--- William Shakespeare
Ribbons of sweet-smelling haze filled the Escalade, crawling across the napped ceiling as if looking for an escape. There wasn't one, and they settled like dark clouds as Phury tipped his head back to the leather and took another pull.
When the tap came, a heavy rap of hard knuckles on glass, his fingers found the button and the storm of smoke rolled out into the night. He filled his lungs again, long and deep, spoke with a nod but without looking.
"V. What's doing?"
"Got a call. I was hoping to get in on some action." The brother's voice was a slow drawl, equal parts curious and condescending. "But it looks like you two are busy… chillin' in the car."
A roar ripped through the stillness, tearing the air apart like a tornado until the blunt shook in his fingers and the smoke wanted back in.
His free hand hit the controls just as Vishous wrenched at a door, diving into the backseat next to his roommate.
He locked them in again while Butch laughed, a low rumble barely audible above the sounds of serious carnage outside. "The beast's got the action covered," Butch pointed out, like it wasn't obvious from the panic seeping through the cracked window. His laughter died with the howl, and he sighed out the last of it. "We're on cleanup."
Phury snorted, feeling the push of V's knees through the seat as he settled in the back. When all was said and done, the only cleanup they'd have to handle would be Rhage.
"Right," V mumbled, straightening his Sox cap. "Then I guess I'll just… chill." There was a flick and a spark, and the sharp smolder of a hand-rolled blended with the richness of the red smoke. "What'd it look like?"
"Like a goat fuck," Butch said hotly. "Like a ceremony. Twenty, maybe twenty five, all paled-out and armed to the balls. Not a newbie in the bunch. We're talking prime candidates for dusting."
There was a sudden sharpness in his voice, a tightness in his energy, and Phury rolled his neck to the side, trying to let his brother's frustration roll off his shoulders.
"He can't beat back the beast," he offered, hoping to pass quiet for even.
When it fell flat, he wasn't surprised. Reasoning had never been his strong suit.
Times like this, with pressure building in their blood and tension mounting in their ranks, he missed Tohr more than usual.
"Anybody who takes that thing on is fighting a losing battle," Butch countered, "him included. But what about putting a leash on his inner Hyde once in awhile?"
"Would you want to be the one holding the other end of that strap? Sounds like a good way to lose an arm." Vishous chuckled around his smoke, but the effort held no humor, just sad understanding. "You know Rhage has his edge to burn, cop."
"So do I," Butch shot back. He reigned in his growl, and Phury inhaled sweetness and smog and the desperate scent of a man turned more and still trying to prove himself worthy.
"V, man, I'm just saying… He's gotta do his thing, but I need to do mine. Otherwise what the hell am I here for?"
In the sliver of the rearview, Butch turned expectant eyes to a brother who wouldn't meet them, and it was one more thing gone for good. V didn't know any better than the rest of them now, couldn't see anything past the second he was living, and the set of his jaw below the slow burn at his lips told Phury that he was all too aware.
Butch finally shook his head and looked away. "Knowing the bastards will just get recycled for us to tangle with all over again, when I could've… Hell," he muttered. "I get that he can't help it, but it's frustrating as fuck. Would've been nice to take a few down without sending them back to The Omega on the express train."
"Maybe he's tired of smelling your ass afterward. I sure as shit am."
Phury rolled his head toward the open window and the new voice in the mix, watching Zsadist pull the flat edge of his blade over one black-clad bicep.
A curled lip distorted what was already deformed, and he couldn't tell if his twin was disgusted by the self-made stain on his sleeve or the thought of Butch reeking of baby powder.
When the flash came it was like a white flag, and Phury took a final pull and stubbed his blunt into the ashtray.
"It's done," Z bit out, sheathing the dagger and pounding a palm on the roof. "Time to load up." He stalked away, heading down the winding stretch of land that traced the river. They spilled out in his wake, following in grim silence.
Despite the current setting, this part was never a walk in the park.
Rhage was a fetal pile on the riverbank, painted in moonlight and smears of black blood. Zsadist halted above him, crouched low as Rhage clutched the inhuman swell of his stomach and rolled to a ball at Z's feet, shoulders wracked with what looked like sobs.
