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Achilles' Heel

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The first time Marcus noticed the kid, they were at Franco’s, discussing a job.

He knew most of them: Franco and a couple of his guys, the bank sitting stiffly in his ill-fitting suit, and a couple of other interested parties - faces Marcus knew in a nod-respectfully-at-a-distance sort of way. It had sounded like an interesting job, but there was a strange feeling to it all. It just didn’t smell right.

And then there was the kid. He couldn’t be more than sixteen, face smooth, a wing of black hair flopping over his brow. Black hole eyes already, even at his age, but who was Marcus to judge? He’d been young himself getting in, though he sure wasn’t anymore. The kid looked like every room’s shadowed corner.

Marcus carefully slid his appraising glance over and away from the kid. He didn’t need to know. He didn’t want to know. He was there because they wanted a man on the roof, that was all.

“Gerry, you’re with me in the vault,” Franco said, drawing Marcus’ attention back to the room. “John,” he continued, and the kid looked up, “you’re driving. Now here’s how we’re gonna-”

“That’s a mistake,” the kid said, his voice solemn and deep, and Marcus hiked up his age estimate by at least a couple of years. “I’m a better shot. Gerry should be driving.”

All eyes in the room swiveled in unison to the kid. Marcus had no idea whether the kid was a good shot or not, but anyone at this table would be better than Gormless Gerry, who was only there because he was Franco’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, so the kid had voiced what they were all thinking. Just like that, no words minced.

Marcus glanced around the table - by the looks of the carefully impassive faces all around him, he wasn’t alone in his assessment. Franco’s face was the stoniest of all, but the kid held his gaze, unflinching, with his black hole eyes. Marcus added another year or two, and brass balls as well.

“Well now,” Franco said, sucking his teeth, “I don’t know about that. I ain’t seen you shoot. But I have seen you drive that rustbucket of yours and if you can handle that thing, you can handle anything, so I’m telling you, you’re driving. You got a problem with that, we got no business together, no matter who vouched for you.”

Further down the table, Alexei’s lip quirked behind his steepled fingers. Ah. So the kid was on loan from the Russians.

The kid made his black bangs flick with a nod and Marcus wondered if he’d ever been that young. The job - the whole thing - soured in his gut at that moment though he couldn’t have said why, and he was already pushing his chair away from the table and getting to his feet when Franco looked up at him, frowning.

“I’m out,” Marcus said, knocking back the rest of Franco’s good whiskey and placing the crystal tumbler softly back on the table. “I don’t know anything about this kid’s skill set but you need a steady hand with you on the inside, and he’s right. You don’t have one,” he said, talking right over the top of Gerry’s indignant now, wait a goddamn minute. “What good is a man on the roof when you’re getting shot to shit out of his line of sight? He might as well be waiting for a haircut, because there’s nothing coming out of that vault except your carcasses on a stretcher.” Marcus paused and looked around the table and found the kid’s eyes focused on him, laser-sharp.

He was still feeling them when he walked out of the room and into the night, but he shook it off, went and had a nice meal and got himself well laid until he wasn’t thinking about the kid anymore.

Just a week later, he picked up his paper from the stoop and sat down at his kitchen table to unroll it. Cold fingers raced up his spine reading the headline: NINE DEAD IN MOB RELATED BANK SHOOTING. He put the paper down and went to make coffee, waiting for it to brew and taking the first scalding gulp while standing at the window, looking out at the denim blue winter skyline.

The rest was sketchy but he read it through slowly until he found what he was looking for: a security guard, some poor, hapless civilians, and Franco and Gormless Gerry among the confirmed deceased at the scene, several men still at large and wanted by the police to assist with the investigation, and finally, a car seen speeding away from the scene.

Marcus sat down hard and spared a thought for Gerry’s almost-wife dodging the proverbial bullet. It was sad how she had no idea she had been spared a lifetime of disappointment.

Marcus, however, smiled through the rest of his damn good coffee.

The second time he saw the kid was really an accident. Marcus had just finished a job for Viggo and carried with him a briefcase he’d been tasked with liberating from his mark when a shadow darkened his periphery. He turned to find the kid, John, leaning on one of Viggo’s cars, cigarette held between two fingers, smoke curling in a bracelet around his wrist. A smattering of scruff darkened his jaw and lip, and even though Marcus knew now that the kid was older than he seemed, he still looked like a baby trying to grow his first mustache, which, come to think of it, must have been in his genes. He would be lightly haired, if at all; probably he’d be smooth and pale and— no. Marcus shook his head to clear it. It wasn’t the time.

