This wasn’t part of the deal , a voice at the back of Elias’s head reminded him as he slipped out of the building by the back exit he must have forgotten to mention to Carter. He adjusted his collar to make sure it covered the bottom of his face and tilted his hat further over his eyes, not sure if she would have some kind of surveillance on him. As much as he hated to go against Detective Carter’s wishes so soon after she’d saved his life and let him stay free from jail, this was much more important to him than a promise she couldn’t possibly have expected him to keep. What did she think he’d do, stay in that basement for the rest of his life? He was still half expecting her to change her mind and drag him back into police custody, which only added an extra layer to his determination.
Elias walked to the car he had in a storage locker a few blocks away, only seeing a couple of people, who he crossed the street to make absolutely certain they wouldn’t recognise him, keeping a hand on the gun in his coat pocket anyway. It wouldn’t take long to reach his destination at this time of night; he knew which streets to take and which to avoid after living in the city his whole life. He parked the car about the same distance he’d walked to get to it away from his destination, and started walking again, trying not to flinch away from the lights and siren of an ambulance that sped past.
It had been a little over a year since Elias had seen Anthony face to face now, and weeks since they’d even talked on the phone. Those calls had never been too personal anyway; even with the burner phones he’d managed to get hold of in jail, there was still a risk the wrong people might be listening, and he wasn’t going to put Anthony in more danger than he already was in doing the day-to-day running of business. Finding out they were more than just leader and lieutenant would definitely have done that, not that it had made much of a difference in the end, anyway.
After so long apart, he’d hoped their reunion would be more of a triumphant return, or at least in better circumstances than these. He should have known better.
The hospital seemed to loom above him as he approached, the nerves that had been running on high since the second he found out Anthony had been gunned down by HR forming a thick knot in his chest.
Elias walked through the group of smokers on the step outside the emergency room, medical staff, patients and worried family alike, without any problems and finally headed into the hospital. He double checked the department and room number on his hand.
If he’d done this last night, it would have just said ‘ICU’ . Anthony's injuries were bad; they'd kept him unconscious for the last few days, just to keep an eye on him, but now he was stable, not quite safe but not so close to dying. He was lucky to have lasted so long.
Elias walked through the waiting room, ignoring the people caught deep in their own problems, nobody in here would give him a first glance, never mind a second, then out into the corridor.
Where the emergency room seemed to get even busier at night, the rest of the hospital was quiet, all the visitors long gone, all the patients even asleep or trying to be. The only sounds were the occasional coughs or groans and the sounds of medical equipment that needed attention. The only voices were from the occasional medical staff he passed, but he nodded politely to them in greeting and they did the same back, not questioning his presence despite it being so late at night. He knew his mugshot and knews of his ‘escape’ would have been plastered all over the news and the internet by now, but judging by their lack of reaction the staff either hadn’t seen or just didn’t care.
He knew he was on the right corridor the second he arrived. The two men he’d had paroled were stood outside a door at the far end. He nodded to them, but didn’t say anything. They’d spoken earlier on the phone, and that was all he needed from them. It wasn’t the right occasion for small talk.
Anthony didn’t so much as stir when Carl walked in the room, shutting the door softly behind him, not that Carl expected him to. The nurse he’d spoken to on the phone earlier said he still hadn’t been awake for any real length of time yet, although they were expecting him to soon. Carl found that hard to believe now he finally laid eyes on him.
Even in the darkened room, Anthony was paler than Elias had ever seen him in just over thirty years of knowing each other. There were tubes in his nose attached to an oxygen tank by the bed, his hair hung limply and his eyes had sunken deep in his skull, surrounded by bags so dark they looked like bruises. There were three thick patches of gauze taped in a rough diagonal up his bare chest, one at the left side of his ribs, one in the centre of his sternum, still seeping blood into the gauze, the third on his right collarbone, wires between them attached to pulsing equipment and a drainage tube in his side. He was propped up in almost a sitting position on a pile of flat, uncomfortable-looking pillows to support his injured shoulder, and that arm was in a sling.
Elias leaned over and swept a couple of stray strands of hair away from Anthony’s face with the tips of his fingers, then kissed his forehead. His skin was cold.
Anthony groaned as Elias moved away, his eyes staying tightly shut.
