Kincaid met me in the hotel lounge less than fifteen minutes after my call.
“Dresden,” he said, appearing over my shoulder in the mirror behind the bar.
“Hey.” I turned on my stool, keeping hold of my drink. “How’ve you been?”
“Eh, same old,” Kincaid said. Considering he was – however old he was, that could mean just about anything. He looked good, his muscled shoulders stretching a dark gray t-shirt. He ran his eyes up and down me, a curious quirk to his mouth. I never used to know when someone wanted me. I still don’t, to hear some people tell it. But Kincaid was a very simple guy with a very simple agenda, and I’d gotten everything I needed from one clear look. I liked that about him.
Kincaid flagged down the bartender. He eyed my two empty glasses thoughtfully for a second, then ordered a beer.
“You’re not after my firepower,” he said.
“Naw.” I had been doodling on a napkin while I waited for him – pentacles and stars, that sort of thing. I started tearing it as we talked. “Is that the only reason I can call you?”
“No,” Kincaid said. He took a long swallow of his beer when it arrived. The afternoon sun reflected off the mirror, catching that eerie, inhuman sheen to his eyes. “You’ve got a reason, though. What is it? Marcone waiting upstairs with handcuffs and a flogger?”
“No.” The last pieces of napkin shredded in my fingers. I tried a smile, caught a glimpse of it in the mirror, and quickly toned it down. “Just me. Do you have a room?” I’m shit at seduction, okay? It’s not a skill set I’ve ever needed to develop, either because my rare partners were the type to be charmed by the whole awkward geeky thing, or because I’d accidentally tripped sideways and landed on a porno set -- Wizard Does Mobster Volume IX: Triple Threat, Bonus Mercenary Included.
“Oh, Christ,” Kincaid said. “There’s trouble in . . . paradise, I take it?”
I rattled the ice in my glass and figured yeah, okay, might as well be up front. “Nope. Not yet.”
“Uh-huh,” Kincaid said. He squinted hard at me for a minute. I sipped my drink and waited. “Yeah, all right,” he said finally. “Just don’t tell me about whatever the fuck it is, I really don’t want to know.”
“Works for me.” Our eyes kept catching and holding in the mirror. I jumped when his hand settled dangerously low on my back. “You could just . . . leave your drink,” I said, swaying into him.
I wasn’t trying for seductive that time, but apparently I got there anyway. Or plain old shameless just worked for Kincaid. He was suddenly all in my space, even though he’d only moved in a couple inches. He’d gone from general interest, you know what I’ve got to target acquired, just like that.
He leaned in, breath hot on my neck. “You know, the fact that fucking you might actually get me dead adds a nice spice, I’ve gotta say.”
There were a lot of things I could have said to that, but really didn’t want to. “Hey, whatever turns your crank,” I said. “I try not to judge.”
“Oh right,” Kincaid said, desert dry. “Does nothing for you, I’m sure.”
“Let’s go,” I said, flipping a bill onto the bar.
I’d never really had casual sex before. Elaine and me were – well, we thought we were forever and always. Susan and Luccio were relationships, even if I’d gotten it all wrong in the latter case. And Marcone – he and I couldn’t manage casual over morning coffee, let alone in the bedroom. There was always a weight there, the endless push-pull, and recently the tireless pressure from him -- more more more.
But Kincaid was casual. Just my body and his body, and the things we could do to each other. If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have said something dismissive about how that would make the sex less: now I know it does, but it’s the way a carton of Brayers ice cream is less than a tray of hand-crafted French pastry confections. Sometimes, you just want the ice cream.
We sucked each other off for a while, curled on our sides in a warm patch of late afternoon sun. I’d been sleeping with John for six months, and I felt like I actually had some skills. Kincaid seemed to agree; I planted both hands on his ass to feel him flex as he pushed into my mouth. He was all muscle where I was bony, and I liked to dig my fingers in and feel him move.
I rode him after that, bracing myself on his chest and moving just how I liked it. He lounged back, hands tucked behind his head, letting me use him however I wanted. I wanted it slow and hard; I worked myself on him until even my runner’s legs burned with effort. I only looked around once, expecting to see John there watching us and surprised when he wasn’t.
