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Mafiosos

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Armie was about to board a flight to fucking Canada when he got the call.

Was he busy?

Oh, not really. Just fleeing the country.

Well, they had a job. A special request.

Rich, coming from them.

“What kind of job?”

“A big one,” said the cool voice on the other end of the line. Why did everything she say sound dirty?

Armie stared down at his plane ticket.

“You fucked me pretty royally, you know.”

“It was an unfortunate situation. Besides, it’s been taken care of.”

Armie glanced around to make sure no one was listening. “I’m sorry, what?” he hissed into the phone.

“We spoke with Stepanov. Really, the whole thing was a misunderstanding that—”

“Misunderstanding? Three weeks ago it was an ‘oversight.’ A ‘grave error.’ Three weeks ago, I was personally responsible for the whole fucking thing, according to you. Now it’s a misunderstanding? You let me take the fall for a fucking—” he caught himself and took a deep breath. “And when exactly were you going to tell me this? When I was already in a hut in the middle of the wilderness freezing my fucking ass off?”

“We’re telling you know now.”

We. The Royal We. Like there was a whole shady organization pulling the strings and not one woman sitting miles above the city in a gaudy penthouse suite.

“So, what? I get an assignment and suddenly it’s like the last two months never happened?”

“Clean slate,” the voice confirmed. “If you take the job.”

There was always a catch.

The sign above his gate had switched to boarding and the flight attendant had started taking tickets.

Fuck.

He really did not want to go to Canada.

*

Back through security. Back to the city. Up to the penthouse suite, where a bland, smiling assistant handed him a manilla folder with his old ID, a cell phone, a gun, and a slip of paper.

Luca Guadagnino. 46. 14/7 assignment. Then, at the bottom, the amount they’d decided his services were worth.

The number made him dizzy.

*

24 hours later, he was walking up to the gate of a mansion on the outskirts of Santa Monica.

He studied the cameras that dotted the fence. One swivelled to follow him as he walked past, and he fought the urge to flash it a smile.

Inside, a stoic-looking woman greeted him. He presented his ID and credentials, and she led him through a series of hallways tiled with marble and lined with ancient-looking busts until they came to stand outside two towering doors. The whole place was white—white marble, white carpet, white walls—with accents of silver, light blue, and mint green. It had a classical feel to it that was only intensified when the doors swung open to reveal a bright, spacious study overlooking the ocean.

Luca was sitting behind a desk on the far side of the room, deep in conversation with an elderly man. As he drew closer, Armie could see that they were poring over a mess of documents.

“Thank you Jean,” Luca said, without looking up. Armie heard the doors close behind him.

As the two men continued to converse in soft voices, Armie took in his surroundings: a shelf of old, leather-bound books lined one wall, while the others were dotted with windows and pastoral paintings of fields, flowers, and the sea. A white baby grand piano stood in one corner.

After a few minutes, Luca turned to him abruptly.

“You are Mr. Hammer, yes?”

“Yes, sir,” Armie answered, bringing himself up to his full height. Luca folded his arms and surveyed him carefully. He gestured to the man standing beside him.

“This is Jim. You will see him often, I think.”

Jim nodded curtly, then turned to Luca. “Tomorrow?”

“Yes, thank you,” Luca replied.

Armie stared straight ahead as Jim brushed past him. As soon as the the doors closed, Luca stood and walked towards him. He stopped just within arms reach, and Armie avoided his eye, fixing his gaze on the window.

“Thank you for coming,” Luca said. His voice was pleasant and light, with a lilting accent.

Armie nodded.

“I don’t need to tell you how to do your job, do I?”

“No, sir.”

A pause while Luca considered him. He reached out and flicked the hem of Armie’s jacket.

“This will not do.”

Armie had worn a simple black suit. Standard—or so he thought. He nodded again.”What would you like me to wear?”

“Something lighter. With colour. You stand out like a sore thumb in this.”

“Yes, sir.”

Luca hummed thoughtfully to himself. “I have one more meeting. In the meantime, Jean will show you the security systems. Then we will go to my tailor.”

“Oh, that’s not—”

Luca held up a hand, and Armie snapped his mouth shut obediently. Despite the twinkle in Luca’s eye, Armie had the impression that this was not a man who was used to taking no for an answer.