It had been a while since that ill-fated bank job, and Marcus opened his mouth and closed it again, perplexed at how it was important, somehow, to find the right thing to say without making it seem important. Instead, he said nothing, making his way inside with no more than a small nod.

It had been easy to keep up with John’s career; the whispers loved him, tall and good-looking as he was, and somehow, time and again, defying death through what were seemingly insurmountable odds in their line of work. His instincts were good - more than good, they were fantastic - and he always seemed to make the right choices. He’d started to get a reputation. He was ruthless and bold, and Marcus identified the lightness in his chest as relief every time fortune favored him because of it.

Up in the house, Viggo was in a horrible mood, rubbing his temples and throwing curses around - completely at odds with the mood in the backyard where a child’s party seemed to be in full swing. There were balloons, a clown, and was that an actual donkey? Marcus huffed under his breath. It was just how the Russians did things, he supposed: loudly, and with guest donkeys.

“She won’t let me rest,” Viggo groused at him when he finally made it into his office, the smell of cedar wood polish and cigarettes thick in the air, the sound of the party filtering in through the window. “His mother, she drives me fucking crazy. You ever had a woman drive you crazy, Marcus?”

Marcus, wisely he thought, kept his damn mouth shut and slid the briefcase to Viggo across that monstrous, ridiculous desk.

In turn, Viggo thumbed open a wooden casket and slipped free some coins, sliding them over to Marcus but leaving his fingers on them; a tease.

“This is out of the ordinary, and you may, of course, say no,” Viggo muttered, and when he looked up, his eyes flicked to the side where a shadow darkened the doorway. Marcus waited, his hands loosely at his sides, and didn’t turn around.

“John will be working alone from now on and needs a suit, among other things. The works,” he said. “Everything.”

Marcus looked over then, taking in John’s small smile, the loose-limbed stretch of him in the doorway. He nodded in respect of John’s career advancement and received in return a quirked brow. God, this kid. This beautiful, silent shadow of a kid.

“And who better to introduce him to our mutual tailor than a man who knows everything there is to know about a good suit fitting,” Viggo continued, striking a match and toasting a cigar he’d lifted out of another wooden box. He put it in his mouth and gently pulled, before releasing the smoke in a ring. He stared down into the garden where a woman was looking up at him with barely disguised contempt. “I should take him myself, of course, as is right for my protégé, but apparently, I must stay here and entertain a bunch of children.”

Marcus’ lip quirked. “Of the two of us, I know who got the tougher job,” he said and watched Viggo’s years fall away as he broke into genuine laughter. He looked over at the kid and remembered his own first fit-out, and the sense of accomplishment he’d felt, and the belonging. John must have proven himself several times over to warrant such an honor as Viggo personally sponsoring this big step in his career. Viggo had always had a good nose for such things.

Marcus smiled. “Sure. Why not.”

John had tattoos like all the Russians - they loved their symbolic allegiances more than their own mothers. A howling wolf on one shoulder and a heavy black cross on the other, smooth pale skin in between stretched over the knobs of his spine. A light lattice of scars on his flank. Marcus turned, only to meet John’s eyes in a mirror. It was much too late to hide whatever had been on his face. John had already seen it. Marcus tipped his chin up and stared back, letting his gaze drop to the measuring tape being slipped around John’s slender throat, down to the kid’s flat, brown nipples and hairless belly for the long moment it took the tailor to slip a shirt over him.

Finally it was all done and John was back in his own clothes, measurements taken, fabrics chosen, holsters fitted and orders placed for delivery to an address in Red Hook that Marcus had committed to memory with a cursory glance and dismissal of propriety. Either John wanted him to know it, or he assumed he already did. John brought out a coin—Viggo’s coin for the outfitting of Viggo’s weapon—but before he could pay the tailor, Marcus stopped his hand with a light touch on the kid’s wrist.

“Would you give us a moment, please?” Marcus said, and the tailor exited with a silent bow.

Marcus plucked Viggo’s coin from John’s fingers and flicked it across his knuckles, down and back again. “I wouldn’t pay with this if I were you.” He put the coin back in John’s hand and closed his hand over it. “Pay for yourself, if you can.”

“I can’t,” John said, and that was fair. The coins were standard currency in their world, the perfect, unmarked currency. Untraceable and pure, their worth assured, but until now, John had been the Russians’ weapon. It was almost certain that he hadn’t earned any for himself.

Until now, John’s fees would have been paid directly to Tarasov for the use of John’s services, services that he pledged in exchange for sponsorship, protection and training. With Viggo sure of his allegiance, John could be his own man and earn his own coins. The Russians had always respected that a wolf such as John Wick had to make it alone or not make it at all, in the end. He would always know where he came from and who had helped him get there, and in exchange, they would almost certainly never find themselves at the other end of his muzzle. It was the way it had always been done.

