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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.

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, not fucking Timmy proved to be a little more difficult than Armie had anticipated.

“Do you work out?”

Armie glanced in the rearview mirror. Timmy stared back at him, eyes focused and intense.

“It’s kinda part of the job.”

Timmy hummed thoughtfully and looked away. “I think I should work out,” he said.

“You could stand to bulk up a little bit.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Oh?”

“The other night when we were out at the Grind and you punched that guy—” Armie heard Timmy slam his fist into his palm, miming the action—“I started thinking. I want to be able to do that, you know? Stand up for myself. Or other people.”

The Grind was a club in Hollywood, known for loud music, expensive cocktails, and lavish theme nights. A few days prior, Esther had insisted that Timmy take her to 80s Night. Which, of course, meant that Armie took them both to 80s Night.

Esther had really gotten into it—big hair, neon jewellry, high-waisted acid wash—and while Timmy was reluctant at first, he’d eventually accepted his lot and dressed up in a pair of old ripped jeans, a vintage band t-shirt, and a neon windbreaker that Armie was pretty sure he’d dug out of the back of Luca’s closet. Armie had been uncooperative (to say the least), but Timmy and Esther were eventually able to force him into a boxy denim jacket and a ratty old muscle T that was two sizes too small.

Armie usually sat at the bar or stood nearby sipping a soda while Esther and Timmy danced, but this time they’d managed to drag him out on the floor for a particularly good song. And, as awkward as Armie felt in the middle of a crowd of sweaty people dressed in pleather, his presence came in handy when a guy nearby decided he wanted a dance with Esther—whether she wanted to or not. So, Armie had punched him.

The guy—being drunk and an asshole—had fought back, but it took almost no effort at all for Armie to twist his arms behind his back and escort him to the bouncers waiting at the door.

“You want to learn how to throw a punch?”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe i could show you sometime.”

“What? Really?”

Armie shrugged nonchalantly. “Yeah, why not?”

“That would be awesome. Seriously.”

Armie smiled. Why did the eagerness in Timmy’s voice send a thrill down his spine?

*

For the next three days, all Timmy wanted to talk about was boxing. He watched countless tutorials online and kept quizzing Armie about different moves, chokes, and holds. But unfortunately for Timmy (and Armie’s sanity), his schedule was so packed that it took three full days before they finally found a time to spar.

Timmy practically bounded circles around Armie as they walked down to the beach. Armie had given him the boxing gloves to hold while he cradled a six pack like a baby. (“I thought you didn’t drink on the job?” Timmy had asked slyly when Armie had pulled the booze out of the trunk of the car.

“This is an exception.”)

They found a nearly-empty stretch of the shore and he set it down gently, nestling it in the sand while Timmy swung his arms and legs around wildly in what seemed to be an entirely random series of movements.

“The fuck are you doing?”

“Dynamic stretching,” Timmy said seriously, and Armie had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing.

Armie had ditched the linen suit for a pair of shorts and a loose T-shirt; Timmy was dressed similarly. Once they both had gloves on, Armie started out with the basics.

“Feet here; hands up,” he said, and Timmy imitated his stance “Further apart and a little back,” Armie instructed. He leaned forward and nudged Timmy’s feet with his own. They’d kicked their shoes off into the sand, and he tried to ignore how much he liked the feeling of Timmy’s bare skin under his own.

Timmy was a quick study. Armie didn’t have a foam pad, so he held his hands up for Timmy to hit.

“Harder,” Armie said calmly.

“I don’t want to hurt you.”

Armie just laughed at him. “Don’t be a fucking pussy.”

“Fuck. You,” Timmy growled between hits.

Shit, he was like the Energizer Bunny, Armie thought as he watched Timmy land punch after punch with all the force he could muster.

“Don’t use your body so much,” Armie said. “And get lower. No, lower.” He put his hands on Timmy’s shoulders and pushed him down until his knees were bent properly. “Keep your shoulders in one place. A jab should be light—you don’t want to leave yourself exposed.”

Armie stepped back and demonstrated. “See? If I come at you like this—” he swung with his whole body, leaning forward exaggeratedly— “see how off balance I am? I’m leaving myself open.”

Armie righted himself and stepped closer. “A jab is a small movement. Your centre of gravity stays on top of your feet. Like this.” He demonstrated again.

Timmy stepped forward, again imitating Armie’s movements. His brow was furrowed in concentration, and Armie was reminded of the first time he’d seen the kid, hunched over the piano. Had it only been weeks ago?

“Better,” Armie said as he watched.

They worked on blocking for a bit after that, then moved on to basic holds, something Armie would have done with anyone at a beginner level.

“Okay. What you’re going to encounter most often will probably be some form of chokehold, usually from behind.”

Armie stepped in front of Timmy and grabbed his arm, guiding it up and around his neck. Timmy was only a few inches shorter than him, so the position wasn’t too awkward.

“Other arm up. Grab your bicep,” he explained, and Timmy followed his direction. “Good. Elbow should be here, see? Under my chin.”

“Okay,” Timmy said uncertainly, his voice loud and close in Armie’s ear.

“A little tighter—you’re not going to hurt me,” Armie said with a breathless chuckle. He coughed a little when Timmy did as he was told, fighting back the throb of arousal that coursed through him. Shit. Maybe this hadn’t been the best idea after all…

“Good. So, maybe you’re trying to kidnap me. You sneak up on me like a little bitch and try to drag me away.”

“Okay.”

“Try,” Armie instructed, and Timmy started to shuffle backward. In one fluid movement Armie ducked, grabbed Timmy’s leg from behind and picked him up, breaking the hold. Shit, the kid weighed nothing at all, Armie thought as he set him gently on the ground.

Timmy didn’t get up right away—he sat for a second, stunned, before he jumped to his feet.

They got into position again, and this time Timmy didn’t hold back when he squeezed Armie’s throat.

“I’m going to do it again, but slowly. Pay attention,” Armie said. He felt Timmy nod. “So first you’re going to step to the side. Most of the time I go to the side closest to this arm.” He tapped Timmy’s elbow. “I’m gonna go behind you—” He ducked down. “grab your leg, here—” He gripped the back of Timmy’s thigh firmly. “And then just kind of… fall back.” Armie leaned back, throwing him off balance. “Or, if the guy is a fucking twig, you can just—” Armie stood up, holding Timmy bridal style.

There was that stunned look again. Armie grinned.

“I’m not a fucking twig,” Timmy muttered as Armie set him down.

“Now you try. C’mere.”

Timmy stepped forward obediently and turned around, and Armie was overcome by a powerful rush of adrenaline. It came out of nowhere, clouding his vision, overwhelming him entirely. Fuck. He hoped the kid couldn’t feel the deep breath he took to collect himself before he brought an arm across Timmy’s throat.

“So, I’m trying to kidnap you,” he said in Timmy’s ear. Armie felt him swallow—felt his adam’s apple bob up and down as he increased the pressure on his throat just a little bit, just to the point that he knew it would be uncomfortable. Timmy shifted and brought his hands up, pulling a little at the arm around his neck, but Armie didn’t let up.

“Tap if you want me to let go,” Armie reminded him. “Now, like I showed you.”

Timmy didn’t move. He was breathing heavily: Armie could feel his chest rising and falling rapidly—could see his eyelashes fluttering out of the corner of his eye.

“Duck,” Armie ordered him. Timmy shifted again, but still didn’t move. His hand was tight on the arm around his throat, and Armie had a sudden vision of driving Timmy to the hospital with bruises on his neck; of trying to explain to Bluebird exactly how he had single-handedly taken out his own goddamn check. Shit—he did not need another incident on his hands.

Armie let go quickly, and Timmy stumbled a little, getting his footing, before he sunk to the ground with his knees to his chest.

“You okay?” Armie asked, crouching down beside him. “Listen, I’m sorry if I—”

“Fine,” Timmy croaked. “‘M fine, I just… sorry,” he said breathlessly, not meeting Armie’s eyes.

“We can work on something else, if you want…”

“No, just…” Timmy looked up at him. “Sit with me.”

Armie flopped down beside him. “You need to tap if you feel like that, okay? You scared me.”

“Yeah, sorry.” He was still breathing hard and his face was flushed. Armie laughed.

“You’re kinda out of shape, huh?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Luca doesn’t really believe in exercise.”

“What?”

Timmy accepted the beer that Armie handed him gratefully and took a long sip. “He says it’s a waste of time.”

“And playing piano isn’t?”

Timmy shrugged. “Luca says culture is important.”

Armie took a long gulp from his own beer. “You always do what Luca says?”

“Not always.” A smirk. Conspiratory. Armie liked that expression on him.

He looked out over the ocean. The sun was low in the sky, casting an orange-pink glow over the sand. Save for someone swiping a metal detector up over the ground about a hundred yards away, they were alone.

“Do you like me?” Timmy was looking down at the ground, shuffling his feet in the sand.

“What kind of question is that?”

Shrug.

“Sure. You’re a cool kid. Got a good head on your shoulders.”

Armie peered at him. There was something he wasn’t getting. As if on cue, Timmy turned to look at him—turned the full force of those fucking eyes on him—and stared into his soul. Armie’s heart skipped into double time.

“Is that really how you think of me?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Do I like you?” Armie echoed. Then, more to himself than to Timmy, “Do I like you…” Out across the water, seagulls were circling. He shook his head and sighed. “Shit, Timmy. I’d do anything for you.”

Something in Timmy’s eyes shifted—impatience turned to triumph, desperation turned to determination. Armie only had a split second to register the change before Timmy leaned over and kissed him.

Fuck.

Before he could stop himself he was kissing Timmy back, hard and desperate. Alarm bells were blaring in his head but he ignored them, relishing the way Timmy moaned into his mouth when Armie reached up and cupped his jaw. It was only when Timmy started to crawl into his lap that he finally came to his senses.

“Hey—whoa. Let’s… Okay, we can’t do this.”

“What? Why?” Timmy was breathless, half sitting on him with their legs intertwined.

“Because, we just can’t,” Armie said. It took everything he had to push him away.

Timmy groaned and flopped back onto the sand.

“It’s not that I don’t want… that. Believe me. It’s just...” Armie sighed, trying to find the right words. “Look, it’s just a bad idea.”

He stood up, trying to shake the adrenaline out of his limbs. Timmy followed his lead.

“A bad idea,” Timmy repeated, and took a step closer to Armie. He squared his shoulders. Armie put a hand on his chest, keeping him at arm’s length, but Timmy batted it away. He put his hands up and sank down into a fighting stance just like Armie had showed him.

Armie dodged the first jab, but the second caught him in the arm. “A bad idea,” Timmy said again.

“What are you doing?”

Timmy threw another punch. He was using his whole body again, and Armie dodged it easily, returning the attack with a light hit to Timmy’s ribs. Timmy swore under his breath and curled away, which made it easy for Armie to anticipate his next move—he sidestepped Timmy’s fist and caught it close to his chest, holding Timmy’s shoulder at the same time so his arm was bent backwards uncomfortably.

“Let it go,” Armie said, increasing the pressure just a little bit. Timmy gritted his teeth and tried to swat at him with his free arm, so Armie grabbed it and twisted it behind Timmy’s back. “Let it go,” he said in Timmy’s ear, but the kid just struggled fruitlessly.

“You’re not gonna get out,” Armie said. “And I won’t let you go until you tap. C’mon, just—”

Timmy pitched forward, then brought his head back with all his might. Armie let go just in time to sidestep the headbutt. Timmy’s next punch landed on the side of the head. It wasn’t very hard, but Armie couldn’t stop his own knee-jerk reaction—he swung automatically, catching Timmy full in the face. If he’d still been wearing his gloves, it would have only stunned him. But Armie wasn’t wearing his gloves, and the kid dropped like a sack of potatoes.

“Oh fuck.”

*

Ten minutes later, Armie was behind the wheel trying not to panic as blood streamed from Timmy’s nose.

“Fuck. I’m sorry. Fuck.”

“It’s fine,” Timmy said thickly. He was using his shirt to staunch the blood, and Armie was struggling to keep his eyes on the road.

“It’s not fine. I broke your fucking nose.”

Timmy took the fabric away from his face and squinted at himself in the mirror. He had climbed into the passenger’s seat without asking, and Armie hadn’t bothered making him get in the back.

“It’s not broken,” Timmy said as blood poured freely down his face.

“Like fuck it’s not.”

“Doesn’t hurt,” Timmy said, pressing a new corner of his shirt to his face. Seriously, relax. And please tell me you’re not taking me to the hospital.”

“Do I look like a fucking idiot? I may be bad at my job—terrible, in fact—but I do have some sense of self preservation.”

Timmy was quiet. “Are we going back to Luca’s?”

“We should,” Armie said sternly. “I should take you back there and tell Jean everything. Then she can tell Luca, or you can, and he can fire me. Which is what I deserve.”

“But you’re not going to.”

It wasn’t a question. Armie sighed again.

“Look. My place is just down the road. You can get cleaned up. Then… we’ll see.”

When Armie snuck a glance at Timmy, he was pretty sure the kid was smirking again.

*

Armie’s loft was in a new, trendy building just up the road from the ocean. By the time they got inside, Timmy’s nose had basically stopped bleeding. Armie grabbed him some ice from the freezer anyways, and Timmy pressed it to his face as he looked around the small apartment.

“Nice place,” he said. He picked up one of the small wire decorations that sat on the shelf above the sofa and held it up questioningly.

“Came with the house,” Armie said lamely. Timmy pointed to the painting in the hallway—an abstract piece, full of blues and oranges and white spatter that looked like ocean spray. “Yeah, that too.”

Armie left him to look around some more while he grabbed a shirt and a towel from his closet upstairs. When he came back, Timmy was sprawled out across the sofa.

“Here,” Armie said, holding out the towel. Instead of taking it, Timmy sat up and pulled off his shirt with one hand, then dropped it unceremoniously to the floor, all the while keeping bundle of ice pressed firmly to his face.

“You’re a fucking mess,” Armie observed as Timmy started wiping the dried blood from his chest. “How’s it feel?”

“Fine.”

“Let me see.”

Timmy took the ice away from his face and tilted his head up to the ceiling. Armie sat beside him and inspected the damage, trying not to think about how good Timmy was at following orders.

Armie pressed his fingertips lightly to either side of his nose, feeling for any strange bumps or soft spots. Some swelling, but otherwise normal.

“Does that hurt?” Armie asked, and pressed a little harder.

“Not really.”

“Probably not broken then.” He kept prodding, running his fingers up and down, wiping away bits of blood here and there. He tried not to stare too much at Timmy’s lips (slightly parted, a little bit chapped), or his eyelashes (impossibly long where they rested against his cheeks) or the soft curve of his throat (white, still a few flecks of dried blood), but when Timmy cracked an eye open and their eyes locked he realized just how spectacularly he had failed.

Armie felt a hand at his waistband.

“Timmy,” he said, trying for stern and missing.

“Armie,” Timmy said back. The hand slipped up under his shirt, and Armie closed his eyes. He knew there were reasons this shouldn’t be happening. There were reasons why Timmy shouldn’t be so close to him; shouldn’t be pressing his face to Armie’s neck like that, shouldn’t be trailing wet kisses up his jaw, to his ear, then back to his lips. There were reasons, certainly, that Armie shouldn’t kiss him back; shouldn’t enjoy the coppery taste of his mouth as much as he did. But in all honesty, he couldn’t remember a single one.

You are going to get fucking murdered, a small voice in the back of his head supplied.

Armie broke away with a frustrated grunt. “Listen,” he said, “we—” Timmy cut him off with another kiss. The hand under his shirt slid lower, and Armie felt him fumbling with the drawstring of his shorts.

“Tim—”

“Oh my god, shut up,” Timmy said into his mouth, and any residual reasons Armie might’ve had vanished entirely when he felt Timmy’s hand around his cock.

Armie liked the way Timmy kissed: hard and wet; more than a little sloppy. He certainly didn’t seem unpractised though, judging by the way he worked Armie’s cock with his hand. Without warning Timmy broke away, breathing hard, and hell, if he’d had fuck-me eyes before that was nothing to how he looked now—cheeks flushed, lips parted, eyes bright and heavy with desire. Armie cupped his jaw with both hands and kissed him again, relishing the way muscles and sinew moved under his fingertips. This is enough, Armie thought vaguely. If they did nothing else for the rest of their lives, just kissing Timmy was enough.

Armie groaned frustration when he pulled away again. Then Timmy slid off the couch and kneeled between Armie’s legs.

“Whoa, hey, you don’t have to—fuck—”

Timmy’s mouth was warm and impossibly soft when he wrapped his lips around Armie’s cock, and Armie bit back a moan. He sucked the same way he kissed—messy and desperate, like there was nothing he wanted more; like if he stopped they’d both die.

Fuck, he was good at this.

Armie watched him. The look of concentration was back again—eyes closed, brows furrowed. He reached down and tangled his hands in Timmy’s hair, brushing it out of his eyes. Armie’d never really touched Timmy’s hair before, he realized through the fog of pleasure clouding his vision. His curls were soft, almost baby fine; dark and thick. He seized a fistfull and gave an experimental tug—just enough to make Timmy go faster—and the little groan that Timmy gave at the pressure was almost enough to send Armie over the edge.

He cursed himself for not preparing for this. How long had it been now? Christ, he’d barely even jerked off since that week when his arm was healing, let alone found enough time to get laid, and his cock was so sensitive that every small touch sent little fiery shocks of pleasure through his whole body. He was so lost in it that he didn’t even notice how much he was moving his hips— thrusting into Timmy’s mouth—until the kid choked and coughed a little bit. He didn’t pull back though—just kept going, took Armie’s cock even deeper into the back of his throat.

“Oh fuck, I’m going to—”

Armie saw white and then he was coming hard, hands still tangled in Timmy’s hair, holding his head in place as he fucked into his mouth. When Armie finally came back to himself and saw Timmy’s dazed face he had a sudden moment of panic—he’d lost control, he’d gone too far, Timmy must hate him now—but then Timmy lurched forward, practically crawled into his lap and kissed him so deep he was overwhelmed by the taste of himself on Timmy’s tongue. Armie’s hand found Timmy’s cock and it barely took two strokes before he was coming too, thrusting wildly into Armie’s fist.

*

“Wow.”

Timmy was standing in front of Armie’s fridge, and he turned to look over his shoulder with an expression of complete and utter pity.

“In my defense, I’m barely here.”

“Yeah, the decorations kind of gave that away,” Timmy muttered. He pulled out a couple cans of beer and turned around with a shrug.

They drank them on the patio, leaning against the railing and staring out over the rolling hills and houses and the ocean beyond.

“Does it get boring following people around all the time?” Timmy asked.

“Sometimes. Not when they’re interesting people.”

“Am I interesting?”

“I don’t get bored following you around, if that’s what you’re asking,” Armie said. “Well, maybe when you drag me to a shitty club.” Because he was in a good mood, he’d dug a cigarette out of the pocket of one of his old coats, and he took a long drag. It felt good smoking it there on the patio, staring out over the ocean at Timmy’s side.

“You’re not sick of me?”

“Sick of you? First you ask whether I like you, then you ask whether I’m sick of you?”

Timmy’s eyes were wide and searching. How could he possibly be so earnest? Armie wanted to kiss him, so he did. He loved the way Timmy leaned into it: his whole body sagged forward with a sigh and Armie caught him, chuckling into the crook of his neck.

They stayed at Armie’s for the next few hours, just talking. Kissing, sometimes, but not much more than that. And as much as he suspected this would all explode at some point, he couldn’t help losing himself in the moment.

Eventually, he drove Timmy home. They didn’t talk much on the way there, and Armie wanted to chalk it up to the fact that the kid was just tired, but he couldn’t quite be sure. He watched Timmy slide out of the front seat and saunter up to the front door, then disappear inside without a backwards glance. Armie sighed.

What a mess.

A tap on the window startled Armie from his thoughts.

“Late night?” Nick asked as he rolled down the window.

“Did you get my message?”

“Mhmm.” Nick took a drag of his cigarette and flicked the excess ash onto the concrete. “How’ve you been, anyways?”

“Working, mostly. You know how it is.”

“Do I ever, man.” Nick glanced around the empty courtyard, then leaned in close to Armie’s window. “Hey I uh… I heard some fucked up stuff about you and the Russians.”

Armie raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Who from?”

Nick smiled. “I’m off Sunday night. Let’s grab a drink. It’d be good to catch up.”

“Sure thing.”

Nick clapped him on the shoulder, and Armie watched him walk back to his car.

Correction, he thought: what a fucking mess.

*

Driving with the damp dewy air streaming in through the windows, a hot coffee in his hand, and the rising sun in his rearview mirror, Armie decided that he kind of liked the whole early morning thing. The roads were clear, the birds were singing, and something about it just felt fresh.

Like a fucking Viagra commercial.

It had been four weeks since Luca’s disappearance. Four weeks with Timmy. Just over twelve hours since they’d kissed on the beach. Since they’d gone back to Armie’s. Since…

What had his life been like before this?

Before this, there had been Stepanov and Petrov and the Russians. Grim. Boring. Serious. No wonder it had all gone south so fast.

Now there was Timmy. Boxing on the beach. Piano in the study. Brunch at Mrs. Marelli’s, lunch meetings with Jim, an afternoon drive with Esther.

This isn’t your life, her reminded himself as he pulled up to Luca’s villa. The sprinklers had just shut off and the air was heavy with dew. Nick was standing by his car, and he nodded at Armie as he passed.

This doesn’t belong to you, Armie thought as he unlocked the door. The house felt quiet, still sleeping, though Armie could see a few grounds of coffee on the kitchen counter beside a still-warm french press. The patio door was open.

Timmy was sitting at a small wrought iron table by the pool, a half empty cup of coffee at his elbow. He turned when he heard Armie’s footsteps.

You fucking idiot, Armie thought as he felt himself smile just a little too wide. Timmy returned it, but there was something there that wasn’t quite right.

“Thanks for coming so early,” Timmy said.

“Hey, my pleasure. Traffic was a breeze.” Lame. So fucking lame. He shook his head slightly and tried again. “Big day?”

“Not really. Just busy.” Timmy was avoiding Armie’s eye, staring out over the hills, and Armie was seized by a sudden panic.

Is everything okay? he wanted to ask; wanted to take Timmy’s face in his hands and force the kid to look him in the eye. Is this because you kissed me? Because i kissed back? Because I hit you? Because we fucked-but-not-really, and you finally remembered that this is a bad idea and it’s already too late, and I can’t even say sorry because I want to do all those things again?

It only got worse as the day went on.

First, a meeting with Jim. Wait outside, Timmy told him, and Armie had never been privy to meetings with Jim anyway so why the hell did that send him spiralling?

Then another meeting; another closed door. Then coffee with Guillermo, earlier than normal and on the wrong day. More meetings; no brunch at Mrs. Marelli’s. Timmy wasn’t looking at him. On the way back to the Villa he got a call and before he answered he rolled up the partition.

Jim and Esther joined them for dinner at a restaurant in West Hollywood. As usual, Armie stood by the door of their private dining room. Most of the time he blocked out the faint murmurs of conversation he could hear through the wall, but tonight he was so on edge that he didn’t even try. Not that he could hear much anyway, except Luca’s name once or twice.

It was almost midnight by the time they got back to the villa. Armie could see Nick sitting in his car in the driveway, smoking out of his window.

He heard Timmy shift and forced himself not to look back; not even to spare a glance in the mirror. If silence was what Timmy wanted, then Armie would give it to him: silence and obedience. Professionalism.

Then Timmy leaned forward and Armie heard his voice close in his ear: Come up for a minute.

Armie followed him out of the car. Down the hallway, up the stairs, into the study. Timmy didn’t say a word. Armie shut the door behind him and watched as Timmy crouched behind Luca’s great oak desk, rummaging in one of the drawers. When he stood up, he had two cigarettes in his hand. He placed one between his lips and held the other out to Armie.

“Didn’t know you smoked,” Armie said. He took it and studied the label. Something fancy and Italian.

Timmy reached back inside the desk and pulled out a lighter. He did it without even looking; like he knew every nook and cranny and secret compartment. How many times had he sat behind that desk in Luca’s stead?

“Sometimes,” Timmy said as he lit his cigarette. He blew a thin line of smoke out the side of his mouth, then held out the lighter.

Armie bent over the flame, trying to decipher the way Timmy was staring at him. There was something unsettling about it: he had shifted again, like an optical illusion. Hadn’t he been a kid less than a day ago, wiry and uncoordinated and earnest? But now, leaning back against the stately oak desk, legs splayed, arms folded, cigarette dangling from his lips, he looked like what he was: shrewd. Sharp.

A made man, Armie’s brain supplied, because of course he was. Only a made man could sit behind that desk. Timmy must have done something to get where he was, of course, but Armie had only ever thought about it in abstraction, never connecting it in any real way to the skinny kid in front of him. Now Timmy’s eyes were boring into him like fire and for the first time he really considered what this person was actually capable of.

Who are you? he wanted to ask. Wanted to take the kid’s head in his hands and pick apart his brains; wanted to know every secret and desire.

Instead, he took a puff of his cigarette. “These are nice,” he said.

“Luca has good taste.”

“So do you.”

Timmy cocked his head. “Do I?”

“I think so,” Armie said. Then, after a few more seconds of smoking and staring, “What did you want to talk to me about?”

“I don’t want to talk.”

What do you want? Armie almost asked before he realized how stupid that would sound, because he knew even before Timmy lifted his chin and said,

“Come here.”

Armie stepped towards him, and Timmy watched. Didn’t say anything, just let Armie walk forward until their toes were nearly touching.

Can I? Armie wanted to ask. Can I touch? Can I kiss? Can I…? Timmy’s breath was cool on his face.

“You said you’d do anything for me.”

“Yes.” Armie’s voice sounded hoarse; rough.

“Fuck me.”

Armie took another drag of his cigarette and let out a long, slow breath. Timmy’s eyes were fixed on him, and the desperation of the previous night had been replaced by something fierce and possessive. Armie couldn’t decide which he liked more.

Another drag. Timmy plucked Armie’s cigarette from his lips and ground it into the desk behind him, then did the same with his own.

Armie undressed him slowly. First the jacket, which he folded in half and draped over the edge of the desk. Then the tie, then the shirt, button by button. Armie liked the way he looked half dressed; liked the way his shirt hung off his small frame. The belt next (Italian leather; expensive), which he snapped taught between his hands just to see what Timmy would do. Nothing, was the answer, just licked his lips. Then Timmy’s pants, and fuck he was already so hard—they both were; Armie could see the outline of Timmy’s cock through his boxer briefs; could see the damp spot where he was already leaking through the fabric. Those came off next.

Timmy sat back on the desk and wrapped his legs around Armie’s waist; Armie brought a hand to his mouth and spat. They kissed, and Armie liked the way he could feel Timmy tense—feel his sharp little intakes of breath as Armie slid his hand between Timmy’s legs. He’d barely slipped his finger inside him when Timmy gave a frustrated huff.

“I thought I said fuck me.”

Armie felt a rush of anticipation, but he kept his voice calm and measured. “If you say so.”

He unbuckled his belt; undid his pants. Timmy watched through heavy-lidded eyes as he spat again and slicked the saliva down the length of his cock

The desk was just the right height for this, Armie thought as he bent down to press a bruising kiss to Timmy’s lips. He liked the way Timmy squirmed under him as he lined himself up; liked how easy it was to pin him down, hold him in place as he pressed the head of his cock into his ass, stretching him open. Timmy tensed and moaned into his mouth and Armie kept going, working himself out then back in. Probably could have used some actual lube judging by the pinched expression on Timmy’s face, but God, he felt good.

“Is this what you wanted?” Armie asked into the crook of Timmy’s neck.

“Yes,” Timmy said breathlessly. “Yes, fuck—“

Armie cut him off with a kiss. Timmy's legs were like a vice around him, pulling him in deeper while Timmy’s fingers clutched at his shoulders, his hips, ruffled through his hair. The touch was intoxicating; almost as intoxicating as the feeling of Timmy’s skin under his teeth; the way he arched his back, exposing the delicate skin of his throat. Armie pressed kisses there, too, trailing his tongue down to Timmy's collarbone and back up again, biting lightly at first and then harder when Timmy moaned and dug his nails into Armie’s back. Almost of its own accord Armie’s hand moved to cup Timmy’s jaw, then slid lower to his neck.

Timmy shuddered under him, and Armie remembered what had happened on the beach. He held Timmy’s throat a little bit tighter, just to see what would happen.

Timmy moaned.

“That okay?” Armie whispered, and Timmy nodded.

“Yes… You can—ah… You can do that more, if you want. Please.”

Armie exhaled slowly, watching Timmy’s face, and brought his hand to the soft flesh just below his jaw. He squeezed carefully—more of a pinch than anything, gently compressing the arteries on either side of his trachea.

“Like this?”

Timmy nodded wordlessly, squirming underneath him. “Don’t stop,” he mumbled.

Armie hadn’t even realized how still they'd both gotten. He resumed his earlier rhythm, keeping his hand firm on Timmy’s throat as he fucked him with long, careful strokes. He squeezed tighter, until Timmy’s eyes started to slide out of focus, then eased off.

“Okay?”

“Harder,” Timmy breathed, and Armie almost lost it right then and there.

He kept going like that, varying the pressure, seeing how far he could go. Very far, it turned out, and Armie thought dimly that if they ever did this again they’d have to set up some kind of safeword, because Timmy seemed to feel no unease no matter how hard Armie squeezed or how close to unconsciousness he got. Armie hated how much he liked it—how good Timmy’s throat felt in his hand; the way he gasped into Armie’s mouth; the rush Armie felt when his body went from rigid to limp and then back again when Armie released him. He hated it because his job was to protect—to prevent harm, not actively cause it. And yeah, he’d probably regret this later, but right now it felt too good.

Armie tightened his grip again. Timmy tried to kiss him back like that, but with every passing second his movements became hazier and more fumbling. Armie slipped his tongue past Timmy’s lips anyway and kept fucking him, harder now, but with the same slow rhythm. He eased off, Timmy gasped, and then without warning Timmy was coming all over his stomach in thick spurts.

Armie let himself go then, moving faster and faster, kissing Timmy deeply even as he kept a hand tight on his throat. It didn’t take him long to finish that way, emptying himself into Timmy, pinning him to the desk as waves of pleasure broke over him.

After, Armie collapsed onto Timmy’s chest. They lay still for a few minutes, both breathing heavily, Armie felt a hand snake up his back, tracing idle patterns in the hairs at the nape of his neck,

“Was that okay?” he mumbled into Timmy’s skin.

“Mmm,” Timmy hummed, and Armie felt the vibrations of his voice resonate in his own chest.

“I didn’t hurt you?”

“Only the way I wanted you to.”

Armie lifted himself up to study Timmy’s face: red and blotchy, dried tear tracks down either side of his face, and—

“Shit,” Armie muttered. Timmy’s nose had started bleeding again, a slow, dark trickle from each nostril. He moved to wipe it away, then thought better of it: instead he pressed a kiss to each red smear, then his tongue, licking away the blood. Timmy laughed and pulled him in for another kiss.

After a few moments Armie sighed and pulled back, extricating himself from between Timmy’s legs. He didn’t look at Timmy as he tucked himself back into his pants.

“What?” Timmy’s voice was soft and a little hoarse. Armie frowned.

“I don’t want you to do anything you’ll regret.”

Timmy sat up with a hiss and pressed his fingertips to the red welts already blossoming on his throat.

“I know what I want,” he said, then stood stiffly and brushed past Armie, disappearing into the adjacent room. Armie heard the sound of water running. When he came back he was wearing a fresh pair of boxer briefs.

“Just… chill,” Timmy said. He slipped his arms around Armie’s neck; pulled him closer; kissed him in a lazy, comfortable way that made all of Armie’s thoughts fade into static noise.

“I guess I was worried you thought last night was a mistake,” Armie said when they broke apart.

Timmy quirked an eyebrow. “Wasn’t it, according to you? A ‘bad idea,’ right?”

“I thought so.” Armie brushed a hand down Timmy’s throat, and Timmy shuddered at the touch, rolling his head to one side so that Armie could plant a delicate kiss just above his collar bone, just below the red marks. “And then… i don’t know. This morning I thought you might hate me.”

“That wasn’t about you,” Timmy murmured as Armie trailed kisses up his neck. “It’s just... “ He sighed heavily. “Luca’s coming home tomorrow.”

The words hit him like a blow to the chest.

“What?”

“Yeah. I found out last night. I didn’t think it’d be this soon, so there was a lot to do.”

Armie’s ears rang. The panic was setting in again, and he took a step back and tried to steady himself.

“When?”

“His flight gets in at noon."

Suddenly everything seemed so stupid. How could he have let himself get so carried away? This had been a bad idea. Shit. Shit.

“Relax,” Timmy said at the expression on his face.

“Relax? Fuck. Luca,” Armie moaned. “Luca’s coming back tomorrow, and we just fucked on his desk. Oh my god.”

“It’s not like he’ll notice.”

Armie stared at him. “And what if he does? If the head of the Guadagnino family—”

One of the heads,” Timmy corrected, a fact that was probably important but that Armie didn’t exactly have time to analyze.

“—If Luca Guadagnino finds out his bodyguard fucked his nephew? I’m not an idiot. I know how much blood means to men like Luca...”

Timmy looked utterly bewildered. “Nephew?”

“What?”

“What?”

They stared at each other. Timmy narrowed his eyes. “You think I’m Luca’s nephew.”

It was a statement, not a question. Armie spread his hands wide, at a loss. “Aren’t you?”

“We’re not related,” Timmy said slowly.

“Esther?” Armie said, hardly daring to hope. “I thought she was your cousin.”

“What?”

“You introduced her as your cousin. You said, ‘hey, this is Esther, my cousin from Paris.’”

“Oh yeah,” Timmy said thoughtfully, like he’d entirely forgotten the piece of vital information that had haunted Armie since the day they’d met. “Well, only by marriage. My aunt—my mom’s sister—is her step-mother. Her dad is Luca’s brother.”

Armie didn’t even bother trying to work that all out in his head. Relief flooded through him. Suddenly the world looked brighter: fucking the mob boss’s second-in-command was a lot better than fucking the mob boss’s nephew. Before he could stop himself he had closed the distance between them.

“You have no idea how happy that makes me,” he muttered into Timmy’s mouth, and felt Timmy smile.

“No—show me.”

He liked when Timmy gave him orders. Shit, he could feel himself getting hard again as they kissed; as timmy pulled him close and ground his own erection against Armie’s leg. Timmy’s hands slid up to his shoulders, and Armie chuckled when he felt Timmy pushing him down to the carpet.

Armie dropped to his knees without hesitation. He ran his hands up Timmy’s thighs to his crotch, massaging the bulge in his underwear with the palm of his hand while he watched Timmy’s face. Armie’d never been with someone who looked like him—whose face showed every minutiae of feeling, every passing thought and desire, as clearly as if it was written there in ink. At this angle Armie could see there was still a little bit of dried blood around his nostrils. His eyes, too, had started to blacken just a little, to the point where it was hard to tell if he was just tired or if it was something more.

He watched Timmy’s face as he kissed the taught skin of his stomach; watched the way his eyelashes fluttered when Armie pulled down his waistband and took the head of his cock in his mouth. He sunk down slowly, relishing the taste of him—the warmth, the closeness, the humility he felt on his knees like this.

A hand at the back of his head urged him to go faster—no, not urged: insisted—and Armie obeyed, taking Timmy as deep as he could. Normally he was the one who liked to be in control, but now he found he didn’t so much mind being at Timmy’s mercy.

“Oh shit...” Timmy muttered, and Armie managed to sneak one last look up at his face—flushed, dreamy, lips swollen (bruised from kissing?)—before Timmy gasped and twitched and Armie’s mouth filled with warmth. He didn’t pull back right away, drawing out the last drops of come until Timmy shuddered and shoved him away.

“That was fast,” Armie said with a grin. Timmy punched him in the arm.

*

“So how long have you worked for Luca?”

“Almost five years. But I’ve known him forever.”

They were sitting on the edge of the pool, dangling their feet into the water as they passed a bottle of prosecco back and forth. Armie was still mostly dressed and had rolled up his pants, but Timmy was only wearing his boxer briefs under an oversized plush robe. Armie watched their feet intertwine in the eerie aquamarine glow of the pool light.

“So you’re not a Guadagnino?”

Timmy’s expression was hard to read. “I think that’s the most questions you’ve ever asked about me, literally ever.”

Armie frowed. “You know when I said I don’t get curious?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah. That was only kind of true. Most people, I don’t give a shit. But I’ve been curious about you since day one.”

The expression of smug delight on Timmy’s face was almost worth the embarrassment of the confession.

“Curious about me,” Timmy repeated. “Why?”

“Have you seen yourself?”

Timmy blinked. “What?”

“Unbelievable,” Armie said with a chuckle. They sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the sound of crickets and the distant noise of the highway.

“I’m not a Guadagnino,” Timmy confessed after a while. “Not really. You know how you said blood is important to men like Luca?”

Armie nodded.

“Well, it is. Luca took me under his wing, you know? Vouched for me. But there’s only so far up I can go.”

Armie took a gulp of prosecco, then passed it to Timmy. “Y’know, I’ve worked for the guys at the top—the very top. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Timmy’s face looked soft and ethereal in the light of the pool. “Only one way to find out, right?”

Armie let the silence stretch on for a few minutes before curiosity overwhelmed him once again. Something wasn’t adding up.

“So, how do you know Luca?”

Timmy stared at him.

“What?” Armie asked.

Timmy raised his eyebrows and took a swig from the bottle. Looked away. Cleared his throat in a way that made Armie’s stomach writhe unpleasantly.

There was that tingle again.

“Wait. Wait.

Timmy leaned back on his hands and cocked his head, like all this was vaguely amusing.

“You and Luca…”

“Me and Luca,” he echoed.

Armie tried to fight the sinking feeling threatening to overwhelm him. The words mob wife brunch kept repeating in his head like a broken record. Luca’s boy.

I don’t want people to look at me and think I belong to him.

“Oh fuck.”

The panic was back.

“Relax,” Timmy said.

“Please don’t tell me you’re fucking him.”

Timmy looked up to the sky and shrugged. “I mean. He’s been away, so it’s been a while, but…”

“Oh my god. Oh my god.” Armie swung his feet out of the pool and stood up. He had to get away—far away. Canada, that was it—he would go to Canada after all.

“Look, I honestly thought you knew until you said all that stuff about me being his nephew.”

Nephew. If only. “And you didn’t think to mention it then?”

At that, Timmy had the decency to look at least a little guilty. “It didn’t seem like the right… moment,” he said.

“Yeah, ‘cause I had your fucking dick down my throat! Jesus Christ…”

Fucking the nephew of a powerful, wealthy, and extremely well-connected titan of organized crime was one thing; fucking the boy that the powerful, wealthy, and extremely well-connected titan of organized crime was also fucking was on a whole other level.

“It’s fine,” Armie heard Timmy say somewhere in the distance, but the words barely registered: his thoughts were far away, deep in the Canadian wilderness in the hut that would soon be his home.

Chapter Text

Armie was sweating through his shirt. The light, expensive cotton clung to him whenever he moved, and when he caught sight of himself in the mirror he could see the perspiration beading on his forehead despite the air conditioning in the car.

Of course, he was avoiding looking in the mirror, because every time he did he caught sight of Timmy staring at him like he was a bomb that could go off at any moment.

“It’s not a big deal, okay?” Timmy had assured him the previous night while he paced back and forth across the patio desperately trying to think of a way out that didn’t involve a one-way ticket to Moosejaw. “Luca doesn’t care who I fuck.”

Armie rounded on him. “Oh yeah? Have you ever fucked his bodyguard before?”

Timmy only glared at him.

“Besides, that’s not the point. Well, not the entire point. The point,” Armie went on through clenched teeth, “is that this is officially messy, with a capital M. I’m not supposed to—to—” here he gestured vaguely, then sighed. “Getting close always ends badly. And this is way, way too close.”

“We fucked once.”

“I fucked Luca Guadagnino’s boy toy. Maybe he doesn’t care now, but what if he changes his mind? Hm? What if someone else finds out? These people use everything against each other, and I want no fucking part of it.”

Timmy’s expression was dark. “Don’t call me that.”

“What should I call you then? Live-in fuckbuddy? Kept boy? Mob wife?”

“Are you done?”

Armie found Timmy's indifference to the situation more than a little bit distressing.

Why did this shit always happen to him? Timmy. The Russians. And before that, Iraq, which had led to him getting into bed with Bluebird in the first place. Which, in turn, had led to a whole host of other problems he couldn’t even think about without wanting to drive off a cliff.

Armie spared a fleeting glance in the mirror. Timmy’s eyes were still boring into him.

Really, it wasn’t that these things kept happening to him. Armie was the common denominator here: he kept happening to himself.

Another glance. Timmy quirked an eyebrow.

It had taken a good few hours for Timmy to talk him down the previous night, but he’d eventually succeeded. Since neither of them could sleep, they fucked again, and despite the deep pit that had settled in Armie’s stomach afterwards he was too tired to have another crisis. They’d ended up falling asleep in Timmy’s bed, which was of course Luca’s bed, and so the panic had returned full force in the morning.

A sign for the airport whizzed past, and the knot of dread in Armie’s stomach tightened.

“Wait here,” Timmy ordered once they’d parked near the terminal. He slid out of the car and Armie thought that he should probably go after him—technically he wasn’t supposed to let Timmy out of his sight, after all—but the place was crawling with security already and he wasn’t one to disobey a direct order. Which, again, was part of the problem.

Fuck me, Timmy said, so Armie did. Hold this, Stepanov said, so he had taken the smoking gun without a second thought.

At what point did loyalty become blind? And why was he so prone to this particular form of myopia?

