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November 7th, 2017, 13:07

 

Rain sheeted down the windows, the dull rumble of thunder and wind making the entire building sway ever so slightly. Storms from this high up were an experience; Aiden hadn’t been on a plane since he was fifteen and running from their father, but there hadn’t been any storms during it, clear skies and fluffy clouds the whole trip over the ocean. This was the closest he’d ever been to touching the clouds as they roiled violently, black and ominous.

No tornado warnings at least. It was a small comfort, so high up that there wouldn’t be any place to hide from one anyways.

He stood next to the balcony door, debating whether or not it was worth the effort to walk out on it. Given Jordi’s utter loathing of unobstructed sightlines, the massive windows and balcony that extended from the kitchen to the master bedroom were both surprises. But the view looked out over Lake Michigan, almost completely undisturbed by any other buildings, so maybe that was the trick—no rooftops to shoot from, and a reliance on the choppy waters of the lake to leave any braver snipers incapable of the precise angles to put a bullet through these windows.

It meant the balcony was getting the brunt of the wind and rain though. Aiden grimaced and reconsidered his dismissal of the nicotine gum he’d been eyeing in the gas station. He’d never tried to quit smoking, not once since the first time he’d accepted a drag off an older mobster’s cigarette as a teen, and he wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of doing so. But smoking inside Jordi’s condo was absolutely not allowed, and the more he thought about it, Jordi’s paranoia about being shot was perfectly reasonable and he did have a harder time breathing when he ran than he used to and—

Well. The reason he was dancing around, the reason he’d never admit out loud, was that he actually wanted to try and be healthier. For once. For Jordi. Because, in the years after Lena’s death, he hadn’t ever thought he’d want to try and live longer, but here he was. Trying.

The window was cold as ice when he rested his hand against it, the heat of his palm spreading ghostly clouds of condensation across the glass. A cup of coffee burned the palm of his other hand, a curious mingling of temperature and sensation, but he didn’t move either. The dichotomy wasn’t a bad one. Just different.

They’d arrived in the city four days ago. Jordi had spent almost all of the first day out, with a terse command not to follow him. The next two had been filled up with the minutiae of maintaining his lifestyle—meetings with his investment team, a consult with the accountant that handled filing taxes for his various identities, a long and involved rant about real estate and where he wanted to buy next. It was a weird, uneasy thing, not seeing Jordi in the confines of a hotel room where they were both on even ground.

Here, this was undeniably Jordi’s space. The bookshelves were stacked high with garbage paperback romance novels, most of them with shirtless men on the front. One series had the high honor of a place on Jordi’s bedside table, the inside covers signed and Jordi bristling with hostile pride over them. Box sets of various soap operas were tucked behind the glass doors of Jordi’s entertainment system, alongside a random assortment of other movies. Jordi’s taste in media ran to the emotional more than Aiden had ever realized, but his willingness to watch anything made his movies more eclectic than his shows and books.

There was an office, filled to the brim with dark wood furniture and leather chairs, a high-end computer neatly tucked away with a wired keyboard and mouse. Aiden had poked around on it a bit, been quietly impressed with the level of hardware Jordi had invested in and faintly bemused by his choice of games on it—online shooters, mostly, as if Jordi didn’t shoot things enough. Two MMOs, neither subscription based. An entire folder of tabletop roleplay rulebooks, with further physical copies of the rulebooks squirrelled away on another bookshelf in the office. Stacks and stacks and stacks of documents, all the things that could reveal Jordi in a heartbeat, carefully hidden in a series of desk drawers. Jordi’s meticulous nature extended to his filing system, above and beyond anything Aiden would have expected him to have.

Most of Jordi’s furniture was in neutral tones. Greys, whites, blacks, a few browns. He had pops of color in accent throws and pillows in the living room, lovely but impersonal modern art hung on the walls—a few pieces of art that were distinctly not modern and, Aiden suspected, real versions that cost several hundreds of millions of dollars—and dark wood floors. His kitchen gleamed with marble and stainless steel, high end appliances and a fridge large enough to supply a restaurant, much less one man who wasn’t usually home.

At least, Aiden used to think Jordi wasn’t usually home. He was starting to have doubts about that now.

In the year since they’d gone official by Jordi’s terms, he’d moved around the country about as frequently as he always had. By this point, Aiden had visited every major port at least once, several of them multiple times, and was getting familiar with the highways to the point of easy comfort on any of them. He’d been on the road for four years now, since he’d broken his life so completely in Chicago, and the travelling didn’t bother him anymore.

Sometimes, he figured he’d been homeless even before he’d turned his back on the city. The year in the Owl Motel when he and Damien had broken up. The apartment that was more of a lovenest and a workspace, not a home, in the years before that. The occasional stints of living with Nicky, wherever she was renting, but never with his mother since he’d turned nineteen and she confronted him about the path he was heading down.

