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therein lies the doubt

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William’s both of the top two trending topics on Twitter on Monday morning, which is flattering.

Well.

‘William Nylander’ is technically only one of the trends; the combination of the family company’s latest acquisition and William’s thirty under thirty article and the accompanying images. It’s a nice enough photoshoot, because William doesn’t really do bad photoshoots, and he was right about the navy suit setting off his eyes. He still prefers the second trending topic. ART THIEF.

It’s eye-catching. Impressive.

He’s got a spring in his step and a new Monet waiting at home when he strolls into work.

“Morning,” he says, and the secretary starts on her spiel, real efficient.

“Your father sent over an updated itinerary for the day, no changes except you’re going to be making an appearance at the new community centre opening. And I sent the reporter to the conference room, for that profile they’re doing on you.”

“Thanks,” William says, flashing her a smile as he heads in. It’s the same as every day, pretty much. He’ll hang around the office, pretend to be useful before heading home to do something more fun, like planning what to take next.

He likes to think of it as being productive. Applying his talents, the way his teachers always wanted. It happens that William’s talents tend to include indictable offenses and an eye for nice things, which is sometimes a little inconvenient. Still fun.

He shrugs out of his coat, intending to toss it into his office and head to the conference room for his interview, but he pushes open his door and there’s someone standing at his desk.

William makes a joke, mostly a reflex. “If this is corporate espionage, they don’t trust me with the important stuff.”

The man starts when William speaks, and wheels around. He doesn’t look like a corporate spy – he’s got thick-rimmed glasses, a shirt neatly tucked in. Nothing threatening about him.

“Oh,” the guy says, then it looks like he’s remembering himself, with a little shake of his head. “Hi, sorry, I’m Kyle, I’m here for the interview.”

“Oh,” William echoes, relaxing. “I thought you were in the conference room.”

“There’s a non-zero chance that I got lost and just went into the first room I found,” Kyle says, a little bit sheepish, and William can’t help but smile. He’s been interviewed enough to appreciate some self-awareness.

“We can do it in here,” he decides, and gestures for Kyle to sit. It’s still not something William’s ever quite got the hang of, people older than him deferring just because of his last name. Still- fake it ‘til you make it. Basically his life strategy. “You’re interviewing me?”

It’s a little awkward, but Kyle doesn’t seem to notice, just takes his seat across from William. “I am,” he says. “Ready?”

“Ready.”

William’s kind of an expert, but it’d be an alright interview even if he wasn’t. It’s easy, lowball questions – what’s it like being the heir to the company, where did he go to school, what does he like about Toronto. Stuff he’s been asked a million times, enough that he can answer on autopilot, same when Kyle starts asking about his favourite vacation spots, how often he travels.

 Kyle’s scribbling down notes, so William spins a couple times in his chair, gets distracted staring at the painting on the opposite wall. It’s a small canvas, not by anyone important. He doesn’t even think anyone filed a police report. It’s pretty all the same.

“You appreciate art?” Kyle asks, and when William looks at him, Kyle’s followed his gaze, looking at the painting as well.

“The foundation sponsors different local arts programs,” William says, the prepackaged PR answer, only Kyle presses.

“But you, personally?” He maybe picks up on William freezing up a little, because he hastens to add, “I’m- sorry, I only ask because your choice of artwork is interesting.”

“Is it?” William asks. Maybe a little too sharp.

Kyle nods, thoughtful. “Most people go for something a little more mainstream.”

“Mainstream,” William says, and exhales. Maybe even smiles a little, at his own paranoia. “You’re an art hipster reporter?”

“An art enthusiast reporter,” Kyle corrects, but he’s smiling too, big and open. “Do you have a favourite artist?”

It’s really nice, as far as interviews go. No one ever really asks William’s opinions on things, but he’s got them, and the art itself has never really been the point for him, but you don’t keep a mental inventory of every luxury good in the city without picking up a few things. The best part, the part that’s got William sitting cross-legged in his chair, comfortable like he doesn’t usually let himself be, is that Kyle listens, genuinely seems like he wants to hear what William’s saying, and he talks too, more than most interviewers. There’s something deliberate about how he speaks, like he’s choosing his words carefully. Got a big vocabulary, maybe that’s why.

“You’ve visited the museum at the university, right?” William asks, maybe ten, fifteen minutes later. “It’s small, but we did a grant a while ago, it’s really nice inside.”

“I was going to go see the new exhibition this weekend,” Kyle says, making a face. “Did you hear, the one Monet they had just got stolen?”

“Bad timing,” William grins, and he knows how good it looks in his guest bathroom, can’t help but gloat a little. “Probably should’ve invested in better security.”

And Kyle’s still smiling, but there’s the briefest flash of something in his eyes. It’s nothing, probably wouldn’t even register, only then there’s a knock on the door.

William turns to see Auston poking his head in. “Yeah, so I found your interviewer in the conference room but I’m trying to set up for a meeting, so…”

William blinks, a little out of it. “My interviewer?”

“He said he’s been there for like, twenty minutes,” Auston says, clearly already focused on other things, and another guy, shorter, peers around him and waves.

“Mitch Marner? With the paper? Your secretary sent me in.”

Huh.

William turns around very, very slowly.

“What newspaper did you say you were from?” he asks, and Kyle has the guts to look apologetic, and it occurs to William that he might have made a mistake, here.

“I didn’t,” Kyle says. “Sorry.”

“Shit,” William says, after a beat, and Auston’s looking from him to Kyle, putting it together.

“You didn’t,” he says, and William’s too busy glaring at Kyle – if that’s even what his name is – to answer.

“It was corporate espionage,” he accuses, feeling irrationally betrayed. Reporters are scum, usually, but fake reporters, who pretend to like art-

“It wasn’t,” Kyle says, and pulls out a badge from his pocket, holds it up like that’s supposed to be comforting. “I’m with the police. Just looking around.”

William doesn’t let himself look at Auston, now. Forces himself not to look panicked. The fucking police.

“Look around when you have a warrant,” Auston snaps, standing at his full height. He doesn’t look twice at William, because they’re too good for that. “And leave, now, unless you want to get Mr. Nylander’s lawyers involved.”

Maybe-Fake-Kyle glances at William, like he expects him to say something else, or maybe like he’s hoping for it. When William doesn’t, he pockets his badge. “Alright,” he says, calming. “Going now.”

The real reporter, the skinny guy who came with Auston, is scribbling feverishly in his notepad as Kyle leaves. “This,” Marner says, like someone who just got the best scoop of his life, because he probably just did, “is incredible.”

Auston huffs, but it comes out more of a laugh, and Marner grins at him. So, brilliant, William’s going to have to slap an NDA on two different unwanted visitors, but he has bigger problems, though, because-

Shit.

---

It turns out Kyle’s his real name, so that’s something. He’s easy enough to identify from the security footage. Kyle Dubas, recently promoted to detective, the youngest primary investigator in major crimes in a decade. Not particularly active on the internet outside of a Facebook profile that hasn’t been updated since 2011, and a list of alumni from his college. He graduated with honours. Seems normal, mostly. High-achieving.

“It could be nothing,” Auston says, when they look into it and there’s no actual open investigation. “Some cops get weird about charitable organizations, they think everything’s a conspiracy.” And he’s got a point, but William doesn’t put a lot of stock in coincidences, and this would be a big one, so he makes a visit to the local police precinct. Belly of the beast, and all that.

The place is crowded, too many people and too much paperwork and not enough desks. A holding cell that William shoots a wary glance at before cutting to the front of the line and, after introducing himself, getting escorted very politely to where he wants to go.

William sends the harried constable who greeted him off to go get him a drink, scans the room and finds Kyle at a desk in the corner. He’s hunched over a computer, a whiteboard on wheels behind him, with pictures taped up. None of William. Some of things William stole.

He clears his throat. “Hi, Detective Dubas.”

Kyle looks up from his work, blinks, and smiles, actually genuinely smiles. “William,” he says, warm, like they’re old friends. “Nice to see you again.”

“Wasn’t that nice, the first time,” William says, more petulant than he’d usually let himself be. He sits in the chair next to Dubas’ desk without waiting for an offer, crosses his legs.

“Can I help you with something?” Kyle asks, and William narrows his eyes, cuts to the chase.

“Why the undercover thing?”

Kyle looks like he was expecting this line of questioning. “They assign me a lot of the art theft cases,” he says, sitting back in his chair. “I noticed a few commonalities that led me to believe that these separate cases might be connected.”

William forces himself not to react. There’s a reason he doesn’t do anything flashy when he takes things, no calling card or typical MO or anything like that. That’s how people get caught.

Kyle’s watching him, careful. “I knew that if I was right, almost every influential organization in the city was being targeted by a single individual, or group. So I started looking into who could have had the-”

“Mr. Nylander.” The constable from before is back, with a glass of sparkling water, with ice.

William shoves one of Kyle’s folders off of the desk to make room for his drink. “Thank you,” he says, with a smile, and the guy blushes. He can feel Kyle watching the whole thing, purposefully takes his time before turning back to him. “Sorry, you were saying…”

Kyle puts his folder back on the table. William gets the impression he’s restraining himself.

“I was saying,” Kyle says, curt, “that being the heir to a multibillion dollar business empire seems like a convenient source of both opportunity and relative freedom to commit any number of high-profile thefts that, by my estimation, correspond to your movements in and out of the city.”

No one should be able to track him. Not even someone who uses that many big words. “I don’t know what you’re accusing me of-”

“I’m not,” Kyle interrupts, fixing his glasses. It might be a nervous thing. “You really think the department would accuse the eldest son of the most generous philanthropists in the city of being an art thief?”

“No, I don’t,” William says, and sips his sparkling water pointedly, and he doesn’t think he’s imagining the glimmer of frustration on Kyle’s face as if he’s just now realizing that the world is nicer to you if you’re a billionaire.

“You’re right,” Kyle says. “They’d need a lot more evidence to even let me open a case.”

So it’s like that, then.

William chews on the end of his straw, then pushes back his chair and gets up. “I’m happy to cooperate in any way I can,” he says, on script.

“Much appreciated,” Kyle says, standing as well, and he offers a handshake. “I’ll be seeing you.”

It’s a warning. It’s a threat.

William bypasses the handshake, taps the corner of Kyle’s glasses, the absolute most condescending way he can think of. “Thanks for the water,” he says, and Kyle’s brow furrows, because William’s the smartest person he knows. He can play this game better than anyone.

---

William’s dad gets held up in a meeting overseas – shocker – so William has to fill in at a gala for the opening of the new wing of the hospital. It’s standard stuff, posing for pictures and shaking hands and nodding humbly when someone thanks him for his family’s contribution. The appetizers are good, at least.

William’s nodding along to a conversation-slash-monologue with one of the hospital’s directors when he looks over the woman’s shoulder and has to do a double take.

“Excuse me,” he says, cutting her off mid-sentence, and he weaves around her without waiting for a response.

The waiter’s ascended the big staircase by the time William catches up to him. He’s in a tux and a black tie, carrying a silver tray like every other waiter, only-

“You’re investigating me here, seriously?” William asks, and Kyle does this little gesture like, got me. “How do you keep doing this?”

Kyle recovers well, at least. Police training wasn’t totally worthless. “I’m pretty meticulous,” Kyle says, easy enough. “These caterers also have very lax hiring procedures.”

“You really think it’s me stealing things,” William says.

“Another piece from a private collection has gone missing,” Kyle says, unabashed. “And you weren’t seen in public that night. I thought it was worth another conversation.”

He let William see him on purpose, is what that means.

William sighs, wanders over to the edge of the landing and looks out over the bannister to the party below. It’s more to hide his face than anything. He can’t imagine the odds, that this overachieving boy scout of a cop would be the one to figure him out.

Still. He hasn’t, yet. At least not in any way he can prove.

William glances over his shoulder at Kyle. Even gives him a smirk. “Are we nemesises now?” he asks, only partly joking. “Nemesi?”

“Nemeses,” Kyle corrects. “And no. This absolutely isn’t a personal vendetta.” He looks mildly offended by the suggestion, like it’s a personal slight against his character. An idealist cop. Great.

“It feels personal,” William says, and runs a hand through his hair, buying time. He feels Kyle watching him. “Nemeses, are you sure?”

Kyle doesn’t miss a beat. “Yes, it’s from a Greek root, like ‘hypotheses’.” He crosses his arms, leans on the bannister next to William. “And it shouldn’t feel personal. If you can give me a credible alibi for any of the thefts I’ll be totally out of your hair.”

“What if I don’t want you out of my hair?” William asks. It’s more a reflex than anything else, the way flirting always has been, but Kyle’s eyes widen almost comically behind his glasses.

He stammers, “I- you know that’s not-”

Willy grins. The geeky ones are always easy. He steps into the space between Kyle and the bannister, his back to the crowd below. Wonders if Kyle’s scared of heights.

“Arrest me, then,” he says, low, right up close. He has to look up to meet Kyle’s eyes. “Unless you think you’re wrong.”

“Am I?” Kyle asks. He doesn’t back down, for whatever that’s worth. Still looks flustered. William gets that a lot.

He likes this cop, he decides. It’s cute, like having a fan.

“I think the catering staff probably needs you, detective,” he says, and pats Kyle’s chest, makes sure to brush against him as he leaves.

Nothing to worry about.

---

It’s cozy, an evening like a hundred others since they were in prep school together. William’s curled up under his merino blanket, half-paying attention as Auston trawls through security footage. Auston’s slouched on the other end of the couch, feet up on the table, muttering to himself as he stares at his laptop. It’s fun watching him work. He’s William’s oldest and mostly only friend, does most of the legitimate company work so William doesn’t have to, and provides the added benefit of being both good at and morally ambiguous enough to enjoy helping steal priceless artwork.

William yawns. He’s been rifling through Auston’s wallet mostly just for something to do with his hands. He doesn’t think Matts has noticed it’s gone yet.