"Oh, Christ," Butch breathed, all frustration wiped away. "We're gonna need more Rolaids."
Dread churned behind Phury's eyes, sharp through the haze of his high. They pounded out the rest of the distance double-time, Vishous tearing at his glove, and ground to a collective halt in time to catch Z's snort.
The sound was half dismissal, half disgust, and beneath it, Rhage was –
Spastic laughter bled out of him, sharp and stumbling and more than a little sick, pounding at the air like punches.
"What the hell, Hollywood?"
Z shrugged up at Butch, then turned to squint out over the water. "Fuck if I know. Guess I missed the joke."
Rhage was off in his own world, sweat-slick and shaking like a sonofabitch. "Mary… I kissed her over here somewhere," he choked. "Bastards got the jump on me. Had to scrub her head clean before she'd let me near her again. As dates go, pretty sure I did it wrong." He barked a demented laugh, then tucked tight, nailing his eyes shut. "Fuck."
Vishous took a swipe at his goatee with his glowing hand and glowered down at their brother. "We through with the trip down memory lane?"
"Depends." Rhage rolled to his back, grinding out words through a locked jaw. "You gonna put that thing away? Might cure what ails the cop, but that's not how I spell relief."
V let him sweat it out, held his hand high until his palm was throwing heat and its swirls of ink writhed in the haze.
Phury cleared his throat, quiet but pointed, and Vishous put his palm back on lockdown.
"Pull that shit again and the glove comes off." He fisted his fingers around the leather, and the fire faded to nothing. "You feel me?"
"I feel like road kill," Rhage groaned, "but you might be in there somewhere." His throat worked, a sure sign that his salivary glands were working overtime, and Phury shrugged out of his trench and dropped it over his brother's blood-spattered shoulders.
Rhage clutched it close, looking queasy as hell and ready to blow. He nodded his thanks, the movement stuttering as the shakes dialed up a notch. "Good to know somebody cares."
"Don't sweat it. Just watch the leather, huh?"
On cue, Rhage swallowed hard. "Can't make any promises there."
Even with the lingering buzz and the Armani at stake, Phury had to smile at that.
"Sun's coming soon, if anybody's interested," Z said, sounding bored with the whole show. "Think this circle jerk can wait 'til we won't fucking fry?"
Butch went down on his haunches, laid a big hand on black leather. "Gotta tell ya, my man, the full sentences are impressive. Must be all that… physical therapy." He cocked an eyebrow, lifted his chin, concern masked with challenge. "Let's see you walk."
Rhage shifted, then thought better of it, his flawless face full of pain. "Let's not push it."
"I got him," Zsadist growled. He lifted Hollywood with surprising care, hitching their brother's dead weight on his hip and starting toward the Escalade.
"Why do I show, again?"
"Rhage is out of commission." Vishous nudged his roommate with a rough shoulder. "Somebody's gotta be the comic relief." But his voice was flat, his expression grim beneath a brim he'd yanked too low.
"Yeah, fuck that," Butch snorted. "Z, man, could you hang on a damn second?"
"Probably could," Zsadist called, not slowing, not looking back. If anything, he kicked into high gear. "Catch up or shut up, cop."
Butch put his head down and jogged it out, and Phury gave Vishous a glance as they brought up the rear.
"You're tight tonight."
V shrugged massive shoulders, his hot hand buried in his pocket. "No more than usual."
Phury tread carefully, and not with his steps. "It's been pretty usual of late, V."
"I could say the same to you, my brother."
A touché and a fuck you, all wrapped up in one neat non-answer. Then again, he hadn't really expected to get one in the first place.
Up ahead, Butch had closed the distance, looping an arm around Rhage's waist and hooking their brother's hand over his shoulder. Rhage hung between them – blond head lolling, bare feet dragging in the grass – like some gruesome crucifixion.
"Why does he stay out?"
Startled by the quiet question, he blinked. "Zsadist?"
Vishous nodded, stiff and slow, and Phury wondered, briefly, why he even had to ask. Either V's mind mojo had died out with his visions, or Zsadist wasn't even honest about this in his own head. "He's a machine, but up against the beast, not even Z's coming out on top."
He'd been tempted to ask a time or two himself. He just wasn't sure he wanted to hear the explanation. Not when it wouldn't be the truth, anyway.