*

The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. Luca’s tailor was a pleasant German man, and Armie stood still as he buzzed around taking measurements. They left with a stand-in linen suit, a light blue shirt, and new shoes, with the promise of more closely-tailored items on the way.

“Really, fashion has never been my strong point,” Luca said to him as they left the small store. “That is why I have Alejandro. But it is prudent for you to blend in, is it not?”

Armie found out exactly what Luca meant by blending in later that evening when they attended a private soiree deep in a gated community in the Hills. His tan linen might as well have been the dresscode—all the guests were wearing airy white and pastels, and he was stupidly grateful for the the ill-fitting suit.

Luca moved through the crowd easily, greeting every person who approached him like they were his oldest, dearest friend. “Maestro,” the other attendees called him, the word laden with a reverence and respect. Ah, Maestro Luca! And how is business? How is your niece liking Columbia? How is that boy of yours?

Unlike most of his previous clients, Luca had no qualms about speaking with Armie or introducing him to his friends. Most people treated him like a guide dog—WORKING, DO NOT PET—but Luca made a point to bring him into conversations, if only to listen. And, though Armie declined the champagne and prosecco he was offered, he suspected Luca wouldn’t have much cared if he’d partaken in that, either.

*

Armie’s new suits came directly to his house, and he was startled to find that Luca had ordered him a full wardrobe’s worth—more linen, but other types too, enough for every possible occasion.

“Thank Alejandro,” Luca said when Armie brought up the subject, because, as Luca maintained, he himself knew almost nothing about fashion. He wore what he liked, he said, until a friend or a lover told him it was hideous.

His days were mostly spent in meetings, some of which Armie was privy to and some that he wasn’t. In the evenings there were gatherings—dinners, drinks, private entertaining at his villa, or perhaps a quiet night at home with a book and some wine. Most of the time Armie stayed within eyeshot or, if a conversation was confidential, waited outside the room. But either way, he was always on alert.

On the surface, it was difficult to see why Luca would require an around-the-clock security detail. Sure, he clearly had money, and he clearly had powerful friends. But his lifestyle was closer to that of a Florida retiree than a mobster or politician.

He was quiet and aloof, and had a way of looking at you that made you feel like he could see right through every flimsy layer of your soul. He rarely gave praise, but when he did the feeling was so intoxicating that Armie was happy to do whatever he asked.

There were times, though, when Armie caught a different side of him: when he got a call that displeased him, or when a guest said something just a little too careless. It was like a door would slam shut behind his eyes, and his expression would take on a strange, mechanical quality.

Frankly, it gave Armie the fucking creeps.

*

After nearly a month, Armie found out exactly why Luca had hired him.

They were on the highway, driving to Anaheim. Luca was on the phone in the back seat.

“Yes, I know,” Luca was saying, with the air of someone long-suffering. “Yes. Wear the suit he bought you, and wait until after dinner to talk business...”

There was a partition in the car, but Luca rarely used it. Armie wondered who he was talking to. Another friend? A proxy, maybe?

“You worry too much, my dear. He will be happy to see you—”

There was a loud, muffled pop, and the car lurched to the side. Armie fought to keep them from veering into the next lane, just managing to pull over on the small shoulder. He was breathing heavily when they finally came to a standstill. In the back seat, Luca still had the phone to his ear.

“No, no, nothing to worry about,” he was saying calmly.

As soon as Armie stepped out of the car it was obvious that the front right tire had blown. He felt a tingle run down his spine, and pulled out his phone, dialing quickly. While it rang, he scanned the speeding traffic around them.

“Operator,” said a cool voice on the other end.

“Bluebird, I need an alternate vehicle to my current location.”

“Affirmative.”

The line went dead.

On the highway, cars continued to roar past, perilously close. Armie opened the door and slid quickly back inside.

“Flat tire?” Luca asked.

“Yeah. Another car’s on its way.”

Armie stared out the window. His heartbeat was elevated—not much, but enough. He let out a small breath of relief when he saw the second car pull up behind them after a few minutes.

A black SUV. Standard. Armie jumped out to greet the driver, and heard Luca follow suit.