“Do you think someone’s going to catch us?” he asks, to break the silence.

“We’re too good for them to catch us,” Auston says without looking up from the laptop, like stating a fact. William believes him.

He rolls onto his side, slots Auston’s debit card back into its little holder. “How did your date go?” William remembers to ask. “With the reporter? Marner?”

“Fine,” Auston says. “He has a really nice smile.” And he says it chill the way he says everything, only the effect is kind of lost when he ducks his head and smiles to himself, which is cute but also, like-

“Gross,” William says, firm, because a really nice smile. Honestly.

“Fuck you,” Auston says, but it’s familiar as anything, and he scoots over to show William the laptop screen. “Look, it’s worse than I thought. Blind spot is tiny.”

William sits up and stares at it, mapping out where the cameras are. The display case is really central, up on a raised platform. “I can make it,” he decides. He’s worked with trickier.

Auston just hums, not quite an agreement, more that they’ve been doing this together for long enough that he trusts William’s opinion. That part is nice. Trust doesn’t come easy, for people like them. Probably for the best.

William’s mind drifts to Detective Dubas. It’s been drifting there pretty often, recently, mulling over Kyle’s odd combination of nerves and self-assuredness. It’s… William doesn’t know the word. Enticing, maybe? No one’s ever even come close to suspecting him before. It makes William want to- he doesn’t even know, to follow him and pick his brain and understand more. Makes him feel like he’s always looking over his shoulder too, and that part is more exciting than it should be, with everything he is hanging in the balance.

“That detective was there again,” he says, conversational, or at least aiming for it. “At the gala.”

Auston raises an eyebrow. “Fake reporter detective?”

“That’s the one,” William nods. “He’s persistent.”

Auston’s face is all scrunched up, the way it gets when he’s thinking. “Make a charitable donation to the department and have him transferred?”

William thinks about it. No one’s ever come this close. He’d bet money no one will again. “No,” he says, eventually. “I don’t mind him.”

He hands Auston back his wallet, and Auston looks surprised, then resigned, then snatches it away and gives William a dirty look. Hell of a face journey, even by his standards.

They’ve known each other long enough that William knows what Auston’s going to say next. “Don’t do any stupid shit.”

Obviously,” Willy says, very, very dignified.

He wonders if Kyle Dubas is sitting at home, thinking about how to find him. He thinks probably. The thought makes William smile.

---

Kyle’s apartment is surprisingly easy to break into. Twenty-ninth floor of a building, which is fun.

William slips in through one of the windows, takes care of the security measures – it’s an attempt, at least, kind of endearing – then just explores. The apartment is pretty modest, all things considered. The sheer volume of books is the most notable feature, art history and true crime and every other topic on every available surface. They’re books that someone actually reads, too, dog-eared pages and coloured tabs and notes scribbled in the margins, nothing like the library of first editions and leatherbound classics in the family home in Sweden.

The contents of the fridge are sparse. What William would expect, from a guy living alone. The bedroom is simple too. Another two books on the bedside table, and a half-full glass of water, and condoms and lube in the second drawer down, which seems inconvenient but reads as a not-that-subtle attempt at subtlety.

Appearances are everything, especially for a big reveal like this one, so William sets the scene nice and carefully for when Kyle gets home. He deliberates over where to sit, ends up perched on one of the stools next to the little kitchen island. It’s pretty picturesque, if he does say so himself. He even grabs a book to flick through, for the aesthetic.

It’s a good thing he moves fast – it’s not long at all before there’s the sound of a key in a lock, the door swinging open. William realizes that he’s holding the book upside down, flips it the right way just as Kyle rounds the corner.

He doesn’t look surprised to see William in his kitchen, which maybe should be William’s first warning.

“William Nylander,” Kyle says. He’s still in his coat, a scarf loose around his neck. “You realize breaking and entering is a crime?”

“Only if you can prove I was here,” William retorts.

“You don’t think I can?” Kyle asks, exactly the way William thought he would. It’s too easy, really.

“I know you can,” William says, and crosses his legs, getting comfortable in his seat. “That was the whole point of you showing up at the party, to provoke me into coming here so you could catch me, right?” He points around the room. “Cameras there, there, and there.” He nods over his shoulder. “Alarms on the windows, triggered by motion and recording sound and video.”

“Which you disabled,” Kyle says, inscrutable.

“Of course,” William says, snapping his book shut. Smug looks good on him, he knows it. “And I took the batteries out of the recording device under the table, but I didn’t break it, because it looked expensive.”

“Very considerate, thank you,” Kyle says, and then nothing else. He shrugs out of his coat, tosses it over the back of a chair, then heads for the kitchen, and William braces himself, but Kyle walks right past him and around the counter.

William stares while Kyle drops his keys in a little bowl, opens the freezer, checks the label on something, then heads over and sets the oven to 375. Just totally normal things, like William’s not even there.

“I did this so you’d finally get it,” William says, to break the silence. “That you trying to catch me won’t work.”

“Thanks for that,” Kyle says. Then nothing else, as if he didn’t just get a confession from the most prolific thief the city’s ever seen.

William coughs, pointed. “So?”

Kyle doesn’t even turn around. “So?”

This is less fun, now. “So,” William says, impatient, sliding off of his stool and leaning on the counter, closer. “Come on, detective. I called your bluff and now you’re speechless?”

“Stalling,” Kyle corrects.

William frowns. “Excuse me?”

Kyle turns around, finally meets William’s eyes. “Stalling,” he says again, and the kitchen island is between them, nothing else. “Not speechless.”

He reaches into his pocket, pulls something out and slides it across the countertop. William stops it before it falls off the edge, takes a second to realize it’s a voice recorder, the kind reporters use. And it’s recording. Has been recording.

From outside, twenty-nine floors down, there are sirens.

Kyle straightens his glasses, looks down at William. There’s none of the shyness from before. Nothing even close.

“I don’t bluff,” Kyle says, in the same voice that people say ‘checkmate’.

William figures out two things, then. One, he underestimated Kyle Dubas; and two, he’s never wanted to be absolutely railed by anyone more in his life.

It’s not like Kyle chases him. Not anything dramatic like that. William’s out the window, the tape recorder with him, by the time the sirens turn into flashing lights; and he sits in his condo waiting, but no police show up. He didn’t really think they would. Not Kyle’s style. William’s heart stays racing anyways, even hours later.

He got played. He got totally, entirely played; he’s out of his depth for the first time in something like forever, and it’s the best feeling in the world.

---

It’s not, like, masochism. William doesn’t want to go to jail. Duh. The prospect of someone trying and nearly succeeding at putting him there, however-

He jerks off so many times, a world-record amount of times, imagining Kyle getting him handcuffed, giving him that look like he’s just waiting for the opportunity to outplay William at his own game, and that’s the best thing to imagine, because it’s real.

William’s head spins with it all. Kyle’s been planning every single thing since the very first time they spoke, right down to fixing his nerd glasses, acting all eager when William flirted. Showing up and saying just enough to ensure that William wouldn’t be able to not show up.

Kyle had him.

William waits up on a fire escape; drops down when he sees Kyle park his car and times it so that he can fall right into step as Kyle walks down the sidewalk. He’s wearing sunglasses, just in case anyone recognizes him and decides to get chatty.

It takes a moment, but he can see the moment Kyle realizes that it’s him, the slightest lift of his shoulders.

“You tricked me,” William says, not bothering with pleasantries. “You acted all- all nervous and nerdy.”

“Don’t feel bad,” Kyle says, and even flashes Willy a smile, reassuring, as if Willy was stupid enough to fall for that again. “It’s the glasses. People think I’m trustworthy.”

“Are you?” Willy asks as they walk, more than a little bitchy. Justifiably, he thinks. He’s never been tricked before.

Kyle nods, innocent. Like a liar. A really handsome one. “I’d like to think so.”

“But you’re still trying to get evidence to arrest me,” William pushes.

“Nothing personal,” Kyle says. “I admire your work, actually.”

“You admire me?” William ducks in front of Kyle, fast, bouncing on his heels so they’re right up close.

“Not like that,” Kyle says, and steps right around William without breaking his stride. So, fine, if William needed confirmation that the flustered at flirting thing was an act, he’s got it now. “You’re a decade younger than me, and a criminal.”

“Allegedly,” William says, jogging to keep up.

“Allegedly criminal,” Kyle allows; then, quick like he’s trying to catch William off-guard, “How did you pull off the Castle heist?”

William doesn’t miss a beat. “What’ll you give me if I tell you?”

“A fair trial.”

“Pass,” William says. “But thanks.”

They’re right in front of the precinct, now – he weaves in front of Kyle again, places himself between Kyle’s body and the front door before he can step inside. It pins him there, trapped by Kyle for a third time, this time intentionally. Right up close, too, and Kyle’s adam’s apple bobs in his throat as he swallows, the only sign of a reaction to the proximity.

“You didn’t have to give me that recording you took,” William says. A question.

“Didn’t seem fair,” Kyle says; then, serious, “I am going to stop you. I’m good at my job.”

“I believe you,” William says, and he really does, because Kyle couldn’t have come close to keeping up with him if he wasn’t completely brilliant. The admiration is mutual, here. “But I’m good at my job too.”

Kyle gets his hands on either side of William’s arms, and William leans in, eager, but Kyle just moves him firmly out of the way, says, “Have a good rest of your day, William,” and walks into the precinct. He doesn’t look back.

---

They take extra precautions, because William’s an idiot with a crush, but not an actual idiot, at least not about this.

“Look,” William says, “if we want these jewels, we get them after the showcase opens, when no one’s expecting it.”

“Right, but there’ll be people everywhere, all the time,” Auston says, and they’re really getting into it, a good, solid planning session, when Mitch Marner, reporter who witnessed the most embarrassing moment of William’s life Mitch Marner, casually strolls into Auston’s living room in a too-big t-shirt and boxers, like that’s a thing that’s allowed to happen.

“Sup,” he yawns, waving at William, who is currently going through all five stages of panicked criminal grief all at once. Auston, on the other hand, just beams at Mitch, and William connects the dots, and he’s furious.

“You didn’t say he was here!” he wheels on Auston, who frowns.

“He’s always here,” Auston says, which, what, and William has to watch with his own two eyes as Auston tugs Marner into his lap and buries his face in his neck. “Don’t be fucking rude.”

William gapes. “Since literally when?” His mind’s racing, because he knew that Auston was pathetically into this guy, and sure, he can maybe get the whole Lois Lane reporter appeal, but this? If Marner overheard anything at all, they’ve got to-

“Don’t worry about the thief thing,” Mitch says, so that answers that. “It’s actually kind of hot.”

William pinches Auston right in the arm, as hard as he can. “You told him?”

Auston shoves him away, all flustered. “He figured it out, it’s not my fault, fucking- ow!”

William swats at him, furious, as he tries to hide behind Mitch. “This is literally one hundred percent your fault-”

“The jewels’ll be gone by opening night,” Mitch Marner says, unperturbed by being used as a human shield, like William’s not actively being betrayed by his best-slash-only friend, like an over-friendly reporter is allowed anywhere near this conversation, only then he keeps going. “Every other criminal in the city has the same plan. Your window is like, this weekend. Maybe Monday morning, but the curator gets in early then, so I wouldn’t.”

William pauses his largely pointless pinching attack. Reluctantly, he pauses, and fixes Mitch with his best ‘I’m worth more than your entire existence’ look. “Why do you know so much?”

“I’m a good journalist with good sources,” Mitch says, like duh. “Also Auston blushes every time he tries to lie to me.”

“Fuck off, I don’t,” Auston says into Mitch’s shirt, blushing.

Useless, everyone William knows is useless.

He pinches Auston’s arm one more time for good measure – “Get off” – then crosses his arms, sinking into the couch to sulk.

“If he tells anyone anything I’m buying and bulldozing his family home,” he pouts, and Mitch ignores him entirely.

“But listen, if I’m joining your criminal enterprise, we absolutely need to come up with a team name. I’m thinking ‘Heist Squad’.”

“No one said anything about-” William says, because no, but Mitch is still talking.

“Also, I want Leafs season tickets as part of my cut, because I know your family has them and the wait is ten million years and everything I know about everything that happens in this city is very valuable to you.”

William scowls.

The Monday thing is valuable, probably, slightly. Also the news about other thieves. William’s not exactly up to date with the criminal underworld.

He narrows his eyes at Mitch. “You’re sure other people plan on hitting the jewels?”

“Positive,” Mitch says, and leans his head against Auston’s. “You want times?”

And, like. Yeah, Willy very much does.

“Your boyfriend sucks,” he informs Auston, then to Mitch, “He’s my best friend first.”

Mitch smirks. This is the kind of thing William’s going to regret, probably.

---

His life isn’t quite normal for a while, not even what counts as normal for him, but then normal’s something different than it used to be, and William falls into patterns. He’s got an unwelcome guest helping him and Auston steal things now, which isn’t ideal, but William’s a big enough person to admit that Mitch is occasionally sometimes somewhat helpful, if only because he has a gift for getting people to spill their life stories. Also contacts within the police department, which is how William knows that there’s still no official investigation into him, even as the back of his neck tingles with someone watching him, as he turns around and sees the silhouette of someone with glasses trailing his car.

If Detective Dubas is waiting for him to mess up, he’s going to be waiting a long time.

William takes a couple weeks off, and then an engraving worth nearly five million, right out of a shipping container at the train station. It’s not his cleanest work – he cuts his forearm when he’s escaping over the wire fence – but Auston wanted this one, and William’s nothing if not a good friend.

He makes it home close to two in the morning, with a spot of blood soaked through his sleeve. He discards the shirt for one of the housekeepers to get, slides down the bannister to the basement and finds what he’s looking for in the third bathroom he checks. The box of Disney princess bandaids is still more than half full, left over from before his sisters left for school back home.

William’s debating between Cinderella and Ariel, focused on that so the voice catches him off guard.