Phury had his theories. Zsadist would assume as much. Silence saved them both their lies.
"I don't think he's looking to throw down," he mused.
"So why do it?"
His hand swung down, reaching for the joint on his prosthesis before he realized what he was doing. He pulled his arms in, crossed them over his chest, and thought of the wound, deep and dark with blood, that his twin had slashed across his own. Of Rhage's rythe, and Zsadist's caged-animal anguish.
Later, with a whip in hand and a face full of arterial spray, he'd had to stop Z from salting the skin and letting the scar sink in.
"If I had to guess…" And he didn't – there was no other reason to consider. Every time the beast let loose, Zsadist left himself out in the open. Laid down his offering, a rythe of his own making. "I'd say he's paying penance."
He watched Z ease Rhage into the back, huddled on the seat with his head pillowed in Butch's lap. Beside him, V smirked, a twisted slash with nothing behind it.
"Aren't we all."
Phury materialized in the invisible mist of mhis behind Zero Sum. He could almost smell the sun coming, feel dawn heavy in the air – chasing him down, closing in fast.
And he could still see the cut of Butch's eyes, hear the not-so-subtle check in Zsadist's voice.
"You can wait," his twin muttered. "Daylight won't."
He couldn't – by the time sundown rolled around and set him free again, he'd be a bigger mess than Rhage. But that was the last thing any of them needed to know. "I've got time."
Zsadist hiked his scarred brow high. "The hell you do. Get your ass in the car."
Inside, Butch had gone crime scene – wary and watchful, searching his face for clues. Which meant he was fighting a losing battle on this one. He'd played plenty of poker with the brother, and still couldn't bluff worth shit.
Rhage picked that moment to moan, just enough of a distraction to knock the bloodhound of his trail. For the moment.
"Go on and get him home, I'll be right behind you. Probably beat you there."
He got hit with a blast of arctic cold, the air around him going glacial. Golden eyes, so like his own now, poured pools of inkwell black, an angry eclipse blotting out the sun.
Zsadist took a step, pores throwing the stinging scent of pissed-off male, the deep freeze flowing off him in waves.
"Z," Vishous cut in, gripping the wheel in his gloved hand, "let it drop."
His twin cranked around to eyeball V. Somewhere underneath his Sox cap, V stared back. The temp took another nosedive.
"Oh for fuck's sake, one of you bastards blink." Shifting Hollywood's head in his hands, Butch flicked that world-wise gaze to Zsadist. "We gotta move, man. And somebody has to poof it back, regardless. We're not working with a whole helluva lot of leg room back here."
Skimming a hand over his skull trim, Z broke first. He backed toward the Escalade, a Mack truck in reverse, black eyes pinning Phury in place like Bambi caught in high beams.
"We're not done."
Yeah, that was shaping up to be a fun conversation. At least he could have it baked.
The club had gone dark for the day, a steady stream of bodies pouring out streetside, wrapped in smoke and strangers' limbs. A black beast of a limo lurked in the mouth of the alley, purring softly as it idled.
As it turned out, he didn't have much time after all.
The heavy side door swung open just ahead, and Rehvenge stepped out into the dusk, flanked by a pair of Moors, his freight train of a security officer riding his coattails. She shot him an up-and-down, with shrewd eyes and a knowing sneer, and it could have been the ache of the approaching sunrise or the itch under his skin that had him imagining a flash of disappointment.
The Reverend, on the other hand, looked smug as ever.
"Well look what the fix dragged in. Or were you just dropping by because you missed me?" He spun his cane in his fingertips, a swirl of silver and obsidian. "Not that it matters either way. I'm off the clock."
"So clock back in."
Amusement lit the male's face – for a man who had none of his own, he could fake emotion with the best of them. "Now what kind of businessman would I be if I couldn't follow my own rules?"
"Are we playing by the rules now?" Phury feigned shock. "'Cause that changes the whole game."
They hung there in limbo, secrets weighing down the space between. The sin-eater's violet eyes flared facets of amethyst, razor-sharp, and Phury reached into his pocket and peeled a dime off his clip. "I'll just take the usual."