The seconds ticked by. Armie undid the top button of his shirt, then did it back up again. He turned on the radio and listened to a man drone on about used cars for all of five seconds before he shut it off.

So, Timmy wasn’t a Guadagnino, but Esther was. Timmy had said that Esther was Luca’s brother’s daughter. Luca’s brother was married to Timmy’s aunt.

Armie wondered what the family tree looked like, so he took out his phone and searched Luca’s name.

Some stuff came up about philanthropy, galas, and various charities and societies that Luca was a part of (or, in some cases, had founded). He’d served on the boards of more than a few companies that specialized in things like “acquisitions,” and had received at least one award for “generosity of spirit.”

The most concrete information Armie could find was a short biography on the website of a charity supporting Italian-American artists, where Luca was listed as Chair of the Board:

Born in 1971 in Palermo, Italy, Guadagnino spent his early childhood in Ethiopia. He studied literature at the University of Palermo, and graduated from Sapienza University of Rome in the faculty of History and Music. He remains a keen patron of the arts and a passionate supporter of Italian culture.

On the Guadagninos themselves, Armie found an article in the Times from almost a year ago, titled The Legacy of Gianni Guadagnino. Gianni Guadagnino, it seemed, was Luca’s father.

It was an obituary, but not necessarily a flattering one—though the author referred to Guadagnino Senior as “an entrepreneur, executive and art collector,” throughout the piece they alluded to offshore bank accounts, shady business connections, and family drama worthy of an HBO documentary:

Guadagnino leaves behind a complicated family history. Born in Italy, he married three times and fathered five children, one of whom was born out of wedlock with one of four known mistresses. His relationship with his eldest son, Luca (45), has been tumultuous, though according to reports this did not prevent Luca from taking on a larger role in his father’s affairs in the later stages of his illness…

Armie nearly jumped out of his skin when the car door opened. He shoved his phone hastily in his pocket as Timmy and Luca both took their seats. They barely looked at him—Timmy was speaking animated Italian while Luca nodded along. For some reason the Italian took Armie by surprise, even though it really shouldn’t have. He waited for a pause in the conversation before interrupting:

“Welcome back. Any bags?”

“Thank you, no,” Luca said with a small smile. He was wearing sunglasses, which made it difficult to read his expression. “Only a small one; they will deliver the rest tonight.”

Timmy spoke in a hectic mixture of Italian and French almost the whole way back, with only occasional interruptions from Luca. Armie picked out words here and there—names, mostly, some he recognized and some he didn’t. Were they speaking like that because of him?

When they got back to the villa, Luca immediately made a beeline for the espresso machine while Timmy flopped down moodily onto the couch.

“Would you like one?” Luca asked Armie, holding up a small cup.

“Oh, no thank you.”

Luca shrugged. Timmy had taken out his phone, and Armie stood in the doorway awkwardly for a few seconds before he cleared his throat. “Well, give me a shout if you need—”

“How is the arm?” Luca asked.

“Oh—it’s—it’s fine, actually. Just a surface thing. I’ve had a lot worse.”

“Good, good. And you’ve been well?”

“Yes—mhm. Yep.” Armie rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. “How was your trip?”

Luca thought for a second. “Not quite as enlightening as I had hoped,” he said, and Timmy snorted.

“C’est bien peu dire,” he muttered, not taking his eyes off his phone. Luca smiled blandly.

“I cannot tell you the details, but suffice to say it seems that the most immediate threat has passed. Mr. Hammer, that means your role will now change.” Luca’s espresso was done, and he took a delicate sip before he continued. “A detail is not necessary for us each, but please maintain the security of the villa and be available for events as necessary.”

Armie snuck a glance at Timmy, who was still immersed in his phone. Obviously this wasn’t news to him.

“Yes, of course,” Armie said.

“Your salary will remain the same,” Luca added.

“Fine by me.”

“Good. Take the rest of the day off, yes? Tomorrow we have much to discuss. By which I mean, the investigation,” Luca clarified. Had he seen the look of panic flash across Armie’s face?

“Yes, sir,” Armie said. He didn’t miss the searching glance Timmy threw him on his way out.

*

Two hours later, Armie sat across from Nick in the back of a dingy Mexican restaurant just off of Sunset Boulevard. Despite the location, the place was relatively safe from prying eyes. They’d grabbed a table near the back, and now Nick was watching with something akin to horrified fascination as Armie threw back four shots of tequila in a row.

“Long day?”

“Long year,” Armie sighed as he set the last one down on the counter. “Actually, scratch that—long millenium. It was all downhill after 9/11.”

Armie slid the shot glasses to the side and started in on his pint of lager. Cheap, watery bullshit, he thought as he knocked half of it back in one go. At least the beer would be good in Canada…

Nick had started talking about his day job working security for some Hollywood elite asshole, and Armie did his best to seem interested.

“How bout you?” Nick asked after he finished describing the various cosmetic procedures undertaken by the movie star. “How’s l’efant terrible?”

“Le-what now?”

“The kid. I hear he’s kind of a spoiled brat.”

Armie frowned. “Who told you that? Same people who told you about me and the Russians?”

Nick shrugged.

Armie leaned in and lowered his voice. “What exactly did you hear, anyways?”

Nick glanced over his shoulder. No one within earshot. “I heard Petrov was going to make a leadership bid before he… you know.”

“And?”

“And… I heard you may or may not have had something to do with what happened to him… and his family.”

Armie finished his pint. “I didn’t pull the trigger, if that’s what you’re implying.”

“I didn’t think you did. I’ve known you… how long now? Almost ten years? I know your game, and that’s not it. But I also know that men like that have a way of twisting your arm.”

“I have a game?”

Nick laughed. “So, what’s the story?”

“You’re not working with them, are you?” Armie asked, keeping his voice as even and casual as possible.

“God, no. I wouldn’t touch that family with a ten foot pole.”

“Smart.” Armie hesitated, replaying the past year over in his head. Then, because he was a little buzzed and he didn’t have anyone else to tell, Armie told Nick everything: how he’d started out working for one of Petrov’s middle men. How, without his intending it, security had turned into odd jobs; how the family had been impressed with his loyalty and discretion, and after six months he was working for Petrov himself. Why did they trust him so much?

“Well, it was Bluebird, wasn’t it?” Nick said matter-of-factly when Armie voiced the thought aloud.

“Well…”

“The Woman in the High Castle,” Nick said theatrically. “A reference from her is worth more than gold to most of those guys.”

This was true, of course, and something Armie had known for a while, but he generally avoided thinking about it too much because it made him feel like a pawn.

“So, what went wrong?” Nick asked.

God, where to begin?

Armie barely understood all of the politics himself (“You ever seen House of Cards?” he asked Nick; “like that, but ten times more fucked up. And I’m including the Kevin Spacey shit here, okay?”) The long and short of it was that, after a lot of sabotage and backstabbing, Stepanov had come out on top. And so Petrov had met his end under suspicious circumstances that were only too easy to pin on his seemingly-loyal American bodyguard.

“... And that’s about when Bluebird stopped answering my calls.”

“Cold,” Nick said with a low whistle.

“I’m not smart enough for this shit,” Armie said wearily. “So I said fuck it and decided to skip town. But Bluebird had other ideas, I guess. Said they’d smooth things over—clean slate—if I took this job.”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

Armie was on his second pint, and they drank in silence for a few more minutes before Nick spoke up again.

“Well, at least Guadagnino’s an easy check.”

“I guess.”

Armie’s tone must have been frostier than he intended, because Nick narrowed his eyes. “Trouble in paradise?”

Someone had dimmed the lights in the restaurant. On the other side of the room, a band was setting up. Armie watched them glumly.

“I think it’s time for me to retire,” he said.

“You and me both, buddy…”

After that, the conversation turned back to Nick’s job. By the time the waitress came back to refill their drinks, Armie was feeling sufficiently tipsy. He smirked when he saw Nick’s eyes following the motion of the girl’s hips as she walked away.

“Nice view?” Armie chuckled.

“Hey, I’m not complaining. She’s not bad though, huh? Or—sorry, are you still ‘off women’?”

“Fuck you, man,” Armie laughed. Nick threw up his hands.

“Hey, I know the Ice Queen fucked you up big time. I’d take a vow of celibacy after that, too.”

Armie thought of Timmy—his heavy-lidded eyes; his lips; the way his delicate skin felt under Armie’s fingers. The memory alone made his dick twitch.

“Celibacy. Sure,” he muttered into his drink.

As if on cue, the waitress appeared with another round.

“Any food?” she asked, resting her hand lightly on Armie’s shoulder.

“Nachos?” Nick asked.

“Got it,” she said, and winked. “And, to let you know, my shift will be over in ten—then I’ll pass you off to Kailey.”

“Your shift will be over in ten,” Nick repeated, throwing Armie a significant glance. The waitress’s hand was still resting on his shoulder.

“That’s right,” she said with a laugh. She had a pleasant accent—Spanish, maybe?—and Armie liked how sunny she was: more boho beach bum than Hollywood hopeful. Nick must’ve seen him staring, because he kicked Armie under the table.

“Can I buy you a drink?” Armie asked her.

“Maybe,” she said slowly. Armie liked the twinkle in her eye. He took the hand still on his shoulder and kissed it. She snorted.

“That a yes?” Nick asked. The waitress hesitated, then smiled.

“Give me five minutes.”

*

The waitress’s name, it turned out, was Maria. She was 25; an aspiring writer originally from Chile who had blown in with the wind and fallen in love with the California sunset. They stayed at the bar for a couple more rounds before she invited Armie and Nick to a club down the street, where they met up with a few of her friends and ended up dancing until the early hours of the morning.

When Armie’s alarm woke him the next morning at a cool 6:30am, he was so disoriented that he barely even noticed her lying next to him in bed. She grumbled as he sat up and read the missed texts in his phone: one from Maria after he’d given her his number, one from Nick telling Armie he’d taken a cab home, and one from a number that wasn’t in his contacts:

Sorry yesterday was weird. Things are kind of crazy right now.

That could only be from one person.

No shit, Armie typed, then erased it and threw his phone across the room.

He felt like death, but he forced himself to shower and shave and brush his teeth anyways. By the time he shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee he was at least feeling a little bit human. Upstairs, he heard the rustle of blankets, then a yawn.

Armie pulled out his phone and stared at the message again.

It’s fine, he tried, but that didn’t feel right, and neither did thanks. Eventually he settled on Crazy how?

“You’re up early,” Maria said, startling him from his thoughts. She was wearing the same loose tank top and jeans she’d had on last night, and her makeup was smudged in a way that almost looked intentional.

“Gotta work,” he said.

She helped herself to the pot of coffee, then stood back, eyeing Armie’s pressed-linen ensemble. “A real grown up, huh? The apartment should have tipped me off. What do you do? No, wait, let me guess—real estate? Producer? Sports car salesman?”

“Security,” he said, and she made a face. Armie took a sip of his coffee.

The silence stretched on, and Armie was just about to make an awkward exit when his phone vibrated again.

Hard to explain.

Try me, he texted back. The animated ellipses appeared for a second, then disappeared. Armie sighed. When he looked up, Maria was watching him with a frown.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, do you?” she asked.

“What makes you say that?”

“Just… a feeling. And I don’t usually make a point of sleeping with guys that have girlfriends.”

Armie chuckled. “I don’t have a girlfriend, no,” he said, and even though Maria still looked suspicious, the assertion seemed to placate her.

After a few more minutes of awkward silence, Armie cleared his throat.

“I’m going, I’m going,” Maria said as she drained the last of her coffee. “I called a Lyft.”

On the doorstep they stood facing each other, and Armie was just about to go in for a hug when she held out her hand.

“Last night was fun,” she said as they shook.

“Firm grip,” he replied, and they both laughed.

Armie watched as she climbed into the cab. Why couldn’t everything be so uncomplicated? A drunken one-night stand; an awkward morning after. No threat of murder; no need to flee the country.

Armie’s phone buzzed again.

Too risky over text. Will explain more later.

Well, that boded well.

*

Armie found Luca eating breakfast on the patio, sitting at a wrought-iron table in front of the pool wrapped in a plush robe identical to the one that Timmy had worn two nights before. Probably the very same one, in fact. He was reading a newspaper, but he set it down neatly as Armie approached.

“Sit,” Luca said, gesturing to the place across from him. Armie did as he was told. “So. Today we must, unfortunately, talk about unpleasant things: I have been keeping the police busy remotely, but now we have reached a point where that is no longer enough. They would like more interviews this afternoon, I am afraid.” Luca smiled apologetically. “My lawyer will be joining us shortly, but before then I felt we should talk one-on-one. To refresh our memories.”

“Of course,” Armie said. Luca’s demeanor was so calm and mellow that it was difficult not to feel at ease. He’d forgotten how pleasant Luca’s voice was—soft and almost musical, each word chosen with care and precision.

They went over the events of the day that Luca had been attacked on the freeway, Luca asking him questions about every little detail (what kind of gun was it? Did he have a silencer? What colour was his suit?). Armie suspected that Luca already knew the what he wanted to hear, judging by the way he smiled or frowned at Armie’s answers.

They had been talking for almost twenty minutes when the patio door slid open and Timmy walked out, a cup of coffee in hand. He was only wearing boxers and his hair was messy, like he’d just woken up. He must’ve gone back to sleep after he’d texted Armie.

Armie averted his eyes as Timmy stooped to kiss Luca on the cheek, then say down in the chair next to him.

“Greta will be here in an hour,” Luca said to Timmy, who nodded. Under the table, Armie saw Luca’s hand move absently to Timmy’s knee, his fingers tracing slow, delicate circles.

It was strange: Armie had been too preoccupied with his own sense of self preservation to think about Timmy and Luca being together in any real way—he’d only thought of it in abstraction. Too young, too old. Creepy. But now that he saw them like that in real life, he found he didn’t altogether mind it.

Timmy must have noticed him looking, because he tilted his head curiously. “I’m going to go for a run,” he said, still looking at Armie. “Can he come with me?”

“Already showered,” Armie said before Luca could answer.

“Shower again,” Timmy countered.

“Don’t really have the right clothes.”

“Borrow some of mine.”

“I think we’re a little busy.”

Luca was watching them with mild amusement. “I think you are prepared,” he said with a shrug.

Timmy grinned.

*

It wasn’t even 8am, but the sun was already high in the sky by the time they hit the pavement.

“Since when do you run?” Armie asked as they fell into step beside each other. Timmy was practically sprinting, and Armie could tell that he’d be tired in a few minutes if he didn’t start pacing himself. Though with Armie still hungover, at least they were somewhat evenly matched.

“I run,” Timmy said indignantly.

“I’ve been following you around for a month and this is the first time I’ve seen you willingly do cardio.”

“Maybe I get up early.”

“Pretty sure you don’t.”

Timmy led him on a route through the hills behind Luca’s house. The trails there looked more-or-less well-travelled, probably by dog walkers and packs of housewives in hot pink spandex. As Armie had predicted, Timmy just barely made it to the top of the hill before he stopped, panting.

“Too hot,” Timmy muttered. “I miss New York.”

“New York?”

“Born and raised.”

Armie stared out over the houses and hills to the ocean, imagining Timmy strolling down Manhattan streets. Taking the subway. Getting lunch at an Italian Deli. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

“I live out there most of the time,” Timmy said. “I only came back last month because Luca had to leave. This way,” he said, and Armie followed him down a small side trail. The bushes were taller here, providing a little more cover from the sun.

As soon as they were out of sight of the main trail, Timmy turned and pulled Armie into a bruising kiss.

This was exactly why he hadn’t wanted to come—because he’d known that if Timmy tried anything like this, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. He’d been right: Timmy slipped his tongue past Armie’s lips and Armie let himself go, not caring about the voice in the back of his head telling him how badly this would end. Armie wanted to pull Timmy closer, press his skin to Timmy’s skin until he couldn’t tell where he ended and Timmy began. Armie hadn’t realized how much he’d missed his mouth until now.

It was almost physically painful when Armie pulled back, still holding Timmy’s face. “What did you mean when you said things are crazy?” he asked quietly.

Timmy looked away. “It’s hard to explain.”

“Don’t dick me around,” Armie shot back. “I’m supposed to protect you, right? How am I gonna do that if I have no fucking idea what’s going on?”

“Fine. What do you want to know?”

Armie ran his thumb across Timmy’s bottom lip as he thought, smiling when Timmy’s tongue darted out to lick it. “Okay. How about… who are the players here? What exactly are we dealing with?”

“Just the family. Luca and his brothers.”

“They’re fighting?”

“Basically.” Timmy had tangled his fingers in the collar of Armie’s shirt, and he pulled him in for another kiss.

“About their father? Gianni Guadagnino?” Armie asked when they separated.

That seemed to catch Timmy off guard. “How did you know that?”

“The internet is a magical place. He died, right?”

“A year ago.” Another kiss. Timmy’s hand moved to Armie’s shorts, but he batted it away.

“Later,” Armie muttered. “We should get back…”

Timmy groaned in frustration, but conceded nonetheless, disentangling himself from Armie with a sigh. Armie glanced around the clearing as Timmy adjusted his shorts.

“Is this some kind of inheritance thing?” Armie asked on the way back to the main trail.

“Kind of,” Timmy said. “Luca is the oldest son, and Don Guadagnino—sorry, Gianni—left him in charge. But Luca’s youngest brother isn’t happy about it. Luca has… different ideas about how to run the business. Plus, he doesn’t have any heirs, or even a second in command, except… well, except me.”

“The family doesn’t approve,” Armie guessed.

“Not exactly.” Timmy smiled wryly, then shook his head. “But it’s not just that. Luca’s been on the fringes for a while, even before his father died, so…”

“They’re trying to force him out,” Armie finished as the pieces clicked into place. It was like fucking déjà vu, and Armie knew that after what had happened with the Russians all this should make him want to run far, far away, but… More than fear or dread, he only felt a hot rush of anger towards the faceless would-be usurpers who threatened Luca’s place at the head of the table.

Timmy was looking at him strangely.

“Yeah, exactly.”

They walked back at the top of the hill in silence. Before Armie could fully catch his breath, Timmy shouted “Race you back!” and took off sprinting down the trail. Armie followed, grinning.

*

There was a new car in the driveway when they got back to the villa, and Armie could hear muffled voices drifting down from Luca’s study when they stepped inside.

Instead of heading upstairs, Timmy led Armie down to the basement, past the guest suite to a bathroom he’d never noticed before.

“What are you doing?” Armie hissed when Timmy followed him inside and locked the door behind them.

“Taking a shower,” Timmy replied as he started to undress.

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Timmy just rolled his eyes.

“Fine,” Armie said. “I’ll use the one upstairs.”

Timmy turned on the shower and stepped under the water. “Go ahead.”

“This is fun for you, isn’t it?” Armie muttered as he angrily peeled off his own clothes, which were of course actually Timmy’s clothes. Or maybe they were Luca’s, which was worse, but still made him feel the same mixture of confusion and exhilaration he’d felt watching Luca’s hand ghost up Timmy’s leg. “You know I’m not going to say no. You just like fucking with me.”

He followed Timmy into the shower, which was a fancy walk-in with more than enough room for them both.

“I didn’t know that, actually.” Timmy turned around, smirking, and pulled Armie into a watery kiss.

“If I get fucking shot, I’m blaming you,” Armie said. He pressed his lips to the salty skin of Timmy’s neck. There was only a small amount of redness left there from the other night, a fact that he probably should have been grateful for, but that only left him feeling kind of disappointed. He wouldn’t mind leaving marks there again…

“It’s not my fault you chose ‘human shield’ as your profession,” Timmy said blandly. He hooked a leg around Armie’s hips, and Armie groaned as their cocks slid together. He kissed Timmy again, then grunted in frustration.

“I feel like I’m being fucking waterboarded.”

“Want to use Luca’s room instead?”

“Ha ha.” Armie seized Timmy by the hips and slid him down the wall, away from the direct stream of the shower. He was aiming for smooth, but in the process he nearly lost his footing. Timmy snickered, so Armie shut him up with another kiss, pressing him into the wall, sliding a knee between Timmy’s thighs. Timmy responded by grinding himself against Armie’s leg.

“Wait, have you actually been waterboarded?” Timmy mumbled after a few minutes, as if the thought had only just occurred to him.

Timmy’s sopping curls had fallen haphazardly into his eyes, and Armie pushed them back a little more roughly than necessary.

“Classified,” Armie said.

“Oh, come on—you can tell me,”

“Later, maybe.”

“You said later before.” Timmy trailed his fingers down Armie’s back. “Isn’t later now?”

Armie smiled and brought a hand to Timmy’s mouth expectantly. “Water’s fucking terrible lube,” he explained. Timmy spat.

Would there be a later? Armie wondered as he slid a hand between Timmy’s legs. Unprompted, an image sprung up, fully formed in his mind: him and Timmy holed up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, dressed as lumberjacks (or at least wearing a lot of denim). Armie would grow out his beard. They’d chop wood by day, whittle at night, fuck when they ran out of chores to do. The idea made him laugh.

“What?” Timmy asked breathlessly. Armie’s fingers were already inside him, and he pressed them deeper until he found the spot that made Timmy moan into his shoulder.

“Nothing,” Armie muttered, still smiling, and kissed him.

They were both hard and aching by the time Armie finally turned Timmy over and pinned him to the wall. Armie’s cock slid inside him easily, and he wanted to ask, Did he do this to you last night, too? Did he open you up and fuck you?

He found that he didn’t mind the idea that much. On the contrary, thinking about Luca and Timmy together turned him on so much that it only took a few thrusts before he tipped over the edge, jerking Timmy off as he fucked him hard against the shower wall.

*

“Did we take too long?” Armie asked after as they rinsed off. The water, which had started out scalding, was now almost ice cold.

“Nah,” Timmy said. “I don’t even think they heard us come in.”

They towelled off and got dressed, then crept out of the bathroom and back upstairs as quietly as they could.

“Anything I should know about this lawyer?” Armie asked.

“She’s an old friend,” Timmy said. “Just stick to whatever script Luca gave you and don’t worry. Greta knows what she’s doing.”

Armie went in first, while Timmy hung back downstairs.

Judging by the name, Armie had expected a hardened old Jewish woman, à la Gloria Allred. What he hadn’t expected was the twenty-something blonde currently sitting in the chair in front of Luca’s desk, practically vibrating with nervous energy. She seemed to be in the middle of a story, talking and gesturing animatedly with her hands.

“I didn’t know there was a codeword for it,” she was saying. “And I heard them say it and I was like, ‘Why did you just—why do you need a name for it?’ And he—Eddie, my assistant—said to me, ‘You ask for it five or six times a day!’”

It was the punchline to a joke Armie hadn’t heard, and he smiled politely while they both laughed. After a few seconds Luca beckoned him closer, and the woman stood up awkwardly.

“Mr. Hammer?” she said as she extended her hand. Her grip was a lot tighter than he expected.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Oh, god, please—it’s Greta. Gerwig.”

“Then call me Armie.”

She snorted. “Armie Hammer… Sorry, I knew that, it’s just—”

“Oh, I’ve heard it all.”

“I can only imagine,” she said with a small shudder.

They both sat down across from Luca, and Armie shifted uncomfortably, remembering the last time he’d been in this room.

“How was your run?” Luca asked pleasantly. Armie fixed his face into a blank smile, trying not to think about the fact that two days ago he’d fucked Timmy where Luca was currently resting his elbows.

“Not bad. I didn’t think the kid had it in him.”

“Timothée is full of surprises,” Luca said. Why did the words send a shiver up Armie’s spine?

Greta sat up a little straighter. “Luca! You didn’t say Timmy was here! I mean, I knew he’d skipped town, but...” She turned, as if he might be hiding behind the piano in the corner, just waiting to surprise her.

Luca held up his hands apologetically. “Forgive me—business always gets in the way of these things. Timothée has been looking after business while I’ve been away.”

“Wow,” Greta said slowly. “Moving up in the world. He must have had fun with that.” Here she looked to Armie for confirmation.

“He definitely knows what he’s doing,” Armie said. Greta cocked her head curiously and opened her mouth, but Luca cut her off before she could say anything else.

“Shall we?” he asked, gesturing to the papers spread out over the desk.

*

However awkward Greta seemed at first, as soon as they started talking business she was brusque and professional and to the point. She also wasn’t afraid to grill either of them for more information when she didn’t think they were being forthcoming, which, apparently, was often.

“I know it’s annoying,” she said after she’d made Armie describe the attacker’s exact movements leading up to his gun firing about fifty times, “but if we present well enough in interviews there’s a solid chance this won’t ever see the inside of a courtroom.”

And, of course, staying out of court was always the goal. Neither Greta nor Luca had to say it, but Armie knew instinctively that there was a kind of code with these things. No matter who the hitman had been working for—a rival? Luca’s own family?—the police were to be avoided at all costs.

After a little under two hours, Greta finally seemed satisfied: she closed her laptop decisively and sat back with a sigh. “I think that’s all I need. Man, I’m starving.”

“Same,” Armie agreed. His headache was starting to ease up, and now that the queasiness in his stomach had gone he realized just how little he’d eaten all day.

“Shall we get ‘the Greta’?” Luca asked her, and they both burst into laughter.

There was a knock at the door. When Timmy poked his head in, Greta squealed and jumped out of her seat.

“Oh my god,” she laughed as he pulled her into a tight hug. “I’ve missed you! New York’s missed you! Sersh, especially, has missed you—”

“Oh shit, how is she?” Timmy asked. “I keep meaning to give her a call...”

They broke apart, and Greta smoothed her hands down the front of Timmy’s tailored button-up. “Aw, look at you. Nice threads, man! And Sersh is good! Really, really good… she’s actually in town for a bit, believe it or not.”

Timmy lit up. “Whaaat? For real?”

Greta nodded grinning. “Yeah, I mean, I thought it was about time I brought her out here. She had some business of her own, so it worked out. But we have to have dinner with you guys before we leave. I’m serious!”

Armie watched them talk—watched how Timmy smiled so easily, the comfortable rapport they both seemed to have—and wondered what they were to each other. As he did, he felt a slight tingle, and turned to find Luca staring at him with an unreadable expression. It took everything in him not to bolt for the door.

*

At Timmy’s suggestion, they had fast food delivered for lunch: In-N-Out, double-doubles all around, plus four orders of fries Animal Style (Greta’s favourite).

“God, i forgot what a real burger tastes like,” she sighed after the first bite. They were all sitting around the wrought-iron table in the backyard. There was a brief silence as they all tucked in, then Greta asked Timmy about the latest single from a rapper they both liked and he immediately launched into an in-depth discussion of Tyler the Creator’s musical stylings.

Armie didn’t really keep up with pop music (he usually stuck to country classics like Willie Nelson, a few indie bands, and whatever the internet recommended him), but he liked listening to Timmy talk so passionately.

The conversation turned from music to collectibles, and it wasn’t long before Timmy excused them both so that he could show Greta the new pair of shoes he’d got the previous week—some special edition kicks that, to Armie, looked like every other pair of sneakers in existence.

Armie tried to will away the dread he felt as he watched them leave. Really, there was no need to be nervous: it was a beautiful day, the birds were singing, and the crime lord sitting at his elbow probably had no idea that Armie had fucked his boyfriend mere hours ago in his own house.

“He really loves those shoes,” Armie said with an awkward laugh. “I had to take him all over town last week to find the right colour… I mean, I get that they’re limited edition, but doesn’t he already have like eight pairs? Guess I don’t really have a handle on the whole fashion thing; if it were up to me I’d probably just wear sweatpants everyday. Or, I don’t know, a fucking tracksuit or something…”

Armie trailed off. Luca wasn’t saying anything, so he took a long sip of his soda, wishing it was beer instead. He thought back to the previous night, dancing with Nick and the waitress—what was her name? Melanie? Mary? He missed her, and he wondered what she was doing today. Yoga, probably. Maybe walking on the beach; getting ready for her shift in the evening…

Armie imagined himself in her life. Maybe once all this was over, he’d give her a call; turn in the linen suits for shorts and a t-shirt and get a job working as a personal trainer or something. They could date; it would be easy.

And boring, a voice in the back of his mind supplied.

Armie set his empty cup on the table and flashed Luca a smile. “Well, I better—”

“Timothée trusts you,” Luca said; a statement, not a question.

“Oh, that’s—that’s good.”

“I would like to trust you, too.”

“You can,” Armie said quickly, happy to hear that he sounded much more confident than he felt.

“You’ve been with Bluebird for several years, yes?” Luca asked. His tone was conversational, but Armie couldn’t help feeling like this was some kind of trap.

“Yeah, since 2010… shit, almost a decade now.”

“And what’s kept you so loyal?”

“A deep-seated sense of honour and pride?” Armie offered.

“Hmm,” Luca said thoughtfully. “I wondered if there wasn’t something more.”

Besides all the blackmail and extortion?

“Not really sure what you mean.”

Luca shrugged benignly. “I imagine a job like this must make it difficult to have a life of your own. So, why do it?”

“Well… I’ve never been great at having a life,” Armie confessed. “Joined the marines as soon as I turned 18, did a couple tours, some work with special ops. I was good at it—really good. When I was discharged in ‘09 I didn’t really know what to do with myself.”

“It must have been difficult to adjust,” Luca mused. “I have never been a soldier, but I have known many. It takes a toll, doesn’t it?”

“I guess. I don’t have PTSD or anything, if that’s what you mean.” Armie laughed. “I kinda used to think there was something wrong with me for that.”

“Because it didn’t scar you?”

“Yeah, no. Not at all. I like having a purpose, you know? And I liked the structure.”

Luca nodded knowingly. “A very human thing.”

It was weird—even when he’d been going everywhere with Luca, they’d never talked like this. Maybe it was because Armie wasn’t really a bodyguard anymore. Or was he? Suddenly the line felt strange and blurry, and it put him on edge.

“Society is full of these structures,” Luca went on. “The military, the police, the judicial system. Any company or organization or community. Knowing how to exist within them, how to move, how to mold them for your benefit… that is a valuable skill.”

“That’s what you do,” Armie ventured. “You and Timmy.” The name rolled off his tongue without a thought, and he cursed himself for sounding so familiar.

Luca tilted his head, a small smile playing on his lips. “Timothée is gifted in this regard, but he is still learning. Though I’m afraid that soon the time for learning will be over. And that is when we will truly need people we can trust.”

Well, that was fucking ominous.

*

They made some small talk after that until Greta and Timmy came back, and then it was off to the police station for another round of grueling interviews: detective after detective all asking the same questions, with a few new ones thrown in to trip him up.

Did you know Luca Guadagnino before you came to work for him?

(Never heard of the guy.)

What is your relationship to the Guadagnino family?

(Nonexistent.)

Do you have any reason to believe your life may be in danger?

(Not any more than it normally is.)

But at the end of the day, he must have said what they wanted him to judging by Greta’s tight handshake and Luca’s small, pleased smile.

Greta called a cab back to her hotel after making Luca promise to have dinner with her and “Sersh,” whoever that was. Timmy had only hung around for the first hour or so before he’d gone to meet Esther, so Armie and Luca drove back to the villa alone. Neither of them spoke until Armie parked the car and turned off the engine.

Luca tapped the dashboard thoughtfully. “Timothée and I will be leaving soon,” he said.

Armie frowned. “Oh.”

“There is to be a meeting of the family,” Luca went on carefully, “or—do you know this already?”

“Why would I?”

“People talk.”

“I don’t,” Armie said firmly. Luca peered at him in the darkness, his eyes intense and searching.

“We will go in two weeks. But there is a great deal to prepare before we depart. We will need you on hand.”

“Yes, sir.”

Luca reached over and placed his hand on Armie’s knee. It was a firm gesture, somehow powerful despite the lightness of his touch, and Armie suppressed a shiver.

“You did well today,” Luca said, then he was gone and Armie was alone, struggling to reconcile the feelings of dread and pride warring in his chest.

*

As promised, preparations for their departure threw Luca and Timmy’s regular schedule into overdrive. Meetings after meetings were followed by lunches, then coffees, then dinners, sometimes together but mostly apart. Armie went with whoever needed him most. Usually that ended up being Luca, which meant that he and Timmy barely had time to say two words together, let alone fuck. That didn’t mean they didn’t find opportunities, however.

“I’m sick of this,” Timmy muttered one day as they lay slumped in the backseat of the car, sticky with sweat and other fluids. They’d forgotten to leave the AC on when they’d parked, and now the car was a humid sauna. Armie wiped a splotch of come off of his stomach and sat up.

“At least it’s not for long, right?” he tried. The suggestion earned him a haughty glare.

“I should be with Luca, not chit-chatting with restaurateurs and shaking down foot soldiers. I mean, does it really matter if I have dinner with Carlo Capelli five times or three?” Armie watched as Timmy tucked his dick back into his pants and did up his belt, then ran his hands through his hair, trying to make it look vaguely presentable. Armie leaned over and pressed a kiss to his neck, but Timmy just ducked away irritably.

“Luca knows what he’s doing,” Armie said, and was surprised to find he actually believed the words.

Timmy scoffed. “A few days ago you’re terrified of Luca, now you’re kissing his ass? Come on.”

“I’m still fucking terrified of him. Doesn’t mean I don’t respect him.”

It was clear the whole thing was taking a toll on Timmy: now that shit had gotten real, Luca had taken back the driver’s seat with force. Because, for all Timmy’s aptitude and ambition, whatever Luca was dealing with was far too delicate to be left to an apprentice.

“This is stupid,” Timmy said again and again; “I should be in there with him.”

And Armie could only tell him again and again to have patience, to trust Luca, even though what he really wanted to say was to slow the fuck down and enjoy this while it lasted, because his contract didn’t extend past Timmy and Luca’s flight out of town. This had been confirmed during Bluebird’s most recent check-in, when the Big Boss herself had called to make sure he was keeping himself in line.

“And you’re staying out of trouble, I hope?” she’d asked after he’d filled her in on the investigation and the recent goings-on at the villa (leaving out, of course, any speculation on Guadagnino family drama or the fact that he and Timmy were currently filling every spare second with secret makeouts and backseat blowjobs).

“You know I always do,” Armie replied, which earned him a deep, beleaguered sigh.

“Well, provided that really is the case, consider this your two weeks’ notice.”

“Wait, what?” Armie’s stomach tightened unpleasantly.

“Your task was to keep Luca Guadagnino safe, which you’ve performed admirably. Now Mr. Guadagnino is leaving, and when he does, your job is done.”

“What about when he gets back?” Armie countered.

“That won’t be an issue,” she said with a finality that made him queasy.

So, that would be the end of it: two more weeks, and then he was free. No strings, no plane ticket to Canada, the record of his laundry list of colossal mistakes wiped clean—at least, according to Bluebird.

Everything was wrapped up with a neat little bow, including the investigation into the attack on Luca’s life, which had concluded in perhaps the most anticlimactic way possible: a few days after their interviews at the station, Greta had informed them that the FBI was satisfied with their statements, the would-be assassin had plead guilty, and the case was closed. Of course, the man said he’d acted purely in his own interests (something about kidnapping and a ransom) but as flimsy as the explanation was, it was enough for the investigators.

Two more weeks, and then he was out. Back to his regular life, whatever that looked like. No more Bluebird, no more Luca, and no more Timmy.

It was fine, really; it was what he’d wanted all along.

*

Of course, two weeks offered more than enough time for something—or several somethings—to go completely and utterly sideways.

It started with a phone call.

Armie was sitting on the beach in front of a dwindling fire, sipping his third beer of the evening. Beside him, Maria was halfway through the story of the second time she’d met Matthew McConaughey at Whole Foods. The gathered crowd was mostly made up of her friends: twenty-something writers and artists that Armie had next to nothing in common with. Still, they’d accepted his presence easily and without question, and he was grateful for the distraction. A window into normalcy.

Armie’s phone buzzed. Luca’s number. His heart skipped a beat—Luca had never called him directly, preferring to relay orders and schedule changes through Bluebird instead. He turned away from the fire and brought the phone to his ear.

“Yes?”

“Are you busy?” Luca’s voice was sharp, and the hairs on the back of Armie’s neck stood on end.

“No,” he answered immediately. Maria shot him a questioning look, but he ignored her. “Why?”

“I may need your assistance with a… situation.” Armie heard something slam in the background—a door, maybe?

“At your place?”

“Yes.”

“Are you safe until I get there?”

A pause, then: “Yes.”

“Be there in ten.”

*

The house was dark and silent when Armie let himself in, heart pounding. He kept a spare handgun in a lock box in his glove compartment, and now he tucked it into the waistband of his jeans.

The light was on upstairs, and Armie could hear raised voices coming from Luca’s study that grew louder as he got closer: Timmy and Luca; Timmy’s voice high and frantic.

Then Armie heard a thud. He Pushed the door open, one hand still on his gun.

Luca sat behind his desk; Timmy stood in front of him. It looked like he had just kicked over a chair.

“Thank you for coming, Mr. Hammer,” Luca said calmly.

Timmy froze, staring at Armie in disbelief. Then he whirled on Luca. “You actually called him? Are you serious?”

“Did you think i wasn’t?”

“Everything all right?” Armie asked slowly.

Timmy snorted. “You don’t need to be here. This is so fucking stupid.” He turned back to Luca. “What are you going to do, make him cuff me or something?”

Luca shrugged, like the idea hadn’t occurred to him, but maybe it wasn’t such a bad one. “I have work to do, Timothée. Distract yourself with Mr. Hammer, if you must.”

Armie’s mouth went dry, but Timmy looked furious.

“I’m not a kid,” Timmy said. “You can’t just wave a shiny toy in front of me and expect me to be—”

“If you are not a kid, do not act like a kid.”

Timmy closed his eyes and took a deep breath, collecting himself.

A million thoughts raced through Armie’s mind, such as, am I the shiny toy? and Timmy looks good when he’s pissed.

“You left me in charge, and I delivered, right?” Timmy asked evenly. “How many times do I have to keep telling you: I’m ready for this.”

“And I admire your ambition,” Luca said. “You know I do. But—”

“Then let me come with you.”

“It is not safe.”

“I don’t care. You need me. Those guys—I know those guys better than you! I had them eating out of the palm of my hand before I left.”

“The answer is no. You will go to Italy, I will go to New York, and after—”

Luca’s phone rang. It was resting innocuously on the desk, and Timmy swiped it away before Luca could answer it.

“Angelo?” he asked, reading the display.

“Timothée, please,” Luca sighed.

“What d’you think he’d have to say about this? Should I ask him?” Timmy’s eyes darted from the phone back to Luca.

“Mr. Hammer,” Luca said sharply, “the phone.”

Timmy scoffed. “Yeah right, like he’s actually gonna—”

Armie grabbed his wrist before he could finish the sentence. For a brief moment Timmy froze, eyes wide in betrayal, before he lunged for the phone with his other hand. Armie grabbed that wrist too, twisting both arms behind Timmy’s back, pulling him close so that he couldn’t jerk away. The phone was still ringing—Armie could feel it vibrating against his stomach.

“Fuck you,” Timmy muttered, trying to wrench himself free, but it was no use.

Later, Armie wanted to say, but held his tongue: Luca had stood and was walking toward them.

“Timothée, this will not do,” Luca said, like he was a put-upon teacher whose student had displeased him. Armie tried not to focus on the heat of Timmy’s body, and when Luca reached between them for the phone, he tried to not to think about how Luca’s hand nearly brushed his cock. Timmy held on stubbornly until Armie squeezed his wrist, forcing him to drop the phone into Luca’s hand.

It had stopped ringing, and Luca contemplated it stoically. “This will not do,” he said again. “You will not go to New York, is that clear?”

Timmy was breathing hard, and Armie watched the muscles in his neck move as he swallowed.

“Luca. Please.”

The cold look in Luca’s eyes softened just a little bit.

“Please,” Timmy said. His voice had taken on a different quality—low and needy in a different way. He squirmed, an action that involved altogether too much friction for Armie’s liking. Armie watched Luca’s eyes travel down, down, down, until…

“And what should we do about this?” he asked. At first, Armie couldn’t understand what he was referring to.

Timmy turned his head, his dark curls tickling Armie’s nose.

Luca laughed. Armie heard the jingle of a belt buckle, and felt Timmy’s hips pitch forward as Luca tugged his pants open.

What the fuck.

“Don’t let go, Mr. Hammer,” Luca said calmly, and slid a hand into Timmy’s pants. Or at least, Armie assumed that’s what he did, because Timmy gasped and jerked back against Armie’s chest.

“Is this what you wanted, Timothée?” Luca’s voice was low and soft.

Timmy shook his head. Still, he rolled his hips, bucking up into Luca’s hand, then grinding himself back against the growing bulge in Armie’s pants.

Armie closed his eyes and tried to steady himself. This wasn’t really happening, was it? When he opened them again, Luca was staring at him over Timmy’s shoulder, a half smile playing on his lips.

“Something wrong?” he asked. Casually, like he didn’t currently have his hand on Timmy’s cock.

“I… I’m not sure—”

“He thinks you’re gonna—ah, fuck—you’re gonna have him murdered,” Timmy said through gritted teeth as Luca kept jerking him off.

Luca tilted his head. “And why would I do that?”

Armie’s heart was beating out of his chest. He couldn’t feel his hands anymore, but he was pretty sure he was gripping Timmy’s wrists way too fucking hard.

“‘Cause we’re fucking,” Timmy said with a strange, high-pitched giggle.

Armie could feel his soul leaving his body. Visions of the Canadian wilderness swam before his eyes. “No, I—”

“Do you think i do not know what goes on in my own house, Mr. Hammer?” Luca asked, and a chill ran down Armie’s spine. “Timothée tells me everything. Don’t you?”

“Yes,” Timmy breathed. His eyes were closed; Armie could see his impossibly long eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks.

