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A Reunion of Brothers

 
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Rosencrantz
Young Wyrm
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 1:32 pm    Post subject: A Reunion of Brothers Reply with quote

The diner was old enough that the spaces between neon lights had become greyed out with wear. Sonny was in an SUV, the sort of vehicle a person never imagined he would like until they accounted for his size and how those sorts of vehicles would suit it. In the MacIntosh camp, all the big vehicles for the heavy lifting were black. It made Sonny feel like he was part of the FBI, rolling up in the black SUV and parking at the half-abandoned gas station-turned-greasy spoon diner.

Sonny was waiting, not knowing what to expect. Ezra was in the passenger seat next to him, looking as though his eyes monitored the sun as he spoke, “Yeah, they’ll be here any minute.”

Where the boxy SUV was dark and anonymous, the sleek red Subaru was bold, and it made a statement. It said “I’m here, and I have other places to be, so this better be important.” The car wasn’t exactly Ian’s style but Jay loved it, and it made him feel more substantial, and anyway that ass**** Jimmie had had no business behind its wheel. So Ian had taken it back at the same time that he’d taken Jimmie’s life, and he drove it now because he’d earned it.

The kid checked the GPS program on his phone and then made a right turn. “Should be up here on the right in three quarters of a mile,” he commented to what looked like empty air in the passenger seat beside him. If he made a point not to turn his head, Ian could just barely make out the man’s outline, but of course it vanished if he looked that direction. So he didn’t. Instead, like Ezra, he checked the angle of the sun.

Just a few minutes later, he made the right turn into the parking lot, spotting the hulking vehicle that had arrived ahead of them. “What kinda men in black bull**** is this?” He mumbled under his breath as he shook his head with a dim smirk, parking the car in a slot that was a few spaces away and then cutting the engine. The windows were tinted nearly opaque, and Ian took the moment to light a cigarette with a glance towards the passenger seat before he got out. “Ready for this?”

“No, but it’s **** happening anyway.” He didn’t have to grab the handle of the car and pop the door open but he did. There were always echoes, always habits, that came to him from being alive. They were more prominent when he was stressed, when that “instinct” kicked in. He didn’t know what sort of instinct the dead were supposed to have, just that he knew what it felt like to behave in a way that didn’t make sense because it was what was known. The door opened, he pinched the brim of his had and got to his feet like he meant business.

Inside the SUV, Sonny blinked through the tinted window and looked at Ezra, “What is this?”

Ezra reached over, “Take a breath and get out of the SUV. It’s Ian.”

“I know it’s Ian but…”

“Just get out of the car.” Ezra waited, wondering if Sonny would hit the gas and jolt from where they were parked like a rocket back to Silas. He swallowed, putting his hand on Sonny’s massive shoulder. He pleaded, his voice softer, “Just get out of the SUV for a minute.”

It was a small eternity, from the point that he asked until Sonny’s door opened and the ox took five paces, then stopped at the front of the SUV. He recognized Ian, but his pause came longer, it held and cut the air when he looked at Josh. His voice wavered, “Is this some kinda joke?”

They had timed it perfectly. Josh wasn’t there when the door seemed to open by itself, but he was by the time he’d shut it. Ian breathed through his nose and got out of the driver’s side, closing it rather deliberately behind him as well.

The way he pulled on the cigarette hollowed out his cheeks, giving his face the temporary look of a deathmask the way it always did. You could practically see the shape of his skull underneath his skin when he did that, like death itself had marked and claimed him. So perhaps it had. He rounded the front of the car, ashing the cigarette once and then holding it out for Josh, his gaze fixed like steel on Sonny.

“No one lied to you, Sonny. Josh is dead. Me an’ Grace an’ Dave gave him his last rites and put him in the ocean.” His gaze turned from Sonny to Josh and then back. “But dead don’t have the same meaning in Rhydin that it does everywhere else.”

You would have to know him really well to notice how tense his muscles were despite the deliberate way he slouched. The kid scarcely breathed, waiting on the ox’s reaction.

“So, what, you got some sort of look-alike?” Sonny’s shoulders were bunched up like a cat arching its back. Ezra swung his eyes from Sonny to the newly materialized Josh. Sometimes, it still hurt. Everyone remembered what it was like to watch him die.

“S’not a look alike,” Ezra said, scratching the side of his throat and then motioning to them, “That’s ****’.... That’s Josh.”

Josh’s hand went to the top of his hat, pulling it off so that his features couldn’t be half masked by the twilight. His feet were planted, shoulder width apart. Between the two cars, he was but five feet from Sonny.

“****, no one looks this damn good but me.” He cleared his throat, following behind Ian’s explanation, “Rhy’Din’s different. We don’t all just… go like we’re used to seeing people go.”

“No, I saw you. You-” Sonny folded his arms over his chest like he was protecting his heart, “You fell, you died. You… you died.”

“Yeah,” Josh said the word softly, stepping up to Sonny, “but I still got **** to do.”

