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Noble hated rehab.

The people were boring, and he knew the 12 Steps were just a way to get him to repent for his soul, but the people were going to shut up if he said he was going to follow them.

It was only thirty days. Only. Then he could go home and get on with his life. But until then, he had to sit in this pristine, white facility, surrounded by fuck-ups. He couldn't stand them, but small talk was all the same: "How'd you get in here?", "What does your family do?", and "I think it's working. I'm going to get clean."

Noble always thought if you needed to do something, you did it right. He wasn't stupid. The guy who sold him the bad drugs? That guy was stupid. Noble didn't forget; he wouldn't forget. If there's one thing a Sanfino does, that's make good to the people who deserve it.

In any case, rehab sucked. Noble put on a smile to talk to staff, one that slipped on easily, the same one he reserved for pretty girls in bars that he wasn't going to remember later. There wasn't anyone important in here. Washed-up actors and stupid teenagers weren't his idea of a good time.

Noble couldn't say that he hated being alive—he wasn't crazy. The fact he could breathe and play tennis in rehab was a goddamned miracle. He could have died. Noble should have died, really.

It's a fucking miracle that he got the one good samaritan in the whole bunch looking for him. Noble didn't quite believe in coincidence, not when there were cops to avoid and people he'd pissed off. None of them cared if he made it. The places he went to, they never called for an overdose, either, and he gave them valuable business.

Jimmy Riordan was something fucking else, man.

Memory was a funny thing. By all accounts, Jimmy should have been a stranger—but he was so familiar. Stardust, Noble thought, Stardust was a magical, magical place.

He'd know that face. Noble wasn't one to forget a face.

When it's time for group, he smiled again. Noble looked around the circle, full of people who believed or hoped they could get over drugs, people who had problems, and he said, "I'm ready to get better."

 

The first thing they asked him when Noble came to was the question that everyone always asks: "Do you remember anything?" Someone even tacked on a 'Mr. Sanfino,' to be polite.

He remembered Jimmy, of course he did, but Jimmy didn't stick around. Confinement did things to your head; even if it's only rehab and overly cheerful people in uniforms drabber than the clothes they handed Noble.

Noble owed the guy a beer, at the very least. He could afford more than that.

 

By the second week of asking around, Noble's starting to think that Jimmy didn't actually exist. Or he was actually drifting through town and somehow ended up in Bumfuck, Alaska.

Noble got Jimmy's number through a friend of a friend of a friend. It was good to be a Sanfino, most days.

And Sanfinos knew how to repay someone.

Noble didn't know what was a good gift to get a guy who saved your life? A tie was something you gave to someone you didn't know much about; cufflinks were for family and friends you knew had too much money to care about something big.

Would a car do? A car could do. Guys didn't just turn down cars. It wouldn't be a fancy one. Something black and plain would be enough.

Maybe he wanted to impress Jimmy, just a little bit.

 

Noble started to think he hit a dead-end. Or that Jimmy was a fever-dream after all, some sort of omen—hell, maybe even his own personal guardian angel cashing in Noble's luck. But no, Noble thought, he saw the guy. He knew the guy.

He had the guy's number.

Jimmy's voicemail was boring, and Noble was almost sick of hearing it. Why wouldn't he pick up? Noble was starting to think the phone got dropped into a river or something.

Noble looked down at his phone. He sighed. If Jimmy hadn't heard him the first three times, well, he was bound to hear this one.

As a rule, Noble didn't even call hookups when they asked for it, not unless he was bored a week later. This was only day two of trying to call the guy, and who knows, maybe he had a funeral to go to.

Noble frowned. That's not a thought he liked—Jimmy, mourning someone he cared about.

"Look, Jimmy, I really appreciate you," Noble said. And, while he paused, Noble knew he did. This guy saved his life. They could go places. "Call me back. I got a huge surprise for you. I think you'll like it.”

In some cultures, saving a life? That made you responsible for him. And Step 9 was making amends. This was one he could make.

 

Noble knew when to quit, so he told himself that he could try one more time before cutting the guy who saved his life out of his life. It was a hard thought to bear, but Noble didn't keep on with the hopeless.

Noble parked.

He called.

Jimmy answered.

 

Uncle Philly made his rounds after the toast, while Bianca set up. He said, "I like that one," to Noble, when Jimmy's in the bathroom, after doing his best impression of a charming, nice guy meeting the parents. At least, Noble hoped it was an impression.