"Seems as if your usual multiplies on the regular." Plucking the bills from his fingers, Rehv looked ready to feed him the wad, his oil-slick salesman's smile fraying at the edges. "Xhex."
"We don't have time for this," Freight Train barked.
"Then get the man his smoke so we can get gone," Rehvenge ground out. She spun at his glare, ducked back inside, and he dismissed the Moors with a nod.
Home free, Phury chuckled low. "See how easy that was?"
The sympath was in his face before he could blink, a blur of snarling shadow and blood-red aura, sucking the last of the buzz from his bones in proximity.
"Do not test me, vampire," he hissed. "I did you a large here, since who knows how loose your lips can get when you're not cranked. Call it a one-time favor for family. But make no mistake, it will not happen again. You want your shit, you come crawling at my feet like everybody else. Get me, brother?"
Phury had barely flashed fang when Rehvenge stepped back, popping the collar on his hand-stitched Gucci, the picture of composure. The hardbody female made a reappearance, shoving the buy at his chest with enough behind it to sting like hell any other moment but this one.
With all the blood boiling in his veins, even the relief barely registered.
"We are family, you and I. Of sorts," Rehvenge drawled, the pair of them strolling toward his waiting ride. "What a shame it would be to see our ties severed."
The limo popped the mhis and pulled away, and Phury watched it go – another addict in a back alley, alone with his demons.
He stepped through the door with the sun hot on his heels, the soles of his shitkickers echoing off the mosaic and the bag of leaves burning a hole in his leathers.
He whiplashed at the crack of Wrath's voice, his name rolling through the massive marble foyer like thunder. Above him, the king stood at the rail, cruel and majestic and miles fucking high.
Bowing, his head felt too heavy on his shoulders. "My lord."
"Looks like we're light a few bodies." Behind the wraparounds, Wrath's eyes glowed grim-green, pinpointed like lasers. "Where the hell is everybody else?"
"Had to bring Rhage in." Explanation enough – the king scowled his understanding, and Phury tried not to sway as he straightened. "They're not far behind me."
"They damn well better be. You're cutting it too close for comfort on this one."
As if to illustrate the point, the shutters rumbled into place, counting down the dawn. Panic began to creep up his spine, not enough smoke in his system to dull its sharp edges. Best-case scenario, they were looking at a ten minute window.
Worst-case had his fingers itching for the bag full of red smoke and his rolling papers.
Awareness pricked his senses, offering what little relief it could. Reaching out with that blood bond, he could feel them – Rhage's chill, V's slow simmer, Zsadist's full-blown boil. Butch blaring over them all, warm and wired, his energy so new.
His head went nuclear, and the blast hit him like a sucker punch – burned, bombarded, he nearly doubled over before he could reign it in, dim her to a dull roar.
She swept down the stairs, fear marring her features. "Phury? Are you hurt?"
One delicate hand reached out for his face – he'd taken on two slayers before the whole gang met the belly of the beast, and gotten sliced for his trouble. A sting and a pull, barely felt and backburnered for a fix. It ached now, sharper than even the itch, her pull stronger than the smoke's.
He dragged air back into his lungs, held out a hand to keep her from coming any closer.
"Do you need – "
"No." The word snapped taut between them, harsher than he'd meant it. What he needed was a blunt, some butane, and a brief vacation from consciousness.
Gritting his teeth and remembering his place, he dug deep for any corner of calm he could reach."Thank you," he managed. "I'm good."
When she nodded, averting her gaze, he answered her next question before she could ask.
"He'll be here."
She moved away, the veil of her dark hair falling over her face as she turned toward the entrance. But for all her distress, she glowed. Called to him like a damn beacon. Beneath her shirt, the young in her belly was barely a blip on the radar, but there, a tiny promise.
Her rebirth. His twin's redemption.
His final red flag, wildly waving the obvious.
He stared at her stomach. She stared at the door. Fingers drummed along the banister like gunfire, and over their heads, Wrath stared holes in his skull. The shades were off, eyes out in full-force and full of warning. Nearly sightless, and seeing too much.
Bella-blind, he'd forgotten the king was even there.
The sound of the Escalade laying down rubber filtered through the thick walls, relief and welcome distraction all at once. Out on the sun's side, something swallowed static and spit back sparks, making the lights flicker and fade.