“You’re up late.”

He shoves the bandages out of view, automatic. “Mamma, hi.” She hasn’t been on this side of the ocean in months.

“I thought you’d be home earlier,” his mother says, through a yawn. She’s perfectly polished, as usual, showing up and making the house hers, because it technically is.

The lie rolls off William’s tongue smoothly. The Swedish less so. It’s been a while. “I was at the office.”

“At this time of night?” she asks, and it’s nearly scolding, but the kind of scolding where William being at work this late is really a good thing and they both know it. “William.”

“Are you staying for a while?” he asks, brushing her off gently, and she’s already shaking her head, which William expected.

“My flight leaves tomorrow morning, I was in the neighbourhood and thought I’d see how the hospital is doing.”

“Okay,” William says, and smiles when she meets his eyes. It’s what he expected. He’s got things to do, anyways.

His mother reaches up and brushes back his hair. “Your father and I are very proud of you, darling.”

William ducks down so she can kiss his forehead. “You too, mamma.” It comes out in English without him meaning for it to.

He knows she means it. Knows his parents love him, the way they love all their kids, and knows that it’s the kind of love where they didn’t notice him and Auston sneaking out of prep school and robbing their teachers blind; the way they don’t notice most things William does that don’t involve showing up where he’s told to be and smiling when he’s told to smile.

His mother doesn’t notice the cut on his arm, or doesn’t comment if she does. William thinks he likes the second option better. He bandages it up and forgets about it, very intentionally, and takes a long lunch the next day to break into Kyle’s apartment again, to distract himself.

It’s like a little thrill, to see the case file with pictures of himself in it, taken when he’s walking down the street or chatting with Auston, through a window. Scribbled notes in cramped handwriting, all down the page. Kyle’s thinking about him, how to stop him. Kyle’s kind of obsessed with catching him, actually, is what it looks like.

William doesn’t jerk off in Kyle’s bed, because that would be bad nemesis manners, but he does leave the folder open on the pillows, so Kyle will know he was there.

---

It’s hardly even worth mentioning, the job where everything changes.

It’s mostly just William blowing off steam, strolling around in some expensively minimalistic jeweler’s after hours.

It’s not even a particularly nice necklace, just big diamonds in a loop without any artistry at all.

It’s-

A voice crackles to life from right behind him, as William’s leaning over a display case. “Anything, Detective?”

William’s shoes squeak on the floor, he wheels around so fast. Comes face to face with – who else – Kyle Dubas, standing there in plainclothes and looking mostly like the best thing William’s ever seen, as if that’s anything new.

The voice sounds again, and William sees that it’s coming from Kyle’s radio, hooked to his belt. “Detective, come in.”

Kyle doesn’t respond, and William’s too busy gaping at him to really care. He didn’t even plan this one, this was impulsive. “How did you-”

“You always go out of the city after you take something big,” Kyle says, and he’s staring too, wide-eyed, like he didn’t quite expect this. “I knew-”

“You did.”

“I know,” Kyle says, and then he’s looking at the necklace in William’s hand, then back at him. They’re both talking fast. “How did you get-”

“The one in the case was a fake,” William says, shoving the necklace into his pocket. “You can tell because of the-”

“-fact that they had to use the humidity control,” Kyle finishes. It sounds like he’s kicking himself. “Of course.”

“Of course,” William echoes, like any of this is an ‘of course’ kind of thing. They moved closer at some point, and now they’re standing right across from each other, and there’s a tension that William doesn’t think he’s imagining. He doesn’t know who has the upper hand here, if either of them even does.

The radio comes to life again. “We’re on our way to you, Detective.”

And on second thought, whoever has the upper hand, it sure as hell isn’t William – they’re at the end of a hallway, a hallway with one exit, with who knows how many cops heading their way. It’s a perfect trap, but, thing is, the way Kyle’s looking at him, William doesn’t think it was an intentional one.

 The necklace is heavy in William’s pocket, a million pounds. He’s caught, here.

“Kyle,” he says. Asks, maybe, but Kyle’s already reaching for his radio.

Then:

“That’s not necessary, guys,” Kyle says, calm as anything. “I’ll join you in the lobby.”

There’s a beat, the longest second of William’s life up to this point, and then, “Copy.”

Kyle shuts off his radio, lets out this little breath. It feels like it echoes in the silence of the hall, and something about it brings William back to earth, kicks him into action.

He’s not the kind to look a gift horse in the mouth – he’s past Kyle and out the first window he finds, sprinting down the street until his feet on the pavement turn into background noise, like a heartbeat. He’s not really comfortable until he can get to the rooftops, and even then he doesn’t stop until he reaches the edge, standing there teetering on the gravel and trying to catch his breath, to make sense of anything that just happened.

Kyle helped him get away. He had him, dead to rights, and he helped him get out.

William doesn’t even think about where he’s going, taking back routes and every shortcut he knows until he gets right downtown and twenty-nine floors up. The security systems are familiar, by now, and William gets past the alarms and through the window just as Kyle arrives.

They get to the front door at the same time, from opposite sides, and then they’re just standing there in Kyle’s front hall, staring. It’s a stand-off, not one William’s ever seen before.

He tosses the necklace, the real one, at Kyle, who catches it one-handed. Mostly as a reflex, it looks like.

“You helped me escape,” William says, blunt. It’s a question.

Kyle stares at the necklace, wound around his fingers. “You shouldn’t be here.” The diamonds glimmer in the hall light.

“But you helped me,” William pushes, and his head’s spinning with what this could mean, with what he wants it to mean.

Kyle blinks, hard, like he’s coming out of a trance, and throws the necklace back at Willy like it’s scalding. “You need to not be here,” he says, and elbows past William without another word. Without even taking his shoes off.

William follows at his heels without missing a beat.

“I think you enjoyed it.”

“Don’t think, it doesn’t suit you,” Kyle snaps, meaner than usual, which is incredibly hot, enough that William’s proud of himself for recovering with a witty response instead of just, like, drooling.

“Everything suits me,” he says.

Kyle gives him a scathing look – maybe not that witty, then – as they round the corner into the kitchen, then to the living room, and then Kyle just stands there in the middle of the floor and shakes his head as if he’s got water in his ears.

“I just did that,” he says, and he sounds stunned.

“Why?” William asks, and Kyle looks at him, shakes his head again, a tiny movement this time.

“I have no idea,” he says. William doesn’t get the impression that it’s a sensation Kyle’s too familiar with – he looks genuinely rattled; takes his badge out of his pocket and stares at it for a long second before tossing it onto the couch and stalking towards the window. He just stands there, his back to William.

William wants to touch him. He doesn’t. The moment feels pulled thin, stretched out into something that he’s never seen before, so they’re both lost, here.

Kyle helped him.

“You can turn me in, if you really want to,” William offers, without planning on it. “I won’t run away this time.”

Kyle looks over his shoulder and scoffs, like he thinks it’s a joke. William holds Kyle’s gaze, doesn’t back down. Just holds his hands out in front of him, so it’d be the easiest thing in the world to cuff him.

Kyle stares, all weary. “What’re you doing, William?” he asks. Doesn’t move to grab William’s hands, or to touch him at all.

“It’s kind of obvious, I think?” William says, and he widens his eyes just a little. He knows what he looks like. Knows Kyle probably knows what he’s doing here, as well, but he’s making a gamble, here, and he’s going to follow it through.

It’s scary, a little, this too-vulnerable thing, offering himself up, but- there’s a bit of a power play, in that, William thinks. He thinks Kyle probably knows that, as well.

He’s watching William now, wary. William moves closer. Keeps his hands out.

“My lawyers can get me off, easy,” he says. “You get to be good guy detective again. Everyone wins.”

Kyle swallows. Doesn’t move closer, but doesn’t back away, either. This is the most dangerous thing either of them have done. “Now you’re bluffing,” he says.

“Call it,” William says, dares, and he’s maybe begging a little, too; and Kyle glances down at William’s hands, and there’s a little crease between his brows, and then William can’t help it any more, he bridges the distance and kisses him.

It’s barely got a chance to be tentative, a question for a split second before Kyle answers it.

He doesn’t leave any room for doubt – it’s a bruising kiss, sends William stumbling backwards ‘til he can find his footing, triumphant and terrifying and totally consuming, the floodgates opening. Kyle’s got a hand on William’s neck, tilting his chin to make it easier, his hands steady as anything, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, not now.

William chases Kyle’s mouth, hungry for it, because it’s exactly as good as he imagined, better. He didn’t get the impression that Kyle Dubas did anything half-assed, and doesn’t get that impression now, even as he can feel the tension in Kyle’s arms, like every muscle in his body is arguing with itself. That doesn’t stop him from kissing William deep as he’s ever been kissed, even with a hint of teeth, like he knows what he’s doing, and William’s gasping when he breaks off for breath.

There’s a moment of eye contact, electric, and then they’re kissing again and Kyle’s hands are like matching brands on William, keeping him where he wants him, and they’re stumbling – William’s stumbling, Kyle’s leading – backwards toward the bedroom, like maybe William wasn’t the only one wanting this.

Their clothes end up scattered, and William’s naked by the time he hits the bed back first, and Kyle follows right after him, on his hands and knees over William. He looks- inquisitive is the word that comes to mind, as if William’s got anything to teach him that Kyle doesn’t already know, and it shouldn’t be sexy, but fuck, it is.

William’s twenty-two and has been wanting this for weeks – he’s not wasting any time, here, just reaches down to jerk Kyle off without much preamble. He wants to touch him, to taste him, only before he can, Kyle’s pinning his wrist to the bed, maybe like a reflex. William is not complaining, not at all.

“Yeah,” he enthuses, because reflex or not, this is exactly what he’s been dreaming about, and he arches up into Kyle’s grip without trying to get away at all, and it’s so fucking-

Kyle’s thumb brushes over the curve of William’s wrist, grounding.

“Eager,” he says, and it’s teasing, but too low to really be a joke, when his voice like that goes straight to William’s dick.

He grinds up against Kyle again, needy, and feels like he’s earning it when Kyle kisses him again, bites at his lower lip. “What do you want?” William gets out, against Kyle’s mouth. “Tell me what to do, I’ll do anything, anything-”

Kyle sucks in a breath like he’s surprised, even though Willy thinks he’s been pretty upfront about what he wants and how he wants it, here. He’s not ashamed of how he likes things, and Kyle maybe gets that, because he doesn’t ease his grip on William’s wrist, if anything gets tighter.

“I’m going to fuck you,” he decides. He says it really matter-of-fact, and William never actually thought about what Kyle swearing would sound like, but it somehow manages to be better than he expected anyways. Kyle lets go of William, which would be vastly more unfortunate if his hands didn’t go up to William’s face instead, pushing up into his hair so he can kiss him again, and hungrily.

Time feels like a made-up thing, and William couldn’t say if it’s been seconds or minutes or days by the time he reaches toward the bedside table, stretches so he can open the second drawer down, and shoves the lube and a condom into Kyle’s hands.

“How did you k-” Kyle frowns, maybe slightly ruffled that his slightly sad attempt at being tasteful has been foiled. William shuts him up with a kiss, and promptly gets shut up right back, and this time when Kyle pins him he doesn’t let up.

“Turn over,” Kyle orders, and William does, nearly tripping over his own limbs, he’s so eager. Kyle’s everywhere, a wall of heat pressed along William’s back, in sharp contrast to the cool wetness of the lube, once Kyle squeezes some out. William’s cataloguing every sensation, a hand on the small of his back, a finger pressed against his hole, and then-

“Ah,” William gasps at the unexpected press in, rumbling the sheets as his hands tighten.

Kyle’s quick about it, methodical, opening William up and crooking his fingers as he does so, picking up the pace until William’s squirming, desperate.

“Fuck me,” he’s begging, barely aware of himself. “Fuck me, fuck me-”

“Hm,” Kyle says, appraising, and William knows without looking that he’s getting looked at again, and before he can ask what the verdict is, Kyle’s pushing into him.

They fit well, is Willy’s first, absurd thought. They fit as well as anyone could, is probably closer to the objective truth; too much and then just enough, and William’s filled up the way he’s been wanting for ages.

There’s something undignified about it, because it’s maybe impossible to be dignified when your body is plastered to someone else’s, skin everywhere and no noise except for the mattress, the little sounds William doesn’t try to hide.

Kyle’s hands are at his waist, holding William in place as he fucks into him, and something clicks and then they’re moving together, and William’s chasing any friction he can get, grinding down into the sheets, and he’s so, so close.

“I’m gonna come so fast,” William says, filthy and nonsense and no filter at all, now. “You’re going to make me come, I’m going to-”

And then, then Kyle’s slipping a hand over William’s mouth, which is okay because William was probably going to forget how to speak English any second, but Kyle doesn’t move his hand, doesn’t loosen his grip. William’s entirely at his mercy, and that realization does it, he gasps into Kyle’s palm and gives in and comes.

Kyle fucks him through it, slower than before, drags in and out until the forest fire in William’s brain turns into smoldering embers and he comes back to himself enough to remember his manners.

He bites the fleshy part of Kyle’s hand, gentle. “Don’t stop,” he says, and that’s enough permission for Kyle to start moving again, and William can feel the moment when Kyle tips over the edge, when he lets himself lose control.

William shudders, and he’s sticky with sweat and lube and his own come, but he holds himself where he is and leans up up up, greedy, for more.

---

(Kyle’s gone when William wakes up, which is a little bit sad, but not fully, because it means William gets to lie there and enjoy Kyle’s bed for as long as he wants.

It’s a nice bed. Smells like Kyle, which is a nice, manly kind of smell.

William stretches out, wiggles his fingers and toes, taking stock of himself. He’s a little sore. A lot happy. Mostly it just feels like he won something.

He leaves, but not before stealing a hoodie with Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on the front, just to take something. The reddish-maroon colour is hideous, objectively, but William thinks it might be the best thing in his collection.)

