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The Best Laid Plans

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"You do me an injustice, sir," Locke says. The heavy wool coat he'd been wearing hits the floor with a satisfying thump; the elaborately patterned waistcoat follows more quietly. Locke stretches his arms over his head, his bare skin prickling unpleasantly in the chill. "Why must you strike at my heart so mercilessly?"

Across the vast expanse of room that separates them, Jean glowers, silent and unrelenting as the cliffs of Vel Virazzo. Locke throws up his hands, with all the not-inconsiderable drama he knows how to conjure, and falls on the bed, an endeavour which is marred somewhat by the way the impossibly springy mattress turns the motion into more of a bounce than abject collapse. Locke's a professional, though, undeterred by such trifles.

"I nearly died for you," he says. "in case you've forgotten."

If anything, Jean's face gets more set, so that Locke comes dangerously close to smiling. When Jean's having to work that hard to look unmoved, things are going well. And then, better still, he starts talking; when he's talking, Locke's already won. "I've nearly died for you seven or eight hundred times," he says, in the flat, authoritative tone he uses to tell Locke that they're running low on coin, or that it's Locke's turn to brave the markets on a supply run. "It doesn't win you much favour these days."

"A slow, painful, excruciating death. The word agonising was used, I believe."

Jean lets out an extravagant snort, but he drops his bag from his shoulder to his hand, and then to the floor. "That's funny," he says. "That's almost exactly how I'd describe living with you."

Locke doesn't bother to answer that, because he's sure it's just that the relief of having him around and functioning is still too overwhelming for Jean to properly express, and besides, given their current situation and unprecedented good luck, he can afford to be magnanimous. He curls and uncurls his toes in the rug by the bed. Imported tiger pelt from Theron, unless he's not much mistaken, and probably worth more than what four or five of the hotel staff members make in a year. And the bed--the bed really is almost inconceivably comfortable; the blankets are piled three thick, a not unnecessary luxury in this city and its gods-damned winter. It's plenty big enough to sleep Locke and Jean. Hell, it would probably sleep Locke and two of Jean. Locke pulls himself up and buries his face in one of the many, many pillows stacked against the headboard. He suspects they're filled with down of some sort--nothing so common as goose, if he's any judge--and he's always hated that, but he can live with it.

"At least it's big enough," Jean says, on the same train of thought like he so often is. Locke doesn't turn his head, but he recognises the sounds of Jean shedding his own coat and boots, more neatly than Locke had his own. He smiles a little and stays right where he is. Talking's done. Now he just waits for the tread of Jean's heavy footfalls on the stone, the dip of the bed as he sits. For a while, they stay in companionable quiet, even the bustling street below them muffled by altitude and Elderglass windows. It's nice, really. Not the sort of thing Locke could stand for more than five minutes, but a full year of frantic running and intrigue and danger has at least given him a better appreciation for that first four.

He gets maybe three, and then Jean pokes him in the ankle, none-too-gently. "What kind of intellectually fucking stunted halfwits would choose this city as a honeymoon destination, anyway?" he asks.

This time, Locke does roll over, just to see. There's a smile in Jean's voice, and Locke likes that, a whole fucking lot, if anyone's asking, but he likes the look of it more. Strange how he'd never noticed how often Jean smiled until he stopped; stranger still, maybe, how much Locke missed it once he did.

"The kind of intellectually fucking stunted halfwits who show up in Eldrani in the arsedeep of winter to steal a diamond that's only the second most valuable in the world."

His own smile feels smug, and why the hell not? He's cheated death, as surely as he's ever cheated any card game or billiards table, and all it took was all it's ever taken: him and Jean and an idea so impossibly mad that nobody saw it coming. Now he's got the word of the highest Bondsmagi in Carthain not to touch so much as the air surrounding them; he's got however many years left the gods decide he deserves; and he's got a room at the finest inn in Eldrani, paid for by the woman they're here to rob. Life could be better, fuck knows--a life with Caldo and Galo and Bug, just for starters--but barring miracles, he figures this is as good as he could ask for.

