.”
“Now you sound like him.”
Yes. They are his father’s words.
Rachel draws an arm around him, her head landing on his shoulder, and he turns into her; her undeniable warmth and affection, things he could never give her in return.
“That night changed us, Blaine.”
Blaine, you were ten years old.
It seems centuries ago that he and Rachel ran around in the open fields behind their grandparents’ house, playing tag or hide-and-seek, sitting on their grandfather’s lap. Those parts are harder to remember, because all he sees is a man in their room and Rachel’s pristinely white nightdress.
His bloody footprints on their bedroom floor.
Rachel looks up, smiling. “Your curls.”
“I–” He stutters. “Yeah.”
You look better without any gel in your hair.
He hadn’t counted on getting caught in his room before he’d taken another shower, hoping to not only wash away Sebastian this time, but the bitter taste of their conversation. He should learn Sebastian’s pressure points too. Maybe then Sebastian wouldn’t get to him so easily.
“Rachel, what are you doing with Jesse?” he asks, both as a means to change the subject and as a question he needs to ask. He’s seen her moon over a boy before, and the heartbreak that’d followed he’d felt as his own. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do to protect Rachel, even from her own choices.
Rachel casts down her eyes. “I like him.”
“Jesse’s different,” Rachel says, her hazel eyes burning with a conviction he’s scarcely witnessed. “He won’t run.”
Finn Hudson had run. There are boys out there who don’t even talk to Rachel because they fear their father, or him, or their entire organization. Why would Jesse be any different? He doesn’t know the bodies that lay the foundations for this empire, the people who had to die for their name to start striking fear in those who heard it.
You’re the only one who understands.
“Maybe we’ll elope instead,” Rachel jokes.
“Don’t say that.”
“I know,” Rachel sighs, “Daddy would chase us to the ends of the earth.”
No. Their father would probably let her leave; their mom would make sure he did. But he can’t stand to hear it from his twin sister, his one tether to a gentler world, one he stains with his blood-red hands.
Unlike him, Rachel remembers each one of his victims.
“But maybe it’d be worth it,” Rachel adds, a rebellious afterthought, one their grandmother would’ve dared utter too.
“What would be worth it?”
Rachel looks at him long and hard, brushing his curls away from his forehead. How can running be worth it if rewarded with being pulled back into this world? Why would she take the risk if she thought their father’s wrath that great? Why would she tempt danger, if the outcome would be—
“Being free,” Rachel whispers, and stands again, headed for the door that’s not an exit, not an escape, but a viable option for her to take.
I wish I could hate you.
No. Deep down he wishes for something a lot more terrifying, something he denies himself consciously, something he can’t ever have.
Who would he be, without the injury of that night?
He receives a text from Sebastian –Azure. 10:30 tonight?– in the middle of one of his father’s amicable business meetings. There were a few of these every week, short half hour talks his father had with the proprietors of some of the bars he owned, high-ranking politicians he paid, people with stakes in the business.
The purpose of these meetings, if they can be called that, was to put people at ease, give status updates on projects, and gauge his employees’ contentment.
He’d been privy to these talks as far back as he can remember. His clearest memory was of one meeting where his brother sat on his father’s lap while profits were being discussed, and he sat next to his father’s desk playing with Lego bricks. He can’t have been older than two.
Back when his father didn’t consider him broken.
“Blaine,” his father calls.
Blinking a few times, he sees the room’s been cleared and he’s certain he shook a few hands, but it’s all passed him in a blur. He texted Sebastian back –11:00.– because he promised Rachel he’d take her out to dinner. He’ll have to do his best not to focus on what’s coming later tonight, when he’ll sit down at his regular table at Azure, have a drink or two, and then disappear in the back.
Sebastian’s set under his skin like mercury poisoning and he doesn’t want a cure.
“Are you alright, son?”
“I haven’t been sleeping very well,” he says, an old truth regurgitated to fit his purposes.
“I’ll ask your mom to get you those sleeping pills again.”
His father stands up behind his desk, urging him to come closer.
“I need you well rested,” his father says, and eases a hand over his shoulder, a gesture so rare he turns into a ten-year old again. His father had kept him close after the death of his grandparents, closer than he’d ever kept Cooper, but their relationship changed in the weeks that followed. The same carefree boy who’d run into the cornfield with his sister hadn’t come out, and hadn’t shown since.
Why this sudden turnaround, then?
“I’m visiting one of our developments in two weeks,” his father says, his dark eyes pinning him down, a force of nature to be reckoned with like his grandfather before him. “I’d like you by my side.”
There was a time he desperately needed to hear those words.
A time long past.
“Of course, father,” he answers still, because he’s not allowed any other.
“You can go.” His father squeezes his shoulder. “We’re done here.”
Not for the first time he exits his father’s office with a voice whispering near his ear; what would the great Landon Anderson do should he find out whose bed he tumbles into? Rachel might escape with her picture perfect violin teacher, who kisses her nose sweetly and whispers love confessions while she plays the strings.
But he never would.
He sits at his usual table at Azure, neglecting the whiskey sour Adam had brought him twenty minutes ago. He’d waited to hear from Sebastian all day, to savor the anticipation of their next hungry act, but no texts came, and each one of his had been ignored.
After three, he’d given up.
Yet he finds Sebastian idling in that same corner at the club. Why hasn’t he heard from him? Why is he here if not to unwind? And what better way to do that than in the backroom they’ve appropriated for all their offenses?
He catches Sebastian’s eyes and makes a show of placing his phone on top of the table, but Sebastian ignores the hint.
Is it another game? Is he meant to beg?
He downs his drink in one go, cracks his knuckles.
At a complete loss for what to do.
This hasn’t happened before. Sebastian doesn’t reject, he never says no, he’s the instigator of all this, and he shouldn’t be allowed to dismiss him. They’re both players in the same game and neither of them can opt out, not after everything, not after stripping naked in front of each other.
It’s maddening to think Sebastian’s asserting power he’s consciously given him.
He can reclaim it.
He has to.
For the first time in all their meet-ups at the club, he sends Sebastian’s decoy a key.
“Number 7?” Adam asks unprompted, the key resting on the serving platter subtly lowered to the table. “You two seem to be getting along.”
He wonders if Adam’s selectively blind to what’s been happening right under his nose, if it has anything to do with the power his name and Sebastian’s holds, or if they’re honestly fooling the world. Maybe a Smythe and an Anderson hooking up sounds as absurd to everyone else as it would their fathers.
Adam winks. “You know, you might consider exchanging phone numbers.”
“Are you tired of seeing me, Adam?”
A hint of fear flashes in Adam’s eyes.
“My father wouldn’t approve,” he amends, because Adam’s been good to him, kind, maybe even a little flirty, and he doesn’t deserve getting caught in the intricate web he’s been weaving for months.
“That I understand all too well.”
And as Adam speaks, he watches the Brit’s eyes slide across the room toward Sebastian. Is that the lie Sebastian served Adam, then? That his father didn’t approve of their relationship? Clearly Sebastian’s nighttime escapades don’t bother Smythe senior that much; Sebastian may be engaged to a proper lady, but that hasn’t stopped him from frequenting Azure, from flaunting his lifestyle up and down the Corridor with little regard to who took notice.
Sebastian’s sole true secret is him; everything that happens in that backroom, everything that transpires while their bodies clash and tear at each other until they bleed. Another reason it had to be him. An affair can only survive by the graces of how well both participants keep secrets. They both stand to lose the same things. Their complicity in their acts lives on equal ground.
“Thanks,” he says, and gets up, heading to the back of the club, to the long dark hallway that leads to a dozen or so rooms; who else might hide behind these doors? Who else locks their exits to the outside world once they step through?
He inserts the key into the door labeled nr°7, turns the lock, soon inside a familiar dark room.
He locks the door behind him. House rules.
His shoulders crawl with an odd sense of foreboding, and he starts pacing the room in order to shake it.
He takes off his jacket and drapes it over a chair in the corner, loosens his tie around his neck. Sebastian is all he can think about, everything they’ve done to each other in this room, everything they might still do. Will it ever be enough? Will it ever be over? Will he reach his fill before they can’t go back?
Where is Sebastian?
A full twenty minutes have passed by the time he hears the lock snap in the door, and he’s still convinced it’s all some elaborate play to get him all wound up, to get him frustrated to no end so the release can be all the sweeter.
But Sebastian leaves his key dangling in the door without locking it.
That’s not how this goes.
“We’re not doing this tonight,” Sebastian says, his shoulders sloped, buckling underneath the weight he means to throw off every time he steps through that door.
“Then why are you here?” he asks, coming dangerously close to that question he’s been trying to avoid at all cost. He’s here for Sebastian’s body, and he means to take what he wants, closing the distance between them with a few steps.
Sebastian pushes at his chest. “Not tonight, Anderson.”
He laughs, because for once, it’s amusing. Sebastian started this, and he’s getting exactly what he wanted. Blaine Anderson served to him on a platter. Putty in his hands. There are many who wished they could have the same.
He moves in closer again, reaches a hand for Sebastian’s belt, but Sebastian catches his wrist.
“I’m not in the mood,” Sebastian says, while his eyes and face falter and he idles over to the bed, where he runs a hand through his hair, brings his elbows to his knees, and settles like a statue.
If he’s not in the mood then why is he here? Why did he step through the door?
Sebastian sighs. “I thought–”
He easily decodes the layers of Sebastian’s short reply. He thought to erase his responsibilities, thought to defy his father, even though no one will ever find out what they got up to in here. If Sebastian helps him fend off his demons he gives Sebastian something in return. An excuse, perhaps. A way out, even if it would be a horrible one.
Sebastian has the same gun to his head his father keeps cocked against his.
“You know I’ve never killed a man.” Sebastian taps his foot impatiently, staring holes into the door, as if any moment the cavalry could break through it.
Not an exit. But a spot marked X for others to find.
He sits down on the bed, unable to read the melancholy that’s taken over Sebastian. What would it matter to him that Sebastian’s never killed? He’d already guessed he was an amateur at firearms, and there was little technique to his hand-to-hand. So Sebastian wasn’t a fighter. He would never consider that a bad thing.
“Sebastian”—he speaks the name in a foreign tongue, because they’re not familiar with each other the way that friends are, and this isn’t any conversation between two random guys who happen to have started an affair—“what happened?”
“My dad and I had a long talk this morning.” Sebastian draws in a deep breath. “About the future. About my duties once I–”
It dawns on him the way it only could on people like them, sons close to their fathers’ fortunes, cursed by the inevitability of heritage.
“Once you take over.”
Sebastian on his father’s throne. The patriarch of the Smythe family with a wedding ring around his finger. Quinn Fabray at his side. Ruler of the West.
“You’ll be able to order people to kill for you.”
“People like you.”
He expels a breath for the sole purpose of the bodily function. When his eyes meet the boy’s next to him Sebastian’s shine with what he loathes to recognize as tears. Their relationship doesn’t extend to this, this pitiful excuse of understanding, of measuring in which ways their lives are the same. It hurts to think about, how wonderfully different their lives have been up until now and how terrifyingly identical — he the killer, Sebastian the runner, both unlikely heirs.
His father will never give him his throne, not after all that’s happened, but he might have, once upon a time. And Sebastian’s brother, Alexander, might not step aside without a fight.
“He’s sick,” Sebastian says. “My dad.”
He stops breathing.
“He’s getting treatment but the doctors don’t know if it’ll help.”
Sebastian’s gaze falters in favor of staring at his hands again; he shouldn’t be telling him this, it’s not his place, it goes against everything they’ve been taught. He shouldn’t listen so attentively, either, because there’s no thought in his mind that considers betraying Sebastian’s confidence and telling his father.
Because he gets it.
Sebastian feels the unbearable weight of time breathing at his neck. Like Cooper must have.
Soon, perhaps far sooner than either of them are ready for, Sebastian will take his father’s place, he’ll be the one shaking hands with Landon Anderson. Sebastian won’t just be an enemy; he’ll usurp his father’s sins as he ascends his newfound place in the world order.
Sebastian will be the one who killed his brother.
It all leads to one simple conclusion.
“We have to stop, don’t we?”
Sebastian buries his face in his hands. “It’s too dangerous,” he says, the word incongruous with all their trespasses, not quite right to describe the tin and taint of all the wrongs they’ve done. It couldn’t last. He knew that before even entertaining the thought of his body melting into Sebastian’s. He thought he’d be the one to destroy it, stain it charcoal and ashen until Sebastian realized he wasn’t worth the trouble.
It couldn’t last. Sebastian must’ve known that too, before ever kissing him in that alley.
They’ve tempted self-destruction long enough.
Sebastian doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t accuse him of only wanting his body. It’s been clear what this was from the beginning, ever ending. This will be a far less violent ending than the one either of them had envisioned.
They sit side by side, staring out in front of them, for close to an hour. Even if he were the type to talk he wouldn’t know what to say or how to say it; he wants to tell Sebastian it’s okay, that they both knew this was coming and shouldn’t have started this in the first place, that it lasted for as long as it could because they both ignored who they were, where they came from, and what their last names meant around here.
He’s an Anderson.
Sebastian’s a Smythe.
Any interaction between a Smythe and an Anderson that isn’t business or murder is unthinkable.
Sebastian leans in and pushes a kiss to his temple.
Then he leaves, without a word.
He lets the imprint of Sebastian’s kiss linger for another hour, a small eternity in this room, before he too stands up and leaves the room.
Locks the door behind him.
For good, this time.
Life without Sebastian looks eerily the same as it did before.
Before Sebastian introduced him to the intimacies of his lust.
Before he tiptoed the seams knitting their two worlds together.
His days and nights revert back to their previous rhythm, a routine learned after years spent perfecting it, and it feels a bit like coming home. He slots right back in, a contour the shape of his upbringing, his allegiance, a duty taught to him since birth. His shoulders relax, and he can breathe more easily. It confirms how dangerous a path he’d taken, how blind Sebastian’s body made him to the traps and snares along the way. They got lucky no one ever saw, no one ever asked questions. No one ever so much as suspected.
He runs his father’s errands, follows orders to a tee, falls back into training. Takes his standard shower afterwards. There, plain soap and hot water diffuse the muck of murder, the unspeakable acts he commits, the acid irritation of the blood sunk into his pores. He washes the gel from his curls, and when his thoughts stray and he touches around the traces of Sebastian that remain forever stenciled into his skin, fading bitemarks over decade-old scars, he slips a hand around himself, slowly jerking off to the shadow of a memory.
He’ll picture Sebastian there with him, steam ghosting over his skin and water corroding lines down his body. Pushed inside him, stretching him out, while his venomous tongue buried secrets no one should be privy to.
Sebastian would curl a hand around his throat and cut off his air supply, leave him chipping his nails on the grout between the bathroom tiles — he tries his own hand for size, closes it around his throat and squeezes until he can’t breathe, until he can’t stand it, until he realizes it’s nowhere near as satisfying as the real thing. His own never possessed the soft kind of violence Sebastian commanded.
Reality sinks in hard and fast and he’s left gasping for air in the stifling shower cabin. His lips part and he turns the tap as far back as he can, scalding hot water burning lightning scars down his back, but still he doesn’t see it when he comes, when he shuts his eyes and locks his jaw to keep from calling Sebastian’s name.
This part of his life can’t go back to how it was before, when his hand was enough and the fantasy of bending his will to another’s was merely that. A fantasy.
It’s a shadow of a memory because it has to be, because Sebastian can’t conquer any more space than he already had. Whatever they had is over and done; it self-destructed well before it could precipitate any collateral damage.
Still, come Friday night the pull proves too strong, too learnt after months of trespasses. Of secrets and lies. Of sweet release at the hands of an enemy.
He settles at his usual table at Azure, his body misaligning with the smooth lines of the club, the jazz spilling from the stage, the sleek reflective surface of the bar, and the hard bodies of the waiters weaving through the growing crowd. If he didn’t know better he’d think them all spies, vultures circling for scraps of whatever’s left of him — until he realizes this isn’t meant for him anymore. All he ever was here has ended.
“The usual, Mr. Anderson?” Adam walks over with a suggestive cock in his hip, balancing a whiskey sour on a charcoal black tray.
He eyes the blond from head to toe, and thinks no, everything’s distinctly unusual but for the shell shock wound around his bones — there’s no room key next to the square glass, nor does Sebastian’s decoy sit at the bar.
Sebastian long since fled the scene.
That almost makes him and Adam the same; dismissed, disposed of. Like trash. Like dirt. Like remains.
Adam’s confidence wavers the longer his gaze lingers, so he downs his drink in one big gulp, burning down his throat as if to serve as a reminder that he’s all still there. That Sebastian hasn’t taken everything.
He has no need to strike fear, for his name to leave weight and consequence when the Corridor is neutral ground. Is it still? the question imposes itself, after being corrupted and stained with every sin imaginable? Wrath. Lust. Gluttony.
He stands in one smooth move, startling Adam a step back, the tray landing flat over his chest as if to serve as a shield. And he’s curious, not for the first time, what ever happened between Sebastian and Adam to drive them apart. Sebastian never hid his affections for Adam, nor did he have to, and the handsome Brit understood as well as he did the principles holding this great enterprise upright. So why not Adam? Why did Sebastian’s engagement to Quinn necessitated he broke things off with Adam, to then start a much more perilous game with him? Was Sebastian so desperate for a way out he figured a permanent one might be better than none at all?
He drops a twenty on the table, dissatisfied with every single one of his stray thoughts.
What should it matter what Sebastian sought to find in his body? What’s the point in questioning the past? Sebastian moved on like he’d moved on from Adam. He’d been nothing more than another notch in his belt.
Should be easy enough for him to move on too.
“Everything alright, sir?” Adam inquires, while he teeters precipitously toward a decision he’s not certain he’s strong enough to make. Can he leave this all behind and forget?
He’s not sure what he expected. He never belonged here before. Tempted banishment under Sebastian’s ministrations. Courted death each new encounter. It was one thing to allow it closer each time he pulled the trigger, another entirely to consciously invite it in to lay at his and Sebastian’s feet. It was good it ended.
Whatever chapter of his life written here closed with Sebastian’s parting words.
It’s too dangerous.
Insomnia resurfaces with the sharp sting of vengeance latent within its clutches, yet whatever haunts him aren’t memories of old. He closes his eyes and fails to find red painted on the inside of his eyelids, his every waking hour plagued by the distancing outline of Sebastian’s body, his fingers like ghosts over his skin, and even that cocky grin starts losing its solid contours.
No matter how he tosses or turns, no matter how hard he tries to focus his mind elsewhere, he can’t help but ache for that red Sebastian invoked. He used to think it danger, a color-coded warning his body sent to keep him from further harm, meant to kick-start a flight response.
On him, it had the opposite effect.