She’d been right, in the end, and right to try and fight him over it. But Aiden wasn’t sure there had ever been a way to stop him from becoming the thing he’d turned into. Not once they’d run, and the bills had started to stack up and their visas had been fragile, risky things. Not once the Club had sent guys around to check out the new blood in the Irish neighborhood his mother had rented in, rubbing elbows with Poles and Germans, pointedly distant from the Italians who still resented the takeover Quinn had spearheaded, uneasily in a truce with the Jews and Assyrians who knew almost better than anyone how tenuous the acceptance of immigrants really was. Not once Aiden had figured out that when push came to shove, he’d take any hardship in the world just to prevent his sister from finding out that hardship even existed.

He’d fought. He’d killed people. He’d stolen cars and driven other murderers around. He’d beaten a man to death with a group of other enforcers because the poor fucker made the mistake of flirting with Niall Quinn and Aiden had been young and terrified and smart enough to read a room long before anyone else was smart enough to read him.

If it hadn’t been the Club, it would’ve been the sin that ran through his blood anyways, he knew that. His mother had been staunchly Catholic until the day she’d died. But standing here, in Jordi’s perfect condo filled to the brim with reminders of who he was, Aiden wondered if maybe, just maybe, he could have had a home for longer than four years in America.

Maybe it was just a pipedream. He didn’t really care about stuff anyways. But…

He missed his sister. He missed his mother, who’d been dead for half his life now anyways. He missed his nephew, and his dead niece, and perversely, he missed the father that had taught him to shoot and build bombs and fix a car on the days where he wasn’t so drunk or so angry that the man who loved him disappeared under the man who hated having his authority questioned.

He missed Jordi, who’d been somewhere in his own head since that night in Boston.

He wished he’d known Clara for longer so he could justify missing her too.

With a sigh, he finally pulled his hand away from the window and went to sit on the couch, propping his feet up on a coffee table conveniently placed for just that. The soft sweatpants were Jordi’s, not his own, but it was nice to be out of jeans for once—he knew his suit from Las Vegas was around here somewhere because Jordi had taken it with him, and the rest of his clothes were all serviceable and utilitarian. He’d have to replace his sweaters soon; quick stitch patch jobs could only do so much in the face of constant wear and shitty 24-hour laundromat washing machines.

The tank top was his own, because Jordi’s were too loose around the chest and too tight around the shoulders, and the heat in the condo was up high enough that he felt no need to grab a blanket. Jordi had left this morning with a terse agreement to do lunch together, but Aiden had no idea when that was supposed to be. The angry energy from Boston still sparked over Jordi’s skin every time Aiden touched him, and he had no idea what that was about either.

It wasn’t something he’d done. At least, he assumed that—if it had been, Jordi would have told him by now. Still, the edgy silences and brutal sex was beginning to remind him, uncomfortably, of times Damien had been mad at him for one reason or another, looking for a reason to fight so he could justify spewing whatever hateful shit he wanted at him. Damien’s favorite weapon had always been words, because he knew that Aiden was better with his fists—and bruises showed. If the cops got called on them, it wouldn’t have ever been Damien ending up in jail.

So Damien had sniped and snarled and sneered and Aiden had bit his tongue and gone quiet and furious, and he’d never, ever hit Damien no matter how much he’d been asking for it in the moment.

That was one difference, and Aiden held onto it. The other difference was the way Jordi kept touching him, simultaneously trying not to get too close—because, inevitably, he’d end up pinning Aiden against something in the condo and leaving so many bruises that Aiden was pretty sure he had less than forty percent of his natural skin tone left by now—and craving constant engagement. He shooed Aiden out of the kitchen then sat so close to him at the little dinette table that their legs and arms brushed with every movement. He laid down on the edge of the bed every night and then ended up wrapped around Aiden in the morning anyways, clinging to him like he was afraid Aiden would leave.

Which was the real reason he was here, if he was going to be honest with himself. Bumming around Jordi’s condo wasn’t his idea of a fun time, and he didn’t want to risk being recognized out and around the city. But there was something strangely fragile in the way Jordi was acting, and he didn’t want to crush it ineptly just because he was bored and moody about being back home. What used to be home.

Damien had never seemed fragile. Even with his leg so badly crushed he’d never walk right again, he’d held all the power and control to the end, right up until the moment Aiden had made sure he couldn’t hold anything. He’d never been emotionally delicate, and refusing to let Aiden into the bedroom had been one of his favorite ways to punish him, next to making him do all the things that he hated as a penance for whatever had pissed him off that day.

The front door unlocked with a soft click that nevertheless carried, sound echoing into the living room as Aiden turned his head towards the foyer. Jordi’s back was straight, shoulders up and even, expression perfectly smooth with just a hint of annoyance at the corners of his eyes. He looked like he always looked, but he didn’t look fine.

“What are we doing for lunch?” Aiden asked, instead of the dozen, hundred, thousand useless questions about how he was feeling. Either Jordi would tell him, or he wouldn’t. He’d have a better chance of getting it out of him after sex either way.