I leaned way back on my hands, stretching my legs out to either side of Kincaid, letting them take a break while I powered through on core strength, just rolling my hips. I jerked myself off like that, licking my hand wet and squeezing tight, snapping my wrist hard. I came all over my hand and my belly. Kincaid finally moved, bucking up into me once, hard enough to rattle my teeth and force another spasm out of me.
“Hell’s bells,” I said, breathless. That had emptied me out; I wasn’t even sure I could manage to sit all the way up again.
I didn’t have to. Kincaid rolled up, casually athletic, and tipped me onto my back. He did me fast and shallow, his strong forearms bracketing me. There was no way I was getting another one, but it still felt good.
“Bite me,” I said as his breathing became erratic.
He laughed jaggedly. “You are such a crazy motherfucker,” he said, “you two deserve each other, I swear to God.” And he bit high on my throat, a little savage as he came.
I hung around for a while after, because casual or not, I don’t ever want to be a fuck-and-run guy. I dragged myself up and into the shower eventually, and when I came back out Kincaid was hanging up the room phone.
“Kid’s got business tonight,” he said, still naked.
“I’ll get out of your hair,” I said, heading for my clothes.
He patted me on the ass as he slid by me. “This was fun,” he said. “Just give me a heads up if Marcone calls out a sniper on me, will you? Anything else is fine, but snipers can get tricky.”
I swallowed, bending quickly to tie my boots. “I’ll do that. Later, Kincaid.”
I should have gone home. I meant to go home. In the way you mean to do something when you know all along you’re not going to.
I went back to Marcone’s.
It was after seven by the time I came in. John was home – Gard had waved casually at me on her way out.
He was in his study, standing over his stupidly big desk with three guys I vaguely recognized. The dark blue suit he’d put on that morning was showing faint signs of wear from the day – his gray and red tie was ever so slightly askew. I wanted to straighten it. And then hang on and strangle him with it.
I could see the moment John became aware of me, even though he didn’t look around.
“I’m almost done here,” he said, turning. “Did you want to have—“ He bit off the rest of his sentence, and I had a long three seconds to watch the surprise – the shock, deep and genuine, it really was, wash across his face.
There was a mirror in the formal living room I’d come through; I knew what I looked like. My hair was a mess, the neck of my t-shirt had been stretched out of shape, and I was wearing the imprint of Kincaid’s teeth under my jaw.
John controlled his reaction fast. But I’d seen, and I knew. It made me savagely glad, though that actually didn’t make me feel any better.
“Get out,” John said quietly. There was a beat of silence, then the three guys moved all at once, exiting past me at double-time. John waited until they were gone, then said just as softly, “How is Kincaid?”
I shrugged. “The usual. Fantastic.”
He nodded fractionally. “I thought we had an understanding,” he said. “I was obviously mistaken. Perhaps we should—“
“You weren’t mistaken,” I said. “I thought we did, too.” Not like we’d ever talked it out or anything, but we both knew. He was down with me sleeping with Kincaid, just as long as I cleared it in committee first and brought him along to supervise. It didn’t make any sense to me if I thought about it too long, but nothing about Marcone and me made any sense under scrutiny. It worked on gut, unexamined. But the gut could be wrong.
John’s face had been remote as a distant cliffside. Now he went cold, too. “I see,” he said. “What was the goal, then? If it was to make me angry, congratulations.”
He was angry, in that blank-faced way he did anger. And he was also – it was a shock to realize it -- but he was hurt. I’d hurt him.
Well, good. I’d meant to, even if I hadn’t articulated it out to myself quite like that. Someone hits me, I hit back.
“Or perhaps,” John continued icily, “your goal was to—“
“I was in the basement earlier today,” I said. “I saw your—“ I struggled for words “—your cage.”
I’d just been poking around. Nosy, yeah, but innocent for all that. And hell, he’d told me to make myself at home here, pointedly and repeatedly. So I’d wandered around the three levels of basement, bored and vaguely curious, thinking secretively that yeah, maybe . . . maybe I could live here.