For so long danger has been a comfort; when any normal person would’ve stroked out from the continual adrenaline rush, danger meant breaking free from his father’s world, going against his family’s wishes, cherishing a need for Sebastian’s body.
He thought being with Sebastian tempted that same danger, drew it closer like an old friend he never lost familiarity with, but he’s begun to suspect it was something wholly different. Their bodies colliding might’ve been perilous, but who else would touch a killer with such reverie, who else wouldn’t revolt in fear or disgust at the sight of the demons on his shoulders, the souls knitted into his skin the shape of names he can’t recall.
It had to be Sebastian.
Perhaps even a Smythe.
Who else could understand?
The terrifying truth of the matter is that Sebastian swam through his veins like mercury poisoning, a sensory impairment that caused rashes all over his skin until tachycardia set in, one he braces against, tenses every muscle in his body until they ache but he can’t expel the harmful compound, set along his arteries like soot, too hard to wash away.
His fingers tighten around the gun stashed under his pillow. He’s tempted to put it to his temple. Tempted to pull the trigger on this whole charade.
But he’s not a strong man. Not by any means.
Grains of gravel grind beneath the soles of his brogues, kicked up with every step, a thin layer of dust tinting his pant legs a shade lighter.
The lot smells like hot tar and cement, baked in sunlight for the better part of the day, steam rising from the manholes dotted through the stretch of land. It’s one of five allotments his father meant to transform into prime real estate for the high and mighty, single-story apartments with all the latest amenities. Paid for with blood money.
Not too long ago, with Cooper living at the mansion with his wife and Cooper Jr., he’d thought to own one of those apartments, if only to find much needed peace and quiet. A place of his own seemed like a chance to gain some distance, test how deep his roots ran into Anderson territory and if he could at all separate himself from his family’s name.
A theory he never tested.
He lost sight of what he hoped for, in spite of his brother’s death. Was it cowardice? Was it weakness? Who knew.
Unlike his father he stands out among the construction workers, the variety of plaid shirts and yellow safety helmets conflicting with his sharp suit and blue hard hat.
His father left his jacket in the car, rolling the sleeves of his shirt up to his elbows, making sure the silver tie bar his mother got him for their last anniversary held his tie firmly in place. It’s a laxity he is by his very nature incapable of; to be adaptive, to unstring when social convention dictates.
The foreman takes his father and him aside and goes over the changes to the schedule, expected delays and specific deadlines they should try to meet; he nods and looks over the building plans alongside his father, but all the words and drawings might as well be gibberish. This isn’t his role in his father’s world, not his usual perch inside the shadows where he found a home years ago.
Which leaves him to question his father’s motives for parading him out in the open.
“This violin teacher your sister’s so fond of...” his father says as they get on the construction site elevator.
That must be it then. Their love and concern for Rachel is one of the last things he and his father still had in common. Cooper used to envy that concern, constantly vying for their father’s attention, but he liked knowing his sister would be taken care of, even if there came a time he wasn’t around.
“Is he good to her?”
In all the deception of the past few months, however, he hasn’t taken the time to get to know Jesse. He’s watched Rachel and Jesse from afar, from that same perch in the shadows, and Jesse hasn’t misstepped once. But neither had Finn Hudson. Did Jesse know the life they led? Did he realize Rachel’s father ruled an empire of crime, of murder and corruption? Could he tell Rachel’s twin brother never once released the trigger he had his finger pressured against?
A single gun cocked to his head.
An illicit kiss in a darkened room.
The promise of red.
That’s all it took for him to neglect whatever relationship he had with his twin. All he’s been able to think about is Sebastian and their bodies colliding, sparse moments of release that tempted nothing but danger and could cost him his life, would leave Rachel alone in a house surely dying around her. Sebastian wasn’t more important than Rachel.
“I don’t want to see her get hurt again.”
Rachel’s far stronger than his father gives her credit for; Finn may have broken her heart but she learned from that mistake, and she’d never allow herself to be caught like that again. Perhaps Rachel knew their world better than he and Sebastian did combined; she’d been consigned to the shadows too, as the youngest girl in the family, similar to Sebastian’s sister Marley.
When he lay awake at night he wondered about her; like some pathetic love-sick fool he thought about Quinn, about Sebastian’s father receiving treatment for an ailment Sebastian hadn’t elaborated on. About his own family. About the future ahead in which every day would be identical to the next, equally bleak, equally trying, equally devoid of red.
Which tore him up all the more.
He never thought about the future as anything important before.
He never considered escape until Sebastian proved the inescapable lived inside him.
“Do you want to lead, Blaine?”
The question digs into his epidermis like wafer-thin shards of glass, gravity pulling at his insides as the elevator draws to a halt.
What does that mean?
“With your brother gone I’ll need an heir,” his father continues unencumbered, with a business-like tone secant to the distress kicked up in its wake. “Cooper Jr is too young.”
A cold chill traces up his spine despite the heat that pricks at his back, the blunt force of a headache starting at his temples.
How can he—?
He swallows hard, heartburn reaching up his esophagus, and, tracing around the shell of his ear, the breath of time itself, ticking, forewarning.
His father exits the elevator on the seventh floor of the development, taken exactly seven steps before he finds himself able to speak.
“I’m not fit to lead,” he says, voice thickening like tar.
Landon Anderson comes to an abrupt halt and turns to him. “Blaine?” he asks, beady black eyes surveying damage done years ago, damage never to be undone, damage that made sure he could never enter in his father’s footsteps. Not the way his father means him to.
This isn’t right. This task should fall to Cooper, it was Cooper’s destiny, not his, not ever. Cooper had a head for business and a charm not even his father possessed, a beautiful wife and son exemplifying the most important values; family and loyalty.
But his brother’s gone.
Dead at the hands of a Smythe.
“I’m sorry if I’m responsible for making you believe that.”
Caught by the sentiment in his father’s voice he looks up and finds his father closer, eyes downcast as if ashamed, as if tortured by the choices that led them both here. Not father and son. Rather boss and employee.
“You’re my son, Blaine.” His father squeezes a hand around his shoulder. “You’re part of this family.”
Many years ago, well before that night in the cornfield, he wanted nothing more than his father to acknowledge him the way he had Cooper, but in the many years that followed that reality ceased to be viable. Whatever left of the boy his father could have loved existed in memory only, in the footprints of the past that remained etched in the floorboards of his grandparents’ house.
Whatever he became in the wake of his trauma just happened to be useful, by sheer coincidence.
No one ever taught him to lead.
No one thinks him capable.
Until now. In the wake of his father’s trauma. His father’s grief. His father’s loss.
But what does his father know?
He mulls over the idea of leadership, tries to picture himself on a throne similar to Sebastian’s, a crown askew on his head, and an arena where they’re pitted against each other simply because his last name spelled out Anderson and Sebastian’s Smythe. It could be the answer to his sleepless nights; he could sink deeper into home, deeper into this world until there’s nothing left of him, let it take him like quicksand. No wants or needs of his own. Just a name. Just a gun.
“I don’t know if I want to,” he chokes out as his throat closes around a truth he never dared speak before, adding, “lead,” as he blinks at the sting of tears behind his eyes, and questions not too precisely what he means; whether he’s unfit to lead or rejecting his heritage, or if he’s refusing to be his father’s son any longer.
No matter his intent the disappointment in his father’s eyes grows, quickly replaced by a mounting anger that lived beneath the surface of his skin the same as his.
He’s not a man who gets told ‘no’ very often.
“Think it over,” his father says, before leaving him to stew in the aftermath of their short conversation.
It sounds easy. Simple.
But there’s such little point in thinking it over his father’s question may as well not have been asked at all. All his life he’s been following orders, letting others make decisions for him and it’s only made him someone lesser, a scapegoat, a parlor trick. Not a real man.
What does his father know?
Yet, the question doesn’t leave him. Not during the drive back home. Not through dinner. Not even at the start of Rachel’s violin lesson.
Does he want to lead?
Does he want to be any more like his father?
He had a place at the table once, as his father’s -and in time his brother’s- right-hand man. It was his birthright, his rightful place, but much like his body now misaligned with Azure he never found even footing in his father’s world.
Now his ill-begotten sense of duty, that blind obedience to his father’s wishes is nothing but a weakness. A blind spot. A pressure point for others to exploit should anyone ever get too close.
Had Sebastian abused that? Or had he let him?
Rachel giggles, drawing him back into the familiar confines of home. He watches Jesse readjust the sheet music stand to match Rachel’s eye-line, then walk over to her to rearrange her fingers along the strings of her violin, a tenderness to his touch that brings a sour taste to his mouth. He never realized envy tasted so much like blood.
His mother sidles up alongside him.
“I wish you’d find someone too,” she says, wasting no time ruffling fingers through the hair near the nape of his neck.
In every darkened recess of his shame he loathes to consider he already had, but the rules their world is built on dictate he can’t have what he wants. He can’t have freedom. He can’t have the light. He can’t not be his father’s son.
And he definitely can’t have Sebastian.
“Even if it was a man.”
His mother falls silent. His proclivities aren’t a beloved topic of conversation, however much his family may preach acceptance.
“I want you to be happy,” his mother amends, and runs a hand over the back of his head, down his neck, coming to a rest between his shoulders.
He thinks about a tender touch, one reserved for lovers, the gentle brush of fingers along his spine, about happiness and what that could possibly entail—
He thinks about Sebastian, how his name demands the same kind of power his does and it’s those names that keep them apart the most, how despite all that wanting Sebastian has become as crucial to him as breathing has, and how denying himself the temptation is starting to do more harm than good.
He thinks about that gun to his head, cocked and ready to fire, the finger on the trigger the index finger of every man he’s ever killed, or his father’s, or his own, maybe even Sebastian’s once he takes his rightful place.
No, he thinks.
There’s no happiness for a man like him.
His days continue along those same lines.
He’s a blunt instrument used with absolute precision, his father’s strategy behind every one of his actions, a monotony he gives himself over to.
Azure and his nights spent with Sebastian become distant memories, evidence of another time where he foolishly thought to escape his circumstances. Instead he numbs himself to the horrors of his world, tortures those his father tells him to torture, kills who he’s meant to kill, accompanies money transports with Sam, and drinks stale beers at the end of the night.
It could be weeks.
Could be months.
Time has become meaningless.
The engine cuts off abruptly as he turns the key in the ignition, rumbling into a quiet interrupted only by his own breathing. Parked in a dead-end street that runs parallel to the Corridor, Blaine sits ill at ease, despite being so deep inside Anderson territory.
Given the assignment his father gave him, it was imperative he not be seen.
Sam got him a nondescript car with fake plates, a late Toyota Corolla he’s meant to dump and torch by the river after he’s done, but he couldn’t disguise his face. No matter where he went, East or West, he’d be recognized instantly as Landon Anderson’s son. Landon Anderson’s only son.
Maybe this was punishment for speaking his beliefs so outright.
His gloves screeched along the steering wheel, eyes scanning the alley for potential threats.
Fire escapes empty.
No open windows.
A homeless man slept next to an open dumpster, flies amassing over his restless form, a few stray cats scrounging for scraps.
No immediate foot traffic.
Mind put to rest, he slips a pair of Ray-Bans over his eyes and gets out of the car, pulling a large black duffel bag from the backseat. He looks down the alley again, up at the apartment building. Not another soul in sight.
His shoulders relax by a negligible modicum of a degree.
This is undoubtedly his least favorite kind of assignment.
But what his father wants, his father gets.
He climbs the stairs to the third-floor loft one calculated step at a time, listening for any sounds, any movement, anything that might indicate someone could catch him in the act.
But no sound comes.
He uses a key to gain entry, which had been provided to him along with the address and specifics of the job, closing the door behind him with a soft click.
He takes off his sunglasses.
The bag drops to the floor next to his feet; it contained bleach and some worn rags, a gallon of gasoline and sheets of plastic, along with some black neoprene gloves so as to not leave any fingerprints. Some of his father’s goons removed the body this morning, but they’d done a piss-poor job cleaning up after themselves.
There’s clear evidence of a struggle, chairs knocked over, a broken window, drops of blood tracing from the thick gray rug all the way up to the—
Floorboards creak right outside the front entry.
He grabs back for the gun cradled at the small of his back instinctively, fingers folding around the handle one by one, before his name –“Blaine?”– falls from unassuming lips.
His heartbeat starts a dangerous fresh rhythm.
You’re a hard man to find.
Sebastian? Is he insane? Here?
The door opens and he retreats a few steps backward into the bedroom, an ideal vantage point to watch Sebastian push into the loft, eyes searching the breadth of the room for him. One could easily mistake him for a college boy in the leather jacket and light shirt, wandered into the wrong apartment at the wrong time — but he knew better.
Sebastian found him before, many months ago, snuck up on him twice with seemingly no effort. Had he been followed? Had Sebastian been watching him? How far did his reach stretch?
He pulls the 9mm free, hears Sebastian sigh in the other room, watches intently as he turns toward the window.
Exposed. Open to attack.
Goosebumps rise over his skin, hairs standing on end at the back of his neck, his shoulders crawling as he stalks closer. A lone wolf in its proper skin. Sebastian shouldn’t be here, this could get him spotted, or worse, killed, because he dared cross the final line that still separated them.
This is the East. This isn’t the place for a Smythe.
Yet that name’s come to mean so little in months passed, so little he wonders if their last names ever mattered at all.
Wishful thinking. If anything.
He presses the muzzle of the gun up against the back of Sebastian’s skull.
Cocks the trigger.
Bang. You’re dead.
“E-easy, Anderson.” Sebastian stills. Raises his hands in surrender. “It’s just me.”
He could drop Sebastian right here and walk away, punish him just for crossing the line. No one would blame him, no one would seek retribution. He’d be justified, killing Sebastian here with no second thought.
But that second thought strikes all the same.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
His teeth grit together as he reads the telltale broad set of Sebastian’s shoulders, the unease and frustration, the clear I missed you spelled out along the taut muscles of his neck. His chest tightens, along with his fingers around the gun but for the first time since he learned the weight of it his hand shakes. With doubt. With indecision. With weakness.
Hadn’t they agreed to stop? Hadn’t they concluded that the potential cost of what they were doing was too high a price to pay? Sebastian would soon ascend his father’s throne, usurp the sins of the Smythe name, become his brother’s killer. So why should he chance this again?
Why should he not, after everything he’s risked already?
What’s one more scar?
“Haven’t inherited the throne yet,” Sebastian says, in that nonchalant tone of voice that starts resentment underneath his skin, makes his lungs ache for fresh air. How can Sebastian stand there like nothing happened? Like they didn’t have to physically tear themselves away from whatever it was they had.
Was this easy for Sebastian? To come back like nothing happened? To fall back into this affair and take his fill until the time comes that a crown lowers over his head and he’ll be done with him all over again?
Dumped. Discarded. Left to the vultures.
“So I should jump when you call,” he sneers, digging the gun harder into Sebastian’s skull, like Sebastian once had out of revenge. Maybe that’s what this is too, vengeance for Sebastian leaving him, vengeance for drawing him into this in the first place. Reprisals for everything Sebastian’s taken.
With far more daring than he gets credit for, Sebastian turns around, hands still raised. Green eyes search his face and there’s something desperate in them, something that needs this too, something –he swallows hard– Sebastian can find in him alone. He stripped him bare, this Prince of the West, with his words and ministrations, with his body and the misconception it’s danger that kept tempting him back.
“I can go,” Sebastian says, far too soft to his liking.
Defeated at last, he thinks.
But if that’s true, then what does that make him? They knew this affair could start a war, that it could get them killed, make casualties of them both. Can there be such a thing as defeat, when both of them went into battle willingly?
A breath rattles through him.
His arm lowers, hand still trembling, bullets rattling in the magazine.
No exits to escape through.
“We didn’t stop because it was dangerous, did we?”
This isn’t mutually assured destruction.
But something else altogether.
“No,” Sebastian breathes, and falls a few steps forward, a hand on his cheek that sets his skin on fire, and then Sebastian’s all over him; his breath hot at his neck, fingers digging into his hair, Sebastian’s scent and the expanse of his chest against his own — his hands are everywhere, all at once, like he can’t stop touching lest this all disappear.
The gun drops to the floor.
“No,” Sebastian reiterates, every bit as bereft of color as every night past.
Like so many daysweeksmonths ago, he’s the first to move, gives into a heedless pulse of desire he’s missed for a meaningless amount of time. He surges forward and hooks a hand around Sebastian’s neck, pulling him down until their mouths crash together.
This isn’t mutually assured destruction.
But it spells madness either way.
Whatever lines, whatever boundaries or rules still kept them enemies dissipate as their kiss deepens, as Sebastian’s tongue pushes past his lips and that all too familiar taste of cheap cigarettes greets him. His name doesn’t matter, nor does Sebastian’s. Not now. Not anymore. Screw his birthright and whatever shaky morality spun him, screw their fathers’ empires. Their fathers know jack shit.
Sebastian bites at his lip so hard it splits and bleeds, and he yanks at Sebastian’s hair in turn, pain they’ve learned they can take, cherish even, within the short distance between their bodies. Teeth rake along his jawline, down his neck, bite marks left over his collarbone, whimpers scraping up the inside of his throat.
“Fuck,” Sebastian curses breathlessly, “I’ve missed you, Anderson.”
The words don’t make him pause half as long as they would’ve weeks before, because he can breathe again, however acidic the after burn may be. His eyes open to hooded slivers of green, fingertips massaging the base of his skull, dark smudges around Sebastian’s mouth telling of the blood they’ve spilled, his lips kissed swollen.
Were they green, his eyes?
Was that –at last– something real?
“You still talk too much,” he says, pushing his lips to Sebastian’s before struggling out of his jacket, which crumpled unceremoniously beneath their feet once Sebastian forces them another step closer, the last thing left between them the unspoken fear that this will kill them both.
Black gloves join his jacket on the floor, along with his waist coat and then his shirt, before Sebastian scratches at his skin, as if he needs the DNA evidence underneath his nails. He lets Sebastian strip him of all his layers, one by one, while his lips re-imprint with old impressions, toned the color of night, scented a dusty charcoal.
It must be madness when he lets Sebastian force him face-down to the floor, rip away his pants and briefs, barely undressed himself before he’s easing two fingers up his ass, slick with spit.
“Sebastian,” he hisses but embraces the pain, stretching around the third-degree burns he’s left with. He’s a flash-fire set free, burning up all the oxygen in the room as he writhes face-down on the bloodstained rug, begging for more, begging for the most, begging for everything Sebastian’s willing to give.
He relinquishes control to the body of another, a former enemy, now a lover evermore.
Reaching back he digs his fingernails into the small of Sebastian’s back, soon followed by the clang of a belt unbuckling, fabric skimming down slim hips, and Sebastian’s deep glottal grunt once he finally, mercilessly, sinks into him.
Then, Sebastian stills, giving him time to adjust.