Complicated emotions flickered across John’s face, and it was the first time Marcus had seen him anything other than perfectly composed.

“Fine,” Marcus said and plucked a coin from the inside of his own jacket pocket. “Use this instead.”

“What’s the difference if I owe you or Viggo?”

“There is no difference. This is only a professional courtesy. Maybe one day you’ll extend me the same,” he said, mortified at himself for showing off for this kid like some fucking high school Romeo buying his sweetheart a milkshake in exchange for getting a hand up her skirt. He felt his own face heat, and what was that? What the fuck was that? Beside him, John remained impassive, unreadable beyond his beautiful, youthful mask. Marcus swallowed and got his own face under control.

“Yes, sir,” John said, and before Marcus could catch his breath, John had taken the coin and left to pay the tailor, taking all the air in the room with him.

The third time Marcus saw John was also the first time he saw the kid in action, and it was almost like, somehow, the kid made more sense to him now. He wasn’t eerily composed, not really. He was more like a coil, neatly wound tight around a pin and waiting to be tripped so he could spring out of the confines of his composure to unleash himself like a whirlwind. No - he was the whirlwind. Marcus had known he must be a skilled marksman—of course he was, you didn’t survive six months without that—but he wasn’t expecting the full-body experience that was John Wick in all out, no holds barred action.

...if only he hadn’t been stabbed by someone he’d left for dead, just before Marcus could get the man in his sights and blow his fucking face off.

Marcus followed him to The Continental and pounded on John's hotel room door, just so he could punch him in the face for failing the Mozambique Drill - two to the body, one to the head, every fucking novice knew that, and John was no novice, not anymore, hadn’t been for some time.

The door opened, and John’s hair was wet, dripping over his shoulders, his pale, narrow body glistening with water trails like some kinda cliche wet dream, white towel low on his hips. He was holding the door open, and Marcus slipped past him, turning to watch John close, then lock, the heavy door.

The tattoo of the black cross on his shoulder had been damaged by the blow - he was lucky the knife had only skimmed him. A thick bandage had been slapped on it already but a thin rivulet of blood had escaped and dried down John’s back, a meandering path. On his other shoulder blade, the wolf howled on.

“Thank you,” John said, looking over his shoulder.

Marcus blinked, snapping his eyes up, caught. John’s pretty face was so young and so knowing, it made Marcus sick with himself, made him swallow hard, willing the strange quake in his heart to die, but it wouldn’t, not with John making it worse by walking into the room and right into Marcus’ personal space, standing so fucking close. The hair on Marcus’ arms was standing on end.

“The fuck you talking about. I just wanted to save myself the trouble of cleaning your brains from my expensive shoes.” His voice was steady even if his insides were churning, and he tried to side-step, god knew he tried, but John blocked him, stepping along with him until they were so close Marcus could smell John’s soap, and his spine caught on fire from his balls to his throat.

“Thank you anyway,” the kid said, seeing something else in Marcus’ face, and Marcus hated it, hated feeling so out of control. What the fuck was happening.

“Thank me by making sure your blind spot’s covered next time, asshole,” he said, feinting right, but John wasn’t having it. His lip twitched in an almost-smile, and there it was, that loaded look in his eyes that he shouldn’t have been showing to anyone, not to anyone, especially not Marcus who might have to use it against him one day. He had to put a stop to it. He had to stop it.

“This doesn’t end well, you know that?” Marcus said, wishing he had some real wisdom to offer here, instead of this hateful self-fulfilling prophecy. “There’s no end here but a bad end.”

“Yes, sir,” John said. “I know that.”

It made rage flood Marcus’ throat like bile.

“You don’t know shit,” he spat out. “People like us, we’re lucky to go out full of holes if we manage it on our own terms. If we ain’t so lucky, it doesn’t bear talking about. There’s no happy endings for people like us. You can’t look at me like that, kid. You can’t look at me like that, because one day you’ll be looking at my corpse, or worse, I’ll be looking at your face through my scope,” he said, gasping as John crowded him against the wall, his hand finding Marcus right between his legs.

“The fuck you doing,” he said, spreading his legs, the heat of John’s hand making his breath catch, making his face fall.

“Let me thank you,” John said, and Marcus had never been struck dumber than now.

“I already told you there’s no—”

“Let me show you, then.”

“Show me what,” Marcus said, weak, so fucking weak, and John knew it, Marcus could see it in his black hole eyes. John held him hostage with those eyes, pinned Marcus against the wall. He unzipped him and slipped his warm hand over him in his underwear and Marcus’ head thumped back against the wall.

