Actions

Work Header

Our Mutual Undoing: Hanging By A Thread

Chapter Text

The night was dark but the twinkling lights and bustle of the city moved around him as he weaved through the last of the evening rush hour. A gloved hand worked the throttle of the motorcycle, shooting past any of the other cars in his way. Another bike moved over into his lane in front of him, the helmeted rider peering over at him before revving the engine loudly. He shot off ahead to lead the way.

The shining beacon of the Eiffel Tower showing him exactly where they needed to go within the sprawling city of Paris and before he knew it, the bike pulled over to the side of the street, braking to a sudden halt as the rider kicked down the kickstand. The one he’d been following came to a stop beside him, gazing around for a moment to serve the area.

Huesyth pulled the helmet from his head, resting it in his lap as he ran a gloved hand over his shaved head. “Va tutto bene. Nessuno ci riconoscerà immediatamente.”

Everything is alright. No one will recognize us immediately.

He turned only to be greeted by a shiny helmet instead of the face of his brother. Even when he couldn’t see Delmar, Huesyth could guess the blank expression he wore. Muffled through the helmet, Delmar said in a voice lacking the same accent that he once had. “Dice l'uomo nella lista dei più ricercati.”

Says the man on the Most Wanted List.

Huesyth cocked an eyebrow at him. “E tu pensi di non esserlo?”

And you think you’re not?

That earned him a glare that he could practically feel like a dagger in his neck. But Delmar revved his engine up again. “I’ll circle the block. Don’t take too long.”

Off Delmar shot into the night and Huesyth watched and waited until he saw his brother turn and exit his sight.

Finally, he peered up to the building he had found himself in front of, tall and ornate but showing its age. He stepped off the bike, leaving the helmet on the seat as he entered the building and followed the sounds of laughter and carefree conversation to the party venue inside.

In his biking leathers and gloves, he stuck out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of the extravagant and warm party with its finely dressed attendees but no one seemed to notice. As a waiter with a tray passed him, Huesyth removed one of the bubbling glasses of champagne as he scanned the room. A tiger stalking through the long grass of tuxedos and dressing gowns. It was then that his eyes seemed to zero in on his intended target, Dr. Roman Fell, a tall, older man with a nicely kept beard who spoke with his hands. 

He was surrounded by eager listening ears enraptured by whatever he was saying. And he certainly was lapping up the attention of the young acolytes and esteemed colleagues wishing him well. 

But as he stared, calculating and appraising, at the doctor, something seemed off. A feeling of someone else’s eyes on him and it made the hair on his arms stand on end. Huesyth’s gaze went to the side and landed on another tall but lean man, the same height as Huesyth himself and about the same age as well. He had short, dark but ashy brown hair and a jaw of stubble. His clothes were expensive but older and more well worn with a thin scarf wrapped loosely about his neck and his smile seemed coy as he kicked off the wall he was leaning against. Slowly, he approached Huesyth through the crowd with a glass of champagne in each hand, one already empty.

“Anthony Dimmond,” The man introduced.

“Boris Jakov,” Huesyth responded.

Anthony motioned his head to his full hands. “I'd offer a hand, but…”

Huesyth shrugged as he raised an eyebrow at the glasses. “It's a double-fisted kind of bash.”

Offering a pleasant chuckle, Anthony turned his look up to the doctor at the center of the room. “Do you know Roman well? You were staring with the thinly-veiled disdain of a man who does.” Huesyth assumed that that was just how his face looked then. Disdain was the only emotion he seemed to be capable of feeling besides despair. “I was his TA at Cambridge. He was insufferable even then.”

Anthony downed his second flute of champagne, placing both of his empty glasses onto an offered tray as a waiter passed them. “Have you read his books? They're terrible. You know they're terrible, you're just too polite to say. Blink if you agree.”

Out of instinct, Huesyth blinked. He knew he didn’t seem nearly as enraptured as he wanted to but Anthony took it in stride, giving a smirk. “See? That doesn't stop him from squatting over his keyboard and depositing a fresh one every six to eight months. It takes me six to eight months to write one line.”

Huesyth sipped from his glass, praying for this conversation to be over so he could melt back into the crowd and forget about the man already.

Anthony turned to the doctor, staring as if he was waiting for Huesyth to open the conversation back up again but he didn’t so he went on. “Poetry is hard. Too hard for Roman. Well, it's easier for him to slide into academia and dissect the work of others than it is to stand by his own words.”

“We can appreciate the words of others without dissecting them,” Huesyth explained without looking at the other man. “Though, on occasion, dissection is the only thing that will do.”

There was a sharp and loud shatter of glass that caused Huesyth to flinch terribly at the sound. Every pair of eyes in the room snapping over to see more boisterous partygoers breaking the top off a new champagne bottle with a knife. The liquid bubbling and foaming out of the broken neck of the bottle.

Though the distraction was just what he needed to escape the conversation. He slipped into the crowd, placing his glass on a tray and moving back outside into the cool night air to rest on his motorcycle again. It wasn’t long into his wait after several others had already begun leaving, that Roman emerged alone, merrily drunk and excited for what the future held for him. He rubbed his hands together to warm them as he prepared to walk home.

Passing in front of the light on the front of Huesyth’s motorcycle, the taller man cocked his head slightly. “Bonsoir.”

Roman paused, barely looking at Huesyth before waving and slurring back. “Bonsoir.”

He continued on to the other side of the street and Huesyth slipped his helmet back onto his head before making a swift U-turn on his bike.

Moments later, Roman was rounding the corner to enter the courtyard of his apartment building when he stopped suddenly. Huesyth was leaned back against his bike seat, waiting in the dark for the other doctor.

Confused and wondering if it was truly the same person, Roman muttered. “...Bonsoir?”

Cocking his head in the same way he did back at the venue, Huesyth repeated. “Bonsoir.”

A few hours passed since he snapped Roman’s neck, dragging his body into the apartment to have him prepared. Delmar had joined him since then, sighing softly when he saw the body on the floor. But red wine splashed against the bottom of a glass, filling only partially before Delmar downed the liquid and snatched the bottle of his brother’s hand. He went off to the table, tossing his head back to drink a gulp from the bottle while Huesyth rolled his eyes at the display.

He dropped the needle of the turntable was dropped onto the opera record. The music swelled throughout the room and he began his preparation. Searing butter in a pan, he tossed in the liver he had procured and with a splash of brandy, the flame flared slightly. Well cooked and ready, the liver was plated with a side of greens. The knife sliced through the meat easily and he brought the piece to his mouth. Biting and chewing, delicious.

He heard the front door rattle with the sound of the keys in the lock, opening and shutting as someone entered. The slow approach of heels on wood told Huesyth just who it was and he peered up at the confused woman standing in the doorway.

“Bonsoir,” He greeted and Delmar offered a little wave.

 

Music and movement filled the room like a scene out of a fairytale, people waltzing in wide circles around each other and the Florence ballroom. The glitter of gold jewelry and champagne and through sweeping of the other couples came Huesyth and Bedelia. He spun her once before she returned to his front, mimicking the smiles of a happy couple but they were tense. Huesyth especially.

But as the music swelled and came to a final resting note, he dipped her low to the ground before bringing her back up again. They stared into each other’s eyes breathlessly before Huesyth quirked a brow down at her. As a tray passed them, Huesyth snagged one of the glasses, offering it to the woman to which she shook her head.