“I was thinking wraps,” Jordi said, moving past him and into the kitchen. The fridge hadn’t been stocked the first day, but it was well kitted out for a couple weeks of cooking now. Convenient, because Aiden hadn’t tried to step out the front door since they’d arrived. “Bitch of a storm.”

He hummed in agreement, setting his coffee down on the table before following Jordi in. Close up, he could see the dark stains of raindrops across the grey of Jordi’s suit jacket, a few droplets still lingering in the blackness of his hair like tiny stars. Aiden reached out without thinking, dragging his fingers through the damp strands, and only realized he’d done it when Jordi went perfectly still under his hand.

“...Sorry,” he said after a second, without moving it. Jordi’s hair was always so shockingly soft, softer than any other man’s hair he’d touched.

Instead of saying something in return, Jordi heaved a sigh and turned, sliding an arm around Aiden’s waist as he leaned into him. Lifting his other arm to wrap around Jordi’s neck, Aiden ran a thumb over the edge of Jordi’s ear, following the memory of the hundred times Jordi had done this exact thing for him. There was a persistent ache in his left hip, the bruises littered across his body protested every time he brushed up against something, and a scabbed over bite on his arm kept tearing open again. He was a mess, and couldn’t really complain because he did enjoy it in the moment, every time, but—

“I talked to Dave,” Jordi said, pressing his face into Aiden’s neck. One of the many bruises there twinged. “Think we’re going to back off on the rough stuff for a while. ‘Til you’re healed up.”

“Why, you need me for a job or something?” Aiden injected dry humor into his voice, but he kept smoothing his fingers gently through Jordi’s hair. That sense of fragility was back again and it wasn’t himself he was worried about breaking.

“Dickhead. No, I just want to stop taking my shit out on you. Normally no one else would be around for me to fuck up when I was in a mood like this.” There was a beat of silence, and then he added, “Well, no real people at least. The dipshits I’d kill don’t count as people.”

“Who does?” Aiden asked, only half-rhetorical.

“You. Me. Dave—that’s my therapist.” There was another, more thoughtful pause. “Michel. Indigo. Angelina. Xiang Li. I’ll update you when I think of anyone else to add to the list.”

If Jordi had stopped with him, Aiden would have laughed it off as a joke. The fact that he’d seriously considered it—and the fact that the list was so short—made it hard laugh about. He wasn’t sure what was more terrifying: that he was on that list, that he was the first one Jordi had named even before himself, that every person on it was someone Jordi worked with in some capacity… or that part of him wanted to ask about the names he didn’t know, pry into Jordi’s life and history and tease the story out of him.

“So no rough stuff,” he said instead of asking, tucking those questions away for later, “what are we doing for the next week and a half, then? I can’t actually think of a time we spent more than two hours in a place and didn’t have sex eventually.”

“Your masochistic streak aside, we can fuck without me hurting you.” Jordi pulled back a little to squint at him. “We do it. Frequently. Just not, y’know, recently.”

Aiden grinned, lopsided and a little bit dirty, relieved to see such a normal expression of annoyance on Jordi’s face. He knew that. But he wanted to poke at the idea anyways, just because sex was one of those things that Jordi was so secure in. Not that Jordi was ever lacking in self-confidence, but fucking and killing were where his arrogance truly shone. “Got anything specific in mind?”

Jordi’s eyes narrowed further, thin black slits as he stared off into the distance. A rumble of thunder rattled the windows, the rapid patter of rainfall turning into a resounding roll of automatic gunfire, slamming into the building with a vengeance. The sound was deafening, drowning out his own heartbeat in his ears, but Jordi’s gaze didn’t waver. His fingers slid with lazy ease up under the tank top, no longer cold as they trailed up his spine.

Eventually, Jordi leaned in and pressed his lips to the curve of Aiden’s ear, beard brushing against his jaw with filthy promise. “We’ll make it a day in. I’ll put on one of my favorite movies, you can sit at my feet and suck my cock like you know you want to, and then we’ll curl up in the bath until the hot water runs out.”

“Your hot water never runs out,” Aiden said, his heart stuttering like the sheets of rain against the glass.

“Yeah, that’s the point.” He felt Jordi’s lips curl up into a sly smile. “How about you go get your collar for me and I’ll finish making lunch.”

The hand under his shirt smoothed back down, Jordi’s palm warm against his skin, and then he was pulling away. Aiden let him go, shook his head for a second to get his thoughts straight again, then made his way out of the kitchen. Soft, plush rugs kept their feet from thudding on the hardwood, especially in the bedroom—Jordi’s bed was an absolute display in lazy, minimalist luxury, massive and heavy on its white rug. The wood frame was low to the ground and stained so dark it was almost black, and there were small metal rings screwed firmly into it, nowhere near as discreet as they should be.