“You see?” Luca said with a quiet chuckle. “Believe me, Mr. Hammer—if I wanted you dead, you would be.”

Armie felt a strange thrill of relief and… something else.

“Yes, sir,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. Luca smiled.

Fuck, he was so hard.

As if he could sense it, Timmy pressed himself into Armie’s body again. This time, Armie didn’t bother holding back: he pulled Timmy back by the wrists, grinding himself against Timmy’s ass.

“Oh fuck,” Timmy gasped. Armie pressed his mouth to his neck. He was a few inches taller than Timmy—just enough so that, when he leaned forward like this, he could see almost everything Luca was doing: his hand moved at an agonizingly slow pace, jerking Timmy with long, even strokes. He was standing so close that Armie could smell them both—mingled cologne, sweat, and a lemony tang he guessed was liquor. Had they been drinking before he got here?

Timmy’s breath was coming hard and fast now, and Luca leaned in close, pressing their foreheads together.

“You will do as I say.”

“Luca…”

“You know I am right.”

Timmy groaned in frustration, and Armie pressed a kiss to his ear. The friction on his cock was almost unbearable, and he thought if they stayed like this any longer he might actually come just from that alone. Timmy shuddered. He was getting close, too, Armie could tell—his whole body was tense, wound tight, desperate for release.

“Fuck… I… I know,” he managed between gasps. “You’re right. I’ll—ah—I’ll do whatever you say. I promise. Just—faster, please. Please…”

“Good boy,” Luca said softly.

Timmy moaned, and even though words weren’t meant for Armie, they went straight to his cock. The kisses he planted on Timmy’s skin turned to nips as Luca quickened his pace.

“Shit,” Timmy gasped. “Im gonna—” Before he could even get the words out he was coming, thrusting wildly into Luca’s hand. Armie met Luca’s eyes, fierce and intense, like he was looking into Armie’s fucking soul. Timmy’s body was hot against his, and the pressure inside him was almost too much—

“Come, Mr. Hammer,” Luca said. The words were like a release, and Armie’s vision swam as he finally let go and tipped over the edge, creaming his pants like a fucking teenager.

He’d never been one to disobey a direct order, after all.

Then it was over, and Timmy sagged back against him as Armie struggled to make sense of what exactly had just happened. When Armie let go of his wrists, he could see the skin there was red and bruised.

Luca stood back and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. “You will go to Italy with Timmy,” he said to Armie as he carefully wiped the mess from his hands.

“I will?”

“If that is agreeable to you.”

Timmy perked up. “What? Really?”

“Armie?” Luca asked.

His given name sounded strange on Luca’s lips, but he found he didn’t really mind it. He was still trying to wrap his head around what had led them to this point—his thoughts were fuzzy and slow and Timmy was staring at him, cheeks flushed and eyes bright.

“Would that make you happy?” Armie asked him.

“Yeah. Yeah, it would.”

“Then... yeah. Fuck it. Let’s go to Italy."

So much for not getting too close.

Chapter Text

And just like that, all the preparations and running around took on a new meaning. They weren’t hurtling toward the end anymore, but to something else: Italy.

“So is this gonna be like a vacation?” Armie asked Timmy a few days later at the shooting range. They’d started going a few weeks back at Timmy’s suggestion.

“I guess,” Timmy said. He finished loading Armie’s glock, and Armie stood back and put on his earphones as Timmy levelled the gun at the target.

“Not bad,” Armie said when he’d unloaded the magazine into the cardboard cutout. Timmy shrugged like it was no big deal, but Armie didn’t miss his small, proud smile.

Of course, Armie wasn’t sure where in Italy they were going, exactly (“Classified,” Timmy told him with a wry smile when he asked), but he kept picturing a luxurious villa near the ocean; lazy afternoons sipping lemonade and riding bikes through the countryside.

Luca wasn’t much help either. “You will love it,” he said confidently when Armie pressed him for more details. Then: “Best not mention this to Bluebird, yes?”

So Armie supposed it really was “classified.”

*

The next two weeks were full of more meetings, more running around, more errands, and more calls.

Except, more and more often, Armie found himself being invited in. The next time Luca and Timmy met with Jim, they seemed surprised when he made to leave the room. So Armie took a seat next to Timmy and tried to keep up with all the names and titles they threw around. Angelo, Felice, Rex, Louis. Names of men who sounded like Renaissance royalty.

It was during this meeting that the subject of Greta Gerwig arose once more.

“We’re having dinner with her and Sersh this Friday, okay?” Timmy said firmly. “Okay? They’re leaving next week and I still haven’t seen them.”

“Yes, yes,” Luca said. “And where would you like to go?”

Timmy lit up. “What about that Japanese place in the Grove? Sersh has been talking about it for a while…”

“Sorry… Who or what is a ‘Sersh’?” Armie ventured.

“Sersh is Saoirse,” Timmy said. “Only my oldest and best friend in the world. So, no big deal.”

“Saoirse Ronan,” Luca added pointedly, and Armie frowned.

“Wait… as in the Ronans?” he asked. “The Irish gangsters?”

“Don’t let her hear you call them that,” Timmy said. “But yeah. That’s not how we met, though—I’ve known her since first grade.”

“Holy shit,” Armie said. “So is she, you know… in the family business?”

Armie had nearly forgotten Jim was there until he cleared his throat. “Ms. Ronan is currently attending university,” he said politely. “Political Science. Though I believe she’s done for the year.”

Timmy caught Armie’s eye and winked.

*

“Pony!”

Armie turned to find a young, very pretty blonde woman skipping towards them, beaming from ear to ear.

“Sersh!” Timmy cried as he pulled her into a tight hug, lifting her off her feet and swinging her from side to side. They were both laughing when he finally put her down.

“Armie Hammer,” said Greta, who had walked into the restaurant just behind the blonde woman. “Hello hello,” she added, punctuating the words with a finger-gun hand gesture that might have been cool if the delivery wasn’t so awkward.

“Hey Greta,” Armie said with an easy smile. “And this must be…”

“Saoirse. Hi,” said the blonde woman, extending her hand.

“Oh, so you’re Irish Irish,” Armie said. He hadn’t expected an accent quite so thick.

“Yeah, I grew up kinda going back and forth, just like this one.” She punched Timmy in the arm. “Ah, Luca!” Saoirse had only just noticed him, and she pulled him into a familiar embrace.

After all the hugging was out of the way, they sat down at a large table near the back of the restaurant, Timmy next to Saoirse, Armie between Luca and Greta.

To Armie’s pleasant surprise, he found Greta an easy conversation partner—at first she asked him about himself, but when his answers were less than enthusiastic she changed tact and started talking about her practice on the East Coast. She had a way of storytelling that was lively and captivating, and Armie found himself utterly drawn in.

The food came, and as they ate, Saoirse and Timmy kept up a constant stream of inside jokes and throwbacks.

“Do you know why I call him Pony?” Saoirse asked Armie at one point.

“No clue. Why?”

Timmy leaned his head on her shoulder, nuzzling his face into the crook of her neck; Saoirse ruffled his hair.

“See? My pretty pony!”

After the meal, they walked a few blocks over to a cocktail bar that Greta liked. Her and Saoirse walked with their arms wrapped around each other, and once or twice Armie saw Greta press a gentle kiss to Saoirse’s cheek.

“I can’t believe this place is still around,” Greta said when they stopped in front of a shabby bar with a busted neon sign. “I used to come here all the time in college… It’s not that fancy, but they make a mean tequila sunrise.”

The bar was nearly empty, so they found seats at the counter and Greta ordered them a round.

“They’re cute, huh?” Greta asked Armie as they watched Timmy and Saoirse erupt into another fit of laughter a little ways away.

“Yeah,” Armie agreed. “How long have you known Saoirse?”

“Only a few years now. The Ronans are my husband’s clients.”

“Husband?” Armie asked, trying not to sound too surprised.

“For ten years now, yeah. Is that such a shock?”

“No, it’s just…” Armie cleared his throat awkwardly. “I guess I thought... you and Saoirse…” He gestured vaguely.

“Ah. Yeah. Well.” She shrugged and took a long sip of her tequila sunrise. “It is what it is.”

Armie wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but Saoirse beckoned Greta over before he could ask. Almost immediately, Luca sat down in her place.

“Do you mind?” he asked, and Armie shook his head. Luca reached into his jacket and pulled out two cigars; he gave one to Armie, then placed one between his lips and lit them both.

Armie looked surreptitiously around the bar as he puffed. Everyone else seemed to have left.

“Closed for the night,” Luca said with a twinkle in his eye. “At my suggestion.”

Armie smiled.

“Your contract with Bluebird is coming to an end, yes?” Luca asked after a few minutes.

“Almost, yeah. Four more days, then I’m a free man.”

“How generous of them.”

Armie laughed. “You don’t know the half of it.”

“Oh, I think I do,” Luca said. “I perform quite thorough background checks. Even more thorough when the information is not readily available. And, if I may say, Bluebird was not exactly forthcoming.”

“Oh yeah?” Armie asked, trying and failing to keep his tone casual. “So... what do you know about me?”

“Just the basics,” Luca said lightly. “Some of it you have told me already: you served with the US Marines for two years before you were recruited to special ops. Counter-Terrorism, et cetera. On paper it seems like your military career was quite illustrious, but you received a dishonourable discharge four years after joining. Though, interestingly, that information has been scrubbed from public record.”

Armie’s mouth had gone dry.

“I admit,” Luca went on, “I do not know much about the US military, but I’m told in such instances prison time is likely. Yet, you never saw the inside of a cell. Instead, you began working for Bluebird. Don’t worry,” Luca said at the expression on Armie’s face, “I have known all this for a while.”

“Sorry,” Armie managed. “It’s, uh… kind of a sore subject.”

“I imagine so. As is, I suppose, your work with Bluebird? That is rather interesting too. Some time stateside, some abroad. Several noteworthy connections—a Russian friend of mine had some fascinating things to say...”

Armie’s heart sank. So, was this Luca’s plan all along? Blackmail him just like Bluebird had for all these years?

“Did you know the whole time?” Armie asked, thinking back to their conversation before the police station.

“Yes. But please, do not worry,” Luca said, and, to Armie’s surprise, actually reached over and covered Armie's hand with his own. “I know what you are thinking, and I understand why you have not told me everything. In fact, I respect it. And, if you would like to be a part of this—of my organization—I offer you a place freely and without any strings. I think you have proven yourself by now. And I tell you all this now only so that you know you have not tricked me, or duped me somehow. I am well aware of your past, and the weaknesses that come with it.”

Armie let out a long breath. “Why? Like, I’m sorry, but knowing all of that… why the fuck do you want me working for you?”

Luca shrugged. “I think you are trustworthy, but not too much so. Loyal, perhaps to a fault, though ultimately self-serving. I am the same way, so I respect this. And, of course, you care for Timothée in a way that I feel is genuine. In the years to come he will need people he can count on.”

“You say that like you’re dying or something,” Armie said with a nervous chuckle. Luca only smiled benignly and took a long puff of his cigar.

“Armie!”

Before he knew what was happening Timmy’s arms were around him.

“Whoa, hey…”

“We’re having a party,” Timmy slurred. Saoirse was standing nearby trying to contain her laughter.

“You okay?” Armie asked as Timmy pressed a messy kiss to his cheek.

“We did shots,” Timmy whispered in his ear. “Shh.”

“Wow, really? Wouldn’t have guessed…”

“So. Party,” Timmy went on seriously. “This weekend, before we leave. Luca—yes? Yes party?”

Luca shrugged. “If you would like.”

“Yes, Maestro. Yes. Thank you,” Timmy said, and kissed Luca’s hand like he was royalty. He pressed another kiss to Armie’s ear and then he and Saoirse were gone; presumably to find more alcohol.

*

So, Armie was officially in. Timmy trusted him, and because of that (and whatever else Armie had done to prove himself), so did Luca.

The next few days were a blur, and Armie started feeling nostalgic for their life in LA. Sure, Italy with Timmy was exciting, but he would miss the early mornings by the pool, sipping espresso and nibbling pastries. He’d miss the late nights in Luca’s study, planning and talking. Or, after a few hours and a few glasses of wine, fucking. (Luca liked watching them, and Armie soon discovered he didn’t mind watching Luca and Timmy either).

Soon everything was done. Everyone important had been met with; tickets had been bought, hotels booked, and vehicles chartered. Despite all the running around (and despite the journey ahead of them) for the first time in a long time, Armie started to relax.

Every day, the Canadian wilderness seemed farther and farther away.

*

Two days before they were due to leave, Timmy and Saoirse finally had their party. Armie expected something lavish—a DJ, maybe; wealthy socialites, soundcloud rappers, a clown—but the whole thing turned out to be more of a soirée than a rager. Timmy had a varied group of friends that ran the gamut from art school dropouts to the mimosa mob wives Armie was already well acquainted with, but he knew them all well and stopped to talk with each of them as they filed in and started milling about the house.

Timmy and Saoirse had gotten the whole thing catered and hired extra security, so there wasn’t much for Armie to do but follow Timmy around and stand awkwardly in the corner with a glass of sparkling apple juice. He took the opportunity to people watch.

“I just saw a guy in a pink pinstripe tux with fucking embroidered dragons or some shit on it,” Armie muttered to Timmy when they had a moment to themselves. “Dragons. Friend of yours?”

“What? You’re making that up.”

“Dude, trust me, I could not come up with this shit on my own. His sleeves were covered in rhinestones and he was talking with some chick who I’m pretty sure was an actual vampire.”

Timmy suppressed a smile. “Must be friends of Sersh’s.”

“Sounds about right.” Timmy snorted, and Armie nudged his shoulder playfully. “So is this actually fun for you, or what?”

Timmy shrugged. “To be honest? Yeah. I’m barely in LA, and when I am here I’m so busy that I usually don’t see anyone. Especially this month.”

“Shit’s been crazy,” Armie agreed. “You holding up okay?”

Shrug. Armie loved the way he pursed his lips; loved the way his eyelashes fluttered when he looked at the ceiling. With a thrill, Armie realized he’d get to spend the indefinite future looking at Timmy’s face.

“What?” Timmy asked suspiciously, his mouth creeping into a small smile.

“Nothing,” Armie said. “Nothing, just… Nah. Nevermind.”

Timmy opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but before he could, his eyes slid to a point just above Armie’s shoulder.

“What the fuck.”

“What?” Armie asked, and turned. A group of men had just walked in—young, dark, and dressed in stylish black. The one who seemed to be the leader saw Timmy looking and tilted his head in acknowledgement.

“I’ll be right back,” Timmy muttered as he brushed past Armie.

“Need backup?” Armie asked, but Timmy only waved a hand behind him.

“Stay here.”

Armie watched Timmy weave through the crowd of mingling people. By the time he got to the group of men, his dark expression had vanished. He greeted them like old friends, and they walked out the door and onto the patio.

Armie knew he should really go after them, just to make sure everything was fine. He should, but… Timmy had told him to stay put.

Fuck.

He knocked back the rest of his sparkling apple juice and was about to follow them when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Enjoying the festivities?” Saoirse said with a flourish. Greta was close behind, and she slipped an arm around Saoirse’s waist as she came to stand beside her.

“Hi, Armie! Armie Hammer. Arm-and-hammer. You must get that a lot, huh?”

“Mhmm,” Armie said. His eyes were still fixed on the door where Timmy and the group of men had been only minutes ago. He shook himself and turned to them, forcing a smile. “Joke’s on you though—Armie’s short for Armand, so every crack you make about my name really just makes you sound like my mom when she’s mad.”

Saoirse laughed. “And I thought my name was bad. Did they call you baking soda boy at school?”

Greta snorted.

“Weirdly, no,” Armie said.

“That’s criminal,” Saoirse said. “I mean, I don’t usually advocate for schoolyard bullying, but what a wasted opportunity…”

They bantered pleasantly for a few more minutes until Greta and Saoirse noticed his drink was empty; then came the quest to find more alcohol. When Armie protested that he’d only been drinking apple juice in the first place, Saoirse looked at him like he’d just murdered her firstborn child.

After securing three full glasses of champagne, Saoirse excused herself for more mingling and Armie and Greta ended up on the balcony overlooking the backyard. Someone had strung fairy lights up on all the bushes and trees, and groups of partygoers milled around lazily below them.

“Nice night,” Greta said, leaning on the bannister.

“Mmm.”

“You excited?”

“Hm?”

“For wherever you’re going with Timmy in two days.”

“Oh. I guess so, yeah.”

It was mostly dark except for the light that filtered up from the garden, but Armie could tell Greta was watching him keenly.

“You guess so,” Greta echoed. “You and him are pretty close, huh?”

“Not as close as you and Saoirse,” Armie replied, and she chuckled.

“I don’t know about that. I do know it can be hard, though. This… business, or whatever you want to call it.” She hesitated, then sighed. “You seem like a nice guy, Armie. And I mean that, truly. Just… be careful.”

Suddenly the warm night air seemed chilly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Before we talked with the investigators, I did some digging,” Greta started slowly. “Making sure you didn’t have any priors, that kind of stuff. I didn’t find anything, except… well, except an old court case. 2016, do you remember? You filed for partial custody against your ex. You ended up withdrawing, and the digital file was gone, but there was still a paper record in the database. And I like to do things old school, so...”

Armie remembered. How could he forget? His stomach churned unpleasantly. “Does Luca know?”

“No,” Greta said. “He knows everything else, but not that. We all have secrets, and that one should stay kept.”

Armie let out a long breath. “Thank you. Seriously.”

“I didn’t do for it for you. Listen, Armie… This might all seem like fun and games—going to parties, lounging by the pool, tagging along to meetings with powerful people—and you might feel like you’re on the inside. But for everything Luca tells you, there are fifty things he doesn’t. The same goes for Timmy, and me, and the company you work for. Things are in motion right now, and you might think you know what’s going to happen, but there’s a very real possibility that you’re dead wrong. You have a lot to lose—more than I do. More than Timmy does. Do you really trust him?”

What the fuck was he supposed to say to that? Of course he knew this was dangerous—it wasn’t like he was born yesterday. He’d worked with men like Luca before. But he couldn’t summon the energy to be angry at the lecture. Instead, Armie only shrugged and looked out over the backyard. He was just about to make up some excuse to go back inside and find Timmy when he noticed the same group of men from earlier striding purposefully across the lawn towards the gate.

Timmy was with them, and Armie breathed a momentary sigh of relief. But something wasn’t right—one of the men had his arm around the kid in a way that was a little too forceful to be friendly, steering him forward. If Armie had been on the ground, he might not have noticed anything else amiss, but as it was he was just able to make out the metallic glint of a gun pressed into the small of Timmy’s back.

“Shit,” he breathed.

“What? What’s wrong?” Greta asked, but Armie slipped back inside before she could even finish the sentence.

Everything in his brain was on red alert. Fuck. Fuck. He should never have let Timmy go alone—how had he failed so spectacularly? And besides that, who were those guys? Timmy had spoken to them like he knew them, but—

“Armie!”

Suddenly Esther was in front of him. She was dressed nicely—a satin evening dress, her hair curled just so—but her eyes were wide and panicked.

“Where is Timmy?” she asked urgently. “He texted me—Louis is here? And the others? I don’t know why, but—”

“I think he’s in trouble,” Armie muttered, and her face drained of any remaining colour.

“What—?”

“Just—find Luca,” Armie called out over his shoulder as he sprinted past her. “Meet me outside!”

Through the crowd. Down the stairs. Out into the driveway.

Armie cast around wildly. Empty.

He pulled out his phone to call Timmy, but it started ringing before he could dial. A blocked number.

“Hello?”

“Armie?”

“Timmy? Where are you?”

The reception was bad, and there was a rumble like he was in a moving vehicle. Armie heard a man’s voice in the background.

“Safe,” Timmy said, but he sounded weird. Strained.

“Who are you with?” Armie demanded. “What happened?” As he spoke, Armie was dimly aware of the front door opening behind him.

“I’m with friends,” Timmy said.

“What the fuck? Timmy—”

A rustle and more static, then:

“I’d like to speak to Luca,” said a man Armie didn’t recognize.

“Who is this?”

The man laughed. “Put Luca on the phone.”

Before Armie could argue any further, he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to find Luca himself, with Esther standing at his elbow.

Armie passed him the phone. “Good evening, Rex,” Luca said pleasantly when he brought it to his ear. “How is your father?” His face was unreadable as he listened to the response. Armie and Esther exchanged glances.

“Perfectly clear,” Luca said after a minute. Then, “No, thank you.”

He hung up. Most of the time, Armie found Luca friendly in a gentle, good-natured kind of way. But now the twinkle had gone from his eyes. The door had shut, and as calm as he seemed Armie knew it only masked something much, much darker.

“There has been a change of plans,” Luca said. “Timothée is safe, but he is not going to Italy. At the request of my dear brother, we will meet him in New York.”

Instantly, Armie’s visions of lazy days in the Italian countryside vanished. New York.

“Will you join us?” Luca asked, turning to Armie. Something about the way he said it felt final, like a pact, and Greta’s words came back to him.

Things are in motion, she had said. Do you really trust him?

Armie already knew his answer.

Chapter Text

On the plane, Luca drew Armie a family tree.

He started with his own name: Luca (46), then added Angelo (44), Felice (42), Anna (40), and Eugenia (28).

“My siblings,” he explained. “Though you will likely not meet Eugenia this time; she spends the warmer months in France.” He drew a vertical line down from Angelo’s name to Esther (24), and Louis (26). Then a line connecting Angelo to Amira Chalamet (46).

"Timmy's aunt?" Armie guessed, and Luca nodded.

"This is his familial connection. Angelo was close with Timothée's father before his passing; he was Angelo's second-in-command for many years."

"Huh." Armie recognized Angelo's name—he and Luca spoke frequently, and if Luca ever took a business call there was a pretty damn good chance it was from him.

"Since our father's death, Angelo has run our New York chapter on his own,” Luca went on. “Of all my living relatives, he is the one I trust most.”

Luca next drew a horizontal line from Felice’s name to Katja (Tolstov) (41), then added three children: William (25), Rex (23), Caesar (22), and Cyrus (15).

“Ridiculous names; ridiculous people. I doubt you will see much of the eldest or the youngest—Cyrus attends a boarding school upstate; William is currently abroad,” Luca said, but Armie’s eyes were fixed on Felice’s wife.

“Tolstov?” he asked, and Luca smiled wryly.

“Yes, those Tolstovs. My father thought their marriage might strengthen our ties. It has, of course, but that presents its own set of problems.” Luca tapped Felice’s name. “My dear brother has always had a chip on his shoulder.”

“So he’s working with the Russians?”

“It is a bit more complicated than that. We have many partnerships; some are with the Russians. The Irish. Et cetera.”

“But if he’s married to—”

“We must not jump to conclusions.”

Armie disagreed. Timmy had been taken, presumably on the orders of this Felice character, and no matter how well his goons claimed they were treating him, jumping to conclusions was exactly what they should be doing.

Armie took the family tree Luca had drawn, trying to commit the names and relationships to memory. “And this is who’ll be at the meeting?”

“Yes. Plus several stakeholders.”

Stakeholders, like this was some corporate barbecue and not an organized crime summit.

“So, what, business partners?”

“One or two. And someone from the Committee. Think of them as an... ethics board,” Luca explained at the puzzled expression on Armie’s face. “Years ago, disputes like ours would have been settled with a shootout. So, many people died. The Committee exists to ensure that murder is not the go-to solution; that we behave in a civilized manner.”

“Civilized,” Armie echoed, and Luca nodded.

“This is why we do not have to worry quite yet: etiquette dictates that violent action is not permissible unless in retaliation.”

Retaliation. Something about the word sent a shiver up Armie’s spine.

“Don’t shoot until shot?”

“Precisely. Such an action would preclude any claim to leadership.”

Luca’s tone was almost pleasant, like a benevolent professor. How was he so calm? All Armie wanted to do was storm in, guns blazing, and destroy everything in his path until he got to Timmy.

“Perhaps not the best idea,” Luca said when Armie voiced the thought aloud. “Again, there are certain rules of etiquette in these situations. Il galateo. We broke several of them when we conspired to have Timothée wait in Italy. So, as irritating as all this is, I cannot fault Felice his frustration.”

“Then why not just have Timmy come to New York in the first place?”

Luca smiled sadly. “Fear, I suppose. Or love.”

*

New York was exactly like Armie remembered it: rainy, cold, and absolutely filthy.

There were two cars waiting for them outside the airport; Esther took the first one while Armie and Luca took the second. She would head directly to meet with her father, while they would go to Luca’s apartment to regroup.

Armie was already shivering just from the short walk between arrivals and the curb. “Isn’t it supposed to be fucking April?”

“Perhaps a new wardrobe is in order,” Luca said, peering up at the steely grey sky. He had just slid into the back seat ahead of him when Armie’s phone rang.

Bluebird. Fuck.

“What?” he answered bluntly.

“Hello to you, too,” said the woman on the other end. “I have some good news: your contract’s been extended.”

“That’s shit news and you know it,” Armie muttered. “I thought you were done with me.”

“Things changed. And I see you’re already in New York, so what’s the problem? I am too, as fate would have it. Come by headquarters tonight as soon as you get settled in.”

“You’re never gonna let me go, are you?”

Silence; the crackle of bad reception.

“Remember what’s at stake here, Armie.” Her voice was dangerously soft. “Guadagnino may trust you, but don’t lose sight of what really matters.”

The line went dead with a click.

“Everything all right?” Luca asked when Armie joined him in the car.

“Fine,” Armie lied, even though he was starting to think that literally nothing would ever be fine again for the rest of his miserable life.

*

Luca’s Brooklyn apartment was nothing like Armie expected, which was probably because it was really Timmy’s apartment.

“I have another place in Manhattan,” Luca said as he closed the door behind him, “but I have always preferred this location.”

“It’s nice,” Armie said, though that was a bit of an understatement. It wasn’t just nice; it was Timmy—so thoroughly Timmy that Armie felt like he’d stepped inside the kid’s brain.

First of all, there was the smell. It hit him as soon as he walked in: a mixture of cologne, deodorant, shampoo and old clothes that was so strong and so familiar Armie had to steel himself against a powerful wave of homesickness..

Then there was the decor. The place was pretty big for New York (three bedrooms and a kitchen), and over the bones of an industrial loft Timmy had added an array of original artwork; mostly minimal modernist pieces peppered with some photography, street art, and several bizarre sculptures that Armie might’ve mistaken for garbage if they hadn’t been staged so precisely. There was also a whole wall of records, shelves full of CDs, and a sizable walk-in closet filled mostly with custom-made bomber jackets and different variations of the same white sneakers.

Luca uncorked a dusty bottle of wine while Armie gave the place a once-over, checking for bugs and other devices.

He’d never really thought about Timmy having friends his own age, but now he imagined them here—artists, musicians, and models, probably. Timmy would put on music and they’d drink cheap beer as they listened to so-and-so’s new demo, chatting about such-and-such’s new exhibition and the pieces they wanted to buy from their favourite designer’s summer collection. Armie had only known LA Timmy—ambitious, haughty, impatient—but now he wondered what he’d been missing. Would he even like New York Timmy? Then again, that was kind of a stupid question considering just the smell of him was enough to make Armie’s head swim. Fuck, he missed the kid.

“All clear,” Armie said after he was sure the place hadn’t been compromised.

The sun had already set, and Armie went to join Luca where he stood looking out over the city lights. They cast a pale neon glow over Luca’s features, washing away the years so that Armie thought he could imagine what he’d looked like as a young man. Luca handed him a glass of wine.

“What’s going to happen at the meeting?” Armie asked.

“Mutiny, I expect.”

Armie’s blood ran cold. “Why?”

“My family is not happy with the direction of my business. The Guadagninos, you see, have always been local. New York, Los Angeles, and that is all. Small-time drug peddling, money laundering, coordinating imports, et cetera. This is what we have done for decades, and it has made us wealthy. But this model is very…. limiting. So, I have been expanding. Building partnerships. You know Greta—her and her husband have become close partners; they own one of one of the largest arms manufacturing companies in North America. I believe—and Timothée believes, for it was his idea in the first place—that this is the future of our organization.”

Armie took a long sip from his glass, processing this information. “Expanding was Timmy’s idea?”

“Yes—his friendship with Greta first brought her and her husband to my attention. But naturally, setting our sights internationally means scaling back locally. You are familiar with Grigori Stepanov?”

Armie laughed, though it came out more like a huff; dry and humourless. “You know I am.”

“He is one of those who stands to lose much from such an organizational shift. I expect he and his associates may make an appearance at our family meeting.”

“So he’ll help them. They’ll turn on you, and he’ll help.”

“Most likely, yes. They have tried to change my mind, and now, being unsuccessful, they wish to make me go away. So, our mission is no long to make them see reason, but simply to go in, get Timothée, and emerge unscathed.”

Armie exhaled slowly. “And how do we do that?”

“I have some ideas, but I’m afraid I cannot share them with you now. When the time is right, we will make our move.”

Armie nodded slowly, then frowned. “And after that?”

“Italy,” Luca said with a small smile. “But only for a time—only until things are not so volatile. Then we will return, and the real work will begin.”

Italy with Luca and Timmy. Armie could practically feel the sun; taste the wine. Things would be simpler there. But for Armie, it wasn’t as easy as escaping Luca’s disgruntled family. No, there was another, far more formidable obstacle standing in his way. The knot in his chest tightened again.

“He’s safe, right?” Armie asked, partly to distract from his own guilt.

“For now,” Luca said. He seemed to sense the tension in Armie’s voice, because he reached out and put a hand on Armie’s neck, just below his jaw. The touch was steady and firm, but there was something else about it—authority, maybe—that made Armie feel safe. Almost in spite of himself, his eyes fluttered closed. He exhaled slowly, letting go of the tension in his body, his shoulders slumping.

“Do not worry about Timothée,” Luca said.

Armie cracked an eye open. Luca was only an inch or so shorter than him—just about the same height as Timmy—and for the first time Armie realized how close they were standing. Luca’s eyes, normally light brown, looked black in the half light.

He had an urge, then, and he didn’t question it—just leaned forward and brought their lips together. The kiss was light at first, but for some reason it made Armie’s chest ache. Deeper, and the ache deepened too. Luca’s moustache tickled his nose.

I’m sorry, Armie wanted to say; wanted to spill all his darkest secrets and beg for forgiveness so that maybe he could find some kind of absolution. Or, if not that, some kind of penance. He needed to atone.

Maybe Luca sensed it, because he didn’t seem at all surprised when Armie dropped to his knees.

Armie fumbled with Luca’s belt. His hands were shaking, but he felt strangely calm—his breath was steady and even, the knot in his chest miraculously loose. Armie felt Luca’s hands in his hair, gentle and firm. He closed his eyes again, opened his mouth, let Luca guide him down onto his cock. He was only half hard, and Armie liked how it it felt to blow him like that; liked how he could take the whole of Luca’s cock to the back of his throat and feel him swell under his tongue.

The hands in his hair rubbed soothing circles on his scalp as Armie pulled back—or Luca pulled him back—and trailed his tongue along the underside of Luca’s cock. The rest of the world seemed to fade away as Armie struck up a steady rhythm: all that existed was saliva and skin; the hard floor under his knees; the smell of Timmy all around them, so strong that Armie could’ve sworn he was there in the flesh.

Armie gripped Luca by the hips, pulling him in closer, taking his cock as deep as he could without gagging. His own erection felt heavy and swollen between his legs so that even the light touch of his pants was enough to make him moan. Luca was nearly silent, but the fingers in Armie’s hair were enough, moving with him, forcing him to pace himself even when he wanted to go faster. And then Luca’s grip tightened and Armie barely had time to brace himself before his mouth filled with bitter warmth. He kept going, swallowing it all down eagerly, not wanting to pull away, until Luca’s hands forced him back.

Armie sat back on his heels, breathing hard. Above him, Luca’s face was in shadow. One of his hands still rested on Armie’s head, tracing absent circles in the fine hairs of his temple.

Armie closed his eyes. He was still hard, but he didn’t mind the feeling—didn’t even feel the need to get himself off.

Eventually he stood, and Luca did up his fly. The glass of wine was already back in his hand (had he even set it down?) and Armie watched him take a long sip. “I have to see Bluebird tonight,” Armie said hoarsely.

“Oh?”

“They called earlier about my contract.”

Luca swirled his wine. “The contract that ended yesterday.”

“Yeah.”

Luca levelled a cold gaze at him, and, not for the first time, Armie wondered who would dare cross this man. “If you are to be at my side now,” he said, “I would prefer if it were only as my private associate.”

“I understand.”

Armie thought of Timmy. Long days in the car, boxing on the beach, the way his hair fell into his eyes when he played piano, the salty sweetness of his mouth. And then, the promise of Italy—so many days together ahead of them, lazy and long and filled with nothing but each other.

But there had been a time before Timmy—a time when Armie’s life hadn’t been a series of fuckups, leapfrogging from one bad decision to another.

Remember what’s at stake here.

“It’s just a formality,” Armie finally said. “Give the gun back, sign some papers—you know. Everything was kinda rushed, so I didn’t get a chance before we left. But the New York HQ is pretty close by—I won’t be long. You’re okay until I get back?”

“Yes, I will be quite safe. Go to your meeting. Tomorrow we will see the family.”

Armie nodded and finished his glass, trying not to think about how completely and utterly fucked he was.

*

Bluebird’s NYC chapter was located on the 20th floor of a stately office building in midtown.

The young woman at the front desk did a double take when Armie walked out of the elevator.

“Hey Katie,” Armie said wearily, wondering if he looked as bad as he felt—he hadn’t eaten anything since the airplane and he hadn’t changed his clothes since the party at Luca’s two days ago.

“Hi, Armie,” Katie said slowly.

“Mind if I go in?”

“Uhh…” She frowned at her computer.

“She’s expecting me.”

“I don’t, um… I don’t have you on the schedule.” Katie was looking him warily, like any moment Armie might pull out a machine gun. He was just about to offer some half-assed excuse for his appearance when the door opened and out walked the Queen of the Castle herself. Bluebird.

“Armie Hammer,” she said with a smile.

“Elizabeth Chambers,” Armie replied. “It’s been a while.”

*

Liz’s office was a huge white room overlooking Central Park. Her desk was situated in front of the window, and when Armie sat down across from her he felt like a little kid staring into the face of god. He’d forgotten just how much she terriffed him.

“You look like shit,” she said simply.

“And you look amazing. Now can we cut to the chase?”

Liz raised one perfectly-penciled eyebrow. “If that’s what you want.”

Armie nodded, and she flipped open a folder on her desk.

“The Guadagnino family is meeting to discuss the future of their organization. Timothée Hal Chalamet, Luca’s boyfriend, planned not to attend, but was compelled to by Luca’s extended family. Is that correct?”

The way she said boyfriend made Armie’s hackles rise: flat and clinical. Reductive.

“More or less,” Armie said.

“And Luca trusts you enough to bring you with him.”

“I guess so.”

Liz placed her fountain pen to her lips thoughtfully. “That’s good. Very good. People seem to do that, don’t they?”

“What, trust me?”

“Mhmm. Why do you think that is?”

“My good looks and sunny disposition?”

Armie didn’t miss her brief, small smile.

“What did you mean on the phone?” he asked after a moment.

Liz set down her pen and laced her fingers together thoughtfully. “I’m in a difficult position, Armie. If you leave now, it’s not only my orders you’ll be disobeying.”

The dangerous edge to her voice was back, but there was something else there, too—pleading, maybe.

“What orders? And whose?”

“Felice Guadagnino’s,” Liz said simply. “From this point on, consider him your command override. As for orders, you’ll receive them when the time comes. In the meantime, I will notify Luca Guadagnino that your contract has ended. As far as he’ll know, you’ll be a free agent.”

“Fantastic,” Armie said flatly. Felice Guadagnino, the youngest brother; husband to a Russian bride. Felice Guadagnino, who had always had a chip on his shoulder.

Liz was watching him carefully. “Right now, I need to know that you will do whatever he asks of you, without question. Even when that conflicts with your own personal desires.”

“Personal desires?”

“You’ve developed a relationship with Guadagnino and Chalamet that transcends the typical bounds of professionalism.”

Armie shifted uneasily in his seat. “Who told you that?”

“People talk.”

“It was fucking Nick, wasn’t it?”

“He was only doing his job. And you haven’t exactly been discreet.”

Okay, so maybe Armie deserved that one.

Liz’s eyes flicked downward, and for the first time Armie noticed the set of sleek silver picture frames on her desk.

“How long has it been, Armie?” she asked as she took one in her hand and studied it. Armie’s heart sank.

“Don’t do this to me, Liz.”

“I’m not doing anything to you; I’m giving you options.” She held out the frame and Armie took it, already knowing what the picture would be: two children, a boy and a girl.

“They’re getting big,” he said after a minute. He hoped she couldn’t hear the tremor in his voice.

“They miss you,” she said, and the words cut through all his walls like paper.

“They don’t even know who I am.”

“Do you want them to?”

Anger flared in his chest. “Fucking really? You’re gonna play that card?”

Liz slid a piece of paper across the desk. Armie scanned it and felt his heart leap into his throat.

“It’s already signed,” she said. “I reversed the court order weeks ago. Clean slate, remember? Once this is all over, you’re out. I promise. You can come back to LA; see Harper and Ford.”

The promise hung before him, sparkling and golden.

“And what if I don’t play along? What if i’m tired of jumping through hoops and dancing on command like a circus monkey?”

Liz sighed. “Well, I can’t stop you. But if that’s what you want, you’re on your own. Luca Guadagnino will lose this battle, and if you stay by his side… I’m sorry, Armie, but it would be too risky for you to see them. I can’t put them in danger.”

The kicker was the way she said it: not like she was being cruel, because she wasn’t, but like she genuinely regretted the whole sorry state of affairs.

The picture frame felt heavy in his hands.

*

Luca was asleep by the time Armie let himself back into the apartment, so he made himself a cup of coffee. He sipped it in front of the window, watching the rain run down the glass.

Timmy was somewhere out there—close, maybe closer than Armie knew—but for all the difference it made, he may as well already be in Italy.

Armie looked at his phone. He’d texted Timmy a few times on the off chance that they’d let him keep his cell on him, but hadn’t received a response.

Two and a half months. Armie had known Luca for two and a half months; Timmy for less than that. And what had he really learned about either of them? Luca was an enigma: stoic, formidable in ways that Armie didn’t want to find out. And Timmy, well… Timmy shifted from moment to moment. Armie had thought he knew him—or, at least, that he was getting to know him—but being here, in amongst all these things that smelled like him and felt like him but really belonged to someone else entirely, made him feel like the ground was crumbling away under his feet.

Options, she’d said, but there were really only two: betray Luca and Timmy, or forfeit his last shot at a normal life.

*

Armie fell asleep fully clothed on the couch. He woke the next morning to Luca making espresso, because of course there was an espresso machine here, too.

“I received a message from Bluebird this morning,” Luca said as he handed Armie a small cup, “notifying me that your contract has ended.”

Armie tried to fight the dark pit that had opened wide in his stomach. “Yeah… I gave back my gun last night. Signed some stuff. It’s all done.”

“Very good. We will get you a new one, then. But first: you cannot meet my family like that.”

Armie looked down at his dishevelled suit. The light grey material was wrinkled, even stained in a couple places, and Armie didn’t have to look in the mirror to know the scruffy beginnings of beard had already taken over his face.

They weren’t due to meet with the Guadagninos until evening, so in the meantime Luca took Armie to his favourite tailor, then barber, then a shady shop in the Bronx that purportedly sold antiques, but had a bit too much security for that to be entirely believable. Armie walked away with a new gun, a new haircut, a coat, and three wool suits: one navy, one jet black, and one eye-catching red velvet number.

“What the fuck happened to not standing out?” Armie asked, but Luca only waved a hand dismissively.

“A bit of flair will be appreciated. But perhaps you should wear the navy tonight,” Luca added with a wink.

*

Navy suit. Gun. Mace. Phone, fully charged.

Get in. Get Timmy. Get out. (Unless, of course, Felice Guadagnino told him differently.)

Armie stared at himself in the mirror. He looked… tired.

“There a reason we can’t wear kevlar?” Armie asked Luca in the car.

“Etiquette,” Luca replied simply, which was turning out to be the answer to a lot of Armie’s questions. Why can’t we just go in there and fuck them up? Why can’t we bring more security? Why can’t we meet in a public place?

Etiquette, etiquette, etiquette.

Luca had hired a driver for the trip—a young, stoic man named Hans or Hansel or something else Armie couldn’t remember—and he reflected on how strange it was to be in the back seat with Luca. He supposed he should feel powerful, but he only felt impotent, like a sitting duck.

The house was close by; one of the few buildings of its kind still left in Manhattan, according to Luca. A valet welcomed them into the gates, guiding them up the steps and into the foyer.

“Holy shit,” Armie muttered as they walked inside, and out of the corner of his eye saw Luca smile.

“My grandfather acquired the deed to the property in the 1940s. A card game, isn’t that right, Angelo?”

“And it has been in the family ever since,” said a voice to Armie’s right. He’d been so distracted by the tall, ornate ceiling and humongous chandelier that he hadn’t heard anyone come in; now he turned to find a man striding towards them who could have been Luca’s twin, just with a little bit more hair. The man kissed Luca on both cheeks, then pulled him into a tight hug.

“Armie: my brother Angelo,” Luca said when they separated.

“Benvenuto, pleased to meet you,” said Angelo, grasping Armie’s hand firmly. He was wearing a white dress shirt, unbuttoned just enough to show a few tufts of chest hair and the gold chain around his neck.

A security guard followed close behind him. Armie and Luca handed over their guns, which the man inspected and then returned. They were allowed weapons, Luca had told him, as long as they didn’t hide them. Etiquette.