Once he’d put the burning cigarette in Josh’s hand, Ian pulled his shirt off. He reached behind his head, grabbing it by the collar and hauling it up off his back and then over his shoulders. Slinging it over the right arm, he stood there directly beside his ghost lover, his gaze on Sonny.

The amulet made of gunmetal had been turned to his back in the process. Only the thin line of its chain was visible across his throat.

The sugar skull tattoo with the word REVIVAL in its teeth was there, plainly visible on the left side of his chest. So too were the still-pink scars of the bullet wounds that smeared the top portion of the ink. “We know what you saw. He died in my arms, and the bullets that killed him nearly killed me.” He smiled faintly, taking a lean against the sloped nose of the Subaru as Josh approached his old friend.. “So yeah. He’s dead, but he’s also here. Both things are true.”

Josh took a pull from the cigarette and waited. He waited on the large ox to start doing the math. To have the reality of the situation sink in. Ezra frowned, looking up at him, “Yea, it’s all of that.”

“I feel like my head’s gonna **** explode.”

Ezra cleared his throat, “And like you’re so **** happy and devastated all at once?”

“... Yeah,” the ox barely breathed the word out and then looked at Ezra, who nodded a few times. Then he looked at Josh, still behaving as if he was some unseen party. His head swung back to Ezra and Ian, looking for confirmation.

“I’m right the **** here,” Josh set his hat on top of the Subaru, handing the cigarette off to Ian so that he could step up to Sonny, giving him a few half smacks to the side of the face, “I’m right the **** here you idiot.”

“But you…”

“Yeah, I did, I was there.”

Then Sonny stepped forward, giving Josh a bear hug so great that he was lifted off his feet, looking small and rather like a stuffed animal a hulking giant had found. Only Sonny could make someone so monumental look small.

Ian accepted the cigarette, leaning down to balance it on the car’s front bumper so he could put his shirt back on. It settled into place, and once it had, he reached underneath it to pull the amulet back down where it belonged. Only then did he retrieve the cigarette, just in time to catch Sonny’s eye. He gave an encouraging nod.

He’d been about to say something about how much Josh hated being ignored when suddenly the big guy moved, gathering Jay up in his embrace. Ian exhaled a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding then, but not without the strange pang of irritation that his lover was hugging someone else. Sure, it was just Sonny, and Sonny was different. But still. The kid shook his head, flashed Ezra a quick smile that said, **** finally, and pulled hard on the cigarette.

“All right, all right, set me down.”

Sonny did, eventually, after it seemed like he might wring him down to nothing. When Jay was able to gather himself he planted a hand on Sonny’s chest, “There’s been rumors, and ****’s been said everywhere so just hear it from me. Ian is my **** boyfriend, and that **** isn’t changing. If you have a problem with that, you can step away and I’ll get it, sort of. Second, I only have an hour each day to… sorta be this. I’m mostly here at the twilight, and the rest of the time I’m with Ian. I don’t have all the **** answers, but if Ian goes, I go.”

The lay out of it was brutal and hard. Maybe it could be because Sonny was there. Maybe it was because this was how Mac delivered news and warmed hearts to his cause. Ian had been kinder with Ezra, the moment had allowed for tears and recovery. Mac was past that, now. He wanted things moving, and going forward, and perhaps some part of him forgot that Sonny was taking this in for the first time. The ox was speechless.

A grin rose unbidden on Ian's mouth as Jay started explaining. He dragged on the cigarette again, clenching it temporarily between his lips as he lifted his hand away, raising two fingers in a gesture that was part salute and part acknowledgment. **** boyfriend, present and accounted for. “For the record,” he said, pinching the cancer stick between one of those fingers and his thumb as he picked himself up off the hood of the car, approaching at last. “...I won’t get it if you walk. Who he’s with doesn’t change who he is, who he’s always been, or who he is to you.”

Ian glanced sidelong at Ezra, giving the other man a hint of a smile before he slid his arm around Josh’s waist, reverting his attention to Sonny. “And in case you’re wondering, ain’t either one of us trying to **** anybody but each other, so...whatever wild thoughts you might be terrifying yourself with now, you can put all that to rest.”

His tone softened subtly as he relented. “It’s a lot to wrap your mind around, I know. It’s messed up when you’ve mourned someone you loved and then discover that they’re still around, at least partially. It sucks, and there’s no way around that. But he’s here, Sonny. As here as he can be.”
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I wasn't raised in the hood
But I know a thing or two about pain and darkness
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 2:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You’re gay?”

Sonny was trying to wrap his mind around that.

“Yeah,” Josh’s arm fell over Ian’s shoulders when he came close to him. He had shown off ink and bullet scars. Everyone knew what happened and the hundreds of stories that had spread. They all seemed like different versions of the flu, the sort where everyone believed that they had the worst strain.

“When… I mean…. I don’t… you were with Grace and all those women.”