They’d been the first thing he’d noticed when he walked into the bedroom four days ago, eyes instantly going to those rings and the heavy, square wardrobe set against the wall opposite the bed. Jordi had a walk-in closet—two, technically, the first attached to the bedroom and the second attached to the master bath. The one in the bedroom had been converted to a gun room, worktable and racks tucked behind a door with three separate locks on it. The one in the bathroom held more suits than any one man needed.

The wardrobe had not yet been opened, and Aiden had a lot of theories on what it could hold inside. Maybe once Jordi was out of this mood he’d been in.

His collar was a recent addition to their things, and it travelled with Jordi. Supple black leather with a solid D ring on the front, it was incredibly plain at first glance. Black embroidery carved Jordi’s name into the sides of it, over and over again until the only way it could be read was by touch, not sight. He’d been very pleased by the workmanship when it was first delivered to him. Aiden had mostly been embarrassed by how much he enjoyed wearing it.

It was cool in his hands as he pulled it from Jordi’s bag. He didn’t put it on—that was a one-time mistake, quickly rectified—but carried it out, setting it gently on the coffee table and retrieving his mug to carry into the kitchen. Jordi’s suit jacket was off now, draped over the back of a chair, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, shirt untucked and open. It made him look comfortable. It made him look at home, finally relaxing in a way he simply hadn’t the whole time they’d been there.

Aiden sat at the dinette table for lack of anything better to do with himself. A few minutes later Jordi joined him, setting their plates down with deft hands, the wraps cut at a diagonal and looking picture perfect.

“Where did you learn to cook, anyways?” He didn’t mean to ask the question, but it had been nagging at him for a while now. Nicky had been a caterer, she’d gone to culinary school, he’d understood why his sister was so good at it. Jordi was more of an enigma, especially since they’d eaten out so often before now. He’d half-considered Vegas the exception, not the rule, Jordi putting on his best show.

But four days in his condo, staring at his fancy cooking supplies and expensive knives, had done a lot to prove that assumption wrong.

“Food Network,” Jordi said, without hesitation. “Some recipes online too, and Nudlevideo’s got some pretty good food bloggers now, but Food Network’s the real thing that got me going. Shit, two decades ago? Something like that.”

“You’re good at it.” It wasn’t really an adequate way to describe it, because Jordi was a perfectionist and it showed here too. “I mean—my sister didn’t do fancy stuff the way you do, but she’d worked in the hospitality industry. She knew her way around a kitchen. You’re better than her.”

Jordi snorted, a look of smug satisfaction on his face. “Of course I am. I’m great at everything I do. You can’t cook worth shit, can you?”

Well, he couldn’t very well admit that now. Subsisting off of fast food and takeout had served him fine for most his life. The relief at seeing Jordi smile wasn’t enough to make Aiden drop his guard, not that easily. “I can bake. Nicky’s alright at it, but I had the magic touch with the oven.”

“What, like, cookies?” The doubt on Jordi’s face was annoying, but not out of character. With something dangerously close to contentment, Aiden slid into the usual banter, ignoring the way his bruised elbows complained about the hard surface of the table.

“Like, anything. I used to make this one banana bread for Nicky and the kids, because she’d buy these huge bunches of bananas and then never finish eating them before they went brown—which is when they’re the best for banana bread, when they’re almost black with how ripe they are. So, I’d make banana bread every couple of weeks, and secure my place at the dinner table next time she made lasagna from scratch.”

The nostalgia hit him all at once, a hard rush that crushed his chest and made something tight and hot catch in the back of his throat. The anniversary of Lena’s death was only two weeks ago, he was back in Chicago, and for a second, just a second, it’d been like he was back there—in Nicky’s warm house, with the sunlight streaming through the windows overlooking the backyard, her linoleum cracked and a little stained and never enough room on the counters for everything. She used to make the pasta from scratch for lasagna, because he’d splurged on a mixer once and the attachments for it were much cheaper.

And he’d sit there, with Jacks in the chair next to him and Lena in his lap, and they’d steal bites of banana bread while Nicky fussed over the sauce, but pretend like they weren’t, pretend like they were saving room for dinner. And Lena would tip her head back and grin up at him with her childish, gap-toothed smile and her big, bright eyes, and Jacks would giggle every time his mom turned around, trying to catch them sneaking bites. And she never would, because she could see them clearly in the reflection on microwave and timed it to when they were keeping their hands to themselves.

Jordi’s hand smoothed over his arm, fingers curling around his wrist in almost a perfect mimicry of the bruises they’d left behind two nights ago. At some point, he’d set the wrap down—he hoped he’d set it down, anyways—and it lay, forlornly, on Jordi’s clean white plates in his clean little eating nook attached to his clean modern kitchen with its massive windows and the sterile, overwhelming elegance of the condo. There wasn’t any cracked linoleum in here, no scuffs and stains on the cabinets, no laundry machine shoved in the kitchen with mismatched cups left on the wobbly dining room table.

The hard lump in his throat refused to let itself be dislodged, no matter how much he swallowed. Jordi’s other hand mirrored its twin, curling around his wrists until he was holding Aiden’s arm halfway like a hug, his pale skin a sharp contrast to the hand-shaped bruises on Aiden’s forearms.