"Pretty pleased with yourself, aren't you?" Jean says, stretching out beside him, and cracking every bone in his body as he does so--a habit, like his core-eating, that Locke's bitching has done nothing to curb.

"I am." Locke does the sensible thing and budges over when Jean shoves at him, and then he reaches out, covers Jean's hand with his own, for all the world like a romantic suitor. "It's not every day a man finds himself a husband. I'm the luckiest man the gods ever blessed, Jean. I'm like the Princess Rosalyn and the Blessed Knight combined. If you turned my luck into stars, you'd need two skies--" The breath rushes out of him in a painful whoosh.

"If you snuggle me while I'm sleeping, I'll cut your body into more pieces than there are stars," Jean says, removing his fist from Locke's chest. Locke wheezes out laughter, even if he's still got enough self-preservation left in him not to reach for Jean's hand again. Not that Jean seems to appreciate Locke's sudden show of caution. He changes into his warmest night clothes, grumbling about lunatical plots and lunatical women, and lunatical idiots who keep going along with them. Locke cheerfully ignores him, except to point out, with a good deal of accuracy, that Jean's apparently misplaced his sense of perspective.

"It's not even close to the worst plan we've had," he says, mouth full of some excessively minty teeth cleanser. If he's honest, it wasn't really a plan at all. It was good luck and good timing that put them in place to save the Lady Marbella from being thoroughly crushed beneath an oncoming wagon; it was Lady Marbella who made the quite remarkable assumption that Locke and Jean were something more than friends. Locke will take credit for the newly married, honeymoon part, but gratitude and a romantic streak did the rest: got Marcus Enderdown and Oliver Farnwort upgraded to the finest rooms Eldrani has to offer, gained them access to the very party Locke hadn't yet schemed his way into. "If I'd known pretending to marry you had this kind of power, I'd have taken up the habit years ago."

The hand gesture Jean flicks at him could probably get him killed at most of the taverns around the city. "You could never afford me," he says, as he climbs under the covers. "The Tannen merchandise commands a price a lowly thief like you couldn't possibly pay."

"Mmm," Locke says, huddling down beside him. "We lowly thieves don't tend to pay."

Jean doesn't answer, though Locke catches a grin before he shuts off the alchemical lights set into the walls above their heads. When the only illumination in the room is a pitiful silvery glow coming from the window, Locke shamelessly curls up against Jean's back. Of course he does. Winter nights in Eldrani aren't stopped even by heated stones or roaring fires, and Locke feels the cold more than he used to. About what you'd expect when he's skinnier than he used to be, too, only now able to look at himself in the mirror without flinching away from the hollow-cheeked horrorshow looking back at him. Jean grumbles as Locke settles in, but he doesn't pull away, and Locke never expected him to. If anything, he shifts a little to let Locke in closer. It's sort of like huddling up against an incredibly warm mountain, if mountains were also hairy and smelled of lemon-scented soap. Locke touches his fingers to the back of Jean's shoulder. He's maybe touchier than he used to be, too. Having Jean under his hands seems vital, somehow, essential like not being poisoned. Locke tries not to think about it, the same way he tries not to think about breathing or his heartbeat. He puts his cold feet on Jean's warm legs, and squeezes his shoulder in brief, almost sincere apology..

"You're a wonderful fake husband," he says. Jean laughs, and Locke figures that's a good enough sound to carry him into sleep.

***

The nobility of Eldrani is like the nobility everywhere else. Only the clothes and the houses are different. The petty jealousies, and the spite, and the grudges passed down from generation to generation, those are ever-present. Locke supposes that's true of everyone; it's just that nobility tend to live long enough and have little else enough to do to harbour and nurture them the way the lower classes can't. Whatever the reason, Locke's grateful for the consistency. Just like he's grateful for the poor folk who'll spill all the secrets of their betters to an outsider. One might learn, for example, that a certain lord and a certain baron have buried their differences in name only, that the mere mention of a particular woman's name is apt to send the lord into a violent fury that Locke personally thinks makes Jean's temper sound reasonable. Locke's built plans on less.