“You never **** a girl or kissed a girl that was just okay?” Josh spat the words and then turned his head to the side, “I know what gets my rocks off and keeps me up at night. It’s not about women being undesirable, it’s about me finding a place that feels right. And for the first time it’s ****… it’s right. It’s not tied up in a bunch of bull****. And no, I never wanted to **** you.”

Sonny’s face went red, “I didn’t say--”

“Everyone kinda thinks it’s about them when you say anything. It’s not. It wasn't. Whatever my relationship was to people… that’s what it was.” He wasn’t going to go into Dave. Not then, not now. What Sonny needed to know was that their brotherhood was a brotherhood. So he reassured him of it.

“Shocked the **** out of me too, the first time,” he offered it as sympathy for Sonny’s state. The difference was that Ian smiled like it was a fond memory. He stayed where he was, the one arm around Josh, the other trailing the smoldering cigarette off at his side. “Some things just... are what they are.” He hooked his thumb through one of Josh’s belt loops at the opposite hip, watching the two interact. “It doesn’t change anything, ya know what I mean?”

He dragged again and then flicked what was left of the cigarette away, popping it with his finger so that the cherry separated from the burning paper as it descended in an arc. He glanced over at Ezra mostly to make sure the man hadn’t fainted or disappeared.

Ezra was good at standing his ground, doing what he was told and keeping his mouth shut. His arms were folded over his chest and his eyes were watching the whole interaction. The moment he felt Ian’s gaze on him he smiled, briefly, then looked back at Jay. They were used to looking at Jay, waiting for him to be the windsock that told them what the weather would be.

“I just…” Sonny faltered, but it was mostly because he seemed overwhelmed.

Josh kissed Ian on the cheek and then stepped forward, one hand clasping Sonny on the shoulder, “**** is like he says. Nothing’s changed. Now you can be with me, or you can be with Silas.”

Sonny choked, “I’ve always been with you.”

“I know.”

“I’m always going to be… I just...it was so hard when you were gone because it was always you.” Sonny didn’t want to cry, but he did so anyway. The skin around his face blushed around his tears. He swallowed, “Tell me one thing.”

“Anything,” Josh squeezed his shoulder again, tilting his head to the side, “What do you need to know, brother?”

Few had ever heard Josh call Sonny brother, though everyone felt that the closeness between them was exactly that. Brothers. That from early youth to that point, they had been exactly that, and without question. Sonny looked at him, blinking once, “What color shirt was I wearing when Mom died?”

Josh realized that it was an identity test. That Sonny needed to know he wasn’t a trick of the eye or some dumb*** impostor. The pressure of his hand on Sonny’s shoulder didn’t relent, “Green. You wore green.”

Ian tilted his cheek into that kiss and then let him go. He turned partially away from the scene happening between brothers, giving them some semblance of privacy. He knew Sonny wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see his tears, and the best he could do was to ignore them, to refuse to acknowledge what was happening. He’d felt that way at first, himself.

It might also be that he’d turned away from them deliberately for another reason. To show Ezra, perhaps, that Josh wasn’t the only weathervane in the outfit. Not anymore.

Once the identity check was over, Ian shifted his focus back to Sonny. “So can you handle this, then?” He gestured between himself and Josh. “Because to be with him is to be with me. When we take Silas down, I become the crew’s new leader, just as I should have been all these months now.” He had been the named Second, after all. “Can you live with that?” The deference, the respect and the authority could not all be given exclusively to the ghost. That needed to be clear from the outset.

Before Sonny could protest, Josh reminded him, “I’m only here for an hour, I can’t…. Do all the **** that Ian can. He’s capable. He’s smart. He’s young as **** but that’s better than being a piece of **** or a dumb****. I believe in him-- I stake my life on it.” That wasn’t a metaphor. Perhaps all of them knew it, too.

Sonny looked like he wanted to argue, at first. His body rolled up like a wave and then calmed the longer Josh talked. By the end of it? He was despondent, but gathering himself. He swallowed, “How long did Ezra know about you?”


“Not long m-”

Josh cut him off with a hand motion, “It was early on, brother. Whatever the **** I was for a while wasn’t understood. I wasn’t going to make a grand entrance until this **** was for real.”

“And the gay thing?”

“Staying the gay thing.”

Sonny sucked in a breath, he looked to the stars, to all he was certain of and then leveled his gaze to Josh, “I’m in.” His attention shot to Ian, “I’m in for the both of you.” After the proclamation, Ezra gave a holler to the moon, grinning to the lot of them. His cry had sounded harsh in the moment, but more fitting seconds after.

“What? Come onnnnnn… this ****’s a celebration. No one’s lost their mind yet!” Ezra grinned and then pointed at Sonny, “Though one of us is missing a tattoo.”