Elias stood up and stepped to the door, instructing one of the guards to go and find a nurse or a doctor or anyone who was around at this time of night. His top priority was making sure Anthony was safe and properly taken care of. Then he found an area of shadow further up the corridor to stand in, and watched one of the nurses he’d walked past earlier walk in the room. Childish as it was to be cowering in a corner, he couldn’t be caught, not now, before Anthony had even seen him. He watched the light flash on in the room and heard quiet voices, the nurse asking questions; his name, what had happened, how he got here, and Anthony’s short replies.
Elias took a step closer, trying to make out what Anthony was saying.
“Not unless you count your bodyguards over there. They're making some of the other night shift nurses uncomfortable, by the way.”
“But not you?”
“I’ve worked on trauma wards for fourteen years. If you think a couple of thugs on the door is enough to stop me doing my job, you don’t know what I have to deal with every other day of the week.”
“Heh… Never stopped me either.”
“It might now, Mr Marconi.”
“Don’t remind me.” His tone was heavy and Carl hated not being by his side at that moment.
There was a long few minutes before the nurse spoke again. “Well, I guess you're as good as you can be, considering the circumstances of your admission. Any tests will have to wait until morning. Get some sleep.”
It was another few seconds before the nurse reappeared outside the room, turning the light off behind her. Finally, she turned to face him.
“I can see you hiding back there. If you kill anybody on my ward, you'll have me to answer to,” she said, putting her hands on her hips for a second, then turning to head back to the nurses’ station.
Elias didn't turn on the light again as he walked back in the room, still trying to avoid any unnecessary attention, and sat back down in the chair by the bed.
“That you, Boss?” His voice was hoarse, and barely a murmur but Elias forced a smile.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“Didn't think anybody else’d kiss me.” The corner of his lips twitched up in a ghost of his familiar smirk.
He raised his eyebrows. “I should hope not.”
“They let you out to come see me?”
Carl frowned. “Somethin’ like that.”
Anthony caught the look before he could hide it. “What-”
He nodded. Elias didn’t have to have known Anthony for as long as he had to know that he’d be held to that ‘later’, no matter when the time actually came.
“How are you feeling?”
Anthony didn’t reply, just shook his head.
“That good, huh?” he said gently.
“It hurts, Boss,” Anthony said after a long pause. “I’m lucky to even be here.”
“I know,” his face turned serious. “I'm never going to get used to people hurting you to get to me.”
“I wouldn’t be doing this if you were okay with me getting hurt, Boss,” he said with a shrug of his left shoulder and a slight wince. “I’m loyal cos you are too.”
“HR won't get away with this,” Elias said quietly, and he knew Anthony believed him. Even if he couldn’t do much about them yet, he knew from his own experience that Carter’s new vendetta would topple them.
“Keep ‘em warm for me. I won't be out for long.”
“I don't doubt that,” he said with a small smile that quickly turned cruel. “But I can’t promise the men who shot you will still be around by the time you get out of here.”
“That, I can live with,” he said with a tired smirk. Elias reached for his hand, and Anthony held on to it like a lifeline. It really had been far too long since they'd been together with nobody else watching.
“Nurse told me to get some rest,” he said quietly, watching Elias trace circles on the back of his hand with tired eyes. “Think she was right.”
“You want to sleep.”
Anthony nodded. “I know you're here now. Know I'm safe.”
Elias didn’t need for them to talk. He just needed a reminder that the world hadn’t stopped since he’d been in jail and his life, the important part of it at least, was still there for him. A hand in his was enough. “Close your eyes. I'll wake you before I leave.”
Anthony nodded again, and let his eyes fall shut. He smiled slightly, then opened his eyes again for a second. “I missed you, Boss.”
It was a few hours later when Elias finally considered waking Anthony, just a few minutes after waking up himself. He hadn't wanted to admit how tired he was after everything that had happened over the last few days, but he couldn't keep his eyes open for any longer than he had.
When he looked over at the bed, Anthony was already awake. “You looked like you needed the rest, too, Boss.”
He sighed. “Maybe I did.”
Anthony shifted slightly closer to the edge of the bed, fist clenching against the pain as he did. He squeezed Elias’s hand, then finally said: “It’s ‘later’, Boss.”
He hadn’t thought he’d be pressed for an answer so soon. “Barely.”
Anthony raised an eyebrow at him.
“It was HR,” he said, words slipping out before he could stop them, and god, he hated himself for giving in so easily. “They organised a prisoner transfer so they could kill me, hurt you so I'd be defenceless.”