When I’d felt the wards, I’d just been curious to investigate a bit of Gard’s work. It was a stone door in a granite frame – I hadn’t even thought that was weird. I’d just stood there, puzzling out the runes carved into the jamb and the lintel until it sank in that this wasn’t a panic room. Those weren’t wards to keep things out, they would keep things in. A wizard thing, in particular.
And even after all that, it wasn’t until I’d gotten the door open and looked in, carefully keeping outside the threshold, that it’d hit me. A little room, just a table and a chair and a toilet and a bed. A very long bed, unusually so, the sort you get for a very tall wizard. It was that detail, the little touch of consideration in the middle of – in the middle of a fucking prison cell that put the knife into me.
Across the desk, John’s eyes had widened. “Ah,” he said, and he relaxed – the son-of-a-bitch actually relaxed, like the important thing here was that he understood what was going on. “Careless,” he said to himself. Taking a note, figuring out how he’d screwed up so he’d do a better job fucking me over next time.
“So what was the plan?” I said. “Because I gotta say, you’ve really been dragging your feet. Or were you just enjoying screwing me too much and got sidetracked?”
John seemed to settle into himself, his shoulders easing. I was already chewing on rage; watching him prepare to deal with this little inconvenient roadblock in his evening had me spitting it.
“The containment room exists for emergencies,” he said. “By definition, there is no plan.” He rocked forward onto his toes. “And for the record, yes, I’ve been enjoying myself enormously.”
There was a bookshelf next to the door; I had a heavy hardcover in my hands before I consciously thought about it. His cool tone, that faint hint of condescension he did so well – my temper was just gone.
His eyes popped wide when I threw. But he had the reflexes of a snake, even when he was surprised, and he ducked. The book thudded off the corner of his printer and landed, open and crumpled, on the carpet.
John was suddenly in my face, because he really is a crazy bastard who’d rather be up close and personal with the threat than, I don’t know, running away.
“Was that really necessary?” he asked. He was rattled, I could tell. I wanted him rattled – I wanted him afraid. I’d take him as angry as I was, for a start. But mostly I wanted to hurt him again, just like he’d – stars and stones.
That’s what it really came down to. Standing there in his basement, shocked and nauseous, sick and betrayed. Feeling it cut so deep, I couldn’t even breathe. That’s how I’d found out how far into me he’d gotten. I’d had no idea, at least until I learned how bad he could hurt me.
“Oh, I haven’t even started,” I said. “Emergencies? What the fuck is an emergency in your universe? Is it when you say ‘jump’ and I don’t click my heels and ask how high?”
His nostrils flared on an exasperated breath. “If that were true, you’d have been down there years ago.”
I goggled. “Was that supposed to be funny?”
He lifted both hands, open-palmed, and I suddenly realized that wow, he was floundering here. “No,” he said. “It wasn’t. If you would just—“ he jerked a hand through his hair, and when he spoke again his voice was dead level. “By ‘emergency,’ I mean a situation where there is a threat to you.”
I snorted. “Bullshit. I can read runes, remember? That thing is for keeping me in.”
“Yes,” he said. “I do not tolerate threats to me and mine, and that includes your periodic games of suicidal chicken with things that could eat you in one gulp.”
I leaned into him. “Not yours,” I said clearly. “How many fucking times, I swear to – and what, you know better than me what I can take on?”
His chin jerked. “Sometimes? Yes,” he said.
We were in each other’s space; I could feel him breathing. I’d fought with Susan a few times. With her, my anger had cast an ugly light on her, on us, and it had taken me days of cooling off before I could find how I felt about her again. Not with Marcone. I’d never been as angry with anyone as I was with him right then, but I was still magnetized to him. I was still breathing in his cologne and staring into his eyes and thinking about knocking him down, about getting him on the floor and rubbing myself all over him. Being angry with him didn’t make it stop. I didn’t know what could. I didn’t know if anything could.
I was so furious I was sick with it. And he was just standing there, keeping cool, strategizing on the fly, explaining it all away because yes, he believed absolutely in the rightness of his judgment, and in his right to make it. That was who he was.