The man walking towards them was dressed in a sharp black suit and wore black gloves. “I can take it from here,” he said with a curt nod, then held out his hand for the keys.

There was that tingle again.

Armie’s eyes flicked to the new car. Behind him, Luca’s footsteps stopped. The man in front of him tilted his head. And then two things happened in quick succession: Luca ducked; and Armie and the new driver both reached into their jackets.

The crack of gunfire was swallowed by the din of the highway.

*

To Luca’s dismay, they spent the rest of the evening at the police station. The cops asked them both the same questions over and over, then took them aside separately and asked them again. “Ridiculous,” Luca kept saying as they were trotted in and out of interrogation rooms; “absolutely absurd.”

Though the would-be assassin—a man named Esteban García—had been wearing a kevlar vest, the impact of Armie’s shot had been enough to drop him to the ground, which gave Armie just enough of an advantage to wrestle him into submission.

The good part was that the driver had been alone, so it hadn’t taken much to contain the threat until the real driver—and the police—finally showed up. The bad part was that the guy’s aim was a little better than Armie would have liked.

Armie stared down at the thick gauze packed around his upper arm. The blood seeping through the bandage looked black under the fluorescent lights of the police station.

There would be an investigation. More questions. But Luca had a good lawyer, he said. Armie wouldn’t have to worry about anything.

That wasn’t it. What about the assassin? Would there be other attempts?

Luca waved away his concerns impatiently. “It is taken care of,” he said. “Not the first, not the last. But we will be ready, won’t we?”

Armie certainly hoped so.

*

Luca insisted that he take the next week off, paid, and because he could barely lift his arm, Armie agreed.

He’d been living out of a hotel since his whole fleeing the country plan had been cut short, so he used the time off to look for a new apartment. That was kind of fun, because with what Luca was paying him he had more money than he knew what to do with. He found a nice furnished loft about ten minutes’ walk from the beach, and spent the rest of the week exploring the neighbourhood and its assorted bars and watering holes.

Of course, that only provided so much entertainment, and by the time his vacation was almost done he was itching for something to do.

Maybe it was a bad sign he enjoyed his job as much as he did. After all, most of it was just standing around doing nothing. But, truthfully, he liked feeling useful. And there was something about Luca, too, that he couldn’t help being drawn to.

*

Armie’s shoulder was almost back to full mobility when he knocked on Luca’s front door the following week. Jean answered as usual, looking somewhat harried.

As soon as Armie stepped inside he was greeted by a pleasant tune wafting down from somewhere higher in the house.

“In the study,” Jean said when he shot her a quizzical look.

The music grew louder as Armie got closer. He hesitated for a brief moment before he knocked on the study door.

The music stopped.

“Come in.” A male voice, but not Luca’s. Armie entered, and his eyes immediately fell on the piano in the corner. A boy sat behind it, hands poised above the keyboard, with a man Armie didn’t recognize standing over his shoulder. The kid was young—couldn’t have been older than 18—and he was wearing a light blue shirt that was about three sizes too big. His hair was long and dark, and the thick curls fell into his eyes whenever he looked down at the keys.

“You’re early here,” the man was saying, pointing to a sheet of music in front of them. The boy’s brows were furrowed in concentration. “Again,” the man said, and the boy resumed playing. Both of them ignored Armie’s sudden appearance, which would have been fine if he’d had any idea what was going on. He waited until the the kid stopped playing again.

“Is Mr. Guadagnino here?”

The kid frowned at him.

“You’re the new bodyguard, right? Hammer?”

“Yes.”

“Armie Hammer.”

Armie decided to play dumb, and flashed him a wide smile. “Yes, sir.”

The kid squinted at him, then turned to the man at his shoulder. “That’s it for today, Alberto.”

The man nodded. “Thursday, same time?”

“Mm.”

Alberto left with a polite nod, and then the kid was up and walking toward him. Now that he was standing, Armie could see he was wearing a pair of rolled up jean shorts and nothing else under the baggy blue t-shirt, which was fully unbuttoned, exposing his thin chest.