He groans and whimpers and claws at the rug, the zipper of Sebastian’s pants stabbing its teeth into the back of his thigh, a first taste of red teasing at his peripheral vision. He pushes back against Sebastian, urging him to move.
A hand cards through his curls, the other finding perch on the ground near his rib cage.
“You like this, don’t you?” Sebastian asks, and he nearly chokes around the yes trapped dangerously close to the surface of his skin—
Sebastian leans in, the subtle tilt of his hips drawing a gasp out of them both, voice deep and scratchy at his ear. “You like that, don’t you, killer?”
Cold seeps into his pores.
“Stop,” he chokes, shoulders turning tense and rigid, body arresting under the distant thunder of a gun being cocked against his temple.
Not that word.
Not from Sebastian.
Sebastian pulls back right away, leaving him desolate and empty, but the word chases him halfway across the room.
—chimes every man whose life he’s taken, starting with that thug in the cornfield, the man he became, the faceless tyrant who chases him in his nightmares and leaves footprints both ash and blood.
He snatches his pants off the floor, eyes ticking from the door to the windows, calculating which he could reach first. He has to get out of here. He needs air.
A hand wraps around his wrist.
It coats ice along the inside of his veins.
“Blaine,” Sebastian says, “talk to me.”
“Get off me,” he spits, balling his other hand into a fist. No more, he thinks, he can’t keep hearing that word without assigning it its proper value, without aligning it with an immutable decision he made as a child. A broken boy deprived of color. He won’t be shamed or belittled for becoming stronger.
Strong. Weak. Depends on who you asked.
He strikes out and socks Sebastian in the jaw, released within seconds as Sebastian staggers back a step or two.
“What the fuck, Blaine?!”
Without further thought or heed to his clothes he heads for the door. There’s a change of clothes in the car and he’s not far from home; he’ll go there and shower, scrub at his skin until it peels off, get rid of Sebastian once and for all and—
Two hands grab around his shoulders before he can get a hold of the door handle and send him tumbling to the floor. He recovers quickly and scrambles upright, caught off guard when Sebastian shoves at his chest, slamming him into the nearest wall.
Those same hands push against his chest, pinning him in place.
“You don’t get to leave without an explanation.” Sebastian breathes heavily, his emerald eyes searching his face for that same explanation while all he hears is hypocrisy. What reasons had Sebastian given him? His father’s throne? His heritage? What did that even mean?
He doesn’t get to walk back into his life, slot back between his legs like he never left, like he hadn’t abandoned that broken boy after deconstructing his whole worldview. After making him want something different for himself.
Something happily delusional, perhaps.
“Don’t do this.” Sebastian’s voice softens and he holds his face, cupping it between both hands, precious and gentle, seeing right through him.
He can’t hear that word, he won’t hear it from Sebastian, but more than ghosts that break his back it’s an excuse. What they’ve started now escapes definition and he can’t stand it; things were so much simpler before, he the killer, Sebastian the runner, enemies in the sparse spaces where their worlds coexisted. Who is he if not a killer? What is he without that gun in his hand?
Who is Sebastian, if not an enemy?
“Tell me what’s wrong,” Sebastian urges, and he grows smaller still. At some point in life Sebastian learned how to do this, how to hold pieces of a person together, how to bring someone back to life rather than put a bullet between their eyes, and that same old envy spins around his bones. In every way that matters they’re not the same at all, and it kills him to think he could rub off on Sebastian the same way Sebastian has thus far tainted him.
“You can’t–” he stutters, pinned down, stripped bare and now hollowed out.
And so he caves, voice barely a whisper. “You don’t get to call me that.”
“What–” Sebastian frowns, but his eyes must betray whatever rhythm started in his chest ten years ago, the drum of gunfire in his heart, the metallic clang of shell casings hitting concrete, the rustle of the cornfield making way for a body.
Sebastian doesn’t utter the word again, instead his eyes reflect the meticulous realization that it’s such a fine hair trigger it may as well be an open wound.
“It’s just a nickname,” Sebastian hushes, winding long fingers around his throat, the touch informed with a genteel sort of domination. “I’m sorry, Blaine.”
One he yields to.
“It’s not–” he protests, before Sebastian brings his lips down to his far too sweetly, like they’re two lovers greeting each other out of habit, like they fall into each other and could keep falling until world’s end — and he does just that melting into the kiss, edging to the tips of his toes to reach, hands folding around Sebastian’s wrists.
“I’m sorry,” Sebastian whispers, burying the word in every fissure ripped into him.
Warm lips press over his jugular, open mouthed kisses over his throat, down his neck and his shoulder, while Sebastian’s hands skim down his chest, light and tickling.
Life with Sebastian is exciting and dangerous, living right on the edge, pain and pleasure and the amalgam of both.
Right there in that moment, it becomes something else.
There’s no further rush. This isn’t about a quick fix or chasing a high, not a desperate pursuit for a release as illicit as those that went before. Sebastian kicks off his pants, naked at last, and his fingertips skid along his sides and waist, hands hooking around the back of his thighs.
Lifted off the ground he’s carried halfway across the room and lowered to the floor, legs opening for Sebastian to slip between, to lie down and cover him with a body practiced in this sort of intimacy. It makes him shiver, the genteel touch in Sebastian’s fingers, the way his gaze lingers on his without wavering.
They’re all sloppy lips and wandering hands, hips meeting each other in a rhythm they’re yet to learn, and gasps that quiet whenever their mouths touch.
Foreheads pressed together Sebastian’s eyes never leave his, while one of his hands sneaks between their bodies and starts jerking him off in tune with his movements and it’s all he can do before the soot in his veins recombusts, before he’s coming all over his chest in hot spurts and he squeezes his eyes shut to catch the few liberating moments of red on the inside of his eyelids.
Sebastian breathes in sharply as he stills, moaning open mouthed, body tensing, spilling inside him.
The room fills with the sound of their labored breathing, Sebastian heavy and sticky on top of him, but he can’t will himself to move or expect Sebastian to. Weeks of solitude have been erased with a single act, and he can’t think about letting go. Not just yet. Not now.
It scares him senseless.
“What have you done to me, Blaine Anderson?” Sebastian mutters into his skin, where it sticks like cellophane, the last stutters of his climax quaking through him like a fever.
Sweat drips down onto the rug, two DNA profiles mixing together, trace evidence for their enemies to find.
He strokes the back of Sebastian’s neck, down his back and up again until he can no longer tell where he ends and Sebastian begins. He could stay here, right here, and make this his home, forget about the world and his name, forget Sebastian’s. All except their bodies.
What has he done?
What have they done to each other?
He looks to his gun on the floor, and closes his eyes. Shivers.
He never bothered taking off the safety.
“What’s on your mind?”
Rachel finds him on the landing on the first floor, staring out over the back garden bathed in the soft porch lighting, his mother sat outside reading. Unaware of all her nights of crying yet to come should anyone have seen Sebastian on this side of the Corridor.
It’s been three days and Sebastian still eclipsed his every waking thought, layered over his body like a shroud both suffocating and freeing — Sebastian’s left cuts all over his skin to relieve the pressure beneath it but they’re each of them festering wounds without his touch to soothe them.
“Have you ever wondered why I never–”
Whatever air left in his lungs disappears.
He shouldn’t think about these things.
There’s no happiness for a man like him.
“Why you’ve never brought a boy home?” Rachel asks, touching too precisely at his anxiety.
She walks over and starts buttoning up his shirt, while he gives himself over to fantasy, a daydream he once cherished that included a nine-to-five, a drive into the sunset, a faceless nameless perfect boy he could introduce to his family. Make his mother smile. Make his father—
Nausea stirs at the pit of his stomach. It was a misconception even then, to think his family would accept such a boy.
Now it would be a death sentence.
His father would put a bullet between Sebastian’s eyes before he even made it through the door. Or get him to do it.
Would he obey, after everything that’s happened?
Hands stilling, Rachel asks, “Is there– a boy?” with her brown eyes so big and curious he wished it really was that innocent.
Not a man. Not an enemy. But a boy.
If only Sebastian were just a boy.
He casts down his eyes, the corners of his mouth following suit. What’s he really playing at? All his lies and deception would tear them apart should Rachel ever discover the truth, yet keeping her in the dark has become equally unbearable. Life without Sebastian felt empty, but what would he do without Rachel?
Without her sweet voice chasing away the demons.
Rachel smooths down his collar. “Come on”—she perks up, lightening the mood he soured—“You promised me a night out on the town.”
He nods and grabs his jacket.
A night out with his sister at Monarch will come as a welcome distraction.
Not only did it serve as a beacon of neon lights shining all through the Corridor, it drew in high-end clientele, all of them willing to pay exuberant fees to gain exclusive access to the hottest nightclub for miles around.
Large booths covered in red leather rounded the main dance floor, a mezzanine circling the entire room. With its bright LED lighting contouring every pillar inside and the walls pulsing in rhythm with the music, Monarch was a spectacle to the eye.
Even he understood the allure. Monarch stroked more than one of the senses, with its lavish and layered textures, constant movement, and of course, the music.
Monarch was the place to be if one wanted to be seen, and –for Rachel– he was willing to set aside his apprehension about stepping out of the shadows. One of the club’s advantages was that aside from being seen, one could also see everyone and everything else in turn.
Which is how he notices Sebastian instantly.
His heart skips an unmistakable beat or two recognizing the familiar strut, the long legs, and cocky smirk. Sebastian doesn’t register him, but he sets on fire, heat rising beneath his collar, creeping into his cheeks, skin flushing hot.
Could anyone tell?
“They have some nerve coming here.”
He tears his eyes away long enough to see the tight set in Rachel’s lips, the hatred that flashes in her eyes. Hatred for Sebastian. Hatred for the sister by his side, not much younger than her. Even hatred for Quinn, who’d had her allegiance chosen for her by her family.
In some other world Rachel and Quinn would’ve been friends. Rachel and Marley could’ve been as close as sisters. He and Sebastian could’ve—
“We’re on neutral ground, Rach,” he manages, feeling a hand down his chest. All still there.
“They killed Coop, Blaine.” Rachel grinds her teeth together. “Someone should’ve paid for that.”
A gun presses against the back of his skull.
Would Rachel hate him, if she knew?
“We can go somewhere else,” he says, clocking each of the exits.
One at the front.
One at the back.
Three glaring emergency exit signs.
“No,” Rachel huffs, “we shouldn’t have to leave”, and marches steadfastly upstairs to the mezzanine.
He sighs, tracking Sebastian across the room, headed upstairs as well.
So much for finding a distraction. Would he ever shake it again, that cold at the back of his neck, those pin prick needles across his skin whenever Sebastian’s breath tickled over it? He has to find some way to leave it all behind, the danger and the allure, the desire. Otherwise he may as well take his father up on his offer.
“Blaine!” Rachel calls, her voice reaching between the lull in the music, “Come on!”
Their usual VIP suite awaited them, along with a handful of acquaintances. All of them drawn to the wealth and prestige of the Anderson name.
There were Santana Lopez and Brittany Pierce, gallery owners who smuggled high-end antiques to and from every corner of the world through his father’s connections at the port; Mike Chang, a conman who’d swindled the Jiulia family out of a none-too-modest sum of money, and had therefore earned his father’s admiration; and Mike’s partner-in-crime Tina Cohen-Chang, the face to a great deal of his father’s smaller transactions.
All of them were young professionals one or two degrees removed from the inner circle, all too content to be dealt a piece of the profits. They were harmless, for the most part, and they made Rachel happy. So he tolerated them.
Rachel forgets all about any Smythe presence as the night unwinds around them, one DJ after the other taking their turn on the stage. Music drops and swells, exciting the crowd, the room growing hotter still.
And as he sits stirring in thoughts he’d hoped to leave at home– he watches Sebastian like a hawk. Each move. Each smile.
If Sebastian took notice of him he didn’t let on, following Marley and Quinn downstairs more than once to let loose on the dance floor.
Another trait he envied Sebastian; he can untether with little to no effort, stop being his father’s son for his sister’s sake, for his gorgeous fiancee’s sake, and doesn’t need the body of an enemy.
Sinking deeper into his seat Blaine chugs back half a glass of bourbon, foot tapping up and down. Cold sweat trips up the back of his neck thinking how he’s breathing the same air as Sebastian yet the distance between them couldn’t be greater, their names establishing non concentric circles, off-center, drawing borders much less visible to the naked eye.
What’s left of them, anyway.
His heartbeat syncs with the beat of the room, transported to memories of countless transgressions, at Azure, in Sebastian’s car, down every alley that offered an acceptable amount of cover. How he wished he could dream about those times, rather than being relegated to a three-day old recollection, their bodies coalesced, one where there should have been two.
He’s uncertain how he managed to detach, or if he did at all and there are pieces of Sebastian stuck inside him, an amalgamate of their blood and spit and come, or—
His breath catches– the exact moment Sebastian finds his eyes across the room.
He shoots up from his seat and heads for the restrooms, all in search of oxygen, more room to breathe, or any space he hasn’t shared with Sebastian.
Why did this yet haunt him?
That day at the loft was the end of it.
One last time together to unlearn the imprint of each other’s mouths on their skin, the rhythm of the other’s breathing, the taste of the other’s body. They’d parted ways without wasting any words, both aware they’d shared something sacrilegious, far more sinful than anything they’d yielded to before.
Just because it was something different didn’t make it any more acceptable.
Splashing water in his face, he catches sight of his reflection in the mirror; he doesn’t recognize that person, with his father’s eyes and his mother’s curls tamed into submission. A mouth kissed swollen. A body teeming with desire for another.
Whoever stared back at him was not an Anderson.
What happened to his shame? his guilt? Where’s that hissing creature in the corner alive in the room with him, a painful reminder that the very immorality his world’s built on isn’t one he’s allowed? Where has that day at the loft left him?
“Blaine,” comes the answer to his questions.
Startled, he jerks up, Sebastian’s reflection materializing right alongside his in the mirror. Calm and collected, except for that broad discomforted set in his chest and shoulders. Like Sebastian can’t breathe either.
He turns around.
Not here, he thinks, not now, not this close to everything they hold dear — their sisters, their friends, the same exact things that might kill them. What if Rachel sees? What if anyone sees?
“We can’t be seen together,” he says, and heads for the door. He needs an exit more than ever, a chance to escape, to reject Sebastian’s advances. This, right here, is true danger.
Would his father make him watch Sebastian die?
Sebastian grabs a hand around his arm. “Blaine, I need–”
“Stop,” he pleads and pushes at Sebastian’s chest, but he fails to break free from Sebastian’s grip; he pushes and Sebastian pulls and before long they’re both consigned to it, neither willing to back down, too stubborn to let go.
He pushes, and Sebastian pulls, tripping into one of the bathroom stalls together.
The door clicks shut behind them.
Their lips meet in a rush of desperation, Sebastian’s tongue pushes past his teeth and it’s all he can do before all his best intentions go out the window. He doesn’t need the bullets or gun nearly as much as he needs Sebastian. Something in him has changed, cut the cord that kept him tied to any rules that held their worlds upright.
“I need to see you again,” Sebastian whispers to his lips aimlessly, and steals another succession of kisses that spread a fine mist through his mind.
His skin buzzes with an inappropriate amount of excitement, tantamount to elation, trading these kisses back and forth, needing nothing but these kisses.
Sebastian pulls back, eyes begging. “Anywhere.”
“What about your fiancee?” he asks, his throat run dry around the pitiful excuse. After everything they’ve done to each other already, why should Quinn matter now?
“Quinn means nothing to me, Blaine,” Sebastian chokes out, his hands on his face, thumbs stroking circles into his cheeks, digging far deeper beneath the surface than he’s ever done before. “I want you.”
Sebastian cuts deeper still, grabs a fist around his heart and squeezes, skipped past all of his defenses like a fox is prone to do.
He’s been undone. Unmade.
Because he’s never wanted anything or anyone the way he wants Sebastian.
For a moment he considers Azure, door nr°7, until he remembers they closed the door on the club some time ago. Adam’s not an idiot. If they return now it won’t be any different than before; they’ll take their fill and part ways, a necessity so close to home. Wherever they go next should be a no man’s land, somewhere their fathers’ shadows don’t reach, somewhere they can be alone without the constant fear of being discovered.
Somewhere he might let his guard down.
The doors to the restroom open, and both of them freeze, eyes skipping to the shadows reaching into the stall. Footsteps sound, barely reaching over the rampant skipping of their heartbeats. This is it. They’ll be found out and there’s
There’s no exit.
The thought alone should start a panic, but instead it makes him grab his hands tighter around Sebastian’s waist. Not the gun at his back. Not the trigger against his index finger.
Sebastian’s lips push up to his forehead, as if braced against whatever impact about to follow and he can’t think of anything else than holding him close in turn. What have they done to each other, in the space of these past months? What more deconstruction can they take, before it all comes tumbling down?
He releases a breath, but not Sebastian. Not ever again.
“I know a place,” he whispers, while he breathes in Sebastian, “Away from the city.”
It will all tumble down at one point or another, and whether it’s by their own hands or someone else’s he can’t be afraid of this anymore. Whatever time allotted them, whatever time Sebastian’s willing to give, it’ll have to be enough.
“Text me,” Sebastian says, breath hot against his lips, printing a kiss just shy of his mouth.
Their kisses sweeten, soften.
“You’ll be there?” Sebastian asks, as if he’s been bluffing, as if he were any more adept at this game than Sebastian.
He nods, and that’s his true surrender, an undeniable attraction to not only Sebastian’s body, but his heart, too.
If he thought any of Sebastian’s demands arduous before he never counted on this one; a promise, a pact.
Where is his shame when he needs it? His pride? He’s an Anderson who managed to get a Smythe down on his knees and all he can think about is joining Sebastian on the floor.
He nods, tears stinging behind his eyes. It’s not sorrow, nor has he decided to lament his weakness. Sebastian may not be any more important than Rachel, but he is, his sanity is, and he won’t survive this sensory deprivation much longer.
“I promise,” he whispers, before their lips join in another stolen kiss.
Sebastian pulls up to the house as the first drum of thunder rolls in over the endless wide-open fields of corn and wheat, and rain starts a steady tap at the sheets of corrugated cement protecting the back porch. Close to noon the wind kicks up a dewy petrichor scent along with the smell of freshly cut grass, and soon the dilapidated eaves drip with water.
This is where their promises lead, backed into a corner of the world, a place long forgotten by the instigators of the violence committed here, yet still dreamt of intimately by those it changed.
He arrived hours ago, maybe in the hopes of circumventing the concussive shock bound to follow, the blunt force trauma of memories he hadn’t truly confronted since his years spent in therapy. Maybe he couldn’t let Sebastian see it, his reintroduction to a part of his life he thought left behind for good, before red stopped being a viable color.
His grandparents’ house.
After what happened here his father wanted nothing more than to be rid of it, but since it passed to his mother he had no say in the matter. His mother kept the house, even though she never came here.