It was a tense moment. Sonny’s fists balled at his sides as he put it together. Hundreds of stories had flown about in their absence, and there weren’t all that many anymore who didn’t know Ian’s parentage, his direct link to Mark, the fact that he’d lived among them as a spy. But even then, Ian had worked his manipulative magic on their behalf, and the crew had been more legendary, more successful, more prosperous than they’d been before or since.

Ian waited it out, his slate green eyes fixed on Sonny as Josh spoke, as the big man rolled through a whole host of emotions, trying to figure out how he felt. When at last the ox said he was with them both, Ian’s youthful face split in an easy grin. “Glad to hear it, mate. I wouldn’t want to finish this without you.”

The smile lingered as he turned his gaze on Ezra and that joyful whooping.

“He’s right, you know. We should get a drink.” Turning his gaze back to Sonny, his expression turned more serious. “You’re going to have questions.” And that itself wasn’t a question. “My number hasn’t changed.” It was an invitation, and an acknowledgment that there might be some settling still to do between them.

“Yeah,” Sonny said it like he was numb.

“Let’s just have a **** drink already,” Ezra said with a laugh, nodding towards the city, “We can hit up the Salty Dog or a liquor store, but one thing is certain. All of us need to get ripped tonight and just...gush out whatever the **** is left in us.”

Josh grinned, “You think alcohol is a way to purify us?”

“I think ceremonies make the heart feel good so shut the **** up. Let’s go have a drink.”

Jay grinned, twisting to grab his hat off the Subaru and fix it on his crown, “Didn’t you get cheeky while I was gone.” His arm went around Ian before he spoke, “To the Salty Dog, let’s **** drown this **** in vodka.”

“Oh, great,” Ian rolled his eyes, but there was a smile on his face even so. “My favorite **** bouncer. Can’t wait.”

Leaning into that embrace, he notched the top of his head against Josh’s temple for a moment, and the gesture stood for all the things he wouldn’t say out loud in front of the others. Not because he was embarrassed or ashamed of it, just that there was a time and a place for being mushy and sentimental, and right now so recently reunited with Sonny wasn’t it. So the nuzzle was a short one, affectionate but fleeting as he stepped away, palming the keys. “Alright, let’s do this.” He shot a mocking glare over at Sonny and Ezra. “...But this time, no **** strippers.”

Please! I’m not Jimmie for ****’s sake,” Ezra said, throwing up his hands. Not that he minded some women dancing over his lap, it was just that Jimmie always took it there and made it creepy. Jimmie had a sleaze about him that preceded his death.

“Call Michael. Call… whoever the ****. Call who you need to meet up, do shots and celebrate. Just keep them away from my ****,” Josh smirked, crawling into the passenger seat of his red Subaru. Soon. They would be at the Salty Dog soon, drinking up and numbing up everything they needed to do the day before.

***

The Salty Dog was loud, like always. As fortune would have it, the **** bouncer Ian had dealt with before had the night off, and the man who stood in his place didn’t seem much bothered with the kid’s age. So much the better.

There weren’t all that many people, really, but the jukebox was set to eleven, and it was one of those magic-enhanced internet contraptions that could search for and play any song from any universe, so long as it was popular enough to be added to the program. As such, it played a mismatch of earth genres all blended in with popular tunes from the fae realm, the stars beyond, and everything in between.

They’d claimed a set of booths at the back, a rectangular wooden notch cut out of the side wall with two picnic style wooden tables bolted to the floor in the recess. Every man could have a seat on the bench -- or on the chairs that littered the space between the two tables-- and every man could have a slice of table to keep his drink on. The drinks flowed like water, each man taking it in turns to buy the round.

Ian and Josh held court towards the center, seated side by side in the space between the two tables. They sat close, though they didn’t specifically need to, thighs touching from hip to knee, letting their bodies say what they weren’t spending a whole lot of time talking about. We’re together, get used to it..

It felt nice. It felt like relieving the pressure on a valve that had been near to bursting for months. It felt like being home. It felt right[.

Unfortunately, the twilight time was slipping away quickly, there were only thirty more minutes left. The closer the time drew, the closer Ian moved to Jay. He leaned over, his mouth against the man’s ear. He smelled like vodka and cigarettes. “It’s weird to spend this whole time dressed.”
_________________


'Cause our minds change on what we think is good
I wasn't raised in the hood
But I know a thing or two about pain and darkness
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Rosencrantz
Young Wyrm
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 2:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

At the Salty Dog, it was only the people who had been shaken by Mac’s death the hardest that were there. The more people that knew of him, the more likely it was to get back around to Silas. Mac was fine with a few rumors of his half existence trickling out, his Uncle would take the rumors to be a superstition worth respecting. If people were whispering that Mac was alive, they may believe Silas was cursed. And if he was cursed? How could the murder of Mac still seem just? Silas couldn’t afford to let a toxic belief, even if the ghost was only gossip, poison the well.

It would stack the deck ever more perilously against him. Sentiment was already turning; as deal after deal fell through, and rumor of Ian’s victory over Jimmie began to circulate, it was scarcely any wonder that Silas had gone on this religious pilgrimage. Seeking salvation.