The outer door swung open with a hiss, slammed shut a few seconds later, and then… nothing.
Phury stalked across the vestibule, cranked the entry door hard enough to rattle the hinges. A heap of bodies came crashing over the threshold, safe and solid and sucking down air in gulps.
"Oh yeah," Rhage groaned, "that was exactly what I needed."
"What in the world?"
Phury glanced up to see the queen join her hellren at the railing, clutching Boo in her arms and looking perplexed as all hell.
Wrath's mouth twisted, but twitched a tick at the corners – annoyed as always, but amused in spite of himself. "The kids are home," he said dryly.
Beth shot him an eye roll, then craned her head over the edge, peering into the tangle of arms and legs. "Is everybody alright?"
"Ask me again when Z's ass is out of my lap," Butch called back, muffled somewhere in the middle of the mess. "Shit, you weigh a ton. You sure you're not the one eating for two here?" Phury caught a grunt from the cop as Zsadist rolled away – knowing his twin, Butch had probably caught an elbow someplace vital.
The ball unwound and stood, Rhage propped against Z's side. He was still a naked, bloodstained mess, and both females looked elsewhere out of respect.
Wrath didn't give a damn, back to meaning business. "What's with the light show?"
Butch bent, swept something dark and crumpled off the floor. "V's grand plan." He dangled the glove from his fingertips before tossing it to Vishous, who kept his mouth shut while he yanked the thing back on. "Thought he'd buy us a few seconds frying the keypad."
"Then he can kill some time fixing it. You're off rotation tonight."
V jacked his shoulders high and tight. "Whatever."
The king barely checked his growl. "Get him set and back to his shellan," he rumbled.
Rhage slipped his eyes closed. "Now that's a plan I can get on board with."
"The rest of you get cleaned up. Get your damn heads straight." His eyes caught Phury's on that, lingered longer than they needed to. Made sure he got the message.
Locked in that stare, he'd almost swap his stash for a crack at V's Sox cap.
Wrath's blink was a guillotine's blade, slicing the link clean through. "I want the rundown after Last Meal." Pushing the glasses back on, he wrapped an arm around Beth's waist, tugged her close, and turned them as one, muttering as they went.
"Christ, I'm too old for this shit."
Zsadist handed Hollywood off to the brothers behind him, and they carted him away as Z crossed the floor to Bella. His hands came up to cup her face, cocoon her there.
"You should be resting, nalla."
Leaning into one hand, she found his waist with the circle of her arms. "I should be right where I am. Rest can come later." She frowned, gaze falling to his mouth. "It's been too long since you've fed, love. You need –"
"For you to take it easy." It cracked like a whip, but his eyes were bright – warm and worried, full of fear. So soft that the sight of them made Phury feel like an intruder.
"Enough," Bella murmured, shaking her head free of his twin's hold.
His back hugged the wall as he tried to make like a new addition to the hall of statues, inching for the exit.
He didn't need to see this. He didn't want to see this.
She took a step back, crossed her arms and cocked an eyebrow. "Am I so weak that my body can't nourish both my young and my mate?"
Unbidden, he remembered feeding at her wrist, her hand in his hair and her taste on his tongue. The tang of Bella's blood came back to him then – rich and strong, spiced with Zsadist's bonding scent, sweet with new life.
He'd known before she had.
Z planted his hands on his hips, eyes looking everywhere but at her now. "That's not what I'm saying."
"Isn't it? I know that you want to take care of me – " She broke off, palmed the nearly-nonexistent swell of her belly. " – of us. And I love that you do. But you promised that you'd take care of yourself, Zsadist. That you'd be careful. How can you do that if you're out fighting every night, unfed?"
The whole scene was counting down to detonation, a ticking time bomb, and Phury didn't want to stick around for the fallout. In truth, he shouldn't have been around for this at all.
Giving up slo-mo, he tried to duck and cover, and only succeeded in reminding them he was still there.
"So stubborn, the pair of you." Exploding, she spun on him, and he froze at the bottom of the stairs, so close to escape he could smell it. "He's determined to starve to death, and you're dead-set on smoking the rest of your life away. Clearly neither of you needs anybody, so I'm not sure why I bother."