“How’d you get away?”
“I didn't. They would have killed me,” he paused and smiled bitterly. “Our old friend Detective Carter is the only reason I'm here right now.”
“Carter? Is she here?” Anthony growled, and tried to sit up quickly. His breath caught in his throat and he fell back to the bed with a whimper, tears welling in the corners of his eyes. He clutched his chest with his good arm and screwed his eyes shut again. Elias ran a gentle hand through his hair as his breathing gradually slowed and he managed to look at Carl again, teeth gritted but looking ready to fight.
“Don’t do that, you’ll tear your stitches. This is why I didn't want to tell you yet, Anthony,” he said gently. “We’re safe, I have an agreement with Carter, but it might be a while before I see you again.”
“You broke your deal already.”
“If anyone finds out I'm here, I'm gonna be in trouble,” he agreed. “But I needed to see you more than I needed to keep a promise.”
“Boss, don’t let Carter take you back in.”
“If it comes to it I doubt I’ll have much of a choice.”
“Please, Boss,” he whispered, so quiet Carl had to lean in closer to hear him. “This last year without you... it’s been hell. I need you out here, with me.”
“I'll try my best.”
“Thanks,” he said, voice still barely above silent. Anthony managed to raise his head just enough to kiss him. Elias moved away just enough to reply.
“If I can, I'll be back tonight,” he said softly, leaning down to kiss him again. Anthony's good hand grabbed his forearm and kept them close as he turned a quick goodbye into everything Elias had been missing over the last year. Not the big things, just that closeness he had so often taken for granted.
“I missed you too,” Elias managed, voice suddenly hoarse. There was nothing he could say to change what had happened in the time they'd been apart, but maybe he could make up for that lost time by staying by Anthony’s side while he healed. He knew it was a lie before he said it, but added “I won’t let this happen to you again, not because of me.”
The truth was, Anthony would always put himself in front of a bullet before he let Carl get hurt, that had been true for almost as long as they'd known each other, no matter how many times he'd been told he shouldn't at the beginning. Elias had never wanted it to be that way, but maybe lately he'd become complacent in their success. He'd wanted to believe that nobody could touch them, no matter how far from the truth that was. Being in a cell had stopped people being so scared of him. Now he was free, no matter how limited that ‘freedom’ was, he could work on it again, make them kings, far above the cowards who shot Anthony in the back as he walked down the street.
For now, he’d stayed as long as he could, but he knew he’d have to leave before any other visitors started to arrive. The medical staff so far might not have cared, but he doubted he’d be so lucky with everyone, especially if they were offering a reward for his capture.
Carter was there when he finally got back to the parking garage, leaning back against his car with her hands on her hips. Elias sighed inwardly, despite knowing that she had to have been keeping tabs on him somehow. She wouldn’t have let him go free as easily as she had if she wasn’t.
“This look like part of our deal to you?”
“Detective,” he said with a frown. “Is this where you put me back in handcuffs?”
“I should. It took you less than twenty-four hours to break your word.” She stood up straight and took a few steps towards him. Anyone else would have taken a step back. “But I know why you did.”
Elias shook his head. “It isn't that simple, Detective.”
“I think it is,” she paused, and when she continued her voice was slightly less harsh. “He's more than just your lieutenant.”
Carl met her gaze evenly. “He's the one thing I can't afford to lose.”
“You should have told me you wanted to see him.”
“And risk you finding out?”
“I found out anyway.”
Elias resisted the urge to look away like a teenager caught in the act. “Nobody else can know. A lot of our associates, they follow us because they want it to go back to the way things were in the old days. They’re…”
Elias smiled humorlessly. “I was going to say bastards, Detective. They wouldn’t be able to handle it if they found out two of the most powerful men in the city are gay after thinking we were the ‘traditional’ option for so long. Men like that turn quickly,” he paused, and his expression turned serious. “That would put Anthony in danger, and I can’t let that happen. Not in his current condition.”
He didn't mention that those same men were always going to be his next target after his father and the other old dons, if everything had gone according to plan. When it hadn’t, he'd ended up relying on people he hated, whose principles he actively despised, longer than he'd ever planned to.
“Who would I even tell? Go home, Elias,” she said, standing up from the car and touching his shoulder as she walked past. “Don't let me catch you anywhere other than here and your basement.”
“Thank you, Detective.”
“Don’t. Just stay out of trouble.”