"You think so?" That's high praise, coming from him. Noble's not looking at Uncle Philly, but anyone who can survive a round of his interrogation like that had backbone. He's not going to delude himself to think that they didn't try to vet his people.

Uncle Philly shrugged and patted Noble on the back. That said it all. Jimmy was Noble's problem, but he wasn't going to be a problem with Uncle Philly. Unless he did something supremely stupid, but that went without saying. No one, not even Noble was immune to that.

Jimmy also looked lost coming back out of the men's room, and Noble couldn't blame him. This must be a new thing for him. Noble made sure to keep him in sight, at arm's reach.

Against the background of Bianca singing, Noble couldn't help but try to see what Jimmy saw: more glamor than he was used to, that's for sure. Noble was half-sure that if he let Jimmy go, he'd vanish again.

Still, by the end of the song, Noble finished telling Jimmy about the time Bianca found someone's pet snake hiding in a basket. Her shriek then, Noble's pretty sure, was what started her singing. He kept quiet, voice low, since he wasn't sure Bianca wouldn't throw a diva fit if she heard him.

Jimmy just cracked a smile like a sunbeam.

This was a great start to his evening. Noble still had Richie to take care of, but that wouldn't take long at all. He had a table at Tabu lined up, and as much as he bitched about Bianca sometimes, Noble knew she was good to party.

And she did what she was told. It was one of those things that you learned, growing up like they did. Bianca pouted, but she'd wait. Noble knew that.

He didn't know about Jimmy.

Noble looked Jimmy straight in his clear blue eyes, and he waited. He wasn't disappointed at the answer.

Jimmy chose to go with him instead of staying behind. He chose Noble over Bianca, and there's a feeling in his belly that settled down, at that. Bianca always wanted to play with Noble's toys when she was little, and she's never grown out of that. Most of the time, Noble didn't care.

He wanted Jimmy at his back, though. He already knew he was handy in a crisis.

Noble nodded at the guys who had to haul Richie out of whatever hellhole he came from. Jimmy followed Noble like a shadow.

This was going to be good.

Noble had a thought. He pulled out his pocketknife and held it out to Jimmy. Cautiously, Noble said, "Cut him."

Jimmy gave Noble a look that was a little indescribable—incredulous, in part, but there was steel behind that. Maybe it was a little mean to make Jimmy sweat. Noble reasoned the look on his face was priceless.

And, a small, pleased part of Noble thought, Jimmy looked at the knife and was thinking about cutting Richie for him. That was good. He expected no less.

Jimmy could go a long way.

"Loose," Noble adds, throwing in a smile. Jimmy earned one. This was good to see. "Cut him loose."

 

Later, when they're dancing in the club—Bianca—and sitting on Noble's favorite velvet couch—he and Jimmy—Jimmy's eyes weren't tossing around the sights.

"Listen, Jimmy," Noble said, and it felt good to say. He called over for another round, but he turned back to Jimmy's serious expression soon enough. Few things made a man look like that, in the face of all the pretty and half-naked twenty-somethings around them. "You hardup? Let me know how I can help you, and we'll find something."

He already had an idea.

Noble looked over to a blonde girl he caught looking at them earlier, and he flashed his most charming smile. She flushed.

There weren't that many reasons why a good looking guy like Jimmy really needed something for encouragement, unless he was shy. Jimmy fidgeted with glass again, and yeah, Noble could see that. That wouldn't be anything that a night with Noble and that blonde—maybe that redhead in the corner, too—wouldn’t fix.

Jimmy cleared his throat. "Actually, yeah, I got something you could help me with."

Noble tried not to let his expression fall too much when Jimmy needed help looking for a job, trying to make a semi-honest living.

There would be other times.

 

So, Noble got Jimmy a job. It was just something for him to do, and if he was good at it—he could make himself and the Sanfinos some decent money.

They both won in this situation. He bought Jimmy breakfast, too, since he was feeling generous already, and this new diner he showed Noble to was pretty good, considering.

"Thanks, man," Jimmy said. He took another sip of his drink, gulped it, really, and his adam's apple bobbed a little precariously. "I was kinda aimless, for a while."

"Hey." Noble patted his arm. "Don't be afraid to ask me anything. Let me know. I have all the plans mapped out. I can fit you in just about anywhere."