Angelo led them upstairs, speaking to Luca quickly in Italian. He had a good-natured face and smiled easily, and every now and then he would stop to point out a feature of the house to Armie: “The parlor—all original marble,” and “These sconces are replicas, but very good, no?”

As they walked, Armie learned that that mansion had been built in the 1920s at the height of prohibition, and had once served as a hideout for smugglers. “Maybe sometime I will show you the tunnels in the basement. All filled in now, of course, but still worth a visit,” Angelo said with a wink.

Armie tried to memorize the layout as they went, counting twists and turns and exits. It was a sprawling mansion, and many of the walls were covered in curtains and tapestries. They made him nervous—who knew what secret rooms and doors were hidden in the shadows?

Eventually, they came to a set of double doors. Armie could hear voices coming from inside, rough and jovial and peppered with masculine laughter. They stopped short, and Angelo knocked.

“Entra.”

The room was a time capsule: striped wallpaper, soft yellow lamp light, a fireplace crackling in the corner. A handful of men sat around the fire in a loose circle, and each and every one of them was staring at Armie and Luca.

“How nice of you to finally join us,” said a man near the front. But Armie wasn’t looking at him—his eyes were fixed on Timmy, sprawled out lazily on a sofa with a cigarette dangling from his lips and a glass of scotch in his hand.

The relief Armie felt was intoxicating. Timmy was safe; that was all that mattered.

“Ciao, Felice,” Luca said softly to the man who had spoken. He placed a hand on Armie’s shoulder. “My associate, Mr. Hammer.”

“Armie, please,” he said, and shook Felice’s hand. So this was the man who held Armie’s life in his hands.

“I’ve heard about you,” Felice said, looking him up and down. “You sure know how to pick them, don’t you, Luca?”

Someone snickered. Armie flashed a bright smile, like he was in on the joke too. Was he imagining it, or did Felice stare just a little too long?

“My son, Rex,” Felice said, gesturing to his right, then went on around the circle. Caesar, Louis, Bernardo, Joey, Roman, plus a few men standing in the shadows who Felice didn’t bother to name but who Armie recognized immediately as security. Armie remembered some of the names from the family tree Luca had drawn him—Rex and Caesar were Felice’s sons; Louis was Angelo’s.

“And you know Tim, of course,” Felice said finally. Another snicker; this time Armie could see it came from Caesar. Felice’s grin widened, and Armie resisted the urge to punch him in the face.

Tim, not Timmy or Timothée—why did that get his back up so much? And why wasn’t Timmy reacting at all? His face was neutral, his eyes hooded and faraway. Armie hadn’t exactly expected the kid to run into his arms, but he barely spared Armie and Luca a passing glance as they joined the group of men around the fire.

Felice took a puff of his cigar. Luca had said he was 42, but he looked younger—too young to have four grown up kids. His jet black hair was streaked with grey, and he had the same intense eyes as Luca, only darker.

“Caesar was just telling us all about his exploits in Santiago last month,” he said, and a ripple of laughter ran through the group. Even Timmy smiled, exchanging a knowing glance with the man sitting beside him—Louis, wasn’t it?

“A perennial favourite,” Luca said lightly. “Where did you stay?”

“La Corona,” Caesar answered.

“Ah. Tell, me—does Carlos Del Monte still serve the best Pisco Sours?”

“You know, uncle, I can’t say I remember.” This earned another laugh, and Armie relaxed slightly as Caesar began recounting his wild Chilean nights.

He looked around the room, trying to memorize names and faces. Rex and Caesar bore a distinct resemblance—paler than their father, but with the same jet black hair. Of the two of them, Rex seemed to be the leader—he smiled often, laughed loudly, and sat with his legs splayed wide.

Louis was sitting beside Timmy, and every now and then Armie noticed him lean over and whisper something in Timmy’s ear. It was hard to believe there was no blood relation between them—Louis had the same heavy eyes, the same dark, curly hair. If Armie didn’t know any better, he might have mistaken them for brothers.

The conversation turned from Santiago to the weather (colder than normal), then to the Yankees’ performance this season. Armie did his best to smile and laugh at the right places, but really he was on edge. He’d known they wouldn’t talk business right away, but that didn’t make it any easier to pretend that everything was fine and dandy when Timmy wouldn’t even acknowledge his presence, no matter how hard Armie tried to catch his eye.

Eventually, Felice called for more scotch, and Armie started when someone pushed a glass into his hand. “Oh, no thank y—”

A pointed glance from Luca shut him up. He accepted the drink, and Felice watched keenly until he took a sip. Then more small talk, followed by more scotch. Someone passed around a box of cigars and Armie took one. At his side, Luca seemed calm and relaxed and not at all like one or more of his family members might want him dead.

By the time Felice stood and called for supper, the room was so full of smoke that Armie had a hard time determining whether or not the fog was in his head. A bit of both, he realized as they filed out into the hallway.

Armie stayed a half step behind Luca as they walked through the house, past several sitting rooms, closed doors and down a set of spiral stairs. He watched Timmy as they went, marvelling at how effortlessly he blended in with the men around him—he had adopted their confident stride, their swagger, the particular way they swung their hands at their sides. It was as impressive as it was unsettling.

Fucking chameleon.

They made their way into the depths of the house, finally arriving at an ornate dining room. The ceiling was low and the walls were draped with more curtains, which made the whole place feel close and claustrophobic. For a second Armie couldn’t figure out why their group seemed to have doubled in size; then a woman tapped him on the shoulder.

“Mr. Hammer?”

“The one and only.”

“Anna Guadagnino,” she said, and before Armie could hold out his hand she had pulled him close, kissing him on both cheeks. “They treating you well?”

“Very well, thanks,” Armie said.

“Good, good.”

Around the room, Armie now saw that a number of women had joined them, including Esther, who was speaking quietly to her brother Louis in the corner.

They took their seats: Armie beside Luca and across from Esther and Timmy. The table itself was narrow, and for a brief moment Armie considered nudging Timmy’s foot to get his attention. Before he could, Rex sat down on his other side.

“Armie, right?” he asked, and offered his hand.

“You got it,” Armie said as they shook. “And you’re Rex.”

“Good memory. Did Tiny Tim tell you about me?”

Armie fought to keep the smile plastered on his face.

“Not a word.”

Rex tsked under his breath. “I’ve known that kid since he was a baby, and this is the thanks I get? Unbelievable.”

“Yeah? Got any embarrassing stories?”

Rex smiled. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

Across the table, Timmy was speaking with a man whose name Armie couldn’t remember. They looked deep in conversation, and Rex spared them a casual glance before he leaned in close and lowered his voice.

“I think we’ve got some things to discuss.”

Armie kept his face neutral. “Oh?”

“Not here. But maybe tomorrow morning, hm? There’s a good diner nearby. Great coffee.”

“Listen,” Armie started, “I don’t think I should—”

“She said you’d be wary.”

“Who?” Armie asked, though he already knew the answer.

“Ptitsa pevchaya,” Rex murmured, more to himself than to Armie. “Bluebird. She’s something else, huh?”

They stared at each other. Rex’s smile widened, and Armie wondered, was that a Guadagnino thing? It was the same look Luca got when he knew you had no choice but to do what he wanted—like a fucking cat with a mouse pinned under its paw.

“I don’t report to you,” Armie said as quietly as he could.

Rex cocked his head knowingly. “Ah, but you do report to my father, don’t you?” Armie followed his eyes to the other end of the table where Felice sat.

Before Armie could say anything, Angelo stood, a hand raised for silence.

“Benvenuto, welcome, my brothers and sisters. This house belongs to all of us, but tonight I sit at the head of the table. Perhaps this will soon change.” There was a murmur of laughter, and Angelo smiled. “Until then, let us eat and drink and speak nothing of business.”

A cheer went up around the table, and Angelo raised a glass. “Cento di questi giorni,” he said, and they drank.

Rex clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, army man,” he said quietly. “I’m on your side.”

Armie wondered what would happen if he bolted for the door.

The first course came, then the second, then the third, paired with an endless selection of vintage wines that must have cost a fucking fortune. By the time the last dessert plate was cleared, Armie was pretty sure his new suits weren’t going to fit him anymore.

Timmy still wasn’t looking at him. Or, if he was, it was only briefly, only when Armie spoke or when Luca drew his attention. Then his eyes would flick to Armie’s face and away just as quickly. It made Armie nervous as much as it frustrated him.

The first time Armie’s foot nudged Timmy’s under the table was an accident, but Timmy jumped like he’d been burned. He looked at Armie longer, then, in a way that was as accusatory as it was daring.

Rex was busy talking to someone else, and Armie kept his face absolutely blank as he reached out with his foot. He knew he’d made contact when the corner of Timmy’s mouth twitched.

The alcohol had probably gone to Armie’s head and he was feeling reckless, so he rubbed his foot over Timmy’s, then up his leg just a little bit until Timmy shivered and withdrew.

*

After supper they separated again—men to one room, women to another. “An old-fashioned tradition,” Luca explained as they watched Anna and Esther walk away, arm in arm.

Rex didn’t say anything else to him, though once or twice he caught Armie’s eye and offered that same infuriating smile.

Armie figured he was pretty much fucked, so he stopped trying for any semblance of self control: more smoking, more drinking, and it was a good thing he could hold his alcohol because he was pretty sure that a normal person would’ve been on the floor a long fucking time ago. For his part, Timmy also seemed remarkably unaffected, though as the night wore on Armie felt the kid’s eyes on him more and more.

At some point, Angelo dragged Timmy to his feet and called for music.

“One song, Timothée, per favore?”

Timmy shook his head and laughed. “It won’t be very good…”

“Come on Tiny Tim,” Rex piped up. “Show us what Uncle Luca paid for.”

A flicker of irritation passed over Timmy’s face, so quickly that Armie wasn’t sure if he’d imagined it. Then it was gone, replaced by a polite smile.

“Suona!” someone cried, then others joined in until Timmy held up his hands and finally took a seat at the piano in the corner.

He thought for a moment, then placed his fingers on the keys.

The melody started slowly, with low plunking that made Armie think of somewhere hot and ancient. Pyramids; ruins; the winding Nile. The high notes called out; the low notes answered, then picked up, then faded and grew slower, like the song of a dying bird.

Suddenly Armie was overwhelmed by a need to commit each passing moment to memory: to memorize the precise angles of Timmy’s profile; the curve of his shoulders; the way his hair bounced and swayed to the melody. His playing was far from perfect, but every chord was drenched with feeling as the music swelled again, then dwindled and swelled into a muddy chorus of notes that resonated deep in Armie’s chest. Timmy’s fingers danced across the keyboard and he leaned into every new phrase with his whole body, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, his teeth worrying his bottom lip. A final climax, then it was over.

The room cheered; Timmy stood, then bowed, but only to Luca. Armie held his breath as he stepped forward slowly and stooped to kiss Luca on the cheek.

“Grazie, Maestro,” Timmy said.

No one else said a word.

*

It was nearly 2am by the time the group disbanded, filtering out to their rooms in various parts of the massive house. Luca led Armie to a suite in the South Wing that was bigger than Armie’s place in LA; he would be next door, he said, and waved off any of Armie’s concerns about safety.

“I will be fine,” Luca said; “you will be close, and it would not be good form to assassinate me in my sleep.”

He said it like a joke, but Armie was pretty sure he was dead serious. Luca winked, then disappeared inside his room.

“Armie.”

The whisper nearly made him jump out of his skin, and he turned to find Esther’s head poking out of a door a little ways down the hall.

She glanced around anxiously as he walked over, then ushered him inside and locked the door behind her.

“What?” he asked, but she pressed a finger to her lips.

“I will talk. Armie, you must be careful—you and my uncle. My brother has told me things. He says...” she lowered her voice even further, “he says Felice will try to force Luca out tomorrow, and if he doesn’t cooperate, they will kill him. Of course, they wish have someone else pull the trigger, but I do not know who.” The words seemed painful.

“Shit.”

Esther took a shaky breath. “But that is not the worst of it. Louis says that Timmy may be with Felice—that he may have changed his mind about Luca.”

The words were a punch to the gut. “What the fuck? Timmy wouldn’t—”

Esther shook her head. “Luca trusts Timmy, but…” She sighed and brought a hand to her mouth, chewing absently on her fingertips. “You see it, don’t you? You see how Luca loves him? The family sees it too. They think it has made him weak. I worry that they will use it against him—that Timmy will use it against him.”

Armie opened his mouth to defend Timmy again—to tell Esther that he would never betray Luca, that he was loyal, that he would never work with people who thought so little of him—but the words didn’t come.

Who was Timmy, really? Who had he always been? A chameleon, changing colours to suit his situation. Ambitious above all else.

“You see it?” Esther whispered again.

“What about Louis? How do you know he’s telling you the truth?”

“Timmy is like a brother to me, but he is not my blood. Louis is. Please, Armie—be careful. Protect Luca.”

*

The real question, Armie thought as he made his way back down the hall, wasn’t who was Timmy, but who was he?

He thought of Bluebird: of Liz and the kids and the life he’d had and then lost; the chance he had now to get it back. All he had to do was whatever they told him to—whatever Felice told him to, or Rex, or whoever paid the highest price.

Could Armie even fault Timmy for going behind Luca’s back when he himself was this fucking compromised?

Inside his room, Armie just managed to shuck off his jacket and his holster before he flopped down onto the the plush four-poster bed.

And what about Rex? Rex, Felice’s overconfident middle child. Armie pulled out his phone. The reception was shit, but still strong enough for Armie to search his name. Rex Guadagnino.

Nothing; not one single result. The guy was a ghost.

Armie laid back, head spinning. As much as he didn’t want to relax, his body had other ideas: he drifted, listening to the hiss of the old radiator and the muffled voices coming from somewhere above him. Thin walls...

Armie was just about asleep when the doorknob turned. In the blink of an eye he was on his feet, already reaching for his gun as the door opened to reveal—

“Relax,” Timmy whispered as he slipped inside the room.

Armie felt the strength go out of his limbs. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he breathed, and before Timmy could say another word he had walked over and pulled him into a kiss. The warmth of him was intoxicating; everything was different but Timmy was the same—his smell, his mouth, the way the bones of his back and his shoulders felt under Armie’s fingers. Timmy’s hands flew to Armie’s collar and drew him closer; Amie deepened the kiss, sliding one hand to Timmy’s throat as he slipped his tongue past Timmy’s lips.

Timmy inhaled sharply and turned away. “Whoa, fuck.”

“Sorry,” Armie said, even though he really wasn’t sorry at all. “I was worried about you.”

Then Timmy sighed, and Armie didn’t miss the way his eyes darted briefly to the door.

“What?” Armie asked warily, a chill creeping up his spine. “What’s wrong?”

Timmy shook his head. “This whole thing is fucked.”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

“Listen… I don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, but I need to know why you’re here.”

“What?”

“Why are you here?” Timmy repeated. His eyes were intense, searching, boring into Armie in that particular he had way that made him feel completely transparent.

“What do you mean?”

“The people you work for. I don’t trust them. I heard Felice talking—”

“Worked for,” Armie corrected, hating how natural the lie felt. “My contract’s over. What did Felice say?”

Timmy blinked. “What? Really?”

Armie’s stomach squirmed. Part of him wanted to tell Timmy everything—about his kids, about Liz, about everything they had on him so they couldn’t use it against him anymore. But another part of him wasn’t sure who to trust.

On the one hand, Timmy could help him—they could find a way to thwart Felice’s plans; escape together just like Luca had promised. But was that really what he wanted? A life on the run? In hiding? Sure, Armie had always had one foot out the door, ready to hop on a plane at a moment’s notice, but that had only been when the alternative was death. Now he had the chance to turn back the clock.

And then, maybe that’s what Timmy wanted too. If Armie told him everything, maybe he really would side with Felice—smile knowingly, maybe even laugh, press a gun into Armie’s hand and order him to blow Luca’s brains out while he slept. The thought made Armie sick, but did he have any right to feel betrayed when he was just as guilty?

“Yeah, really,” Armie said after a long moment. “Talked to the boss yesterday. I’m out. I’m here because Luca asked me to be. And because...”

And because I care about you, Armie wanted to say. But he couldn’t bring himself to. Instead, he just kissed Timmy again.

When they separated, Timmy didn’t seem relieved. Armie pressed another kiss to his neck, his temple, each eye, moving his hands up to cradle Timmy’s jaw. That made Timmy relax a little, and when Armie brought their lips together again his tongue darted out, tracing Armie’s lips and licking into his mouth.

“I really fucking missed you,” Armie muttered.

He would decide what to do in the morning, he thought as Timmy twisted his hands in Armie’s collar—pushed him back on the bed and straddled his hips. In the morning, everything would make more sense. Right now his brain was a jumbled mess and the only thing in focus was Timmy, finally close and real; the way he smelled; his mouth; his hands fumbling with Armie’s belt.

Armie followed his lead, unbuttoning Timmy’s pants and pulling them down as much as he could so that his cock was free. God, Armie had missed the way the kid’s body fit against his so perfectly; how light and wiry he was; how his breath hitched when Armie pushed up his shirt and trailed his fingers down the smooth skin of his abdomen.

“We gotta be quiet,” Timmy said, more to himself than to Armie. He buried his face in Armie’s shoulder and stifled a moan as Armie gripped both their cocks and started to jerk them slowly.

Timmy’s hair fell down around Armie’s face as they moved together, shrouding them both behind a curtain of dark curls. It was nice like that, Armie thought; private. Almost of its own accord, his free hand moved to Timmy’s throat.

“Yes,” Timmy breathed, closer to a gasp than a word. Armie tightened his grip and pulled Timmy in closer, bringing their lips roughly together so that Timmy’s moan disappeared into Armie’s mouth.

It didn’t take either of them long to come like that—mostly dressed, a mess of tangled limbs on top of the twisted sheets.

*

Armie didn’t remember falling asleep, but Timmy must have left at some point because when he opened his eyes with a start the next morning, the kid was nowhere to be found. He stared blearily at the empty space next to him, trying to determine what had woken him.

Someone coughed.

Armie turned slowly, hoping against hope that Timmy had stayed after all. But instead of Timmy, Rex Guadagnino was staring down at him. Armie’s eyes slid instantly to the gun held loosely at his side.

“Morning, Mr. Hammer. Shall we take a walk?”

Chapter Text

Rex stayed one pace behind Armie as he led him out into the hallway. They walked quickly up to an ornate tapestry, which Rex swept aside to reveal a door.

“I fucking knew it,” Armie muttered as Rex shoved him through and into a narrow, dark passageway.

“Quiet.”

Armie could felt the muzzle of the gun digging into his back, and he cursed himself for ever taking his off his holster. He should’ve known better; he should be showering with the thing on, for fuck’s sake.

The secret corridor led down, and through cracks in the walls here and there Armie thought he could see glimpses of other rooms—parlours, a kitchen, a study. There must be one of these behind his room, too—had anyone been listening last night when Timmy visited him?

They came to a set of roughly-hewn steps that Armie guessed must lead down to the basement, but Rex steered him to the right, through another door. Another passageway, this time a bit less claustrophobic, then another door. Then, suddenly, they were outside.

Armie cast around, trying to orient himself. It looked like they’d come out around the back of the house, but he couldn’t be sure—they were under a thick canopy of trees and bushes, and he could only catch a few glimpses of the house through the foliage.

A nondescript black car was parked at the end of the walkway. Armie slid inside first, only to find Caesar Guadagnino already waiting for him.

“Nice tracksuit,” Armie said, nodding at his outfit. “I’ve always wanted one of those. Stylish.” Caesar stared at him. Something about his beady little eyes made Armie’s skin crawl.

“Hear that, C?” Rex asked as he took a seat next to Armie. “You’re a fucking fashion icon.”

The car started to move. Armie couldn’t see the driver through the tinted divider, and for some reason that made him more nervous than anything else. Of course, the fact that he could still feel Rex’s eyes on him wasn’t helping. “If you wanted to buy me breakfast, you should’ve just asked,” Armie said.

“Oh, this?” Rex said, waving his gun. “This is just a formality. I knew you wouldn’t turn down my invitation, but we can’t take any chances here, you know? You’re kind of a flight risk.”

“Well, I’m not now that I know you’re spying on me through the walls.”

Rex just grinned.

A few minutes later, they pulled up in front of a greasy spoon restaurant that Armie was pretty sure hadn’t had a new coat of paint since the 50s. Oscar’s Diner, said the neon letters on top of the building. The sign on the door was flipped to “closed,” but there was a man standing outside smoking who Armie recognized as one of the security guards from the previous night. He patted Armie down, then unlocked the door and waved them through.

Armie had worked for enough mobsters and crime lords by now that these kind of theatrics didn’t exactly surprise him, but there was something particularly ridiculous about how Felice sat so seriously in the cherry-red retro diner booth, stirring his coffee in a way Armie guessed was supposed to be intimidating.

“Sit,” he said, and Armie did as he was told. The place was empty, but he could hear someone clattering around in the kitchen. “Coffee?” Felice asked.

“Sure, why not?”

Felice signalled to Caesar, who disappeared into the kitchen.

“Let’s not waste time with pleasantries,” Felice said. “Bluebird tells me you’re trustworthy.”

“Well, Bluebird knows best.”

Caesar reappeared and slid a cup of coffee in front of Armie. It was steaming hot, but he took a long sip anyways despite the burn. Gave him time to think.

“Tell me, what’s Luca planning?” Felice asked.

Armie forced himself not to hesitate. “Nothing. He wants to take Timmy and run.”

Behind them, Rex laughed loudly. Felice waved a hand to silence him. “Run where?”

“I don’t know. Canada, probably.”

“And then?”

“I don’t know, dude,” Armie said. “Luca doesn’t tell me shit.”

Felice crossed his arms. “Well, we can’t leave him to his own devices. That’s why we need you.”

Goddamn it. Armie had thought that partial truths might be enough—make it seem like Luca wasn’t a threat, that he just wanted to escape with his life—but that clearly wasn’t going to fly.

“Today, we will begin our talks. Then we will vote. The family won’t support Luca, but he still poses a danger—who knows what he'll do to sabotage us? So, tonight, you'll care of him.”

Armie took another sip of his coffee. “I’m not a fucking hitman.”

“Bluebird begs to differ.”

“Oh she does, does she? What else did she tell you?”

“Only that you are loyal, reliable, and experienced in these matters. That we can count on your discretion.”

Leave it to fucking Bluebird to give him a stellar reference for a job he didn’t even want. Was her word really enough to make Felice Guadagnino overlook Armie and Luca’s history? But then again…

Two and a half months. Armie had only known Luca for two and a half goddamn months. Why should he be so loyal? No one on the outside looking in would ever expect him to see Luca as anything other than just another job. And why should he, anyways?

“Why do you need me to pull the trigger?” Armie asked. “Can’t you do your own dirty work?”

“That would be ideal. Unfortunately, the optics…” He spread his hands wide with a sad smile. “The further this is from my family, the better. Even if only by one degree.”

Armie ran a hand over his face. “No one’s gonna believe I did this alone.”

“No? It’s not true you have been carrying on an affair with dear Timothée? Perhaps Luca found out. Perhaps, a lovers’ quarrel...”

Armie bristled. Affair. Like boyfriend, it felt reductive.

“Have you met Luca?” Armie said. “‘Cause anyone who has knows he doesn’t give a shit about that stuff. No one’s gonna buy it.”

Felice sighed. “So, you won’t do it.” Behind him, Armie saw Rex move a hand to his gun, and he raised a hand instinctively.

“No, hang on—no, I didn’t say that. This is my head on the line here, ok? I need to know I’m not going to go down for this.”

Rex’s hand was still resting on his holster. Felice eyed him calmly. “My brother often puts his trust in those who do not deserve it. Inexperienced business partners, young lovers, beautiful men. It was all bound to catch up with him sooner or later. No one will be surprised. And, by extension, no one will blame you. Or Timothée. If you do this for us, I promise we will let you go free. Or, if you want, we can offer you a more permanent place in our organization. New associates are often sworn in this way.”

Rex smirked, and Caesar chewed stoically on the toothpick wedged between his teeth. Armie hesitated.

“How can I trust you?”

Felice extended his hand over the table. “You have my word.”

*

Back in his room, Armie shut the door behind him and immediately stripped off his clothes. He stepped into the ensuite shower, letting the scalding water wash away the sweat and smoke left over from the night before. He took longer than he needed, standing under the stream like a zombie. Probably he should’ve been thinking—planning, maybe; trying to find some way out of this situation that didn’t involve killing or being killed—but his brain was nothing but static noise.

Armie hadn’t heard anyone come in, but when he stepped out of the shower there was a small tray of breakfast food waiting for him. A nice gesture, maybe, but it seemed almost sinister: a display of power that said this space is not yours.

Just to rub it in, his phone was gone too.

Armie’s head still felt like mush when he knocked on Luca’s door, but the sight of him—calm, cool, suit tidy and freshly pressed—filled him with temporary relief, like dunking a burn in cool water. For now, Luca was alive.

“The grey—good choice,” said Luca, smoothing his hand down Armie’s chest with a wink. “But you must wear the red tonight.”

*

Just as Luca had promised, the attendees of the meeting were mostly family, with one or two “associates” thrown in. Among them was a tall, very intimidating Russian man that Armie recognized instantly, accompanied by an even taller, even more intimidating bodyguard.

“Grigori,” Armie said with a nod.

“Hello, Cowboy,” said Stepanov.

“So that nickname stuck, huh?”

Stepanov clapped him on the shoulder so hard that it took everything in Armie’s power to keep his knees from buckling. “How is your Russian?” he asked with a leer. “Been practicing?”

“Not much point in Little Italy,” Armie said, trying for a smile that came out more like a grimace.

Stepanov exchanged a glance with his bodyguard, chuckling. “You would be surprised,” he said, then leaned in so close that Armie could smell the menthol on his breath. “Best do some brushing up.”

That wasn’t ominous at all.

The meeting room was another old-fashioned parlour that had been converted into a kind-of boardroom, complete with a large oval table.

“Why are they even allowed to be here?” Armie muttered to Luca as the Russians sat down across the table.

“As I've said, Stepanov is an ally. For the time being.”

“How do you know he’s not gonna try anything?”

“Because,” Luca said, nodding pointedly to a woman in the corner. “We have a monitor.”

A monitor, also known as a member of the mysterious Committee. She sat with a bodyguard in the corner of the room looking on with complete and utter detachment as the rest of the group filed in and found their places.

The celebratory atmosphere of the previous night had been replaced by a heavy tension that set Armie’s teeth on edge. Business was on the forefront of everyone’s minds, and after a brief opening speech about loyalty and honour, the talks began.

The talks. Oh god, the talks. Armie had no idea how Luca and Timmy managed to stay awake as Felice droned on and on about imports, runners, business strategies and more. At first, Armie felt like he had a pretty good grasp of what was going on—business was good locally; that was simple enough. Then Angelo stood up and started talking about numbers, ROIs, and yearly growth, and Armie’s eyes glazed over. Luca, on the other hand, listened keenly.

Beside Luca, Timmy was staring off into the distance, chewing absently on the end of his pen. He kept tilting his chair back precariously, and once or twice Armie noticed him go a little too far, then catch himself. Then he’d look around covertly, trying to determine if anyone had seen. Armie tried to catch his eye, but Timmy was back to avoiding him.

What real and what was an act? Was this cold, distant Timmy all a ruse? Or had the real ruse been the Timmy of last night—the Timmy who’d slipped into his room and pinned him back against the bed?

Armie’s gun felt bulky inside his jacket. He snuck a glance at Luca. Calm, just like he always was.

Armie imagined what it would be like to kill him. He’d have to do it at night—sneak into Luca’s room while he slept; put the gun to his head and pull the trigger before Luca woke. And if he did wake up, would he even be surprised? Or would he stare down the barrel just as calmly as he was staring at Felice now?

Or, maybe, would he finally break down and beg for his life? If he did, could Armie really follow through? Sure, he had killed people before—even a few people he’d liked. He might feel sick about Luca for a couple days, but he’d get over it. Then he could go home.

Home. Home to his sad little bachelor pad by the ocean. He could get a job as a personal trainer; teach doped up beach bros how to do bicep curls; visit the kids on the weekends and try to get them to know him as something other than a stranger. Maybe if he worked hard enough, Liz would trust him again—maybe even take him back, and things could be like they were before—briefly—before he fucked it all up.

Fuck. This would be so much easier if he could talk to Timmy.

At the head of the table, Felice had just finished an unnecessarily ominous speech about family tradition, and sat down amidst the scattered applause that followed. Luca clapped politely while Timmy continued to stare moodily at nothing in particular.

“You’ve made a good case,” Luca said when the noise had died down. “Now I suppose I should make mine, and we should vote.”

“That’s your right,” Felice said graciously.

“Maybe. Though I don’t really see the point in persuading those whose minds are already made up.”

A murmur rippled around the table.

“I can’t control the thoughts of others,” Felice said with a chuckle.

“No, but you can buy them, can’t you?”

Armie sat up straighter, suddenly alert. At Luca’s words, the energy of the room had shifted: Luca was still sitting, but all eyes were on him.

“I’m sorry?” Felice’s smile had vanished. Beside him, Rex and Caesar were scowling, eyes darting between Luca and their father.

Luca spread his hands with a knowing smile. “Please, Felice, let’s not pretend this meeting is anything but show.” He looked around the room. “I won’t waste my breath today. I may be the heir to this family—the eldest, the most experienced, the only one our father trusted to carry on his name—but I know what’s worth my time and what isn’t. So make your vote—do what you want. But know that I have many allies of my own, and if you do this, they will no longer help you.”

Felice scoffed. “You think I need your allies?”

“I know you do,” Luca said. “You know it, too, I think. Why else would you host this farce?”

“Please. What use are women and queers to me? Disgusting.”

At that Timmy stood up, and immediately Rex and Caesar followed suit, both reaching into their jackets. Armie’s hand moved instinctively to his holster, and he saw most of the table had done the same.

“Something you want to say?” Felice asked Timmy.

Timmy was glaring at him, hands balled into fists, the muscles in his jaw working furiously.

Felice’s eyes flicked to the woman in the corner—the monitor. She seemed completely unfazed by the turn of events, but her bodyguard had stepped slightly in front of her, angling himself defensively.

“Timothée,” Luca said softly. Felice tilted his head, daring Timmy to speak.

“No, nothing,” Timmy finally said through gritted teeth. Then he sat down just as quickly as he had stood up.

“I thought not,” Felice said. Rex and Caesar relaxed, and Armie breathed a sigh of relief.

But Timmy was deathly pale, and when he took a sip of water from the glass in front of him, Armie could still see his hands shaking.

*

By evening, the talks were over and the vote decided: the Guadagninos would stay local; the family business would err on the side of tradition after all.

Luca was unfazed. “To be expected,” he said to Armie as the group filtered out of the parlour. Armie watched as Stepanov sidled up to Felice and shook his hand with unsettling force.

“So, can we go now?” he muttered under his breath. Despite the supposed resolution of the Guadagnino conflict du jour, the tension hadn’t dissipated: the air felt heavy and charged, and Armie didn’t like the way people were looking at Luca when they thought his back was turned.

“Soon,” Luca said.

“What does that mean?” Armie asked, but Luca simply waved him away.

Armie changed into his red velvet suit and then there was another dinner, another smug speech by Felice Guadagnino. More fancy food, vintage wine, and Armie was sick to death of the whole song and dance.

They moved to the ballroom, where even more guests were waiting. Armie tried to keep Luca close as he mingled, but Luca seemed intent on losing him, so Armie settled for watching from the sidelines and sipping his drink.

“Enjoying yourself?” Timmy asked as he came to stand beside Armie. In spite of everything, Armie was glad to see him.

“You know I hate these things.”

Timmy shrugged. “Thought maybe you didn’t anymore.”

“What?”

Timmy just looked at him. “Oh, I don’t know. People change, right?”

Sometimes, back in LA, Armie had thought he and Timmy were in sync in a way he’d never really felt with anyone else. He could read Timmy’s face, his body, his voice—all the little tells that no one else thought to notice. And Timmy could read him, too; they moved with each other, made space for each other, and when they spoke their words flowed so naturally that sometimes Armie wondered if they were the same person. But now, standing here, it was like a curtain had come down between them.

Suddenly, Armie was angry. He downed the rest of his drink and shook his head. “I don’t know where the fuck Timmy went, but let me know when he gets back, all right?”

Timmy looked taken aback, but before he could say anything Felice stood on top of a chair and waved a hand for silence.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming to celebrate our family. I can assure you that our strong traditions remain intact, thanks in no small part to your determination and loyalty…”

When Armie looked back, Timmy had disappeared again. He grabbed another flute of champagne from a passing waiter and knocked most of it back in one go. A few yards away, Luca was speaking with Stepanov and his associate. Or rather, Stepanov and his associate were taking turns talking in front of Luca while he listened politely. Armie kept them in the periphery of his vision, just in case.

There was a smattering of applause as Felice finished his speech—what was that, the fifth one that evening?—and a jazz quartet in the corner started playing tune that Armie recognized, but couldn’t quite place. The crowd had moved to the sides of the room and one or two started to dance, including Felice, who was with a woman who looked like the female version of Rex. His wife Katja, probably.

A few more people moved to the centre of the room, and Timmy was among them, dancing with a very pretty girl who Armie didn’t know. They were laughing like old friends, and, shit—it felt like years since Armie had seen Timmy smile.

As Armie watched, Felice and his partner twirled close enough for Felice to lean over and mutter something in Timmy’s ear. Timmy’s smile widened, and the anger that had been simmering inside Armie’s chest bubbled over.

He didn’t realize how hard he was gripping his champagne glass until he heard a crack.

“Shit,” he muttered as a mixture of blood and champagne ran down his arm. Armie tucked the shattered pieces into the pockets of his red velvet suit. At least he wouldn’t have to worry about bloodstains...

The tempo of the music picked up, and a sudden recklessness seized him. He didn’t question it, just strode over to where Luca was standing with Stepanov and his bodyguard and held out his hand.

“Maestro?” Armie said, cocking his head toward the dance floor.

Luca raised an eyebrow. Stepanov’s expression when Luca took his hand was almost satisfying enough to make this whole fucking mess worth it.

On the dance floor, Armie let Luca lead. His hand was firm on Armie’s waist, guiding him into a lively quickstep, and Armie kept pace easily.

“You’re a man of many talents,” Luca said, eyes twinkling. Armie could tell Felice was watching them, and it made him feel giddy.

“Dancing’s a lot like boxing,” Armie said. A twirl, a dip. He wished he could see Timmy’s face, but he kept losing him in the crowd.

“Though a tad less adversarial, perhaps?”

Armie smirked. “Not really.”

It felt good to be close to Luca like this; to be guided by him. Not just anyone—not Bluebird or Felice or the Russians—but by Luca. Armie’s whole body thrummed as Luca pushed him to go faster, too fast for them to talk properly or for Armie to look for the reactions of the crowd or, really, do anything but dance. It was a simple thing, but as they moved together everything else melted away—Felice’s promise, Liz’s threat, Timmy’s cold expression. All that was left was calm, thrilling certainty.

Then the song ended and they stopped short, both breathing hard. Their hands were still entwined, and Luca turned Armie’s over so that the slash in his palm was visible. Blood dripped thickly down his wrist, smeared where they had held each other. Armie could see a bright red stain on Luca’s cuff.

Luca peered up at him curiously. “And no less bloody than boxing, it would seem.”

Before Armie could say anything, Felice broke into loud applause. The rest of the room followed suit.

“Grazie,” Luca said with a smile and a nod, then turned on his heel. Armie watched him go with a knot in his stomach. A little ways off, Timmy was walking away with his dance partner; they made their way over to a well-dressed man who Timmy hugged tightly like an old friend.

“Jai Kapoor,” said a voice at Armie’s elbow, and he turned to find Rex, following his gaze across the room. “And his daughter, of course. Good friends of the family. Come to think of it, my uncle Angelo once offered them Tim’s hand in marriage. To the daughter, of course. Sweet girl, that one—dunno if Tim’ll go for it, though…”

The band struck up a new song, and more dancers started making their way out onto the floor. “What do you want, Rex?” Armie asked.

“Let’s take a walk.”

Armie followed him back into the crowd, past tables of hors d'oeuvres and champagne to a quieter corner.

“We good?” Rex asked as soon as they were more or less alone.

“Meaning?”

“Don’t play dumb, Hammer. Are we fucking good? You’re not planning on taking that pervert’s side after all, are you?”

Across the room, Armie caught a glimpse of Luca. He had joined Timmy and the Kapoors and a few other people. Someone told a funny story; the group laughed. Armie thought of LA: all the soirees, the mingling that he usually hated but that was somehow tolerable at Luca’s side.

Suddenly, Armie knew with absolute certainty that killing Luca had never really been an option. Why had he even entertained the idea in the first place?

Because of your kids, said a voice in the back of his mind that sounded suspiciously like Liz. But the ache he usually felt when he thought about him was dulled: they seemed far away, unreal. They would be fine without him. Anyways, who knew if Liz would have even kept her promise?

What was real was Luca, and Timmy, and the wannabe thug currently breathing down his neck.

“Are we good?” Rex repeated.

“Yeah. We’re good.”

“Tonight.”

“Tonight,” Armie confirmed. Rex narrowed his eyes, but he seemed satisfied.

“Come to me when it’s done,” he said, and then he was gone.

*

Armie was on edge. The ballroom was too small and full of too many people to keep track of them all, and as the evening wore on the guests had started to dwindle, filtering out into the hallway and adjoining rooms. Timmy kept disappearing and reappearing, and Armie had completely lost track of the Russians.

Mostly he wanted to get Luca by himself and tell him everything, but that was complicated by the fact that he was constantly surrounded by people.

“Can I talk to you?” Armie whispered when there was a momentary lull in the conversation. “Alone.”

“Later.”

“You mean later when we leave? Listen, Luca, we need to—”

Luca held up a hand. “Not here,” he said, a dangerous edge to his voice. Before Armie could protest any further, Anna Guadagnino tapped Armie on the shoulder.

“Mind if I steal him?” she asked. For a second he almost said no, but at a look from Luca he nodded and stepped out of the way politely. Armie found more champagne and tried to act casual as he sipped it, reassessing the security guards stationed at the exists. Were there more of them, or had the crowd just thinned?

Then Armie’s heart stopped. Timmy had reappeared, and he was talking to Rex. At first, Timmy’s expression was blank and polite; then Rex said something and made the colour drain from Timmy’s face. He beckoned, and Timmy followed him out of the ballroom.

For a split second, Armie was torn. But he remembered the last time he hesitated.

He was expecting trouble from the security guards at the doors, but as soon as they saw him coming they looked pointedly in the other direction. Had someone said something to them? Armie would worry about it later.

A few groups of stragglers milled about in the foyer, and Armie just managed to catch sight of Timmy and Rex as they slipped around the corner. He followed them down one hallway, then another, trying to project a confident, purposeful air that no one would question. Yes, I am supposed to be here—why do you ask?

Luckily, this part of the house seemed mostly empty. Another turn, another hallway, and then—

A dead end. Empty.

Armie cast around. There were no doors, just a few windows on one wall and paintings on the other. Paintings and tapestries.

Tapestries.

Behind him, Armie could still hear the faint chatter of the ballroom. He walked slowly down the hall of portraits, trailing his hand along the wall, brushing back the fabric of the hangings as he did so. He’d almost reached the end when he found it: a stretch of wall that was a slightly different colour from the rest.

He pulled the curtain back farther. Yes, there were cracks here; rectangular, just about the right dimensions for a door. Armie ran his fingers along them, feeling for a hook or handle. How had Rex done it before?

Armie looked around one more time to make sure he was definitely alone, then pushed.

The door popped open with a click.

*

This passageway was narrower than the one Rex had taken him through. Shorter, too, and Armie had to stoop so that his head didn’t brush the dusty ceiling. It was almost pitch black, though here and there light filtered in through cracks in the plaster.

Armie tried to decide what he would do if he caught up to Timmy and Rex. If Timmy was in danger, he’d protect him. If not, well… then he’d listen, just to see whose side Timmy was really on. Part of him even wanted a confrontation. Let Rex take a shot—Armie would be ready.

The passageway twisted and turned until eventually Armie came to a fork. Left or right. To the right, the way looked brighter, so right it was.

Armie had only gone a little ways farther when he heard the sound of voices. He stopped short, holding his breath.

The sound wasn’t coming from the hallway, but from the other side of the wall, from what Armie guessed must be a private room. Male voices, but not Timmy or Louis’s. With a rush of understanding, he realized they were speaking Russian.

“... can he do? Felice says he has taken care of the matter,” the first man said. Either Stepanov or his bodyguard, then.

“That petuh might have more tricks up his sleeve,” said the other man. Armie couldn’t remember what petuh meant, but he got the general gist.

The other man murmured his agreement. “But we can trust the kovboy?”

Kovboy. Cowboy. Meaning Armie. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end.

“I have her word, and Felice trusts he’ll do as he’s told. So does the boy. But we’ll see…”

“If he fails, the boy should do it himself. Get his hands dirty, no?”

“Oh, he will.”

They laughed again, then one of the men sighed.

“If Felice had succeeded the first time this wouldn’t be a problem.”

“And poor Estaban would be a free man,” the other man replied glibly. More laughter, then a rustle of movement. Armie kept himself as still as humanly possible, not daring to move a muscle. They spoke a bit more, but the words were muffled. The door opened, then closed, and Armie was alone in the deafening silence.

*

Shit. Shit Shit.

Armie burst back into the hallway, blinking against the sudden brightness. Then it was back through the maze of a mansion, back to the ballroom.

So Timmy was in on it—what else could the Russians have meant? And god knew where he’d gone with Rex. To plot Luca’s imminent demise, most likely...