---

He gets dressed up really nicely for brunch, because it’s lesson number one that a tailored suit and a flawless head of hair are the two most important requirements for a successful negotiation. Choice of venue is a close third place – William picks out one of his favourite little places, gets a private room and orders his regular, and waits.

Things go according to plan, because they usually do, for William: he plays around on his phone, kills time until Kyle appears in the entrance, escorted by the host. Game on.

“Hi, detective,” William says, pleasant. Kyle’s suit looks nicer now that William knows what’s under it.

Kyle doesn’t look impressed. “I work at a very poorly funded police precinct,” he says, low, sliding into the seat across from William. “Do you have any idea what it looks like when a limousine shows up and I get summoned by-”

“By a representative of a very generous family that has a positive relationship with the local government and law enforcement?”

“Please, don’t do the rich kid thing.” Kyle winces; then before William can point out that he’s not a kid, “This was a massive error in judgement.”

“But it was fun, right?”

“That’s immaterial,” Kyle says, which is a yes, in Kyle Dubas language. William wants to know him.

William kneels in his seat, makes himself taller and leans on the table. “I like you,” he says, blunt.

“I can tell,” Kyle says, and he doesn’t drop William’s gaze, and they’re the only two people in the restaurant, it feels like. “But I can’t figure out why.”

“Definitely the glasses,” William quips, just on instinct. Kyle frowns, barely, like it’s a disappointing answer, and it’s probably a little pathetic, how quickly William caves.

“I think you might be smarter than me,” he admits. “Usually no one’s smarter than me.”

Kyle’s shaking his head before William’s done talking. “You’re pulling off the most beautifully constructed art heists since the Gardner, you’re- you’re exceptional.” He sounds totally matter-of-fact, and William feels like he’s going to glow like a firefly at the compliment, at the way Kyle looks at him like he’s the world’s best puzzle. “If I was smarter than you, I would have arrested you already.”

“Why haven’t you?” William asks, leaning in a little in spite of himself. He really is curious. “You at least have enough to bring me in for an interview, at this point.”

Kyle opens his mouth then shuts it. He sighs, just small. “Good question,” he says, eventually. Everything about him- he’s controlled, he’s always controlled, is what stands out about Kyle Dubas. Somehow manages to look at a loss and thinking his way out of it, all at once.

The waiter appears, and William blinks, and the spell breaks.

“Thank you,” he says, as the waiter pours out two glasses of rosé. It’s a pretty shade, tastes nice when William tries a sip, or at least expensive, which is almost the same thing.

The waiter leaves, and Kyle’s looking at William, a little skeptical.

“It’s light,” Willy says.

“It’s eleven AM,” Kyle says, dry, and it shouldn’t be adorable, but it is, and William wants him as bad as he’s ever wanted anything.

He speaks low, so it’s no one but them. “Please don’t stop being my nemesis.” Kyle looks surprised, and maybe like he’s about to say something, but William doesn’t let himself be embarrassed. He’s a Nylander, and he’s got every cop in the country running in circles, and he’s exceptional. “I’d miss you if you stopped.”

Honesty’s not a strategy he’s ever really tried before. Kyle’s leaning in too, though, and his gaze is piercing, searching, so William figures it must have worked. That, or his hair.

Kyle narrows his eyes.

William smiles, inviting.

There’s a moment, and then another one, and then Kyle looks up at the sky like he can’t believe himself, and then back at William. He sighs, then says, like he’s tossing the words out, at least slightly awkwardly, “Do you want to be friends?”

It’s not what William’s expecting, not even a little. Kind of jarring, in a way, in how young it sounds. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Kyle’s not as old as he acts. Not as old as he looks now, either, staring at William all judgey, which is fair, because William’s smiling more than he means to be, big and relieved and so, so excited.

“Yes,” he says, firm. His cheeks are going to hurt, after this. “Yes, friends.” He scoots his chair in closer to the table. “But also I told my driver to take a long lunch, if you want to go have sex in the back of my car.”

“Christ,” Kyle says, and now he takes a swig of his wine, but William gets the feeling that it’s more to hide a smile than anything else.

The car’s big. William’s bendy. They work it out.

---

Things are different than they’ve been. Good-different, William thinks.

They’re pulling stuff off, William and Auston and Mitch, that could be in movies, getting increasingly daring as they get better together. William dodges motion sensors, balances on rooftops, takes and takes and takes ‘til the news starts bringing on panelists to discuss who he might be. The name ‘William Nylander’ never comes up, never once. He’s pretty sure the city’s never seen anything like them.

Another kind of different: William’s usual best friend time gets cut in half, what with Auston spending every second of free time with Mitch, probably frolicking in a field of butterflies or something. It’s irritating. More irritating because Mitch keeps being a useful addition to the team, and a genuinely likeable person, in addition to an Auston-stealing jerk.

Still. William’s got other ways of keeping himself busy. His favourite of all the different things.

He hasn’t heard of half the books on Kyle’s shelves; explores them now and pauses at a particularly worn-out paperback.

“The Art of War,” he reads, and looks over at Kyle, questioning.

Kyle’s already watching him from the couch, propped up on his elbows. “It’s on every recommended reading list ever published,” he says. “Also probably helpful for when we inevitably stab each other in the back.”

William grins.

It’s unexpectedly comforting, having a friend who’s openly and actively working to ruin your life’s work and send you to jail. William’s used to people wanting him for his money or his looks or how useful he could be, glossing over it with pretend-friendliness and lies they think he’s too dumb to see through. Kyle’s not like that: his intentions are all in the open, and they’re not good, but neither are William’s, generally speaking. It’s mutually assured destruction, the two of them, and they both know it, and that’s about as honest as anything William’s had in forever.

William leaves The Art of War where it is, runs his fingers along the spines of the rest of the books on the shelf as he walks, slow, around the room. The order of them has changed since the last time he was here, like Kyle rearranged them, or maybe has just been taking them down to read and not putting them back. William would put his money on the second option – he can count on one hand the number of times he’s arrived to find Kyle doing anything other than reading or working. Case in point: the file folders on the coffee table, stamped with the police department’s logo on the front.

William makes a beeline for them, keeps his voice light and flirty. He wonders if one of the files is about him. “Aren’t you not supposed to bring work home?”

He reaches for a folder, but Kyle’s sitting up now, grabs his wrist and stops him before he can open it.

“I think that ship might have sailed,” Kyle says, wry, the exact opposite of the way his grip is like iron around William’s wrist. It might bruise. William hopes it’ll bruise. The file seems less important, now.

“You should mark me up,” William says, because he’s always been good at getting what he wants and bad at impulse control.

Kyle hums. “I’m not opposed to that,” he says, agreeable enough; and he’s a study in contrasts same as always, the way he tugs Willy close and kisses the skin of his forearm, then the bend where his sleeve is rolled up, and then William loses his patience and jumps him.

Kyle makes a muffled sound against his mouth, like he wants to laugh; rears up all wiry strength and flips them over, kisses William into the couch cushions until William’s gasping for breath, all splayed out while Kyle twists three fingers inside of him. He’s biting the inside of William’s thigh as he does, sucking at the skin there, and it’s everything, gets William sensitive and squirming and entirely at Kyle’s mercy when he comes; and William can’t do anything but lie there, dazed, while Kyle jerks himself off and adds to the mess on William’s stomach.

William steals one of the files on his way out, just so Kyle will know he can. It’s the kind of game he likes; and then later that night it’s the kind of game he loves, sprinting full speed down a back alley, clutching a damn-near-priceless ivory statuette while a probably underpaid security guard chases him down, shouting.

Auston’s hot on his heels, nearly crushes William as they dive into the waiting car, and then does crush William when they both fall off the seat as Mitch floors it into the night.

“Fuckin’ yeah, boys!” Mitch whoops as they pick themselves off of the ground, and William’s laughing, out of breath. It was close, too close by any good standards, more security than they planned for in a private home, and nothing even close to lowkey.

It was awesome.

“That’s the ugliest fucking statue, though,” Auston giggles, like it’s ever been about the art at all, and William punches his arm, fond, can’t even bring himself to be annoyed at Mitch’s presence. He presses down on the bruise on his thigh, feels reckless and brilliant, two times the same kind of rush.

---

Things go like that, from then, because the thing about people who own expensive things is that they usually want to show them off, and they’re stupid enough and William’s good enough that taking what he wants is almost too easy, so he takes more and more again. It’s a nice little routine. Show up and pretend to do work at the family company, goad Kyle into fucking him, steal some invaluable and invariably pretentious thing then goad Kyle about that, too. Rinse, repeat.

And then:

“Nice painting,” Kyle says, probably so William will know that he’s seen the canvas splashed all over the news since it was mysteriously stolen. William knows anyways. This one was a narrow escape, too.

“Thanks,” he says, polite. “It’s new.” Looks better on his wall than in a stuffy modern art institute, that’s for sure.

Kyle’s standing across the room, staring at the painting while William stares at him, lounging on the sofa. “An original?”

William grins. He can appreciate the attempt, even if that was a little lazy. “I like pretty things,” he says, neatly avoiding the question, because that’s what they do. “Don’t you?”

“I prefer some substance,” Kyle says, and William very nearly thinks something excessively poetic about how he looks striking against the colours of the new wall art, but Kyle crosses the room and sits down before Willy can get there. He crawls across the couch instead, plasters himself to Kyle’s side, eager.

“Sex now?” he asks, and Kyle glances down at William’s lap then raises an eyebrow, teasing.

“Didn’t take long, huh?” he says, and yeah, sue him, William’s hard. He’s twenty-two and Kyle’s the best person he’s ever had sex with.

“Sex,” William decides, and he tugs Kyle in and kisses him, hungry for it. It doesn’t start slow. William doesn’t think they do slow. He gets a hand at the nape of Kyle’s neck, holding him close, and Kyle gives him what he wants, at least for a bit.

“I have a meeting,” Kyle gets out, which William ignores, because Kyle would never do a single thing unless he wanted to, and he showed up here. If he wanted to leave, he’d be gone.

“I usually skip those,” William advises, and he’s a go-getter, so he waits for one more kiss before sliding off the couch and onto his knees, pushing Kyle’s legs apart.

“Poor business practice,” Kyle says, steady as ever, but he’s visibly hard. Not twenty-two, but still only human, and William still looks like he does.

He leans in, noses at the bulge in Kyle’s pants. He likes sucking dick, is good at it and knows it, only before he can start, there’s a hand in his hair, pulling him back.

“The institute has a dedicated security team,” Kyle says, and it would be mildly insulting that he can sound so normal with William Nylander kneeling between his legs, but he looks genuinely interested. “How did you do it?” he asks. “Hypothetically.”

“Hypothetically,” William says, because he’s not humble enough not to brag about this. “I used the roof, because they were installing solar panels thanks to an eco-friendly architecture grant from the Nylander Foundation, which meant the alarms were disabled, and it was easy to hide my face from the six cameras on the top two floors, because I am very,” he leans his head on Kyle’s thigh and smirks up at him. “Very flexible.”

The hand in his hair tightens, not quite enough to hurt, and it makes William’s smile get bigger. It’s gonna be like that, today.

He waits, but Kyle’s fallen silent, like he’s anticipating William’s next move. He makes it, hands sure as he undoes Kyle’s belt, tugs his pants down around his ankles. Kyle lifts himself up, helpful; sinks into the couch and lets his head loll back when William presses his lips to the base of his dick, teasing.

Kyle’s pretty good sized, not big enough to be inconvenient, but enough that William’s got something to work with. He runs his mouth down Kyle’s dick, just getting it wet, and he strokes Kyle off a few times, perfunctory, just ‘til he’s all the way hard, before taking the tip into his mouth. William breathes in through his nose before sinking down deeper, relishing the way it makes Kyle’s breath come out like a punch.

“You’re good at that,” Kyle says, a little breathless, and William pulls off, wipes at his lips with the back of a hand.

“Tell me,” he requests, and it’s not begging, but it’s close, and maybe that’s why Kyle’s eyes flash, dark.

“And if I don’t?” he asks, looking down at William and raising an eyebrow. “Personally, I think you’ll keep going, regardless. So I don’t really have to do anything, do I?”

“Oh, fuck,” William breathes, and he can’t even argue, is the thing; just tightens his grip on Kyle’s thighs, keeps his mouth open while Kyle feeds his dick back in. And William can’t hold back the sound he makes, how needy it is, because this, this is what he loves about them, how they can get into a rhythm, how he can feel used and wanted and powerful and powerless all at the same time, as Kyle fucks his mouth.

“You look pretty, though,” Kyle breaks the quiet and touches at the corner of William’s mouth with his thumb, barely anything. “Talking about outsmarting people. Or on your knees. It suits you.”

William whines, he can’t help it. Kyle chooses his words carefully, during sex, and every single one is designed to ruin William’s entire life. He’s so hard, William is, but he stays focused. Takes Kyle’s cock so deep he nearly gags on it, but he keeps going, only pausing to lick his lips, to breathe, and eventually not even for that, because even Kyle can’t entirely control his reactions – he’s flushed red, knuckles white as he clings to the edge of the couch. It’s addictive, chasing his reaction, and when William meets his eyes, Kyle’s pupils are blown, and he spills into William’s mouth like the eye contact is what pushed him over the edge.

“Look at you,” Kyle pants, and William swallows as best as he can, can’t help the little bit that gets on his face as well. William’s mouth is sore at the edges, he’s got tears stinging at the corners of his eyes, and he knows he looks filthy, would look like this forever if it meant Kyle’s eyes on him would stay like this, like they’re magnetized.

“Please,” William says, nonsense, but Kyle gets the message anyways; hauls him up and undoes William’s fly, doesn’t even waste time pulling his pants down before getting a hand around his dick, just the right side of too tight.