He enters the house thinking it’ll undo him, strip him bare of all his defenses and leave him a weaker man. But no such defeat follows.
Floorboards crack from disuse and dead leaves crunch beneath the heel of his boot, but no whispers of old sound in their wake, not a shock wave of grief or a ten year old’s terror.
No bloody footprints on the floor.
It’s not a house of horrors, rather a place where the potentiality of him still lay encapsulated in its very walls, a bottled childhood he can let the air touch again without risk of oxidation rusting all the haggard pieces of it.
He traverses the small kitchen into the living room, the windows boarded up, the furniture covered in white sheets, which in turn were caked in heavy layers of dust.
Wind whistled in the chimney flue, disturbing some of the ashes left in the fireplace. Rachel used to lay in front of it staring at the flames, hands propped under her chin, while he lay by her side drawing pictures.
He pulls aside a gray sheet and pushes down on one of the white piano keys underneath, filling the room with a discordant tune. Closing his eyes his mother’s voice fills his mind, her soft encouragements as he sat on her lap and tapped out a careful song, her fingers winding through his thick curls.
Blaine smiles and opens his eyes, recollecting the colors and smells and tastes of the house. Hot cocoa on deep winter nights. Bacon and eggs on Sunday morning. Rachel’s yellow sundress.
Safe memories, nothing like the ones that followed.
Slowly, he strips out of his gloves, his jacket, and rolls his sleeves up to his elbows.
The gun, both guns, he places on the fireplace mantel.
He opens the back door wide and fetches a crowbar from the car, cracking every window in the house an inch or two as soon as he has the lower boards down. Fresh air swoops in and opens up his lungs, and with it comes a decade old nostalgia, cleared of its cobwebs and dust with every hour he spends cleaning.
Outside the sky darkens into a threatening gray, as if it too knows the risk he’s taking — he ignores the omen, gives himself over to the task at hand, pulling all the sheets off the furniture, sweeping the floor and cornices and plinths, making the living room look halfway decent for—
For whatever this is.
A shiver runs up his spine at the mere thought of Sebastian here, of Sebastian seeing him the way only Rachel has up until now. A raw nerve exposed to the elements. A killer who was a boy here once, who saw red clearly, who would know for certain whether Sebastian’s eyes were really green.
He clears the path to the detached garages behind the house, greasing the hinges of the doors to keep them from screaming too loud, and leaves one of them open for Sebastian.
And then he waits.
It’s not like the loaded wait at Azure, strained and restless with hard bodies moving around him, Adam’s watchful eyes looking out, a decoy sat at the bar so that no one would figure out what he and Sebastian were up to. No, this time, Sebastian begged. Sebastian made him promise.
Sebastian’s spun into the same mess he has. Sleep deprived. Touch starved.
He will come.
He has no other choice.
On the back porch he leans down on the railing, the construction steadfast and sturdy, and watches out over the fields — the closest farm stood five miles north, in the direction of an old willow tree he and Rachel used to climb for sport, racing each other to the highest branches that would support their weight. He would beat her to it every time.
Cooper beat them both to it, when all three of them played the game.
Blaine smiles at the bittersweet memory. He used to hate his brother’s competitive nature, his inability to ever let his younger siblings win at anything, but now, with him gone, what did it matter?
He’s glad of the memories, however faint, however distant.
The scent of the outdoors caught in his grandfather’s overalls. Rachel’s laughter as she sat in his lap, trying to steer the tractor straight. The two of them lost in their own little world, setting up intricate plays of hide-and-seek, getting lost in the fields when they were in full bloom, wind traipsing through the cornrows, his index finger pressured against the trigger of a six-shooter before a—
Tears sting his eyes. Breathing deepens.
A body pushes between two corn stalks, and all of a sudden he’s naked, exposed without the gun at his back, without Rachel’s arms circling his waist, without Sebastian’s lips at his forehead, and he staggers a haphazard step backward, his back hitting the wall.
His throat closes around the weight of his grandfather’s six-shooter in his hand. His first murder weapon. His first kill.
His final act as a real boy.
Gravel cracks beneath the strain of tires on the driveway, and he catches a merciful breath. Sebastian. Here. Now.
Blaine collects himself, draws a hand down his chest. All still there.
Nothing here can hurt him anymore.
Not unless he invites it in.
A bolt of lightning cuts a ragged scar through a gray sky.
Sebastian’s car zips across the yard, into the garage to hide the black Mercedes-Benz out of sight.
There might not be another soul around for miles but they can’t afford to throw caution to the wind, least of all now, on the cusp of their most heinous transgression.
Sebastian grabs a bag out of the trunk of his car before closing the garage door, and looks toward him, standing on the back porch like a lover waiting, a lover anticipating, a lover tied to another through a shared desire.
Is that what he was now? Inextricably linked to another?
Despite the rain coming down hard Sebastian takes his time walking over, showing the same hesitation that swells in his chest. They shouldn’t do this, they’re invoking the wrath of both their families, defying their fathers, and for what? Something as base as desire?
It isn’t until Sebastian reaches the bottom step of the porch that it sinks in –they’re really doing this– and he can’t help but wonder, what does Sebastian see looking at him now? An animal carefully broken in? An ally? A boy desperate for—
By the time they meet at eye level Sebastian’s shivering, wet, and insecure. In front of him stood a boy, not a man, mistaking the tears in his eyes for apprehension. But he has as little choice in this as anything else that came before. He’s never had any agency, lived his life in the service of others, born into a life planned out, even after it got derailed.
Sebastian, though– Sebastian was his.
Between the breadth of two stuttered breaths, as if any moment rejection might rain down on him too, Sebastian cups his face with trembling hands, and their lips meet. Sebastian kisses him slowly, parts his lips with his own, breathes him in and out. Sebastian shakes, and he shakes, because this too tastes like some semblance of home — familiar, and everything but safe.
Thunder rips fissures through the sky the shape of their defiance.
With this kiss they seal their fate, they agree to cross the line, the seams between their words loosened one hastened thread at a time.
Here it is.
Their point of no return.
While the storm rages outside they make love in front of the fireplace he cleared hours before. Sebastian’s tongue carves out new patterns under the roar of thunder, his hands skim down his skin charting fast yet gentle pathways, a precise and measured intent behind his every move.
Spooned back to chest like quotation marks on the velvet couch, Sebastian holds him impossibly close, the tantalizing slow tilt of his hips blanketing his every thought — he whimpers and writhes and gasps, unashamed for once for taking, for getting, for having what he wants.
Afterwards, their breathing accompanied by the crack of the fire, they lay curled up on the couch together, the scent of their sex caught in the cushions. Legs tangled, Sebastian’s arms around him, the thump of Sebastian’s heartbeat echoed in his own chest, come to rest, finally.
“Why did you come back?” he asks as he lifts his head, throat closing around the question as soon as he’s caught Sebastian’s eye. His resolve falters for the briefest of moments waiting for Sebastian’s answer, who cards his fingers through his curls, loosened by the rain and sweat.
It comes dangerously close to a conversation he avoided twice before, which here, now, he allows all the space it needs. Whatever the outcome.
“I can’t keep denying myself the things I want.”
Lightning awakens shadows in the darkest corners of the room.
Sebastian smiles. Tugs at his curls.
“I never wanted Adam the way I want you.”
Sebastian’s voice lowers by half an octave, while the fox curls in a ball on top of his chest, nestling there like it’s found a home, like it was never danger that tempted them closer. They stopped out of fear, out of some sick sense of duty ingrained in them since birth, out of cowardice to see where this relationship –if that– could take them.
Not because either of them wanted to.
Yet the thought asserts itself all the same. Sebastian wanted him submissive before, obedient, cowered on his knees begging. Has that changed? Had he mistaken it for something else?
“He didn’t understand the sacrifices.”
Sebastian shakes his head. Swallows hard. Licks his lips before he’s brave enough to look at him again, like he’s an open wound in need of debridement too, a gentle touch in amongst the horrors of the world.
Funny thing, to have the world at their feet, to be able to have whatever they want, yet still be expected to bend to other people’s wills. Sebastian understood sacrificing a relationship for outward appearance, to rein in desire, to lose those closest to him because of the direct line of fire between them and his enemies.
No longer, in their case.
Maybe that’s the greatest joke of all. As if they’re not sacrificing everything but each other, and even that’s debatable. This place won’t change the outcome should anyone find out about them. But maybe it’s easier, with him, knowing he’s sacrificing the exact same things.
He lets out a noncommittal hum.
Then, as if an afterthought in an altogether different conversation, Sebastian caresses his fingers down his shoulder, and says, “Is it so hard for you to believe that I might–”
Thunder rumbles miles away.
Whatever Sebastian almost let slip dissipates in the passing of the storm, but it won’t be long before he omits anything so potentially compromising again.
Sebastian stares up at the ceiling, at the old house’s cracked plaster, faded wallpaper, traces of crayon on the plinths.
“You didn’t say we’d come to your grandparents’ house.”
He lays his head back down, held together by the happy memories made here, not the ghosts of bloody footprints on the floorboards.
“Does that matter?”
“What happened here matters.”
“It’s in the past.”
A contemplative silence follows, Sebastian afraid to speak lest it shatter the truce between them. It serves to gauge his mood before he adds, all too knowingly, “Not for you.”
Maybe not. Maybe he’ll never be able to extricate his past misfortune from his present downfall. There’s no straight line from the carefree boy running in the fields to the killer stalking through the house but a jagged one, frayed along the edge with errant fantasies and the souls of the dead.
“I feel safe here.”
“Even with me.”
Maybe it’s a question.
Maybe it’s a foregone conclusion.
Either way, he pushes a kiss over Sebastian’s collarbone, and agrees. “Even with you.”
They start again, but it’s different. Those boys, those fools at the club were nothing more than strangers to each other, enemies appending prejudice, running scared the moment danger nipped too close at their heels. Now, they’re consigned to the necessity of their betrayal– without it, they were just bodies, nameless, faceless, but no longer.
He learns to pronounce Sebastian’s name, from its initial continuous consonant to the press of his tongue against his soft palate, each freckle on his body, every dip and dimple, each scar and each tattoo.
He lets Sebastian root through his inner workings, divining trauma and glee in equal measure.
It’s high treason on either side of the Corridor. It’s unthinkable.
They’ve done every unspeakable thing, but this one.
They’ve never cherished their time together.
It’s his heedless dream transposed well within the confines of both east and west, defined by a different set of rules– it’s not so much a dream as it is a need, and it’s not so much a need as it is accession. A little more, a little different, than what they shared the months before.
Sebastian pushes a sweet-tempered kiss to his lips, a Judas kiss exposing the barest need, the basest desire, and beneath that, the poignant realization of something more profound, something they dare not name.
A thumb brushes over his bottom lip, a tender yearning that pries his lips apart, and Sebastian licks into his mouth gingerly, a hint of menthol on his breath.
Content to take his time too, he unbuttons Sebastian’s shirt, losing sense in a deep hedonic kiss that erases thoughts of muck and murder, of the dead he ferries on his shoulders, or the little their fathers know of them.
It’s Sebastian and him alone, here, now, and whatever time allotted them.
“There you are,” comes Sebastian’s voice, wandered through the house looking for him dressed in nothing but his boxers. Part of him thinks it disrespectful, his grandparents would never have allowed such brazen impudence, another is glad at least one of them figured out how to be a real boy here.
It’s one thing to come here and not relive his trauma, cherish the memories instead of letting them destroy him, an entirely other thing to be here, body and soul, and not flash back to the night everything changed.
Sebastian finds him frozen on the threshold to his old bedroom. Last time he was in this room he’d laid under the bed with a hand covered over Rachel’s mouth, and his heart hammering small yet steady as his training kicked in.
The door handle shook.
Footsteps drew closer.
And a gunshot rang out that popped his ears, filled his vision with red, would haunt his dreams for years to come.
He crawled from under the bed and ran for his grandfather’s arms where a gun waited for him, a six-shooter soon to be replaced by a 9mm, by revolvers, by a .38 or a glock, a gun at the small of his back and a backup wrapped around his ankle, a gun that made him a killer, a—
Sebastian wraps his arms around him from behind, envy soon following in their wake — his shoulders tense, even as lips push against his hair, yet he draws Sebastian’s arms tighter around him still.
No need for envy.
He gave Sebastian this power, to quiet him, to shelter him from trauma.
But what of Sebastian’s?
He turns in his lover’s arms and Sebastian’s tattoo comes into view, the five dots etched into his skin right below his collarbone. Before, he didn’t care so he never asked, but here, now, there must be room for it.
His index finger caresses a circle around the tattoo so easily covered up, hidden from sight, but always there beneath a but a few layers of clothing, inked forever into his skin.
Showing so brazenly now.
“You said you got this in juvie.”
Sebastian hums, before he touches each of the four outlying dots as if they’re still sensitive to the touch, scar tissue overlaying a wound never fully healed—“Four walls”—then, the last one, in the dead center, “and the prisoner inside.”
A prison tattoo, he thinks, fingers drawing down further to the much larger tattoo crudely inked over Sebastian’s ribs — aces, four of them, the highest playing cards in the deck, representing power? victory? good luck?
“What was it like?”
“I didn’t have a whole lot of friends in there, I’ll tell you that.” Sebastian chuckles, deflecting with his usual dose of humor.
Slightly dissatisfied, he registers the downturned corners of Sebastian’s mouth, the minute tension in his jaw that showed so rarely, that he covered up as easily as his tattoos the moment he donned his pristinely pressed shirts and blazers, all for appearance’s sake.
Nevertheless there’s a beauty to Sebastian, a poised charm, an agile grace in the ways he moves and talks, even breathes, but how hard-won was that? Half an inch further down Sebastian’s chest a thick line of scar tissue ran below his rib cage, the result of a poorly healed cut. Which of these marks came first? the raised scar? the aces? or the five dots, a permanent reminder of prison?
Sebastian draws in a deep breath, moving his hand to lay over his heart, sensing the scrutiny he’s under.
“It chips away at you,” he says, “even at that age. With my name and my reputation–”
Second son of Vincent Smythe, a fifteen-year-old playboy with little to no modesty, a big mouth, and a quick temper. If he could believe the stories.
Sebastian averts his eyes, peering into his old bedroom. Can Sebastian tell this is where it started for him, at an unspeakably young age? Where are his marks? His scars?
“My dad”—Sebastian swallows hard—“he–”
His father could’ve gotten him out, pulled some strings, bribed the warden or even the chief of police. Instead, he’d let his son rot in prison for a year without protection, without much skill in hand-to-hand combat. Without much of anything.
All of this, all this pain, to teach him a lesson.
It made Sebastian stronger, better adept at navigating the intricacies of their world, the ins and outs of a system hellbent on controlling them. Sebastian adapted, learned to talk the talk, walk the walk, blend in like a chameleon.
“You stayed out of trouble after that.”
Sebastian grins. “I never got caught again after that.”
He smiles, thinking about that fifteen-year-old carefree boy, caught in the same machinations, told to be one thing and one thing only. Rebelling against his father.
“College straightened me out,” Sebastian says, “Showed me where this world ended and what else was out there.”
“And what’s that?”
Looking down at him Sebastian searches his face for long agonizing moments, as if the answer should be apparent to a blind man. What could be out there but the unknown, waiting to jump out at them from the shadows, armed and ready?
“Freedom,” Sebastian says, recalling an afterthought Rachel once shared, one his grandmother would wish for him, one he’s wholly inept at comprehending.
Cotton slips past his shoulders with a quiescent hush, his shirt joining Sebastian’s on the living room floor. The cold of the room nips down his spine but for a moment, before Sebastian bites at his shoulder and his thighs tighten around Sebastian’s hips, chasing the sharp itch low in his abdomen, the heat of his chest.
Armed with the same thoughts, Sebastian’s hands reach for his belt, where he’s quick to grab around his wrist. Sebastian freezes and a momentary panic stitches his shoulders together, quelled only by the resolve rushing through his veins.
He grabs around Sebastian’s wrists more firmly and pushes his arms up, holding them there long enough for Sebastian to get the idea and linking his fingers together behind his head.
“What”—Sebastian licks his lips, eyes a lewd trip down his body—“do you think you’re doing, Anderson?” showing no indication that he dislikes him taking charge.
He brings their lips together, parting as they meet.
“My way,” he growls, causing Sebastian’s hips to buck up into him.
Then, he sits back, deftly undoing Sebastian’s belt, the button of his pants, pulling the zipper down at a painstakingly slow pace. He climbs out of Sebastian’s legs and drops to his knees, peeling Sebastian’s pants further down his hips.
“My God, Anderson.”
A wild thrill flashes in green eyes
“You never cease to–” Sebastian gasps, voice lost to a moan as he takes Sebastian into his mouth, “–amaze me.”
“Rachel’s your twin sister.”
Wind sweeps through the pendulous branches of the willow tree, rustling like whispers in the early evening light — the clouds have turned into long and thin stripes, white paint smudges against a darkening sky.
Blaine nods, quieted by the steady beat of Sebastian’s heart against his back. In his mind’s eye he watches him and Rachel running up to this tree, jumping up onto its lower branches and screaming at each other to go faster, go higher, asking the other if they could see their grandmother out in the garden– neither of them ever could; the lush green branches never allowed much lookout.
“And she’s older.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The few times I’ve seen you together she seemed to be the one in charge.”
How little that had to do with Rachel being older, he thinks smiling, but rather her headstrong personality, her protective nature, and all the fundamentals necessary to survive in a land of mobsters, thugs and killers.
“You’re very protective of her.”
“You sound surprised.”
“Not at all,” Sebastian says, fingers tickling up and down his arms. “I’m the same with Marley. But if we’re honest they’re really the ones that protect us.”
“What’s she like?”
“Marl?” Sebastian asks, humming in contemplation. “Sweet and shy, with a bit of a dark side.”
The few times he had seen Sebastian and Marley together she’d struck him as shy, small in her brother’s bright light even when Sebastian granted her the spotlight.
He presses back into Sebastian’s chest, who in turn sits against the trunk of the willow tree, rooted deep in the dark soil below. It’s wondrous how little of the outside world reached them here, despite how much of him-then and him-now became inextricably tangled here; they alone decided who or what interrupted this quiet.
Then, as an afterthought, Sebastian adds, “She’s off to college in a few months,” with such despondency in his voice it takes him a second, two, three, to realize he’s not sad that Marley will be gone for a while.
“You envy her,” he says, and remembers how Sebastian spoke about college, about the beginning and end of their world, and the freedom that lay beyond. Why did that word yet preoccupy his mind so often? How had it dug its way under his skin, keeping him awake at night with images of riding off into the sunset with Sebastian by his side?
He shouldn’t be able to miss what he never had.
“She needs time away.”