She stormed off toward the kitchen, leaving him to stare helplessly after her.
He turned to his twin, jaw hanging slack on its hinge. Across the foyer, Zsadist rubbed at the back of his neck, pinched the bridge of his nose between two fingers. "She gets wound too tight," he mumbled. "Havers says it's normal. The first few months."
From where Phury was standing, there wasn't a damn thing normal about this sitch. But he didn't have a say in it, didn't deserve one.
Bella didn't belong to him.
"If memory serves, Havers also said she was safe to feed from until the fourteenth." Z blinked black, and Phury raised his hands. "As long as we're trusting the male's word on this."
He started up the steps, halted when Z's grit and gravel voice rang out from below.
"We've still got unfinished business. You and that shit… Whatever's doing the talking, she's got a point, my brother."
He thought of the haze that lay ahead, of the sweet burn that could sweep away the phantom taste of what he'd never have. And he thought of bent promises and veering vows, of the risks Bella didn't yet know.
Of his twin, locked on the wrong side of a Cadillac cage, daring the wrath of the beast.
Willing his feet forward, he called an answer over his shoulder.
His hands had shaped the first before he'd even stripped down his weapons. Rolled it fat, licked it shut, twisted the ends tight. Drew hard and fast until the smolder singed his fingers, and wrapped his head in fog.
Now, showered and sanguine, smoke and steam dancing in the air, he wiped at the mirror with a fist. The wound was a snaking slash that crawled along his cheekbone and cut down deep, angry red but already starting to knit together.
By the time they went out for the night it'd be long gone, healed up to nothing.
A memory played over his reflection, rolling out on the glass like frames from a silent movie – hands buzzing his mane to the skull, taking a blade to his temple and carving his twin's ruined face from his own.
Z, bent to this same position and hell-bent on a suicide mission, rasping his first I love you while Phury plugged a needle into his jugular.
He pushed off the sink with a sigh, pulled on a pair of loose shorts, and made his way back to the bed and the bag. Puccini pumped from the surround sound, epic and sweeping. The prosthesis came off, propped against the mattress. The next blunt practically rolled itself. The knock on his door didn't surprise him at all.
Seeing Vishous and Butch on the other side was a little unexpected.
Pulling down another lungful, he nodded to his brothers. "How's Hollywood?"
"Pitiful." Butch smiled, wide enough to show fang. "I think that was mostly so Mary would get her Florence Nightingale on."
Phury raised his blunt hand high. "More info than I needed."
The roommates exchanged a glance, doing their freaky borderline-telepathy thing, and he waited for whoever drew the short straw to speak the fuck up.
"So uh," Butch started, "how 'bout those hormones?" The vocal verdict didn't come as much of a shock – the male always had been the duo's designated mouthpiece. Hell, this little intervention had probably been his bright idea.
The cop cringed a bit, coughed into his fist. "You need to get some shit out?"
"So I take it everybody caught the show?" Snuffing out the butt, Phury shook his head. "It's between them. I was just collateral damage. Wrong place, wrong time."
Butch opened his mouth again, a bloodhound back on the scent, and Phury nailed the brother with his best Wrath impression. Spelled out drop it with fixed, focused eyes.
"Maybe so," Butch went on anyway, not a hint of hesitation, and his hazels spit back screw you with a smile. Fearless. The Dhestroyer was fucking fearless. "But maybe she's not wrong on this one."
There was a message in the tone he'd heard from the brother before – not the words, but the warning. It'd been blaring loud and clear the night he'd gone out with the boys and come home with some heroin, in deep enough to go hardcore.
Butch had seen something then, something that made him sharp and suspicious and set on heading it off. And whatever that something was, he saw it again now – with no deep end in sight, and no H in play.
Whatever it was this time… it was all Phury.
With a shiver, he cut the eye contact short. The speakers switched to Viene la Sera, and Butch switched gears before his next breath, backhanding V across the chest.
"Let's roll. If you've got help, we might be able to get the system reset before Last Meal." A chuckle wound up his throat, spilled over in a bark. "Though I don't know, man… that box was good and barbecued. What the hell were you thinking?"
"That I was tired of hearing you bitch about the key-in timesuck all the way back. Now you wanna ride me about it. I got you through the door, didn't I?"