The guests had thinned even more—how long had Armie been gone? What time was it? Everything in his brain was screaming at him to find Luca, but he was nowhere to be seen and neither was Timmy. Just as Armie was starting to panic, he spotted Mr. Kapoor and his daughter milling by the food table.

“Hi, hey, good evening,” Armie said to them, trying not to seem too flustered and failing, if the affronted look on Mr. Kapoor’s’ face was anything to go by. “Armie Hammer, nice to meet you.”

“Armie Hammer?” the girl repeated incredulously.

Armie smiled just a little too widely. “Weird, right? Listen, have you seen Luca?”

“Ah, Luca’s Mr. Hammer,” Mr. Kapoor said. “The bodyguard?”

“Mhmm, yes. Luca, though—did he leave? Did you see? Actually, I’m looking for Timmy, too… Did he come back?”

The two exchanged glances. “I’m sorry, I don’t know,” the girl said slowly. “But Luca left a few minutes ago. I think he said he was tired—”

“Awesome, good talk,” Armie said, and clapped her on the shoulder. He turned, casting around. Shit. Why had he ever left Luca’s side? Why was he so consistently bad at his fucking job?

“Armie!”

He turned to find Esther staring up at him anxiously. Louis stood beside her, and he held out his hand. “I don’t think we’ve met,” he said as they shook. His accent was the same as Esther’s.

“Hey,” Armie said distractedly.

“Have you talked to Timmy?” Esther asked.

“Not really—why? Have you seen him?”

Esther opened her mouth to say something more, but before she could, Angelo waved from the other side of the room, beckoning her over.

She huffed in frustration, then turned to Louis. “Tu lui parles,” she said, then brushed past Armie with an apologetic smile.

“Esther is… concerned for him,” Louis said. He had an open, handsome face more suited to playing folk songs in a Brooklyn cafe than brushing shoulders with Russian gangsters.

“I’m more worried about Luca right now.”

“That is troubling to hear. Why?”

For a split second, Armie hesitated. Something in his gut told him to hold back—to just go look for Luca, to keep his goddamn mouth shut—but Louis was looking up at him so earnestly that he pushed the feeling aside.

“I think Felice’s planning something. Tonight—maybe even right now, I don’t know.”

Momentary shock flickered across Louis’s face. “How do you know this?”

“I can’t—I can’t say. I just need to speak to Luca.”

Louis nodded firmly. “I saw him go upstairs. Check his room.” Armie turned to go, but Louis caught him by the shoulder. “Here,” he said; he pulled a key out of his breast pocket and pressed it into Armie’s hand. “The door may be locked—this is a master key. I will speak with my father—perhaps we can provide some kind of cover.”

Armie gripped the key tightly. “Thank you,” he said, then took off as fast as he could, hoping against hope that he wasn’t already too late.

*

The house seemed strangely empty as Armie sped down one deserted corridor after another. He had expected a few party stragglers, or maybe some security here and there, but he didn’t see a single soul as he made his way to the third floor where most of the bedrooms were tucked away. Everything was silent up here; he couldn’t even hear the noise of the party.

Armie stopped outside the door of Luca’s room, heart pounding, and carefully took his gun from its holster. There wasn’t any light coming from the crack under Luca’s door. Did that mean he was asleep? Or that he hadn’t come back yet, and Armie was just looking in the wrong place?

Armie froze. Down the hall he could hear two voices—male, Russian—approaching fast. His own room was in the same direction, and he knew he wouldn’t make it before they rounded the corner. There was nothing else for it. As quickly and quietly as he could, Armie unlocked Luca’s door and slipped inside.

He shut it carefully, listening as the voices outside grew louder, then faded. Luca’s room was dark, and Armie exhaled slowly. But his relief didn’t last long: before his eyes could adjust, someone flicked on a light.

“Hello, Armie,” Luca said. His voice was cold and dangerous, and at first, Armie wasn’t sure why. Then he remembered the gun in his hand.

“Luca,” Armie said and took a step toward him, hoping to explain, hoping to confess, to warn him, then—

Click.

The sound was close and loud. A gun, cocked and ready two inches from Armie’s ear.

“Don’t fucking move,” Timmy said from behind him, and Armie’s heart stuttered to a standstill.

Chapter Text

The party at Luca’s villa. Armie. Then, out of nowhere, Rex and Caesar and Louis, and Rex had a gun on him before Timmy could blink.

“Timmy? Where are you?”

“Safe.”

“Who are you with? What happened?”

“I’m with friends.”

“What the fuck? Timmy—”

“Give me that.” Rex snatched the phone out of Timmy’s hand. “I’d like to speak to Luca,” he said. He listened, then laughed. “Put Luca on the phone.”

The lights of the freeway cast eerie shadows over Rex’s face. They were in the backseat of a black Suburban kind of like the one Armie always drove, but instead of smoke and cologne it just smelled like mountain mist air freshener. A rental, probably. Caesar sat on Timmy’s other side, and Louis in front of them. He caught Timmy’s eye and gave a small smile of encouragement.

“My father’s well,” Rex was saying. “Very well, very well. Sorry I had to do this to you, uncle—I know how much you like Tiny Tim over here. But that’s kinda the whole reason we can’t have him skipping town right now. We were expecting you both in New York, you know? And if lil’ Timmy hadn’t showed, we would’ve felt pretty foolish. Don’t worry—we’re not gonna hurt him. We like Timmy, don’t we?”

Here Rex elbowed Timmy in the ribs.

“Your boy’s safe with us,” he went on. “I mean, fuck—we bought him a first class ticket! But he is coming to New York, you understand? You keep insisting he’s family, and this is a family meeting. Do I make myself clear?”

Timmy counted the seconds it took Luca to answer.

“Excellent. Man, I’m so glad we’re on the same page. You wanna talk to him?”

Timmy’s heartbeat quickened, but Rex only shrugged and hung up.

“No dice,” he said. “Hey Louis, put some music on.”

Rex leaned back with a long sigh. He still had his gun in one hand, resting on his knee.

Well, this was fucking annoying.

Sure, Timmy had wanted to go to New York, but not with a gun pointed in his face, and not with Rex and Caesar fucking Guadagnino. Louis was a surprise, though. Timmy wanted to ask what he was doing there, but he wasn’t sure how honest Louis would be under the circumstances.

The drive to the airport was uneventful. They came in through a back entrance, bypassing the usual security route so that none of them had to give up their guns (except Timmy, of course, whose weapon had already been confiscated along with his phone). The whole time Rex stood at Timmy’s elbow, just close enough for Timmy to smell his overpriced cologne.

It wasn’t until just before they boarded that Timmy got the chance to talk to Louis alone.

“Can I get a book?” Timmy asked. They were sitting in a small lounge area near their gate, and he could see a kiosk on the other side of the hallway. Rex was sprawled out in his seat with his eyes closed, and he snorted.

“Fuck no.”

“It’s a six hour flight.”

“Then take a nap. Or watch a shitty movie like everyone else, I don’t give a fuck.”

Caesar snickered, and Timmy was reminded of how much he’d always disliked them both. Even though they were about the same age as Timmy, he’d never had much in common with them.

“There’s a kiosk over there,” Timmy said, nodding to a shop a few yards away. He did his best to keep his voice even and reasonable, even though he wanted to scream.

“I’m fucking tired, so no,” Rex said.

“I’ll take him,” Louis offered, just like Timmy had hoped he would.

“Fine, whatever.”

Louis stood up and grabbed Timmy roughly by the arm.

“Sorry,” he muttered in French as soon as they were out of earshot. “Gotta play along.”

“I take it this wasn’t your idea?” Timmy asked him as they started browsing the books on the bestseller shelf.

“No,” Louis said flatly. He thumbed through a paperback absently as he spoke. “Angelo was going to reach out to Luca. Come to some understanding. But Felice wouldn’t have it—you know how he feels. The only way Angelo could keep the peace was by agreeing to this. I’m here as a compromise.”

The bitterness in his voice eased the knot of panic in Timmy’s chest. At least one person was still on his side.

*

Just breathe. In. Out. In again.

Hands steady. (His hands hands were steady, weren’t they?)

Left hand—check. Right hand—check.

(Why were they so steady?)

Don’t check the gun. Whatever he did, he couldn’t check it—that would look suspicious. It was there, exactly the same place it was the last time he’d looked, and it was loaded. He knew this because he had loaded it that morning, just before he left the house.

You don’t have to do this, she’d said when he’d hugged her. You’re not like them.

(But why was being like them a bad thing?)

Breathe.

The subway lights were flickering and it put him on edge, but they always did that so why was it any different now? And the woman on the other side of the train wasn’t staring at him—he was just paranoid.

He was just paranoid. Say the words like a mantra: Breathe, you’re just paranoid. Breathe, you’re just—

I want to, he’d told her as they both held each other. And isn’t this what he’d been building up to since he first found out what family really meant? Since his first job? Since he walked into Angelo’s office and demanded they let him in? Since Timmy first saw him standing in the corner at a party, a glass of wine in his hand, and felt his eyes on the back of his head, burning like hot metal. Marking him.

But the mark made him feel special. He’d been watching, he said—he’d been keeping tabs. He’d heard things about the orphan, the skinny French kid from Hell’s Kitchen.

Scrappy, right? Annoying?

Oh, maybe—but clever, too. Full of ideas.

He was the reason Timmy was here now.

You’re here now, said a voice in the back of his head, and shit—this was his stop.

His stop, but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t move. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. The lady on the other side of the car was definitely staring at him, leering like a jack-o-lantern, and he couldn’t fucking move—he was going to miss his stop, he couldn’t move and he would never—

Timmy jolted awake with a start, one hand already halfway into his breast pocket, reaching to check for a gun that wasn’t there, just one more time, just to make sure—

He froze, head spinning. “Shit,” he mumbled to himself as soon as he realized where he was: the plane, en route to New York City. He rubbed his eyes, trying to bring himself back to the present. Beside him, Rex snored lightly. Another seat over, Caesar was watching an in-flight movie with glassy eyes.

They’d dimmed the lights in the cabin, but Timmy felt wide awake. Unsettled, too. He shifted in his seat, just to prove to himself that he could; that he wasn’t glued to his chair like he had been in his dream.

He’d had that one before, but most of the time it lasted until he was outside of the diner. Or, where the diner should be. Sometimes it was there and sometimes it was only an empty lot that filled Timmy with an awful certainty that he’d missed his one and only shot.

Timmy sighed and looked down at the book in his lap. He’d grabbed it from a small sale rack in the foreign language section because it was French and because the title made him laugh: Armance. He opened it now, but only made it as far as the second page before his eyes started to glaze over. When he looked up, Louis smiled at him from across the aisle as if to say, Isn’t this all so ridiculous?

Louis was older by a couple of years, and even though Timmy had never been quite as close with him as he was with Esther, they’d always gotten along well. Even though they weren’t blood related, Timmy often got mistaken for Louis’s younger brother—dark curls, dark eyes, French. Frérot, Louis sometimes called him, ruffling Timmy’s hair.

Their fathers had been friends: they’d met in Paris before Timmy or Louis even existed. Before Timmy’s parents had died. If it hadn’t been for their parents, Timmy would have probably never met a single Guadagnino in his life.

Timmy gave up trying to concentrate and put the book away. He turned off the reading light above him and stared out the window. On the horizon, the sky was just starting to turn pale pink, and through the layer of clouds below he could almost make out the neon glow of the city.

New York. Home. He’d gotten used to the idea that he wouldn’t see it for a while, and he’d started to imagine that when he finally did return, Armie and Luca would be with him. Now he focused, conjuring the image in his mind’s eye, only to dismantle it piece by piece.

*

“Well, if it isn’t Luca’s favourite nephew.” Felice pulled him into a stiff, one-armed hug, then drew back to look him up and down, taking in his haggard appearance. “You must be tired, hm? My boys treat you right?”

“Besides waving their guns in my face? Sure.”

Felice smiled and squeezed Timmy’s shoulder tightly. “Had to be done, Tim. I’m sure you understand.”

Timmy could smell the smoke and scotch on his breath.

“Sure,” Timmy said again, then yawned, taking the opportunity to stretch out of Felice’s grip. “Look, I gotta take a nap or something—I’m beat.”

“Of course,” Felice said. “Ingrid made up your old room.”

Rex and Caesar were standing by the door, and they both leered at him as he passed.

*

Timmy slept for most of the day. When he woke up, he found that his room was locked from the outside. Annoying, but not surprising. He ate the food that a maid brought him, then laid on his bed in his boxers and read more of Armance.

It was nice reading something in French, for once, even though the story was kind of frustrating. It felt longer than it needed to be, dragging on in a meandering kind of way: the two main characters were in love, but the author wasted all his time keeping them apart for stupid reasons that could have been resolved if they'd just taken two minutes to actually talk to each other. Still, Timmy kept going, and had finished the whole thing by the time the sky outside started to darken.

No sooner had he turned over the last page then there was a knock on his door.

“You made yourself comfortable,” Louis said in French. “Come on, get dressed—we’re going out.”

“I don’t have any—” Timmy started, but Louis chucked a bundle of clothes at his chest.

Timmy held up the jeans, oversized t-shirt and hoodie. Lying around in his underwear was fine, but he was looking forward to wearing something that wasn’t a suit or a button up for what felt like the first time in months.

Their destination turned out to be Gina’s, a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint in Harlem. They ordered their usual—a large cheese slice each—and ate at the tables in the window of the restaurant. The light inside was dim, which made it easier to watch the people that passed. Armie and Luca were probably in the city already, and even though they were hardly likely to be out for a stroll in this part of town, Timmy kept expecting them to walk by.

Armie. Why did the thought of him make Timmy feel so weird? Armie, blonde and tanned, square jaw and perfect smile. Timmy liked all those things, but mostly he liked the way Armie looked when he thought no one could see him: the way his eyes seemed to deepen, softening into something melancholy. He liked the way Armie lit up when he looked at him, the way Armie’s presence felt at his side. Timmy couldn’t picture him here against the backdrop of tall, grimy buildings and rainy streets.

“So Felice’s not worried I’m gonna bolt?” Timmy asked as they ate. Louis chuckled.

“Are you?”

“No,” Timmy muttered into his pizza. Bolting wasn’t an option; he was here now, and Luca would be with him soon. Then they’d figure something out.

“Yeah, he knows that. Plus, he trusts me now, and I told him you’d stay put.”

“Since when doe he trust you?”

“Since I helped him with a job.”

“What job?”

Louis glanced surreptitiously around the nearly-empty restaurant. “I was up north for a bit,” he said quietly.

“North north?”

Louis nodded.

“Wait, with Katja’s family?” Katja’s family, aka the Tolstovs, old school Russian gangsters who controlled almost every import coming in and out of Siberia.

Louis nodded again. “They aren’t bad people once you get to know them.”

“Does your dad know?” Timmy asked incredulously.

“No, and don’t tell him. Look, this is kind of what I wanted to talk to you about.” He paused, considering his words carefully. “This whole thinking globally thing. It’s not a bad idea. Luca’s set the stage for something big here, but Felice won’t have it, and the family is with him. Of course, it were up to me, Luca would have full control of the family and its assets tomorrow.” He smiled sadly. “But that’s not going to happen: they’re going to take him out.”

Timmy had known this was the most likely course of action for Felice, but the words still chilled him to his core. He wasn’t hungry anymore, but he took a bite of pizza anyways, chewing thoughtfully. Outside, it had started to rain.

“I guessed that much,” he said.

Louis hesitated. “I know he’s been a mentor to you, Timmy. But Luca’s time is over.”

Timmy put down his pizza. Sighed. Ran a hand through his hair. “So, what, I’m just supposed to stand by while they kill him? Then what? Run away, I guess? Let them kill me too?”

“I didn’t say that. Felice trusts me, remember? Well, I talked to him about you; I told him the truth—that you were only with Luca because he offered you an opportunity. That’s all; that’s the extent of your loyalty. He doesn’t see you as a threat.”

“Just as a pawn.”

Louis smiled wryly. “Maybe for now. But Felice’s living in the past—he’s too focused on Luca and his own stupid pride. He doesn’t see how valuable you are—the contacts you’ve made, the things you’ve learned at Luca’s side. He has tunnel vision, and it’s going to destroy him. And you know what? I say we let him. Let Felice take out Luca; let him underestimate us both. Felice won’t be hard to manipulate. If he is, we can get rid of him easily. And when they’re both gone, guess who will be there to pick up the pieces?”

The fluorescent lights flickered. With Felice and Luca out of the way, leadership would default to Angelo, which would position Louis and Timmy to control an even bigger stake in the operation. It was a ruthless move on Louis’s part, but for some reason Timmy wasn’t surprised: Louis was almost as much of an outsider as he was. A Guadagnino by blood, sure, but that was all.

"Does anyone else know?"

"No. My father's too close to Luca. So is Esther, but I might be able to bring her around. I'll talk to her."

"And say what? That we're letting Luca die? You know they're close."

Louis laughed. "She's smart; she'll see reason."

Timmy wasn't so sure about that. He chewed on his lip and stared out the window, mind racing.

“I know it's hard, Timothée. But it makes sense. Doesn't it?"

Timmy exhaled slowly. "Yeah. It makes sense."

"Does that mean you're with me?"

Something inside Timmy’s chest tightened, but he didn’t let it show on his face. Instead, he mirrored Louis’s expression: calm and determined.

“You know that I am.”

*

They’d just stepped out of the pizza place when Louis’s phone rang. After a quick exchange he hung up with a sigh. “Tweedledum and Tweedledee require our presence.”

Ten minutes later they sat with Rex and Caesar in the backroom of the ritzy Manhattan club where Timmy had once hooked up with Madonna’s daughter, a fact that Rex always liked to remind him of, especially when he’d had one too many drinks.

“You still have her number, right?” Rex demanded.

“I’m not giving it to you, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Well then, why don’t you call her up? Uncle Luca isn’t here—you could get yourself laid properly for once.”

Timmy smiled. “Oh, Luca’s not so bad. Better than Uncle Felix, anyways.”

Beside him, Louis choked on his drink. Rex laughed loudly. “I like you, Tim.”

“Wish I could say the same,” Timmy said, and Rex’s grin widened.

“Seriously man, I’m glad you’re on our side. You laid some good groundwork with Luca. You proved your loyalty. I’m just sorry you had to suck his wrinkly cock to do it.”

Rex was leering at him like they were both in on this joke, and for a moment Timmy saw himself how Rex did: the orphan that someone had pitied; a nobody; a kid who’d seen his chance and taken it and fucked his way to the almost-top. Almost, but not quite, because how could someone like Luca ever be anything but a punchline?

Sure, some of it was true, but Timmy had never been a nobody. He’d never been destitute. He’d had other options—a nice family, a nice childhood, a legacy advantage at an Ivy League school—but he’d known what he’d wanted all along, from the moment he’d seen the way people looked at his father. At Angelo. At Luca. Looked at them like they were kings; like they were dangerous.

It was Timmy who’d asked questions. Timmy who’d tagged along. And, when his parents died and he and Pauline went to live with their mom’s family upstate, it was Timmy who’d gone back to the city. He’d convinced Angelo to give him work; he’d done everything they wanted him to and done it well. It was Timmy who gained their trust; Timmy who’d asked, finally, for the chance to become part of the family for real. And it was Timmy who’d strode into Oscar’s Diner on 5th and shot Larry Esposito square in the heart.

And even that hadn’t been enough to prove himself, because he would never be a Guadagnino. Not really. But Luca had noticed him. I’ve heard about you, Luca said, but it was Timmy who stood too close and asked him for an opportunity.

Because Luca was smart in a way that most people weren’t. He knew how to talk to people—how to set people at ease, how to make people love him and trust him when they should’ve run screaming. He taught Timmy how to speak, how to hold himself, all the little things to watch for, where all the buttons were and how to push them just right to get what you wanted. Luca gave orders; Timmy carried them out. But more than that, Timmy found new ways of doing things; made new connections that paid off more than he’d ever expected. And all those things had impressed Luca far more than getting on his knees ever did.

But Rex didn’t know this, or he didn’t believe it.

Timmy smiled. “I do what I have to.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Rex said, and held up his glass.

*

They got back from the club in the early hours of the morning, but Timmy couldn’t sleep. Instead, he paced.

When they’re both gone, guess who will be there to pick up the pieces?

In a way, the offer was tempting: Angelo was well-liked by the family in a way that Luca wasn’t. As the eldest of his generation, Louis was a natural successor to the head of the family. And, if Luca died in petty turf war with Felice, his contacts wouldn’t blame Timmy, and there was a good chance they’d stick with him once he started working with Angelo. They’d only have to worry about the Russians, and now that Louis was in good with them, maybe they wouldn’t even be a problem. They could do everything Timmy had planned and more and still keep the family and their associates on their side.

Really, it was a best-case scenario. So why was it so fucking unappealing?

Siding with Louis might make all the sense in the world, but Timmy couldn’t find it in himself to give a shit. What was the point of success without loyalty? Timmy had fought tooth and nail to get where he was, and while Angelo had permitted his involvement and Felice had grudgingly accepted it, Luca was the one who’d seen who he really was. Sure, Louis and Angelo were family—but so what? Timmy and Luca had laid the foundations for their own empire under everyone’s noses; they’d be just fine with or without the support of the Guadagninos. They just had to make it out alive.

I’d sooner wash my hands of the whole family business, Luca had said to Timmy once back in LA, not long before the party. He would want to get in and out—take Timmy and run and fuck the family, just like they’d planned.

That thought made him feel a little better. They’d planned for this—the stage was set; they just needed to wait for their cue.

Timmy stopped in front of his window. It looked out into a small garden, but he couldn’t see much in the darkness except for the rain rushing down the glass. He missed the view from his Brooklyn apartment. Timmy sighed.

If only he had a fucking phone.

*

The next morning, Timmy woke to find a large suitcase at the foot of his bed, filled with his own clothes and a note from Luca. See you soon, it read in Luca’s tidy cursive. Timmy pressed the paper to his mouth, tracing the outline of his lips, imagining it was Luca’s finger instead.

They didn’t keep him locked up that day, which Timmy supposed he should be grateful for. Esther had arrived, but he didn’t get to talk to her much aside from a quick greeting and a tight hug at breakfast, and then she was off to shop and gossip with the women. Timmy felt for her: as smart and shrewd as Esther was, her father would never let her be part of the family business. That wasn’t women’s work, and so she and Timmy were both outcasts in their own ways.

Felice kept Timmy close by for the rest of the day, alternating between ignoring him and making pointed remarks about Luca. Timmy forced himself to laugh along, but all he could think about was punching Felice in the face. He’d never really been in a proper fist fight, but how hard could it be? As Felice and the rest of them talked and lounged, Timmy let his thoughts drift. He probably couldn’t take them alone, but what if Armie were here to back him up?

He imagined the fight, playing out different scenarios in his head. A lot of them ended with him and Armie somehow half naked and covered in blood, fucking the middle of a room full of bodies while Felice slowly choked to death on his own blood a few feet away.

“Eh, Tim?”

The group of men was staring at him expectantly.

“Sorry, what?”

“All right there, Sweet T?” Rex asked from the corner. Oh, how Timmy loved Rex’s many nicknames.

“Just tired,” Timmy said, mentally adding Rex to the fantasy; they’d kill him first while Felice watched. “What did you say?”

“Tell us about this bodyguard—this Hammer guy,” Caesar said.

Timmy shrugged. “What do you want to know? He’s strong. Former military.”

Felice took a thoughtful puff of his cigar. “He follow orders well?”

Timmy suppressed a smile. “I guess.”

“And what about his employers?” Caesar chimed in. “Bluebird, or whatever. What do you know about them?”

“Nothing; I never really talked to them. Doesn’t matter, anyways—he’s a free agent now.”

“Oh?” Felice asked.

“His contract’s over.”

Rex smirked. “Not according to her.”

Timmy blinked. “What?”

“Bluebird. You seriously never met her? She says your boy’s on our side now.”

“Rex,” Felice warned.

“What? We can trust you, right Tim?” Rex cocked his head.

“Yeah,” Timmy said. Felice just raised an eyebrow. They didn’t say anything else on the subject, and Timmy didn’t bother pressing the issue. He faded in and out of the conversation, mind racing. Was Armie still working for Bluebird? And why were Felice and Rex acting like Bluebird was on their side?

Of course, it didn’t necessarily mean anything—so what if they thought Armie was working for them? Timmy knew Armie, and even if what they said was true there was a pretty good chance it was all part of some kind of play. So why did it make Timmy so uneasy?

The afternoon wore on, and at a certain point Felice poured them all scotch and made them toast to the good fortune of the family. Timmy sipped his drink slowly. He needed to pace himself if he wanted to stay alert.

More smoking, more talking, and then all of a sudden there were Armie and and Luca and Timmy could have cried. Instead, he kept his face blank, just like Luca had taught him.

*

Drinks, dinner, piano, and Armie was doing a spectacularly bad job of playing it cool; he kept looking at Timmy across the room in this pleading way that was so fucking obvious it was painful. Get a grip, Timmy wanted to hiss at him, but since that wasn’t an option he just settled for ignoring Armie as thoroughly as possible. They would have time to talk later: Louis had promised that Timmy’s door would stay unlocked that night.

The group dispersed and Timmy headed back to his room, where he sat on his bed staring at his watch, counting down the seconds. He made it ten minutes before he couldn’t take it anymore.

Timmy didn’t knock when he finally got to Armie’s room, just opened the door and slipped inside, and the relief on Armie’s face was so clear and so strong that for a moment all Timmy’s doubts melted away and he thought that maybe, just maybe, everything would be okay after all.

Then Armie looked him in the eye and told him that his contract was over. Part of Timmy wanted to call him on it, to tell him exactly what Rex had said and ask him to explain himself, because there had to be some kind of mistake. But Armie wasn’t that good of an actor: Timmy saw him hesitate; heard the slight shift in his voice.

Armie was lying to him.

“That seems unlikely,” Luca said half an hour later when Timmy met him in his room. Timmy sighed and leaned forward, resting his head in the crook of Luca’s neck while Luca ran a hand idly through his hair.

“I saw it on his face,” Timmy mumbled.

“Bluebird told me herself that Armie was no longer an employee of the agency.”

“So she lied, too. She just did a better job.”

Luca hummed thoughtfully, and Timmy felt the vibrations resonate in his own chest. “Then it seems like we can no longer rely on Mr. Hammer. But we shouldn’t assume too much—he might be acting under duress.”

“So? If he kills you because he’s following orders, you’re still dead.”

Luca chuckled and drew back, holding Timmy’s face in his hands. “I wouldn’t blame you if you took Louis up on his offer. It’s a good one.”

Timmy scoffed. “Nah, too much of a sure thing. I like a little more risk in my business ventures.”

“We might both die,” Luca said matter-of-factly.

“How many times do I have to tell you: I know what I signed up for. I’m not a kid, okay? I can handle myself—”

Luca kissed him, and Timmy’s mind went blank. He twisted his hands in the collar of Luca’s wrinkled suit jacket, pulling him closer, kissing back with messy abandon. “Fuck me, please,” he mumbled into Luca’s mouth, but Luca just chuckled.

“It’s late, Timothée.”

“Please.”

Luca paused, considering. He brushed a stray curl out of Timmy’s face and tucked it delicately behind his ear.

“Please what?”

“Please, sir.”

Luca smiled. “Turn around.”

Timmy did as he was told. Luca placed his hands lightly on Timmy’s hips, and Timmy let his eyes flutter closed as Luca’s unbuckled his belt from behind as if it were his own. His breath was hot on the back of Timmy’s neck, and he shivered. Belt, then the top button of his pants, and by the time Luca stood back Timmy was already painfully hard.

“On the bed,” Luca said, and Timmy obeyed, lowering himself onto the plush down-fill duvet. He smoothed his hand over the fabric absently, tracing the embroidered pattern, feeling every thread and fibre. Luca had only been here a day but it still smelled like him: sharp and classic; leather and soap and citrus.

Timmy was seventeen when they’d started working together, young and eager for Luca’s genius to rub off on him. But the more he learned about Luca, the more he wanted to be around him, and it wasn't long before admiration morphed into all-consuming loyalty that felt suspiciously like infatuation. Timmy wasn’t sure where it came from (misplaced daddy issues? Latent self-destructive tendencies?), but after awhile he stopped questioning it, because it wasn’t just on his end: Timmy could feel it—the swelling silence, the energy between them. He loved that feeling, that knowing.

Luca had tried to keep his distance, but eventually Timmy cornered him. Practically begged him, just like he was begging now. You want me too, I know you do… And at first Luca had only smiled in that sad, indulgent way you smiled at a child who asked for something impossible. Timothée, please, he said, cupped Timmy’s face with one hand. And then Timmy had taken Luca’s thumb in his mouth, but Luca only laughed at him. Give it time, Luca said, so Timmy did.

Now he smiled into the covers as Luca slipped off each of his shoes and let them fall to the floor, then tugged Timmy’s pants off too. Then his hands were gone, and Timmy heard a drawer open somewhere behind him. The seconds ticked past. He was exposed like this, but he liked the feeling—his skin prickling where it met the open air; his stomach wound tight with anticipation. He dangled his feet off the bed.

The heat of Luca’s body returned, along with his hand, soft where he trailed it down Timmy’s back, rubbing soothing circles into his skin.

“Don’t make a sound,” Luca said, and Timmy barely had time to nod before Luca slid a hand between his legs. His fingers were slick—he must have used lube—and Timmy bit back a gasp as Luca pressed unceremoniously inside him. He forced himself to breathe, to relax, not to squirm or moan the way he really wanted to as Luca added one, then two fingers. He was gentle but firm, and he worked quickly; he knew what Timmy wanted just as well as he knew what Timmy liked. Timmy couldn’t help the soft moan that escaped him when Luca grazed that spot.

Luca chuckled softly. “Now, what if someone hears you?”

Let them, Timmy wanted to say, but Luca pressed harder so he turned his face back into the bed to keep from making any noise. Then the fingers were gone, and Luca pulled him back by the hips, bringing the head of his cock to Timmy’s ass. He moved instinctively to meet him but Luca only tsked under his breath.

“Pazienza…”

Patience. Give it time, Luca had said all those years ago. Had he thought Timmy would get tired? Bored? Lose interest in him like a child loses interest in their favourite toy? In a way, Luca was right: over the years the heady infatuation faded, but the admiration and the loyalty only got stronger. Maybe that was when Luca started to really trust him, because one day Timmy caught his gaze and held it and knew in a single moment that he wouldn’t have to wait any more.

“Please,” Timmy mumbled again. Finally Luca obliged: he pushed his cock inside of Timmy slowly, gently, but with unforgiving force. And then Timmy really did moan.

Luca hadn’t been gentle the first time. Maybe that was his way of trying to put a stop to it. See? Are you happy now? He’d probably expected Timmy to clam up, to turn tail and run as fast as he could in the opposite direction, and Timmy would be lying if he said that the idea didn’t occur to him. He’d been with guys before—drunken dance floor makeouts, summer camp hookups—and he’d had sex with girls. But he’d never been fucked. He’d been quiet after that first time, but not because he regretted it.

And yeah, they’d fucked a million times since then, but even now he still wasn’t used to the feeling—the dull ache as Luca stretched him open; the waves of pleasure that prickled over his whole body and pooled in his cock. Armie was different than Luca: more hesitant; more uncertain. He worried about being too rough, but he was almost always too gentle. But that was okay; Timmy liked care and reverence too sometimes. Just not tonight.

Timmy groaned into the bed again, the sound muffled by layers of expensive cotton and down. He wanted to touch himself, but the way he was lying made it difficult so he just settled for grinding himself against the bed instead. Luca’s hand slid up under his shirt to trace the bones of his ribcage. He pulled Timmy closer and fucked him with long, hard strokes.

Everything else seemed far away—Felice and Armie and the impossibility of escape. The only thing that was real was the soft bed beneath him, the hand pressed over his heart, and the smell of Luca all around him.

*

The next morning, Timmy woke early. The sun was out, and he stood in front of his window sipping the coffee a maid had brought him and contemplating the cellphone in his hand.

Black. Off-brand. Utilitarian.

He’d taken it from Armie’s pocket last night after they’d fucked—or hooked up, or whatever you called that. It was locked, of course, and probably fitted with all kinds of Bluebird tracking devices. But that didn't matter: he only needed to make one call.

What would Armie’s password be? A birthday, maybe? Timmy tried to remember the file Luca had showed him so many months ago—pictures of potential bodyguards, all buzzcuts and tough scowls. Armie’s crooked white grin had caught his eye. A recommendation from the head of the organization, Luca had told him. Timmy remembered his eyes, crinkled in the corners; the way his brassy blonde hair flopped over; the precise shadow of his stubble. But nothing else, not even a middle name.

Damn it. Timmy took another sip of the coffee and frowned. Just for kicks, he tried the most basic thing he could think of: 123456.

No luck.

654321.

The phone clicked open, and Timmy almost spat out his coffee.

*

When Timmy saw next saw Armie, he looked half-dead on his feet. His eyes were red, ringed with black, and his tie was on too loose. Timmy tried to separate the warmth that swelled in his chest from the man in front of him. Armie was on Felice’s side. Or maybe he wasn’t, but at the very least he was keeping something from them and they couldn’t trust him right now. Timmy would have loved to corner him—to hold a gun to his head and make him spill everything—but the situation was too delicate.

As Felice droned on and on about business, Timmy started losing patience. Then Luca finally said what everyone was thinking: this was all just a show; his fate had been sealed a long time ago. Felice’s answering insult was too much, and Timmy saw red.

“As ever, I appreciate the support,” Luca said to him after the meeting, “but you must not give them reason to doubt you.”

Timmy knew he was right, so he sat pretty and didn’t say anything for the rest of the afternoon.

Armie’s phone felt heavy in Timmy’s breast pocket as they ate and drank, celebrating Felice’s victory even though it had been a sure thing from the start. Timmy’s fingers itched.

Then Armie was there beside him, pounding back glass after glass of champagne. And he looked at Timmy in that same desperate way, like a guilty dog. Oh, I don’t know, people change, Timmy said, and the hurt and anger on Armie’s face was so strong Timmy felt like he’d been slapped.

“I don’t know where the fuck Timmy went, but let me know when he gets back,” Armie hissed. Then they danced, and the sour feeling of betrayal sitting coiled in Timmy’s chest threatened to spill over as he watched Armie take Luca’s hand.

“Enjoying the festivities?” Rex asked some time later as Timmy mingled with the guests like everything was normal.

“I always do.”

Rex looked around to make sure no one was listening. “You ready?” he asked with a secretive smile.

“Ready?”

“Ready to get that fucking pervert back. It’s happening tonight." The words felt like a punch to the stomach.

“You’re sure?”

Rex laughed. “Positive.”

“Armie?” Timmy asked, hoping that by some miracle he was wrong. But Rex only winked.

“You talked to him, then?”

“Yeah,” Timmy lied. “But he didn’t say much.”

Rex nodded knowingly. “You don’t need the details.” Plausible deniability.

“When?”

“Whenever he gets the guts.”

“And after?” Timmy asked. “Who’s going to take care of all this?” He nodded around the room.

Rex’s eyes twinkled, like he was in on the best secret in the world. “Let me show you something.”

Timmy followed him out of the room, down the twisting hallways to the East Wing of the house. The guy definitely loved theatrics, Timmy thought, trying to hide his irritation as Rex led him into a hidden corridor. A byproduct of the prohibition-era build, though kind of useless when everyone in the family knew the house’s secrets too. Timmy had played in here with Esther as a little kid, but no one in the family actually used them for anything important. Except Rex, apparently, because he was the worst. And it wasn’t like they even ended up anywhere special—just outside of the old defunct servants’ quarters close to the basement. They stopped in front of the door, and Timmy sighed.

“Why—?” he started, then Rex pushed it open.

*

Back in the ballroom, Timmy found Luca as quickly as he could. “We need to go. Now,” he said, trying and failing to keep the panic out of his voice. Luca looked at his watch.

“Like we planned."

Timmy nodded.

The plan: Luca’s room; midnight. Fifteen more minutes. Where was Armie? Timmy waited for Luca to leave, then followed him back to his room.

*

“You’r sure?” Luca asked urgently. He was on his knees, running his hand along the underside of the dresser while Timmy stood by the door.

“I saw them.” Timmy tensed for a moment at the sound of footsteps, but they were far off and faded quickly.

“Aha.” Luca stood, brushed off his knees, and held the gun up to the light. “A gift from my sister,” he said, and pressed it into Timmy’s hand.

“Thank you Auntie Anna,” Timmy said under his breath. “I already made the call. We just need to—”

Luca held up a hand. More footsteps, but muffled and slow, like whoever they belonged to didn’t want to be heard. The sound got closer, then stopped.

Luca signalled, and Timmy switched off the lights.

Time slowed as they waited in the dark. A key turned in the lock.

Timmy knew who it was right away from the ragged, quiet breathing alone. He positioned himself in the corner. Then he turned on the lights.

The intruder saw Luca first.

“Hello, Armie.”

The look on Armie’s face was its own kind of victory: bewilderment, guilt, fear. Before he could even raise his weapon Timmy stepped from the shadows and pointed his gun at Armie’s temple.

“Don’t fucking move.”

Chapter Text

“What the fuck?”

“I said don’t fucking move.” Timmy’s voice was even, calm, and cold as ice.

Armie’s brain seemed to have short circuited. Was Timmy going to kill them both? But no—Luca seemed far too at ease, a smile playing on his lips as he looked at Timmy with—what, pride?

“What the fuck,” Armie managed.

“Drop the gun.”

Armie released it into Timmy’s outstretched hand. Timmy put the safety on, then tucked it into his waistband. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t pull the trigger.”

“Timmy, what—?”

The barrel of his gun was cold on Armie’s temple. “Traitor.” The word was like a knife. Timmy seemed to like the way it sounded, because his lips curled and said it again: “Traitor.”

Traitor. Armie, not Timmy. Timmy had been with Luca all along. The realization hit Armie like a tonne of bricks.

“I swear to god, Timmy, I wasn’t—”

“You’re working with Felice. You came here to assassinate Luca.”

“No, I—”

“I don’t fucking believe you.” The betrayal in Timmy’s voice hurt more than the anger. The knife twisted.

“Let me explain, okay?” Armie looked desperately to Luca. “Okay?”

Luca tilted his head, considering. “We shouldn’t shoot him here,” he said to Timmy.

Timmy licked his lips, then took the gun away. “Talk.”

Armie let out a long breath. “It’s… it’s complicated, but I swear, I was going to help you.”

“Then why did you lie?” Timmy demanded.

“What?”

“Yesterday Rex told me you were on their side—that you were still working for Bluebird. And I thought, hm, well, he must be playing them, because there’s no way Armie would ever work for Felice Guadagnino. No way. And I gave you a chance, and you looked me dead in the eye and told me your contract was over. You lied to me.”

Armie felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. “I was trying to buy more time. Bluebird’s been compromised.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

Armie turned to Luca. “You know they’ve been blackmailing me, right? For fucking years. The whole reason I started working for them in the first place was so I didn’t have to serve any time after… after what happened in Iraq.”

“What happened in Iraq?” Timmy asked quickly.

“Timmy, please,” Armie said, and took a step toward him.

He raised the gun again. “No. Nope. Welcome to honesty hour. What happened in Iraq?”

I don’t want you to hate me, Armie almost said, but judging by the look in Timmy’s eye there was nothing he could say or do that would make the kid hate him any more than he did already.

“What, you want me to go down the whole laundry list of my many fuckups? We don’t have time.”

“We have time,” Timmy replied firmly.

“Luca, come on,” Armie said desperately, but Luca only shrugged.

Armie threw up his hands. “Fine, whatever. We can have story time while we wait for your family to come blow our brains out.” He sighed, thinking, sifting back through the memories he normally kept locked away. “In ‘08 I was recruited to Special Ops,” he began. “I’d already done one tour at that point. We were stationed near Baghdad, but there was a lot of movement. It happened in this… this little village. Just outside of a city called Yusufiyah, not that it matters. But since we’re being honest…”

Armie still remembered the sun; the way you could feel yourself cooking alive. The sand that always got into your boots, working its way under your toenails; the everpresent smell of hot diesel and charred plastic. They’d reached the village in the evening, just as the air was beginning to cool.

“We were just passing through at first. But we got word there was a person of interest close by, hiding out somewhere. It was a detour. We’d been drinking. But we went anyways.”

Timmy was watching him curiously. Trying to figure out if he was telling the truth, probably, or if he was just making up a sob story. Luca was listening intently, even though Armie guessed he probably knew all this already.

“One of the villagers, he’d heard stories about American soldiers,” Armie went on. “The guy was fucking terrified, and for good reason. Our sergeant was crazy—an honest-to-god psychopath. He thought the whole thing was hilarious. It escalated. Someone pulled a gun, and, shit… the rest is a blur. At a certain point all I could do was watch. Should’ve done more, but…”

Armie shook his head. It still felt unreal: the images were burned into his mind, but he couldn’t connect them to himself; like he’d seen the whole thing in a movie, not with his own eyes. Like it had happened to someone else.

“You killed them,” Timmy said flatly, and Armie spread his hands, at a loss.

“At first it was self defense. But then… it went too far. Way too fucking far. And I just watched.”

“So you’re a war criminal.”

“If you want to give me that much credit, sure.”

“But you didn’t serve time.”

“I should have. But you know how much the US army likes coverups.” He smiled faintly, and while Timmy remained stone-faced, Armie thought he saw a familiar twinkle in Luca’s eye. “When we told command what happened, my sergeant blamed it on insurgents. Everyone went along with it, but eventually some journalist got ahold of the story. They paid him off, but it was still over for us—they sent us back stateside. Put us on trial, gave us dishonorable discharges. Kept it quiet, though, and I don’t think a single one of those guys—including me—ever saw the inside of a cell; we all got offers. Mine was to work for Bluebird. And I’m a fucking coward, so I took it.”