“Dr. Fell,” A voice began and Huesyth turned to Professor Sogliato as he approached the pair, a shorter, smooth-talking Italian man with a trimmed beard. Impeccably dressed as if he wore his ego as armor across his fragile skin. “I hope you translate as well as you waltz.”

Huesyth gave the man a thin grin. “Of course, Professor.”

Sogliato turned to Bedelia, bowing to kiss her hand with a greeting. “Mrs. Fell.”

“Our new appointee was confirmed by the board after close questioning,” Signor Albizzi, the president of the museum's governing board, expressed with pride.

“You've examined him in medieval Italian and I will not deny his language is... admirable…” Sogliato admitted and it seemed painful for him to do so as he looked the taller man up and down.

Huesyth smiled politely despite knowing Sogliato seemed to be wielding a double-edged blade. “Thank you.”

But Sogliato quickly finished. “...For a straniero.”

And there was the other edge. The short man smiled and Huesyth knew that his own eyes flashed dead for a moment at the insult. Bedelia’s gaze was lingering on him, scanning his reaction as Sogliato continued. “Are you familiar with the personalities of pre-Renaissance Florence? I think not. Dr. Fell might hold in his hand a note from Dante Alighieri himself. Would he recognize it? I think not.”

The shorter man was preening at the attention his jabbing was getting him and Huesyth sipped from his glass instead of bashing it over the man’s tiny head.

Finally, Bedelia had to interject. “Professor Sogliato, would you do me the honor of a dance?”

She offered her arm to the man, so keen to lead him away before things got ugly, and Sogliato gracefully accepted but Huesyth was far less keen to let the loud, little man slip through his claws so proud of himself.

“‘Allegro mi sembrava Amor tenendo meo core in mano, e ne le braccia avea madonna involta in un drappo dormendo’,” Sogliato and Bedelia turned back to him as he recited the words and he knew the shorter man hated it. “Poi la svegliava, e d'esto core ardendo lei paventosa umilmente pascea; appreso gir lo ne vedea piangendo.’”

The taller man smiled to Sogliato, turning to the crowd that was listening to him before returning to the two. “Dante's first sonnet. It fascinated Cavalcanti. The eating of the heart is a powerful image.”

Huesyth didn’t even have to be so smug as Signor Albizzi was smug enough for them both. Proud of his professional choice no doubt.

Sogliato snapped. “If he's such an expert on Dante, let him lecture on Dante, to the Studiolo. Let him face them,” He looked up at the taller man and narrowed his eyes. “Extempore.”

The crowd whispered around him, meaning it must’ve been far more of a challenge than Huesyth realized but the taller man simply inclined his head. “I'm happy to sing for my supper.”

They seemed to squint at each other a moment longer before Bedelia intervened again, offering her hand. “Professor.”

Huesyth gave a satisfied smile to Bedelia who didn’t return it as the two stepped away and into the crowd.

 

Huesyth turned from the window he was gazing out of, admiring the buildings surrounding them, as Bedelia approached with an offered glass of brandy. He scanned over the extravagant apartment they’d had managed to acquire, considering the safety it brought and the illusion it withheld for him. “I've found a peace here that I would like to preserve. I've killed hardly anybody during our residence.”

Sipping from his glass, he heard Bedelia sigh behind him before stepping away. “You created a vacancy at the Palazzo Capponi by removing the former curator.”

“A simple process requiring a few seconds' work on the old man... and a modest outlay for two bags of cement,” Huesyth shrugged.

“You no longer have ethical concerns, Huesyth.” She peered over his shoulder at him, offering only a raised brow. “You have aesthetical ones.”

“Ethics become aesthetics.”

“You seem more interested in making appearances than maintaining them,” Bedelia motioned to the high zipper on the back of her strapless dress that she couldn’t reach. “Would you help?”

His eyes flicked down to the zipper then back up. The style of the dress was familiar but not as warmly colored in the perfect shade of wine red, not as flowing with a split up the leg. It wasn’t him.

He approached her, setting the glass down on the table before he began to work the zipper down to slowly reveal her bare back. “If this is about my position at the Palazzo, once the path was cleared, I won the job fairly. On my own merits.”

“Yes, even the most contentious Florentines can't resist the verse of Dante ringing off of frescoed walls.”

Huesyth stepped back, allowing her to move away from him. “One contentious Florentine can.”

He retrieved his glass again as Bedelia moved to the bathroom, perched on the side of the large cast iron tub as she tested the temperature of the water coming from the spout.

Lingering in the doorway, he sipped his drink as she asked without looking back at him. “Have you given serious thought to eating Professor Sogliato?”

“Killing Sogliato now would not preserve the peace,” Huesyth reminded her as if she needed the reminder.

The ornate tap handles squeaked under her hand as she adjusted them. “Your peace is without morality.”

Huesyth leaned against the doorway, sipping from his drink. “Morality doesn't exist. Only morale.”

Bedelia slim shoulders rose and fell noticeably with a heavier breath. “It all relies on how you feel today.”

“How do you feel today?” Huesyth asked.

She made a soft sound, an exhale. “I still believe that I am in conscious control of my actions. Given your history... I’d like to think that's a good day.”

Huesyth gave a little smirk until there came the sound of the front door being ripped open and slammed loudly, the noise echoing off the walls of the apartment. Both of the doctor's eyes snapped up at the sound and the accompanying heavy footsteps until Huesyth saw who it was. Delmar, moving quickly and rashly as he ripped off his dark hoodie and tossed it to the floor, stepped into view, cursing under his breath. Confusedly, Huesyth stared after his brother as he disappeared into the other hall but then the metallic scent of blood hit his nose.

“Huesyth?” Bedelia asked.

“It’s just Delmar,” Huesyth soothed and the woman’s shoulders relaxed. “I’ll go see what’s wrong.”

The taller man downed the last bit of his drink but picked up the bottle as he passed it. He thought idly that he might need it, especially when he passed the hoodie on the floor. Due to its dark color, he couldn’t tell if it was stained with blood but the smell gave it away.

The cursing and fumbling got louder as Huesyth approached the guest bathroom and he turned the corner to find Delmar standing before the mirror above the sink. The white porcelain was already stained red and Delmar’s ruined shirt was in another pile by his feet. His hair was dark with sweat, clinging to his forehead, and his eyes were turned down to a dark red mark over the right side of his ribs. Bloody hands were working firmly over what looked to be a knife wound.

But Huesyth’s eyes were drawn to the deep scars that were carved into his brother’s back. A stark reminder of the past they had survived. Though the reminder wasn’t well received when Huesyth immediately averted his eyes.

“How did that happen?” Huesyth asked.

Delmar flinched at the sudden voice that broke the silence, whipping around to spot the taller man in the doorway before immediately relaxing. He had a stream of drying blood going down from his temple, knotting his hair. “Got into a disagreement.”

“I hope this isn’t how you solve all of your disagreements,” Huesyth expressed, stepping closer to his brother to observe the wound in his side.

The older man scoffed slightly as he raised his arm up and out of the way. “You should see the other guy.”

Nodding slightly, Huesyth handed the bottle over to his brother, who gratefully took a large swig from it. The taller of the pair ran a hand towel under the water from the sink faucet in order to clean around the jagged knife cut, it wasn’t deep or large in any way. Delmar probably moved out of the way fast enough to avoid further damage.