For now, it was a loose secret held between allies. They would begin whispering, his name revived from a place of no mention.

They drank. Ezra got shots and was often on his phone, seeming to take on the unappointed role of social coordinator. Michael appeared, as did a handful of others, each taking in Mac’s appearance with an initial hurt. Maybe it was that the mind recognized him, sitting at the picnic table with that broken smile and half cocked brow with the scar, but knew it couldn’t be him, bringing the memory of his death back to the forefront.

It hurt. It always hurt to swallow and accept how he’d been shot down, his body left behind like it was nothing. When the pain receded, when the realization hit, there was a joy that sometimes left eyes glassy and laughs nervous.

They were adjusting to him being back. They told stories of what he missed, mostly the funny ones, because there had still been so much left to say and they wanted to laugh with him. Josh smiled under the shadow of his fedora, throwing in a verbal jab here and there when the boys left the opening. Mostly? He listened. They had questions, some of which were repeated because of the drinking. Yes. We’re together.

Ian’s mouth moved close to his ear and he tilted his head into it as if to hear him better. The smile he had changed, his teeth flashing when his lips broke apart. He slid one hand down so that it straddled Ian’s thigh, his grip a half circle over his leg when he gave it a squeeze that said I know.

For the most part, Ian watched in silence. It wasn’t that the lads weren’t glad to see him-- many of them said as much-- but still, the question of the boy was complicated. Heir apparent. Barlow spy. Hardly more than a child, but then he’d handled things with Jimmie like a man, and certainly more respectably than Jimmie had. The speculation--now confirmed-- that he was Mac’s lover; the speculation -- still unconfirmed -- that Ian had only been named Second because he was Mac’s lover. Ian was simultaneously the kid they’d known and come to like, an unknown quantity who may or may not have been their enemy, and...the person who had rid them of the plague of Jimmie, the person who had brought Mac back to them, the person who would lead them out from under Silas. Despite the festive, joyous nature of the celebration, Ian never missed the way different sets of eyes grazed over him speculatively. He knew they had questions. He knew they weren’t yet ready to ask. He drank, he smiled, he cracked the occasional joke, and he waited.

He tried not to squirm in his seat when Jay gripped his thigh like that.
Swallowing more whisky, he answered the groping squeeze with the kind of smile that deliberately drew his lip ring back against his teeth, metal scraping the porcelain so quietly that the noise would be lost to anybody who wasn’t...specifically attuned to it. I know you know.

“You gonna show him?” Ezra said with a grin, propping one foot on the bench seat at the picnic table. Sonny looked up from his beer at him, clearly having no idea what Ezra was talking about. “Seriously?”

“What are you talking about?”

Ezra sighed then and his smile went over to Ian and Mac. He was blushing from the shots he’d taken, but he was still easy to understand. He wasn’t tripping over a large vocabulary, anyway, “Look, I don’t know if this is funny, or kinda creepy, but… yeah, like a week after you died we all went out and got some ink like we did for Johnny. Kinda funny to have a tattoo for a guy that winds up not being dead.”

The dangerous flirtation that was just getting started between them might have escalated considerably, were it not for Ezra’s interruption. His brows furrowed fractionally, though his expression remained unchanged.

Tattoos? He shot Ezra a curious look. They’d been in contact nearly every day for months now and the man...hadn’t mentioned any tattoos. He looked from Ezra to Sonny and back. “So what is it, then?”

Mac was trying to look like he didn’t hear the lip ring, but he always, always did. He sipped his drink, forcing his gaze not to fall on Ian. Ezra was going to talk.

The idea that the tattoos would have been something to share hadn’t occurred to Ezra. There was the break in communication, then the reunion. They had happened since, and without anyone taking off a shirt, he hadn’t thought about the tattoos in terms of a greater context. A bit tipsy and with the crew that also had them, Ezra had seen a sort of dark humor in it.

“You don’t get tattoos,” Mac said to Sonny, the tilt of his head increasing as his gaze leveled off on the man.

Sonny was slow to meet his eyes, but when he did there was only an avalanche shrug in response to the statement. The air was stale except for the sound of other patrons scurrying around the bar. The giant didn’t always chime in, but Mac’s eyes were locked on him, expectant, which pushed him to explain, “It was you, you know?”

“Yeah,” Ezra was trying to inject something more lighthearted, his presence, into the conversation, “and they look pretty badass. You wanna see?”

Mac leaned back, his gaze shooting at Ian from the corners of his eyes before he smiled, pandering to Ezra’s enthusiasm with a smirk, “You think it’s unlucky for a dead man to see his memorial?”