"You look the very picture of ill-intentioned miscreant," Jean says, his fingers smoothing over the edges of Locke's quite miraculously grown moustache. Sometimes, Locke thinks he's not the only one who looks for excuses to touch these days. The thought comforts him, warms him all the way through. It's another thing he tries not to think about.

"And you look every inch the violent ruffian," he says, in perfect truthfulness.

For answer, Jean curls his lip in a grin that's all threat and teeth. Locke's always impressed by that; it does more for his disguise than any of the filthy clothes or fake injuries Locke can create for him. Though even by his own standards, Locke's efforts this morning have been especially impressive. Certainly neither of them are the kind of company like to be welcome at Baron and Lady Marbella's; and certainly they aren't. They're barely at the gates to the beginning of the cobbled walkway that leads to the monstrosity the Marbella's call home when they're turned away by thickset guards wielding clubs and disdain in equal measure. Suspicious characters to be remembered later, no doubt: the wrong kind of people asking the wrong kinds of questions. Locke doesn't intend to be in Eldrani when what they've done is discovered, but he's learned something of caution at last, and there's no denying it would be convenient to keep Marcus and Oliver as respectable aliases for future endeavours.

"Your genius plans are starting to look reprehensibly mundane," Jean says, which just goes to prove that Jean is an ungrateful bastard who's never really wanted Locke to be more careful at all. Locke tries to glare at him, but his teeth are chattering too much for it to be effective. They're huddle a safe distance off, waiting in the driving wind. Locke suspects his blood might be turning to something colder and more permanent than ice; if he dies, Jean will probably gloat.

He catches him in the ribs with a well-placed elbow, as a downpayment in case he does. "You should be practicing gazing at me adoringly," he says. "People are going to expect it, you know."

"There are limits to my acting abilities." Jean squats down and puts his shoulder against Locke's, giving up body heat without Locke even having to ask. Locke's grateful enough that he doesn't mention the horrifying smell of the filthy coat Jean's wearing, though not so grateful that he's willing to concede his point about the plan.

Not that there's any denying it. It's nothing to wait for Lord Rolinska. Nothing to bow and scrape before him and talk very rapidly and very quiet, in full view of five or six other carriages, until, red-faced with anger, he has his own servants run them off--just another thing to be remembered later when questions start to be asked. And then it's nothing to stroll up that same cobbled walkway half an hour later as Oliver and Marcus, heroic newlyweds of Theron, both the very picture of trustworthy. It's the most straightforward game they've run in years, the most uncomplicatedly simple. And then Jean's hand closes warmly over Locke's wrist, unexpectedly possessive, while they make their entrance. As the nobility of Eldrani turn their curious gazes on them, Jean smiles at him, like Locke's the only thing worth looking at in the room, or maybe the world, and apparently there are no limits to his acting abilities after all.

There's a feeling Locke knows intimately, like how it might feel if you could pinpoint the exact moment when you tipped over from sober to drunk. Locke doesn't know if every good thief has it, but he does--at least most of the time. The certain knowledge that a job's either going to be a spectacular fuckup or a spectacular success, but either way, there's no turning back. It's not always the obvious moment, but for that instant, he's all spark just waiting to be lit, dangerous and full of potential. That's how he feels now, only this time he's bewildered right along with it, and it occurs to him then, like someone else put the thought there, to wonder what Lady Marbella saw when she looked at them--if it was all the carefree smiles of Marcus and Oliver, or whether it was Locke and Jean, something that comes with them, no matter who else they are.