“You don’t intend to make this a regular occurrence, do you?” Huesyth asked without taking his eyes away from his brother’s side.

“You mean will I go out every night and get in a knife fight?” Delmar asked sarcastically. “Well I wasn’t planning to.”

Huesyth sighed softly as he pulled away in order to retrieve a thick bandage from within the mirror shelf. He peeled it in half before applying it over the wound on Delmar’s side, not bothering with any special treatment because he knew the older man wouldn’t care. One way or another, he was going to be hurt again by the end of the week.

“I’d tell you not to go looking for a fight but I’m not going to pretend that I have any control over you.”

“I wasn’t looking for a fight, Hue,” Delmar hissed out softly.

Huesyth tossed the hand towel aside into the hamper. “You’re always looking for a fight.”

Delmar gave a breathy laugh as he finally dropped his arm back, wincing slightly when it rubbed over the edge of where the wound would be beneath the bandage. “Then I guess you got it from me.”

He stepped around his taller brother and left the bathroom smeared with blood.

 

The house was dark, empty besides the furniture covered in dust sheets that had been left behind. He didn’t bother turning on the light when he arrived there because he knew if he did, it would disrupt something. Some disturbing darkness that didn’t need to be pushed any further to the edge.

The last time he turned the light on after Huesyth had lost his temper he found his brother shaking with adrenaline with a blood-soaked corkscrew in his hand. Suffice to say, it was better that Delmar not see just what Huesyth had done. At least for the time being. But through the quick shape he saw whizzing around the house, he spotted blood stains and a soaked, crumpled black jacket on the floor.

He had been given a clipped explanation for why he had to bring a bag full of important getaway items and why they had to wait. But that didn’t make any of it better.

Nevertheless, he listened, sitting back on one of the covered couches in the dark, waiting for any other sound besides his own breathing. That sound came in the form of a key entering the front door lock and then the slow steady click of heels against the wood floors. A shadow passed over the doorway before freezing at the sight of him.

Delmar raised an eyebrow over his shoulder as he looked back to see a blonde woman standing in the doorway, clutching her handbag close to her as if about to reach into it.

“Are you Dr. Du Maurier?” He asked and she just seemed to register that he was real, flinching slightly when he spoke.

“Who are you?” She questioned back.

“Delmar,” He answered before adding. “ Cavalli .”

The woman stiffened at the name and he noticed her hand inching closer to her bag. Delmar could’ve guessed what weapon she was reaching for. “Where is he?” She demanded softly.

He pointed off towards the staircase. “Upstairs.”

Bedelia’s eyes immediately flicked over her shoulder towards where he pointed and she exhaled deeply, looking back to the other man. “Did you know what he was?”

His eyes slid shut as his brow furrowed, Delmar looked away from her and back into the dark. The sound of her heels was telling enough that she was moving into the room with him but behind him, his blind spot. “You must have known. He spoke of how close you were… The things you’ve done for him. The things he did for you.

She was trying to get a rise out of him and he wouldn’t be the one to admit it was working but after all the years of mentally chastising himself, it just sounded like another empty voice. There was a sharp pop as one of the bottles resting beneath a cloth was opened.

“They say that most human behavior is learned…” She commented. “I can’t imagine how destructive you might be.”

Delmar shot a glare over his shoulder at her. “He freed me.”

“He made you a killer,” Bedelia corrected sharply as she poured herself a glass of wine, unbothered by him. “That’s a cage all it’s own. Trust me I understand the feeling intimately.”

“You don’t know us.”

Her eyes snapped up to his, blinking once before settling. “I suppose I don’t.”

The bottle was placed back in the rack and she collected the glass before finally slipping back out of the room and up the stairs towards the sound of running water. It left him alone again but he promised Huesyth that even though she would have a weapon, she wouldn’t shoot him.

He had no idea how Huesyth knew that for a fact but there wasn’t much else he could do to stop her.

Upstairs, the blood was scrubbed from his skin until his flesh felt raw and even then it didn’t feel like enough. He wasn’t clean enough. He may never feel clean again. His own wounds were pressed into until they stopped bleeding, the pain burning through him like a hot iron. The water had long since run clear but he still felt stained, still felt dirty, disgusting. A debilitating feeling.

Huesyth finally came back to his own mind, still reeling and working through the emotions of what he’d done, when he heard the distant sound of a gun clicking as it was cocked. It was familiar by then and Huesyth’s lip curled back in a grimace.

She was there.

The handles squeaked as the water was shut off, he quickly toweled off his body and dressed in clean clothes that Delmar had brought for him. As the bathroom door opened, a new light was cast across the room and illuminated Bedelia, sitting calmly on her bed with a glass of wine in one hand and a gun trained on him in the other.

Her body noticeably tensed as he exited, taking in the state of his exhausted eyes and stiff movements. She was the first to break the silence. “What have you done, Huesyth?”

“I've taken off my person suit,” The taller man mumbled.

Bedelia narrowed her eyes at him, mulling over the bareness of his words. “You let them see you. Let him see you.”

Huesyth sighed. “I let him see enough.”

She paused as she took him in, brow furrowing. “How does it feel... finally being seen?”

“Well, you're in no position to ask, Dr. Du Maurier,” Huesyth clipped. “You ended our patient-psychiatrist relationship.”

“I lacked the appropriate skills to continue your therapy,” Bedelia explained and Huesyth wanted to scoff at the lazy excuse. He knew exactly why she left. He could see it from the fear in her eyes the day she came to his office.

“I never found you to be lacking.”

“I'm sorry I didn't provide you with a suitable substitute for therapy,” Bedelia paused, studying him before he turned from her to pick up the bloody clothes he had left in one of the chairs. “Is Bec Reyes still alive?”

Abruptly, Huesyth went impossibly still in the middle of folding his bloody shirt. He picked at the stains across the shirt tail, the ones no doubt belonging to the empath. Taking a quiet moment to curb his emotions before speaking. “Bec Reyes was not a suitable substitute for therapy.”

Bedelia softly asked. “What was he?”

Huesyth hesitated before answering quietly. “Pregnant. He was pregnant.” Another pause before Huesyth was clarifying. “He was going to have twins... I murdered my own children.”

With her mouth parted slightly, Bedelia didn’t know how to respond. He assumed she had guessed that he and Bec were involved but that was clear proof.

Huesyth didn’t know what she would ask him but the first question when she could manage words caught him off guard. “Does your brother know?”

“No,” Huesyth sighed. “I don’t plan on telling him just yet.”

Curiously, Bedelia cocked her head slightly. “He’d never forgive you, would he?”

He suppressed a shiver of grief and turned to her, taking a step forward. “Do you trust me?”

“No,” Bedelia answered.

“Are you taking into consideration my beliefs about your intentions?” Huesyth questioned.

She narrowed her eyes again, this time in confusion. “My intentions?”

“Human motivation can be little more than lucid greed.”

“Greed…” Bedelia repeated. “And blind optimism.”

Huesyth cocked his head slightly. “You're optimistic I won't kill you just as I’m optimistic that you won’t shoot me right now.”

Smoothly, Bedelia uncocked the gun in her hand and set it aside on the bed, sipping from her wine glass.