“More,” William urges, already too desperate, rocking up into Kyle’s fist. “More, please-”

Kyle’s mouth is hot on William’s neck, and it’s almost too much sensation, everywhere at once, but he moves his hand too, and it’s barely a few strokes before William’s gasping and coming, burying his face in Kyle’s shoulder and biting down on the fabric of his shirt without really meaning to.

They stay folded into each other, skin-on-skin, piled up a little clumsily against the arm of the couch. William’s mouth tastes tacky when he takes a breath, and he starts a little when Kyle settles a hand in the small of his back.

“Move?” he requests, and William doesn’t so much move as sort of tumble off of him and onto the other side of the couch, but it’s enough that Kyle can reach over and grab a tissue from the side table to clean off his hand. He hands William one as well, considerate as always.

William leaves him to it, rolls out his neck and stares at the colours of his new painting. He’s still out of it enough that they look like they’re swirling together. He’s never really gotten abstract. Probably won’t be able to look at this one anymore without getting hard, associating it with the way he feels right now. There are worse things.

“What’s your meeting about?” he asks. His voice sounds hoarse.

“Detective things,” Kyle says, and nothing else, which is probably fair.

William watches him pull his pants back on and fix himself up, smoothing his hair down. It’s still sticking up at the back. William wonders if anyone in Kyle’s meeting will be able to tell what he just did. He hopes so. Likes the idea of evidence. His lips still taste like Kyle.

Kyle gives William his space, which he appreciates, but also doesn’t move away when William follows him to the door and presses his face into Kyle’s shoulder. He’s not sure what he’s asking for, if he’s even asking for anything.

Kyle gives it to him anyways.

“The art institute connects to the old performance building via underground tunnels,” Kyle says, quiet. “Only two cameras, and only one floor between you and the gallery. You should’ve gone with the less risky option.” It’s a moment before it clicks for William, what Kyle’s telling him, and it’s like a shot of electricity in his veins. Kyle pulls back, meets his gaze, and William really, really has to learn to stop underestimating him. “Hypothetically.”

---

Nothing changes, not right away.

At first, it’s just the tiniest seed of an idea in William’s brain, and hardly even that. He goes to work, cuts ribbons at events and smiles when he’s supposed to, and the whole time his mind is racing, connecting the dots and trying to convince himself he’s reading too much into it. He doesn’t think he is.

Kyle thinks about how he’d steal things. And maybe part of that is due diligence as a cop, sure, trying to see the other perspective, all hypotheticals, but Kyle told William how he’d steal something. Laid it out for him, right there, like he’d thought about it. Like he’d planned it.

It didn’t feel like a hypothetical. It felt- William can’t put his finger on it. Excited, maybe.

He tests it, a little. Nothing too obvious – Willy’s good at being delicate, when he has to be – just poking at boundaries, seeing how far Kyle is willing to go. What he learns is: Kyle knows more about theft than anyone William’s ever met, the theories and history and opinions on every major unsolved case.

What he learns is: there’s a reason Kyle got promoted to detective so young, and it’s that, according to the employee assessments William steals from the admin department at the police station, he has ‘a gift for putting himself in the mind of the criminal and reconstructing the events of a crime’.

What he learns is: Kyle works, pretty much constantly. The way someone only works if they genuinely love their job.

It’s weird, trying to reconcile those things into something workable. Kind of a balancing act, but one that William thinks he’s pretty good at, especially when he starts incorporating the stuff Kyle says into his work. Just small comments, observations. “They should’ve tried the decoy”, “There was this one case where the items never even left the scene”, stuff like that.

It works. It helps.             

William’s hanging around Kyle’s place now, trying to figure out the best way to pose another question. Kyle, for whatever it’s worth, doesn’t seem to mind William making his presence a regular thing, just sits on his couch reviewing more files from work. William wonders if he charges them overtime.

He stretches out, lets his legs dangle over the side of the armchair. Feels the way Kyle’s eyes linger on the muscles of his shoulders before returning to his work. As good a start as anything, William figures.

“I didn’t get as much as I wanted,” he says. “From the private plane.”

Kyle hums, absently.

William presses on. “It was kind of too rushed. I want to figure out how to do better next time.”

“Self-reflection is always good,” Kyle says, scribbling something down in his notes. “You might learn something.”

“You should teach me instead,” William says, hopeful. He briefly enjoys a mental image of Kyle as a professor, probably in a tweed jacket and making out with William against a blackboard or something; comes back to earth to the less fantasy-like but equally enjoyable sight of Kyle looking at him, chin in his hands as he thinks. “Or you could fuck me?” William amends, because he’s nothing if not adaptable.

“You should fuck yourself, today,” Kyle decides, then frowns a little, William thinks at his own word choice. “Instructions, not an insult.”

“I know,” William says, bemused. He squirms out of his pants obediently enough, eyes still on Kyle. “Are you going to watch?”

“Maybe when I’m done reading,” Kyle says. Anyone else, it’d be coy, teasing, but William knows he means it. Can’t quite bring himself to be annoyed by it – he takes it as a challenge, sets about to convince Kyle that if his eyes are anywhere but on William, it’s a waste of time.

William palms himself through his underwear, pretty lazily. He’s not quite hard, but he can work up to it. Can put on a show, too, even with Kyle doing the whole ascetic thing. William takes his time, touches wherever feels good. Strokes himself off a couple of times and bites his lip to hold in a noise.

“You should tell me how to be better next time,” William says, breathing heavier, now. “After.”

Kyle doesn’t look up from his work, but his lips quirk up into a smile that he doesn’t quite manage to hide. He’ll answer, later, William knows. That’s good enough for now. He can be patient, with something like this.

It’s a give and take. Working up to it.

---

He breaks in to nap in Kyle’s bed, and it’s a good nap, and when he wakes up, he can hear noise from the kitchen.

William yawns and buries his face in the pillow, just drifts for a little while. Then, when he’s pretty sure he’s not going to fall back asleep, he kicks the covers to the foot of the bed – Kyle always makes it, so William likes to mess it up as much as possible – and makes himself get up.

He’s a little thrown off, the way he usually is after a nap, not sure what time it is. He doesn’t bother being quiet as he pads down the hall, because Kyle almost certainly knows he’s here, and sure enough, Kyle doesn’t look surprised when William gets to the kitchen. Doesn’t even look anything except mildly reproachful, which is probably fair, when his apartment’s been broken into.

“It’s not an expensive mattress, y’know,” he says, light. “Very within your price range. I can even tell you where I bought it.”

“That’s okay,” William says, intentionally missing the point, and Kyle shoots him a look, at that, but doesn’t push it.

William hops up onto one of the stools, yawns and rests his head on the cool countertop while Kyle goes back to cooking. It’s a peaceful picture, the kind of evening William can picture Kyle having when he’s alone: he’s still in his work clothes, sleeves rolled up as some kind of stir fry simmers in a frying pan, and there are soft voices coming from the little speaker on the counter.

It takes William a while to get his head around what they’re saying. “Math?” he asks.

“Physics,” Kyle corrects, pushing his food around the pan.

William half-laughs. He shouldn’t be surprised. Is, anyways. “Why?”

“You asked me the other day about the laser grid they installed at the museum,” Kyle says. “I had an idea about a potential workaround to be prevented, but I figured I should probably understand the underlying science, first.”

William hides his face in his arms so Kyle won’t see him smiling.

“You really like this stuff,” he says, because he gets the feeling Kyle’s waiting for him to say something.

“The ability to pull off elaborate heists is kind of a lost art,” Kyle says, without even a little bit of irony. “And I really mean that phrasing, the art thing, because it’s sort of- it’s artistry in and of itself, the planning and the skill that goes into the technical execution.”

“You became an art detective because you like art robberies,” William muses. “That’s like… becoming a firefighter because you’re a pyromaniac.”

Kyle laughs like he’s surprised, and Willy swells with pride. It always feels like an achievement to make Kyle laugh, even though it’s not that hard. “Heir to a fortune by day and cat burglar by night isn’t a sustainable career plan, for most of us.”

It can be for you, William doesn’t say, because this is the kind of thing he has to tread carefully with.

Kyle turns off the burner, puts the lid on the pan and leaves it to simmer. “Of course, that’s not at all to discount the systemic issues with most major police departments,” he goes on, a little absently. “It’s not always a good/bad dichotomy as much as a legal/illegal one, although I’d like to think my choice boiled down to more than just the most convenient option…”

Kyle Dubas is kind of a geek, is something William realized pretty quick, and keeps realizing. Not- Kyle’s not a geek in the flustered, put-on way he was pretending to be at first, because if there’s one thing Kyle is, it’s self-assured. It’s more… enthusiasm. Like his brain’s full of ideas, and they’re good ones, and he knows it and is excited about it.

William likes him more than he expected to. More than he did at first, which was a lot, already.

“Are you staying for dinner?” Kyle asks.

“Like a date?” William asks, hopeful, as if there’s any chance of him saying no. It’s not like anyone will miss him at home.

“Like dinner,” Kyle says, crumpling William’s dreams into a ball and drop-kicking them out the window, only he softens a moment later. “Since I’m assuming you’d steal my leftovers out of my fridge later, if I didn’t invite you.”

“Arrest me for it,” William dares.

“Working on it,” Kyle says. William still can’t quite tell if he’s bluffing. He hasn’t checked for cameras in a while.

He tucks his legs up under him, and Kyle doesn’t tell him off for putting his feet on the chair. “You were saying about the laser grid,” William prompts. “How someone could get past the one at the museum.”

“How I could stop them,” Kyle says.

Treading carefully. “Of course,” William agrees.

If he’s going to end up in jail, he might as well get dinner and some useful tips out of it.

---

The winter weather is bad, and Mitch gets another tip that someone else is planning on pulling a job this weekend, which is basically a built-in chance to prove to anyone watching that thefts happen when William’s not in town, and those things together are reason enough to fly somewhere sunny and spend a few days on the family yacht. The small one.

It’s a good few days. The sun’s always suited William, and being out on the open water isn’t quite the same as standing on top of an impenetrable building, but it still gives him room to think. He does a lot of that, thinking; weighs the options in his head and waits before bringing it up with the other two. He wants to be sure.

He kicks his feet, watches the sun glimmer on the water. William’s perched on the edge of the pool, just his feet dipped in, watching Auston and Mitch playing basketball in the shallow end. Mitch has sunscreen on his nose, and a bucket hat, and a strategy that mainly seems to consist of jumping on Auston’s back and dunking him underwater. Effective, if inelegant. William’s never quite sure what to think of their hyper-fast and bizarrely wholesome relationship, like watching those calendars of puppies cuddling with ducklings.

It’s not what he would have expected, for Auston. Maybe nothing in his life is what William expected. He should probably be used to it, by now.

He thinks he’s sure, about this.

“Detective Dubas,” he says, raising his voice so the guys will hear him over their bickering. “I want his help.”

It takes a moment to get the guys’ attention. Auston shakes out his head like a dog, spraying William with water. “Huh?”

“The detective I’ve been hooking up with,” William says, and wonders if Kyle would object to a phrase like ‘hooking up’, because it seems sort of crass, but- priorities. “I think we should bring him in. Get his help planning things.”

Auston looks at him like he’s insane. “No.”

“Matts.”

“No,” he says again, as Mitch wades over. “No, how do we even know we can trust him?”

“How do we know we can trust Mitch?” William retorts; then, to Mitch, because they’re probably past the point of downright antagonism, “No offense.”

Mitch shrugs. “None taken.”

“Some taken,” Auston says, and glowers at William and only stops when Mitch hops onto his back again and presses a kiss to his slightly-sunburnt shoulder. Auston softens, but only a little. “Getting this guy’s help means letting him know shit before we do it,” he says, and William nods. He knows the risks, here. The implications if it goes wrong. “All our plans.”

Mitch is chewing his lip. “You think it’s actually a good idea?” he asks William, like he’s really considering it. “To get crime advice from a cop?”

“We haven’t had any more close calls since I started listening to the stuff he says,” William says, certain, because he’s thought about this enough to be certain. It’s the truth – they were cutting it fine, skirting the edge of getting caught almost every time they went out, and implementing Kyle’s suggestions has made that risk all but disappear.

“He thinks differently than anyone else,” William continues, dragging his hand across the surface of the water to make ripples. “It helps, having someone outside of us figuring stuff out. Like. Managing things. Different perspective”

Mitch looks contemplative. “You could control what information we give him?”

William nods. “Only what’s necessary.”

“Okay,” Mitch says, just like that. “I’m in, let’s use him.”

“You’re kidding me,” Auston says, incredulous, and Mitch hops off of his back and into the water with a splash.

“I trust my friends, dude,” Mitch says, and he’s playful about it, teasing, but it sets off something impossibly fond in William’s chest anyways. Trust is simple for Mitch, the way it really shouldn’t be for criminals. It’s a nice idea. “Heist squad for life, or whatever.”

“That’s not what we’re called,” William says, but he’s looking over at Auston, because this isn’t the kind of thing he can do without everyone agreeing. “Matts?”

Auston still doesn’t look convinced, but he looks from William to Mitch and back, then sighs. “Fine,” he says. “Fine, what the fuck, let’s get collectively bossed around by the subject of your daddy fetish.”

“To go with my daddy issues,” Willy agrees, because he’s nothing if not self-aware, and the day is bright with excitement for what’s next; except what’s next turns out to be Auston rolling his eyes and tugging William into the pool, one-handed. Mitch cackles so loud William can hear him underwater.

He hates them both, very deeply, except for how much he loves them.

---

William means to bring it up right away. He gets distracted.

It’s hardly even his fault, really: he’s back in the city, at one of his favourite properties, and he’s too impatient to wait for the end of the work day, so he sends a car to fetch Kyle, and Kyle doesn’t even send it back and tell him to be patient, which is practically an ‘I love you’, by his standards.

“Missed me?” William asks, after he’s been kissed enough in the doorway to remember how to speak English.