They grinned in unison, V's smaller and slipping fast as his eyes worked a slow roll over Butch's face, lit up like diamonds, brighter than Phury'd seen them in awhile.
For the second time in an hour, he felt like a damn voyeur.
He'd had a hunch, had even mentioned as much to Butch once upon a time, but… Jesus, not quite this. Nothing like this.
With a blink the light went out, and Vishous looked away. "We're in the middle of nowhere, with mhis two miles thick." He paid back the hit, though his hand lingered, slipped into a slow slide before it fell away. "Go see your female, cop. I'll handle the system."
"You tried that already. That's what got us into this mess."
Vishous snorted, then chucked his chin toward the door. "I'll meet you back at The Pit. Get gone before Marissa has your ass."
"With any luck," Butch deadpanned. He shot a look Phury's way, a last-ditch effort at getting his point across. "See you at the table, my brother."
It wasn't a question, so he didn't bother to answer.
The cop closed the door behind him, and Phury reached for his supplies.
"He just worries about you, man."
His fingers filled the paper with a quickness, rolled it tight from muscle memory. "Appreciate the thought, but he needs to mind his own."
"Not Butch," V corrected. "Zsadist."
He had the strangest urge to laugh at that, but the sound broke in his chest and left something hollow behind. He lit up instead, sucked down half the blunt on his first pass.
Centuries. He'd spent centuries trying to heal his twin, make him more than the walking dead. To make up for a life he'd lived that should never have been his.
It had taken Bella to pick up the pieces, put Humpty fucking Dumpty back together again. And his failure had left him as scarred and ruined on the inside as Zsadist was out, a beautiful shell filled with smoke.
Sometimes he watched them together, beauty and the beast, and wondered if pouring Z into his skin could make them both a whole person.
"Yeah, well," he muttered, grinding the leftover leaves to ash, "maybe it's his turn."
As soon as the words were out, he wanted them back. Zsadist was happy, and when it came down, that was all he'd wanted for his brother. As for the rest… well, he wouldn't wish that shit on anybody.
He rubbed what was left of his leg and got to rolling again. There weren't enough leaves in the world for a night like this.
"Listen, I've got some things to do here. I'll catch you downstairs in a bit."
Movement caught his peripheral, and he looked up to see Vishous sweeping the cap from his head. The marks of his curse swirled over his skin, terrible in their beauty, with a life all their own.
The brother caught him with a stare that put his neck on lockdown – frozen, he waited to get drilled with the pop of that pupil, for the gaping black hole that would mean V's visions had come back into play. But both eyes stayed their brilliant ice-white, fixed on his with astounding clarity.
"I'm gonna let you in on a little secret, true?" He paused, and his voice seemed to float in the air. "Learn to deal with the shit you cannot change. It's hard as hell some days, but there are worse things. We all do what we do. Get blissed. Get off."
Something flashed in his eyes, refracted and momentarily blinding. With a shrug, he pulled the Sox cap back on, yanked it low, and the spell was broken.
"Maybe we get by."
V ducked out without another word, and Phury finally blinked, something hard and heavy knotting in his stomach.
Reaching to the bedside table, he pulled a pad and a fresh quill from their drawer, uncapped the ink that was running low.
The image almost took form on its own – hard angles and sweeping curves, shadows and light and all the space between. He sketched in a frenzy, shaping and shading, filling in the emptiness until the well ran dry.
There had been dozens of Bella. Tens of dozens, buried in ivy, burned away before he'd start all over again.
This one was different.
He'd caught the male in three-quarter profile – head tilted, mouth soft, face a mask of adoration and agony. Diamond eyes watching Butch walk away.
Phury knew that look. He knew it all too well.
He stared until the lines blurred and disappeared, until his hand shook from the effort and the paper creased beneath his thumb. Blinking away the blur, he tucked the piece into the back of his pad and set the whole thing aside. It was, in some twisted way, his first self-portrait.
V's words bounced around inside his skull, an echo in all the haze. There was only one way he could deal, day to day, and not walk around looking as wrecked as he'd trapped his brother on paper. As whatever Butch seemed to see in him.
There were worse things.
Reaching for his stash, he started in on oblivion.