 

Warmth seemed to drip through the windows with the beams of the sun. The corridor of the Palazzo Capponi opened into a wide curving staircase which he swiftly descended and the bright sun shone down onto him as he moved in the plaza.

But before he could actually make it through the tower pillars to leave, a voice called to him. “Ciao, fratellino.”

His step stuttered and he gave a slight sigh before turning back. Leaning casually against one of the stone pillars was Delmar, who offered a pleasant smile but one Huesyth could tell was forced. His clothes were creased and loose as if he’d been sleeping in them after long bouts of drinking and Huesyth wouldn’t doubt that as the truth. The older man hadn’t been back to the apartment in days but Huesyth hoped that it was because of something besides a drunken stupor.

“Delmar,” Huesyth greeted tightly, approaching his brother again. “This is a surprise.”

The older man raised an eyebrow at him, running a hand through his hair as his fringe had grown longer since they arrived back in Italy. He had obviously not been taking very good care of himself. “I’m glad to see you’re blending into your favorite form of human. The rich, powerful, and stuck up.”

Huesyth questioned, his fake smile wavering slightly. “Why are you here, Delmar?”

The older man pushed off the pillar, running a hand down his face as he shifted his weight on each of his feet. “Huesyth, I-”

“Dr. Fell,” Huesyth quickly corrected which earned him a slight lip curl of disdain from his brother.

“Okay, Dr. Fell ,” Delmar spat back like an insult before shaking his head. “I can’t stay here any longer.” Huesyth cocked his head slightly in confusion. “I’m going home.”

His eyes momentarily widening at the preposterous idea, Huesyth perplexed. “Why would you ever want to do that?”

Delmar scoffed, crossing his arms. “Because I’m not like you. I can’t put on a new face and pretend nothing happened, pack up and move on. I can’t do this again. It will destroy me.”

“Delmar, let’s talk about this somewhere else,” Huesyth moved to reach for his brother’s shoulder but the shorter man quickly brushed it away.

“I’m not changing my mind,” Delmar told, looking up at his brother. “Maybe I’ll be back but I… I-I need time alone for now. To think about what’s been happening and I can’t do it here.”

“You mean you can’t do it with me around?”

With a heavy sigh, Delmar offered. “I’m going home… with or without you. When I figure this out, I’ll find you.”

“Delm-” “Hello! Bonjour!” A voice came suddenly from behind them which made Huesyth flinch, peering over his shoulder to see a familiar face moving towards the two of them.

Anthony Dimmond.

For a moment, his eyes threatened violence but Huesyth couldn’t suppress the soft groan that escaped him once he recognized him.

“Mr. Jakov, isn't it?” Anthony asked as he came to a stop before Huesyth, hair wild but eyes sharp. “We met in Paris a few months back.”

“You know where to find me,” Delmar reminded, squeezing his brother’s arm gently before he slid passed the two to leave them alone, disappearing into the sprawl of people in the busy square.

Anthony looked between Huseyth and his disappearing brother before cocking his head slightly. “So sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. It's just... here I was and there you were. I never forget a face.”

“Anthony Dimmond,” Huesyth named. He was certainly a man who was hard to forget and that wasn’t always a good thing.

But the other man seemed to beam with pleasure. “Nice to be remembered.”

Blankly, Huesyth deadpanned. “You're quite hard to forget.”

He wished his displeasure was evident enough for Anthony to take a hint and leave but of course, it went ignored. “What are you doing in Florence? Are you working with Roman?”

“Dr. Fell?” Huesyth asked.

“I heard he took an appointment at the Capponi Library.”

So despite his carefree attitude, Anthony doesn’t miss much. Huesyth didn’t care much for that sort of attentiveness. “Yes, I believe he's the new curator and translator at the Palazzo Capponi.”

“Evidently, the last one eloped with a woman or her money or probably both.” An attempt at a joke that Huesyth wasn’t in the mood for now that he knew his brother was planning on leaving. He needed to leave this conversation before his emotions slipped through.

“That's the commonly held belief.” Huesyth motioned over his shoulder back the way he came from the Palazzo. “You just missed Roman.”

Anthony’s face fell. “Did I? Was hoping to take the piss.”

He studied the other man for a slight moment before he made a rather rash decision that he was sure Bedelia wouldn’t appreciate. “Spare the piss for the time being. If you're free, my wife and I would love to have you for dinner.”

 

That night in their apartment, Bedelia sat with Huesyth and Anthony Dimmond at the table. She was hiding her fears well the taller man noticed, surrounded by a tray of oysters and nuts. He knew that as soon as she found out that Delmar had left the city, Bedelia would be more visibly shaken. The two of them seemed to have bonded over their situations in the months the three spent together. A type of comradery had replaced where there was once a biting edge to their conversations.

But Delmar was gone, the buffer between their butting heads was completed erased. That was something the both of them would have to get used to.

On the surface, Huesyth was far more at ease with a platter of meat between him and Dimmond, who was obviously enjoying the hospitality.

Skewering a piece of the oyster with her fork, Bedelia raised an imperceptibly trembling hand as she brought it to her mouth. “How well do you know the Fells?”

“As well as anybody. Which would be not really,” Anthony answered. “Is Lydia a friend of yours?”

With a shrug, Bedelia mumbled. “Not really.”

Anthony nodded in agreement. “I'd be more surprised to hear that she had one. She disapproves of my disapproval.”

He offered her a smile as Huesyth questioned. “What do you disapprove of?”

“Roman, mainly,” Anthony explained. “Lydia isn't quite bright enough to see that I'm just intimidated. Roman does, of course. How he loves to strike fear.”

Huesyth circled them to stand between the two, adding more oysters to Bedelia’s plate. “Dante once wrote that fear is almost as bitter as death.”

“Dante wasn't dead when he wrote it,” Bedelia whispered next to Huesyth’s ear before he straightened up moved away.

“Are you traveling alone, Anthony?” Huesyth asked and he could see the shudder the question sent down Bedelia’s spine.

None the wiser, Anthony gave a shrug. “The only way I travel.”

“Oh! Roman is speaking to the Studiolo on Friday about Dante,” Huesyth offered casually but based on the look he received, if Bedelia had been chewing, she would’ve most definitely choked. “You should come.”

“Sounds appropriately hellish,” Anthony commented as he unfolded his napkin to lay it across his lap. However, he peered up at Bedelia as she went for another oyster. “Are you avoiding meat?”

She seemed caught off guard but recovered elegantly. “I'm trying not to eat anything with a central nervous system.”

Anthony looked over, calling out the food items on her side of the table. “Oysters, acorns, and Marsala. That's what ancient Romans would feed animals to improve their flavor.”

As the horror dawned on her, Bedelia did her best to hide her realization but Huesyth caught it as she steadied herself. She almost looked as if she wanted to spit out the oyster in her mouth.

“My husband has a very sophisticated palate.” She swallowed heavily. “He's very particular about how I taste.”

They matched pointed looks over the table and Huesyth didn’t try to bury the dead glint in his eye at her comment. A silence stretched uncomfortably between the three before Anthony finally looked between them, raised a suggestive eyebrow at Bedelia, and asked. “Is it that kind of party?”

Bedelia’s eyes flashed briefly to Huesyth and he hoped he expressed his displeasure accurately. She corrected. “It's not that kind of party.”

“No, it really isn’t,” Huesyth repeated, more firmly.

Anthony looked disappointed. “Shame. You were both suddenly so fascinating.”