Jean glances at him, and he doesn't say anything, because Lady Marbella is already hurrying towards them, but he presses Locke's arm with his fingers, in what could be warning or reassurance. Locke responds well enough to either, smiling and leaning into him as Lady Marbella reaches them, in a glorious rush of sparkling jewellery and rustling silk and expensive floral perfume. There's a good amount of cleavage on display, too, but Locke imagines the recently married aren't supposed to notice that sort of thing, especially when they're tastes run more to other men.

"You must have a drink," she says, fending off their attempts to bow, and kissing them warmly on the cheeks instead. "And there's food, of course." She gestures at a row of long tables piled high with all the delicacies Locke could imagine at this sort of party, and a few he couldn't--there's a silver tray of what looks very troublingly like the head of a fish wrapped around something far too snake-like for Locke's comfort. There are some customs he's more than happy not to try, but he receives the glass of rich red wine a passing servant offers him gratefully, and together he and Jean follow Lady Marbella into the crowded room. Jean's still holding onto him, a steady pressure Locke can't shut out.

Looking a little dim-witted comes easier than it should, the warmth and strength of Jean at his side a distractingly familiar surprise. He drains his glass long before he intended to, but it steadies him, the sharp, alcoholic burn of it a reminder of why he's here and what he's supposed to do. Which is mostly to be charming and curious, the kind of conversationalist who's always interested in hearing more about the other person. It makes him an instant favourite, and while Jean engages Baron Marbella in enough wine to make even conversation about importing shark skin interesting, Locke mingles, accepting the drinks pressed on him, and laughing at every small witticism. Only Lord Rolinska seems immune to his charms; Locke stumbles away from him back to Jean's side, a hand pressed to the rapidly swelling bruise on his cheek, the very picture, he hopes, of distressed unhappiness. Baron Marbella is already on his feet, a gold-tipped cane raised in the air before him.

The other thing about nobility is, they enjoy a fight as much as anyone. Especially when the main participants are Lord Rolinska and Baron Marbella--the most respected members of Eldrani society. In the uproar it provokes, amid threats of duels and recriminations and the unsightly spectacle of Lord Rolinska being physically removed from the property, Locke and Jean slip away. Just for a few minutes, if even that. They're back long before anything like normality is restored, Locke leaning drunkenly against Jean, wide-eyed with shock and excitement.

Jean wraps an arm around him, bracing and protective, as if Locke really needs that. "Fucking drunken bastard. Hard to imagine what I see in you," he says, quiet in his ear, even though no one can hear them. Even though Locke isn't drunk.

Locke shivers in the circle of his arm, and it isn't from the cold this time. Locke would be scared of the real reason, except he's Locke Lamora, and he's gods-damned tired of being scared. "Could be my incredibly honest character," he says, his hand curling in Jean's shirt. The expensive fabric is soft beneath his fingers, Jean's skin warm beneath that. "Or my magnificent luck. Maybe my fighting prowess."

Jean smiles down at him, this dangerous look in his eyes he gets before a fight. "Don't think it's any of that," he says. And then, because Locke's never met the stupid thing he didn't want to try, he leans up and kisses him, right there with a hundred people around them, and a stolen diamond in his pocket. For one glorious, terrifying moment, Jean looks as surprised as if Locke had revealed himself to be the Thirteenth Warden. Then his indomitable sense of practicality takes over, and he kisses Locke back, like it's something they do every day. For his part, Locke feels a lot like someone took north and gravity and maybe the sky away, but Jean never has to know that.

***

They make it another half hour, because they've got standards, and they aren't about to let a little thing like unexpected, all-consuming sexual tension fuck up their exit. They say their goodbyes, smooth and unhurried. Lady Marbella smiles at them knowingly. Jean blushes, a miraculous shade of red Locke didn't know he was capable of. That makes him hurry Jean along back to their room even faster. Because there are things about Jean Tannen he doesn't know, and the thought is a kind of wonder and a kind of heresy.