Time away from them. Time away from him. Time away, like he’s taking with Sebastian now.
He sits up, stirred by unkempt longings too treasonous to follow to their conclusion; he can’t let thoughts like those in, not when they’re still stuck, still imprisoned, even in this small oasis in the desert of his childhood.
“What’s your mom like?” he asks, and turns, just in time to catch the why in Sebastian’s eyes. Why must they always have these conversations on his terms, steered in a different direction the moment things got too heavy, too close to the deepest, truest, reddest longing in his heart. But that can never be, not for a boy like him.
Sebastian sits forward and bumps their noses together, and while he’s not about to fall into one of Sebastian’s distractions he gives into this, the refined come-hither request, the first brush of Sebastian’s lips.
“She wouldn’t like you,” Sebastian whispers, and catches his lips within the same breath before he can consider the magnitude of that statement. He hums, skin buzzing with the exacting torture in Sebastian’s kiss, the way it both gives and takes unapologetically. “Always stealing me away.”
Sebastian pulls back and falls back against the tree trunk. He plucks a blade of grass, twists it around his index finger, resenting him for changing the mood so drastically. Their sisters were one thing, they were caught in the cabal same as them, but their parents– they were the ones that made them, molded them, commanded, took, twisted them up.
“She’s ruthless in getting what she wants,” Sebastian says, “even if it means going up against my dad. Especially if it means going up against my dad.”
He tosses the blade of grass aside. “I like to think there was a time they loved each other.”
A strange thing, thinking about his parents loving each other. All his life he heard the stories, how his paternal grandfather didn’t deem his mother’s family wealthy enough, undeserving of an Anderson, and how his father defied his grandfather’s wishes.
Anderson fathers and sons have never been a straightforward story.
Had that been love? Or pride?
“You’re not going to ask about my father?” Sebastian asks.
Punishment for having it his way again.
“I don’t care about your father.”
Sebastian huffs a laugh. “Fair enough.”
Hand curled around his throat Sebastian squeezes, robbing him of breath, and he’s left to grasp helplessly at the wallpapered walls, chipping his nails digging deep into the plaster. He gasps but air stutters and drops back down to his lungs, while Sebastian reaches around with his free hand, palming long agonizing circles over his groin.
His teeth clench together in a moan, and he’s allowed exactly seven seconds of air before Sebastian strips him free of it again.
Red nips like pincers at his peripheral vision.
Two bottles of beer hiss open above him as Sebastian twists off the caps, flicking them over his shoulder into the kitchen, where they clink metallic on the linoleum floor. With no chairs out on the back porch he lowers himself next to him onto the deck, sat on the bare timber.
Sebastian hands over a beer and leans back against the wall, legs crossed at the ankles, a nonchalance to him he wishes he could adopt. Even now, after their multitude of trespasses, after learning well and good all their bodies encompass, he can’t find any slack in his outlines, no extra room to move where he might remake himself.
“What’s wrong?” Sebastian asks, following his brooding stare out to the cornfield, where it’s focused on a single point — the stalks through which he and Rachel disappeared many years ago. Where the boy died. Where the killer was born. Where he truly became his father’s son.
Sebastian found him like this twenty minutes ago; he’d bent down and begged a seditious kiss, then conjured the beers from a cooler he’d brought with him.
All the while he sat staring, legs crossed, waiting to see if the carefree boy would reemerge. He chose this place for a reason, not simply because it was the furthest he could go without tripping into another world. Had he hoped to be that boy again? Could he ever be that boy again?
Sebastian waits patiently for an answer, for him to gather his thoughts, but silence stretches on for long seconds, then minutes, then far too long to convince Sebastian he’ll ever speak.
“Sometimes– when you come to me you’re–”
Sebastian strokes the back of his head, fingers ruffling through his hair, the hesitation in his voice palpable, like moisture rising heavy in the air.
Beer lowered to the deck, the weight on his shoulders presses down harder for a second or two, the how and why terribly evident in the slump of his shoulders, the set of his jaw — all day he’d cowered in his father’s shadow, observing the people who shook his father’s hand, poised for attack should any of them made the wrong move, and it’d proved tiring in ways it never had before.
“My dad’s been–”
His shoulders slump further still, the dead silence following the mention of his father telling of how little room they allowed for their kings here.
“A few weeks ago he asked–”
Fingernail scratching at the label on the brown bottle, he forces the words out, vividly remembered the smell of hot tar, the stifling heat beneath the hardhat, and the question that’d cut precise and shallow lacerations into his skin.
“He asked if I wanted to lead.”
Sebastian chuckles softly, and whatever part of him still tethered to his father’s world rebels against the indignity. Was it funny somehow, that his father yet thought him worthy?
Still, he fails to make it a question. “You don’t think I could.”
“I don’t think you want to,” Sebastian says, fingers tightening in his hair — it alleviates some of the pressure, but not enough, not by far. That would require the rest of the night in Sebastian’s arms.
The silence becomes Sebastian’s, and his hand falls away, the question bringing back the weight of time, breathing down their necks. Soon, Sebastian will be king, and unlike him, Sebastian wants to lead. He’ll get the chance should his father get much sicker. Where did that leave Alexander, Sebastian’s older brother?
“I’ve been rethinking a lot of things lately,” Sebastian says, thumbing along the lip of his beer. “My father sweeping Alexander aside like he hasn’t done everything right for years.”
Maybe the stories about Alexander got it wrong; maybe he wasn’t the irresponsible fool everyone made him out to be. Wouldn’t surprise him, given how his own opinion of Sebastian’s changed.
“Quinn being forced to marry me. Marley, filled with so much potential.”
He thinks of Rachel and her beautiful voice, her talent going to waste stuck in that house all alone, and his mother, crying for her children.
“Juvie. College.” Sebastian shrugs, and adds, after the air’s cleared of heavier things, “You.”
Their eyes meet, Sebastian’s filled with warmth and tenderness the likes he could get lost in, touched a little too close again. He casts down his eyes.
“The West, it makes me–”
“Smaller,” he supplies, knowing all too well what Sebastian means.
The East and the West had different walls but made prisoners of them both. Did that make them bigger here? Stronger together?
He looks back to that spot in the field, and senses the carefree boy waken inside him. He’s happy here, and that’s a start.
“You never thought about it?”
Once, maybe, as a kid, when soldiers were made of plastic and orders were executed by moving his toys across the rug, but never once did he think to have his brother’s place.
He shakes his head, and says, “Cooper never would’ve–” but the thought of his brother and the empty spot he left behind does little to lift the mood. If that was at all Sebastian’s intention.
“I’m sorry about your brother.”
“Don’t do that.”
He leans into Sebastian, eyes closing when Sebastian presses his lips to his temple. Sebastian didn’t need his forgiveness any more than he needed Sebastian’s for killing Hunter.
“You didn’t kill him.”
He’s no sooner slammed the car door shut or Sebastian’s all over him, all mouth and tongue and teeth and hands — he quells the short-lived protest in his limbs and melts back against the car, all hard and cold edges.
The tension in Sebastian’s shoulders speaks volumes. If he turned darker in his father’s presence, Sebastian wound tighter than a two dollar watch; unlike him Sebastian never did well bottling up his emotions, pushing down his feelings, or not speak out when he disagreed with something someone said or did — yet that’s what his father expected time and again, for Sebastian to fall in line, do as he’s told, stay within the set parameters of the path created for him.
“I’m sorry,” Sebastian mutters to his lips, afraid he begs the same mindless sex they surrendered to before, “I’m sorry”, but there’s room for that too, Blaine thinks, without it destroying anything they’ve built so far. It’s what people did for each other, they shared the burden.
But if he learned how to lower his defenses around Sebastian he never learned how to do this, how to kiss instead of kill, how to hold pieces of a person together to see them through a tough ordeal. What would Sebastian do? What would he say to him?
Heartbeat stuttering, he cups Sebastian’s face.
“Tell me what you need,” he whispers, shaking with the thought of it; he could have this power too, his hands could give life rather than take it, and for Sebastian– what if he didn’t have to stain him blood-red, rub off on him but rather give himself over to mercury poisoning, to this pull in his chest, to his heedless dream?
Green eyes find his, and it happens between two erratic beats of his heart — he sees Sebastian, the boy, the man, the father’s son. The Smythe who put him back together.
What couldn’t he do for this boy? What wouldn’t he do?
“You,” Sebastian breathes, before sinking down into another kiss, all mouth and tongue and teeth. “Just you.”
Sebastian bites behind his ear, and he gasps, hoping this one never heals. He’s Sebastian’s and Sebastian’s alone.
Fists raised close to their faces, he and Sebastian circle each other on the grass, gauging when would be the best time to strike, sizing up their opponent one step at a time.
“Stop watching my feet,” he says, feinting a strike by skipping a step forward, which makes Sebastian rear back, rather than protect his face against the coming blow.
“I’m trying to watch your ass.”
“This is my first time, Anderson.” Sebastian grimaces, and drops his arms to his sides. “You could go a little easy on me.”
He shakes his head, kicks at the dirt. “Not a chance.”
Sebastian grins wickedly before raising his hands again, taking on a proper fighting stance. “Not even if I promise to blow you?”
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, he surges forward and makes a feint with his right elbow; Sebastian ducks on instinct, but fails to notice his left hand, free to grasp at his shoulder and tackle him. Sebastian falls unceremoniously to the ground.
“Not even then,” he breathes, and sinks down, straddling Sebastian around the hips.
“That’s okay.” Sebastian laughs, barely regained his breath. “This was all part of my cunning plan.”
Sebastian wriggles his hips. “To get you on top.”
A snort escapes him, Sebastian’s smug quick wit growing ever more charming, and he’s grateful for the momentary illusion of freedom. They’ve made a strange sort of home here, secreted in amongst the past and a future that can never be.
With that thought returns the ticking of time, and all the what ifs too tragic to consider. What if this could last?
He climbs off Sebastian, sitting down in the grass. What if Sebastian never ascends the throne and they keep this, this strange home, for just the two of them?
“What did I say?” Sebastian sighs, as if the fault’s his time and again, and not his fear driving a wedge between them.
“Is this real?”
Sebastian sits up, and studies his face, growing ever more uncertain. “What are you really asking?”
Everything he’s afraid to say, he thinks, all the things that aren’t quantifiable by bruises or sore muscles, swollen lips or orgasms — so much of them has been defined by touch, tactile and skin-splitting, and words Sebastian’s too afraid to say out loud, fearful they’ll drive him away. How real can something be when they’re the only two to acknowledge it?
Sebastian frowns. “Adam?”
“You lo”—his throat closes as if a noose tightens around his neck, strung up by all the words he can’t say in turn—“loved him.”
Casting down his eyes, Sebastian broadens the wedge between them, made alive by his fear; Sebastian and Adam would still be together if his father hadn’t made him break things off so why shouldn’t he be fearful? Why shouldn’t he miss that gun at the small of his back that’s always been there for him?
Sebastian laughs morosely. “Not enough.”
Hand rising, Sebastian pushes curls back from his forehead. “To leave this all behind.”
Sebastian grins, “I’m a runner, Blaine. It’s what I do best,” before that smug smile falters in favor of contemplation, and green eyes search the far horizon for some truth they’re both afraid to invite closer.
He wonders if Adam ever looked like an escape to Sebastian, like freedom, and how much –in Sebastian’s eyes– he looks like that prison tattooed below his collarbone. They may have chosen this path together, but as long as their last names spelled out Anderson and Smythe they’re also inextricably linked to their fathers’ worlds.
Maybe that’s why this worked; everyone knew Sebastian and Adam were dating, both public figures in the community, and as infamous as he may be, as fear-inducing as his name may sound, they’d be insane to fall in love with anyone from the other families.
“But you– you’ve–” Sebastian stutters.
Yes. That must be what they’re doing. Falling in love.
“You’ve given me a run for my money.”
He smiles, appreciative of the pun, acutely aware of everything they’ve done to each other, for each other. Still, he wondered, if it was as real as it felt crawling alive under his skin, or if it was all just madness spelled backward.
“You’ve never wanted to?” Sebastian asks. “Run?”
Where would he have run to? All the world he knew lay east of the Corridor where the sun rose, clearly outlined by the bounds of the city and the river to the south. East and no further, home came clearly demarcated. Four walls.
“Not even with someone like me.”
He looks at Sebastian, at the hint of green around black pupils, and trembles at the hankering for freedom there. “There’s never been someone like you.”
It scared him then and it scares him now, how both of them were equally willing to surrender their bodies, their names, their lives. Now, their hearts too.
So, would he run with Sebastian?
“Sebastian,” he whispers into his lover’s skin, thighs tightening around impossible hips, hips that tilt as Sebastian buries himself deep inside him, splitting what few seams left between them, their outlines amalgamating into one.
A chill tickles up his calf. He pulls his leg back under the mass of blankets on the floor, drawing close to Sebastian’s body following his climax– their bodies slick with sweat and come, still sensitive all over, their mouths trade open-mouthed kisses back and forth. Sebastian slots between his legs, licks at his lips, before trailing kisses down his chin, his neck.
“Happy birthday, lover,” he mutters into his skin, and lays his head down on his chest, still catching his breath.
Both his hands wind through Sebastian’s hair, willing him closer, wishing this moment could last forever so tonight would never come. His mother decided that after all the pain and heartache of the past year his and Rachel’s birthday had to be celebrated, and she’d gone above and beyond to throw the biggest party imaginable, inviting friends, family, and loyal employees, sparing no expense. The thought of it alone set his nerves on edge, even though Rachel tended to draw all the attention her way.
He’d rather stay here and disappear into the sheets, be Sebastian’s and Sebastian’s alone, which had become a whole lot easier than being his father’s son.
“Where did you get this?” Sebastian asks, his index finger circling the blemished skin of an old gunshot wound on his shoulder, which he’d laid eyes on months ago. A scar like any other.
“One of our transports got robbed.”
“I thought maybe it was from–” Sebastian hesitates, making it painfully clear why he never asked before.
He swallows hard, chest growing heavier.
“No one but my grandparents were h- hurt that night,” he says, but hears the lies in those words clear as day. Would that that night had left a scar, a spot marked X, do not go beyond this point. Instead it took all color, his sanity, his volition.
“You don’t have to talk about it.”
But it’s too late. His eyes close and he’s back there, back then, when a carefree boy lost all sense of right or wrong, strong or weak, when the Sylvestris decided his father needed to be taken down a notch and to do that they targeted his children, the twins who supposedly lived well outside of their reach.
“Rachel was asleep next to me when we heard the first gunshot,” he says, tears running down his temples into his hair, the story spun into his own words for the first time in his life; the gunmen and the six-shooter, Rachel’s white nightgown, the red of the footprints he printed down the stairs, out the back.
The man who found them in the cornfield.
“... and– and I shot him,” he stutters, “There was–” so much blood but too dark to see it, so it turned gray, silver in the moonlight, black, and come morning it remained that way; the red stayed gone, mercifully so.
“I should’ve died that day.”
Head lifted off his chest, Sebastian slides off his body and lays down next to him, touching the back of his fingers gently to the tears at his temple. “Don’t say that.”
He looks at Sebastian, at his clean hands, strong shoulders, and all the things he wished he could be.
“It’s the day I became a killer.”
“You’re not just a killer, Blaine.”
That’s one of the things he loves about Sebastian, he sees him as more than a killer but never denies that he is one either– it makes him feel at least half loved.
He’s not just a killer. Not with Sebastian.
But if not a killer–
“What am I then?” he dares ask, searching Sebastian’s face for answers, any answers that might make all of this worth it. “To you?”
“Does it matter?”
He thinks it does matter, or at least it should, if only to solidify it with its proper noun, assign it its proper value, a word to delineate where this starts and where it ends, even if neither of them want it to. It’s not freedom as long as they play well within the bounds of what they’re allowed — so they’re trapped here too, resigned to play pretend they’re any two boys who happen to have started something beyond definition.
“What we have matters. Does it need a name?” Sebastian asks, rather than admitting there’s no real answer for what they are. Accomplices? Fellow inmates?
“Are your eyes really green?” he asks, tips of his fingers caressing down Sebastian’s cheek.
A frown crosses Sebastian’s eyes for half a second, before he settles down on a hip next to him, both of them stark naked, but he the one exposed. There’s more to the question, so much more than he ever learned to express, but Sebastian’s always spoken this language far more fluently than he has.
“You can’t tell?”
“I can see green,” he says, eyes tracing the freckles down Sebastian’s neck, afraid he’s asked too much. There must be a reason Sebastian never says it. “But it’s been a really long time since–”
Swooping down, Sebastian captures his lips in a searing kiss, imbued with the truth of things; he’s afraid that it isn’t real, that it’s all a dream, and Sebastian fears it’s all too real to ever again walk away unscathed. To say it, to give it a proper name, would undo them both.
“They’re green,” Sebastian whispers still.
“Ready or not, here I come!” Rachel calls, and turns around, her gaze travelling the width of the living room in search of their nephew. One hand at her hip, she taps an index finger to her lips. “Now, where could he be?”
She ducks down to check under the piano, but there’s no one there. “Damn, he’s good.”
A short burst of giggles sounds from behind the curtains, where small sneakers stick out from under the dark fabric, feet impatiently shuffling.
Blaine smiles, watching Rachel purposely head in the other direction.
“I wonder if–” Rachel says, and jumps onto the couch, “–he’s behind the couch!”
More giggles follow when Rachel slumps down in feigned defeat, bringing the back of her hand to her forehead. “He’s foiled me again, the little rascal!”
A mop of black hair pops from behind the curtains. “What’s ‘foiled’ mean, auntie Rachel?”
Rachel gasps and scrambles upright, and he watches her run after the squealing four-year-old when his eyes fall to his mother across the room, where she stood watching her children, pretend playing in her mind that they didn’t carry the weight of loss and heartache the same as her. She still cried at night, she still argued with his father about the how and why of Cooper’s death, and challenged why he’d put their youngest son in the midst of that same danger.
Now, contentment marred her features, like seeing them all together as a family had the same effect on her that being with Sebastian had on him, hyperoxic and boundless, far from any danger and the fear of losing more than she could bear.
Her eyes meet his, brightening with a smile — green, like Sebastian’s.
“I haven’t seen you smile like that in a long time,” she says.
A shiver traipses along his shoulders. With effort he schools the corners of his mouth into submission, afraid he’s given away too much. He can’t risk anyone asking questions he could never answer, or challenge his motives for doing so. Around here, suspicions often got people killed.
To think that it showed so obviously, Sebastian in and on and over him, started in him a disparate kind of fear.
His mother walks over to the piano, where she sits down and pats the empty seat next to her, inviting him closer.
He hesitates but for a moment, using the time it takes to reach her to think about any answers he might give. None come to mind, not when he crosses the distance, not when he sinks down into the comfort of home, long since become a place he doesn’t know how to belong in.