Noble's not really sure if Jimmy really got what he meant by that, but he would. Eventually. He asked the waitress for the check and a slice of their apple pie.

"I'll cover it."

"You sure?"

Noble knew the feeling—when you didn't want to feel like you owed anyone anything. Jimmy didn't owe him a thing.

He waved Jimmy's expression off. "Fair's fair. Take me out to dinner sometime."

Jimmy's expression relaxed. "Fine, but it's probably going to be hotdogs and pretzels."

Noble laughed. Yeah, breakfast at a diner wasn't worth a steak dinner and caviar. It was barely worth a glass of good wine. "Right."

The waitress laid the slice of pie out in front of them, picture perfect as a thing ever was, topped with ice cream.

Noble could feel Jimmy watching when he drove his fork through. "You want some?"

Jimmy shook his head.

His loss.

 

It wasn't really a loss, considering that Jimmy got a new job out of it. And since this was his family's operation, he could come and visit sometimes.

He could always move Jimmy to something else if this wasn't working out for him.

Noble wanted to punch Johnny in the face, but he was a gentleman. He wouldn't do anything while the guy was at work.

Then Johnny ran his mouth again, and Noble's expression soured.

And as much as he wasn't happy with Johnny right now, he was more unhappy with Bianca. She kissed Jimmy; and they did it without so much as a by-your-leave from Noble. Noble knew that she was an adult and could do what she wanted, and hell, his kid sister had broken enough hearts so far that she could deal with it.

If she couldn't, well, that was what Noble was for, wasn't he? Even if it meant he needed to knock Johnny down a peg. Nothing too big, of course, but something Johnny need to nurse his ego for a while after.

Johnny seemed like he was never getting over her.

Noble pushed Jimmy out for a coffee because Noble was angry, and Jimmy didn't deserve it. He also knew that a lot of people thought Bianca was hot.

Jimmy not telling him stung the most.

But god fucking dammit—Bianca had her own toys. She didn't need to be touching Jimmy, too.

 

To add fucking insult to injury, one of Tesla's guys was sniffing around, asking about Jimmy. Not only did Noble get a call saying they were smoking him out and also that they were checking out what kind of car he drove, he got word they were tailing the guy.

Tailing Jimmy like he was a snitch with loose lips.

The boiler room was neutral territory. Tesla wasn't allowed to do this for no goddamn reason.

Noble told his guy, "Leave a mark, but not a deep one. Just something pretty."

 

"Don't worry about it," Noble says, later. Jimmy got an abbreviated version of the story. He didn't have to look over his shoulder to picture Jimmy's expression. Anyway, it was his due. You didn't mess with one of his guys, and Jimmy was his."I took care of it."

"Er, thanks." Jimmy fidgeted with his sleeve like he did a lot of things, like he never quite grew out of feeling not-quite comfortable in his own skin. Noble thought that he was probably an awkward kid, growing up.

He could understand that.

"Hey, I got places to be," he said, after their second cup of coffee. "This was good, though."

Noble considered slinging an arm over Jimmy's shoulder. Instead, he asked, "Can I give you a ride?" To where, it didn't matter. Job interview—though Noble didn't think he'd move on that fast—home? He never did figure out where Jimmy lived.

JImmy just shook his head. "Nah, thanks for the offer, though."

Noble got that. Fine, it was a little thing. He'd get it out of him, one day.

They were friends. Jimmy wasn't going anywhere.

 

"Well, are you happy now?" was not the greeting he expected Bianca to start with after she hadn't been talking to Noble for a week, but hey, you take what you can get with sisters.

"About what?" he asked, though he had an idea.

"Jimmy," she answered. "You tell him to keep away? He's not your lapdog, you know."

"Not everything's about you." Noble put on a smile that he knew she knew was a little bit fake. He also thought, so it really was just her. "He did it on his own. I never told him to do—or not do anything with you."

"I doubt it," she almost-murmured. Then louder, she said, "You don't have to mess with my love life."

"I'm not." Noble pulled a face. He'd prefer not to know anything about that, at all, if possible.

"He's cute."

Well, he knew that. Noble offered Bianca a drink, but she only waved it off and went back to the not talking to her brother thing.

 

He didn't think much of it, then.

 

Noble had a very bad week. His family's tried to kill him (but he understood why), his sister's missing (that, he didn't), and his arm was in a sling.