“Sounds about right.” Timmy said, eyes boring into him.

“Let us not pretend we’re free of sin, Timothée,” Luca said quietly. Then he turned to Armie. “I was aware of this, to an extent; that’s not why we’re here tonight. What else have you been keeping from us?”

Armie shifted uneasily. The door was still ajar behind him, and somewhere off in the distance he could hear the chatter of guests. They sounded cheerful—not a threat, for now.

“You’ve met her, right?” Armie asked Luca. “Bluebird. Liz. Whatever.”

“Once, some months ago,” Luca said. “She’s a force to be reckoned with.”

“Yeah. Well, she wasn’t always the boss; she has her own skeletons. When I met her, she was like me: just another pawn on a chess board. A bodyguard. But unlike me, she was ambitious. Not happy just coasting, you know?”

Timmy frowned, and Armie could tell he’d caught the kid off guard. He kept going.

“The first time we worked together was in Riyadh. Hot as fuck and nothing to do after hours. I don’t know why she ever gave me the time of day, but…” Armie shook his head. “God, it sounds stupid now, but we fell in love.”

Timmy’s eyebrows shot up. “You fell in love,” he repeated incredulously.

“You wanted honesty,” Armie said. “The Riyadh job got messy, but we worked well together. It was only a few months, but we got close. It just kind of… happened. I proposed on the flight home. Still don’t know why she said yes.”

“What does this have to do with Felice?” Timmy demanded.

“I thought you said we had time.”

“Not all night.”

“Fine, I’ll keep it short: we got married, and for some stupid reason I thought I could actually be everything she deserved—a good person. A good husband. A good—” The word stuck in his throat. Luca looked suddenly grave, like he already knew what Armie was going to say. “A good dad,” Armie finished quietly.

“You have a kid?” Timmy blurted out.

Armie’s stomach writhed. “Two,” he said. “But I fucked that up too. It was fine for a few years, but then… I don’t know. I self destructed. She asked me not to take anymore dangerous jobs—stick to the boring stuff, you know?—but when she found out she was pregnant again, something snapped.” He was speaking quickly now, the words tumbling out in a rush. “We were already having problems and I panicked—I just wanted to get as far away as possible. Took an assignment halfway around the world. It was a mess; I almost died. She was already working her way up by that point… She should have fired me, but she didn’t. Just told me I couldn’t come back because after everything I’d done—all the bridges I’d burned—the kids would be in too much danger. And she was right. Anyways, I guess that’s what I wanted all along. I’m not cut out for fatherhood.”

Timmy was still gaping at him, but Armie felt lighter. Buoyant, almost. He let out a long breath.

“I don’t know how, but they got to her. Maybe they threatened the kids, maybe it was just money, but she told me if I did what Felice told me to, I could come home.”

Silence. Luca was staring at the floor, brow furrowed like he was trying to work through a very difficult math problem.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Timmy asked. “We could have figured something out. We could have—”

“Because I wasn’t sure what I wanted,” Armie confessed. “But in the end, i couldn’t do it. I was a shit dad, and they’re better off without me. I’m a shit bodyguard, too, but... I want to be here. I want to help you.” For the first time, the scowl slipped from Timmy’s face, and Armie saw a hint of the other kid—the Timmy who dragged him to 80s night at the Grind, who played piano in Luca’s study, who kissed him on the beach in front of the setting sun. Then something occurred to him. “Plus, I thought you were on Felice’s side.”

Timmy made a face. “Did Rex tell you that?”

“Esther, actually.”

Luca’s head snapped up. “Esther?”

“Yeah. She told me that Louis told her that Timmy was with Felice.” Saying it out loud made it seem even more ridiculous: a bad game of telephone that Armie hadn’t even thought to question. God, he was such a fucking idiot.

Timmy and Luca exchanged a significant glance.

“Why would he tell her that?” Timmy muttered. “If he…”

“Perhaps it was his way of testing the waters; seeing how she would react. Or perhaps he didn’t trust you as much as you thought, and wanted your allies to mistrust you,” Luca said calmly.

“Wait, is Louis a bad guy now?” Armie cut in.

Timmy ignored him. “But what if she’d told Angelo instead of Armie? Or you?”

“My brother sees the best in people. I doubt he would believe that Felice has been plotting against me—the family has voted; in Angelo’s mind that’s the end of the matter.”

“And she wouldn’t have told Luca,” Armie added. “She thought he was too in love with Timmy to see him as a real threat. No offense.”

“None taken,” Luca said pleasantly.

Timmy still seemed unconvinced. Armie looked back and forth between them. “Okay… So, what now?”

Timmy sighed. “We stick to the plan.”

“At least tell me what the plan is,” Armie pleaded. Luca and Timmy looked at each other again.

“We have to make it out without an altercation,” Luca said.

“We can’t defend ourselves,” Timmy added.

“Why not?”

“The Committee.”

Armie remembered. “Don’t shoot until shot?”

“Yeah,” Timmy said.

“Kinda seems beside the point after Felice specifically instructed me to kill you,” Armie said to Luca.

“Did he?” Luca asked lightly. “What were his exact words?”

Armie sifted back through his memories, trying to remember what Felice had said. Tonight, you’ll take care of him.

“Okay, so maybe he wasn’t that explicit. But the intent was there.”

Luca shrugged. “Your word against his, I’m afraid.”

Something was nagging at the back of Armie’s mind. Don’t shoot until shot. But who had really fired first?

“What was that guy’s name—the very first guy?” he asked Luca. “The one who attacked us on the freeway.”

“Esteban García,” Luca supplied. “A hired gun.”

“Holy fuck,” Armie breathed as the pieces clicked into place. “Felice shot first. He hired that Esteban guy to take you out.”

“How do you know?” Timmy asked.

“Stepanov. I heard him talking to his crony—they said if Felice had succeeded the first time, Luca would be dead, and ‘poor Esteban’ would be a free man.”

Timmy’s eyes widened. “You’re sure?”

Armie nodded.

“Can you prove it?” Luca asked.

“Well, no, but—”

“Then it doesn’t matter,” he said. “Timothée, how much time do we have?” Then Timmy reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a phone. Armie’s phone.

“Forty minutes,” Timmy said, checking the clock.

“You stole my fucking phone,” Armie said indignantly.

“You lied to me.”

“Fair enough,” Armie said, then cleared his throat. “How much time until what?”

Timmy only looked away, and Armie took a step forward. Another step, and how were Timmy’s eyes still so beautiful even when he scowled? “Timmy, listen to me,” Armie said quietly. Another step; Timmy tensed, but didn’t raise his gun. “I’m on your side, I swear. You realize how much I’m risking by telling you about all this, right? No one else even knows my kids exist—they might as well be in witness protection.”

“And what if you’re lying?”

Armie laughed. “You know my poker face isn’t that good. And if you really want confirmation, call Greta. She found out a while ago.”

Timmy looked to Luca. “Did she tell you?”

“No.”

“Call her,” Armie insisted. He was so close to Timmy now, and even though the air between them was still slippery and uncertain, the veil had lifted. It made him feel alive.

“You had a key,” Timmy said, voice barely a whisper. “If you weren’t going to kill Luca, why dId you have a key?”

“I told Louis that Luca was in trouble. He gave it to me—told me to... come find you…” Armie trailed off, heart pounding. Fuck.

The colour had drained from Timmy's face. “When?” he demanded.

“I don’t know—half an hour ago? Right before I came up here.”

“Did you tell him where you were going?” Luca asked sharply.

“Yeah... Shit. You don’t think he—?”

“We have to go,” Timmy said, and all of a sudden the gun was back, pointed directly at Armie’s chest.

“Hey now—”

Luca nodded, and Timmy turned Armie roughly around, nudging him towards the door with the gun on his back. “We’ll find somewhere safe to wait it out, then we stick to the plan,” Timmy said.

“I’m on your side,” Armie hissed, but Timmy ignored him. The gun was sharp between his shoulder blades.

“An empty room,” Timmy was saying to Luca. “Somewhere in the East Wing. It’s close enough that we can—”

Timmy reached for the door, but it swung open before he could even touch it.

“Ah ah,” Louis said, levelling his gun at Timmy’s heart. “Pas si vite—you’re not going anywhere.”

Instinctively, Timmy turned his gun on Louis, but Louis was faster: he pushed the weapon aside, twisting it out of Timmy’s hand. Before Armie could do anything, Louis had Timmy in a headlock, gun at his temple.

“Drop it,” Louis said to Luca, who was aiming at Louis’s forehead, “or I shoot him.”

“So nice to see you, Louis. We haven’t had the chance to catch up. How are you?”

Louis adjusted his grip, and Timmy winced. “Drop it,” he repeated. Luca didn’t protest again, just calmly placed his gun on the ground.

“Holy shit,” Armie whispered as another revelation hit him. “You’re the boy.”

“What?” Louis snapped, but Armie just shook his head in disbelief.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he asked, more to himself than to Louis.

Louis tsked under his breath. “I should ask the same of you: I thought maybe your concern was an act, Hammer. But you really have gone back to your master, hm? Like a whipped dog. Though it doesn't seem like that's going too well for you.”

“Well fuck you, too.”

“Louis, come on,” Timmy said through gritted teeth.

“I have to say, I wasn’t sure what I’d find here—though I was hoping it was Hammer standing over a corpse. Oh well. Caesar!”

The door opened again, and there was Caesar. He had two guns; one pointed at Armie and one at Luca. Both of them were fitted with silencers.

“You have a stupid fucking name,” Armie said matter-of-factly, for no real reason besides the fact that he’d always wanted to say that.

Timmy shot him an exasperated look, but Caesar only sneered. “Who first?” he asked Louis.

“Wait—wait. Let’s—let’s talk about this,” Timmy managed. Louis was squeezing his windpipe, and mixed in with the adrenaline Armie felt a wave of searing hot anger.

“Je n'ai rien à te dire,” Louis snapped, and tightened his grip. “Luca first,” he said to Caesar.

Armie stole a glance at Luca’s feet, where his gun still rested innocently. Could he lunge for it before Caesar pulled the trigger?

“You were always the dull one, weren’t you?” Luca said softly as Caesar advanced on him. “Always doing someone else’s bidding. I’m not surprised your father would let you take the fall for this.” Caesar’s beady eyes narrowed.

“Don’t let him sweet talk you,” Louis muttered. His grip on Timmy seemed looser; he was distracted. Armie shifted his weight, but no one noticed except for Timmy. Their eyes met, and Armie winked.

“There are consequences to your actions, Caesar. Perhaps sooner than you think,” Luca said. He was staring Caesar dead in the eye, shoulders square and powerful. And, to Armie’s surprise, Caesar actually hesitated.

“We’ve talked about this,” Louis snapped. “You have immunity.”

“No you don’t,” Timmy said breathlessly. “Louis wants you out of the way just as much as—”

Timmy spluttered and coughed as Louis squeezed his throat. “Do it,” Louis barked at Caesar.

Just then, a flicker of movement caught Armie’s eye: the door was still ajar, and he could’ve sworn he saw it move. Had Louis brought backup?

Caesar turned back to Luca. He’d lowered the gun in his other hand; the only thing keeping Armie in place was Louis’s hold on Timmy. There—the door had definitely moved. And was that a shadow?

“Caesar,” Luca said evenly. “Listen to me—“

“Sorry, uncle,” Caesar said, and levelled the gun at Luca’s heart.

Then several things happened at once.

The door swung open, and Louis turned. Timmy took advantage of the distraction—he gripped the arm around his neck and shoved Louis backwards, just managing to grab hold of the gun in Louis’s hand as he twisted away.

“Stop!” a woman shouted, but Armie didn’t see who: he had already lunged for Caesar, tackling him to the ground. As he did, Armie heard the muffled sound of a gun and felt the shock of the kickback. Caesar writhed underneath him, throwing blind punches wherever he could, but in a few short seconds Armie had his hands pinned and a knee on his back.

Armie looked wildly around, trying to see where the shot had gone. And who had shouted? By the door, Timmy had successfully wrestled the gun from Louis’s hand and was kneeling over him, breathing hard. But he wasn’t alone.

“Esther?” Armie asked incredulously. She was standing at Timmy’s side, a fire poker raised menacingly in her hands, and she was glaring down at Louis with burning hatred.

“Comment osez-vous!” she spat, and brought the fire poker down under his chin. Louis swallowed.

Luca was leaning against the desk, holding his arm, blood dribbling from between his fingers.

Shit.

Esther tore her eyes from her brother, seeming to notice Luca for the first time. She paled. “Uncle?”

“I’m fine,” Luca said with a wince. “He missed, thanks to Mr. Hammer.”

Underneath Armie, Caesar tried to say something, but Armie only wrenched his arm back harder. “Shut up,” he growled.

Esther let the fire poker drop as she moved to Luca’s side. “A tourniquet,” Armie said, but she was one step ahead of him: she’d already reached down and ripped the hem of her blue evening gown, tearing off a long strip. The bullet had hit Luca in the upper arm. He slipped off his jacket and Esther fixed the fabric just above the wound.

“Guess we don't have to worry about shooting first,” Armie muttered.

“How did you know?” Timmy asked Esther.

“A feeling,” she said as she tightened the cloth. “You disappeared; so did Louis. I came to check on Luca, then i heard voices.”

“Anyone else outside?” Armie asked.

“No—the hall was empty. But they will be here soon.” Esther glared back at her brother. “How could you do this? Betray our father?”

Louis started to say something in French, but Armie cut him off: “English,” he ordered. Louis looked to Timmy, who shrugged.

“You’re making a mistake,” Louis said through gritted teeth. He was on his back on the ground, and Timmy bent to press the gun to his forehead.

“I’m not the one who switched sides.”

“No, you only went back on our deal, hm? After I vouched for you to Felice, I might add.”

“What was I supposed to do?”

“The logical thing.” Louis licked his lips, and his eyes flicked to Armie, then Luca. “Come on, Timothée—is this the life you really want? Following his orders, sitting pretty, doing whatever he tells you? That is really what you want to die for? Because you’re not going to make it out of here alive—not with him.”

Timmy studied him sadly. “So that’s really what you think of me, huh?”

“You don’t have to die,” Louis said breathlessly. “There’s still time to fix this. Timmy, I know you. You don’t want this.”

Timmy stood. “You don’t know anything.” He held out his hand, and Armie passed him one of Caesar’s guns—one with a silencer.

“Esther!” Louis gasped when Timmy pointed it at his chest. Luca watched silently, no outward sign that he had just been shot except slightly laboured breath.

“Don’t kill him, Timmy,” Esther said. “He has betrayed us, but he is my brother.”

Timmy adjusted his aim, lowering it to Louis’s knee. “Better?”

“Vous faites une err—” Louis shouted, but Timmy clapped a hand over his mouth.

“Esther, est-ce bien?” he grunted.

She hesitated, then nodded. “Bien.”

Armie barely had enough time to brace himself.

Thanks to the silencer the shot was quiet, but Louis’s strangled scream rang out. Timmy kept a hand over his mouth, murmuring to him in French as he shook and thrashed in pain.

Caesar had started to struggle again: his head was turned, one side of his face pressed against the carpet. He could barely make a sound with Armie’s knee on his back, but he kept trying and Armie was so busy trying to keep him quiet that he didn't notice Luca stoop to grab Caesar’s other gun. Then Caesar froze, one eye fixed on the space just over Armie’s shoulder.

“Consequences, Caesar,” Luca said, and shot him in the head.

*

The hallway outside was deadly quiet. Or it would have been if it hadn’t been for the ringing in Armie’s ears and the furious thump of his heart.

“Which way?” Esther asked.

“Can we just jump out a fucking window or something?” Armie said breathlessly. Back in Luca’s room, Louis gave a muffled yell; they hadn’t had enough time to knock him out or tie him up or do anything except shove pillow case in his mouth.

“This way,” Timmy said, and led them to the right, towards what Armie thought was probably the East Wing. “And we can’t jump out a window, because the house is surrounded.”

Louis shouted again, but this time the sound was bright and clear. The four of them froze, listening. Distantly, Armie heard the thud of footsteps. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end.

“Go,” Esther whispered, and pushed Timmy forward.

“What do you mean, surrounded?” Armie hissed as they went, half running, half walking past closed doors and empty rooms. For the first time, it occurred to him how absolutely fucking massive the mansion was—closer in size to a small hotel than a typical residence.

“Stepanov’s men are here,” Timmy said. “Inside the house—there’s about ten of them waiting in the servant’s quarters; Rex took me down there earlier. So I’m betting they also set up a perimeter.”

Armie stopped dead in his tracks. “What?”

“Armie, we don’t have time for—” Then Timmy froze, too, because someone was coming down the hall towards them. A group of someones, in fact.

“Shit!” was all Armie had time to say before gunfire erupted. He shoved Timmy roughly out of the way, following Luca and Esther into a nearby alcove.

The gunfire stopped.

They’d divvied up the guns between them, along with the ammunition they already had and what they’d taken off Louis and Caesar. That left them with two guns each. Armie pulled out both of his, took a deep breath, and stepped out into the hallway.

He managed three shots before the answering hail of bullets went off.

“How many?” Luca asked when he ducked back into the alcove.

“More than five. I think I hit one.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Cowboy,” one of the men called out in Russian. “Surrender now and we’ll consider sparing you.” Armie grit his teeth. Stepanov. Their footsteps were getting closer, soft and heavy on the ancient carpet.

“Can we go back?” Armie whispered.

Esther shook her head. “Listen,” she said, “the rest of them are coming.”

Sure enough, Armie could hear more people approaching from the opposite direction. They were trapped.

The realization washed over him like icy water. He looked at Timmy, who was breathing hard, eyes wide and wild. There was a bit of blood on the corner of his mouth—Louis’s, probably. Armie wanted to kiss it away.

“Timmy,” he started. “I...”

“You are on our side, right?” Timmy asked. Armie looked at Luca. The fabric Esther had tied to his arm was already soaked with dark red blood, but he held his gun firmly with his good hand. He was smiling.

“Yes,” Armie managed. They were getting closer. He wanted to say so many things—to somehow explain the tangled mess of thoughts and feelings inside him threatening to spill over—but he couldn’t find the words, and they didn’t have the time. Then Timmy smiled, and Armie saw the last traces of suspicion fall from his eyes. Timmy cocked his gun. “One.”

Armie’s throat felt tight. Louis had been right. Liz had been right. But for once, Armie didn’t regret any of the choices that had led him here. He smiled.

“Two.”

Luca shifted, bracing himself.

“Three.”

The four of them exploded into the hallway together, firing almost blindly toward the men who now surrounded them from all sides.

Everything was chaos. Had Timmy been hit? Had that been a kill shot? Armie felt a rough hand on his shoulder and turned, just managing to throw the would-be attacker off of him, just managing to turn back around in time to punch the man advancing on him in his face. Someone jumped on him from behind—jumped on him—and he wasn’t quick enough: he hit the floor hard, turned, and put a bullet in the guy’s head. A few feet away he watched Timmy shoot with the kind of messy precision that he brought to everything he did: accurate but passionate, rough and polished all at once.

Luca stood behind him, back to back, picking men off one by one. His style was different: clean, controlled, almost military. As Armie watched them, he was overcome with a powerful fondness that spread like warmth through his limbs. Esther, too, had joined the fray. She was quick and deadly, aided by the fact that none of the men seemed to want to hurt her.

One of the men on the floor managed to raise a gun pointing it at Timmy. The kid didn’t see him, but Armie did, and he tackled him; took him out before he could pull the trigger. Then, suddenly, there was silence. Armie looked down at the man underneath him.

Stepanov.

He exhaled slowly, taking in the blood, the gore, the fractured bits of skull in the carpet. It was strange: looking down at Stepanov’s mangled face, he couldn’t help feeling a sense of closure. Full circle.

Armie got to his feet, surveying the damage: nearly ten bodies were strewn out on the antique carpet. “Holy fuck,” he said under his breath. “How the hell did we pull that off?”

“Luck,” Luca said, but Esther huffed.

“They had too many men, and the hallway was too small,” she said simply. “They were afraid of shooting each other. They hesitated.”

“Luck,” Luca repeated with a wink.

Armie grinned. “Everyone okay?”

Esther nodded. She was pale white, but her jaw was set hard.

“Timmy?” Armie asked. The kid was standing a little ways off. His hair had fallen into his eyes, his face was splattered with blood, and he was shaking: he swayed on his feet like he was going to fall, and the bottom dropped out of Armie’s stomach.

In two quick strides he reached Timmy and grabbed him by the shoulders. Timmy looked up at him, but he wasn’t hurt; before Armie knew what was happening Timmy had pulled him into a rough kiss. His mouth tasted coppery and everything smelled like gunpowder and metal and Armie was pretty sure he’d never been happier in his whole miserable life.

Timmy’s hand slid up the back of his shirt and Armie pulled him closer, pressing the bodies together, relishing the warmth, the closeness, the—

Armie heard a gun cock. No, not just one—several guns. They both froze, and turned almost in unison to face the new group of men that had appeared in the hallway.

“Well, isn’t this sweet,” Felice said. His voice was heavy with disgust. He was flanked on one side by Rex, who was practically foaming at the mouth, and on the other Angelo, who looked sorrowful.

“Good evening,” Luca said flatly. He had two guns trained on Felice. Armie thought he saw his wounded arm shaking.

In one lightning-quick motion Timmy raised his gun, but before he could shoot Esther stepped in front of him and Luca with her arms spread wide.

“Arrêtez!”

“Stop—stop!” Angelo shouted to the men. They looked to Felice for orders.

“Don’t you fucking dare!” Rex barked at them. “She’s a traitor like them—shoot her too!”

“You are the traitor!” Esther shot back. “Papa, they tried to kill Uncle Luca. And Louis, he—”

“Ridiculous accusations!” Felice said, and then everyone was yelling at once, talking over each other. Armie had put his guns away like a fucking idiot. Could he reach them without anyone noticing?

“How much time do we have, Timothée?” Luca asked quietly under his breath.

“Ten minutes.”

Esther and Angelo were speaking in rapid French now, while Rex and Felice exchanged words in Italian.

“Till what?” Armie hissed. Timmy just shook his head.

Without warning, Rex pointed his gun at Timmy. “You did it, didn’t you? You killed him!”

The group fell silent. Rex’s whole body was shaking with rage.

“No,” Timmy said. “But I wish I had.”

Rex gave a strangled yell, Armie reached for his gun, but before anyone could fire a shot there came a voice, small and commanding, from the end of the hallway.

“What is the meaning of this?”

The Committee member was striding towards them, flanked by the massive bodyguard Armie remembered from the meeting earlier. She was wearing a robe, and her hair was done up in a tight bun.

“Good evening,” Luca said pleasantly. The woman nodded curtly. She looked at the bodies on the floor, then turned to Felice.

“What in god’s name—?”

“It appears my dear brother has murdered my nephew in cold blood,” Felice said simply.

“Is that true?” the woman asked Luca.

“Don’t ask him!” Rex shouted. “He’s just going to lie—”

“Rex, please,” Luca said. “That is true.”

Felice gave a surprised bark of laughter. “He admits it!”

“Why?” the woman asked sharply.

“Felice tried to kill Luca,” Armie interjected. “Twice, at least.”

“Lies,” Felice spat.

“A month ago, I stopped an assassination attempt,” Armie said. “The man who was responsible was hired by Felice Guadagnino.”

“Ridiculous—”

“The company I work for was compromised. They told me to follow his orders, and yesterday he told me to kill Luca.”

“These are serious charges,” the woman said. “What proof do you have?”

“Felice told me himself,” Timmy said.

“Is that true?” Angelo demanded.

“I swear to God.”

“I believe him,” Esther said, and Angelo’s expression softened.

He nodded. “Felice, tell your men to stand down. We will need to deal with this delicately.”

For a second, Armie thought Felice might refuse. Then he raised a hand, and his men lowered their guns.

“Forgive my rashness,” Felice said softly. A tingle crawled up the back of Armie’s spine. Something wasn’t right.

“Your gun, Felice,” the Committee woman said, and held out her hand. “Just until we get to the bottom of all this, of course…”

“Of course,” Felice said. He reached into his jacket, pulled out his gun, and shot her in the chest.

Everything moved in slow motion: the woman fell back, eyes wide in shock. “No!” Angelo shouted, but Felice turned on him next.

Armie dived, tackling Timmy and Esther and Luca to the floor just as the second shot rang out. Esther screamed. Then the hallway exploded into gunfire.

Some of the bodyguards must have belonged to Angelo, too, because they had all started shooting at each other.

“This way!” Timmy shouted as they scrambled to their feet. Armie kept behind them, firing back into the fray as he followed Timmy back the way they’d came, over corpses and the bloodstained antique carpet.

*

Away from the gunfight, the house was eerily silent. Had the guests already fled? And where were the rest of Stepanov’s men?

“Can’t we just use one of the—the secret passageways, or whatever?” Armie asked as they sped through the house.

“No,” Timmy said. “They’re in there already.”

As if on cue, they rounded a corner and gunfire erupted from behind a nearby portrait. They ducked just in time.

“Okay, not that way,” Timmy said, and darted in the opposite direction. He was leading them down, down, through hallways that grew steadily narrower and less opulent. Every now and then Armie could still hear the pop and crack of bullets behind them, close on their tail.

They rounded another corner and Esther gave a sharp yelp. “Wait!” she hissed, and they all pressed themselves back against the wall as two large men jogged past. Then Timmy’s pocket vibrated. He pulled out Armie’s phone and looked at the display with a frown. “It’s for you.”

Armie pressed the phone to his ear as they continued down the hallway, moving as quickly as quietly as they could. “Hi Liz,” he whispered.

“What the fuck is happening?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Armie said. A man with a gun had just stepped out in front of them. He opened his mouth to yell for backup, but Armie took him out before he could say a word.

“What was that?” Liz asked sharply.

“Fireworks,” Armie said. “I gotta go.”

“Please don’t tell me you disobeyed Felice—”

“And what would you do if I had? You don’t have any leverage anymore.”

On the other end of the line, Liz sighed. Armie could hear muffled laughter in the background; the tinkle of expensive crystal.

“I wasn’t lying, Armie. I would have kept my promise.”

“Where are you?” Armie asked.

“Back in LA, not that it matters. Why?”

“Are they safe?”

Silence. Timmy looked back at him questioningly, but Armie just shook his head.

“Yes. Of course.”

Armie hadn’t even realized how how worried he’d been until the knot in his chest loosened. He exhaled slowly.

“Good. Tell them…” He sighed. “Nevermind. It doesn’t matter.”

“Armie,” Liz said, and for the first time in a long time, Armie could hear real panic in her voice. “Armie, don’t do this—”

“Bye, Liz,” Armie said. He hung up the phone and held it out to Timmy. “You need this anymore?”

“Nope.”

“Cool.” Armie threw it on the ground and stomped on it with his heel. Then he looked up. “Wait, what the fuck?”

Timmy had led them to a dead end. Behind them, the rumble of footsteps was growing louder.

“I thought you said no secret passageways?” Armie asked as Timmy pulled back a curtain to reveal a heavy wooden door.

“This is different,” Esther said simply as they filed through the small opening, which led to a spiral stone staircase.

“This staircase was built for the servants,” Luca explained quietly as they went. “There are no connecting passages; we will not be ambushed.”

It was dark inside, and they moved in single file. The ceiling thudded dully every now and then, showering them with dust. Timmy stopped short, and Armie almost ran into Esther’s back. “Can you hear anything?” he asked Armie.

Armie listened. Somewhere above them, a wooden door creaked open.

“Yep. We’re dead,” Armie said cheerfully. They picked up the pace, moving as fast as they could without losing their footing. “Shit!” Armie hissed as a bullet glanced off the brick by his ear, sparking briefly in the blackness.

“Here,” Timmy said. They’d reached another door; Timmy threw it open and they all tumbled through into a cavernous room that was somehow even darker than the staircase.

“A wine cellar?” Armie asked as his eyes adjusted to the gloom.

From what he could see of Timmy’s face, the kid looked triumphant.

“What the fuck, Timmy?” Armie demanded. The place was crowded with racks of dusty bottles, enclosed by roughly-hewn stone and exposed beams. He couldn’t see any other way out.

Rex’s voice echoed down the staircase: “Nowhere left to run, Tiny Tim!”

Esther looked around anxiously, clearly making them same connection that Armie had. “Timmy, how—?”

“Get ready,” Luca said.

“So, this is it, huh?” Armie asked as aimed their guns at the door. Sure, they could take Rex out, but what about when the guys following him found their hideout? He felt strangely calm. Resigned, maybe, but in a peaceful kind of way: he’d made his bed a long time ago, and now it was finally time to lie in it.

“Trust me,” Timmy whispered. Armie frowned.

“What the fuck are you talk—”

“Listen,” Timmy said, and Armie froze. Above them, distantly, he could hear more gunfire. Rex’s careful footsteps. But there was something else: a heavy, rhythmic thud coming from the wall behind them.

“Oh,” Esther said softly. “Oh! Timmy, you didn’t—”

The door flew open.

“Don’t move!” Timmy shouted, but Rex had already fired. In the small cellar, the sound was deafening. Wine bottles exploded behind them, and Timmy pulled Armie to the ground.

Rex stopped. “I know you’re in here…” He was moving closer, shuffling blindly with his feet. Through the ringing in his ears, Armie thought he could hear the pounding behind the wall getting louder.

“You’re dead,” Rex growled. “Hear me? You and your sugar daddy and your dumbfuck bodyguard. Esther, nothing personal, but you too. I’m gonna blow your brains out, but I’m gonna make you suffer first—”

Thud. Rex’s footsteps stopped. “What the fu—?” was all he managed before the entire wall behind them collapsed in a shower of dirt and gravel and loose cement.

Light flooded the cellar. “Stay down!” someone shouted. Rex was screaming bloody murder, yelling for help, shooting every which way. A machine gun rattled. Then he was quiet.

“Timmy?” someone shouted. A woman.

Armie staggered to his feet, trying to figure out what the fuck just happened.

There was a hole in the wall. The hole was connected to a tunnel. And in the mouth of that tunnel, backlit by a halogen floodlight, holding a machine gun, and flanked by men wearing riot gear, stood Saoirse Ronan.

“Well fuck me,” she said with a grin. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Chalamet.”

Timmy beamed at her.

Chapter Text

“Took you long enough.”

“I’m right on time, thanks,” Saoirse quipped. “If anything, you’re early.”

She and Timmy stared at each other for a moment, then both burst into laughter.

“How the hell are you?” Saoirse asked as she pulled Timmy into a tight hug. She was wearing a bulletproof vest overtop a black jumpsuit, her hair tied back into a tight bun.

“Oh, you know,” Timmy said, gesturing vaguely to the destruction around them.

Saoirse turned to Luca next, greeting him with a firm handshake. “You’re hurt?” she asked when he winced.

“Nothing serious.”

“Hm,” she said suspiciously. “And Armie! And Esther, looking gorgeous as ever. The gang’s all here. Are there more of ‘em coming, d’you think?”

“Almost definitely,” Luca said.

“Grand.” Saoirse signalled to the men—and women, Armie noticed now—behind her, who began picking their way over the rubble and bits of wood and broken glass, surveying the wine cellar with the flashlights on their guns. “Right, anyone we should go back for?”

Timmy looked to Esther, who hesitated.

“Something happen?” Saoirse asked grimly.

“My father—he was shot,” Esther said. “But there is nothing to be done.”

“I’m sorry,” Saoirse said solemnly, and Esther nodded. Armie could tell the whole thing hadn’t really set in yet: the adrenaline was still flowing fast—the shock came next; then, much later, the pain.

“Oi!” one of Saoirse’s men shouted from the back of the cellar, beckoning her over to where Rex’s body had fallen. Timmy followed her, and Armie followed Timmy.

“Yikes,” he said when he saw the mess on the ground, illuminated by Saoirse’s flashlight. Rex was still alive, but just barely. Timmy kicked him, and he gurgled.

“Should we keep him?” Saoirse asked. “Leverage, maybe?”

Timmy shook his head, then pulled his gun from his waistband. “He won’t make it. Besides, I’ve wanted to do this for a while.”

The shots were loud, and Armie fought the urge to flinch as Timmy fired one, two, three, four, five bullets into his chest.

“Jesus,” Saoirse said when he finally stopped. “Remind me not to get on your bad side.”

*

They escaped through the tunnel, which led under the house, under the street, to the basement of a nearby bodega that, according to Saoirse, had once been a speakeasy. The tunnel had existed for decades, but Luca’s family had filled it in sometime in the 70s.

“How long have you been planning this?” Armie asked as they climbed through the hole on the other side. In addition to odds and ends and miscellaneous expired food products, it was crowded with equipment, maps, and even one or two cots.

“We bought the property last year. Timmy’s suggestion,” Saoirse said with a wink. “But we started the real operation a few weeks ago. ”

“And executed it flawlessly, i might add,” Luca said.

“Yeah, Sersh—that was awesome,” Timmy said, and made his hands into a ‘praise’ formation, gracing her with a miniature bow. “Extremely baller.” Saoirse ruffled his hair fondly.

A black, unmarked van was waiting for them outside the bodega. Armie inhaled deeply when they stepped out of the shop, relishing the crisp night air. The sky was cloudy, aglow with neon orange light pollution, and from here he could just see the gates of the Guadagnino property. There were about twenty black SUVs parked outside, and here or there he thought he saw dark shapes darting in and out of the doors. No police, though.

“They know where we went yet?” Armie asked.

“Probably not,” Saoirse said. “Sounds like complete chaos in there.”

“Think anyone heard anything?”

“The family has invested a great deal in soundproofing,” Luca said matter-of-factly. “Plus, our neighbours know better.”

Saoirse followed them into the van, where Armie was surprised to find he recognized the man behind the wheel. “You’re the driver,” he said. “The guy Luca hired. Hansel?”

“Close,” the driver said. Beside Armie, Timmy laughed loudly, and he realized that the two were grinning like they knew each other.

“Hey Timmy,” the guy said.

“Hey Ansel. We went to school together,” Timmy explained to Armie.

“Got this job ‘cause of him,” Ansel said.

Timmy reached over and clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re welcome.”

The van rumbled to life, and Saoirse pulled a first aid kit out from underneath one of the seats. She started to dress Luca’s wound.

The only light in the van came from Saoirse’s flashlight, which was probably a good thing considering how rough they all looked. Still, it was a miracle they’d made it out with so little damage: bloodstained and filthy, sure, but at least most of the blood didn’t belong to them.

Armie looked down at his hands, flexing his fingers. The cut from the broken champagne glass had stopped bleeding, but the skin of his palm felt tight and hot. Armie felt Saoirse’s eyes on him.

“Here,” she said when he looked up, and tossed him a bandage. Beside her, Esther stared straight ahead, her expression far away and her teeth worrying her bottom lip.

Armie looked at Timmy, who sat with his eyes closed and his head resting against the side of the van. His hair was matted with sweat and dirt from the tunnel. Armie studied the curve of his throat, the angle of his jaw, his thick eyelashes where they rested on his cheeks.

“What?” Timmy mumbled, his mouth twitching up into a smile.

Armie looked away. “Nothing.”

Timmy cracked an eye open. “What?” he asked again, and Armie fought back a grin. For some reason he felt giddy.

“Nothing, nothing, I just…” He shook his head. “I’m really glad we’re not dead.”

Timmy laughed, then flopped over to rest his head on Armie’s shoulder. Armie leaned into the touch, bringing one hand up to comb his fingers carefully through Timmy’s tangled hair. He sighed and pressed a kiss to the top of Timmy’s head. Even under all the dust and gunpowder, he still smelled achingly familiar.

“So, what now?” Armie mumbled into Timmy’s hair.

“Now... we go to Italy,” Timmy said. “For real.”

“And how exactly are we going to get to Italy?”

“I’ve hired a plane,” Luca said. His voice sounded strained. “It’s located in a private hangar upstate.”

“Greta’s private hangar,” Timmy added.

“So, road trip?” Armie asked.

Timmy snorted. “Sounds fun, but no; we’ll take a helicopter.”

“Ah, yes, about that,” Saoirse said slowly. “There’s been a slight complication. You know how I was set on keeping this whole rescue mission secret from my father?”

Timmy groaned. “Sersh…”

“He did find out about it, unfortunately. And let me tell you, he is pissed. Didn’t lock me up, which is a plus, but he did say if I died he would not come to my funeral.” She smiled apologetically. “Don’t have to worry about that after all, but, erm… we won’t be able to use his helipad.”

“What about Greta?” Timmy asked. “She doesn’t have anything in the city? We just need a roof.”

“Nope,” Saoirse said. “Nothing that wouldn’t look suspicious. The closest is a warehouse in Montauk.”

Timmy sighed. “That’s a two hour drive.”

“And we can make it in one,” Saoirse said cheerfully. “Don’t worry, Pony. Smooth sailing from h—”

As if on cue, the van veered wildly. Timmy and Armie were both thrown to the floor, and Saoirse swore loudly. “Ansel, please tell me you swerved for a moggie.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Ansel said called over his shoulder, “but we’ve got company.”

“I didn’t realize that was something people actually said in real life,” Armie muttered as he struggled to right himself. Only Timmy actually heard him, and gave a high-pitched giggle.

Saoirse had pulled out her phone and was speaking so quickly that Armie had a hard time telling if her words were still English.

“Greta?” Timmy asked when she finally paused.

Saoirse nodded. “She’s tracking them. Satellites, or something. Hang on…”

Saoirse paused to listen to Greta’s answer. Luca was watching her keenly. “Is it Felice?” he asked.

“Or the Russians. Someone saw us after all.”

The van swerved again, but not quick enough to avoid the spatter of bullets that hit the side. It must have been armored, because none of them broke through the metal, even though Armie felt the impact resonate in his bones. Ansel pulled a viciouss U-turn that left Armie with his head in Timmy’s lap. A few more hairpin turns, then they screeched to a halt. Out the front window, Armie could see they were parked in an alleyway.

Ansel tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, keeping time with a beat only he could hear. “You got a location?” he asked Saoirse, who still had her phone pressed to her ear.

“They’re going around the block. Looks like there’s another car on the way. Wait for it…”

In front of them, a large SUV sped past.

“Now,” Saoirse said, and Ansel slammed on the gas.

“You sure we can’t go somewhere closer than Montauk?” Timmy asked as they sped back the way they’d come. Saoirse shook her head.

Then something clicked in Armie’s brain, and he groaned. There was somewhere else. “I think I know a place,” he said, even though every fibre of his being was telling him to keep his mouth shut. “140 East 88th. Penthouse suite, roof access. Should be empty, and I’m pretty sure I still know the door code,” Armie said, sounding more certain than he felt.

Saoirse relayed the address into her phone and waited for Greta to look it up. “It’s a residence,” she confirmed after a few seconds. “It’s not showing up as a hotspot on any of our databases, which means it probably won’t be on their radar, either. And the roof looks clear.”

“You’re certain it’s safe?” Luca asked.

“Not really,” Armie admitted. “But it’s a lot closer than Montauk.”

*

Ten minutes later, Armie stared up at the towering apartment building, trying to decide if the heavy feeling in his stomach was regret or fear, and if the distinction even mattered in the first place.

140 East 88th Avenue. The San Clemente.

Beside him, Saoirse and Timmy embraced. They’d managed to lose the guys chasing them for now, but there was a good chance they’d be back soon. Saoirse pressed a cellphone into Timmy’s hand. “We’ll circle for a bit, just to make sure you get up okay. Give us a shout if you get into trouble, yeah? Only number in there.”

“Will do,” Timmy said. “Thanks so much for everything, Sersh.”

“Yeah, yeah… you know this isn’t charity, right?” she said with a wink. “Ring me when you get to Italy—we’ve got a lot to talk about.”

“Thank you, truly,” Luca said, and she pulled him into a one-armed hug. Esther was next, then Saoirse turned to Armie.

“Armie Hammer,” she said. He offered his hand, but she only rolled her eyes and hugged him, too.

“Say hi to Greta for me,” Armie said when they broke apart. She brought a hand to her forehead in a mock salute.

“Yes, sir.” She turned on her heel and climbed back into the van.

“Bye Ansel,” Timmy called to the driver.

“Bye Timmy!” came the faint reply. Saoirse grinned, slammed the door, and then they were gone.

*

To Armie’s relief, he got the building code on the first try. Inside, he nodded a greeting to the bored-looking concierge at the front desk, who perked up a little as they walked past. They definitely stood out: Armie and Timmy streaked with dust and dirt; Luca, his arm wrapped in a sling and cradled close to his chest; and Esther, dress torn and stained—but if the concierge took notice, he didn’t make any move to stop them.

“Where have you brought us, Mr. Hammer?” Luca asked in the elevator. He sounded normal, but he looked too pale. Armie watched the number on the display climb steadily higher.

“Used to live here,” he said. “Back when… well, before everything went to shit.”

Up the elevator, down the hall, and then they were standing outside the front door. Armie took a deep breath and tried the only code he remembered.

The display flashed red.

“Fuck,” he breathed. How many tries before the system locked him out? Timmy and Luca were watching him closely. What about a birthday? He thought for a moment, then tried again. Another red flash.

“Everything okay?” Luca asked.

“Yeah, I just… I just need to think.” Armie closed his eyes. A birthday was a stupid guess—she’d never given a shit about those. What else? What actually mattered in her world?

“Oh,” Armie said, and opened his eyes.

He held his breath as he tried again: 10-01-20-14, the day she’d been promoted to director.

The door clicked open, and Armie silently thanked whatever deity or guardian angel or compassionate ghost seemed to be looking out for him lately.