“Who keeps pulling my sweet boy away from home?” his mother dares ask, bumping her shoulder to his, mother and son in cahoots over a boy, just a boy, and everything that might entail.
He chokes on it, that one word –mom– as he stares down at the black and white keys.
He’s a boy again, sat in her lap while she played Claire de lune, and his eyes couldn’t follow her fingers fast enough. He devoted months of his life to learning how to play it just like her, much to everyone’s amusement, but never got the pacing quite right.
His mom draws an arm around his shoulders and pulls him close, kissing his temple. “I understand, darling.”
Eyes closing he leans into it, home, mom, childhood, a time a real boy stood in his stead, with dreams that weren’t too heedless, too dangerous, too altogether unachievable. In another life he’d bring Sebastian home and introduce him to his mother, his sister, perhaps even his father, and they’d exchange stories over dinner and wine — dreaming now caused too much suffering.
“But there is someone,” she says, before she curls fingers under his chin to make him look at her, still smiling like he was any other kid confessing to a secret crush — his throat runs dry at the simple gesture, reminiscent of a fox tempting him closer, and fear starts an irregular rhythm in his chest.
Too close. It’s all coming too close. He can’t risk getting caught simply because he failed to hide his peace of mind.
“And he makes you happy.”
Tears knit into the corners of his eyes, but he nods, however hesitantly, however imperceptibly, confessing his greatest crime to a woman who might hate him, disown him, should she find out who his someone was.
His mother’s smile grows knowingly, like she too knows the delights love brings, how connecting with another person can cushion the blows of the past.
“Never let go of that.”
In her eyes he finds traces of both his grandparents, but her voice echoes his grandmother’s to a tee. She never liked the idea of his mother marrying an Anderson either, but didn’t wish to stand in the way of her daughter’s happiness. Love was worth all the pain and heartache that came with it, she used to say, a belief he’d never been able to put to the test.
“Would you– marry him again?” He casts down his eyes. “Dad?”
He hears his mother draw in a short breath, surprised by the personal question, before she brushes his curls from his forehead. Did she not lament her prison too, one where she’s forced to watch her children suffer, change, die, for beliefs she married into?
“I love your father more than I can say.”
He nods solemnly.
He’s not sure which answer he feared the most.
Knowing what she knows now, would she watch her children suffer again? Would she follow her heart and watch her grandson inherit a war? Or would she run?
Descended into the basement of an abandoned brownstone at the tail end of the Corridor, his voice hits the mildew on the brick walls.
A single light bulb hung from the ceiling, casting the room in a dark yellow glow.
He shivers involuntarily.
Sebastian’s text mentioned nothing more than a time and place, but why here when they had his grandparents’ house to retreat to? He thought their time in the city ended, their desperate and convoluted sneaking around far too dangerous to escape everyone’s attention.
So why here? Why now?
Did Sebastian want something more exciting, more elicit? Did he mean to have him hard and dirty, spread out legs wide on the floor until he begged for release?
Or did his fantasies of having him on his knees yet include more unthinkable scenarios?
He pushes deeper into the room, footsteps reluctant and light, and finds Sebastian at long last, standing tall in a corner of the room. An unreadable expression on his face. Fear. Apprehension. Doubt.
“What’s going on?” he asks, eyes drawing to the ground, “You–” where a man lay at Sebastian’s feet. Bound and gagged. Squirming the moment he recognizes the infamous Blaine Anderson.
A stranger whose name he won’t learn.
Cooper once asked if that made it easier.
He hadn’t answered.
But it didn’t.
His throat runs dry — it’s a scene from a page written a few times over, a repeating incidence started by a simple command, a few referential cues, the instigator behind his malaise.
“Blaine–” Sebastian says, but if any words follow they’re drowned out by the sounding pulse of his heartbeat, pounding erratic in his chest, the bitter cold spread to his extremities.
Small bloody footprints pitter-patter the distance between him and Sebastian, grown exponentially wider.
He’d heard the stories, of course, of the Smythe heir’s penchant for exacting revenge without getting his hands dirty, for making people pay for their mistakes. Sebastian once told him he’d never killed a man. Was this how he kept his conscience clean?
Studying the man’s face, recognition sets in quickly. He’d seen this man before, running errands for Vincent Smythe himself. Why would Sebastian bring him here?
The thought strikes fear.
Had this man somehow found out about them?
Was it over, all of it, this, them? Had time caught up?
But if Sebastian honestly believed that why would he bring him here the way his father brought him to his victims, expected to follow orders, put the family business first. Did Sebastian expect him to take care of it? If he thinks he’ll bend to his will the way he blindly bent to his father’s—
His breathing deepens, and he looks at Sebastian, his lover, through tearshot eyes.
“Is this who you think I am?” he asks, jaw clenched, hands tightened into fists, his bones rattling betrayal, “A cold blooded killer?” until he’s reminded — to Sebastian, he’s not just a killer, but a killer nonetheless.
He got it all wrong. Nothing between them had been real, he was nothing more than a means to an end, a handy tool for a Smythe to point at the next unwitting victim.
Sebastian steps closer. “Blaine–”
A single tear slipped down his cheek, he turns his back to Sebastian, to everything they’ve done together; the sex, the danger, the omitted confessions of love — all insignificant, trifle, nothing.
On instinct, he reaches back for the gun at the small of his back.
“Blaine, this isn’t what you think,” Sebastian says, but the words don’t register, not consciously; he’s too caught in the cries of all the men that came before, the dead and buried, the fools.
He’d been such a fool.
“I expect this from my father, but you?”
Had it all meant so little? No two days ago he told his mother how happy Sebastian made him, finally giving her a reason to rejoice for him rather than cry, and—
“He’s the one who shot your brother.”
Heart dropped to his gut he whirls back around, looks at Sebastian, down to the man at his feet, and back up at the man who brought him this– this what? this gift? this peace offering? his forgiveness incarnate?
A sibilant droning starts in his ears.
“What?” he asks, voice a ghost of a whisper, the clear outlines of Sebastian’s body debouched into the shape of both their fathers’, but Cooper’s too, with his perfect straight smile, with that maddening nickname he’d use for him. His acute awareness of exactly how far he could push him.
The void his absence left behind– the same one his father now tried to push him into.
“He pulled the trigger,” Sebastian says, his voice somewhere elusive, faraway.
This man? This weak pathetic man whimpering on the floor killed his brother?
“He killed your brother.”
Everything turns red — it bleeds into his peripheral vision the same way it once bled out, gradually, one hue at a time until it’s blood-red, crimson, deep burgundy.
With little else in his line of sight but the catalyst behind all this, whose eyes go wide in fear, he marches over and lands a fist on the man’s nose, another against his jaw, a hard unforgiving punch in his mouth, and the droning in his ears deafens any sound around him.
Blood splatters up into his face when something cracks under the impact of his fist, bone crunching against bone as he lands hit after hit after hit.
The nameless man goes limp on the ground, rasping out one final breath.
Slowly, his vision returns to him and he oversees the result of his outburst, a dead body at his feet beat up all to hell, face unrecognizable, and his hands starts shaking, his knuckles ache, and he trips a haphazard step back, tripping over his own feet.
He falls to the ground, crawling backwards until he hits Sebastian’s legs, and the taller sits down behind him, wraps him up in his embrace, one arm tight over his chest. Lips at his temple.
All those times these past few weeks they talked about Cooper Sebastian must’ve heard how deep his missing ran, how exposed his brother’s loss left him to his father and his wishes, how much more of himself he had to sacrifice to carry it all and remain standing.
With Cooper gone no buffer remained between him and his father, and the more his father asked, the more he expected of him, the more it chipped away at his sense of self. As if there’d been a whole lot of it to begin with.
“There he is,” Sebastian says, brushing back his curls. “My little killer.”
His? His? Blaine thinks, but fails to find the strength to think through all the implications the pronoun possesses, not with his knuckles stained red, his fingers aching from the strain he put them under. How did he become this person who killed so willingly? so easily?
For so long he’s blamed others, people, events, his family name, but it’s been him all along, his choices, his raw trauma, his tight hold on that night and the men who stole his innocence. It’s easy because he doesn’t have to think about it. It’s simple. Command. Obey.
But Sebastian hadn’t commanded, hadn’t expected anything.
Yet he still chose to kill.
He chokes back a wail, body turning into Sebastian’s, curling into a ball up against his chest.
Sebastian scratches at his scalp, his hold tightening as hard as he can bear. It’s his fear made flesh, staining Sebastian blood-red, but he knows now his fate’s tied to this boy, this soft killer, prince of the West.
“It’s okay,” he hushes, hand drawing back and forth through his curls, rocking their bodies together, soothing the pain bleeding crimson at the heart of him. “I’ve got you.”
Sebastian kisses his hands even though he saw him beat a man to death, he holds him even though he’s in pieces on the floor, whispers nonsense to him even though he’s gone deaf, and blind, and mute, and colorblind all over again — everything black, never white, never red again, black and blue on the outside, a deep crimson red where his heart bled in his chest.
“I know you think you’re not worth loving, Blaine Anderson.”
Hand over his heart Sebastian invokes his full name, once stood as a barrier between them, now a stark reminder of their commonalities.
Sebastian kisses his temple, his cheek, down his neck, tattooing the meaning implicit in those words all over his skin, red, red, bloody red.
But I’m going to prove you wrong.
His father ceases most all communication.
Ever since their talk at the construction site his interactions with his father were reduced to business only; punishment at his father’s hand came slow and exacting, felt acutely through his absence and general indifference. He hadn’t been on the receiving end of it for many years and it proved a stark reminder of how much has changed.
A little under seven months ago, he never would have dreamed of defying his father.
“You’re late,” his father gripes the moment he joins him in his office.
His shoulders tense under the accusation, and the barely healed skin over his knuckles scrapes against the inside of his gloves. When Rachel asked about his wounds he placed the blame on his father, but that’s not an option now.
The lone wolf, having learned a trick or two from his unlikely companion, has learned the ease of a lie.
His father eyes him suspiciously, but brief enough to assuage concern.
They’re the only words they exchange before he blends back into the shadows at his father’s back, unseen but vigilant, clocking all the exits, counting down the days, hours, minutes until he can see Sebastian again.
“You don’t think there’s violence in me?”
He lifts his head off Sebastian’s chest, watches how the sunlight streams in through the window and catches in his lashes, motes dancing across his silhouette. His muscles are pleasantly sore, and he’s naked but for the sheet covering the lower part of his body, Sebastian’s mostly covered by his.
The scabs over his knuckles prompted the question, along with Sebastian’s reverie of them; he’d kissed them all gently like he had that fateful day, as if the kisses themselves could absolve him of the crime.
He never denied the violence that animated his bones, sunk so deep into his every pore that some days it was all he could see, feel, taste and smell, and his ears would ring with a high-pitched hum before the worst of it disappeared.
He never used to question that.
A little under seven months ago, he never questioned much of anything.
“I’m the one who put a gun to your head for Hunter.”
Sebastian props an arm beneath his head, catching his eyes. Would he have done it, he often wondered, had he not gotten the upper hand? Would Sebastian have killed him?
“There’s violence in all of us.”
Maybe that’s true. Maybe every man, woman and child could be pushed to the point of committing unspeakable acts and it’s futile to think he of all people could ever escape it, should he ever want to. There is violence in him, Sebastian didn’t deny that, couldn’t deny that knowing he killed Hunter in cold blood — what would that carefree ten-year-old think of him? Would he understand what he had to become in the face of his trauma? Or would he rear back in abject horror?
He sits up, sensing the cold weighted shiver of a nightmare at the back of his neck.
“It’s just easier for me, I guess.”
Sebastian pushes his hand flat against the small of his back. Where the gun used to be now there’s a gentle touch, a reassuring caress, forgiveness and understanding and all that entailed. He’s never been anyone’s this completely.
“Blaine, I saw what you did.”
Hit after hit, after hit. Blood spatter everywhere.
“I saw how it affected you.”
A man whimpering and sniveling on the floor.
“I don’t know what to tell you, killer.”
His eyes close, that word finally finding its proper significance, landing precisely where his shame and apprehension used to be.
He is a killer, for better or worse, because he’s his father’s son.
“But that wasn’t easy.”
Quiet still gripped the house tight despite his nephew’s cries of joy, Rachel’s violin practice, her rendezvous with Jesse, or his mother playing the piano — at night his mother still cried, and Rachel didn’t sing, and his nephew asked about his dad, and his sister-in-law saw a therapist twice a week.
His brother’s ghost haunted their waking hours, his absence felt like an open wound, but where he once turned from it he confronts it now — he killed his brother’s killer, spilled blood for blood, an eye for an eye and that made all the difference. He’s lighter, no longer burdened by unanswered questions.
“How was work?” his mother asks as he enters the house, her singsong voice lulling him into the comfort of a home he too often dissociates from. It’s not the house that makes it a home, rather the people in it, but even they often challenged his grip on his sanity.
His mother wore a red sweater, painful to his eyes.
“Fine.” He shrugs, unable to hide his malcontent, “Dad’ll be home in an hour,” and crosses the foyer to the stairs, making his way up to the first floor.
Work, she asked, like he worked any other day job. She used to ask Cooper the same thing, and he’d launch into an animated retelling of his day, down to its minute detail. For his mother’s sake, Cooper went the extra mile. She asked as a way of connecting with them, be a part of their lives when their father’s world consumed those lives. Literally in Cooper’s case.
He’s never been quite as good at pretending. What was he supposed to say? Great, mom, no one tried to kill dad today. He said two whole sentences to me. His days all looked the same, caught in the identical monotony that gave his life routine, gave it structure, made it a whole lot easier to swallow.
Upstairs in his bedroom he strips the gun from around his ankle, placing it inside the safe hidden in his wardrobe. He pulls the other free from the small of his back.
Slips it under his pillow. His home here wasn’t comparable with the one he built with Sebastian, not of his own making, four inescapable walls that frightened him more each day. These walls had ears, they had eyes, and he’s never been good at pretending.
Behind him the door opens, and Rachel slips inside, closing it again behind her.
She backs into the door, looking at him.
Her eyes betrayed a foreboding calm, a contained kind of rage that could explode any moment — he recognizes it all too well, he’s felt that rage more times than he could count. But what could instill such rage in his sister?
Without speaking Rachel moves, she stomps over to him with her hands balled into fists and, once she’s in range, slaps him hard across the face.
Shocked, he rears back a step, bringing a hand up to his face. “What–?”
“I saw you,” Rachel says with gritted teeth, her dark eyes growing darker still.
Saw him? Saw him where?
“At the house.” Rachel shakes where she stands, and shouts, “I saw you with that monster!”
“Rachel–” he whispers, eyes shifting between Rachel and the door while she continues to scream, the where and how not the most important things on his mind right now. Someone will hear if she keeps raising her voice; their mom, one of the servants, their father — Rachel’s wrath could tear it all down with a few choice words.
“How could you do this?!”
He grabs around her shoulders and forces her back in a mad panic.
“He killed Cooper! He killed our brother!”
“Rachel– be quiet,” he hisses, manhandling her up against a wall.
“How could you betray us like that?! How–”
One of his hands closes over Rachel’s mouth, but it doesn’t stop her screaming.
“I killed the man who shot Coop”—he trembles unevenly with fear and self-loathing—“Sebastian brought him to me.”
But Rachel’s eyes show no hint of surrender, and next she pulls at his hair so hard she nearly unroots a whole clump of it, biting his hand in the process, and starts pummeling him all over with her small fists.
He pulls back as if stung.
“How can you believe a word that comes out of his mouth!” she screams, and continues her forward assault, landing blow after blow.
“Goddamn it, Rachel, I love him!”
Rachel freezes on the spot, a fist raised in the air that would’ve hit him square in the jaw. Her arm lowers, her wide eyes focused so tightly on his face he’s convinced she must’ve seen it all along. The newfound calm in him. The uptick in his mood. If his mother saw surely Rachel—
“I love–” he breathes out, losing momentum as that certainty sinks into his bones. It’s the first time he says it in any sort of way, in his head or out loud; they’re the same words that once died on Sebastian’s lips, that first day at the house under a retreating storm.
Is it so hard for you to believe that I might—
“You’re in love with a Smythe?”
Disgust spins around the black of his twin sister’s eyes, too recognizable still, still too stark a reminder of what they learned at a young age. How old were they when they first heard the names Smythe? Jiulia? Silvestri?
His teeth grind together. “No.”
Not a Smythe, not anything so reductive. Their names don’t matter and why should they? Nothing good ever came from being an Anderson or a Smythe. He’s a killer because of it and Sebastian’s caught between loyalty to his brother and his father. Hitmen came for them when they were ten years old simply because their last names were Anderson.
“I’m in love with Sebastian,” he says, stands fast and strong because he’s never felt this truth so loud, so true, and maybe Rachel sees it, his months of lies, the weight of his secret, but how that secret’s been his salvation.
Her arms fall to her sides, and a tense silence settles between them.
He’s begged a lot of her but never this, to adjust her entire worldview to account for his trespasses, to show kindness to a man– a boy she learned to hate on principle.
If she doesn’t, if she can’t, it’ll all burn. It’ll all be over.
There’ll be no more exits.
“You killed the man who shot Coop?”
He can’t remember if Rachel ever used that word before, called it by its proper name, murder, death, revenge, but it soothes him, thinking Rachel would’ve made the same choice.
“With– with my bare hands,” he stutters, and falls to his knees once the weight of it hits him. Sebastian brought him a man to kill and watched. His father never did, never acknowledged what he asked of his own son so he knew jack shit of what it did to him.
Sebastian left him the choice.
Decided to carry it with him.
Rachel sinks to her knees in front of him.
“How could you do this, little brother?” she asks, and he’s confounded by how close it sounds to little killer, how every line, every boundary, every rule that comprised his life has started dissipating, all amalgamating into this potential of a boy he never got to be. “If anyone finds out–”
“I’m a dead man.”
Like that night in the cornfield so many years ago, Rachel cries in his arms, holding on for dear life, hoping that once they emerge not all color has drained from the world.
From his old bedroom window he can see Sebastian’s car approaching the house, making a sharp left turn into the driveway. Even on the first floor he can hear the crack of the gravel beneath the Mercedes’ tires, the slam of a car door closing, the hinges of the garage doors giving a short squeak before silence returns.
Rachel’s hand still burns hot on his cheek and he hopes it never lessens, stays there as a reminder to be more careful, be more watchful, and not fall into the trappings foolish lovers so often did. There were stories about the how and why of their families’ divide, of differing business interests and a grab for territory but in truth it was betrayal, infidelity, and perhaps love; no one could be sure — his great-uncle Walter plummeted to his death days after discovery of the affair, and Celia Smythe died alone in a sanatorium.
His father’s cruelty might well send him to one too one day.