“Let’s go watch the movie, Aiden,” he said, voice gentle.

He hadn’t cried at the wreck. He hadn’t cried at the funeral. He hadn’t cried when he let Nicky drive Jacks away the first time, nor the second when he saw them off in St. Louis. He hadn’t cried over Clara, or when he’d found T-Bone alive and well, just like he hadn’t shed a single tear for his mother or his father or Damien. No matter how many people died and left him behind, he simply… couldn’t.

That didn’t stop his body from making an effort, though. The burn in his eyes matched the burn in his throat and the ugly, hot, wet thing tight in his chest, making it hard to breathe. Jordi’s hands were warm on his wrists, and this trip was supposed to be about him anyways. Aiden wasn’t the fragile one, right now. Aiden wasn’t the one that needed comfort.

“Do I have to sit at your feet?” he asked, trying not to think about ruin in his voice.

“You’ve been good. I’ll let you curl up with me on the couch instead.” Jordi’s fingers squeezed, just hard enough to make it clear that this was an order, not a suggestion, then let go as he stood.

Slowly, Aiden pushed himself up and out of his chair. A crack of lightning whited out the condo for a second, practically right on top of them, but he could still navigate to the couch without much effort, four days of nothing but these rooms burning the paths into his subconscious. Jordi was already sprawled out, collar hanging from his fingers as he eyed Aiden with a small frown.

He tugged off the tank top, shoved the sweats off as he climbed on the couch, the cushions cool against his bare skin. Jordi’s fingers were gentle as they traced up the column of his neck, circling his throat before wrapping the soft leather around it. His eyes slid shut, Jordi’s palms smoothing over his cheeks and then burying fingers in the mess of his hair, and some of the ache eased a little bit.

With gentle pressure, Jordi pushed his head down, freeing one hand to grab the remote. “We’re both a fucking mess right now, huh?”

Aiden made a muted noise of agreement, muffling it in the fabric of Jordi’s pants. They still had the smell of rain on them, rain and that particular taste of city air that was Chicago, so familiar on the back of his tongue that he’d never be rid of the smell of it. He dragged his cheek against the smell, soaked it in and pushed his face into the soft silk of Jordi’s undone shirt, the fabric warm from the heat of his body.

Whatever the movie was, it was dramatic. The opening music was orchestral and loud, almost loud enough to drown out the storm completely. Jordi’s hand rested on the back of his collar, thumb rubbing the strip of skin between leather and hair, unaware or uncaring of the way it slowly sent heat down his spine.

The more he let himself sink into that feeling, the low burn of arousal and willingness to do whatever Jordi wanted, the easier it was to breathe. The tight ache in his chest slipped away, abandoned him as he curled his fingers over Jordi’s knee and mouthed at the front of his pants. Maybe it wasn’t the best way to deal with the tears that would never come, but he liked this method more than just drinking his sorrows.

There was a soft huff of a laugh from above him and Jordi pulled his hand away long enough to undo his pants and tug his dick out.

It wasn’t quite a command, but he remembered what Jordi had said in the kitchen. The slow drag of calluses on his skin sent an answering surge of interest to his cock, channeled into the way he reached forward to curl his own fingers around Jordi’s soft length. He never took long to get hard, already stiffening in Aiden’s grip as he shifted and settled his mouth around it instead, enjoying the way he could feel it swell against his tongue.

Jordi’s hand stayed were it was, wrapped around the back of his neck with lazy, uncaring attention. From this position he couldn’t look up, so Aiden pulled his mouth off for a second to glance at Jordi’s face—turned away from him, watching the television with a bored expression. His lips quirked slightly as raucous laughter from the characters on screen broke out, but he didn’t appear to notice that Aiden was even in his lap.

The hand on his collar squeezed just enough to make a point. A hot shiver rolled through him, and he got back to work.

He took his time, swirling his tongue around the head of Jordi’s cock, mouthing along the shaft as his free hand pushed Jordi’s shirt out of the way. The muscles in Jordi’s stomach flexed slightly under his palm, dick twitching as Aiden dragged his tongue up the fat vein underneath. Jordi’s fingers had gone from idly rubbing at his neck to firmly tangled in his hair, silent encouragement. In the movie, someone began screaming about infidelity.

There wasn’t any need to take it hard and fast, even if part of him wanted to choke on Jordi’s cock anyways. It was easy to let himself drift, curl his lips over his teeth and swallow Jordi down, shut his eyes and take the gentle tugs and nudges as commands. He didn’t have to think, and he didn’t have to rush.

Outside, the storm continued to roll mercilessly through the city. So many arguments had broken out over the course of the movie that Aiden had stopped even tracking the voices that caused them. Jordi’s hand was a heavy weight on the back of his head, pushing Aiden down further on his cock, encouraging him to move faster, suck harder.