“Timothée,” the kid said, extending a hand. He said it strangely, like Timo-tay. The kid tilted his head slightly when Armie took his hand, and Armie saw his eyes travel to up to his shoulder.

“How’s the arm?”

“Much better, thank you,” Armie replied. The kid wasn’t saying anything, just staring at him, and Armie cleared his throat. “Is, uh. Is Luca around?”

“Luca,” Timothée echoed. “Not Mr. Guadagnino anymore?”

“Mr. Guadagnino, then.”

“Signor Guadagnino had to step out. You’re with me until he gets back.”

The kid brushed past him and sat down at Luca’s desk with a flop. As Armie watched, he swung his feet up and leaned so far back in the chair it was a miracle he didn’t fall over.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Armie said evenly.

“Weird.”

Armie hesitated, then fixed his face into what he hoped was a pleasant smile. “Do you mind if I make a call?”

Timothée flourished a hand in the direction of the door.

*

“Operator.”

“Bluebird, my check is MIA. Please advise.”

“One moment.”

Armie heard the faint tapping of fingers on a keyboard.

“Your check left jurisdiction last night. He has arranged alternative protection. New check is Timothée Chalamet. He’ll provide further information.”

Tim-o-tay Sha-la-may.

“Noted.”

So that fucker’s actually French, Armie thought as he hung up the phone. He took a moment to to collect himself, then stepped back in the study. The kid had disappeared, but the white double doors to the balcony were open and the curtains were swaying gently in the warm breeze.

Outside, Timothée was leaning on the railing. Armie had been out here once or twice with Luca, who always insisted on offering him a cigar. He wished he had a cigar right now.

“Sorry about that,” Armie said. “You’re not what I was expecting.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Timothée said. Armie couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not, so he said nothing. After a moment, Timothée turned around and folded his arms.

“So are you just going to follow me around the house?”

“If you’d like.”

“Is that what you do with Luca?”

“Sometimes. Usually I wait outside the room, or in the car.”

Timothée was staring at him. Armie looked past his ear, out to the ocean. It was important not to seem confrontational.

“That’s weird,” Timothée said simply. “I mean, do really you think someone’s going to, like, snipe me through the window or something?”

“Anything’s possible,” Armie said, and Timothée’s eyebrows shot up. “This is a level five assignment,” he explained, “which means I have to be prepared for almost anything, up to and including snipers outside the window.”

“Level five out of how many levels?”

“Five.” Armie met his gaze, and immediately regretted it. His eyes were deep and dark and sleepy, framed by thick eyelashes that looked almost too perfect to be real. He tried to swallow away the sudden dryness in his mouth. Why was this kid looking at him like he wanted Armie to take him to bed right then and there?

But, as Armie quickly discovered, Timothée looked at everyone like that. It was just his thing—fuck-me eyes, or whatever. Timothée got changed and Armie drove him out to a mansion in the Valley, and when a gaggle of plasticine women flocked out to meet him, he looked at them that way too. Sensual. He didn’t mind getting close or holding anyone’s gaze as they fawned over him, petting his hair and smoothing their hands across his shoulders.

Armie had planned to wait in the car, but when he hung back Timothée shot him a puzzled look, so he followed the group out to the sprawling patio behind the house. Though he declined offers of mimosas, after some cajoling he did eventually accept a lemonade, which he sipped as he stood a ways off in the shade.

Armie generally made a point not to listen to his clients’ conversations or speculate on their personal lives, but he couldn’t help the fierce curiosity that tugged at his brain as he watched Timothée banter back and forth with this group of Real Housewives over mimosas and brunch.

How did they know each other? Were these Luca’s friends? Armie had only seen one or two of them at other functions. When the subject came up in conversation, Armie couldn’t help listening.

“And how is dear Luca?” said a woman with dark hair and olive skin, leaning in close and lowering her voice. “It was quite the shock, I imagine.”

Timothée’s smiled blandly. “Honestly, he barely noticed. He’s mostly just annoyed about the investigation.”

The women all nodded. “Men!” sighed the dark-haired woman, throwing Timothée a knowing wink. Was Armie imagining the look of irritation that flashed across his face?