 

That Friday night, his speech was over and the Studiolo was more than pleased with him just as Sogliato was displeased, rolling his eyes as he left. But Bedelia had disappeared mid-speech, matching eyes with Anthony before her life seemed to flash before her eyes. He didn’t even see her leave. Anthony, on the other hand, seemed far more delighted with finding out Huesyth’s identity than he thought he would.

It unnerved the doctor to no end until Anthony leaned over him after the crowd had long since filed out. His morality was just as twisted as Huesyth’s was and for some reason that made the doctor all the more uncomfortable when the other man offered to help him ‘untwist to their mutual benefit’. A sly, knowing smile. Anthony thought he was holding something over Huesyth’s head. That the doctor would be in his debt or he’d go to the police and tell them everything.

Huesyth knew what that meant and he didn’t appreciate being twisted into a new position for Anthony to blackmail him into a corner.

By the time they had returned to his apartment, the door had opened to Bedelia, donning a coat with a small suitcase in one hand and her handbag in the other. He ushered Anthony inside anyway, he’d have to deal with her later. The door slid closed behind the trio, shutting out any hope for any of their escapes.

As quick as a flash of lightning, he dispatched Anthony, brutally and efficiently, by bashing the sharp corner of a heavy statue across the side of his skull. Anthony crumpled to the floor, blood streaking his face as he panted through the pain.

Huesyth placed the now bloody statue back on its pedestal. “Observe or participate?”

The doctor pulled his coat off, Anthony began attempting to pull himself across the floor towards the exit. A desperate escape.

But Bedelia remained tense with a splatter of blood across her cheek, unflinching at the violence but obviously affected. “What?”

“Are you, in this very moment, observing or participating?” Huesyth snapped loudly.

Shakily, Bedelia answered. “Observing.”

The corners of Huesyth’s lips curl back ever so slightly. “You say you're observing, but this…” He motioned to Anthony, creeping towards the door with a streak of blood moving across the floor. “This is participation, Bedelia. Did you know what he would do? I would prefer you answer honestly.”

Bedelia struggled for an answer, stuttering when Huesyth stepped over the blood towards her. “I-I was curious.”

“You were curious what would happen,” Huesyth sneered, narrowing his eyes. “You were curious about what Mr. Dimmond would do. What I would do. Did you anticipate our thoughts? Counter-thoughts? Rationalizations?”

“...Yes.”

He looked over to Anthony, still struggling. “Is this what you expected?”

A moment passed before Bedelia looked up at him, her eyes watery with tears. “Yes.”

“That’s participation.”

Finally, Anthony had reached the door, struggling to reach up to the knob and escape when Huesyth crossed the floor and took a grip of his head. He yanked it backward and with a choked snap, Anthony went limp in under his hands.

Huesyth let the body drop to the floor, turning to return to Bedelia as tears began to streak her face. “What have you gotten yourself into, Bedelia?”

Bedelia shook as she seemed to stare through the floor, numb and empty. Through her shaking though, she asked softly. “Where is Delmar?”

The doctor paused, jaw clenching. “Gone,” He clipped. “He will not be coming back.”

Huesyth stepped toward her carefully to keep from startling her before offering. “Shall I hang up your coat?”

Absently, she slid her jacket off of her shoulders and allowed Huesyth to take it from her. He folded it over his arm and moved to put it on the hook by the door but when he turned back, he seemed to freeze. Standing across the room, face hidden beneath matted curls and the shadows of a doorway into another room, was a familiarly haunting figure. His shoulders were slumped, arms hanging loosely to his sides but his clothes were still pitch black.

But something was off, disturbingly off.

The figment’s head lulled to the side and a dark stream leaked out of the side of his mouth as his lips pulled back into a smile. His stomach seemed to split into a grin as his fresh wound reopened, releasing a waterfall of black liquid that poured out onto the floor around him.

As dark, bruised eyes slid open to greet him, the white teeth glinted. “ Hello, lover.

His voice was deep and garbled as his throat filled with his black blood and he spat specks of dark out as he spoke.

A shiver of fear ran through the doctor as he observed the scene and he swiftly exited the room, feeling the dark eyes following him as he did.

 

His train ride across the Italian countryside passed in a blur. If anything were to have happened, Huesyth wouldn’t have noticed. Even as he moved across the country, Huesyth could see that dark figment of his imagination moving out of the corner of his eye. That dark, disturbing grin just begging him to try and face it but he didn’t dare turn to look. If he looked, it would be as if he admitted that it was real.

It wasn’t real.

It wasn’t Bec.

But it followed him all the same, real or not. It was there in the back of his mind as he snuck into the chapel and set up his latest creation.

When dawn came, he stepped back from his work in the Norman chapel to admire the work he’d done on Anthony’s body. The sun glittered through the stained glass windows onto the silver blades of the three swords skewered through the purplish red flesh he had molded into the shape of a human heart.

He heard slow, deliberate claps from behind him, echoing off the walls. It was mockingly praising him for his work. But he didn’t look, instead, he turned and escaped the way that he had come in.

Chapter Text

Sliding down the wall, Bec pulled himself to Abigail, wading through their own blood to grasp her throat, holding her head back in an attempt to stem the bleeding. His own wound tore slightly wider and he screamed through the pain. He could feel the strength in him leaving quickly though, weakness growing in his body. It all became too much and he collapsed.

Blood stained his face as he turned in the puddle forming beneath them. He looked away from them but found the black snake there, now lying on the kitchen floor with them and dragging in steaming gasps of air... dying. The one he’d been trying to kill all that time finally bled with a deep gash down the expanse of its own underbelly.

It heaved desperately for air as if it were drowning before it stopped moving altogether and a wave of blood rushed from its wound. Gallons of it, so much more than what its body could actually hold but it covered the floor, filling the room and submerging Bec and Abigail’s bodies beneath the red. The sounds of his own screaming heartbeat seemed to wither away as rhythmic beeping filled his ears. He took in a soft, deep breath through his nose as if waking from another nightmare and a dull pain blossomed through him.

Though fuzzy and suspiciously lacking a red hue, his vision seemed to focus on the glowing monitors flanking him on either side where the repetitive beeps were coming from. A chill ran through him and he turned his head on the stiff pillow to look down at his abdomen. He found it wrapped in bright white bandages, stark and clean unlike the images replaying in his mind. He was in a hospital room then.

He brushed his hand across the edges of the bandages, confused but… not at the same time. Realistically, it all made sense but his brain still felt like it was swimming through a bottomless sea of blood.

“How do you feel?” Someone asked, Bec’s eyes flashing up slightly to meet a man in a white lab coat, holding a clipboard. The empath only narrowed his eyes. “There's someone here who’s very anxious to see you.”

The doctor exited quickly before Bec could ask any questions, holding the door open for someone else to move inside. Their shape was blurry and dark before she finally stepped forward.

Surprisingly, he found Abigail there. She stood calmly at the foot of his bed, dressed in soft clothes instead of a cheap hospital gown with a thick bandage taped to her neck in the same place as her first scar. They simply stared for a quiet pause as Bec tried to make sense of the reunion he thought he’d never have. Huesyth killed her. He must have. Bec saw the knife, wet with his own blood, as it slid across her waiting throat. He wouldn’t have made a mistake like that.