With his fingers curled around the base of Jordi’s shaft, Aiden obeyed, letting Jordi’s hand set the pace. The hum of arousal that had drowned everything else out washed through him, his own hips rolling in a lazy, offbeat rhythm to the bobbing of his head. When Jordi’s fingers tightened to the point of hurting, Aiden groaned softly and swallowed until he was finally dragged off Jordi’s softening dick.

Good boy,” Jordi said, voice low and warm. With a sigh, Aiden let his head drop, pillowed on Jordi’s firm thigh. Thinking took too much effort, so he simply didn’t.

He couldn’t tell when the movie ended, his face pressed into the warm skin of Jordi’s stomach, Jordi’s fingers dragging in slow, easy motions through his hair. The music shifted, drowned out briefly by another roll of thunder, but Jordi didn’t move. As long as Jordi didn’t have anywhere to be, Aiden wasn’t moving either.

Eventually, even the music ended. Only then did Jordi shift, dragging his hand down to Aiden collar and tugging with two fingers. Despite his reluctance, Aiden sat up, letting Jordi pull him into a sitting position. Jordi’s eyes were dark, soft, tracing over his face with a tenderness that absolutely no one who knew him would claim was possible, and his hand cupped Aiden’s jaw with equal tenderness, thumb pressing against his lips.

“Alright, come on. Up. Let’s go take that bath.” Jordi paused only long enough to make sure his pants wouldn’t fall down now that they were undone, then stood and walked back towards the bedroom. He didn’t bother looking back, clearly expecting Aiden to follow without question.

Aiden did, because he really wanted that bath too, but he left his clothes in the living room. Those could be picked up later.

By the time he got back to the master bath, Jordi was naked, his shirt and underwear chucked in a hamper and his suit pants hung up next to the suits from the last couple days, waiting for dry cleaning. He’d already started the water for the bath in an absolutely massive soaking tub that was larger than the one in Vegas. It would probably take a while.

Aiden sat on the edge of the tub, just within reach, then tipped his head forward so the buckle on his collar was easy to access. His hands pressed between his thighs, the cold marble under his ass sending goosebumps up his skin. The cacophony of the storm was less audible back here, washed out by the roar of the rub filling up, Jordi’s low humming echoing off the tile. When the collar was undone and dangling from Jordi’s fingers, Aiden sighed, tipping his head back. The room was slowly heating up, but his neck still felt cool and achingly naked without the leather wrapped around it.

“You know, I used to think this shit was only about getting off,” he said, staring up at the ceiling. Like the rest of the condo, it was neatly white; the opulence of the bathroom didn’t extend that high up.

“Upset you didn’t get to?” Jordi asked thoughtfully, dragging his fingers through Aiden’s hair again. He was standing close enough now that Aiden could shut his eyes and tip forward, press his forehead to Jordi’s hip.

“Not really,” he admitted, cock still half-hard but not demanding attention. “Might ask you for a handjob though. I’m just… thinking about how much I like this part. And the parts where you put me out of my own head without… making me empty, afterwards.”

“It’s a good thing we didn’t end up fucking before last year.” With that cryptic remark, Jordi leaned away to pull an elegantly embossed wooden box over. Aiden opened his eyes to watch him with mild interest, eyebrow quirking up when Jordi flipped the lid open and revealed a dozen bath bombs sitting in a bed of tissue paper. “Pick your poison.”

“Something without glitter. Maybe with vanilla or something in it.” Jordi made a thoughtful noise, then picked two out and shut the box again, pushing it back to its designated position on the counter.

“No promises that glitter won’t happen anyways, but this shouldn’t turn you into a pride parade at least,” Jordi said, eyeing the water filling the tub with a faint frown. “That’s the only thing that sucks about a big tub. Takes for-fucking-ever to fill up.”

“Just remind yourself how nice it’ll be when we aren’t sloshing water over the edge just by breathing,” Aiden said, shutting his eyes again and soaking in the warmth of Jordi’s skin on his face, the hand in his hair.

He let himself drift, the sounds of rushing water occasionally accompanied by offbeat rumbling from the storm. Jordi’s fingers were a steady, constant movement, giving him a thing to time his breathing to. In the absence of any other thought, a bubble of hurt welled up in his chest again—five years ago, he would not have been here. It wouldn’t have been Jordi’s fancy bathroom and Jordi’s hand in his hair. It would have been Nicky’s kitchen and the kids laughing about something on the television.

But.

He took that bubble of hurt and peeled it open, with the grim, vicious intent of a man that wanted to stop wallowing in it. It could have been his family and all the joy they brought him, but it could have been Damien instead. It could have been another long night working on a program to break into a bank’s systems, or Damien arguing with him in their office about the best way to use the burgeoning ctOS systems to their advantage, or the ratty couch in an apartment living room filled with hard drives and papers and dirty dishes because neither of them liked to clean. It could have been him in an alleyway, drenched by the storm raging around them, pissed off and waiting for his mark to fucking come out of whatever building he was in, because his contract had a time limit and he wanted the bonus money for Nicky’s emergency fund.