“But thank god he had that one,” the woman went on, sweeping a hand in Armie’s direction. More nods; titters of approval. “Such good instincts! So tall! And handsome, too…”

The other women laughed uproariously when Armie flashed them a wide, toothy smile.

*

After brunch came a meeting with an associate of Luca’s—a man named Guillermo—at a nearby hotel.

Timothée had brought a suit jacket with him for the occasion, and he put it on in the parking lot of the hotel, smoothing down his hair and studying his reflection in the tinted window of the car.

“I’m 22, you know,” Timothée muttered when he saw Armie watching him.

“Oh,” was all Armie could say.

Timothée turned from side to side, puffing out his chest, then deflating it with a frown.

“The jacket helps, right?”

Armie stood back, scanning Timothée up and down. He was wearing a light pink shirt and black jeans under the blue blazer, and while the structured jacket made his shoulders look a bit broader, the fitted cut only highlighted his lanky build.

When Armie didn’t respond immediately, Timothée sighed. “Oh, fuck it,” he said, then turned on his heel.

“I was going to agree with you!” Armie called out after him, fighting back a smile.

*

Guillermo was an odd man: eccentric, with thick round glasses that didn’t quite fit his face, and that made his eyes look twice their actual size. He always looked directly through Armie, which Armie had grown used to at Luca’s regular biweekly appointment. And now here Timothée was in Luca’s place.

The restaurant was almost empty (3pm on a Tuesday wasn’t exactly rush hour), and Timothée and Guillermo took a seat in a small alcove at the back. Armie stood nearby, just out of earshot.

At first he wasn’t sure if he was imagining it, but after a few minutes he was certain: something was different about Timothée. At brunch he’d been relaxed, smiling often, and in the parking lot he’d been twitchy and nervous. But now his demeanor had shifted alarmingly—he held himself with poise; a cool kind of confidence that, if not for their exchange outside only minutes earlier, Armie would have sworn was genuine. He seemed taller, and—yes—older. His movements were easy but powerful, commanding attention and respect. Maybe it was the jacket.

Then again, maybe not, Armie thought as he followed Timothée out of the restaurant exactly one hour later. He seemed to shake himself as soon as they stepped outside—he sighed, rolled his shoulders, and by the time they were back at the car he flopped into the back seat with all the grace of an exhausted puppy.

“I’m starving,” he sighed. “Let’s get some food.”

“Where to?” Armie asked as he pulled out of the parking lot.

“Whatever.”

Armie contemplated the question as he drove. In the backseat, Timothée had pulled out his phone. When he was looking down like that, his eyelashes looked even longer. Armie didn’t realize how closely he’d been watching him until Timothée’s eyes flicked up and locked with his. He just caught a glimpse of Timothée’s smirk before he looked away.

*

“You don’t talk a lot, do you?”

They were sitting in the car with the windows rolled down and the ocean breeze wafting in. Armie took a bite of his hamburger (In-N-Out, double double) and looked at Timothée in the rearview mirror. The kid was sprawled out across the backseat, staring out the window and picking at his fries.

“Not really my job,” Armie said.

“But like… you must get curious, right?”

“Not my job to be curious.”

Timothée shot him an exasperated look. “Yeah, but you’re human, aren’t you? God, if I were you I’d have a million questions.”

Armie shrugged. “I never said I was human. And you kind of just shut it off. Most of the time it’s easy.”

“Most of the time,” Timothée echoed. “Hm. Well, I do have questions.”

“Oh you do, huh?”

“Yeah.” Timothée leaned forward so that his head was poking through the partition. “Number one: when do you sleep?”

Armie frowned. “You know I’m not with you 24-hours-a-day, right?”

The amount of time that Timothée hesitated told Armie that no, he probably hadn’t known that.

“This is a 14/7 assignment,” Armie went on. “14 hours a day, 7 days a week. And those 14 hours aren’t always the same: most of the time I get to Luca’s at ten and leave by midnight, but sometimes I’m needed earlier or later. Then sometimes he tells me to fuck off after four pm. It’s flexible.”

“Huh.”

“There’s another guard on shift the rest of the time. Most of the time that’s Nick—have you met him yet? He’s a buddy of mine from Iraq. Good guy.”

“You were in Iraq?”