Also, Jimmy was a fucking cop. Jimmy—no, fuck, what the hell was his actual name, his cop name—well, he pushed back, standing like he hadn't just shattered a little bit of Noble's worldview. He's done with this. He was. When Jimmy wasn't there when Noble sent him the best lawyer on Sanfino retainer, that wasn't promising at all. When his guys came back and told him so, Noble set his jaw and thought the worst.

The truth hurt more.

Still, he needed to know. "What's your name?"

"Just call me Jimmy," Jimmy said, and it still fucking stung. Maybe it was his real name. It probably wasn't. Noble didn't merit that privilege.

Officer Jimmy; what a name. It sounded heavy on his tongue.

Noble wasn't really listening, not when Jimmy's right there, talking like this was normal. Sounding the same, minus a few jokes.

He offered him witness protection and Bianca. He thought it over. Noble would never get used to witness protection, no matter how long he would try. At least, he reasoned, Bianca was there. That was one thing that Jimmy was telling the truth about. Jimmy was soft; and he believed in the goodness of people.

Noble liked his family, and he knew what they could for him, but he definitely knew that they would (and had) cut him loose when they thought he went against them. It was a hazard. No one was going to blame Bianca much, anyhow, but they'd all think she'd thrown in with Noble, so maybe she would be safer in the middle of Nowhere, Iowa instead of here.

He was a big boy who didn't need some half-competent beat cop watching him.

Noble made a run at Jimmy, instead of answering. He deserved a punch to the face, and Noble could throw one, even if he only had one good arm.

He missed.

Noble was clutching his chest in pain, and above him, Jimmy crowed like a self-righteous prick. Like he knew better than Noble what his life would be. That was the fire Noble always knew Jimmy had in him. Never apologize when you're right.

If it didn't his ribs hurt so much, Noble would even laugh. Noble looked up, and for one moment, he saw desperation in Jimny's eyes. He wanted Noble to take the deal.

Noble's face fell. He didn't need to be taken care of. A small fluttering feeling in his chest answered, though, because it was always nice to be thought of, and he knew Jimmy cared.

 

The light was dark in the office, almost as dim as the time in the bar; Jimmy's face looked the same, but now Noble knew what was behind that: a backstabber and a liar.

He never thought a cop would have it in him. Noble tried to push his buttons, to see if he'd budge at all. One last test, one last time.

"You're a weasel with a badge." Noble wanted to spit in his face, but he didn't. Jimmy never even flinched, and Noble thought about how good the conviction could be, what they could have done together.

"You're alive because of me," Jimmy returned, just as vicious. It was true.

Noble went away. It wasn't the right time, and it wouldn't be the right time for a long time. He had to talk to some lawyers.

 

Noble couldn't have thought of the truth, then, and look where that got him: not indulging in life's simple pleasures.

Noble found Jimmy in the police academy year book. He had to. The name under his picture wasn't Jimmy.

It was Reagan under that picture, fresh-faced and smiling like he'd seen Jimmy smile all of once. Noble didn't think he'd ever been this young, but there he was.

A small part of Noble's mind noted that Jimmy was just as much a cop as he was a Sanfino. It was in his blood. Even he knew what the name Reagan meant in this city. When your father's the police commissioner, Noble reasoned, it's almost as good as being born into a family like Noble's. Only worse, of course. Jimmy was almost too straight-laced to take a joke, sometimes. Jimmy didn't know how to relax. Maybe, in retrospect, that meant something other than Jimmy trying to brush off Noble.

Jimmy didn't need to worry about him at all.

Noble didn't need looking after. He picked up his phone and set up finding out who was getting burned with him. He'd already had a dozen or so of his guys call him and ask what was going on.

He could rebuild, carve out a corner for himself. Noble already knew what it was like to be careful, to live under watch. He'd just have to be more-so.

Noble tossed the book; it was junk. He kept the picture, though. It was a reminder.

 

One thing stayed the same: Noble was always the one that needed to reach out. Time passed by without a hitch, and he was back in New York before anyone knew it.

He tapped Jimmy's shoulder before taking a seat next to him at the bar.

"Hey," Jimmy said, hesitantly. He looked around, reached for a weapon in a way that he knew that Noble must have noticed. He leaned back, a little, away from Noble, but that didn't matter.