Michael snickered, which caused Ezra to give him a look before he reached to his sleeve, tugging it back. There was Johnny on one side, Mac on the other. The man was covered with MacIntosh ink. An old tipped, plaid fedora with numbers under it was there. Presumably, over the part where fatal bullets had splayed. The placement wasn’t exact; the tattoo artist had argued that it needed to be moved a few inches so that it didn’t look strangely stamped to their chests. The twisted cloth of his shirt found relief when Ezra unhooked his hand from it, the cotton bounding back over the curve of his shoulder.

“Well?” Ezra looked at Sonny, who then sighed and mimicked him. Ezra looked at the others, “and you? Seriously?”

Eventually, and with a few more smiles, the others came forward. It was difficult to say if they were embarrassed to share because it was Mac, or if it just made them seem softhearted and they weren’t angling for that.

Ian was quiet, his expression unchanged throughout the exchange between Jay and Sonny. Acutely aware of the rapidly dwindling time left to them tonight, he busied himself with pulling a cigarette from the pack that lay on the table at his right hand, his weight shifting on the bench seat underneath Jay’s hand as he fished the sparkly pink lighter out of his pocket to light it. Rolling the flint back to create the usual small shower of sparks, the kid dragged fiercely, hollowing out his cheeks as he sucked in smoke.

His gaze lifted from the task just as the tattoo on Ezra’s chest was revealed, so near the placement of his own catrina tattoo with actual bullet holes in its forehead. The likeness of the hat was surprisingly perfect; either one of them had paid an enormous amount of attention to it, or there was a picture somewhere to have been used as a reference. Ian glanced from Ezra’s tattoo to the ghost rendition that was still perched on his lover’s head, thinking suddenly--without wanting to-- of the way the real thing had been knocked off at the time, the way Ian himself had retrieved it, handed it off to Dave to put back on his head as the body first began to cool. He could vividly see his own hands, stained scarlet with Josh’s heartblood, the fingertip shaped smears that had still been on its brim when it went in the water.

How many nights there had been since then, when Josh came back to him with no memory of the event, or worse yet, with gunshots still ringing in his ears. How many times he’d had to relive it. How many times he’d had to re-explain it, recalling every soul crushing second of it in painstaking detail. His brow furrowed fractionally, and it was the only indication he’d give before those grey green eyes went smooth and placid, detached and blank. With the cigarette still caught in his lips, he dragged his empty shot glass closer, tipped his chin at Geoff or whoever it was that was closest to hand to refill it for him.

He looked up, and there were half a dozen fedoras, seemed like, one on nearly every man present. Setting the cigarette aside in an ashtray, he looked from one to the other and nodded, lifting his glass to his lips. It burned as he swallowed, but he kept going until it was finished. “It’s a nice tribute,” he said finally, trying to master a cough brought on by too much whisky too quickly, or maybe that was just a good excuse. “Was it that same shop we went to before?”

“Yeah, it was,” and there was an unease then, in the whole lot of them. They went from laughing, embarrassed and proud to… pausing. To a place of hesitation. The air itself held its breath.

Mac addressed it.

“Ian’s one of us, and you don’t **** around with any thoughts otherwise.” Tonight beside him was still his Josh, the one that knew what day it was and what it was they were trying to do. Was it possible for ambition to propel a soul so far forward that it could not be forced back into history? That he could not die because he was so entangled in what needed to be done? Or maybe it was the unspoken, the insidious idea that love could mean that much, instead of meaning everything.

Jay’s hand slipped under the curve of Ian’s, stealing his cigarette for a pull. He used the cigarette to point, “I’m here because of him, and I’m here because of a lot of things. We worked our **** out and all you **** need to know is that Ian is taking care of **** with me, and what we have in store for this whole crew is better than what Silas or any other **** does. They’ll keep you in the dust and shadows, which is how a **** dies.”

The men with fedora ink waited. There was shame, it slithered on the floor like a snake, creeping out the back door, wanting not to be mentioned again.

“We drink, we bull****, we get to planning. And you keep your ****’ mouths shut. Silas has what’s coming to him for being the sort of piece of **** that kills family.”

Ian cleared his throat. The shared cigarette slipped away from him, he lifted his chin to address the group of them. “Perhaps you’ve noticed the string of bad luck the crew is having lately.” He spoke quietly, his tone as perfectly calm as the expression on his face had become. This was Ian at his scariest: distant and remote, calculating and cold. He gestured his glass, waiting for it to be refilled, waiting to be sure that he had every man’s undivided attention.

“It isn’t bad luck,” he continued after his first swallow. “And it isn’t a curse either, well…” He smiled then, and there was something positively lethal in the curve of his smile. “Unless you consider my undivided attention a curse.” He shrugged ambivalently, but his tone said it all.

“I have been moving against Silas since I made up my mind not to die with him,” he glanced sidelong at Josh there, and the mask cracked just a little, one corner of his mouth lifting higher than the other in part of an affectionate smile. It resolved itself back to impenetrable stone when his gaze reverted to the men, every one of which had ten years or more on him.