Armie shifted in his seat so that he was staring at Timothée straight on. He’d stuck his head fully through the window, and Armie tried to strategically press himself back against the car door to increase the distance between them.

“I joined in 2005. After 9/11 I wanted to do something, so I waited until I turned 18, then I did two tours in Iraq.”

“Shit,” Timothée said under his breath. “So you’re probably like, former CIA or something, too, right? Special Forces? Counter-terrorism?”

“Classified,” Armie said. (It wasn’t classified, really; it was just that Armie didn’t feel like reciting his whole damn military career to a nosy kid.)

Timothée flopped back with a sigh. “Sometimes I wish I’d done something like that, you know? Something people would take seriously.”

Armie finished his burger, crumpled the wrapper and tossed it into the passenger seat.

*

They were halfway back to Luca’s when Timothée’s phone buzzed. He picked it up and immediately started speaking rapid French.

“Esther’s here,” he said as soon as he hung up, dangling the name in front of Armie like bait. He was waiting for Armie to ask, waiting for him to demonstrate some of that aforementioned curiosity. Well, too bad. Armie nodded stoically, as if he knew exactly who Esther was.

Esther, it turned out, was Timothée’s cousin, originally from Paris but who was now studying Anthropology at Columbia.

“Enchanté,” she said when she shook Armie’s hand, then stood on her tiptoes to kiss him lightly on both cheeks. She smiled. “Thank you for what you have done for my uncle,” she said in a thick French accent.

My uncle. Cousins. So Timothée was family after all, despite the different surname. Luca's nephew, perhaps?

Armie could see the resemblance between Timothée and Esther: she was about his age with dark, wavy hair and soulful eyes.

Armie smiled and dipped his head. “Just doing my job, miss.” He ignored the slightly exasperated, slightly disgusted look Timothée threw him at the cliche.

Armie left them to talk on the patio while he did a quick sweep of the yard and checked the security cameras and alarms.

So he might have said that he was too professional to be curious, but frankly, that was a lie where Timothée—and Luca—were concerned. As far as Armie knew, Luca had no children, so it would make sense for him to pick a second-in-command—and eventual heir—from within his own family. Was Timothée that heir?

When Armie finished his perimeter check, he took his place by the door of the patio. He could hear snippets of their conversation from there, not that he could understand it. Every so often he thought he noticed Esther glance at him and smile in a secretive sort of way.

It was difficult to stay alert in times like these: Luca’s house was on the edge of a hill, looking out onto a small stretch of scrub brush and seashore. Beyond that was the ocean, which lapped calmly at the sand and the feet of the occasional dog walker or beach bum who wandered past. It was early spring, and the air was filled with birdsong and the whirr of crickets underneath the musical cadence of Timothée and Esther’s conversation.

The sun had just slid into the horizon when Esther finally stood and stretched.

“Let’s go out,” she said in English, nudging Timothée with her foot. He was sprawled out on a lawn chair, and he squinted up at her with an expression that Armie couldn’t quite read.

“Il peut venir aussi, non?” she said, her eyes flicking to Armie.

Timothée rolled his eyes. “Bien sûr, il doit venir.”

When Timothée made no move to get up, Esther seized his arm. “Come on, Timmy!”

Armie couldn’t hide the shocked bark of laughter that burst from his lips. “Wait, Timmy?”

The kid was on his feet so fast that Armie didn’t have time to wipe the gleeful smile off his face, so he didn’t bother—just stood there smirking while Timothée—no, Timmy—looked at him like he wished he’d burst into flames.

At first Esther seemed confused, but then she grinned broadly.

“Ah! Yes! Timmy,” she said, pointing squarely at Timothée’s chest.

“Timmy!” Armie echoed delightedly.

Esther cackled, jabbing her finger in his chest even as he tried to bat her away. “Timmy! Timmy!”

*

From then on, Timothée became Timmy, and no amount of tailored jackets could change that. It wasn’t like Armie ever really said his name out loud, anyways—if he ever addressed the kid in front of a business associate, he called him Mr. Chalamet. Professional. But in his head, whenever Armie thought about him, he was Timmy.

It suited him. No matter how seriously he wanted to be taken, there was a wiry, youthful kind of energy about him that Armie simply could not reconcile with the stuffy, French pronunciation of his name.