"Lighten up, buddy." Noble reached over and grabbed the sorry excuse for a beer he was nursing. "I'll get you something real."

Jimmy wasn't a guy who wanted to start something the middle of a bar, but he was strong enough to wrench Noble off, if he wanted to. So it was a small kindness that he only slapped Noble. Noble grimaced and kept a little more space, rubbing his jaw.

"I don't deserve that," Noble said. He drained the rest of Jimmy's shitty beer, called for some gin and tonic, nothing that any half-decent bar could mess up

"From where I'm sitting, you do." Jimmy didn't look any different from Jimmy when he sulked, and Noble felt vindicated. He put more of himself into that act than he knew. "But I can't pin anything on you, and you walked away."

"You don't need to." Noble wiped his hands on his pants. He propped his elbow on the counter; he refrained from cracking his neck. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Jimmy didn't quite believe that. He grimaced. "What do you want?"

Noble said, "Jimmy," and he stretches it out, to see the little spark of recognition in Jimmy's eyes, the way he instinctually still reacts to the name. He leaned in closer to Jimmy's ear. "Maybe I don't want anything."

It's strictly true. You couldn't want what you already had.

Jimmy swallowed, but he didn't move. He looked at Noble like he was a snake and he was a mongoose—this could end either way.

"Okay, shoot," Jimmy said, breaking the moment, and the noise in the bar sounded like silence.

"There's a gift for you back at your nuthouse," Noble said. "Gotta say, JImmy, I didn't know anyone was as good as pissing anyone off as you."

Jimmy snorted, but he paused at the thought of what Noble meant by gift. "You think I'm a piece of work? I got a brother."

He did. Noble tried not to look into that clan too much, but he knew enough. Noble leaned back from the edge of his seat. "So tell me, Officer Jimmy, how's life? Did you go back to a wife and picket fence?"

"Didn't have one then, don't have one now." He finally, finally touched his glass, took a sip to lubricate the conversation. "What's it to you? You sound like my partner, trying to ask me when was the last time I had a date."

Jimmy talking like a cop still made Noble taste something bitter, but he'd gotten used to the idea of it, if not the reality. Noble shrugged. "Well, when was it? You're a good-looking guy, why aren't you beating them off with a stick? You swear off women?"

Jimmy's face made a little expression, pained, maybe, but a question he didn't want to answer. The answer, then, was probably yes.

Noble struck gold. He took two shots, looking Jimmy in the eye.

 

Maybe getting drunk enough tripped the instinct in Jimmy that got him to save Noble the first time, and probably also baby birds. In any case, Jimmy was Noble's crutch out of the bar.

"You walking me home?"

"Didn't think you liked walking." He joked, but fuck, it stung a little to be without Noble's favorite ride. No place for showy things, most of these days. Black and boring black it was.

"It's good for the health," Noble said, trying to find something positive to say. And Jimmy always liked a joke.

Noble had a couple of places, these days, small but safe enough and Jimmy even had the decency to not mention anything about Noble telling him about this one. Jimmy kept secrets. Hah, that was one of the few things Noble knew he was good at. It wasn't a bad idea to let him know.

The worst he could do is show up unannounced. It was a spectacularly good idea, actually.

Noble fumbled with the door, and he knew Jimmy's fidgeting. He handed Jimmy the key, to open it for Noble. It gave Noble a moment to move, to say, "I got coffee. My head's killing me. You still take yours the same way?"

And maybe, from the hesitation on Jimmy's face, he actually thought Noble was something closer to Jimmy's definition of good. "Alright, sure."

It's a little like a cheesy line, but if it worked, it worked. It got them inside, and Noble offered Jimmy a seat while he put on a pot.

Noble turned and flashed a grin, and he swore he saw Jimmy blush. He took the opportunity to kiss Jimmy against the back of the door, like a fucking teenager.

It's a great kiss. Noble didn't remember the last time he kissed like this: maybe never, hands on Jimmy's collar to find the leverage to get closer, into his mouth.

It's over too soon, and Noble's not above admitting he stumbled back a little. Jimmy flinched, at that.

 

He also slammed the door on the way out.

 

The present would probably make him appreciate Noble more. Noble hadn't even cut the guy; there were barely even bruises.

Noble still had that picture of Jimmy.

And he found him once, now twice. It was like riding a bike, he thought. He wouldn’t forget how.