“My respect,” John whispered, lips ghosting over Marcus’, before sinking gracefully to his knees.

“John, oh god,” Marcus breathed, watching the shadows move over John’s face with every flick of his lashes, every room’s shadowed corner kneeling at Marcus’ feet.

“With all due respect, sir, shut the fuck up,” John said, and mouthed his way over Marcus’ dick, soaking his boxers with spit. He found Marcus through the gap in the front and licked right through it, sucking his balls and sniffing at him like a wolf, nosing at him, nudging and mouthing at his cock until Marcus was fat and hanging heavy between his legs and breathing hard, his whole body electrified.

John found the tip of him and fed it into his mouth slow and dirty, slipping Marcus into his cheek and curling his tongue around him so fucking sweet, Marcus could have cried. God, this kid, this beautiful kid.

John sucked him slow, and Marcus had to fight to keep his eyes open, had to fight to see John looking up at him through his long black lashes. Marcus’ hands shook when he pushed his fingers through John’s crow-black hair, brushing it back from his face so he could see better, the stretch of John’s pink mouth slipping wetly over him again and again, cheeks hollowed, holding Marcus snug in the cradle of his tongue. His shoulder oozed thin blood like spiderwebs down his back.

“You could have just waited until the next time we’re after the same mark and let me have it,” Marcus said, breathless, legs gone to jelly like some college boy getting his dick wet for the first time. He was so hungry for it, for John, it stunned him, the greed for this black-eyed kid who walked around like he’d lived five lifetimes already and seen it all, done it all. Marcus wanted to hold John down and dick him open, pink and gaping and full of come, he wanted to stuff himself inside him to the hilt, he wanted to devour him whole and keep him safe.

“That would never happen,” John said, mouth ghosting over Marcus’ cock, breath hot, voice hoarse and sweet like dirty honey. He wrapped a bruise-knuckled fist around him and painted his mouth with Marcus’ wet cockhead. He smiled. “You like your jobs clean and from a distance. I like them up close and personal. Like this,” he said, and fed Marcus into his mouth, swallowing him down and down and down until Marcus’ thighs trembled and he forgot that he didn’t have a heart or a soul.

It was never more than that, but it was never less.

They came together for no reason sometimes, only that one of them needed something, or they found themselves in the same place at the same time, and it was the way it had to be.

John had risen through their ranks like a dark star in an impeccable suit. He’d become untouchable, but not to Marcus. To Marcus, he was always that same crow’s wing kid.

Marcus had gotten used to his tells; the way he’d drop his head, but not his eyes. The way his pupils would blow when Marcus called him my boy, my dear boy.

Sometimes he’d push into John the way they both liked: slow, unrelenting, and splay his fingers out over the tattoos on his back—the new one, he loved the new one, Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat—and wonder if that’s how prayer felt, this unmoored, helpless wishing into a void for something that could never be.

“Someone’s gonna want me gone one day,” he’d say when they were spent and cooling. “I absolve you.”

“What if it’s me they want gone,” John would counter, his face so very serious, like he thought it was a serious question. His hair would be black feathers spread on the pillow and Marcus would drink him in, and he’d laugh. “They better have the devil on their side,” he’d say, and John would look at him from across the bed and smile his small, secret smile.

They’d better have the devil on their side and watching their fucking backs.

The irony of this life never ceased to amaze though, and it wasn’t a job that finally came between them, whatever they were. It was a woman.

John had met a woman, the whispers said, and Marcus had to see for himself. John had met a woman and when he was with her, he smiled with his whole face, with his heart on the sleeve of his worn leather jacket. Marcus had never seen him wear it before. He had never seen John’s face so open before either; it was like glimpsing a golden city shining beyond heavy gates.

Love suited him. He was beautiful, all that commitment, all that loyalty focused on someone who looked back at him the same way. So stupid. Marcus curled his hand around his cigarette and brought it up to his mouth to suck in all the smoke he could hold in his palm, watching them in the crowd, just another pair of people trying to get out of the rain.

That poor dumb fuck, going and falling in love. It was like asking the universe to kick you in the balls. Didn’t John know that? Didn’t anyone teach him that? Hadn’t Marcus taught him that? When you had something to lose, that’s when it hurt. That’s when it killed you.

Marcus breathed smoke out through his nose and looked up to the denim blue winter skyline. His throat felt like a hot rock had crawled up inside it. There was nothing he could do.

He would check up on John, from time to time, the way he always had. And if John needed him, well, he knew where to find him.

Marcus flicked up his collar and started walking. He would get a nice meal and get himself well laid and put the day behind him.

Just another day, scattered among the rest.