*

“Nice place,” Timmy said appraisingly once they’d locked the door behind them. “How do we get to the roof?”

“Fire escape in the hallway,” Armie said. “The code’s the same as downstairs.”

“How much time do we have?” Luca asked Timmy.

Timmy checked the phone Saoirse had given him. “Three hours. Is this place secure until then?”

“Yeah,” Armie said.

“Oh, and Sersh says the guys on our tail followed them. So we’re good,” Timmy added.

Luca eased himself down onto the sofa—white, leather, stylish, the same as the rest of the apartment—with a wince. He looked even paler now, and Timmy was watching him with an expression as anxious as Armie felt.

“Your arm?” Esther asked quietly.

“I’ll be fine,” Luca said, waving away her concern. “But I would like to rest. And maybe a glass of wine.”

“Got it,” Armie said, and turned on his heel. He returned a few minutes later with four glasses and a bottle from some fancy French winery in Napa Valley. Timmy had made himself comfortable on the couch, sprawled out with his legs across Luca’s knees and his head in Esther’s lap while she played idly with his hair. They’d also all acquired cigarettes somehow, which was definitely one of the most European things Armie had ever seen them do.

“I was gone for like two minutes,” he said.

“Want one?” Timmy asked, but Armie shook his head. He set the glasses on the coffee table—sleek metal and glass—filled them, then passed them around.

“To Angelo,” Luca said, raising his glass.

“And to the end of the Guadagninos,” Esther added. Her eyes were dry, but Armie could already see the pain creeping in around the edges.

They drank, and Armie savoured the rich taste. He’d never been a wine guy, but even he could appreciate that this was probably some very expensive shit.

“Whose wine are we drinking, Armie?” Luca said after a moment of silence.

Armie cleared his throat awkwardly. “Well, uh… it’s—”

“Bluebird’s?” Timmy supplied. “Lucky guess,” he added at the quizzical look from Armie.

“Yeah,” Armie said lamely. “But she’s not in the city right now, so we don’t have to worry. This isn’t her main apartment, anyways. She has a few.”

“Who is Bluebird?” Esther asked, looking back and forth between the three of them.

“Armie’s boss,” Timmy said.

“Former boss.”

“And ex-wife.”

“And ex-wife,” Armie conceded.

Esther nodded thoughtfully. Then she frowned. “Do you think she would mind if I borrowed some clothes?”

*

Armie watched as Timmy and Esther rummaged through Liz’s spacious walk-in closet, upending drawers and tearing clothes from hangers until they found what they were looking for: a simple pair of black jeans and a loose cotton blouse. Esther slung the clothes over her arm.

“I’m going to take a shower,” she said. Before she left, Timmy put a firm hand on her shoulder.

“You okay?”

“Right now, it all feels numb. But I don’t mind so much. I think I will cry when we are on the plane,” she said decisively. “Shower?”

“Down the hall, on your right,” Armie said. She left with a curt nod.

Armie ran his hands along a row of hangers, trailing his fingers down the dresses and shirts made of expensive fabrics. He inhaled deeply. The smell was the same as he remembered—the same fancy French perfume—but a little musty, like no one had been here for a few months.

“How long did you live here for?” Timmy asked, breaking the silence.

“Off and on for a few years. It was the first place we bought in New York.”

Timmy nodded absently, lacing his fingers behind his back as he perused the shelves of clothes. Armie followed him out into the bedroom.

The walls were glass from floor to ceiling, looking out onto the twinkling New York skyline. In the distance, Armie could just make out the faint glow of dawn on the horizon. Timmy was staring down at the street below, face pressed up against the glass. Armie came to stand next to him, mirroring his position, nudging their shoulders together.

“It’s so quiet,” Timmy said, and for the first time in a long time, Armie just listened. The cars on the street were muffled and far away. The bedroom was completely still. Distantly, Armie could hear the hiss of the shower. He closed his eyes. The loudest sound was Timmy’s breath, even and steady, washing over him like the ocean.

“Fuck, I’m tired.”

Timmy rolled his head over to rest on Armie’s shoulder. “Me too.”

“Pony,” Armie said as Timmy nuzzled his head into the crook of Armie’s neck. Timmy laughed, then pressed a kiss to his throat. He moved up to Armie’s jaw, then his mouth, kissing desperately, messily, deep, moving so fast Armie could barely keep up with him. And maybe Armie should be savouring the romance of the moment, but he was already hard and all he really wanted to do was turn Timmy around, strip him naked, press him against the glass and take him apart for the whole world to see. Or maybe he wanted to throw him on the bed, find a pair of Liz’s pantyhose to tie him up, stretch him out so he all he could do was take whatever Armie gave him.

Or maybe, Armie thought as Timmy pushed him back onto the bed and straddled his hips, what he really wanted was to move with aching precision. To touch with lightness; to kiss carefully; to sip and savour each smell and taste and feeling. But Timmy’s hand was already at Armie’s belt.

“Whoa, whoa,” he mumbled, hands moving to cradle Timmy’s jaw, pushing him back so he had space to breathe.

“What?” Timmy asked breathlessly.

“Just… Let’s slow down, okay?” Armie kissed him again, carefully, and felt Timmy smile against his mouth. “Okay?”

“Okay,” Timmy said, and his tongue darted out to lick Armie’s lips.

Armie pulled him closer, and they struck up a new rhythm so measured and deliberate it was almost painful. Armie slipped his hands up the back of Timmy’s shirt as they kissed, feeling the bones of his ribs, his spine, the muscles and sinew that moved under his skin. He trailed his fingertips down Timmy’s throat; unbuttoned his shirt and rolled Timmy’s nipples under his thumbs until Timmy’s breath caught and he shivered.

Armie moved lower, smoothing his fingers over the fine peach fuzz of Timmy’s belly. He pressed a kiss there, enjoying how the muscles of Timmy’s abdomen tensed under his lips. Timmy laughed breathlessly, and Armie wondered how this could possibly be the same kid who had emptied his gun into a wounded man only hours earlier.

Everything about Timmy was a contradiction. Soft and sharp; deft and uncertain; familiar yet so brand new that every time their eyes met Armie felt the same thrill as the very first time Timmy had looked up at him in Luca’s study. Timmy had looked at him, and Armie’s whole world had changed just like that. Was that just a habit of his? To fall so hard, so fast?

The dry desert air of Riyadh seemed like a lifetime ago, but what he’d felt then had been a lot like how he felt now: lust, loyalty, respect, overwhelming and all consuming. But this time there was something more: a certainty, maybe. Armie spent so much time questioning himself, second-guessing every action, but somewhere along the way all that had flown out the window. Now, as they kissed on Liz’s bed, Armie only felt an overwhelming sense of relief, like he had been wandering in the desert for years and he’d finally stumbled into an oasis.

Timmy’s fingers danced to Armie’s collar, popping his buttons open one by one until he reached Armie’s belt for the second time. He hesitated. “Still want to go slow?”

“Take those off,” Armie said.

Timmy grinned. He shrugged off his jacket, then attempted to pull off his shirt, which ended with him rolling off of Armie altogether. They both stripped off their clothes, helping each other as much as they could but mostly only succeeding in complicating things more. Armie snickered when Timmy couldn’t figure out the clasp on his pants fast enough, so Timmy pushed him back against the bed.

“Shut up,” Timmy laughed, but Armie only poked him in the stomach, which led to a mock-wrestling fight that ended with Timmy straddling him again, but naked. Armie liked the way Timmy’s swollen cock looked flush against his own.

“Nice take down earlier with Louis, by the way,” Armie said. Timmy ran his hands up Armie’s sides, which tickled, and Armie had to bite his lip to keep from laughing.

“I had a good teacher.”

Armie pulled him into another kiss, and now he was the desperate one—he couldn’t get enough of Timmy, the way he smelled, tasted, everything. Timmy’s hand moved between them, jerking them both together.

“You keep doing that, this isn’t gonna last long,” Armie muttered into his mouth. “Here…” He rolled over, still somehow managing to keep Timmy on top of him, and reached into the drawer of Liz’s side table. He smiled when his hands closed around a small plastic bottle.

“This is kind of weird,” Timmy said, watching as Armie sqeezed a bit of the contents into his hand, then slicked it down the length of his cock.

“What, because of Luca and Esther?”

Timmy glanced at the door, which was still slightly ajar, like the idea hadn’t even occurred to him before. “No, because that’s your ex-wife’s lube.”

“If it bothers you, we can stop,” Armie said. Timmy looked down at him, considering, and Armie prayed to god the kid wouldn’t actually change his mind. Instead, Timmy grabbed the base of Armie’s cock and lifted himself up, guiding it to his opening.

Armie held Timmy’s hips steady as he worked himself down. He groaned, waves of pleasure rippling over him as Timmy sunk lower. His eyes were closed, teeth worrying his bottom lip, a loose strand of hair swaying in front of his eyes.

“Fuck,” Armie breathed. His hips twitched up to meet Timmy, who shuddered and tensed. “Sorry, I just—“

“Keep going,” Timmy mumbled, so Armie did, thrusting up as Timmy brought himself down, down, until the whole of Armie’s cock was buried inside of him.

Jesus Christ. Did Timmy even know how good he looked like that? Face flushed, red lips parted and sparkling as he rolled his hips, fucking himself on Armie’s cock.

Timmy’s own cock was hard and leaking, and he groaned when Armie touched him, moving faster, thrusting into Armie’s fist.

“C’mere,” Armie muttered, pulling him down into another sloppy kiss. Armie wrapped his free arm around Timmy, pulling him as close as he could, fucking him hard.

It was then, as they moved together in the silent room overlooking the New York Skyline, both still covered in blood and dirt and gunpowder, that Armie realized for the first time how stupidly in love he was.

Love. The word popped into his head unprompted, like some kind of old school computer virus. He tried to brush it away, but it was no use: images flashed in front of his eyes—fingers moving over a piano, the setting sun, the Italian countryside. Armie loved them all so much it hurt.

Timmy muttered something indistinguishable—half sentences, gibberish lost into Armie’s mouth—and Armie knew he was close. In a single movement he rolled them both over so that Timmy was lying on his back. Armie grabbed his legs and hooked them over his shoulders. He could get deeper this way—fuck even him harder—and Timmy arched his back with a moan. “Shit,” Armie gasped. “

“Don’t stop,” Timmy said hoarsely, and Armie tightened his grip on Timmy’s cock. The pressure was just enough to send Timmy over the edge, too, and Armie kissed him deeply as they came together with shuddering gasps.

*

“I missed you,” Armie muttered after, as they lay naked on Liz’s bed. He had an ear pressed to Timmy’s chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart. Timmy’s fingers traced light circles on his shoulder.

“We were in LA like four days ago.”

“Yeah, but since then you’ve been kidnapped, held hostage, fake-betrayed Luca, un-fake-betrayed Luca, and we’ve both straight up killed a lot of people.”

“Mm. I guess.”

Armie could hear the smile in his voice. He exhaled slowly, listening. The shower had gone quiet a while ago—all he could hear now was the distant sounds of early-morning traffic. And, of course, Timmy’s heartbeat.

“You know, I really thought you’d turned on us,” Timmy said after a few minutes. Armie shifted so that they were face to face; he cupped Timmy’s jaw lightly with one hand, smoothing his thumb over Timmy’s cheek. He wanted to say so many things, but he had no idea where to start. Maybe Timmy could see it in his face, because his eyes clouded over. When he spoke, his voice was barely a whisper. “I thought—”

Armie silenced him with a kiss. “I’m sorry,” he said when they broke apart. “Really, really fucking sorry. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but—”

Timmy shook his head. “Don’t. I get it, okay? I mean, I don’t get it—not all of it anyways—but…” He trailed off with a sigh. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you everything.”

“You shouldn’t have to.”

“No, but I want to,” Timmy said firmly. “I’m serious, okay? We’re all in this together now. You’re our partner, not just a lackey or a bodyguard or... whatever.”

“Partner?” Armie echoed. “I could get used to that.”

Timmy brought their lips together before Armie could say anything else to ruin the moment. They kissed lazily, falling into an easy rhythm that slowly faded until they were both barely moving, both half asleep. Then Timmy shifted.

“We should get ready.”

“What time is it?”

Timmy rolled over to look at the clock beside the bed. “Almost five. They’ll be here at six.” He sat up and yawned, stretching his arms above his head. “God, I can’t wait to sleep.”

“Fuck, me too.” Armie heaved himself up. His limbs felt heavy and sluggish, and he realized that how hungry he was: dinner at the Guadagnino mansion felt like days ago, not hours. He ran a hand through his hair and made a face at the small flecks of dirt that came away on his fingers. “We should shower.”

“Mm,” Timmy said absently. He was looking at the small collection of pictures on Liz’s bedside table—pictures Armie knew all too well. His stomach tightened as Timmy took one in his hands and studied it closely. “Are these—?”

“My kids? Yeah. Cute, huh?”

Timmy picked up another picture: Armie and Ford by the ocean, painted golden by the setting sun. Armie remembered that day—Liz had just come home from an assignment in Panama, and on the way back from the airport they’d grabbed some take out and made a pit stop at the beach. He and Liz had already started to go downhill by that point, but that had been one of the bright spots; one of the few moments he thought that maybe they could hold it together after all.

Timmy traced a finger over photo-Armie’s face, then set the frame down carefully.

*

He was quiet as they showered.

“You okay?” Armie asked, but Timmy only shrugged.

“Just tired.”

Armie tried to take him at his word.

They took their time getting dressed—Armie in particular. Now that the adrenaline of fleeing (and fucking) had faded, his whole body felt stiff and sore, his limbs weighted down with fatigue. “You go,” he said when he noticed Timmy waiting for him.

Then he was alone. Armie finished buttoning up his shirt, steadfastedly ignoring the pictures on Liz’s bedside table, which he could just see out of the corner of his eye.

*

In the living room, Esther and Luca were still lounging on the couch. Esther seemed to be sleeping, but Luca was wide awake, sipping a small cup of espresso and reading a home decor magazine. He looked a little less pale, and his hair was damp—he must have showered too. When he saw Armie, he smiled and patted the space next to him.

“Sit.”

Armie sat. “Where’s the kid?”

“He had a call to make.” Luca nodded to down the hall to the second bedroom.

”Gotcha. How’s the arm?”

Luca shrugged. “As well as can be expected. How is your hand?” Armie held it out for him to see. He’d taken the bandage off in the shower, and while the deep gash wasn’t bleeding anymore the edges had started to pull apart, revealing the glistening red and purple flesh underneath. Luca brushed his fingers delicately down either side of the wound, and Armie shivered at the touch. “You’ll need stitches.”

“I’ll be fine,” Armie said. Luca peered up at him, and suddenly Armie was nervous. “What?”

Dawn was breaking now, filling the apartment with deep purples and reds that glinted off the glass and metal furniture. Luca’s eyes looked impossibly deep, rich brown irises filled with flecks of gold.

“Do you think we’re alike?” Luca asked after a moment. Armie blinked.

“Me and you? I don’t know; not really. You’re a lot smarter than me.”

Luca shrugged. “I’m older.”

“Not that much older.”

“That’s kind of you to say. In certain ways, I think we are. When I was younger—Timothée’s age, I suppose—I struggled to control my impulses. I’ve made many mistakes over the years, and I’ve lost many people I love. Friends. Partners. Lovers who I thought would be by my side forever. And yet, I don’t regret any of it.”

Armie swallowed. Where was this coming from? Luca never talked about his past. Realistically Armie knew that he must have come from somewhere, but Armie couldn’t imagine him as anything but the man sitting across from him now.

“I’ve learned a great deal since then,” Luca said softly. Then, “Do you play chess?”

The question caught Armie off guard. “Not very well.”

“But you understand the basics?”

“Sure.”

“To succeed in chess, you have to learn to see the bigger picture, and not act only on what will bring you gratification in the present moment.”

“This is starting to feel a little personal,” Armie said with a nervous grin.

“Maybe. Do you trust me, Armie?” Luca still held Armie’s hand cradled in his own.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because…” The words caught in his throat. Why did this feel like a trick question?” “Because I want to.”

Luca’s eyes sparkled. “Are you sure?”

Armie opened his mouth, but before he could answer, the bedroom door opened. Luca gave his hand a final squeeze, then released it. “Is it almost time?” he asked as Timmy shuffled into the living room, stretching his arms sleepily above his head.

“Half an hour,” Timmy said, and bent to press a soft kiss to Luca’s lips. Out of nowhere, Armie was overcome with a powerful wave of affection for them both. He cleared his throat.

“Anyone hungry?”

“Yes,” Esther said, sitting bolt upright. Armie had almost forgotten she was there.

There wasn’t much in the fridge except for a carton of eggs and some fizzy health drink that smelled like it had expired months ago, but Armie did what he could. Plain scrambled eggs were better than nothing.

As he cooked, he listened to Luca and Timmy talk quietly in Italian. They were sitting close, Luca with one arm around Timmy’s shoulders. The conversation sounded serious and solemn, and every now and then Armie caught Timmy glancing back at him with an unreadable expression. Armie tried to ignore the pit in his stomach.

Esther had disappeared somewhere—said something about taking an inventory of their weapons—so it was just the three of them. If Armie closed his eyes, he could almost imagine they were back at Luca’s villa, getting ready for another early morning.

“Armie.”

His eyes snapped open—he’d almost started to doze, but something in Timmy’s voice sent alarm bells blaring in his head. He followed the kid’s eyes to the door. “What?” he asked quietly.

“I heard something. Luca, did you—?”

From the other side came a series of faint beeps. Then the lock clicked open.

Armie’s gun was on the other side of the counter and he lunged for it, but not quick enough; Liz had her gun ready, and she pointed it directly at Timmy’s head as she stepped into the apartment.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she asked, with the air of a parent who’d just discovered their toddler scribbling all over the walls. Timmy tried to go for the pistol tucked into his jacket, but Liz cocked her gun and stepped closer. “Don’t test me,” she said coldly. Then she turned to Armie. “Really?”

“Hi Liz,” Armie said evenly. She was wearing a tailored black coat and a white handbag that Armie was pretty sure cost more than Luca’s car. Her makeup was perfect, her honey-blonde hair slicked back in a tight ponytail; even at 5:30 in the morning she still looked amazing. She tilted her head.

“Hi Armie.”

“I thought you were in LA.”

“I was, until you decided to disobey direct orders. Do you know how many people are dead because of you?”

Armie shrugged. “I guess I got tired of jumping through hoops.”

“Do you ever think about anyone but yourself?” Liz snapped. “You have no idea what’s at play here. This is bigger than you, bigger than them—” she gestured forcibly at Timmy and Luca— “and yes, bigger than me. Stepanov—”

“Stepanov’s dead,” Armie said coolly. “I killed him.”

Liz’s eyes narrowed. “You know it’s not that easy.”

“Sure,” Armie said, trying not to focus on Liz’s face and not Esther, who had reappeared in the bedroom doorway behind her. “So, what now?”

Liz reached into her bag and pulled out a phone. “Now I call security.”

“Drop it,” Esther said, levelling a gun at Liz’s head. “The phone and the gun.”

Liz froze. “Really?” she muttered again. She let the items in her hands fall to the floor. Then she frowned at Esther. “Are those my clothes?”

Armie smelled smoke. The eggs had started to burn.

*

They tied Liz to a chair with a length of rope Timmy found in the closet.

“Why are you so good at that?” Timmy asked as Armie looped knot after knot, securing her arms, then her legs as Liz looked on with haughty irritation.

Armie met Liz’s eyes briefly. She raised an eyebrow, as if daring him to go on. “I’ll show you later,” Armie said over his shoulder.

Luca and Esther were busy sorting through the weapons on the table, reloading and divvying up the guns between them. Esther passed one to Timmy, and when he turned away, Liz leaned in as close as she could to whisper in Armie’s ear.

“It’s not too late to fix this. I wasn’t lying when I said you could see them again. Armie, listen to me...”

He hesitated in spite of himself. “It is too late.” But Liz was shaking her head, and Armie swore he could see tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

“No. If you—” She fell silent, because Timmy had turned back around. He looked between the two of them as Armie tightened a final knot, then stood up.

“I made my choice,” he said. Luca passed him an extra gun, which he tucked into his jacket. He watched her eyes harden again, the tears disappearing into cold, empty anger.

Timmy was looking down at her with an unreadable expression.

“Shall we?” Luca asked.

Timmy nodded. “They’ll land in five minutes.”

“Wait!” Liz called as they made to leave. “Think about this. I can track you—you’re not going to get away. And if you do, then what? Let’s talk about this. Maybe we can find some common ground.”

“She’s bluffing,” Esther said calmly, but Luca stopped and turned, eyebrows raised in amusement.

“Common ground?” he asked. “You’re a mercenary who sells her services to the highest bidder. I have no common ground with someone like that—someone with no loyalty.”

Liz scoffed. “Loyalty? He was loyal to me once, too,” she said, nodding at Armie. “Did he tell you that?”

“I told them everything,” Armie said quietly.

She understood his meaning instantly, and the colour drained from her face. “Are you insane? Do you know how hard I’ve worked to protect—”

“I know. And I’m sorry.”

“It’s not too late,” Liz insisted, and Armie almost believed her. Almost.

But it wasn’t enough, and this time, Armie didn’t hesitate, just turned his back and walked out the door.

*

“What did she offer you?” Timmy asked as they crept quickly down the hallway, guns at the ready.

Armie shook his head. “Just more bullshit.” Timmy didn’t seem satisfied with that, but before he could say anything else they reached the emergency exit that led to the roof. Armie punched in the code, but the relief he felt when it clicked open was short-lived: as soon as they stepped into the stairwell they heard footsteps, heavy and quick, echoing up from below them.

Armie swore under his breath.

“She called her men?” Esther asked, face pale.

Of course she’d called them, because Liz was smart. She’d probably dialed the phone before she even set foot in the building. How long had she known they were there? Probably had all sorts of alarms and failsafes set up that Armie didn’t even think to look for.

Luckily, they didn’t have far to go: one flight of stairs and then they burst out onto the roof where the helicopter was already waiting.

Esther whooped loudly, the sound almost lost in the wind.

Armie kept up the rear as they made their way over. Liz’s men would be here any second, but that didn’t matter now: Luca raised a hand in greeting and the pilot waved back. They’d almost made it.

Luca climbed into the chopper first, followed by Esther. Then Timmy signalled to the pilot and the engine started. It was his turn now, but he wasn’t moving—just standing with one hand on the door, his back to Armie.

“Timmy? We gotta go.”

The blades were picking up speed, the wind throwing Timmy’s hair this way and that. He shook his head. “You can’t come with us.” Armie felt like he’d been punched him in the chest. “What?”

Timmy turned around, still shaking his head. He brushed a hand over his face, and Armie saw tears leaking down his cheeks. “You have to stay here,” he said, looking out over the city.

Panic gripped Armie by the throat. “Fuck off,” he choked out. “I told you: I made my choice. I swear to god—”

Armie took a step forward, and Timmy stepped back.

”What happened to partners?” Armie asked miserably.

Timmy sniffled. “I know it doesnt make sense, but I didn’t... I didn’t think things through before. It’s better this way. I’m sorry, Armie.”

He was breathing hard, and Armie noticed his hand moving too late: before he could do anything Timmy had pulled his gun.

“Wait—”

“She said you could still go home, right? If you did what she said.”

“Timmy, please. I love—”

“Don’t,” Timmy shouted furiously over the sound of the engine. “Armie...” Suddenly Timmy froze, eyes fixed just above Armie’s shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye Armie saw a blur of movement, but he didn’t care. His heart was beating out of his chest.

“Timmy,” Armie begged. Timmy seemed to start, and his eyes snapped back to Armie’s face.

“You double-crossed us,” Timmy said theatrically. “You lied, you sold us out, you—”

“What the fuck? You know that’s not true,” Armie shouted. “Come on…” He moved forward, and Timmy levelled the gun at his chest. The look on his face was a mixture of anguish and furious resolve.

“Traitor,” Timmy said, but he didn’t sound angry. Just… pained.

“Tim—”

The first bullet caught him in the abdomen, the second in the arm. He didn’t feel the pain right away, just the impact—he staggered back; fell onto his knees.

What the fuck, he tried to say, but the words didn’t come. Timmy was staring down at him with wild eyes. Armie heard the gun clatter to the ground. His vision seemed dimmer, even though the sun was rising.

Armie heard another shot; felt a hand at his shoulder, shaking him, but he didn’t take his eyes off of Timmy as he climbed into the helicopter. The engine was deafening, but it sounded far away, like he was listening through a very long tunnel.

I’m sorry, Timmy mouthed through the window, and Armie could hear the word as clearly as if they’d been whispered in his ear.

Then he wasn’t looking at Timmy’s tear-stained face anymore, but the morning sky, mauve and purple and still filled with the faint pinpricks of stars that he could just make out through the clouds. Another face swam into focus above him, pale and beautiful and framed by long golden hair like fire.

Stay with me, she said. Stay with me. Then the world went dark.

Chapter Text

Armie awoke to the soft sounds of a hospital. Faint beeps, the rustling of blankets, the light chatter of the nurses in the hall. He coughed, which hurt. “Motherfucker,” he said hoarsely; his voice was raspy, his eyes dry and gummed with sleep.

“Good morning,” said a soft voice at his side.

Armie closed his eyes again. His chest ached.

“I know you’re awake,” she said. He cracked an eye open and looked over to where she sat, legs crossed elegantly, a tablet resting on her knee. He wondered what she’d been reading.

“Hi Liz.”

She smiled sadly. “Hi Armie.”

“Am I gonna live?”

“After six hours in surgery, that’s what they tell me.”

He nodded slowly, taking stock of his surroundings and the state of his body. Everything felt sore and stiff and numb. “So, is this it?” he muttered. “Gonna arrest me?”

Liz tapped her perfectly-manicured fingers on the arm of her chair. “Well, you did try to do the right thing in the end, even if you failed.”

Armie frowned. “What?”

Liz reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. She pressed a button, and Luca’s voice filled the small room, tinny and far away.

“Hello, Elizabeth. I do not blame you for grasping at straws—for trying to turn your mercenary against us one last time. As you can see, Mr. Hammer’s betrayal was unsuccessful. You would be wise to keep him close, in case we decide to seek revenge. For now, consider this a truce. We—”

“A bit on the nose,” she said, tucking the phone away again. “But I’m willing to overlook the inconsistencies if you are.”

Armie’s heart was racing. Traitor, Timmy had shouted, but only when he’d seen Liz’s security. In the moment Armie had been too shocked to comprehend what he was doing, but now it all clicked into place: the kid had given him an out.

“Motherfucker,” he whispered again under his breath. He could still see Timmy’s face so clearly in his mind’s eye, tearstained, peering out at him from inside the helicopter. But thinking about Timmy hurt, so he tried to steer his mind elsewhere. “Can I get some more morphine or something?”

Liz pressed a button and a nurse hurried in. He smiled, said something about “how lucky” Armie was that the bullets had missed his vital organs, that they’d passed through with minimal damage, explained what they’d done in surgery, and, most importantly, upped Armie’s dose of IV pain meds. The morphine kicked in quickly, the familiar relief seeping through his limbs like effervescent gas.

Armie lay back, staring up at the ceiling. Liz waited until the nurse had left before she spoke again.

“Obviously, you can’t come back to work.”

“Obviously.”

“Because you’re terrible at your job,” she added, not that he’d needed clarification.

“I know.”

“Do you? I mean, do you honestly understand how difficult you’ve made things for me? For yourself? You know how I feel about cliches, but I have to say it: you had one job.

“It told you before, I’m not a fucking hitman,” Armie said. “It’s not my problem you started working for the bad guys—”

“Bad guys? There’s no good or bad in this scenario, Armie; we’re all the bad guys. Luca is a mobster. He’s the reason that I could walk three blocks down the street and buy a handgun right now. Half of the drugs in this town wouldn’t be here without him and his family—and I’m including the nasty ones; the ones that kill people. When someone gets in Luca’s way, he takes them out. But you already knew this, because you’ve worked for men like Luca before. So, what makes him different?”

Armie looked away.

“Maybe Luca got to you somehow—got inside your head—or his boyfriend did,” she went on. “But just because you feel a connection with someone, doesn’t make them good. It just makes you weak. That’s always been your problem, Armie; we both know that.” She paused, shaking her head. “Plus, with everything you’ve done, do you seriously think of yourself as a good guy? You’re a hired gun—you always have been, and that’s never bothered you before.

“Jesus. I know I’m a shitty person, you don’t have to rub it in—”

Liz snorted. “Here we go with the self loathing. Can you think about someone besides yourself for one second? Your children, maybe?”

Even through the fog of the morphine, Armie felt a surge of self-righteous anger. “They’re your children too, for fuck’s sake! And you’re the one who fucking… fucking blackmailed me into doing your bidding by dangling them in front of me and then threatening to take them away—”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Liz snapped. “I never took them away from you, Armie. Never.” Her voice was calm, but he could see the line of her shoulders trembling with rage. “You self destructed. I had to protect them from you—from the enemies you made through your own reckless choices.”

Armie closed his eyes, trying to fight back the guilt clawing at his insides. “I know. I know, I…” The words stuck in his throat.

“Do you know why I gave you this job?” Liz asked quietly. She didn’t sound angry anymore, just tired.

Armie frowned. Truthfully, he’d never given it much thought. “Why?”

“Because Stepanov asked me to put someone reliable close to Luca. When I suggested you, he was skeptical: after everything that happened with Petrov—after he fucked you over so thoroughly—why would you be loyal? You wouldn’t know you were working for him, I assured him. And because you had nothing to lose, I knew you would do exactly as you were told.”

She paused, and Armie let the words sink in. He didn’t feel surprised, only hollow, like someone had reached inside of him and scooped out his insides.

Liz sighed. “Bluebird was never on Luca’s side, Armie; we’ve been working with the Russians for years. And, as you know, he’s been working with the Guadagninos. What Luca was planning would have been disastrous for Stepanov’s operation, so you can imagine why he wanted someone on the inside. You were only supposed to be a safeguard, of course—a backup plan, in case Luca showed signs of running. Which he did.”

“If that’s true, what about the assassin?” Armie asked. “Esteban Garcìa. Didn’t Felice hire him? Why try to take Luca out if Felice knew I was there?”

Liz shrugged. “Good old-fashioned miscommunication. Men like Stepanov are secretive, often to a fault, and Felice didn’t know you were under Stepanov’s control until just before New York. That’s when Stepanov decided to use you after all—through Felice, of course.”

“So you gave me the job because you knew I’d be easy to manipulate. Awesome.”

“No,” Liz said. “I gave you the job because Stepanov agreed to absolve you if you succeeded.”

“What?”

“Clean slate,” she said. “There was nothing else I could have done to make it happen. Given your past behaviour I always knew there was a chance you might go rogue, but it was the only way I could help you. Plus, I never imagined you’d fuck up quite so spectacularly.”

Armie stared up at the ceiling. Liz had been trying to help him all along, because of course she had. “Why?” he asked, voice barely a whisper. “Why do that for me?”

“I don’t know, Armie; I’m tired. I still care about you. And truthfully, part of me blames myself for everything that happened. Maybe if I hadn’t put so much pressure on you… If I had talked more, made you really understand what I was going through… Maybe you wouldn’t have felt so trapped.”

Armie shook his head, blinking back tears. “Don’t. I’m fucking serious, okay? It wasn’t your fault.” Her eyes were shining, and Armie couldn’t remember the last time they’d touched but he wanted to hold her hand so fucking badly, so he did: reached out, laced their fingers together. “Seriously. It’s not your fault I’m a fuckup. And honestly, the kids are better off without me.”

Liz rolled her eyes so hard Armie was surprised they didn’t fall out of her head. “Can you stop feeling sorry for yourself for five goddamn minutes, please?”

“After everything that’s happened, I think I deserve a moment of self pity.”

“Oh, right. I forgot your mafia boyfriend just left you for dead.”

“Don’t fucking remind me,” Armie said, and lay back with a sigh. Liz’s hand was soft and small and warm in his own. Somewhere outside in the hallway, a telephone rang. “Sorry about everything,” he said. “For being a shitty dad, for sabotaging your plans… Sorry. Just buy me a plane ticket to Canada and I’ll get out of your hair. Somewhere on the West Coast, maybe?”

Liz sighed again. “I’m not going to exile you. It’s taken a bit of string-pulling, but you’ll be able to come back to LA.”

Armie’s heart almost stopped. “Don’t fuck with me.”

“I’m not. Truthfully, though, you have Chalamet to thank: without his little stunt, I wouldn’t have been able to convince the powers that be that you were on our side after all.”

Powers that be? Armie filed that away for later analysis. He shook his head incredulously. “You’re serious?”

She nodded. “As soon as you’re well enough to fly, you can come home. You’re on parole, though: no contact with anyone I can’t thoroughly vet first. And absolutely no more dangerous jobs. Maybe go back to bartending or something.”

“Shit,” Armie said. His stomach was writhing, but whether from excitement or apprehension, he couldn’t tell.

Before Timmy and Luca, he’d spent so long thinking about all the things he would do if he could just go home—just see his kids, just get a normal job, just date a normal girl—but now that he was faced with the chance to really do it, all he felt was overwhelming dread. It had been easy to imagine what a good person he’d be when he knew he’d never get the opportunity, but was he really that unselfish? No, said a small voice in the back of his mind. He’d held Timmy in his arms less than a day ago, and even here with Liz and her soft hands and promises, all he could think about was being by his side again.

“Consider this your official second chance,” Liz said, snapping him back to the present.

“Thanks,” he said, trying to work up a smile despite the pit in his stomach. “Seriously. Thanks for everything.”

“Of course,” Liz said. “Though I do have to ask…”

“What?”

“Did you two fuck in my bed?”

Armie laughed so hard it hurt.



Some Time Later

“Focus on muscle control. You really want to squeeze as you bring it up to your shoulder, not pull. Yeah, nice. Nice.”

Armie watched the guy watch himself do curls in the floor length mirror on the opposite side of the room. “Keep your elbow in one place,” he said, and tapped the guy’s arm until he brought it back close to his side. Fucking pointless endeavour, really, Armie thought as the guy’s arm slowly jittered back to its original spot. He grinned and nodded encouragingly anyways.

“How’s he doing?” the other trainer, Cierra, asked when Armie stopped by the counter half an hour later. She was folding laundry, and she threw him a clean towel.

“Oh, you know.”

“You should really tone down the enthusiasm; you’re gonna scare the clients.”

Armie laughed. It was late in the day, just before the 5pm rush, and the gym was mostly empty. He looked around and sighed. “Might get a workout in before I head out, that cool?”

“No one else today?”

“Dr. Meathead was the last one.”

“Go for it.”

He started with some cardio, then moved on to the bodyweight exercises his physio had showed him. His right arm was still stiff, still weaker than the left, but in the last ten months he’d managed to build up most of the strength he’d lost during his recovery. Even the jagged red scars on his bicep and above his left hip had faded significantly.

He watched the puckered pink skin as he moved. There was something strangely satisfying about the mark, like a bad tattoo: a reminder of something passionate, however ill-advised.

Maria was already waiting in the parking lot when he stepped outside an hour later, pleasantly exhausted and freshly showered. He slid into the passenger’s seat of her beat-up Toyota and she kissed him on the cheek, then passed him an iced coffee.

“Did Carlos tell you what happened at karaoke on Sunday?” she asked as she started the car.

“You know we don’t talk about that shit.”

Maria’s eyes lit up. “Oooh,” she said, and immediately launched into the riveting tale of their coworkers’ latest drunken escapades. Armie stared out the window as they drove, occasionally responding with noises of vague interest or enthusiasm. It was only early April, but a haze of smoke still hung over the city from the latest bushfire. It almost looked like clouds, and clouds reminded him of New York.

Armie hadn’t realized he’d dozed off until Maria shook him awake in the back parking lot of El Campadre. Once upon a time, Nick had taken Armie here for a drink and Armie had told him all about the complete and utter mess that was his life. Almost a year later, Armie’s life was still a mess—just a lot less interesting.

“You’re late,” Carlos said when they walked into the break room, looking up from the sandwich he was eating.

“Traffic!” Maria said as they hurried to stash their bags.

It was happy hour, and when Armie stepped behind the bar there was already a million things to do. He liked busy nights like this—he felt useful working with his hands, pouring tequila shots and mixing margaritas. The customers weren’t bad either: a combination of regulars, locals and out-of-town families fresh off the theme park circuit, sunburnt to hell and looking for a cool place to crash. He could talk to the locals, and the tourists usually tipped well once he’d got a couple drinks in them. (“Your face helps, too,” Maria had told him once when they’d compared their nightly earnings.)

When Armie kept busy, he didn’t have time to think. When he kept busy, life was okay.

The hardest part had been the months after New York, when he was too sick with pain and heartbreak and too high from all the meds to do anything but lie on his couch and think about Timmy. Armie imagined him and Luca sipping champagne in Milan; sunning themselves on a yacht in La Spezia; surveying ruins in Rome. Would Timmy think of him there? Would Luca?

If it hadn’t been for Liz, Armie might never have pulled himself back together. She’d picked his lock, hired him a maid, forced him to change his bandages and shower and eat something other than saltine crackers and beer until he felt vaguely human again. Armie wasn’t sure why she was doing so much for him, but he suspected it had something to do with guilt. “I’m not letting them see you like this,” she’d said fiercely on more than one occasion, and as much as that stung, it also helped. For a while, that had been enough of a goal: clean yourself up; see your kids.

But when Armie finally walked back through the door of Liz’s Bel-Air mansion, his original theory had been proven correct: the kids had no fucking clue who he was. Harper hugged him uncertainly when Liz prompted her; Ford just cried. Armie tried to smile—tried not to take it too personally—but he couldn’t help feeling like he’d missed his chance. They just need time, Liz said, but here they were almost a year later and it still wasn’t clicking.

So now Armie had weekend visits with kids who couldn’t care less. Weekdays at the gym;, nights at El Compadre. A steady girlfriend, or friend-with-benefits, or whatever he and Maria were to each other. Armie was pretty sure this was what normal was supposed to be, but it didn’t feel that way to him: it felt like he was holding his breath. Waiting for something.

“Gin and tonic, Moscow mule, and a vodka cranberry for table six,” Maria called to him as she hurried past, startling him from his thoughts.

“You got it.”

“And a tequila sunrise,” said a different voice—a voice Armie recognized.

No fucking way.

Armie looked up. Greta Gerwig was leaning against the bar. He watched her pluck an olive from the container behind the counter and pop into into her mouth with a grin.

*

“Sweet gig, man,” Greta said, looking around the dimly-lit bar. They’d grabbed a table near the back, hidden behind a wall of fish tanks and potted plants.

“Don’t patronize me.”

“I’m not! It’s cute. And four-and-a-half stars on Yelp! Not bad.”

“Thanks for your support.”

She winked. “Anytime. How’s life?”

“Oh, you know,” Armie said with a shrug. “Normal, I guess.”

“Meaning boring.”

Armie took a sip of his Diet Coke. “Your words.”

“Boring can be good.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself. So, what have I done to warrant this visit?”

Greta looked slightly offended. “I’m not allowed to drop by to see an old friend?”

“Oh sure, you’re allowed, but I’m also allowed to suspect ulterior motives.”

She held up her hands. “I just came to check in.”

“Mhmm.”

“How are the kids?”

“Tiny. Cute. Spoiled.”

Greta snorted. “Nice being back?”

“Sure.”

From across the room, Maria caught his eye and smiled, but he noticed her eyes slide curiously to Greta before she turned away.

“She seems nice,” Greta said. “Not what I expected, but nice.”

Armie experienced a moment of confusion before he realized that Greta must have been keeping tabs on them, or had someone else do it for her. For some reason the idea didn’t bother him that much.

“Oh? What did you expect?” he asked.

“I don’t know. A dark-haired, princelike waif, perhaps? A distinguished European gentleman?”

“Mm, you should’ve seen me six months ago. I got that out of my system early on.”

Greta laughed. “You know, Armie, being normal doesn’t have to mean…” she looked at Maria again and cleared her throat. “I’m just saying, I know how much pressure there is. But you can be normal with whoever you want to be.”

It took a minute for her meaning to click. “Isn’t that a bit hypocritical, Mrs. Baumbach?” Greta’s eyebrows shot up, and Armie smirked. “What? I know how to use Google.”

“If you knew how to use Google, you’d know we’re getting divorced.”

“Shit. Sorry.”

She shrugged. “It’s the best thing for everyone. It was always more about the business, anyways, and we’re still partners. Nothing lost, really.”

“Then why the change?”

She sipped her tequila sunrise slowly. “Just felt right.”

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

The corners of Greta’s mouth twitched, but she just shook her head. “Guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Well, I got all the time in the world.” He looked at his watch: ten more minutes before his break was over. “How’s Saoirse?”

“Really good,” said Greta. “She graduated in December and she hasn’t slowed down—she’s actually abroad right now. Working hard, meeting with stakeholders, the usual. She’s been doing a lot of work for the company.”

“So you two are still…”

Greta raised an eyebrow and took another sip of her drink while Armie smirked at her. “Seriously, though, that’s great. I’m glad you’re happy.”

She must have detected the bitterness in his voice, because she sighed. “You know, he misses you a lot.”

Suddenly Armie’s chest felt tight. “You talked to him?”

“I will neither confirm nor deny.”

“If he misses me, why did he fucking shoot me? Twice. I nearly died.”

“Would you have listened to him otherwise? I think he thinks he did you a favour. Made the tough choice, you know?”

“It wasn’t his choice to make,” Armie said. He could feel bile rising in his throat—all the old feelings of rage and betrayal coming back up like last night’s margaritas.