“They told me he knew exactly how to cut me,” Abigail explained as if she were reading his mind and understood his inner turmoil. “They said it was surgical. He wanted us to live.”

“W-Where… The twins…” Bec stuttered, running a hand over his tender stomach again.

“They’re in the ICU,” Abigail said, motioning with her head back towards the door. “They were born pretty premature but they’re being taken care of.”

That didn’t make sense either. Nothing about this made any sense. Something in the empath still wasn’t settled by Abigail’s words but once his worry was momentarily curbed, he objected softly. “He left us all to die.”

“But we didn't,” Abigail assured before stepping forward and sitting on the side of his bed. “He said he was going to take me with him. We were all supposed to leave together. He made a place for us.”

“Abigail…” Bec tried to plead.

“Why did you lie to him?” She asked, her face far too serious.

The empath swallowed heavily, considering his answer. “The wrong thing being the right thing to do was... was too ugly a thought.”

“Why didn’t you tell him you were pregnant?”

His injury ached and he didn’t know how he wanted to answer, averting his eyes. “I was so content with the idea of raising them alone. I guess I just… I just thought that if I told him it would all be real.”

“That you two were connected in that way? He gave you a chance to take it all back and you just kept lying. No one had to die.”

Bec winced ever so slightly, looking up to the ceiling to avoid eye contact. “It's hard to grasp what would've happened, what could've happened, and in some other world, what did happen.”

“I'm having a hard enough time dealing with this world,” Abigail shrugged. “Hope some of the other worlds are... easier on me.”

Her words made Bec’s throat tighten around his own voice. It sounded so specific, so sad. It crushed him. “Everything that can happen, happens. It has to end well and it has to end badly... One way or another it all has to end. This is the way it ended for us.”

But the young Hobbs girl furrowed her brow. “We don't have an ending yet. He didn't give us one. He still wants us to find him.”

“I wouldn’t be able to face him,” Bec muttered. “All he’s taken from me… our children. He hurt them too.”

“You saw his eyes,” Abigail reminded him. “Did he look like he meant to? He didn’t even know they existed.”

“Yeah until after he gutted me,” Bec spat softly, his eyelids growing heavy. “After everything he's done, you'd still go to him?” 

After a pause, Abigail quietly nodded. “If everything that can happen, happens, then you can never really do the wrong thing. You're just doing what you're supposed to.”

Her words began to fade out as his eyes slid shut under the weight of his own exhaustion. The thing that pulled him to consciousness again was the feeling of something sharp dragging along the inside of his skin. He leaned up, clutching at his bandages before the crisp white turned dark red as blood soaked through and with that came the sharp black prong of an antler being stabbed through his skin. Tearing and ripping with a gush of blood to get out of his stomach before he flinched.

He looked up to find his hospital bed had been placed in the same spot as the chaise lounge of Huesyth’s office where they formerly sat for therapy. Tugging off the wires and tubes running into his chest and wrist, he threw back the sheets. By the time his feet hit the floor, he was already wearing shoes and clothes appeared on him when he stood up straight in the office. A page torn from a book drifted to the floor next to Bec’s foot which seemed to trigger others to flutter down around him like oversized snowflakes.

He watched as they rained before reaching up to pick one out of the open air. The skewed drawing of a clock he had done for Huesyth all those months ago. A feeling he had no idea how to name surged through him at the sight before the paper caught fire. A hole being burned through its middle before he realized that it was in the book that Huesyth had just tossed into the fireplace across the office.

“In your memory palace?” Bec questioned.

“My palace is vast, even by medieval standards. The foyer is of Norman Chapel in Palermo, severe and beautiful and timeless,” Huesyth described as he turned back to the memory version of the empath standing by his side. “With a single reminder of mortality: A skull graven in the floor.”

His past, memory double tensed and looked over to match eyes with his present self as if observing how he would react. Looking down towards the paper covered floor, he kneeled to push the pages aside and reveal the same red skeleton graving he’d seen on one of the burning pages but carved into the office floor.

His eyes moved upwards as the ceiling seemed to have opened up to towering columns and arches and detailed murals of the Norman Chapel.

He blinked once only to find the bland hospital ceiling above him.

 

8 MONTHS LATER

NORMAN CHAPEL, PALERMO, ITALY

The chapel's vast interior rung with the multiple languages of the travelers shuffling about the place. Its architecture was just how Bec had imagined it in his mind all those months ago.

He gazed around the place before peering back at Abigail at his side. “Even in an enlightened world, we come here to feel closer to God.”

“Do you feel closer to God?” Abigail asked him. “I’m not sure I do.”

“God isn’t who we came here to find.”

They moved further into the chapel, admiring its beauty before Abigail spoke again. “Do you believe in God?”

She sounded as if she was unsure of herself.

“What I believe is closer to science fiction than anything in the Bible.”

They noted the various people sitting amongst the chairs to pray so Abigail spoke low so only Bec could hear her, not wanting to offend the quiet locals. “We all know it, but nobody ever says that G-dash-D won't do a G-dash-D-damned thing to answer anybody's prayers.”

He turned to her as they paused in the middle of the center aisle, whispering. “God can't save any of us because it's inelegant. Elegance is more important than suffering. That's His design.”

Abigail quirked a knowing brow at him. “You talking about God or Huesyth?”

“Huesyth's not God. Wouldn't have any fun being God. Defying God though that's his idea of a good time.” His eyes drifted down to the skeleton in the middle of the floor and he was drawn to it almost like a magnet. The two stood before it as Bec rolled his head back, taking in the murals of saints and apostles that decorated the highest dome of the chapel. “Nothing would thrill Huesyth more than to see this roof collapse mid-Mass, packed pews, choir singing... He would just love it. And he thinks God would love it, too.”

As he scanned the ceiling, he heard a low crumbling. Cracks began to appear across the painted face of a saint and snow like plaster rained down on his hand as he held it out to catch it.

They returned the following morning, early and bright only to find a crime scene where people were just happily praying to repent their sins. Men with cameras and CSI suits taking photos of something behind a white screen that they had set up. It effectively blocked off any sight of the corpse as the police worked around it.

“Is it him?” Abigail asked quietly.

“You really think it’s him?” Amaund asked at the same time. His brother had asked to accompany them back to the church once they heard of the police involvement.

Before Bec could respond to either of them, he was rapidly approached by one of the police, holding up a waving hand. “Per favore, signore. È proibito qui. La cappella è chiusa.”

The three turned to leave as Bec tried to glimpse at what he could of the crime scene before an inspector met eyes with him and shouted.

“LaManna, non lasciarlo uscire. Voglio parlare con lui.”

“What’d he say?” Amaund questioned.

The policeman looked at Amaund curiously then to Bec, gesturing to the empath. “He said he wants to talk to you.”

 

The police station was buzzing with life as people moved in an office frenzy around the rows of desks in light of the new case. He was told that he couldn’t have anyone with him during his questioning and he allowed one of the inspectors to gesture to the row of chairs in the waiting area. The man quickly disappeared into the crowd after that but Bec waited patiently, quietly.

“Signor Reyes…” A low, gruff voice said softly. Bec turned to see an older man sitting down into a chair near his, facing forward as if not to draw attention to their conversation. “Chief Investigator Rinaldo Pazzi. Questura di Firenze.”

“You’re a long way from Florence,” Bec commented blankly.