"Are you trying to manhandle me?" Jean says, as Locke tugs him up the stairs and fumblingly opens the door. His voice sounds amused, which is normal, and it sounds raspy and turned on, which really, really isn't. Locke's dick is as interested as the rest of him in it, the cut of his fine woollen trousers suddenly a lot less comfortable.

"Yes," Locke says, with embarrassing fervour. "Gods, yes."

Jean laughs, and Locke loves that. Locke has always loved that, in ways that should've made this less of a revelation. He doesn't bother with the lights, just turns and kisses Jean, pressing him back against the door, like he could really keep him there if Jean didn't want to stay. But Jean does stay. Jean opens up for him and pulls Locke against him, curves his hands around Locke's face like Locke is precious and valuable, something he'd plot and scheme and fight to keep.

"You're an idiot," Jean tells him, and now he's pushing Locke back towards that huge bed. "Such a fucking idiot."

"That hardly seems fair," Locke says. He's not going to let a little thing like needing to kiss Jean stupid shut him up. Well, maybe he will, for just a bit while he gets at Jean's jaw. And his neck, because Jean seems to like it when Locke bites down there, and Locke likes the sounds he can pull out of Jean when he does that, how Jean's hands grip tight on him, so that there'll be bruises in the morning.

"You could've said something," he says. Jean's mouthing at his collarbones by then, and Locke's got the buttons of Jean's trousers undone, not that it didn't take effort, what with how Jean can't seem to hold still for even a second. "'Locke,' you might have said, 'I think you harbour feelings for me of a not-entirely platonic nature.' Or maybe, 'Locke, I am unable to withstand your astonishing--'"

Jean rolls on top of him, and Locke's too busy being crushed and inappropriately touched to finish. Jean's hands are quick with Locke's buttons; he pushes himself up just long enough for them both to kick trousers and under clothes off. When that's done, Locke tries to hug Jean back down, but Jean shoves at his shoulder.

"Get under the fucking covers before you freeze to death," he says, and the gruff, commanding tone in his voice doesn't match the softness of his expression at all. His hand spans Locke's ribs for just a second, and he says, "Such a fucking idiot," again, quiet and a little shaky. Locke isn't having that, not now.

"Your foreplay could use a little work," he says, but he does as instructed, because it is cold. He palms Jean's cock before he does, gets a sense of it hot and heavy and thick. It makes his own dick throb painfully in response, and when Jean crawls in beside him, Locke isn't ashamed of how eagerly he reaches for him, how his hips buck and thrust up against the grinding pressure of Jean above him. There's so much they can do, he knows, so many knew ways to figure Jean out, and the thought of all of it is almost as good as what they're doing right now. Almost. Jean's hands curl over him--one around the back of his head, tugging Locke's mouth up to meet his, and one around their cocks. It's good, all of it: the easy friction of them rubbing against each other, the sound of their harsh, gasping breaths, and the way Locke feels so safe, pinned like he's never been by anyone who wasn't trying to kill him, Jean holding him down and Locke loving every second of it.

It's all so terrifyingly new, and Locke, maybe for the first time in his life, is completely out of ideas, probably out of thought entirely. So he makes do with putting his own hand over Jean's, working them both off together, while his other hand scrabbles uselessly at Jean's shoulder. He needs something to hold onto while everything else comes apart; he wants Jean, the way he's always wanted Jean, because Jean's never, ever allowed him to fall.

When he remembers how to do basic things like breathe and hear and see again, he's still holding tight to Jean, and Jean's wrapped around him, his heart beating wild and fast enough that Locke can feel it, too. Locke considers taking a moment to bask in the afterglow, because that's what reasonable people do, and then he gives it up.

He pokes Jean in the side instead. "You can take back what you said about my plans being mundane," he says. "And talk a lot about how much of a genius I am."

Jean says, his voice lazy and content in a way Locke's never heard before, "You can shut the hell up." And Locke can't, because he's always spun his best plans to Jean with his mouth running ten to the dozen with no pause for breath, but he kisses Jean, and maybe that's the same thing now.