“Make no mistake: what’s coming is coming, just like it came for Jimmie.” He didn’t actually say the words with or without you, he didn't need to. “But I know you have questions. So gather your questions, and gather anybody else who wants to hear the answers. You’ll get your chance -- and only the one chance -- soon.”
_________________


'Cause our minds change on what we think is good
I wasn't raised in the hood
But I know a thing or two about pain and darkness
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Rosencrantz
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2018 3:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“Not tonight. Drink.” Mac encouraged, after a heavy, lingering pause, leaning forward with a blood in his smile that both scared and reassured them. Mac and Ian were the sort of leaders that made it hard to say anything. On one hand, Ian seemed like the softer one you could go to, but there were always daggers and poison. Mac seemed to be the same, but there was an impulsive authority that was never kind. Between the two of them, one was armor in the holes the other didn’t have.

What you wanted would determine who you would approach. That had been the truth, before ghost and bullets. It was just more refined-- it promised more, it gave less of a **** about having a good appearance.

“Gentlemen, have the next round on me. I have to go.” Mac said it with a wink, the sort that made all of them think it had been directed at them solely. He rose up, the point of his fedora swiveling to Ian to see that he would rise and retreat with him.

“Wait,” Michael said, folding his arms over his chest, “what if we want to talk to you and not Ian?”

“You talk to him.” Mac said it like a stab, his thumb jerking to Ian, “Unless you have some sort of **** ghost phone. I’m with this mother**** all the time. It won’t get past me when you call.” That was a bluff-- Mac wasn’t around all the time. That’s not what the boys needed to know.

Ian backed him up, rising to his feet. The floor swam as he stood, and for a precarious second he squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself not to stagger or stumble. Swallowing whisky tinged bile, the kid took a deep breath, inhaling through his nose, and let it out slowly. Slate green eyes flashed open, peering curiously at Michael and his defensive posture. He smirked, his lip ring drawing back from his teeth, and shook his head. He didn’t bother to dignify the question with a response, especially not when Jay was already doing it for him. Instead, he lifted a few fingers in a parting salute and turned for the door.

Outside, the night was refreshingly cool. Safely out of view of the others, he took several deep breaths, filling his lungs with the shock of cold night air to revive himself, or maybe just to edge somewhere closer to sober.

Ian didn’t act drunk, but Sonny and the others were used to seeing him smirk, cutting someone with a few words and the bottomless ego of his youth. Instead, he left without a smile or smartass quip. Sonny watched the two of them step out of the bar, turning his head to look at Ezra as he spoke, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that drunk.”

Outside, Mac had been one step behind Ian. As the kid took in his breaths he lit up a cigarette, his hands cupped together to ward off the wind. The streetlight was out, it made it seem as if he wasn’t there until he snapped the lighter. The warm yellow flame highlighted his face and then disappeared. He reached out, catching Ian by the hip.

“That went better than it could have.” It had been rather a lot of whisky rather quickly, but to be fair it wasn’t just the booze that made him feel unbalanced. It was everything: being with the old crew again, seeing the uncertain looks on their faces as they glanced his direction. He’d been expecting that, but it recalled powerful, long buried memories of the way people looked at him in the days after his father died. It was watching them relive the moment of Jay’s death all over again, reliving it himself every time he caught them looking. The unwelcome memories that surfaced when he looked at the fedora tattoos. It left the wretched taste of blood and gunsmoke in his mouth. Of seawater, and fire.

It was also, in some respects, the act of sharing Jay again. For months, the only other person who consistently acknowledged the shade was Saila, and the teen girl had been somewhat scarce of late. To be in a room full of people who knew and loved him, who in some respects had better claim on him than even Ian did -- or felt like they did, anyway -- was good, but it was also disconcerting. The closer he approximated life, the stronger sense the kid had of his death, and the dichotomy between the two left him feeling strange.

He would adjust. You could adjust to anything, given enough time.

Leaning back against the side wall of the Salty Dog, he lifted one hand to rest on Josh’s chest when its match found his hip. The streetlight was out, but a soft smirk touched his face anyway as he peered down the alley behind the ghost for a moment, trying to channel his mind onto better memories, then switched his focus entirely to the other man. “Hey you.”

“Hey,” he took a step up to Ian when he felt the focus tighten on him. His hand holding the cigarette pushed away so that when he leaned in to kiss him, the heat of his cigarette would stay far away. The kiss was kinder than the way he normally felt, the scratch of his face not even seeming as coarse because the way his mouth moved was slow and gentle. When he broke away, whiskey and cigarette tasteless because it was in his mouth before he kissed him, he turned his head to take a draw on the cigarette.

“There’s more questions to come, but I don’t give a ****. The most important part is we got our family back, most of it. ****, the only part of it I’d want to have, anyway. I was sick of the bull****.” He shook his head, his hand on Ian’s hip lifted away so that he could take off his hat, pinching the top of it and lowering his hand so that it dropped only a foot, gently to the ground beside them. The night was dark enough, and without light it was difficult to make out Ian’s expression.