“Yeah, you bet,” Kyle says, like he’s humouring William, but he’s also got William out of his clothes and shepherded into the bedroom in what has to be record time, so William’s okay with reading between the lines here.

There’s not a single thought of crime, Kyle-included or otherwise, in William’s mind once he’s got Kyle bracketed over him in bed, jerking him off like a man with a mission, which he technically is. William’s kind of on a hair trigger – he doesn’t mind admitting he missed this, so there – and comes hard and fast and loud while Kyle kisses his neck, and yachts are fine but they aren’t anything close to this, William decides.

“Missed me?” Kyle asks, like he just proved a point, and William just turns his head to catch his lips; actually tugs off one of the buttons of Kyle’s shirt, he’s trying to get it off him so blindly.

“I did,” he nods, and Kyle laughs, and it turns into something like a gasp as William runs his hands down Kyle’s chest, luxuriating in the feeling of skin, how well he knows how to pull reactions out of Kyle as he lowers himself down the bed.

It hasn’t been elegant, today, and it doesn’t start now: William fingers Kyle as he sucks him off, and Kyle nearly doubles over, he comes so hard, so William doesn’t really have a choice but to kiss him again, and then to rub off on Kyle’s thigh, because he’s hard again and two orgasms seem attainable today and the second one is always better than the first, the way it’s teetering between the best feeling ever and way too much. William doesn’t hold back any of his noises, doesn’t make himself slow down. He likes needing it. Likes Kyle watching him need it. Likes pretty much anything and everything, when he finally comes again and feels like he’s floating, utterly blissed out.

Kyle offers William a high five when they’re both catching their breath, after. He’s been increasingly kind of a dork like that, to the point where William suspects he actively hides it, most of the time. It’s cute.

William deigns to high five him; then, because he’s been thinking about what Auston said, “You don’t want me to call you daddy, right?”

Kyle looks momentarily thrown, but he doesn’t hesitate long. “Not particularly,” he says, then frowns. “Do… you want that?”

William thinks about it. “Not particularly.” He stretches out, buries his face in the pillow and breathes in deep. The bed smells like sex, and like Kyle, which is probably as good as a bed can get, outside of Kyle’s bed. William could live in Kyle’s bed, he thinks, even if it meant scaling a building and breaking in every night so he wouldn’t get kicked out.

William sighs, content, right down to his bones. It’s as good a time as any to do what he came here for, just ask Kyle to commit some crimes, really casual.

Only-

Kyle’s propped up on his elbows, looking down at William, something pensive on his face. His head is tilted a little to the side, owlish. It looks like he’s looking through William, when he looks like this. Makes William want to shiver.

“Why are you looking at me?” he asks. It comes out more tentative than he means. Quieter.

It’s enough to break the spell. Kyle drops his gaze, shakes his head like he’s laughing at himself. “Just thinking,” he says. “Sorry. I’ll stop.”

“Don’t,” William blurts. It’s- he likes it, how Kyle had every piece of his attention focused right on William like he’s one of his books, tabbed in colours with Kyle’s thoughts scratched out in his margins. No one’s ever looked at William like that, never once.

“I might just be bluffing,” Kyle says, light, so that William knows he’s teasing. “I could just be pretending to be thoughtful to disguise my general post-sex... I don’t know. State of being mind-blown.”

“I am very good at sex,” William agrees, as seriously as he can. “Mind-blowingly good.”

“You’re alright,” Kyle allows, and then smiles when William pouts. Just because Kyle’s a good liar doesn’t mean it comes naturally to him. He’s bad at hiding it, when he’s happy. “You did well.”

“Good.”

“Well,” Kyle says, a correction this time, and William figures that it’s a grammar thing. He’d make fun of Kyle, for that, but Kyle probably knows his weaknesses by now, because he continues, “Exceptionally well, even.”

William’s easy. He knows he’s easy. He grins, proud of himself. He’s very fond of the idea of being Kyle’s exception to everything. It sounds like they’re something in a romantic movie, which they aren’t, but it’s nice to pretend.

He’s never been the type to overthink things, and he won’t start now: William steels himself, rolls over so he can straddle Kyle’s thighs. He forces himself not to get distracted by the way Kyle’s hands come up by his waist, automatic; just bites the bullet and does it.

“I want the crown with the rubies in it,” William announces, palms flat on Kyle’s chest. “From the travelling collection from France, you know the one?”

Kyle nods. Of course he does.

William holds his gaze. “How should I get it?”

Kyle’s grip tightens at William’s waist, just for a moment. His face doesn’t change, but William can feel his heart beating faster than it was a moment ago, the only thing betraying him. “You’re the thief.”

It’s as clear of a brush-off as William’s ever gotten, but he doesn’t move. He wants this, badly.

“How should I get it?” Willy asks again, and his hair’s falling in his face, lighter than anything else in his peripheral. “Tell me.”

He knows it’s a gamble, and a big one. Can practically see Kyle weighing his options. He has William dead to rights, has for a while now, could turn him in and be the best cop in the city just like that, career made. But, and this is what William’s counting on, Kyle also loves a well-thought out heist more than anything. He knows things and likes it being known that he knows them, because William knows enough about that particular brand of justified narcissism to recognize it when he sees it.

It’d be easy for Kyle to cuff him now, though, the way William’s sitting, arms outstretched.

It’s so, so quiet. Neither moves.

Kyle reaches up, tucks the loose strands of William’s hair behind his ear. It’s deliberate, fixing something that’s bugging him rather than any absentminded show of affection, because that’s not how he does things.

“I’ll need details,” Kyle says, just like that, and William nods, suddenly breathless with how big this is. He can see the gears turning in Kyle’s head, not solving a case, this time, but thinking of how to make one. It’s the hottest thing William’s ever seen.

The air’s humming with something new, both of them entirely aware that a new line is getting crossed, tonight. This thing with them, William knows, is mutually assured destruction and always has been, but never more than right now.

It feels like he’s winning the race, like he’s barely keeping up, both at once. Like a fuse burning down closer to something dangerous, and Kyle’s lighting it right there with him.

---

It goes better than William could have hoped. He had his suspicions before, but now he knows for a fact: Kyle Dubas is a genius, maybe not in every way, but in all the ways that count to William, which is to say-

They fucking rock.

Kyle says a lot of stuff about optimizing their talent resources and capitalizing on inefficiencies in security tech and other big words, but it’s a little simpler than that, in William’s head. They’ve got the raw materials, right, his skill and Auston’s prep and Mitch’s sources, and what was missing was someone to make sure those materials are used right to become something better.

“Here’s what I’m thinking,” Kyle says, whenever William shows up with some idea and whatever info the guys have managed to find, and then it’s the two of them sitting there, throwing around ideas, maybe arguing a little. William doesn’t mind giving in – Kyle’s ideas are good enough that it’s just a matter of following instructions, maybe improvising a little, for style, before they’re pulling shit off that William never could have dreamed.

Not a lot of stuff is better than sex with Kyle. William thinks those brainstorming sessions might be. It’s not- he can’t not romanticise it a little, having someone understand him like no one else ever has, someone just as ready to plan the most impossible heist possible, just to see if it can be done.

They hit a bunch of safes, one right under the nose of the prime minister, when he visits. A sculpture straight out of the theatre, during a ballet, just for fun. Mitch and Auston get all giddy and start talking about how to steal the Stanley Cup, which maybe counts as flirting by their weirdo standards, but isn’t all that far out of the realm of possibility, not anymore. William will let them have this one.

The thought makes him smile. They can all have whatever they want, now.

William doesn’t even go home after hitting a private auction, just goes straight to Kyle’s and skips the hellos, skipping into Kyle’s space and kissing him so he’ll know their plan worked.

“You-mph-” Kyle’s muffled by William’s lips, has to try again. “You did it?” he asks, holding William at arm’s length and staring, searching. “The fire alarm thing, it worked?”

“It worked,” William confirms, and Kyle laughs out loud and hugs him right there, excited, and he’s still laughing against William’s mouth when Willy cranes his neck to get a kiss, because hugs are nice but he wants more.

It goes the way he wants, better, because he ends up bent over the foot of the bed, minus one shirt, and Kyle kissing a trail down the path of his spine. It’s so, so good, the lead up to something even better and the high from a successful job even bigger with two of them, only something’s digging into William’s hip, annoying.

“Waitwaitwait,” he says, standing up straight so he can fish in his pocket and toss out the ancient Roman coins that were poking at him. They skitter across the comforter, and William bounces up and down, expectant. “Okay, go. Pull my hair more.”

Kyle makes a face. “These, too?” He doesn’t wait for an answer before shoving at William’s chest, right on the edge of gentle, to make him lay back. “I’m trying to decide if your increasingly dubious ethics are a mood killer.”

“We both know for a fact they aren’t, and that I don’t have any at all,” William says; then, when a second passes and Kyle still isn’t kissing him, “But sure, talk ethics to me, baby.”

Kyle snorts. It is a highly, highly unattractive sound, and it makes Willy’s heart feel all weird and warm, and his dick is still, tragically, very into it, still-clothed and all, so he figures, yeah, one more friend is an okay thing.

He’s kind of making a habit of it, now. Making friends. Can’t bring himself to be upset about it.

(Kyle does kiss him, then, hard, and the coins clatter onto the floor, and neither of them makes a move to pick them up.

Not a mood killer, not even a little.)

---

It’s a law of gravity, or gravity’s infinitely more vengeful, shittier cousin. Things are good for too long. They come around. Right back down to earth, with speed.

It’s hardly anything, at first. They’ve got to lay low for a while, because some other crew or person has been more active recently, stealing stuff and being messy about it and generally getting the police riled up. Which, fine, contrary to popular belief, William can go a couple weeks without stealing things. Besides, he’s got plans. And then he gets an email from his dad’s secretary, sorry your father couldn’t make it, something came up, and there goes that.

And the kicker, the really, really pathetic part, is that he’s stupid enough to be disappointed by something he should’ve expected in the first place. He could recite that email by heart, but it still hurts, and his condo feels like it’s suffocating him, and it’s all backstory, really, for how William ends up perched on the ledge jutting out between windows on the twenty-ninth floor of a building.

It’s cold out, too windy to really be safe, but William just sits there, legs dangling over the side. He doesn’t know how long he sits out there.

Kyle’s the one who opens the window, eventually. William doesn’t ask how he knows he’s there. Doesn’t say anything at all.

“Were you planning on coming in, at any point?” Kyle asks, casual, like they’re two neighbours bumping into each other in the lobby instead of twenty-nine floors up.

William shrugs.

Kyle’s frowning, his brows knitted together. “Is everything okay?”

William shrugs, smaller, this time.

“Is this-” Kyle starts, then recalibrates halfway through his question. “How are you balancing there?”

William shoots him a look, thrown off by the question. “It’s not hard, Kyle.”

He’s not bluffing – he knows his body as well as he knows anything, and it’s always been more comfortable when he’s somewhere he’s not supposed to be, doing things he’s not supposed to be able to do. It’s adrenaline or confidence or some mix of both, up here with the cars rushing around below, little pinpricks of white and red light, the tops of smaller buildings. Views he shouldn’t have. Up here, where one wrong step could kill him, it’s like an invitation for him and no one else in the world, not his family and not anyone.

“William,” Kyle says – proving William wrong without even trying – and he’s too much in control to really sound worried, but it’s not quite a request, anymore, so William straightens up and steps one foot in front of the other, hardly even looking, until he can slip in through the window and land on his toes in Kyle’s living room.

Somehow he feels more exposed in here than outside. There’s a new book open upside down on the coffee table.

William doesn’t know why he came here.

“What happened?” Kyle asks, brusque, like whatever it is, he’s going to solve it like he does everything else.

William crosses his arms, hugging himself. It’s stupid. It’s so, so stupid. “Stuff didn’t go to plan,” he says, and tries not to feel like he’s admitting something. “That’s all.”

He hates the look of understanding that crosses Kyle’s face before he can hide it, like this explains everything about William’s everything. Maybe it does.

“I’ve been stealing stuff since I was thirteen, you know,” William says, retorting some nonexistent argument and hating how sulky he sounds. “And my parents have no idea. They think I’m such a good son.”

There’s a little crease between Kyle’s eyebrows, like he’s genuinely putting thought into William’s stupid daddy issues. Parent issues. “I’m sorry,” Kyle says, quiet.

“That’s how I want it,” William says. He doesn’t know why he’s being defensive, is fully aware of how pathetic it sounds. It was a dumb idea, showing up here – he’s not himself, too frazzled and stressed and thrown off to do their normal thing, to have any hope of keeping up with Kyle at all. He feels like a dumb kid, standing there in his hoodie, which, on a second glance-

Kyle twirls one of the hoodie strings around his finger, questioning.

“Is this mine?” he asks. Something in his voice that William can’t remember hearing there, before. And William knows that Kyle knows that there’s a negative chance that William just happens to own a Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds sweater, especially one that’s too tight around his shoulders like this one. And, see, William’s been taking things from Kyle’s apartment and everywhere else he’s been since high school, anything he sees and likes and wants to keep, and he’s never once felt embarrassed about that, or guilty. Now, though- he feels like he’s laid bare.

“I stole it,” William admits. It comes out mostly a whisper, and Kyle shakes his head, lifts a hand to William’s jaw. His thumb swipes across William’s cheek, slow. He’s looking at him again, the particularly Kyle way he does sometimes where it feels like he’s staring right into William’s brain, and he seems on the verge of saying something, but he doesn’t.

William shuts his eyes and leans into the touch, only the kiss he’s expecting doesn’t come, and neither does anything else. Kyle’s hand is gone, and William bites back a whine at the loss of contact, and then he opens his eyes and Kyle’s in front of him, on his knees.

William’s breath catches.

“Is this alright?” Kyle asks, as if he didn’t just tilt the entire room, the entire building on itis axis.