What a pretty little story he had, an explanation that probably sounded sane and acceptable to him. I bet that hadn’t been the reason when he’d first built the place, however many years ago. But that was John for you, ever adaptable.
I turned my back to him. Because I have a temper, yeah, but there’s this line I can cross to a different kind of rage, the kind where things around me start catching on fire. This was going there. That’s the difference between being thirty three and sixteen, you can see it coming and you can decide to walk.
I still couldn’t stop wanting him. And I needed to be somewhere else.
I didn’t see him coming. There was just a dizzy blur, and then I was flattened to the bookshelf, the edges digging into my back.
“Like hell,” John snarled at me. I’d wanted him to lose his cool, and here it was. Apparently all it took was me walking away from him. “We’re not done talking.”
“Yes we are.” I shoved; he was immovable as stone.
“No.” He flicked my hands off his chest. I thought he’d go for my wrists, so I was wide open when he snapped his forearm up under my jaw, right against my throat. “Hold still,” he barked.
“Fuck you.” I pushed up onto my toes, taking the pressure off, and waved my left hand in his face. “Bad move, John. Hands off. Now.”
He made a wordless sound of frustration. Then he slung me away from the bookcase and across the room, smooth and strong. I don’t know what he was aiming for – maybe the couch where he could try and pin my hands – but I wasn’t going to let him get there. I ducked away; he stayed on me, fast and relentless. He got my wrists, I broke his hold. He went for my forearms, my wrists again, my thumbs, the vicious bastard.
He got my left arm bent up behind me. I twisted into it, folding myself nearly in half.
“For fuck’s sake,” he snapped, going for my other hand. “You know I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“Well you did a fucking good job of it,” I said, and triggered one of my rings. I’d been aiming to hit him glancingly, just enough to get him off me. But John was looking right into my eyes and he saw me decide – stars, he could always read me, how did he do that? He moved; the wall of force barely ruffled his hair as it passed. A bookshelf across the room thudded violently into the wall, rebounding hard enough to break its brackets. It came down thunderously, books avalanching. John yanked me away, his eyes narrow and focused. He spun me in place and shoved me onto the couch, following me down with his full weight.
“Enough,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere until we settle this.” His color was high, his breath coming fast with rising adrenaline to match mine. His body was heavy over me. We cleaved together instinctively, automatically. Our hips aligned; he was hard, I was hard, and his breath was rushing fast on my face.
I was so hot for him it hurt. I could blame the fight, the endorphins, stupid brain chemistry. But truth is, all that was just . . . accelerants. Truth is, I want him when he’s making me laugh, I want him when he’s mocking me, I want him when I can’t stand him. Only thing that changes is whether I want to punch him before I tackle him.
I blame him for that. He did this to me, somehow.
We met halfway, our mouths slamming painfully together. I bit him; he grabbed my jaw and tilted my head, opening me up for his tongue. I groaned into his mouth. It felt like all the small hairs on my body were standing on end, charged in an invisible current.
He pulled away and ran his bared teeth down my cheek, up under my jaw to my throat.
Footsteps pounded in the hall. Hendricks, probably, responding to the ungodly noise we’d been making. John lifted his head. He was wild around the eyes, flushed and unfairly attractive.
“We’re fine,” he called before Hendricks could burst in. “I’ll see you in the morning, good night.”
Hendricks grunted once, very expressively, and stamped off again. John hovered over me the whole time, his eyes locked onto mine.
“All right,” he said crisply once Hendricks was gone. “We’re going to fuck until we can have a civil conversation, agreed?”
Stars, I was pretty sure neither of us had that kind of stamina. He got his hand up my t-shirt and squeezed my nipple until I yelped.
“I have no problem with uncivil,” I said breathlessly. “I am completely down with uncivil.”
I wormed a hand between us and went straight for his dick. The trapped curve of it was hot in my grinding palm. I wanted it, any way I could get it. I didn’t care if he was in me or I was in him.
“I’m, ah, I’m concerned about a sudden decrease in my property value,” John said, voice hitching. “Christ, Harry, take it off.”
I struggled out of my t-shirt, nearly strangling myself, and John yanked at my jeans. I only managed to kick one boot off – the other clung stubbornly, tangled with my pants.