It could have been anything. What it was, right now, was Jordi’s hand finally pulling out of his hair and patting him on the shoulder, Jordi’s well-muscled body leaning over him to turn off the faucet, Jordi’s arm sliding around him as he dropped the bath bombs into the water and sat on the edge of the tub to wait for them to melt. He could torture himself with what-ifs all day, but in the end, he had this: a man he loved, even if he was too much a coward to say it out loud, and a reason to wake up in the mornings.

“Alright,” Jordi said once the bombs were melted, swinging his legs over the edge and sliding into the water, “come on. We’re going to do something awful and talk about our feelings.”

“Oh, that’s a terrible fucking idea,” Aiden muttered, but he slid into the water anyways, molding his body to Jordi’s with a sigh. The tub was big enough for them to stretch out, a novelty that Jordi must have paid a lot of money for.

Jordi’s hand dragged down his side, then lazily wrapped around Aiden’s dick, thumb running over the vein underneath as he stroked him up to fully hard. For a moment, he debated trying to return the favor, but in the end, he turned and pressed his face into Jordi’s neck, clung to his shoulder and groaned softly when he came.

With Jordi’s clothes off, Aiden wasn’t alone in looking like he’d come from a bar fight. The bruises and love bites on Jordi’s body were fewer, but the wickedly red welts down his chest more than made up for it. His nails were blunt enough that Aiden rarely drew blood, but that didn’t mean he avoided leaving marks.

He smoothed his palm over a particularly nasty set over Jordi’s left pectoral, the chest hair hiding the slight scabbing from the worst of it. Jordi snorted softly, shifted his own hand to curl it over the knot on Aiden’s hip, but stayed silent. The storm picked up again as they laid there, rain rattling against the windows just loud enough to be heard, lightning cracking like a whip again and again, until the rolls of thunder following it were constant as a heartbeat.

“Guess that means I’m going first,” Jordi said eventually, like the effort pained him. “Jokes aside, you really are useless to me if I’m treating you like a punching bag. The problem is, I didn’t want to slow down long enough to feel out a scene, and I wanted to hurt you so… Here we are.”

“I don’t actually mind rough sex,” Aiden said, thumbing the hard nub of Jordi’s nipple. “Could probably do without you slamming me into the counter on our way down again, though.”

“I wanted to kill you, back in Boston.” Jordi’s voice was flat, tired. All the usual mockery and amusement was gone, leaving his quiet and deadly serious.

“I know.” It wasn’t a lie. Jordi’s eyes were the truest indicator of his mood, better than any other part of him. The murderous gleam in his eyes on Halloween night had been worse than the last time Jordi had looked at him like that, up on the lighthouse. Jordi had wanted it back in Boston, wanted it beyond the basic greed that motivated him most of the time, wanted it with an intensity that probably should have scared him.

A year ago, it would have. But just because Jordi wanted to kill him didn’t mean he would, and Aiden figured it would take a lot more than a passing urge to make him do it. So he dragged his fingers through the hair on Jordi’s chest, met his gaze, and repeated, “I know, Jordi. But I also knew that you wouldn’t.”

Jordi frowned at him, searching his face for… something. Aiden didn’t know what. Eventually, he sighed again and tipped his head back against the lip of the tub. “Well, we’re recalibrating our scope here. You’re a masochist, I’m a sadist, our spontaneous sex ends up violent about thirty percent of the time under normal conditions.”

“Writing a study on it, Jordi?” he asked dryly.

“Shut the fuck up. These aren’t normal conditions, so spontaneous sex isn’t going to work.” Jordi’s fingers tapped on the bruise, but gently. “I’m thinking, when I’m in a mood like this again, we’ll play instead. That gives me boundaries. Limits.”

“Control?” Aiden softened his voice, shifted to lay even more heavily across Jordi’s chest.

“...Yeah. Control’s a good word. And it sets up a way for you, for both of us to say ‘slow down’ without saying it. I don’t like where my head was last week.” The hand on his hip tightened, making the low ache in his hip worse, but Aiden didn’t say anything about it. There was a pinched, unhappy look on Jordi’s face, which meant he was being completely serious.

It was strange, hearing that Jordi regretted hurting him in any real way. It wasn’t an apology—not that Aiden wanted one, really, because he’d been egging Jordi on as a way to forget all the ghosts in Chicago that tried to drag him down. But it was something, something he was pretty sure no one else ever got from Jordi.

“I keep remembering my sister’s house,” he said instead of drawing attention to that something he couldn’t name. “The way it looked during the afternoons, when I’d pick the kids up from school sometimes. I know it doesn’t look like that anymore, and I’m not even remembering it the way it was when they left—I’ve got this, this dream of it, and it’s not the real thing. But I can’t stop thinking about it.”