William swallows. “I don’t know,” he gets out, and Kyle moves to stand right away, and then William’s pushing him back down, maybe rougher than he means to. He forgets he’s strong, sometimes. “No, don’t- stay there.”

And Kyle does; gets his hands on William’s hips, proprietary, pushing his shirt up a little and pressing him back into the wall. The window’s still open, blowing a cold breeze against the stripe of William’s bare skin.

He doesn’t move, stays statue still as Kyle presses his lips to his stomach and lingers there.

“I’m going to suck you off,” Kyle says, low, into William’s skin. “If that’s okay?”

“Stop asking me,” William says, and he squeezes his eyes shut, overwhelmed. “I don’t want you to ask me, just-”

“Okay,” Kyle says, and he’s as good as his word, just squeezes William’s hips one more time before tugging his pants down, getting his dick out. He’s efficient about it, which doesn’t sound like something that should be hot, but- fuck, ‘hot’ doesn’t begin to cover it, not remotely, when Kyle jerks William off once, twice, then gets his dick in his mouth, just like that.

William’s head is spinning; he’s aware of every nerve in his body and completely floating at the same time. He’s so, so aware of what a conscious, heady thing this is, Kyle handing over at least a semblance of control, and William- he feels like when he’s perched on top of a building, about to break every law he knows, the wind threatening to toss him right over.

That’s what this is, Kyle kneeling in front of him, his lips wrapped around William’s dick, hand up at the base to keep William still as he tongues the slit before taking Willy deeper, moving slowly up and down. It’s a vulnerable position by anyone’s standards, let alone Kyle’s, but he stays where he is, like something out of a dream, if William would have ever dared to dream this.

It’s so much, and William could do anything here, wants it to last forever, but he doesn’t last long at all, legs shaking as he feels himself getting close to the edge.

“I’m going to-” he says, and there’s the barest scraping of Kyle’s teeth along his length, and William’s bucking forward in spite of himself. “Sorry, I- jesus-”

His hands are scrabbling at the wall for purchase, and he finds it when he gets a hand in Kyle’s hair, holding him in place, desperate. It’s not like it’s long enough for there to be a ton to grab, and William maybe grips too tight, but he’s only half-aware of that or anything else on the planet except for the wet heat of Kyle’s mouth, his hand moving deft and sure, and with one last helpless sound, William’s coming, and he sees stars.

Somewhere in his mind, he registers that Kyle swallows. And it’s not like William was expecting him to spit onto the floor, exactly, but it still feels important, still makes William whine, and he’s oversensitive as hell but he’s reaching down to cradle his balls anyways, craving the pressure even as it makes him gasp. He’s a mess, all shivery and boneless. Can hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears.

Kyle wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand, manages to look almost dignified as he does. He leans on the windowsill as he gets to his feet, and moves to- William doesn’t know, to get a tissue or something, to clean them up the way he usually does, but Willy clings to Kyle’s shirt before he can move away.

“Okay,” Kyle says, even though William didn’t say anything.

He has to really focus to make himself let go. Kyle still doesn’t back away, maybe picking up what William can’t quite ask for. His mouth is pink. William can’t not stare. He was kneeling.

“It’s like,” William says, when his legs and his voice feel steady enough. “It was always on report cards. ‘William acts out to get attention’. I get why I do stuff.”

“It’s pretty textbook,” Kyle agrees, and the only word to describe his voice is gentle. Not making fun. Not threatening to arrest William, or hinting at it.

William closes his eyes, but only long enough to catch his breath, this time, and then he meets Kyle’s eyes and doesn’t look away.

“But I want to be the best at this,” he says. It feels like- he’s searching for something, here, willing Kyle to understand. “I’m already good, but I always, always want more. Better.”

Kyle gets this look on his face; gets a hand on either side of William’s face, pulls him in, and kisses him, hard. And-

Yeah, he understands. He’s a quick study.

William lets himself be kissed. Rocks a little, unsteady, when Kyle pulls back, and it’s enough to put the ghost of a smile on Kyle’s mouth, and that’s enough that William can’t help but match it. He bounces on the balls of his feet, up then down. The apartment is still around them.

“I’ll be sad,” William says, and it’s not quite his usual self, but maybe close. “When we inevitably betray each other.”

“Me too,” Kyle says. That smile, again, a little wistful.

William shoves his hands in his pockets so he won’t reach out. “Can I sleep in your bed?”

Kyle nods, once. “Alright.”

“With you there?”

And this time it’s not as fast, Kyle hesitates, but he gives in. It feels like something for the record books. “Alright,” he says again.

William gives in, reaches for him. Kyle lets him.

It’s awkward, the way sleeping next to someone new is always a little awkward. It’s more vulnerable than they usually get, William stripped down to his underwear, Kyle in plaid pajama pants and a thoroughly worn-out t-shirt from his college. He’s not as big as he looks in his suits.

William curls up close, his head on Kyle’s chest. Kyle doesn’t relax once, not at all.

“You’re not gonna sleep ‘til I do, huh?” William asks. He knows the answer. Can’t help but be fond of it, how Kyle it is.

“Nothing personal,” Kyle says. Not for the first time. He sounds almost apologetic, too self-aware. “You know that it’s not- I just-”

“I know,” William says, into Kyle’s t-shirt, because he’s a quick study, too. Gets that this is more than Kyle would give, usually.

He puts an arm around William, though. William feels that, before he falls asleep.

---

Then:

Kyle’s gone when William wakes up, and he stays gone.

Fucking gravity.

---

It’s not actually that fast, even though it feels like it.

Not that far off, either.

William doesn’t even think anything of it, at first – Kyle’s not a cuddly type, fine, William could’ve figured that one out for himself – only it’s a day, then two, and then it’s a week and Kyle hasn’t reached out once.

William shows up at Kyle’s place, and waits around for ages, but he never shows up.

He’s worried, at first, is the part that puts a bad taste in his mouth. Actually goes so far as to send a car to the precinct to pick up Kyle, to check that he’s okay, and then it’s sent back empty, and that’s as clear a message as anything.

William’s never actually been ghosted, before. He doesn’t think he’s the kind of person this is supposed to happen to, too pretty or fun to be around or embroiled in a series of major crimes to be dropped without even a goodbye, but-

He should’ve expected it.

It’s always this, and he should’ve expected it, and if his life’s a predictable mess William’s going to be one too, which is to say-

He goes by himself to take something. Not even- it’s completely spontaneous, not even something he tells Auston about. He just needs to walk around a little, to be somewhere he shouldn’t just to prove he can.

The place is silent, exactly what he needs. Only cameras at the exits, which is almost too easy.

William wanders the halls. Can’t find anything he likes enough to take, and nothing that looks complicated enough to be worth the effort. He settles for whacking the side of a vending machine and grabbing the bag of chips that falls out. Back to his roots, or whatever.

He toys with the bag, doesn’t open it. He wants to get kissed. He wants- something. He’s-

He’s halfway across the room when he realizes that there’s somebody at the front desk.

William freezes. It’s a puny little independent gallery, not the kind of place that should have an overnight staff.

The person at the desk doesn’t move. No alarms sound, even though William’s directly in their line of sight. When he looks closer, they’re slumped over, like they’re sleeping.

Something feels funny in William’s gut.

The person at the desk doesn’t move. They don’t move even a little.

William doesn’t know why he bothers getting close. He does, anyways, and is surprised, anyways, when he sees the little pool of blood under the person’s head.

“Hello?” he whispers.

They don’t answer. Of course, they don’t answer.

Elsewhere in the building, far off but not far enough, someone coughs.

There have been those headlines, the ones Mitch talked about. Armed robbers. That wasn’t supposed to affect William, though. It’s not- that’s not his problem.

He’s never seen a dead person before.

He doesn’t look back, doesn’t even stop to pick up the bag of chips he drops, just runs through the lobby and out of the building and straight into someone, full speed. It knocks them both to the ground, and William’s tugging up his hood to hide his face until the person speaks.

“No,” Kyle says, flat on his ass on the sidewalk and looking at William like he’s never seen him before.

It’s not quite deja-vu, like the last time they ran into each other on a job but warped through a funhouse mirror into something wrong. It’s not safe here, and they haven’t spoken in more than two weeks since William woke up by himself in Kyle’s bed, and-

“No,” Kyle breathes again; then, “Fuck, I knew-”

“You need to get out of here,” William interrupts, because he doesn’t know what Kyle’s talking about, just that they’re both in danger, real danger, as long as they’re here. “Someone’s dead, we need to leave.”

Kyle looks up sharply when William tells him someone’s dead, and then- it doesn’t make sense, the heartbroken look on his face. It’s wrong, no one should be able to make Kyle look like that, and the bright side is it’s barely there for a second before he schools himself, clenching his jaw and fixing his glasses.

The less bright side is when Kyle raises his voice and calls out to someone who’s not William: “Out front. The thief’s out front.”

It doesn’t compute at first, for William. He’s pretty sure his mouth falls open, and he just lies there like an idiot, because it doesn’t make sense, what he just heard.

“Kyle?” he asks, and Kyle drops his gaze, and William doesn’t actually clue in until he hears footsteps around the corner, and then it clicks.

William shoves Kyle aside, scrambling to his feet. He’s got a stitch in his side, possibly a gun-toting crazy person in the building behind him, but he does what he’s always done and bails the fuck out.

Someone’s chasing him this time, lots of someones, but William’s been pushing his body into doing impossible things since he was in school – he pulls ahead, ducks under outstretched arms when someone appears ahead of him, and then the voices disappear behind him and he doesn’t stop.

Tears sting at his eyes as he runs, and he hails the first taxi that passes, collapses into the backseat. “Take me-” he starts, and then he doesn’t know what to say next, because any of his family’s houses are going to be empty, and he can’t go to Kyle’s, and nothing else is his, nothing except-

It’s the longest drive of William’s life to get to the front door at Auston’s place, which turns out not to be locked, so William ends up bowling right through, slides on the floor and ends up skidding into the coffee table to a pair of matching shouts from Auston and Mitch as a bowl of popcorn and tangled game controllers go flying.

“Fucking shit!” Mitch yelps, and William’s head is pounding, and he’s got popcorn in his hair, and none of this seems real.

“Willy?” Auston asks, kneeling next to him. “Willy, what the fuck?” He looks kind of irritated, maybe a little bemused, like this is just William being some kind of eccentric billionaire. William can’t breathe.

“I was at a job,” William pants, and he can see Auston about to give him shit for doing something without discussing it first, and he can’t, right now. “I- it’s the other people, the ones from the news who’ve been shooting people when they steal things, they were there. Someone was dead.”

Mitch slips his hand into Auston’s, wordless, and William has this absurd moment of wishing someone would do the same to him, like he’s the kind of person who’s ever needed hand holding.

“Did they see you?” Auston asks, going right to action, like always.

“No,” William says, tripping over his words. “Maybe, I- they killed a person, Matts, I was there.”

His voice shakes, and it kind of- it sinks in for the very first time, really sinks in, how life-or-death serious this is. He wants to run to Kyle’s apartment, get him to break it down into neat little steps and make it seem like nothing. He wants to rewind time, before Kyle tried to turn him in, before William showed up at his window and made things into something Kyle clearly didn’t want.

“Ask your guy,” Mitch urges, as shaken as William’s ever seen him. “Ask your cop, we need help, this is-”

“We’re fine,” William says, but Auston’s clutching Mitch’s hand and he looks panicked too, and that’s the worst thing of all, because William’s never once seen Auston anything beyond mildly annoyed.

“Will,” he says, now, “Dubas’ll know what to do, we need-”

“He’s gone,” William interrupts, and he has to force the words out, ragged. “He’s been gone, he- tonight, he brought cops-”

“He told them about us?” Mitch asks, shocked, and William shakes his head, because they’d be out of the country by now if he thought that was true, but-

“No, I don’t- I don’t think, they would’ve come by now, I just- he told them I would be there.” He drags his hands through his hair, rough enough to hurt. Not even in the good way. He thinks he might be in shock. “He was going to arrest me.”

Shit,” Mitch breathes, terrified.

It’s too much, the time and space for reality to sink it. William curls up, hugging his knees so he won’t fly apart at the seams. He feels too young to deal with any of this. It was supposed to be fun, not people with guns and Kyle trying to sic half the fucking police force on him, like he’s someone William doesn’t even know, like he’s not the one person who was supposed to get it-

“I fucking knew he was going to screw us over,” Auston says, furious, and he sounds like he wants to hit something, looks it, too, until Mitch elbows him, sharp.

“He didn’t,” William says, numb. “I- he did, but- this isn’t right.”

He hides his face, squeezing his eyes shut so he won’t cry.

He should have seen this coming. This always, always comes.

It’s quiet for a long, long time. William’s pretty sure Mitch and Auston are having a silent conversation. Can’t make himself care enough to look.

Eventually, someone hooks their pinky with William’s.

“You know what?” Mitch says. “I don’t think we really needed him anyways.”

It’s a lie, and an obvious one, at that. “Fuck that guy,” Auston agrees anyways, vehement, and it’s a nice moment, a really touching show of support, so of course Mitch giggles.

“Sorry,” he says, when Auston elbows him – payback – but he doesn’t stop laughing. “Just- fuck the police.”

The double meaning is lost on exactly no one, because they’re all idiots, probably, and William still doesn’t cry, because he’s not he crying type, but he comes close. Maybe close to laughing, too, in spite of himself.

“Sorry,” he says, for a lot of things all at once, and Auston’s shaking his head.

“Shut the fuck up, Nylander,” he says, firm.

“Man, but actually, though,” Mitch hooks his arm with William’s, friendly. “Heist squad doesn’t need anyone else.”

“We’re not called heist squad,” William says, at the exact same time as Auston, and Auston cracks a smile, tugs both of them into a hug.

William doesn’t get friends. They fucking hurt, but they’re the best thing he’s got, these two, at least.