He tries to draw in a breath but he’s been winded since his confession to Rachel, like he’s the one who’s been running all this time, from his past, from his feelings, perhaps, even to this day, from Sebastian as well. It’s an untenable thing, an Anderson and a Smythe together.
The floorboards outside the door creak.
Slowly, one finger at a time, he releases the gun tucked beneath a fold in the white sheet that’d covered the bed not too long ago.
“Hey, you,” comes Sebastian’s soft call, as if they’re any two boys with normal lives who’ve started an affair, as if they’re boyfriends with the option to leave this all behind and drive off into the sunset.
That’s never what life had in store for either of them.
What if he kept it to himself? What if they simply kept going, and Sebastian never knew how close they’d come to being destroyed? Was that fair? Did fairness matter in a world where killing a man came as natural to him as surrendering to one?
He turns and he’s weakness personified, defenseless, wide open for attack — a strong man wouldn’t have turned around and let, “Rachel knows,” slip the moment he caught sight of his lover, the same man he evoked all this danger for. Now, disarmed, he thinks it hasn’t been enough, whatever time allotted them, it’s not enough. He wants more, all, and greed isn’t yet a sin he has committed.
“What do you mean?”
A stronger man, one less caught in the clutches of trauma, might’ve seen the color drain from Sebastian’s face, his skin grown a hint paler, and noticed him skid a graceless step back.
“She saw us,” he says, and crosses to Sebastian’s side with a desperation that put his resolve to shame, but starts greed pulsing thickly through his veins; this doesn’t have to change anything, Rachel won’t be the one to destroy them.
Digging his fingers in tight around his waist, he searches Sebastian’s eyes for the shape of that same greed, hoping to see it reflected so his might be counted as rational, rather than delusional. It’s all been a dream, a fated delusion, to think he could have it all with the world at his feet.
Sebastian looks through him, his gaze distant, elsewhere, in a dream of his own.
He nearly chokes on his tongue, fingers wringing into Sebastian’s shirt so tight it could tear it to pieces. Why did it have to be this house? Why did he choose to come here? They could’ve gone anywhere, been anonymous, nameless, faceless, without running the risk of Rachel finding them here.
He knew why. His spirit lived inside these walls, then, now, imbued with a promise once made him, a promise he made himself, and every day here has been safe and carefree and—
“I need to think about this,” Sebastian says.
His hands freeze. “What do you mean?”
Sebastian grabs around his wrists. “This changes things, Blaine.”
He trips a step back, straight into the pool of blood that sank in the pine floorboards over a decade ago, and he’s reminded, however fleetingly, that foxes are untrustworthy creatures, quicksilver fast and elusive, and running is what Sebastian does best.
“Don’t do that.”
Sebastian closes in on him, reading the lightning fast pattern of his thoughts, the doubt that’s slid itself beneath the surface of his skin like a needle, like a fine hair trigger razorblade, like a—
“Don’t make this into something our fathers would.”
—like the metallic muzzle of a gun pressed up against the back of his head.
“If you honestly think you’re some dirty little secret I come back to for sport, you’re wrong, Blaine, but this–”
Sebastian’s doubt joins his beneath his epidermis, despite the taller cupping his face, scratching reassuring patterns at the base of his skull. Green eyes search his face for that doubt, for some affirmation amongst all the certainties surrounding them.
“If Rachel knows–”
How long before the world does? How long before their fathers do? How long before this has to end, forever?
“She won’t say anything.”
“I trust her with my life.”
And that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s trusting her with both their lives. He trusts Rachel not to say anything to their father, not to talk to Jesse or their mother, not to let her own trauma of that night and losing Cooper become such a weight that it’ll break her. He’s trusting his sister to be stronger than him. Like she always has been.
“I need to think about this,” Sebastian repeats, like he hasn’t heard a thing, like his words held no sway at all, and takes another few steps back.
His teeth grit together. “I’m not Adam.”
He regrets it the moment it’s past his lips, because when Sebastian looks at him he can tell he resents the mere implication — he’s no more just a boy than Sebastian has been to him; he’s an enemy, a fellow inmate, a lover. He’s been Sebastian’s and his alone, but how can it be that now the danger’s caught up to them, Sebastian’s running scared? Now, after all they’ve done.
“No”—Sebastian sighs, hands at his hips—“You’re something–”
Eyebrows pinching together, Sebastian draws a hand down his face, omitting once again whatever lies in his heart for him.
“I need some time,” Sebastian whispers, knowing all too well the words stood up all his defenses, chelating all the mercury in his blood to a single organ so he can finally expel it.
His hands tighten into fists.
Danger made flesh looked an awful lot like complacency to him.
Sebastian doesn’t beg a goodbye kiss or comforting parting words. Instead he turns and heads for the door, the exit he thought closed to them both. Will he ever see Sebastian again? Would he turn around if he called out? Does Sebastian expect him to?
“I won’t fight for you,” he calls, fingernails digging into his palms drawing blood. How dare he? How could he come crawling back begging for a promise, a pact, a handshake, only to throw it all away the moment it stopped being their secret alone.
Sebastian halts in the doorway, and, without turning, says, “I never asked you to,” before pushing through the fly door screen.
I’m a runner, Blaine, Sebastian once told him, and all of a sudden danger made flesh looked an awful lot like normalcy.
Sebastian, the runner.
Ever the fox, sly silver-tongued and cunning.
Sebastian doesn’t call for days.
All his texts remain unanswered and he’s afraid that if he calls he’ll either get Sebastian’s voicemail, or someone else might answer. How much time did Sebastian need to figure out what he wanted? Hadn’t they both done that already and taken a chance on each other, even if it meant self-annihilating? Why couldn’t Sebastian trust him when he said Rachel would never tell a soul about them?
Instead, Sebastian did what he did best. Sebastian ran like he’d run from Adam, and he has no idea why he thought he’d be different.
But that’s a lie if ever he heard any. Of course he was different. They were different. How could they not be with their last names being Smythe and Anderson?
What’s worse is he understands why Sebastian felt the need to take time. The foundation of their house of cards started wavering the moment Rachel found out about them and will continue — if Rachel saw them who else could have? If she figured it out how long before others did too?
What if it’s already too late?
Every text Sebastian leaves unanswered makes him more fearful for him, for them, and that worry spins into his bones, restless heart and uncoordinated limbs.
“You should sleep,” comes Rachel’s voice, tiptoed into his bedroom deep in the night, only to find him standing fully dressed in front of the window. Seeing nothing through the moonless night.
He tried and failed to find sleep, respite from worrisome thought. What he wouldn’t give to have it all stand still, if but for a moment, so he might catch a breath. Whatever oxygen his lungs yet possessed Sebastian took with him and he’s been running on fumes since.
Bedroom door closed, Rachel walks over, her footsteps silent, gentle.
“Did you sleep at the house?” she shoots, straight through his heart, where the bullet lodges itself besides its twin caliber. He deserves to have his sanity questioned, especially by Rachel. Did he let his guard down around Sebastian, a Smythe? Did his touch allow that?
“Maybe it’s for the best,” Rachel amends, voice softened at the sight of his distress, and draws a hand down his back.
It’s a mystery why he thinks himself Rachel’s protector, when it’s clear she’s protected him his entire life with her kind words, coming always at the right moment. Even now, after all the lies he told, everything he kept from her, she shows him kindness.
Which is why he spills the only truth thus far left unspoken.
“I died in that cornfield, Rachel.”
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true,” he huffs, trying to hold back the onslaught of tears the confession begets. Unlike Sebastian, he never ran, he let the trauma take and own him, wrap him up in a secure blanket of blood and bullets. In so many ways he’s been killing that man in the cornfield over and over. Killing himself, to some extent, and every day since his heart has cemented around that, around the bullet chambered in his heart.
He thought he’d live and die with it, but now, in the wake of his desire set free, at the hands of an enemy no less, not much of it remained.
“With Sebastian– I’m not that boy. I’m who I want to be. I’m–”
He’s not his father’s son. However ironic that may seem.
“You are in love,” Rachel says, surprise in her voice, as if she didn’t believe him before, had thought him young and foolish and naive and maybe he’s been all those things, maybe he’s still all those things.
But his world no longer holds any color, without Sebastian.
Tina and Mike exit his father’s office side by side, their weekly meeting finished much later than usual. Half an hour and his father kept him waiting all that time, muffled voices playing behind the hardwood door, laughter and clinking glasses.
Mike and Tina must’ve brokered another profitable deal.
“Blaine,” his father calls, beckoning him inside.
The office, a penthouse suite complete with adjoining kitchen, bedroom, and en suite, overlooked the east of the city through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. That’s where he finds his father, raised high above the city, his kingdom, looking down on it with a pride he could scarce imagine. There are streets and buildings like there are so many, north, east, south, and west, and he fails to see the value in a life lived fighting and scheming to keep what’s theirs.
Then again, what was his life as a killer, if not freely at the disposal of the schemers?
Free. What a joke.
He looks around at the four walls enclosing him, all the world at his feet, and all he can think about is how he left things with Sebastian in the far corner of the world. What if he decides he’s not worth loving after all? What if they never see each other again?
No, he’d resolved this. If Sebastian won’t fight for them he sure as hell wouldn’t either.
“I have a job for you,” his father says, as expected, and walks over to the bar behind him to pour himself a glass of whiskey.
He patiently waits for his instructions as he hears the liquid pour. Usually there’d be a folder on his father’s desk, containing a photograph and an address, the few referential cues he needs to get started, but there’s no such file waiting for him this time.
Which meant his father wanted nothing connecting them to this. Nothing on paper. No money trail. Just his father’s will to guide his hands.
The name sinks bricks to his stomach, his knees quivering, an acidic burn at the back of his throat.
He swallows hard, “What about him?” his voice as steady as he’s able to keep it, aware of his father advancing from behind. Could he know? Could someone have told him? Would he still be standing if he did?
“I have it on good authority Vincent isn’t long for this world.”
Spies, he thinks. His father’s spies are everywhere.
“I would see to it it’s Alexander that takes over the business.”
Death, then, he thinks, for the chosen Smythe heir, for Sebastian Smythe, a name he knew too well, better than his own; it tasted bitter at first, cheap cigarettes and bourbon, like mercury, wild and elusive, like a danger and temptation personified. It felt safe, that name, in the spaces he’d made for it– the red in the corner of his eyes, the bruises over his ribs, the bite marks in his shoulders.
His father would have him kill Sebastian?
With fearful eyes, sputtering, “Dad, I can’t,” far too candidly, he turns to his father.
“What do you mean, you can’t?”
“You made a deal with Vincent.” His brow furrows. “You shook his hand.”
Did he not remember the bloodshed? the terror in his mother’s eyes whenever either of them left the house? Months of blood and guts and bullets, all culminating in his brother’s death –his father’s only wake-up call– and over what? Territory? Illegal smuggling?
No one knew.
So what could his father possibly know?
He and Vincent may not have liked it but the ceasefire was necessary; business suffered while their war raged on, people were afraid to leave their homes for fear of getting caught in the crossfire, and even their most loyal soldiers spoke of mutiny. Lives were lost to the futility of violence, the whims of kings with far too much power at their disposal.
What was this, then? Pride? Or a matter of taking from Vincent what he’d already lost. A son.
“You do as you’re told, you hear me?”
His father’s index finger rises pointedly in warning, and digs into his chest.
“I want this boy dead.”
The air grows thinner between them, and he remains standing solely to keep up appearances — the finger at his chest might as well be a gun, might as well be the cold hard reality of what he can’t have.
Not a man. Not an enemy.
But a boy.
If only Sebastian were just a boy.
He never witnessed his father’s wrath firsthand, too young when he stomped out all but one of the Silvestri clan, but if he believed the stories, and he had no reason not to, his father turned Satan incarnate after his grandparents’ deaths; every Silvestri he could get his hands on tortured and killed, their patriarch forced to bear witness to his children’s cold blooded murders.
Had he planned all along to do the same to the Smythes, starting with Sebastian?
Would he risk another war, more bodies, more death, for Cooper?
Black beady eyes find his between two beats of his heart, and he does wonder if his father would do the same for him, the son he couldn’t fix, if he ever felt guilty, if he shouldered a single ounce of the darkness he carried.
“Coop died, but–”
It happens so fast he can’t defend against it. His father’s hand strikes out and hits him so hard he tastes blood, red and thick like silted copper knitting between his molars.
“And you’re screwing the man who killed him.”
The words nearly bring him to his knees.
Instead he staggers a step back and spits blood all over the floor, his cheek and jaw throbbing, tears pricking his eyes. Did Rachel betray him? Had anyone seen him with Sebastian?
What does his father know?
It’s been months and they’ve taken such care; burner phones, changing locations, never stuck in one place for too long. Had they grown careless these past two weeks? Had they stepped too far past the borders of their world for them to notice the danger chasing behind?
He looks at his father, at the great man on the throne of this empire, this great king of the East, and thinks of that boy in the mirror, his spitting image. All he ever wanted was to make him proud, be of use after trauma unmade him. He became that loaded gun fitted at his back, holstered around his ankle, a weapon in the form of an Anderson with his father’s command at the trigger. He’d done everything ever asked of him.
When he speaks it’s with shoulders hunched beneath the weight of it all — his father asks too much of the son he’s already asked for everything, wants retribution carried out by his hands rather than his own.
“I killed the man who killed Coop,” he says, futilely.
His father’s eyes narrow. “What?”
“I k-killed him.” He swallows hard, his mouth dry, filled with soot. “Coop’s killer.”
Chin dipping to his chest, his father sighs. “How long?”
“How long have you and that–” His father’s dark eyes turn to stone. “How long, Blaine?”
A breath shudders through him, and before long he’s coughing it up, dusty charcoal soot, the lining of his lungs coming out every exhale. His father doesn’t care. They’re all the same to him, every Smythe, even Marley, down to the last henchmen. He would never convince his father the way he had Rachel, how he loved Sebastian, how it all mattered with him, so why bother?
A tear runs down his cheek. Drips down his chin. Drops to the floor.
“You will do this,” his father sounds much calmer, much quieter, far more self-assured than a short moment ago.
It’s the most violence he’s ever seen in his father.
“For your brother.”
His father comes forward a step, yet the distance between them fails to shrink. He doubts it ever will again.
“For your sister,” his father adds, the threat latent in those final words terrifyingly similar to words once spoken by Vincent Smythe. Wouldn’t want you to lose another sibling. It’s a warning. A threat. A reminder that there’s only one thing in this world one can truly count on. Family.
It’s what his father counts on now, that he’s too scared to disobey any more than he already has, that he will bend to his will like he has every other time. It’s easy. It’s simple. Command. Comply.
They always knew it couldn’t last.
That night, sitting on his bedroom floor, he field-strips his Smith & Wesson.
It requires the least amount of thought but all his concentration, so none of it can go to his bruised jaw, the muscles high strung along his shoulders, or fingers tense with the inevitable choice he’ll have to make.
Family. Or Sebastian.
Tears fill his eyes as he releases the magazine, removes it, empties it and sets it aside, works the slide with his finger off the trigger, one, two, three times.
Violin music drifts up from the downstairs living room, Rachel practicing the swan song she’s been attempting to perfect for weeks. His eyes close and a tear runs down his cheek, the adagio starting a fluttering rhythm in his chest, out of sync with his breathing — the din of death waiting to collect, perched on his shoulder like an old friend.
How can he–?
He sniffles, clears his throat. Refocuses. Slides back the ambidextrous slide lock to inspect the chamber. Clear of ammunition.
—kill Sebastian to have his sins forgiven, slate wiped clean, so he could what? Lead? Slot right back into the contour carved out for him, without question, without doubt? With blind obedience to his father’s wishes?
Vision blurred with tears he pulls the trigger to release the slide and take it off the frame, muscle memory guiding his hands. He licks over his split lip as the music erupts into battaglia, and he removes the guide rod and recoil spring — the sting of it doesn’t hurt, his weakness retreated to his heart alone, where it simmers and festers.
Barrel pulled free he hurls it clear across the room, where it leaves a sizable scratch in the plaster of the wall. Not unlike the permanent marks Sebastian left behind.
He chokes back a violent sob, one hand shooting up over his mouth, the other over his heart, and he doubles over ravaged by his traitorous thoughts. What has he let these men do to him? How has he given them– him this power? Why has he never questioned his father’s dominance over him before?
He cries into the palm of his hand, breathing harshly, the noise of his sorrow muffled into his calloused skin. How can his father ask this of him, his own son, his own flesh-and-blood? Cooper died in a meaningless war neither side knew the flashpoint of, Sebastian’s friend Hunter paid with his life over something as insignificant as territory, yet his father would have him kill a man he– he–
Blaine screams, cries his eyes red and his voice hoarse, his chest concaved around a raw truth he’s tried to run from lying in Sebastian’s arms, kissing Sebastian’s lips.
There’s no happiness for a man like him.
Shackled to the East by a name, by trauma, by family loyalty; he wishes it all meant jackshit.
The violin duet downstairs draws to a coda, the music dies out and he holds his breath, pushes it all down as hard as he can, the past seven months of flesh and spit and come, the past two weeks of scar tissue explored, exposed, excised, the coming weeks and months once filled with promise now a bitter nightmare.
No matter what he decides to do, he’ll end up sacrificing something. Someone.
He hits the floor with a closed fist, the pain that reverberates from his knuckles to his wrist bringing back some of his senses. Not his sight, he’ll never see clearly again, not red, not green, not the black of his own clothing.
Something, someone, has to give.
And that would never be his father.
Knees drawn to his chest, fingers twisted tight in his curls, he dials Sebastian’s number.
It takes nine whole rings before Sebastian answers.
“You shouldn’t call me,” is the first thing past Sebastian’s lips, and, “I need you,” the first past his, trying his best to keep his voice even, devoid of emotion, as if he hasn’t sat here polishing his gun all night in an attempt to postpone this conversation, trying to think of an out that leaves them both alive. He could make an attempt on Sebastian’s life that would force him back to his side of the Corridor, and he could lay low long enough for everyone to forget; they could go back to clandestine meetings in the dead of night.
Who wouldn’t see straight through that?
They could part ways, accept their fate. Become enemies once again.
His father’s orders were clear. Family, or Sebastian.
He stares down at his gun, disassembled into its smallest pieces, by a killer that came in the night, by his father, by himself. His eyes fall shut and he takes a deep breath, holding back another cry. Last time they spoke Sebastian simply asked for time to think, to assess the danger Rachel knowing might mean for them.
“Blaine, what’s wrong?”
“Meet me?” he asks, and hates how his voice trembles, how it betrays too much yet not enough to keep Sebastian away. Run, Sebastian, he meant to say, disappear, but he can’t stand the thought of never seeing Sebastian again. Even if for one last time.
A voice calls Sebastian’s name in the background, Marley, if he had to guess, and it sends him over the edge.