“And you're a long way from Baltimore,” Pazzi stated, continuing after the empath raised an eyebrow at him. “I read everything I can find on FBI profiling methods. I read all about your incarceration.”

“Keep reading,” Bec quipped. “I was acquitted of all charges.”

He felt Pazzi’s eyes land on him and the investigator turned in his chair to face the empath. “You come to Palermo and very soon... a body is discovered. The priest at the Cappella dei Normanni said you have been spending a lot of time there.”

“I’ve been praying,” Bec explained. “In this day and age, you need all the help you can get.”

Pazzi nodded. “There is some comfort in prayer. It leaves you with the distinct feeling you're not alone.”

They stared at each other for a moment, so long that Bec thought it would never end before the inspector who brought him there called to him. “Signore... Vieni con me.”

Quickly, Bec rose from his seat to follow the inspector back to his desk and as he left, Pazzi added. “Ciao.”

But the questioning seemed to go nowhere. Once he was brought back, the inspector tried to ask why he had been there so often, where he was from originally, why he was in town. Boring questions. Ones that weren’t really that useful to finding who he knew the killer was and soon the empath was let go when they ran out of things to ask him.

He wanted his exit to be swift as he moved down the stairs, watching as Amaund and Abigail who were waiting on the landing below offered him their grins. He smiled back at them, happy to see the familiar faces. But the Hobbs girl’s eyes left him, indicating Pazzi leaning against the banister below him in wait.

“Is Bec Reyes here because of the body at the cappella,” Pazzi asked, approaching the empath as he moved down the steps. “Or is the body here because of Bec Reyes?”

“Why are you here?” Bec asked firmly.

Noticing the new face, Amaund stepped up from behind the empath, puffed up to his full height to seem intimidating as he addressed his brother. “Everything okay here, Bec?”

Confused, Pazzi raised an eyebrow at the new man and then back to Bec.

“Investigator Pazzi, this is my brother Amaund.” Bec introduced, motioning between them with his head as the men shook each other’s hands.

“Can never be too safe… especially when traveling to unknown territories,” Pazzi commented as he pulled back. But they weren’t interested in each other and the investigator certainly didn’t care to know the name of Bec’s brother. He looked back to the younger empath. “I'm like you. I do what you do. We share the same gift of imagination.”

The empath scoffed. “A gift? Then this curse as treated you far kinder than me because I've got the scars of a man who grabbed his gift by the blade.”

“You grabbed the wrong end,” Pazzi replied simply. “But those moments when the connection is made, that is my keenest pleasure.”

Bec hated that he understood what he meant. “Knowing.”

“Knowing,” Pazzi repeated more firmly. “Not feeling, not thinking. You know who murdered that man and left him in the Cappella Palatina.”

“Don't you know?” The empath questioned.

Pazzi drew closer, voice going low and Bec could see Amaund stiffen behind him at his approach. “I met him twenty years ago. Il Mostro, the Monster of Florence. It was his custom to arrange his victims like a beautiful painting.” That gained Bec’s attention. He was all too familiar with Huesyth’s M.O. and his attention to aesthetics. The way he made beauty out of something widely seen has hideous. “Il Mostro created images that stayed in my mind.”

The older man brought out a yellowing envelope that he had tucked under his arm, handing Bec the photos he removed from it. “Twenty years ago, I was dwelling on a couple found slain in the bed of a pickup truck in Impruneta. Bodies placed garlanded with flowers…”

The photo depicted just what Pazzi had described but he failed to mention all of the little details that even younger Huesyth applied to the work of the bodies. “Like a Botticelli.”

Exactly like a Botticelli,” Pazzi agreed. “His painting Primavera still hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, just as it did twenty years ago.”

He handed him another picture, this time of the painting that Huesyth was obviously referencing. “The garlanded nymph on the right, the flowers streaming from her mouth. Match and match.”

“The Uffizi Gallery... that's where you met il Mostro.” Bec asked.

Pazzi hesitated before going back to the file. “That's where I met... this man.”

He produced one last picture from the file and handed it to the empath. The photo was slightly aged and monochromatic but Bec could tell that the boyishly handsome young man in the picture was still Huesyth. The strong jaw and glinting eyes were enough of a giveaway but his mouth quirked to the side in a devilish smirk and his short, inky black locks were pushed back from his forehead with grease. He had an air of arrogant youth, a man who thought he could get away with anything.

“The Monster of Florence,” Pazzi named as Bec and Amaund observed the photo carefully.

 

“Success comes as a result of inspiration. Revelation is the development of an image, first blurred, then coming clear. To find the inspiration il Mostro used was a triumph. I went to the Uffizi and stood before the original Primavera day after day, and most days I'd see a young Italian man as transfixed by the Botticelli as I was.”

Bec could imagine that eighteen-year-old Huesyth, bent over a sketchbook on his lap, quietly sketching his favorite parts of the painting. The empath doesn’t see his face, only his back as he worked. It must’ve been how Pazzi had observed him some twenty years previous.

“As transfixed as I imagined il Mostro would be. And every day I saw him... Sometimes he’d be joined by another man, older and kinder seeming, who’d compliment his work. He would recreate Primavera in pencil, just as he did in flesh.”

Someone moved to sit next to the younger Huesyth but he was turned in his seat enough so that his face wasn’t as obscured. Bec had never met Huesyth’s older brother but he assumed that was what he’d look like if he was the twenty-three-year-old fresh out of a juvenile detention center. Ready and wanting to gush over his brother’s talent. His attempt at making up for lost time but not knowing just why his brother was there.

Or maybe he did know and maybe he just didn’t care.

Pazzi moved in front of the empath, blocking his view of the two men and Bec remembered where they stood. Within the somber shadows of the Norman Chapel at twilight, empty except for them.

“I knew. It was the best moment of my life, a moment of epiphany that made me famous and then ruined me. In haste and the heat of ambition, the Questura nearly destroyed the home of the young man's brother whom he was living with at the time trying to find evidence.”

Evidence of the crime scene still remained including markers where the body was but the mutilated sculpture had been removed. As Bec scanned it, he explained. “He doesn't leave evidence.”

“No, he doesn't,” Pazzi seemed to seeth at the thought.

Bec peered over his shoulder to him. “He eats it.”

“There was another man... not an innocent man, but innocent of those crimes. He was considered a dream suspect and was convicted on no evidence except his character.”

Beyond the crime scene tape, the empath cringed in pain as he slid down until he sat on the few steps that lead up to the altar. “Blame has a habit of not sticking to Huesyth Cavalli.”

Pazzi hummed, pulling up the tape so that he could join Bec. “But it does have a habit of sticking to you.”

Uncomfortable memories rose in him, all too fresh, all too raw, and his stomach twinged in pain. As he approached, Pazzi held out another folder of crime scene photos which the empath accepted before the older man simply walked away to leave him to his imagination. Finally, almost reluctantly, Bec pulled the photos from the file he held and took in just what he saw.

His heartbeat grew louder in his ears until it’s rushing pound was all he could hear and his eyes slid shut. The bright pendulum swung in the darkness of his mind.

He stood from the stairs when he opened his eyes to see the sculpture portrayed in the photos before him. The police tape was gone, the evidence markers too. He was alone with the grotesque form of a human body molded and bent and broken into the shape of a heart. It was skewered through by three swords, protruding out of the marble floor as it was intended to be.