What he knew was that it sometimes hurt, it was the sort of hurt he saw in the faces of Ezra and the boys, how his return was complicated, that he was a reminder. The longer he was around, the more they did, the more he could be a reminder of something else. That was about as far as Josh could understand Ian’s eyes.

Mac did a better job than most. When you spent virtually every minute of your life tied to someone else, even the least detail oriented, observant person in the world would eventually begin to pick up on the subtle nuances. Proximity and repetition had given the ghost an edge that no one else -- living or dead-- could claim on interpreting the kid’s closely guarded, poker faced detachment.

Ian could tell that he’d picked up on it in the way they kissed, that deliciously incongruous softness that was so directly in opposition to the older man’s rough, no bull**** exterior. He forced himself to come back, to thaw some of the icy reserve that was his default demeanor in public, to give himself up to that gentle kiss. His eyes slipped closed, his hand lifting from the man’s chest to his face, cradling one cheek tenderly in the span of his fingers.

When it broke, he felt more centered, like he’d found his feet and his balance. His hand slipped back down the man’s chest to tangle in the fabric of his shirt. “I’m alright,” he said quietly, reassuring him that the kid wasn’t about to have an emotional outburst. The kid was pretty much never about to have an emotional outburst, and certainly not here in public where any one of those guys could step outside and see them at any moment. Ian swallowed, meeting the man’s gaze as the fedora seemed to float to the pavement at their feet, and a faint smile pulled his lip ring back against his teeth. “I knew there’d be a lot of staring. I just didn’t expect it to remind me so readily of the last time people stared at me so openly.” His shoulders rolled in a dismissive shrug.

“The last time?” He didn’t know, but his mind drew up moments he thought Ian might mean because they were the ones he knew. The time Ian had shot his father. When he died? Maybe. He could not properly grasp the day he died to know for certain. Some parts were clear and others seemed like clips of a lost night because he had gotten wasted.

Mac wouldn’t have known the fresh aftermath, but he witnessed the pieces of the wreckage. He had met Ian’s father, he had seen the twisted relief for Ian that no, she had not been crazy. Ian could have lived his life in a way eerily similar to his mother-- without Saila, Mac would have painfully haunted the kid, always just at the edge of his perception, his voice on the verge of being heard. It could have driven anyone mad.

Their brothers in the camp would eventually not stare, and he got it was them trying to process what the **** had happened. They were stumbling to catch up to where Josh and Ian were. Like he had always been, Mac didn’t offer a hand to make it easier for them. People were crabs in a barrel and the ones worth keeping climbed out the top instead of waiting to get eaten. Men were meant to cut their teeth, they grew smarter, faster, and did considerably less bull**** with their time when it was that way.

His eyes jumped down to Ian’s lips, to the sound of that metal ring. He drew in a breath and kissed him again, but it lacked his endless thirst. His mouth wasn’t saying that Ian had insulted him by still being dressed. The kiss was saying goodnight, that the evening was growing darker and they knew the moment was at the threshold of ending. Not pulling away, his wrist flicked, pitching the practically untouched cigarette to the gutter. His free hands pushed between Ian’s back and the wall, the grit of the brick scraping his skin.

“When you survive a massacre, most people tend to think you probably started it,” he said grimly, explaining what he’d meant by ‘last time’. It was the first time he’d ever talked about this part of his story, and it may well be the last. “I wasn’t even twelve yet and half--well, more’n half-- wild with trauma, and everywhere I went people were starin’ at me like I was some kind of demon.” His shoulders rolled reflexively.

He started to reach for the cigarette but Jay’s mouth found him first, and that was the better option. This time the kid pressed into him, wrapping his arms around the slightly taller man’s frame, leveraging himself just enough away from the wall to make room for those hands behind his back. He knew the kiss for what it was and used it to bandage his own feelings of vulnerability, soothing himself in the embrace. His mouth broke only just briefly from Jay’s, long enough to utter the words “Tomorrow we’re not seein’ anybody,” and then connected again. They only had a handful of minutes left, and he didn’t want to spend them talking.

When he felt Ian’s mouth like that, their bodies pressing to one another, he thought it could keep him there longer. That so long as their lips didn’t break, he would be there. He could taste him, feel him, and knew that there was an undercurrent that tasted desperate. Time was slipping away and maybe, too, there was something else. There was so much that stayed undone after twilight, it was different speaking to a void instead of looking someone in the eye. So long as their lips didn’t break, maybe the world could turn a little slower.

It didn’t. It was the opposite of feeling the air grow cold. He felt a progressive absence of everything, of touch and taste and the weight of being present. He slowed the kiss, ending it so that he could meet Ian’s eyes, his blues harsh with the promise of yes, no one but us.
“Let’s get you back home.” The voice said.
_________________


'Cause our minds change on what we think is good
I wasn't raised in the hood
But I know a thing or two about pain and darkness
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