John put his hand to my mouth and I licked it, shameless. He slicked his palm over the head of my dick, then jerked too fast, too tight on purpose, making me twitch and flinch.
He was still wearing his suit, right down to his lopsided tie. I didn’t have the patience to get it off him, so I just went for his zipper. I curled my hand around his bare dick when I got it out, matching everything he was doing to me. He glared down at me, pupils blown wide. He leaned in to kiss me again, but I snapped my teeth in his face, keeping him back. I had something to say.
“Dismantle the cage,” I said. “Or we’re done.”
He didn’t look dismayed or angry. John likes bottom lines, ultimatums. He likes them better when they’re coming from him, but he could just fucking deal with that.
“I don’t react well to being threatened,” he said, scraping a nail with deliberate carelessness down the underside of my dick. “And that threat is – you should know the nuclear option works only once.”
I didn’t have the presence of mind to spin out all the implications of that. I just knew if it would work once, I wanted it to work now. “Right back at you,” I said. “Take it apart.”
He rolled my balls in his palm, then ran his fingers further back. I arched into him, and his fingers went right into me. We both froze. I was still open and slick from Kincaid; John had three fingers in me easy, just like that.
I know he’s a violent man. I’ve seen it, and who hasn’t heard the stories. But violence is a tool to him, like almost everything else. He uses it, it doesn’t use him. But for just one second there, with his fingers sliding effortlessly deeper into me, I looked into his eyes and I saw . . . well.
He put it away fast, anyway, let’s just leave it at that.
He moved all at once, yanking his fingers out and pulling me down the couch, and bam, he was in me. I was still stretched, yeah, but it’d been a couple hours and I – I might have shrieked. I scrabbled at John, grabbing handfuls of his jacket and bearing down reflexively on his dick.
“You want to fuck Kincaid, fine,” he snarled into my face. “You want to fuck someone else, maybe fine. But you come to me first. You don’t do it behind my back.”
I bucked, driving him deeper into me. “I don’t just mean dismantle the rune spells,” I snarled back. “I mean take the whole thing apart. Brick it up if you have to.”
We strove against each other, strength to strength. I got one leg up around his waist, but planted the other foot on the floor. I shoved against it, and he pounded into me. The couch moved under my back; I flung a hand above my head, smacking it off the edge of the corner table. The lamp there went over, the glass shade shattering musically on the hardwood.
We didn’t stop. I got my hands up the back of John’s shirt. He was sweating under the layers – slick down the groove of his spine. I loved the muscle on him, the bulk I could never manage to put on myself. And I really loved feeling him move under my hands, the flex and drive of his body as we fucked.
I grabbed his ass and dug my nails in, scratching at him through his slacks. John actually laughed, unrestrained, a wild light in his eyes. He bit me in retaliation, right in the tender place where Kincaid had.
It was crazy. I was crazy, patently. But we were spewing aggression all over each other, and I just felt . . . so safe. With the guy whose teeth were in my throat and who thought seriously about locking me up in his basement. That’s how it was – I did stupid things, crazy things with him. I had a threesome. Twice! I did things in bed I didn’t even know the names for. I poured my rage at him and fought him, because he could take it. He brought the crazy out in me, and he could take it all.
I had the itch bad by then, and he wasn’t quite scratching it. So I tried to wrestle him off me and over onto his back. He really didn’t want to go.
“Oh, shut up, you’ll like it,” I snapped, and finally got him where I wanted him. I flung my leg across him and got his dick back into me on my second try. My hands were maybe a little unsteady, okay?
John didn’t take it passively. He powered up into me, using his whole body, and rubbed the palm of one hand over the head of my dick, chafing at me until I thought I’d snap.
We traded off for a while, wrestling each other back and forth. He got me on my knees, briefly, hanging onto the arm of the couch. But the cushions weren’t firm enough or something, because we kept wobbling out of true and neither of us had good leverage.
We kinda maybe got a little out of hand, though, before we figured out the problem. “Oh, come on,” I said, reaching blindly and yanking at him. “Do you want me to fetch your newspaper back there, maybe your slippers?”