Jordi hummed softly, the pinched look easing as he shifted in the tub. His hands slid down to Aiden’s hips, hefting him up a little higher and settling him properly in Jordi’s lap. He didn’t say anything though, apparently leaving the floor open. That was strange too, Jordi listening, because he knew Jordi didn’t actually care about Nicky and the kids, the family Aiden had driven away because he was the most dangerous thing in the world for them.

“And I’m never going to get it back. But part of me is afraid of going out there and knowing that for certain, because—it’s like I could drive back there and Nicky would be waiting, Jacks would be talking, Lena would be alive. I thought I was over it. I thought I’d moved past it. But now that we’re here, I can’t stop thinking about it.” Aiden drew in a slow breath, the hard lump of grief tight and heavy in his chest again. “Reminds me of something my mom said to me once.”

“Your mom had a vision of you blacking out Chicago?” Jordi’s hands smoothed up his back, pressing into the muscle and forcing it to release the tension that wanted to build.

Aiden laughed mirthlessly. “Not quite. She told me I was turning into my father. That we’d flown across the ocean to get away from him, but I brought him with me anyways. That sooner or later, I’d answer for my sins the way he did.”

Jordi let out a low whistle, eyebrows climbing.

“The shitty thing was I was proud of it at the time. I mean, he’d been the breadwinner back home, and I was the breadwinner now. He taught me how to drive, how to fight. And it’d been years, and I was a stupid kid, so maybe I was thinking that it wasn’t that bad. Nicky never remembered any of the shit he’d pulled—I don’t even know if mom told her he was the reason we left. The real reason.”

At some point he’d shifted, no longer laying across Jordi’s chest but straddling his thighs instead. Jordi let him lean back, finding space for all the things that kept running circles in his head. His family. His father. Himself.

“Damien used to try and goad me into punching him. He was a mean cunt when he wanted to be.” He glanced down, then up again at Jordi’s face and sighed.

“I have never heard you use that word,” Jordi said gleefully, his own somber expression disappearing. His hands were still smoothing up and down Aiden’s back though, and after a second, Aiden managed a rough laugh of his own.

“I try not to. My sister hated it. The point is, I never punched him. My father never hit Nicky, but that was because he’d go for mom instead—and me, once I was old enough to get in his way. She doesn’t remember him like that, the way he’d get drunk and come after us. And I let that taint my memories of him, painting them all soft and gold the way I keep trying to paint my memories of her and the kids.” He dragged a hand down his face, then braced it on the cold marble of the wall, leaning over Jordi until they were almost close enough to kiss.

“You think your sister was really secretly shitty or something?” Jordi asked, the amusement fading as he tipped his head to the side. Like a bird of prey examining something small and furry moving in the grass.

“No,” Aiden admitted, swallowing hard. “I think I was. I think that maybe, my mom was right. I did everything right around the kids, you know? I never drank. I never yelled at them. I wouldn’t even dream of hitting them. I tried to make sure they never saw me and Nicky argue, not for real. And Lena still died. I still had to send them away. I brought my father with me, and instead of killing seven people with a car bomb, I killed—god only knows how many by now.”

“You know, if you want someone to chastise you for killing people, I’m the wrong guy.” Jordi pulled a hand out of the water, cupping it around his cheek as he leaned up—

With a violently loud crack, the lights went out.

They both paused, breathing slowly and evenly as their eyes adjusted. The bathroom door had been left open, and some daylight managed to filter through the clouds to paint the bedroom in muted tones. It leaked into the bathroom too, just enough that Aiden could make out the shape of Jordi’s face in the dark, the lightly colored water turned inky black.

“I know what I am,” Aiden whispered, pressing his forehead against Jordi’s. “I love it too much to stop. But some part of me keeps trying to pretend that I was a perfect uncle in a happy family with no problems at all. It hurts. It hurts so much, sometimes.”

Jordi’s thumb brushed over his cheek, sweet and gentle. “You’re not your father, Aiden. You’re some other kind of fucked up, the kind that saw what he did and goes after every person you see hurt a woman now instead.”

He sucked in a breath to protest—because Jordi wasn’t wrong but he wasn’t right either, because he’d gotten Lena and Clara killed, because he’d never looked back after leaving Poppy behind at the auction, because Nicky was gone and he was the one that made her leave—but didn’t get the chance to say any of it because Jordi’s lips were against his own.

A soft, broken noise escaped him, echoing off the marble tiles in the sudden absence of thunder. Jordi didn’t pause, sitting up slowly and kissing him all the while, the hand on his face keeping him from running.

When Jordi finally let him breathe, it caught on the back of his throat, shuddered through his lungs and came back out as something dangerously close to a sob. Jordi’s mouth found his again before he could process that, demanding his attention without going any further. And he couldn’t stop himself, couldn’t fold the grief spreading its aching claws through his lungs back down again, not when Jordi was still there kissing him in a pitch black bathroom.

“Just let it happen,” Jordi whispered, words nearly lost to the sound of the storm outside. “It’ll help.”

For the first time in as long as he could remember, Aiden cried.