Maybe (probably) that was unprofessional. But truthfully, Armie had a hard time treating Timmy like just another client. Then again, Timmy didn’t exactly treat him like a bodyguard.

He talked to Armie almost incessantly. Sometimes Armie got the sense he was thinking out loud, using Armie as a kind of living diary, and it wouldn’t have been the first time—he’d had clients before who would ignore his presence altogether, mumbling to themselves like he was a bathroom mirror and not flesh-and-blood person. But then Timmy would turn to him expectantly, or ask him outright:

What do you think?

Isn’t that weird?

Did that guy seem like he was telling the truth?

With any other client, Armie would have kept his answers short. Brusque. Professional. But Timmy wasn’t any other client.

For one thing: his eyes. The were fucking insane—magic or something. Maybe the kid was part witch, or demon. Hell, for all Armie knew he was a vampire, blessed with ethereal beauty, eternal life, and the ability to make anyone tell the truth. When he looked at Armie like that—earnest and open, like he had absolutely nothing to hide, like he trusted Armie with his life, with all of himself completely—Armie answered every single question like he was in a church confessional. Truthfully, he would have done anything the kid asked.

It didn’t help that Timmy was funny, too—he had a dry sense of humour, but he wasn’t overly cynical. He liked rap music and Bach equally and unironically. And he was young enough that he wasn’t jaded; he saw the world as full of possibilities. Every new person was a new potential friend or ally; a stepping stone in his path to greatness. Because, as Armie soon found out, greatness was always the goal.

“At my age, Luca was already working for Bertolucci,” he was fond of saying. At my age, at my age…

“At your age, you’re working for Luca,” Esther pointed out once, which only made Timmy roll his eyes.

Timmy’s relationship with Luca seemed to be somewhere on the spectrum of mentor and father figure, and while he clearly loved and admired the man greatly, it was also a point of contention.

“I don’t want people to look at me and think I belong to him,” Timmy explained once at the midpoint of a very long car ride. And, as much as Armie wanted to reassure him that that wasn’t the case, he couldn’t be sure: as Timmy’s bodyguard, he heard things that other people didn’t, and not all of it painted Timmy in such a great light.

Too young. Too inexperienced. Too French. Just a pretty face. What is that Guadagnino doing?

So went the whispers, and Armie began to feel more protective of the kid than he had any right to be.

Of course, being protective was his job, and he wanted to think it was simply an extension of his professional sensibilities. Sometimes, though, he felt like he was watching himself from across the room—watching himself return Timmy’s smile just a little too brightly, hold his gaze just a little too long; watching himself look wistfully after the kid when he thought no one was looking. It was like a fucking car crash. Stop, he wanted to say, what the fuck are you doing? Wanted to step out of his body and shake himself by the shoulders.

For one thing, it was pathetic. Armie was 31, for fuck’s sake, and here he was getting all weird about a kid who could play a high schooler on TV? But for another (more important) thing, Timmy wasn’t just any kid—he was Luca Guadagnino’s nephew. And, as time went on, it became more and more apparent that Armie’s first impression was correct: Timmy was Luca’s second in command. His heir.

Luca had been gone for three weeks and counting, and Timmy had been running the show in his stead. He met with Jean every Monday to talk about the household. He schmoozed at all of Luca’s usual soirees, and even hosted some of his own. He met with Guillermo every other week, with Jim almost daily, and a revolving roster of other men Armie could barely keep track of in between that. When he wasn’t meeting with men in suits he was entertaining or being entertained by an endless procession of women who Armie could only describe as “mob wives.” And when he wasn’t doing that, he was practicing piano or reading or going out with Esther, who was sometimes by his side and sometimes not. Sometimes Armie wondered how he didn’t crack under the pressure.

At any rate, Armie couldn’t fuck him. Nevermind the fact that it went against all kinds of professional regulations. Nevermind that Armie was almost a full decade older than him. Nevermind that the kid wasn’t even interested.

Because, all those things aside, fucking the nephew and heir presumptive of a powerful, wealthy, and extremely well-connected titan of organized crime was simply a bad idea.

It just was.