John said something indistinct and profane, dragging me back onto his dick. I shoved, he shoved, I swore, we humped frantically at each other, violent and unstable. I heard something snap under me; the couch suddenly listed, and I saw one of the wooden legs rolling away.
That cracked me up. Hysteria, I don’t know. John pulled out and rolled me on my back where I flopped, giggling.
“You—“ he said, with this – this look on his face. His mouth was twitching, as if maybe I was going to set him off, too, and his eyes were saying . . . things that didn’t make me feel safe, all of a sudden.
“Hey,” I said, and reached for him.
He slipped back into me, propped up on his hands, his head ducked. There was something fierce in the set of his mouth, the line of his brow. He stroked deep into me once, twice, and then he just shook himself apart. It surprised me; it floored him.
“Oh, Christ,” he said, low and pained, rocking helplessly against me as he came. His right arm buckled; he listed drunkenly over me for a second, then flexed, shaking, back to a full push-up. “Sorry,” he said, eyes wide and vulnerable. “I didn’t mean . . . here.” John Marcone, who won’t apologize for his creepy dungeon, but who gets all twisted up because he didn’t make me come first.
He rocked into me, hissing between his teeth, and jerked me off, just the way I like it. I twisted, trying to get there. “I—“ I said, “I need – do it again.” Inexact, but he understood. He bent, flicked his hand over the head of my dick, and bit gently at the same aching place.
I came all over both of us, messy. It was satisfying in visceral ways I don’t really want to examine too closely.
John tucked himself around me after, keeping his mouth shut. Weird thing about him – he couldn’t stand disorder of any kind, but the messiness of sex never bothered him.
I rolled my eyes around the room without moving, surveying the devastation. There were books everywhere, a mine field of colored glass shards, and the couch had settled at an uncomfortable angle with my head lower than my feet. My body hummed happily to itself, but I suspected I was going to hurt like hell in the morning, bruises everywhere.
I was exhausted. The sort of tired I usually only get after long, hard magic. Fuck, what a day.
I turned my head enough to see John. He looked back, alert and cautious. We stared at each other for a few long ticks, faces inches apart. There was real uncertainty there. Huh.
“You’ll dismantle it?” I said finally. My mouth was dry, my throat sore.
John closed his eyes for a slow blink. It was almost a wince. “I have rules,” he said. “You . . . seem to exist outside of them.”
Rules about trust, rules about meticulous forward planning, rules about hedging every bet. That was a yes. And then I realized that it was also . . . a confession. Maybe a declaration. Confession was for shameful things, in John’s Catholic soul, and he was not ashamed of it. Of, y’know, the thing with me.
He opened his eyes. “Don’t ever do that to me again,” he said quietly. “Not in front of my people.”
I winced. Hell. John’s reputation was his power and, in some ways, his life. And I’d put a little dent in it today, potentially. And in him personally, but apparently we weren’t talking about that. Just fine with me.
“I won’t,” I said.
John nodded, swallowed, looked away. “I don’t . . .” he cleared his throat. “I don’t love well. Or like other people do. I know that.”
I stopped breathing, just for a second, with that pinioning me. John had guts like other people had scruples, in every part of his life. It shouldn’t surprise me that he would lay it out there on the line like that.
“You do okay,” I said hoarsely. “Most of the time.” Of course, when he got it wrong, it was spectacularly wrong. I could sympathize – I was that way about almost everything in my life. John just didn’t know how to deal with it. I stared up at the ceiling. “It’s remotely possible that I may . . . occasionally . . . react impulsively.”
“Oh,” John said, deadpan. “Is that what that is?”
There was a brief silence. We looked at each other simultaneously, considered, and nodded. Okay. It was papered over, more or less.
Which was . . . kind of shocking, actually. That should have ended us. We brought out things in each other: it wasn’t worth trying to figure out if it was the best or the worst, it was just so much. Yet here we were. We’d wrung the fight out of each other, and what was left was . . . him and me.
And him and me . . . we were improbable and exhausting and invigorating and yeah, kind of screwed up. But Kincaid was right: we deserved each other. Or at least no one else did.