“Let’s go steal something,” Auston says, all impulsive, once the impromptu on-the-floor cuddle session is stretching out. “No outside management, fuck that, let’s do it.”

And that seems like as good an idea as anything, because nothing cheers William up like stealing something pretty, but Mitch makes a face.

“It’s just- you guys, these other people-”

“Come on,” Auston says, impatient, and Mitch is shaking his head.

“None of my normal sources know who they are,” he says. “These other thieves, they’re like- armed robbers, really serious shit. Stepping on where we’d usually work. It’s risky for us to do anything, and not just ‘cause of all the cops around. It’s not a good idea.”

And it’s just- William gets it, privilege and entitlement and all the shit he’s supposed to feel bad about, but it’s just so fucking unfair. He’s losing everything, Kyle and most of his dignity and maybe his family, if he ever really had them. Like fuck is William going to lose his hobby as well. This is the one thing he’s good at. It’s his.

And he’s always been good at finding distractions.

“Let’s stop them, then,” William says, and Auston frowns, but Mitch is already smiling. “These guys are fucking with us, let’s stop them.”

“You’re fucking insane,” Mitch says, gleeful. “No, I love it.”

William looks at Auston. Auston looks back.

They’ve been friends since they were sixteen, and for good reason.

“Fucking- sure, why not,” Auston says, and William laughs, a little hysterical but real, for the first time in days and days. He could’ve died, tonight. The living room is mostly trashed. “Why not, let’s stop some bad guys. How hard can it be?”

---

 William throws himself into it, reckless and all-out, the way he throws himself into most things.

It’s a matter of getting all the facts, first, so that’s what they do, piecing together which robberies they think these new people are responsible for. A lot of them are sloppy work, cameras catching glimpses of faces, hitting only the most obvious targets, the most valuable things in sight.

They’re hitting places pretty predictably. Using William’s own habits for cover, it looks like, stuff that seems copycat enough for someone to think it’s one person doing it all. A personal insult, really, which just hardens William’s resolve to get these guys even more.

William can see the appeal, he thinks. Not- he stands by it, the whole ‘fuck the police’ thing, but at some level, the level where he’s got to look at the puzzle in front of him, disparate pieces of evidence and ideas and maybes and turn it into something concrete; on that level, yeah, he gets it.

It’s not unfamiliar. Doesn’t quite scratch the same itch as stealing things outright, but it’s not as far off as it should be.

“Look at us, you guys,” Mitch sighs happily, when they’re all stretched out in one of William’s living rooms, a million hours of incredibly tedious security footage playing on every available screen. William suspects that Mitch would be happy doing mostly anything, if he could do it with friends. “We’re like. Suicide Squad. Fuckin’- badasses teaming up to catch worse badasses.”

“That was a really bad movie,” Auston says, flicking at Mitch’s ankle, but William doesn’t mind the analogy, not really.

“Pyromaniac firefighters,” he murmurs, mostly to himself. The other two shoot him matching confused looks, not quite getting it. It’s a little pain in William’s gut, an inside joke he doesn’t get to have anymore. “Never mind.”

He focuses on what’s in front of him. Job to do.

---

The big sign out front NYLANDER CO., is lit up, the brightest thing on the block on a dim and rainy day.

William doesn’t have an umbrella, has to sprint from his car to the entrance and still ends up with damp hair. He doesn’t want to be here, today.

“Morning,” he says, once he’s most of the way past the front desk. He doesn’t bother stopping. “My dad sent the itinerary?”

He’s not really expecting a response, but he gets one anyways. “You got it, no changes except for the consult from the mayor’s office.”

Now William stops. “Consult?” He doesn’t remember being told about that. Probably wouldn’t be assigned it anyways, if it’s something important.

“It’s in your calendar,” the secretary says, like William’s the slow one here, and just like that, he knows.

He’s nervous for the space of a second, then hopeful, and then both things settle into something more productive, which is convenient, because it means that by the time William shoves open the door to his office, he’s pissed.

Kyle doesn’t look surprised to see him angry, and William’s not surprised to see him at all. It’s very, very intentional.

William takes a breath, forces himself to stay calm. “When did you copy my calendar?” he asks, and his voice sounds impressively casual, which is a feat. He shuts the door behind him.

“First time I was here,” Kyle says, and William kicks himself for not realizing it sooner. They’re both liars, have been since the second they met and Kyle bluffed his way right into a place that was supposed to be William’s.

There’s not a single sign of the shy reporter, now, and not of the guy in the ratty pjs who fell asleep holding onto William, either. Kyle’s sitting straight up in William’s chair behind his desk, suit and tie. He commands the room more than he usually does, his gun and his badge and his handcuffs piled next to William’s computer, a newspaper folded in front of him. William’s left standing on the other side of the desk, a guest in his own office. Hell of a power play.

Kyle tosses the newspaper to William, and he catches it, one-handed. Not quite a diamond necklace.

He can see the headline before it’s cut off by the fold in the page. SECURITY GUARD SHOT BY ARMED ROBBERS. The paper is a couple weeks old, from the night when everything went to shit.

“Tell me this wasn’t you,” Kyle says, instead of a hello.

“You don’t actually think-” William says, stunned, and it hits him like a train, putting two and two together. “Is that why you disappeared?”

“Was it you?” Kyle asks instead of giving an answer, which means yes, and William shakes his head.

“Obviously not,” he says. Kyle doesn’t budge. “You don’t believe me?”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

It lands like a blow, but William doesn’t let himself react, just crosses the room and perches on his desk. Real deliberate, so Kyle has to wheel back the chair to make room. William presses the newspaper into Kyle’s chest, a little churlish.

“You should probably get on that,” he says. “Deciding.”

Kyle doesn’t drop William’s gaze as he tosses the newspaper onto the desk. “If this gets out, I lose everything, my integrity as a person-”

“Every single one of your bosses would take a bribe,” William says, dismissive; then, maybe a little mocking, “Besides, you’ve been trying to arrest me this whole time. That’s solid policework-”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” Kyle interrupts, and he sounds irritable, which is unusual enough that William pays attention.

“You know I don’t,” he says.

“I know what you’ve been doing,” Kyle says, standing up abruptly so they’re at eye level. “Asking all the questions, planning your things, getting me involved.”

“You haven’t stopped me,” William fires back, straightening up. It’s dangerous to do this here, at work, in the building his family owns, two versions of William Nylander that shouldn’t coexist.

“I don’t want to be party to hurting people,” Kyle says, and his voice is lower than before, like he maybe had the same thought as William and is consciously trying to restrain himself.

“Neither do I,” William says, but Kyle’s shaking his head.

“You actively hurt people by stealing from them, how don’t you-”

“They can afford it,” William retorts, fast. “I know who I’m stealing from-”

“And this security guard?” Kyle demands, pushing the newspaper across the desk toward William, again. “Who was almost killed for trying to do his job, could he afford it?”

“I’ll let you know when I catch the guys who did it,” William snaps. “Unless your police can do it first, but I don’t think I’ll hold my breath.”

“You-” Kyle says, then stops, and William watches him take that in. Enjoys it, too, the vindication, before it occurs to him that Kyle doesn’t look surprised. That’s what stands out. That means-

“You didn’t really think that it was me,” William realizes, certain, and Kyle doesn’t give an inch.

“Would you tell me if it was?”

“Would you want me to?”

“Yes.”

They’re nose to nose, leaning close enough to touch. “So you could finally arrest me, is that it, detective?”

“No.”

“Then why?” William demands, and he’s too loud and he knows it, all the hurt he’s felt since waking up by himself the one time he didn’t think he would coming out in his voice, and Kyle snaps, just as loud.

“So I-”

He breaks off, and he’s always, always in control, except now he looks stricken, holding onto his badge, knuckles white. Something clicks into place in William’s mind.

“So you could plan it better next time,” William finishes, and the look on Kyle’s face tells him he’s right.

And that’s the thing, see, because if there are two different version of William Nylander, there are two different versions of Kyle Dubas as well. He’s not as good at separating them as William is. Not good at trying to ignore one of them, either.

It’s not about the security guard. Of course it’s not.

“You’re scared,” William says. “You’re trying to find a reason to make yourself stop helping me steal things because you think it’s the right thing to do, but I know you’re not going to.”

Kyle’s jaw is clenched tight. “You can stop now.”

“You won’t,” William continues, because quitting while he’s ahead has never been his strong point. “Because you were bored before me, and you’re too good to be bored-”

“That’s enough.”

“-but mostly because you like being the smartest person in the room even more than I do.”

He doesn’t even have time to react – Kyle’s hands move in a flash, and by the time William looks down, his right hand is cuffed to the handle of his desk drawer, locking him in place.

Enough,” Kyle says, and there’s no room to argue. His badge is lying on his desk, useless.

Something in Willy’s chest pangs, and there’s this absurd urge to laugh, but also maybe to shut the fuck up and let Kyle have his way with him, but also- it hurts, a little, this sudden kind of longing that hits him like a train. It’s not quite either version of Kyle standing over him, just a man with hands like a thief and a mind like a cop and enough heart to be at least a little conflicted about it, but not quite enough.

William wants to crawl into Kyle’s brain and live there, pick apart his thoughts and just listen to what he has to say. Get listened to right back. Maybe some making out, in between times. Maybe they could keep the handcuffs.

William’s not that complicated of a guy, really.

He leans up for a kiss, gets only a split second of Kyle’s lips before Kyle’s pulling back and blinking at him.

“The door locks,” William offers, flexing his fingers where he’s cuffed to the desk. It’s got him bent over a little, so he has to look up to meet Kyle’s eyes. “I can give everyone the afternoon off, tell you what I know about your case, we stop the bad guys, then you can thank me?”

There’s a beat. “This is a turn-on for you,” Kyle says, somewhere between disbelieving and despairing and maybe stunned laughter. “Oh my god, you’re such a twenty year old.”

William shakes his head, still leaning in. “Don’t talk like you’re old, you’re not that old,” he urges; and this time, when he reaches up for a kiss, Kyle makes this sound in the back of his throat and kisses him back, surging into William’s space with enough intensity to catch him off guard, so he has to catch himself on the desk with his non-cuffed hand.

It’s probably a bad angle for his back, but William doesn’t care, just parts his lips under Kyle’s and gives as good as he can get until Kyle breaks off, and whatever tension there was is broken, replaced with something new and unfamiliar. There’s nothing left in the middle of them, now.

They stand there for a long time, before Kyle lets out a breath that William feels. He doesn’t move away.

“This is so many bad ideas,” Kyle says, quiet, and William’s already shaking his head.

“I like you,” he says, forceful, because it’s the truth, in spite of everything that says it shouldn’t be. He’s had bad ideas, too many to count, and his friends have never been that. “We’re friends, right?”

Kyle nods. His glasses slide down his nose, a little. “Yeah,” he says. “Yes.”

William bumps their noses together. “So I like you, and I trust you,” he says, simple. “You trust me, now.”

It’s not quite an ultimatum. He doesn’t think he’s the kind of person to give ultimatums, or that Kyle’s the kind of person to accept them. It’s-

It’s a request, and it’s holding each other’s gazes, and it’s some kind of even footing, no one on their knees, today.

Slowly, so careful it’s barely anything, Kyle lifts a hand. William’s holding his breath.

Kyle’s thumb brushes along the cuff on William’s wrist, barely anything, and the warmth of his skin against the cool press of metal makes William shiver.

---

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---

The tapestry is priceless, brilliantly coloured thread woven with gold. Worth more than most houses based on the cost of materials alone. Also surprisingly cozy as a blanket.

William still thinks of it as Kyle’s bed, even now that he’s in it more often than not. It’s still a really, really good bed. Better with a tapestry-slash-blanket and an iPad propped up on one of the pillows as William reviews the files Auston sent over. He’s really focused, thinking through the problem, so it’s a slow, eons-late realization that he’s not alone anymore.

“You’re sneaky,” he says, and when he turns around, Kyle’s standing in the doorway, looking at him appraisingly. Maybe admiring him? Maybe realizing that William’s currently wrapped in the former centerpiece of a travelling textiles exhibition.

 “You’re shameless, you know,” Kyle says, and William smiles. The second one, then.

“I am,” he agrees, cheerfully enough, and tugs the tapestry up where it’s falling off of his bare shoulder. “Are you?”

“No,” Kyle says, but there’s nothing heavy about it, mostly just being contrary. He sits down across from William on the bed, and his dress pants crease when he crosses his legs. It makes him look like a kid. “What’re you working on?”

William scoots over so they can both see the screen. “Schematics Matts sent,” he says, bringing the pictures up on screen. He watches Kyle take it in, knows that they had twin reactions. “The new vault we talked about.” It’s supposed to be unbeatable. Supposed to be containing millions of dollars in stolen gold that no one can get a warrant to touch.

They both like a challenge.

“I was actually thinking about that,” Kyle says, eyes lighting up. “And it occurred to me that knowing what we know from Marner’s informant, the locksmith he was talking about, it might actually be more prudent for us to- May I?”

William hands him the tablet, tucks his legs in close to watch Kyle’s fingers as he draws over the schematics, sketching out his thoughts. He’s enthusiastic about it, the way he tends to get about this stuff, and William just sits and listens, hopelessly endeared.

He’s, like. Very aware that they’ve got kind of a weird thing going. They’ve never quite put a label on it. He knows they aren’t sweet and smitten like Auston and Mitch, and definitely not perfect and normal like his parents. They’re something else, though. Something William likes, a lot. It’s better than good enough.

Kyle pauses, and William realizes he’s been staring. “You’re looking at me.”

William shrugs. “I like when you say smart things,” he says, easy. “I like how good you are at this. How exceptional.” It’s a fun word to say. Feels nice rolling off his tongue.

Kyle scoffs, fond, but he reaches out, tugs William in by a corner of the tapestry, and kisses his forehead. William closes his eyes and feels it.

“Tell me,” Kyle requests.

William smiles, and he does.