Choice. For so long, Armie had felt like he was making all the wrong decisions. Then, the minute he was finally sure about something—sure about Timmy and Luca and the life he wanted—the kid had snatched the choice out from under his feet.

“Think about it,” Greta started. “Your name is clear now. Your kids are safe.”

“They would’ve been safe either way. And I don’t give a shit about my name—”

“Why not?” she interjected. “Luca does. Timmy does. God knows Liz does. Why don’t you?”

He stared at her, at a loss. “First of all, I don’t believe you. Second of all, after enough time you just… get used to being a fugitive. Why bother caring?”

“But I’m saying you’re not a fugitive anymore. Do you even know what Luca’s doing?”

“Yeah, probably frolicking in the Mediterranean in a tiny speedo with his boy toy. Not that I give a fu—”

Greta groaned and rolled her eyes. “Luca’s not in fucking retirement, Armie! Is that seriously what you think? Good god.” She leaned in closer and lowered her voice. “He had to start from scratch, but he’s making progress. Getting to all his old contacts one by one. clearing the air. Negotiating. No treachery, no backstabbing; just good, honest business. And I can tell you, that is exactly the opposite of Louis’s operation. Yeah, it’s his now,” Greta said at the expression on Armie’s face. “Technically Felice is still head of the family, but Louis is the one driving the ship. People don’t trust them, though, not after the way they came to power. The Committee doesn’t buy what Felice’s story about what happened to their rep, and Felice’s eldest son wants answers. They want an alternative, and the foundation that Luca and Timmy are creating… Well. That’s how you build an empire.”

Armie soaked up the information like a parched plant. Of course, he’d tried to find out what Luca and Timmy were doing on his own, but there had been nothing in the news since the alleged “gas leak” at the Guadagnino mansion last year. Another cover up. The house had been condemned, and Armie had scoured the obituaries for clues, but to no avail.

“That’s the endgame?” Armie asked. “An empire?”

“You didn't hear it from me. But Luca has a plan, and for what he wants to do, he needs honourable people. People with clear names.”

Armie’s heart was pounding. He opened his mouth, but Greta raised a hand.

“Listen, Armie… You think you’re trapped for some reason, but from where I’m sitting, you have nothing but choices. Sure, you could stay here if you wanted—hang out with your kids, work two jobs to make ends meet. But if that’s not the life you want…” She shrugged. “The world is your oyster.”

Greta downed the rest of her drink and stood up, reaching into her bag as she did. She slipped a piece of paper onto the table in front of him. “Thanks for the drink,” she said, and then she was gone.

Armie looked down. A postcard. There was no text, just a photograph: a grassy, sunlight knoll overlooking a lake, or maybe a spring. On the reverse, a single sentence was scrawled in messy, looping script:

I think you’d like it here.

T.

*

Armie placed the postcard on his bedside table where he could see it every morning when he woke up, and every night before he slept. Sometimes looking at it made him angry—at Timmy, at Luca, at himself—but mostly it filled him with something a lot like homesickness.

April wore on; turned to May. The sun got hotter; the sky got hazier. Armie spent more and more time on the beach with Maria and her friends, drinking and strumming guitars in front of the setting sun. He spent more time with his kids, too, and he told himself he was really giving it his all even though deep down he knew his head was somewhere else. And that in and of itself made him feel guilty, which made him pull away even more. At night, he started taking beginner Italian classes at a local community college.

Armie wasn’t sure when it happened, but one day the palm trees and scrub brush that had always felt familiar started feeling foreign instead. Had he really been so at home here once upon a time? The city seemed hot and claustrophobic now; an endless, sprawling, dystopian nightmare. At night, Armie imagined a different ocean outside his window; imagined slipping out of his clothes and into the dark water of the Mediterranean where Timmy was waiting with a knowing smile and open arms.

Once or twice he drove the route to Luca’s house out of sheer habit, not realizing where he was going until he pulled up to the gate. The garden was mostly dead, overgrown with weeds. The windows were dark, and from the road he could see that one of them was smashed. An opportunistic burglar, maybe. Armie considered jumping the fence and taking a look around, but the idea of creeping through the empty, silent house where he had once spent so much time was too damn depressing.

The second postcard came a few weeks later: he found it on his kitchen counter, propped up unassumingly against a bottle of olive oil. Another picture, this time of a waterfall in the mountains.

Les vraies passions sont égoïstes, read the quote on the back. Our true passions are always selfish. According to the internet, the phrase came from a book called The Red and the Black—Le Rouge et le Noir—by a guy named Stendhal. Armie read the description online and couldn’t help feeling a little attacked:

Le Rouge et le Noir is the story of Julien Sorel, the intelligent and ambitious protagonist who harbours many romantic illusions, but becomes mostly a pawn in the political machinations of the ruthless and influential people about him...

“Are you fucking kidding me,” Armie muttered under his breath. He went out and bought the book anyways—in English—which was frustrating as hell to read and gave him the powerful urge to punch Timmy right in his pretentious French face.

Armie didn’t tell Liz that someone was breaking into his house to leave him mail, even though he knew she’d kill him if she ever found out. Mostly he was hoping for another postcard, and he wasn’t disappointed: it showed up less than a month later, resting on the dashboard of his car.

This time, the picture was a gothic building that looked like a church. There seemed to have been words in the corner of the picture once, but someone had scratched them out. The back was blank.

May turned to June, then to July. Armie waited, but nothing else came. He lined the postcards up, trying to figure out the puzzle. Spring, falls, church. Spring, falls, church. Was there some kind of code? He’d never been good at that kind of stuff, so he tried to research the landmarks instead. He was reluctant to scan the postcards, though, just in case Liz had tapped his computer, so he didn’t get very far.

*

In early July, Harper drew him a picture at preschool and Ford finally stopped crying whenever Armie held him. Liz seemed to think this was some kind of grand accomplishment, but Armie wasn’t so sure.

“Who am I?” Armie asked Harper one day as they pretended to drink from the expensive toy tea set Liz had bought her for her birthday. She furrowed her small eyebrows, and Armie felt like he was staring in a mirror.

“My dad,” she said decisively.

“Do you like me?”

She shrugged and took a sip of her imaginary tea. “You play dollies with me,” she said, like that settled the matter.

*

Armie had all but given up trying to find the mystery locations until one evening when Maria was over. They’d stopped by his place unexpectedly on their way to another summer evening gathering, so he hadn’t had time to put away the postcards. He only realized his mistake when Maria picked one up and sighed wistfully. “I love Italy. Have you been?”

“No,” Armie said and tried to snatch it away, but she was quicker.

“This place is beautiful,” she said, spinning out of his reach, and Armie’s annoyance disappeared when he realized she was holding the picture of the waterfall.

“Wait—you’ve been there?”

Maria nodded. “With my family, as a girl. The Seriana Valley, I think? I recognize the falls. But these… hm…” She studied the other pictures. “I don’t know these ones.”

Armie tried to play it cool, but his heart had stuttered into double time. He told Maria he wasn’t feeling well, and as soon as she left he pulled out his computer.

She’d been right: the picture was of the Serio Waterfalls, according to the internet. They were situated in Northern Italy outside a town called Bergamo. Armie scrolled through images of the city, imagining Luca and Timmy walking the streets, eating in the caffés, sipping espresso in the morning in the piazzetta.

He lay awake for a long time that night before he finally gave up trying to sleep. Instead, he stood on his balcony, smoking, staring out over the hills and trees to the ocean. The sky was bright and clear, and even through the smog that hung over the city he could see a smattering of stars. He’d stood here with Timmy once.

Armie thought of Harper and Ford. What kind of a father would he be if he left?

Then again, what kind of a father would he be if he stayed?

Our true passions are always selfish, Timmy had written, like he knew exactly what Armie was too afraid to admit to himself.

*

Armie was about to board a flight to Italy when he got the call. He took a deep breath before he answered.

“Hi, Liz.”

“Where are you?” she asked sharply.

“LAX.”

“We didn’t discuss this.”

“Yeah, 'cause I knew you’d say no.”

Silence. Then: “Did they contact you somehow?”

“I have to go,” Armie said simply.

“After everything I’ve done for you? Just when you’re making progress with the kids—”

“Look, you and I both know they’ll be fine without me. And besides, I’ll be back. I can do that now that I’m a free man.You cleared my name, remember? Clean slate.”

“Armie—”

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

“Sincerely, thank you. I don’t deserve half of what you’ve done for me. I’m sorry I’m not a better person. You’re right: I’m not a good guy. But neither are you, not really. I’ll send you a postcard.”

He hung up, threw his phone in the garbage, and boarded the plane without a backwards glance.

Choice. How hadn’t he realized it before? Timmy hadn’t taken anything away after all: he had only held out the life Armie really wanted, free of strings.



Somewhere in Northern Italy...

There was a boy staring at him from across the bar. Armie tried not to look at him too often, but he could feel the kid’s eyes on him like lasers. He took a long sip of his prosecco and snuck another glance. Dark eyes, framed with thick lashes. Familiar, but not quite right. The boy smiled, and Armie had had just enough prosecco to smile back. One of the boy’s friends leaned in and whispered something in his ear.

“Un altro?” asked the waitress as she walked past Armie’s table. One more?

“Grazie.”

He looked away again, but out of the corner of his eye he could see the boy stand and walk towards him.

“Americano?” he asked. He looked young, but not too young; college-age.

“Si,” Armie said.

“You are looking for something?” the boy asked in English, his accent thick.

“That a euphemism?” Armie asked with a crooked grin. Without an invitation, the boy took the seat across from him.

“I don’t know euphemism,” he said. “But my cousin says you are asking everyone about some pictures. Maybe I can help.”

Armie looked back at the guy’s friends, who were openly staring at them both. Armie threw them a wink, then reached into his jacket and pulled out the postcards. He spread them out on the table.

“Ah, Cascate del Serio,” he said, tapping the image of the waterfalls. “Close to Bergamo.”

“Si, lo so già,” Armie said. I know that already. He pushed the other two forward. “Questi?”

“Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta,” the boy said, pointing to the church. “Very close—you have seen it in the square, yes?”

“Si. E questo?” Armie held up the postcard of the spring.

The boy frowned. Tilted his head. Squinted. “Ah,” he said after a minute. “I do know this. It is near here.”

“Sei sicuro?” Armie asked; you’re sure? The boy sat back, nodding.

“An hour of walking. Shorter by bike or car.”

“But definitely here?”

“Yes, in Crema.”

Excitement bloomed in Armie’s chest, and he almost laughed out loud. He’d started out in Milan, and from there taken the train to Bergamo, to the falls. From there he’d got the location of the church from some of the townspeople, but no one had been able to identify the spring until now.

“Sei un miracolo,” Armie said, and the boy’s eyes twinkled.

“Your Italian is good,” he said.

“So’s your English.”

“Have a drink with me and my friends.”

Armie looked back at the group of young people sitting across the bar, watching them keenly.

“If you take me there tomorrow.”

“To the spring?” The boy shrugged. “Si, if you would like.”

“I’d like that very much.”

The boy laughed and Armie did too and fuck he felt giddy, like a kid on fucking Christmas. Timmy was close—so close that Armie kept expecting him to walk by at any moment. Did he and Luca ever come to this bar? Had they eaten here too? Drank from these very glasses?

Armie let his thoughts wander as he listened to the boy and his friends speaking mile-a-minute Italian. He picked up a word here and there, but mostly he just let it all wash over him. It was nice, but in an unsatisfying way—he wanted more. He wanted Timmy. Luca, too; the smell of them, the sound of their voices. Their skin.

And hell, the boy really did look like Timmy: the Italian version of him, maybe. His features were different—more masculine, not quite so soft—but the look in his eye was the same. Fuck-me eyes.

Goddamn, he missed the kid.

They drank more. Grabbed a few small plates just before the kitchen closed. The crowd thinned, and at some point everyone started smoking. Armie kept drinking, partly because he was enjoying himself and partly because he was nervous as fuck. What would he say to Timmy when he saw him? What if he’d misread everything, gotten it all wrong? What if Timmy had never wanted him here in the first place—had wanted him dead after all?

“Don’t look so sad,” the boy beside him said, squeezing Armie's knee. “You have friends in Crema now!”

And all Armie could do was laugh and smile and pour himself another glass of prosecco.

He didn’t remember much after that.

*

“You know how to drink.”

Armie sat bolt upright, which was a mistake. His stomach churned unpleasantly, and he closed his eyes as he fought to keep himself from from puking.

The boy from last night was standing over him, holding two cups of what looked like coffee. Armie took one gratefully and squinted up at him. He was shirtless, his dark hair sticking up at odd angles, and now that Armie saw him in the light of day he wasn’t sure why the kid had reminded him so much of Timmy.

“Is this…”

“My house,” the boy said. He took a slow sip of coffee. “You couldn’t remember where your hotel was.”

“Ah.” Armie cleared his throat. “Did I… Did we…”

The boy raised his eyebrows. “Kind of.”

“Cool.” Armie brought the coffee to his lips, but the smell almost made him gag. He set it down on the bedside table. “Hope it wasn’t… uh. Hope it was... okay?”

The boy shrugged. “You talked a lot. Do you still want to see the spring?”

Armie somehow managed to get himself on his feet, and the kid led him out of the room, down a hallway and some stairs. The smell of toasted bread and coffee wafted from somewhere in the house, along with several voices speaking quickly in Italian.

Outside the sun was unforgiving, and Armie squinted, trying to orient himself. It didn’t look like the city centre—the houses were thinner here; the road a little rougher.

“Take this one,” the boy said, pointing to one of the bikes leaning up against the wall of the house. Armie hopped on and took a deep breath, willing himself not to be sick. They’d only ridden a few feet before he caught a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye.

“Arresto!” shouted a small voice.

The boy slammed on his breaks, and Armie followed suit. A girl was blocking their path, arms outstretched. She was about ten years old, give or take, and her face was hard and serious.

“Basta! Vada via!” the boy growled, but she only stuck out her tongue and said something in Italian. He scoffed and snapped at her again; she rolled her eyes, then turned to Armie.

“You are American?”

“Uh, sure,” Armie said. She frowned at him, and for the first time Armie noticed that she had a small camera slung over her shoulder.

“Get lost, Vee,” the boy said. “Or I’m going to run you over.”

She was still staring at Armie. “Come ti chiami?” she demanded. What’s your name?

Armie opened his mouth, but before he could say anything the camera flash went off.

“Sorridi!” she shouted, grinning, and then she was gone. Armie watched her disappear into the house behind them.

The boy sighed. “Please, ignore my sister.”

*

The spring looked exactly like the picture.

“Fuck, it’s freezing,” Armie hissed as they waded out into the water.

The boy laughed. “It comes straight from the mountains.”

I think you’d like it here, Timmy had written. Armie looked up at the leafy canopy of trees. How often did Timmy come here? To wade in the pool, to nap, to read another one of his fancy French novels?

The boy seemed impatient. They made awkward conversation for a bit, but after a few minutes Armie could tell he wanted to leave.

“Don’t let me keep you,” Armie told him. “I know the way back.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive. Thanks for everything.”

The boy nodded. “Leave the bike at my house,” he shouted over his shoulder, and Armie saluted as he climbed out of the water and disappeared through the trees.

Then Armie was alone with the insects and the birds and the quiet spring. He closed his eyes. The water lapped gently at his ankles.

Without warning, his kids’ faces appeared in his mind’s eye, and he mused on the complete and utter lack of guilt he felt at the thought of them. One day he’d go back, and maybe they’d want to see him and maybe they wouldn’t. In the meantime, they’d be fine. Better, probably, without him. He trusted Liz. And in a few years or a decade or whenever, Armie would get to see who they became.

The thought made him smile, and he opened his eyes, half expecting to see Timmy standing in front of him. No dice.

Armie stood in the spring for a while before he climbed back out. Despite the warm summer weather he was chilled to the core, so he found a spot in a lush bank of grass in the sun and sat, looking out over the rolling fields that stretched as far as the eye could see. He lay back, staring up at the trees. It wasn’t long before his eyelids started to droop.

“Les vraies passions sont égoïstes,” said a voice close to his ear. Armie opened his eyes. Timmy was lying next to him.

“I don’t speak fucking French you pretentious son of a—” before Armie could finish the sentence, Timmy kissed him. Hard, messy, desperate, like all he’d ever wanted was what Armie wanted too. Armie cupped his face in his hands and pulled him closer, fighting back tears as Timmy practically crawled into his lap. Nothing else in the world existed except for him; nothing mattered except his lips, his hands, his—

“Ciao, Americano!”

Armie’s eyes snapped open again and he blinked, trying to get his bearings. He reached out blindly, feeling for Timmy’s body, which had been so real and warm only a second ago. But the spot beside him was empty and cold and the sun was low in the sky. He was alone, except for the girl staring at him from the road.

Armie sat up and squinted at her. It was the girl from earlier—the boy’s sister. What had he called her? Vee? She was straddling a bike, and she looked triumphant.

“I found you!” she cried.

“Hi,” Armie replied, because he wasn’t really sure what else to say.

“Sei il soldato?” she demanded.

“Am I the… the what? Soldato? The—soldier?”

“The soldier from America,” she said in English, more slowly.

Armie was at a loss. She rolled her eyes.

“‘Army, army, army’—that is what she kept saying. You are the army man? The soldier?”

Armie’s heart skipped a beat. “Who kept saying?”

“The French girl.” Vee pointed down the road. “I took your picture like she asked, so that she could see. And I showed her and she said you were the army man.”

Armie nodded dumbly. “Yeah, I guess I am,” he managed.

“Come on then,” she said, and took off down the road. Armie scrambled to follow her.

*

The afternoon sun was hot and low in the sky. The girl hummed a song to herself as they rode, occasionally looking back over her shoulder to check that Armie hadn’t veered off course.

The buildings out here were mostly farmhouses, interspersed with the occasional villa. Eventually they came to a long driveway lined with pine trees, and the girl stopped short.

“In there,” she said, pointing down the road.

Armie’s heart was in his throat. “Thank you,” he managed, but she only waved a hand behind her and took off the way they’d come.

“Ciao, army man!”

The driveway was long and dusty, shadowed by the tall trees that sprung up on either side of the dirt road. Armie dismounted and followed it up, through a gate and a garden and into the courtyard of a stone villa.

There, sitting in a reclining chair, was a girl that Armie recognized. Esther was holding a book over her face, blocking out the sun, but she put it down when she caught sight of him.

“I was wondering when you’d show up,” she said with a wide smile.

“Me too.” He let the bike fall to the ground as she walked over and pulled him into a tight hug.

“I’m not dreaming, am I?” Armie mumbled into her hair.

Her laughter was light and musical. “No, I don’t think so.”

He pulled back and looked to the house. “Are they—?”

“Inside. Come on.”

So this was Luca’s safe house. It was exactly like Armie had imagined: old and new, threadbare and grandiose all at once. Armie followed Esther through the garden, drinking in the sights—the overgrown foliage, the rust on the patio table, the bikes leaned up against the crumbling garden wall—trying to commit each detail to memory.

For so many months, when Armie thought of the future, he had thought of this moment. What came next, he didn’t know. An empire, Greta had said. He hoped he could be a part of it.

But really, that didn’t matter. He was here now, and all he knew for sure was the present—the cicadas buzzing in the lazy afternoon heat, the crunch of gravel under his frayed sneakers, the smell of sunscreen and salt that wafted behind Esther as she led him through the gate and up the worn stone steps of the villa. Mingled with the sounds of summer came a familiar piano tune, faint but unmistakable, drifting from somewhere deep within the house.

Chapter Text

The white curtains swayed gently, stirred by the warm summer breeze that wandered in through the window. It carried in the sounds that now, after only a few short days, had already grown familiar—cicadas, birds, the crackle of the old portable radio Esther always brought with her when she lounged by the pool—nudging the mosquito netting that hung around the bed and ruffling the dark curls that rested on Timmy’s forehead. Armie brushed them out of his face, watching Timmy’s eyelashes flutter and his brow crease. He cracked an eye open.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Armie said, but he could feel himself grinning. “Morning.”

Timmy sighed irritably and closed his eyes again, but Armie could still see a small smile playing on his lips. “Thanks for sending me a postcard,” Armie said after a few minutes.

Timmy laughed and rolled over so that his head was resting on Armie’s chest. “I was worried you might still hate me.”

“I never hated you.”

Timmy looked skeptical.

“I mean,” Armie went on, “I was definitely pissed after you fucking shot me, but I didn’t hate you.”

Timmy hummed and trailed his fingers across Armie’s pecs, teasing the soft, sandy blond hair that covered his chest. He lingered on Armie’s nipple, rolling it gently between his fingers until Armie chuckled. Then he moved to trace the pink scar on his bicep.

“Did it hurt?”

“Not until after I knew you were actually gone.”

“Ouch.”

“What would you have done if I'd died?” Armie asked, because he wanted to push. After so many months wondering what had been going through Timmy’s head that morning on the rooftop, it was satisfying to see him squirm.

“Mmm, you’re too selfish to die,” Timmy countered.

“Oof, Chalamet coming in with the deep cuts.”

“Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You’re not; that’s the problem.”

Timmy leaned in and brought their lips together. “Not a problem. I don’t give a shit if you’re selfish,” he said between kisses. “As long as what you want is me.”

“Of course it’s you, dipshit. Did you really have to shoot me to find that out?”

Timmy rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to apologize for trying to do the right thing.”

“Oh, is that what that was? Felt a lot like betrayal.”

“I don’t think you want to talk to me about betrayal,” Timmy said. His voice was still light and playful, but Armie could hear a darker edge of warning underneath.

“Okay, okay. I get the point.”

“Good.” Timmy’s smile widened in that way that made his whole face crinkle up. Armie kissed him again. His mouth tasted like stale salt and sweat and Armie couldn’t get enough of it.

It had been a little less than a week since Armie had walked down the tree-lined driveway of Luca’s Italian villa for the first time, and since then they hadn’t done a whole lot besides talk and fuck and sleep, occasionally taking breaks to swim in the small pool by the garden or share a simple meal on the patio. Truthfully it was idyllic as fuck, and pretty much everything he’d hoped for.

Armie’s hand snaked up the back of Timmy’s neck, and in response Timmy climbed on top of him fully. They’d slept naked, and Armie kicked away the light blanket covering him so that they were lying skin to skin. It was an oddly wholesome feeling—warm, soft, dry—despite the hard insistence of Timmy’s cock at his hip.

They kissed lazily, partly because they had just woken up and partly because there wasn’t any rush—not anymore. After a while, though, Armie could tell Timmy was starting to get impatient, so he reached down and wrapped a hand around both of their cocks, jerking them together with slow strokes. He liked the way Timmy got all still and tense when he did that, like he couldn’t even focus on kissing anymore because the sensation was too much. His eyes were closed, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, and Armie wondered how long he could draw this out.

Then he caught a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye.

“Don’t stop on my account,” Luca said when Armie’s hand slowed. He set the tray of mugs he was holding down on the dresser.

“Coffee?” Timmy asked over his shoulder.

“Hey,” Armie said indignantly, and reached up with his free hand, forcing Timmy’s face back towards him. Timmy snickered, so Armie gripped his cock until he moaned. He didn’t bother holding back or going slow anymore, and Timmy’s eyes were hooded but he was still smirking. Show off, Timmy had called him the previous night when Armie was balls deep in his ass, fucking him from behind with one hand fisted in Timmy’s hair. He could practically hear the words again now.

So maybe Armie was a bit of a showoff in these situations. But he liked the audience, and he wanted to make it good for Luca too. Armie could just see him over Timmy’s shoulder, sipping his coffee, watching them with casual amusement.

It wasn’t easy to impress Luca, or even to surprise him. He was like a chessmaster: he knew how people worked—the moves they were going to make—and he was always five steps ahead. Armie could probably count on one hand the times that he’d ever actually caught Luca off guard. Way back at the Guadagnino mansion when Armie had been seized by the reckless impulse to ask him to dance in front of his whole family—that was one. Had there been others?

Armie wanted to think Luca had been at least a little bit surprised when he’d shown up on the doorstep of the villa. Armie had followed Esther into the house, over worn carpet and tile to the sitting room where the old piano stood. An antique, like the house; a little out of tune, but in a way that made the music all the more charming. Luca was there too, listening, and he’d seen Armie first. Armie still remembered the brief moment of confusion that flashed over his face when he’d caught sight of him—confusion that had turned to conspiratorial delight as the pieces clicked into place. He’d kept quiet as Armie approached the piano bench, waiting till Timmy finished playing before he reached out and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder.

Timmy’s mouth brought Armie back to the present, hot and wet on the tender skin just under his jaw. Desperate. Timmy liked being undone, and it was almost too easy. But right when Timmy was on the edge Armie stopped—took his hand away and just held him, kissing him deep as Timmy groaned into his mouth. Timmy rolled his hips in vain, but Armie only chuckled.

“C’mon,” Timmy insisted.

“Say please.”

“God. Please jerk me off, daddy.”

Armie inhaled sharply. Fuck, that was hot, even though Timmy was joking, kind of. But he also kind of wasn’t: he was smirking, but his eyes were heavy with desire and Armie knew the whole thing turned him on too.

Timmy swore under his breath when Armie started moving again, slow and deliberate, jerking them both together in time with Timmy’s thrusts.

“Say it again,” Armie ordered. “Tell me what you want.”

Timmy laughed breathlessly. “Jesus. Fine.” He leaned back, bracing himself on Armie’s thighs. There was a faint sheen of sweat on his chest and his cheeks were flushed and goddamn, Armie would never get tired of seeing him like that. “I want you to suck me off,” Timmy said, putting on a simpering voice, “daddy. I want your mouth on my cock; want to fuck your face till I come down your throat.”

Armie would have laughed if the image wasn’t such a fucking turn on.

“Are you going to let him speak to you that way?” Luca asked from where he was standing.

Without thinking Armie reached up with his free hand and hit Timmy across the face.

“Fuck,” Timmy groaned, so Armie grabbed his hair.

“What do you want?”

“Do that again,” Timmy gasped. Armie’s hand was almost still on his cock, and Timmy twitched his hips hopefully.

“Manners,” Luca said.

Armie licked his lips. “Try again.”

“Please hit me again, daddy—”

Armie slapped him harder. Timmy groaned and swore so Armie did it again, almost hard enough to knock him off balance. He was winding his hand back a third time when Timmy tensed and swore and then he was coming, thrusting desperately into Armie’s fist.

“Fuck,” Timmy hissed as he rolled off Armie. He brought a hand to his face, massaging his jaw as he opened and closed his mouth experimentally.

“You okay?” Armie asked.

Timmy just laughed. “Uhm. Yeah, that was. Good.”

“Cool. So, uh. Mind taking care of this?” Armie gestured down to his dick, which was now almost painfully hard. Timmy rolled over and pulled Armie into another lazy kiss.

“You just want me to blow you? That’s kind of boring.”

“You have something else in mind?” Armie asked between kisses. Timmy’s hand danced down his chest, avoiding the spots still sticky from his own come, and all the while Armie was keenly aware of Luca’s presence. He felt on display, but the feeling just made him harder.

“Yeah. I want to watch Luca fuck you.”

Armie pulled away and looked at Timmy. He definitely wasn’t joking now, which was... fine. Sure. Definitely fine. It made sense, even; they’d never actually done that before, but it made sense.

“Uh,” Armie said. He looked to Luca, who was still leaning casually against the dresser. He didn’t exactly seem surprised, just intrigued.

“Can you?” Timmy asked Luca.

“If that’s what you want. Armie?”

Timmy kissed Armie again before he could answer, deep and slow, and Armie’s brain turned to static noise. “Yeah,” he said breathlessly when they parted.

Luca finished his coffee and set the empty cup down carefully. Everything about him was careful—the way he held himself, the way he spoke, each step he took towards the bed. Timmy sat up, leaned over Armie to meet him, and Luca took his face in his hands and kissed him carefully.

Armie was jealous of both of them; he wanted to be between them, but he wanted to be each of them at the same time; to kiss and be kissed.

On the other hand, watching was nice too. Armie like the contrast they created: Timmy all clean sharp angles, pale skin, soft features; Luca rougher, darker, as guarded as Timmy was open.

Without even thinking about it Armie’s hand moved to his cock. He could probably come quickly like this, barely even touching himself as Timmy and Luca kissed above him.

Timmy broke away. His lips were swollen, a little chapped, and Armie wanted to kiss him again. Or he wanted Luca to keep kissing him. No, wait—he wanted Timmy’s lips around his cock.

No sooner had the thought crossed Armie’s mind than Timmy was between his legs. He pushed Armie’s hand away and took Armie’s cock into the back of his throat and then Armie’s brain shut off completely. Everything was touch and taste and sound and feeling: Timmy’s mouth (his lips looked just as good as Armie remembered. Better, even); the warm breeze from the open window; Luca’s weight next to him. He kissed differently than Timmy: slower, more reserved, but with an easy rhythm that matched Armie’s own.

Timmy’s fingers wandered down Armie’s thighs to cup his ass, lifting his hips up in a way that felt more vulnerable than he was used to. Then Timmy’s mouth moved lower. He trailed his lips down Armie’s shaft, down to his balls, then—

“Fuck,” Armie hissed when he felt Timmy’s tongue on his hole. His hips jerked up involuntarily, and Luca chuckled. He was watching Timmy keenly, and for some reason that turned Armie on just as much as what Timmy was doing. Which was different, but also good. Really fucking good.

“Where’d you—shit—where’d you learn to do that?” Armie managed between gasps. In response Timmy pressed inside him just a little bit, teasing him. Armie reached down and grabbed a handful of Timmy’s hair, holding him in place, which made Timmy moan too.

He worked Armie steadily to the edge, then eased off, then brought him back until Armie was shaking and breathless, one hand still tangled in Timmy’s soft curls and the other clutching Luca close. Then Timmy’s mouth disappeared, and Armie couldn’t help feeling like this was payback for earlier.

“Rude,” Armie muttered as Timmy wriggled up on his other side. But it was good, too, because now he could taste himself on Timmy’s lips. Someone was stroking his cock and he wasn’t sure who but it didn’t matter; Luca and Timmy were kissing again, inches from his face, and fuck Armie really wanted to come. But that wasn’t what Timmy wanted; Armie could see it in the look he gave Luca when they broke apart.

Luca sat up and slipped off his pants, then grabbed the bottle of lube from the side table.

“I like this,” Timmy mused as Luca settled between Armie’s legs.

“Yeah?” Armie asked.

“Yeah. You look fucking hot.” He stroked Armie’s cock absently as he spoke. “Doesn’t he?”

“It’s a beautiful picture,” Luca agreed. He dripped a bit of lube into his hand and slicked it down the length of his cock. He was big—almost as big as Armie—and Armie was hit by a sudden wave of apprehension. “Are you okay?” Luca asked calmly.

It wasn’t like Armie hadn’t ever had a dick up his ass before—he had, and from what he could remember it had been pretty great. Except… well, except he'd been pretty fucking drunk, and this time he didn’t have any alcohol to loosen him up.

“He’ll go slow,” Timmy said in Armie’s ear. “Promise. Just like when he fucks me.” Timmy ran his tongue along the shell of Armie’s ear, and Armie bit back a groan.

“Would you like to stop?” Luca asked. The head of his cock was flush against Armie’s hole.

He shook his head. “No.”

“No what?”

“No, sir—” Armie just managed to get out before Luca pressed inside of him and the words stuck in his throat. Waves of sharp pleasure prickled over him as Luca worked himself in, then back out, then in again. Timmy watched him, his breath shallow and quick. “Fuck, you look so good,” he muttered, more to himself than Armie. “Taking it so well. Do you like that? Tell me you like having his cock inside you.” The words were almost nonsense, dirty talk he’d probably heard in some shitty pirated porno. And any other time would’ve probably made Armie laugh, but now now he could barely string two words together just nodded and said “Yes, yes, yes…”

“You like getting fucked, don’t you? Tell me.” Timmy’s hand moved in time with Luca so that both sensations melded together into an overwhelming blur of pleasure.

“Yeah,” Armie managed. “I like—” Luca pushed Armie’s legs back against his body, pinning Armie down as he fucked him deeper. Stars burst in front of Armie’s eyes, but the ragged sounds that bubbled up from his throat were lost into Timmy’s mouth. He could feel himself teetering on the edge, and he fumbled for Timmy’s cock.

“Fuck me,” Armie mumbled between kisses. “I want you to fuck me too. I want to… want to come on your cock.” And yeah, maybe that sounded fucking ridiculous, but Armie was long past the point of caring.

Timmy inhaled sharply.

“Please,” Armie said.

“Timothée?” Luca asked. His voice was measured, barely even a hint of exertion or strain.

“Uhm. Yeah. Yes.”

“Thank you,” Armie breathed, and Luca laughed.

“So good at being used,” he said softly. He moved faster, and Armie could tell he was going to be sore later but right now he didn’t give a shit because this felt way too good to stop. He was so fucking close but before he could lose himself completely Luca came. He leaned in and kissed Armie as he did and “So good, Armie, you did so good,” Timmy muttered in his ear.

Armie shuddered at the sudden emptiness when Luca pulled out of him, but then Timmy was there instead, pressing the head of his cock to Armie’s already-slick hole. He could feel Luca’s come dripping out of him as Timmy slid easily in up to the hilt.

“Fuck, you feel amazing,” Timmy groaned. “Is this what you want? Want my cock in your ass…”

“God, yes,” Armie gasped. Dimly, He was aware of Luca’s weight on the bed next to them, and he imagined what he must look like right now, wild and desperate, begging to be fucked.

He wrapped his legs around Timmy’s hips, pulling him closer, and Timmy leaned in and kissed him with an urgency that told Armie this wasn’t going to last much longer.

“You’re gonna come for us, aren’t you?” Timmy mumbled.

Armie could only nod.

“Good. You’re doing so good, letting us fuck you like this—use you like this. You like it, don’t you?”

Armie groaned and rolled his hips. He could feel Timmy’s movements becoming more erratic.

“Shit, I’m gonna… Now, Armie. Come for me now.“

With the command, the pressure that had been building inside of Armie burst like a dam.

“Fuck,” Timmy gasped, like he could feel what Armie was feeling. But maybe he could, because Timmy was coming too, gripping him hard by the hips, emptying himself into Armie’s ass as Armie came untouched all over his stomach.

*

Luca had some letters to write (there was no internet or phone service at the villa), so Armie and Timmy threw on their swim trunks and headed out to the pool. Esther had moved from her favourite spot but she’d left the radio, which was playing a tinny Italian pop song that Armie had heard at most of the bars he’d been to on his travels.

“This is a good one,” he said as Timmy sat down on the edge of the pool and dipped his legs into the water.

“It’s about the government. Kind of old, too.”

“Really? Seems romantic.” Armie sat down next to him, a little more carefully than normal, which made Timmy snicker.

“Fuck off,” Armie grumbled.

“I didn’t say anything.”

The water came from a deep well under the property, and it was ice cold, soothing the feverish heat of his skin. Armie closed his eyes and listened to the birds.

After a while, Timmy cleared his throat. “Speaking of romance, I wanted to ask... What were you going to say on the roof?”

“You know what I was going to say.”

“Huh. And uh... Is that still true?”

Timmy’s eyes were focused and intense, and not for the first time, Armie wondered what he really wanted. Power, maybe? Control? Maybe that’s what this had always been about.

Well, so be it.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t,” Armie said.

Timmy’s eyes flashed triumphantly. He leaned back, satisfied.

“What about you?” Armie ventured.

“Me?”

“‘Me?’” Armie mimicked. “Yeah, you. I never know what’s going on in your head.”

“I thought you said I was easy to read?”

“Yeah, sometimes, in some ways. But other times I’m not sure. And now you know how I feel, so how do you feel about me?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean.”

Timmy scrunched up his face and stared at the sky. Shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Armie laughed incredulously. “Are you fucking serious? I fly halfway around the world to throw myself at your feet and all I get in return is ‘I don’t know’?”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Timmy offered, but Armie was laughing too hard; he pitched forward and let himself fall into the pool. When he surfaced, Timmy was staring down at him with exasperation. “What do you want me to say?”

Armie shook his hair vigorously, spattering Timmy with water. “Say you love me.”

“Ugh.”

“Say you need me.”

“Are you fucking serious right now?”

“I want to hear you say it, motherfucker. It’s the least you can do for fucking shooting me.”

“You’re an asshole,” Timmy said.

“And what does that make you?”

Timmy just scowled at him, so Armie seized Timmy’s foot and tugged, dragging him down into the water too. They wrestled for a minute before Timmy heaved himself up onto Armie’s shoulders and brought their lips together.

Really, it didn’t matter what either of them said, or what they didn’t say. They were here. They were together. They had time.

The cold water was invigorating, and dimly it occurred to Armie that they hadn’t fucked in here yet. He grabbed Timmy’s legs, tight around his hips, and pushed him back against the stone wall of the pool. He’d just slipped a hand down Timmy’s swim trunks when he heard the clang of the garden gate.

“Buongiorno!” called a tentative male voice.

“Who’s that?” Armie asked, suddenly alert.

“Probably just Marco,” Timmy said breathlessly. He pulled Armie in for another kiss.

“Who?”

“C'è qualcuno a casa?” the stranger asked. Is anybody home?

“In piscina,” Timmy shouted back. He didn’t seem concerned, so Armie didn’t bother disentangling himself from Timmy’s limbs. Still, he couldn’t help but tense a little as the stranger came around the corner.

“Oh,” Armie said when he saw the boy. He didn’t recognize Armie at first; he was looking at the envelopes in his hand.

“Ciao,” Timmy said absently over his shoulder.

“Ho una lettera per…” the boy started, then looked up. Armie watched his face journey from confusion, to recognition, to complete understanding in a matter of seconds. “Ahh,” he said knowingly. “Ciao, Elio. And… American.”

Timmy frowned at him, then looked back at Armie, who only shook his head—Don’t even ask.

Timmy climbed out of the pool, and Armie stayed in the water, pretending not to listen to their exchange. They weren’t talking about him, as far as he could tell with his limited Italian: they exchanged greetings, Timmy asked how the boy’s family was, they talked about the weather, et cetera.

“Goodbye,” the boy said to Armie before he turned to leave. “Glad you found what you were looking for.”

“Friend of yours?” Timmy asked casually as they watched him go. Armie heaved himself out of the pool. The stone was warm and dry, and it made him shiver.

“I was gonna ask you the same question. And who’s Elio?”

“I’m Elio. When we’re here, anyways. And like I said, that was Marco; he and his family help us out sometimes. Run errands, buy groceries, that kind of thing…” Timmy trailed off. He was smirking again.

“What?” Armie asked, trying and failing to keep the guilt out of his voice.

“You didn’t…”

“Look,” Armie started, but Timmy was already doubled over in laughter.

“Oh my god.”

“We didn’t—well. Kind of, I think. But it was...” Armie frowned. “Wait. He’s not like, 14 or something, is he?” Timmy laughed harder, and Armie was seized by sudden panic. “Timmy, wait. Timmy. Is he?”

“No! Jesus, no,” Timmy said, still chuckling. “He goes to college in Milan; he’s my age. That’s why you fucked him, right? 'Cause you missed me?”

“Well when you put it that way it sounds kinda pathetic. Shit…” Armie let out a long breath. “You scared me for a second. I thought…”

“Nah, I’m not laughing 'cause he’s too young.” Timmy shook his head, suddenly serious. “I’m laughing ‘cause he’s Luca’s nephew. Like, for real.

Armie blacked out. When he came to moments later, he was on his back on the grass and Timmy was standing over him, shaking with silent laughter.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” he gasped, wiping tears from his eyes. “Are you okay? Oh my god.”

“You fucking—” Armie rolled over and grabbed him by the ankles, tackling him to the ground. It didn’t take much effort for Armie to flip him onto his back and pin him in place.

“Careful,” Timmy laughed, and for the first time Armie noticed he was holding an envelope.

He plucked it out of Timmy’s hand. “To the Family at the Villa,” Armie read aloud. “No return address. Mysterious.”

“Open it,” said a voice to their left, and Armie turned to see Luca walking down the garden path towards them, a notebook tucked under one arm.

Timmy wriggled a bit, but Armie kept him pinned in place as he tore open the letter. It was short and cryptic, scrawled messily on a plain sheet of paper:

Things are moving faster than expected. Spoke to W & he is on our side. Wants to meet with you in person. Currently resides in Prague. Call tomorrow to discuss specifics. Usual time.

GG

Armie passed the letter to Timmy. “Someone named W wants to meet with you.”

Timmy pushed Armie away and sat bolt upright. “Holy shit,” he breathed as he scanned the paper. “W is William. Greta must’ve got him to turn...”

“Who’s William?”

Timmy passed the letter to Luca. “Felice’s eldest,” Luca said. “You didn’t meet him, did you? I believe he was abroad when we were in New York.”

“Fuck yes Greta,” Timmy muttered under his breath.

“Does that mean you’re not on Felice’s hit list anymore?” Armie asked.

“Unfortunately, no,” Luca said. “But it does mean that Felice’s son may now be his enemy. And, potentially, our ally.”

Armie looked back and forth between them. “So you’re gonna meet with him?”

“What do you think, Timothée?” Luca asked.

Timmy disentangled himself from Armie’s legs and jumped to his feet. “Never been to Prague before.”

“It’s beautiful in the summer.”

“Sounds dangerous,” Armie said.

“Yes,” Luca agreed.

Armie looked up at them both. The sun was at just the right angle that the whole garden was glowing, bathing Timmy and Luca in fiery orange and red. And fuck, they did look powerful. More than that—they looked like kings.

“Then you’ll need protection.”

“Definitely,” Timmy said, and held out his hand. “Coming?”

Armie grinned. “Fuck yeah.” He took Timmy’s hand and pulled himself to his feet. “Let’s go to fucking Prague.”