“Please, Sebastian,” he begs, pleads, sinks down to his knees and accosts a higher power with lesser pride to see this done, see this through, see this over with once and for all. Once it’s done he’ll set him free, dissolve the bonds between them and forget they were ever there.
“It’s the last thing I’ll ever ask.”
A short silence sounds over the line, Sebastian perhaps picked up on the finality of his request, on time running out and its chilled breathing at the back of their necks.
“When did I stop being able to say no to you?”
He lets out a rueful laugh.
Must’ve been somewhere around the time they first spoke each other’s names.
By the time he pulls up to the house the sun has set well below the horizon, the fields bathed in black, the light of the fireplace flickering deep inside the house. He zips past, down the driveway and into the garage, which Sebastian left open for him.
Heart heavy, he reaches inside the glove compartment and takes out his gun. Reassembled once again.
He stares down at his hands, covered in black leather, guided by his father’s will. He’s too afraid to have his fingerprints on this, of the thought that Sebastian’s name could well join the other faceless souls he shoulders and his will be the one to break his back, to drive him insane. The one he can’t come back from.
In the rear-view mirror, he sees Sebastian walking onto the back porch.
How can he do this here? Here?
But if not here, then where? Back on the Corridor where their trespasses started, where their names mattered? Where his brother died? Where anything they shared proved meaningless beneath their fathers’ shadows?
Sebastian deserved better than that. Kinder than that.
It has to be here.
Just as well.
He died here once. It can’t be too hard to do it again.
Handbrake pulled, he turns off the ignition, climbing out of the car before he secures the 9mm at his back. He buttons his jacket and heads for the house, Sebastian’s silhouette a black cutout against the back-lighting — he stands, hands in his pockets, waiting for him to explain what all the urgency was about.
He could do it from here, take aim and fire, but he can’t will his hand to reach back for the gun, or his feet to stop there in the grass, the ideal vantage point. Instead he succumbs to the pull Sebastian exerts and by the time he meets Sebastian at eye-level he’s a trembling mess of fear and doubt, hoping Sebastian has better answers.
“Who did this to you?”
Sebastian touches a careful finger to his split lip, the bruises along his jaw painful and inflamed. What’s a little more pain? What’s a little more weakness?
“They know,” Sebastian realizes with a whisper, his panic reflected in green eyes but for a moment.
He nods and falls forward, buries his face into Sebastian’s chest and tries to burrow deeper still, curl up inside in a tight ball and let Sebastian do with him what he wants, as long as he’s careful, as long as he demands nothing too arduous.
To his surprise, to his disappointment almost, Sebastian doesn’t run. Doesn’t take the out while he has it.
Instead Sebastian takes his hand and leads him inside the living room, where he peels off his gloves, tugging sharply at every finger before the fabric gives, exposing his fingerprints to the air — Sebastian kisses each of them while tears sting at the corner of his eyes. It’s not what he had planned, not what he came here to do, but his limbs go numb from the tenderness imbued in Sebastian’s touch. He can’t catch a breath, can’t will his lungs back into submission.
What have they done to each other?
What haven’t they?
Sebastian’s lips brush his, the faintest hint of a kiss, the promise of it, and the torture of every single kiss they’ll never share again.
Is this goodbye, he thinks, is this –once again– them parting ways? Last time they both walked away unscathed but that’s not an option now. He has to choose.
“I shouldn’t have run,” Sebastian says, “We could’ve–”
We could’ve had the past few days, we could’ve hatched a plan, but what goodbye would be enough, what plan would get them out of this mess? Both of them had to face the facts; this was never going to last, they’ve been postponing the inevitable and the clock’s finally run out.
“You were scared.”
Sebastian smiles ruefully. “Not many who could get me to admit that.”
But there hasn’t been anyone like him before, has there?
Half an enemy. Half a lover.
But his, wholly.
He stills at the realization, whispering, “I’m scared too,” before Sebastian nuzzles his cheek. He tries to make his heart a stone — he can’t let anything break his resolve. He said he wouldn’t fight for him and he won’t, he can’t, if he disobeys his father he might as well sign his own death sentence.
Not that killing Sebastian wouldn’t have the same result. He’d die all the same, just much slower.
Sebastian pulls his tie free and pulls away, moving to stand behind him before he blindfolds him, chasing all light from the room.
All color gone.
Warm hands slide down his arms.
“This okay?” Sebastian’s breath tickles his ear.
He shivers and nods. He has no other choice.
There are no exits left.
Sebastian smooths his jacket down his shoulders and tosses it aside, before his fingers trace further down his neck, down his spine, down to the gun at the small of his back.
Sebastian huffs a laugh. “You did warn me about that, didn’t you?” he says, and pulls the gun free. “Long time ago.”
Word of advice, Smythe.
His fear triples in the wake of that memory, when it was a dark room stifling his sight and Sebastian crept up on him from behind, a stranger then, an enemy. How he’d wanted him, even then. Even with the gun to his head.
I’m always armed.
All that time ago he didn’t know any better, that gun a tether, an anchor, a coat of armor. Now it pulls him every which way, towards his father’s will, towards his own, which looked deceptively like Sebastian.
Would Sebastian do it again? Push a gun up against the back of his head, cock the trigger, and put him out of his misery?
“Sebastian,” he whispers, voice shaking, expecting the cold press of the muzzle any moment.
Lips push up to his hair instead, and Sebastian reaches around and places a hand over his stomach, warm and reassuring, a tether, an anchor, slipped like a fox past all his defenses.
A breath shudders past his lips. He’s not strong enough to make this choice, he doesn’t want to be; all he used to be, everything he thought important, paled in comparison to who he’s become. Who he wants to be.
He turns sightless in Sebastian’s arms, denied any visual clues but it’s worth it just to feel Sebastian’s hands on his face, to smell the mint on his breath, hear the hitch in his breath before he speaks.
“I love you, Blaine Anderson,” Sebastian whispers, and he’s grateful when the blindfold catches his tears because he honestly couldn’t stand to look at Sebastian right now. He punches Sebastian in the chest, no strength behind it. How could he say this now? How dare he?
He shakes his head, “Don’t–”, but his protest drowns in a kiss; Sebastian takes it without apology until those words echo through his mind like a mantra, until they set in his lungs and drown him, until all will leaves him and he surrenders.
He cedes control to an enemy, a lover, a boy. Cedes all else to the whims of his heart.
An hour later he wakes up to the sound of the fly door screen clicking closed. His ears ring and he reaches for Sebastian underneath the blanket on instinct.
Shot up in an instant he fears the worst, that Sebastian ran, that he crossed back into the West to stay there, that this was the goodbye Sebastian needed and chose this over a different kind — only his clothes are still here, his wallet and car keys. He can’t have gone far.
The decking of the porch creaks, and the smell of cigarettes blows in from outside.
Drawing a hand down his face he shakes off the final remnants of sleep and gets up, puts on pants, walks toward the table where his gun rests on top of his jacket.
He grabs it and takes the safety off.
Cold metal presses against the back of his skull.
Followed by the too distinct cock of a trigger.
Would that Sebastian had pulled the trigger that day, put an end to all this before it could begin, before he learned the outlines of Sebastian’s desire and how it complemented his.
How had it come to this?
He turns around, chasing away the specters of the past, and trails bloody footprints all over the floor.
Sebastian smoked a cigarette out on the porch, naked but for his boxers, the chilly night air leaving him seemingly unaffected.
Body rife with doubt his eyes slip down the lines of Sebastian’s body, long and lithe and soft.
How can he do this h–? This.
He raises his arm, levels the gun with the deck, pointed at Sebastian’s head. All he has to do is add a little pressure, squeeze the trigger, put an end to this farce once and for all.
The tip of Sebastian’s cigarette lights up his face every time he takes a drag, like there are stars in his eyes worth staying alive for.
He looks past Sebastian, at the cornfield in the distance, dark but for the glow cast from the house. Rachel and him slip between the stalks.
Now, he’s the killer stalking through the house.
A reflection of his deepest fears.
“Do I get any last words?” Sebastian asks, breathing out his last pull; the smoke curls into the night air like burnt gunpowder, an omen of things to come.
Of course Sebastian saw this coming.
He’s a much softer kind of killer.
For the first time in years, the weight of the 9mm grows heavier, more than its precise standard weight, and both his hands tremble at this. This can’t be the end and it can’t be him. He can’t be the one to kill them.
Sebastian stubs out his cigarette on the porch railing and turns to face him.
There’s no oxygen going to his lungs as green eyes fall to the gun in his hand, pointed at a man he claims to love. He thinks back to all those months ago, when this would’ve been easy, when Sebastian was his brother’s killer and he wouldn’t have thought twice about pulling the trigger. When he didn’t know the boy behind the name would ever– could ever mean so much.
Sebastian takes a step forward.
“Do what you do best, killer,” he says, the muzzle of the gun pressing over the tattoo dotted beneath Sebastian’s collarbone.
And the prisoners inside.
A shudder of a breath escapes him, his hand guided by his father, his duty, his birthright. Do this for your sister, his father said, but Rachel wouldn’t want this, she’d condemn him for the thought alone, for ever thinking freedom wasn’t well within his grasp.
He’s never had anything his alone but Sebastian. Sebastian.
They’re prisoners of their fate, of this world, of their birthright, but together they’ve molded it into something else. Inescapable in its own right.
But something worth fighting for.
Swallowing hard, he nearly chokes on the disobedience lodged high in his throat, and his arm drops to his side.
“Sebastian, I”—a tear runs down his cheek—“I lo–”
Sebastian shoots forward and cups his face. “Don’t say it”—he thumbs circles into his cheeks—“I’ll never leave if you do.”
Green eyes fill with tears, raking over his face memorizing every detail, every blemish, down to the tint of his skin so he’ll never forget. “I’ll never let you go.”
He cries, “What are we going to do?”
Sebastian brings his lips to his temple, draws a hand through his curls and his skin crawls with his need for this; to be held, to be cherished, to be anything but a killer. Eyes closing he buries his face against Sebastian’s neck and breathes him in; he smells like dust in the rain, freshly cut grass, the outdoors copy-pasted on his skin like it belonged there.
“What we do best,” Sebastian murmurs. “You’re going to shoot me through the shoulder.”
His eyes open. His fingers twitch around the gun in his right hand.
He pulls back, studies Sebastian’s face. Sebastian has an escape plan.
Has this been ending for Sebastian all along? Is that how he could stand to do it?
“And then I’m going to run.”
I’m a runner, Blaine, Sebastian once told him.
Yes, and he’s his father’s son.
Sebastian will do what he does best, and he’ll fall back in line, fit right back into the same old role, same old routine, kill those he’s supposed to kill.
But they tried that once and failed. He can’t go back to insomniac nights and aimless hours watching Rachel have with Jesse what he wants with Sebastian.
This relationship has changed him too much to ignore it now.
“Is that what you think I want?” he asks, putting the gun on safe again before he fits it back at the small of his back.
When the no, of course not doesn’t immediately follow he thinks he must not have been clear enough, perhaps not even with himself.
Tonight was never a farewell.
“We both knew this couldn’t last.”
And then Sebastian kisses him like he doesn’t want it to, like he never will let go, like he never will leave, even if his love remained unspoken — they’ve destroyed each other, he thinks, as Sebastian licks into his mouth with all the fight he has left in him, a desperation so similar to his he wants to scream, he wants to fight back, he wants to give them every chance they can possibly take together.
Sebastian pulls away just as abruptly, pulls away completely to push past him back into the house.
His fingers draw down Sebastian’s arm.
Grab tight around Sebastian’s wrist at the last moment.
There has to be an exit.
He won’t bow down at his father’s feet and beg, sniveling and whimpering, for mercy or sympathy or any shades in between. He knew about the gun cocked against his temple all this time. He knew what danger he invoked every time he sought out Sebastian’s body.
Even now, despite all that’s happened, he’ll stand by those choices.
He’ll fight for them.
“What if it could?” he asks, and glances back at Sebastian.
He hopes it’s enough this time around, that Sebastian feels for him what he didn’t feel for Adam. He will fight for them if it’s the last thing he does, beat his knuckles bloody, down to the very bone. He’ll prove he’s someone worthy of his love.
He can’t go back to those years lived numb and unaffected, his heart like marble stone.
He understands now, why Rachel dared utter the word elope, how running could be worth it even at the risk of invoking their fathers’ wrath. How sweet freedom might taste.
“What if it could last?” he asks, his voice a whisper in case the walls grew ears in response to his dissent. But he would tempt self destruction if it meant even fleetingly escaping this malignant world. If it meant, however briefly, untethering from this life and the past, leave it behind and drive off into the sunset with Sebastian by his side.
Sebastian searches his eyes. “What do you mean?”
Run, he thinks.
For lack of any better word, their relationship was forbidden.
Not ill advised, or a bad idea, or a preference their families had casually uttered. 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 left empires in ruin — their 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 seven months, seven life-changing eye-opening strange months, he and Sebastian had committed every unthinkable offence known to their fathers. Knowing they could both lose their families over the defiance. Knowing they could lose their lives should the wrong people find out.
But they risk it.
Air filled with the acrid scent of copper he flicks the blood off the brush in one swift movement. Droplets disperse through the air, impact the wallpaper like a fine mist as if a bullet tore through flesh and bone and exited a body. Forward spatter.
He drops a few larger globules to the floorboards. Back spatter.
A larger pool of blood stained the rug where Sebastian laid down earlier, his outline still barely visible in the pattern.
It’ll be his turn next.
Each of them sacrificed two-and-a-half pints of blood for the macabre art project, enough to paint a clear scene. Anyone analyzing the room would find evidence of two gunshot victims, follow the bloody shoe prints out into the yard where the trail disappeared abruptly, as if the assailants got into a car and drove off.
If they wanted to make a run for it they had to disappear fast and thoroughly, and while Sebastian knew a thing or two about running, he knew a thing or two about blood. Had made it his job to learn its guiding principles, its quirks and tails and spins.
“Passports are done,” Sebastian calls from the kitchen, where he’d sat forging the documents for close to an hour after cleaning up and a fresh set of clothes.
Tie loose around his neck he overlooks the story he’s thus far painted on the walls, all the red dots on the pastel-blue wallpaper.
He trips a step back.
“Blaine?” comes Sebastian’s voice, emerging from the kitchen.
Eyes skipping back and forth, he tracks the blood spatter up the wall, blotches of crimson and burgundy, vermilion, overlaying the faded blue of the wallpaper. In the far corner of the room there are the lines of crayon Rachel once drew, orange, yellow, blue and green.
Sebastian’s by his side now, worry palpable in his voice, while he blinks at the wall a few more times before taking in the rest of the room. Like a distant dream he once forgot, the colors of his childhood hasten back.
“I can see it.”
His grandmother’s curtains with a Jacobean floral print, covered in dark reds, blues, golds and off-whites, the vibrant paintings on the walls of sunflowers and sunsets, the cream stones around the fireplace and the heavy oak mantle, and the couch a deep forest green.
Years of therapy hadn’t brought these colors back to him, and now, in the process of unshackling from his father’s world, here they are. Colors. In all their splendor.
He looks at Sebastian, at the white of his shirt, the pink of his lips, and– his eyes.
Slowly, with purpose behind his every move, Sebastian oscillates a step closer, curls a finger under his chin. “Poetic,” he muses, and offers up a small smile, before pushing a soft kiss to his lips.
His eyes close and he smiles. His breathing calm and measured, the expanse in his chest widens to encompass far more than his childhood memories; hope, dreams, fantasies all take their bespoke place among them.
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Sebastian asks, for what has to be the seventh time, his fear incarnate. What if he yet changes his mind? But he’s no more adept at this than Sebastian proves to be; he can’t imagine a life without Sebastian in it.
His mom and her red dresses, the children she cries for every night, Rachel’s raven hair and her singsong voice — he’s tainted those things long enough, and he won’t stain them with his blood-red hands any longer. They’ll understand once they find out what happened.
He’s never done anything for himself but this– This.
He owes this to himself.
To see, if even for a moment, if the dream holds up.
His eyes open to a new and bright future, their prison break plot.
“I love you, Sebastian,” he says, at long last, abdicates his throne once and for all.
He can live with the danger. Like he has his entire life.
“I’m sure,” he whispers, and falls forward, reaches for Sebastian’s lips on tiptoe, knits his fingers around Sebastian’s hips. A breathy laugh stutters against his lips, warm air and then the heat of Sebastian’s mouth. It’s their first kiss, and their last kiss, their every kiss for every day to come.
Soon, they’ll pack up this place and leave. They’ll switch out the plates on the car Sebastian stole and drive off into the sunset, leave their names behind, sacrifice everything but each other, and make a life out there, far from the confines of their fathers’ worlds.
Like his grandmother used to say.
It’ll all look less daunting in the morning sun.
Over the next few days you’ll probably hear things about me and Sebastian you should never hear, but I want you to know this was my choice. It was my choice in ways few other things have ever been, and I want you to know I’m happy with my choices. I don’t know how long it will last, I don’t even know if we’ll get away, but I do know that I’m happy. I’m safe. When I’m with him.
I’m sorry it had to be this way, that I couldn’t take you with me, but we’ve shared the weight of this world between the two of us for a very long time. I think in so many ways I never left that house or that cornfield with you. I don’t think either of us really did.
I wish there’d been a way for us all to be together.
I hope you can forgive me.
I love you,
Holding the letter between trembling hands, Rachel reads and rereads the letter seven times before each and every single one of her brother’s words have sunk in. Blaine’s happy, she thinks, he’s found someone who, like her, fails to see the killer he thinks he became, but instead a boy starving for love; he’s found a way out of this hell, that cornfield, the past, and he’s making a run for it.
Rachel smiles through her tears. “I forgive you, little brother.”
A creak of the door alerts her to someone else’s presence, and she jumps up clutching Blaine’s letter to her chest.
“Mom!” she calls, angering at the uncalled intrusion.
Two days later an anonymous tip will lead the police to the Corcoran house; they will find the lock on the back door broken, glass on the floor, bloody footprints on the floorboards. Two sets of size eights. One set of nines.
Inside they’ll find blood evidence of two murders, one Blaine Anderson and one Sebastian Smythe.
No bodies will ever be found.
The mob doesn’t leave its bodies on display.
The Andersons will blame the Smythes and the Smythes will point their fingers East.
But neither knows who spilled the blood.
So it remains unsaid.
“Just tell me,” Shelby Corcoran asks her daughter, “Is he happy?”
Rachel regards her mother for countless moments, this vision of a woman equally broken by the machinations of her father’s world, undecided whether this is a truth safe to speak out loud. But the tremble in her mother’s voice is a familiar one, fearful and hopeful at the same time, like her mom too carries the weight of what they lost. What her children lost.
“He’s free,” Rachel whispers.
this is not a dream and
the gun is not yours,
it’s your father’s.
- THE END -