As Elias disembarks the ferry, he sees a familiar figure on the pier. Anthony is waiting for him at the edge of the jetty, as Elias always knew he would be.
“Boss,” Anthony intones, voice pitched cautiously level as it carries across the distance between them.
Elias presses a hand to the wound on his shoulder as he approaches, just to watch Anthony’s expression darken. It is not the first blood spilt in this war of theirs, and it certainly won’t be the last, but there is a grim satisfaction in seeing the line of Anthony’s mouth narrow in anger.
“I should’ve —” Anthony starts, but gets no further. There are a lot of things they should have done—been more careful, stayed closer. It is too late now for recriminations. Instead he holds his hand out, palm upturned, seeking the reassurance he cannot ask for in words.
Elias takes it, allowing himself to return Anthony’s small smile as he steps into his embrace. His hand settles against the curve of Anthony’s shoulder blade, lingering as he leans in close to Elias’s body, lips brushing his temple.
“I’ll kill them,” Anthony says into his ear, low and intent. Possessive. It is no empty threat.
“I know you will,” Elias says, arm still around Anthony’s back as they turn together towards the pier in silent camaraderie. “All in good time.”
“Yes, boss,” Anthony agrees, his hand finally falling from Elias’s shoulder. He does not allow himself to miss the contact.
They walk quickly to the waiting car, maintaining a respectable distance from each other, but Elias can feel Anthony’s eyes on him as he climbs in, the ever-vigilant right-hand man. Anthony shuts the door behind him, as though wanting to be certain that Elias will not leave him again, before climbing into the front passenger seat.
The drive passes mostly in silence, Anthony no doubt planning a myriad of ways to make Yogorov pay. The others seem reluctant to speak, as though fearing they will be subject to harsh words over the events of the past 24 hours. They need not worry—the failure is not theirs alone. They will all face the repercussions together, in time. Elias does not need to contribute to the punishment.
They pull to a stop in the shadows of a Manhattan underpass, Anthony climbing quickly out of the front to open the door for Elias. They switch to Anthony’s black sedan, just the two of them, watching the others drive away before heading in the opposite direction.
It would not be wise to return to Charlie Burton’s flat now. They had made that mistake once, in the wake of Benny’s murder. Elias knows Anthony would not dare risk it a second time.
The pain in his shoulder has once more inflamed to a dull throbbing ache by the time they pull up behind a small tenement building across the river, similar to the one he has just vacated in Brighton Beach. Despite the fact he has never been here before, he knows it is one of Anthony’s safe houses. They may have escaped today, but it is only a matter of time before the Russians regroup and come for him again. It is only right that Anthony would entrust Elias’s safety to no one but himself now.
“Okay, boss?” Anthony asks, leaning across to his side of the car. His hand is gentle against Elias’s uninjured shoulder, concern in his eyes.
Elias nods, but he can feel the sheen of perspiration on his face and the uncomfortably sticky press of his shirt against his skin when he shifts. He allows Anthony to open the car door for him, but climbs out and heads up the five flights of stairs determinedly unassisted. He cannot afford to show weakness, out in the open, where anyone could see him.
Anthony’s hand hovers close to his back, ready to support him should he need it, his fingertips occasionally brushing the fabric of Elias’s jacket as they move. He supposes it reveals a weakness all of its own—a vulnerability of a different kind—but one they have long since accepted.
Anthony watches as Elias sinks onto the threadbare couch in the living room, then he takes the gun from Elias’s jacket and presses it into his hand.
“Please,” is all Anthony says before he leaves the room, in a plea for Elias to use the weapon if he has to. Elias may not like shooting people—he has people to do that on his behalf, after all—but as a last resort, to protect himself, he will.
After long minutes, the key clicks in the lock. Elias raises his head as Anthony closes the door behind him. They are alone once more.
“All clear?” he asks, even though he knows Anthony would not allow himself to rest until he was certain. It is prudent of him to check for himself. He places the gun on the table even before Anthony confirms it with a murmured, “Yes, boss.”
Anthony heads into the small kitchen, then joins Elias on the sofa—whiskey, a couple of glasses, and a bandage in hand. He catches Elias observing the items with amusement.
“Should probably restock the first aid kit, huh?” he says, lips quirking as he pours the whiskey into the glasses and passes one over.
Elias purposefully brushes his fingers against Anthony’s as he takes the glass. Anthony’s smile only deepens, his eyes warm as he watches Elias duly swallow the contents. The burn in his throat is a welcome momentary distraction to the pain in his shoulder. He allows Anthony to pour him another.
A few glasses later and Anthony is reaching forwards to remove his jacket. Elias has no cause to startle and only flinches slightly when the fabric bunches against his injured shoulder on its way down his arm. His eyes flick to Anthony’s when he pulls at the hem of his shirt, quirking an eyebrow.
“I need to get to your shoulder,” Anthony says when he catches Elias’s eyes on him, but a smile tugs at one corner of his mouth, lips narrowing in amusement. “Then you need to rest.”
“Killjoy,” Elias murmurs, but there is no heat behind the words.
The material of the shirt sticks to his skin where the blood has dried around the wound. Elias does not need the apology Anthony mutters as he encourages it over his head, exposing Elias’s chest to his gaze.
It is not his chest that is of interest to Anthony right now, however. At his expression, Elias decides not to look down at his shoulder and the result of yesterday’s emergency makeshift first aid.
Anthony brushes a fingertip carefully against the surface of the glue, checking the hold. “The bullet?”
“Straight through. Clean.”
Anthony nods, reassured, although there is still a mixture of surprise and awe on his face. “Cocaine and polymer? Who was this guy?”
Elias shakes his head. “No idea. He didn’t say, and I wasn’t really in a position to push.” He watches Anthony tear a small strip off the bandage and soak it with the alcohol. “Still, it’s only one step away from this.”
Anthony looks up briefly, catching his eye and giving him a quick smile. He presses the cloth to Elias’s skin, swiping carefully so that he doesn’t reopen the wound as he cleans away the blood. Elias watches the progress of his fingers with hazy interest.
“It will scar,” Anthony murmurs, his eyes meeting Elias’s almost hesitantly.
“That’s no bad thing,” Elias says. He finds himself looking at Anthony’s own scar, his eyes running down the curved length of it. “Scars serve to remind us of what we’ve overcome.”
Anthony leans forwards and presses his lips to the edge of the puckered skin, an apology in the touch. His fingertips ghost across Elias’s collarbone.
“It still shouldn’t have happened,” he whispers.
Elias places a gentle hand on Anthony’s thigh. “I watched a friend bleed to death on the floor in front of me. A gunshot wound is a small price to pay for our cause, don’t you think?”
Anthony hums quietly in agreement, reluctantly moving away from Elias’s skin to reach for the gauze. His practised fingers make easy work of the bandaging. He leans back to check his handiwork, resting a hand on Elias’s upper arm.
Elias gives a grateful nod, if wearily—the exhaustion of being awake for nearly 30 hours finally catching up with him.
“You should get some sleep,” Anthony says, gesturing to the small bedroom. He quells the argument forming on Elias’s lips with a meaningful look. “Just a couple of hours. I’ll keep watch.”
Elias knows it is useless to try and persuade Anthony to get some rest too—he will not rest until Yogorov is dead. He gets to his feet and heads to the bedroom. Lingering in the doorway, hand resting on the wooden frame, he turns back to face Anthony.
“At least join me?” he suggests with a quirk of his eyebrow, smiling softly when Anthony rises from the sofa and saunters over to his side.