Bec circled the sculpture, studying it and all of its little details. “I splintered every bone, fractured them... dynamically. Made you malleable. I skinned you. Bent you, twisted you and trimmed you. Head, hands, arms, and legs.” He gave a weak chuckle. “A Topiary. This is my design.”

He stepped forward and reached a hand up to gently rest against the bloody, mangled body. “A valentine that was written on a broken man.”

It throbbed once under his hand and he yanked back as if it had bitten him, slowly stepping away. For a moment, he thought that it was beating with life as a heart should until it shuddered, the stitches holding it together snapped all at once. The broken body unfurled again until it mimicked something of a human, no head or feet or hands. It was bent backward, its back in a deep curve as it hit the floor with a serious of sickly pops and cracks.

The metal swords clattered to the floor with sharp sounds that echoed throughout the mostly empty room. From the stumps of its arms came blackened, clawed hands that slammed onto the floor in front of it. Bec stumbled backward when from the stump of its neck, feathers bloomed and pierced through the length of the torso along with vine-like blackened antlers. It yanked itself forward with its clawed hands, pulling towards the empath and dragging the back of its broken body behind it.

The empath stumbled away, horrified until he tripped only to fall backward on the steps as soon as the beast’s sharpened antlers were nearly upon him.

“Bec…”

The empath’s eyes snapped open where he remembered he was leaning against the altar’s steps, sweating, breathing heavily. He looked up, wide-eyed, to see Abigail walking towards him. His head dropped into his hands as he tried to control his breathing, hands tangling in his curls to bring him back to the present.

“I do feel closer to Huesyth here,” Bec laughed weakly. “H-He left us his, uh... his broken heart.”

Abigail’s brow furrowed in concern. “How did he know we were here?”

“He didn't,” Bec clarified with a shake of his head. “But he knew we would come looking sooner or later.”

“He misses us,” Abigail replied.

It was a strange concept for Bec to consider but he remained suspicious. “Huesyth follows several trains of thought at once without distraction from any... and one of the trains is always for his own amusement.”

Immediately, Abigail’s hope seemed to deflate. “So he's playing with us.”

“Always,” Bec softly fumed, motioning to the pile of photos next to him. “You still want to go with him?”

Sighing gently, Abigail stepped forward to take a seat on the steps next to him. “Yes.”

“He gave you back to me then he took you away. He just keeps pulling you away… keeps pulling everything away from me.” Bec paused, a contemplative moment before suddenly asking. “What if no one had died? What if... What if we all left together that night when he wanted us to? Where would we have gone?”

He could feel Abigail’s eyes lingering on him. “In some other world?”

“In some other world,” Bec repeated, looking over to her.

He scanned every detail of her. The soft waves of her dark hair falling over her shoulders. The scars on her neck left uncovered by a scarf like she so often had. Her bright blue eyes were still wide and innocent. It was an ideal version, a happier one, but he knew in his heart that it wasn’t the real version.

But nonetheless, Abigail offered a tight, sad smile, shrugging. “He said that he made a place for us. All of us.”

It was like she was fishing for happiness, trying to lure it in with a soft voice and open palms to not spook it off again. But it was a desperate sort of luring that was born out of the desire to connect to something that wasn’t made of sharp, biting edges. The animal she was luring was Huesyth and he was unforgiving in that regard.

The reality of his situation was a bitter pill to swallow. Bec’s eyes burned at the edges with what he knew had to be tears, his throat tightened around his words. “He said he made a place for us. But I made a place for you, Abigail, in this world. It was the only place I could make for you. I wish I could have done more for you when we had the time.”

How many times did Abigail have to die and be reshaped before they finally let her spirit go? Killed and resurrected as a new form over and over, a daughter, a victim, something to be put back together, a killer or a lure. They forced their definitions on her but she accepted them, tossed chunks of herself at them to keep herself alive. Her last months since her father’s death must have been a living hell.

Bec could admit then that he didn’t truly know the real Abigail. He knew whatever the ghost of Garret Jacob Hobbs skulking around in his brain wanted him to know.

But no one really did know her besides Huesyth and maybe not even him. Everyone else knew whatever she wanted to show them, what she wanted them to know.

A shiver ran through the Abigail by his side as darkness formed on her neck. The broad line of shiny tissue turned deep red like a smile had been painted across her skin and it split open. Blood poured from it, bleeding and bleeding and never stopping like it had done that night. It was a mortal injury and it was the one that left her dead on Huesyth’s floor all those months ago.

Bec couldn’t stop the bleeding that night nor the day her father cut her. They stared at each other, tears collecting in their eyes, neither trying or fighting the inevitable.

He needed to let her go.

The vision of Abigail disappeared, her blood didn’t stain the stone steps beneath where she sat. The empath was alone but something made him shiver. There were eyes on him from somewhere. But all of his energy seemed to have drained from him, his emotional exhaustion was overwhelming. He had to lay back on the altar steps, staring up at the gilded ceiling above him before he soon heard approaching footsteps. Heavier ones than those of Abigail’s.

“Are you... praying?” He heard Pazzi question.

The empath closed his eyes briefly, taking in a deep inhale and shaking his head. “Huesyth doesn't pray. But he believes in God... intimately.”

“I wasn't asking Huesyth Cavalli,” Pazzi stated as he moved under the tape.

The younger man’s eyes were drawn to the murals around him. “My father was a Catholic but I never really connected to the concept of religion. I think my prayers would feel constricted by the saints and apostles. How do your prayers feel?”

Pazzi’s wishful eyes turned up to the ceiling like he was staring into the eyes of the Lord himself and said. “I hope my prayers escaped, flown from here to the open sky and God.”

With his tender stomach, Bec struggled to stand but managed it, exploring the vicinity of the crime scene. “Praying you catch him? You should be praying he doesn't catch you first.”

Pazzi gave a huff of a laugh. “I didn't head the Questura di Firenze for nothing.”

“You couldn't catch him when he was just a kid so what makes you think you're going to catch him now?” The empath asked rather cynically.

The older man seemed so sure of himself, an air of old arrogance when he turned back to Bec and stated clearly. “You.”

There came a small, polite scoff from the empath before his eyes landed on a gated stairwell under the pulpits that led downwards into depths that the empath didn’t know of. “What makes you think I even want to catch him?”

“Signore Reyes…” Pazzi began but his voice faded out with lines of Italian that Bec didn’t have time to translate.

The steps led to a wooden door and from the gap between the landing and the bottom of the door, blood seeped through onto the stone. Though the blood may have been his brutal mind telling him, Bec knew what it was trying to say. What his mind wanted him to know so badly but couldn’t articulate into words on its own.

He was there.

Huesyth was still there.

“If you could possibly be content,” Bec started softly once his mind returned to reality and the blood disappeared. “I would suggest you let il Mostro go.”

“I can't do that any more than you can.”

Pazzi was stupidly stubborn and maybe the empath was too but at least he knew Huesyth. He knew he was safe because Huesyth wanted him that way. But he knew that if Huesyth were faced with Pazzi again, he wouldn’t hesitate in sinking a knife into his heart.

Bec turned to the older man and, as blunt and as clear as he could, said. “He's going to kill you if you come for him. I'm usually right about these things.”

Undeterred, Pazzi stepped towards the younger man with a purpose. “He let you know him. He sent you his heart. Where has he gone now?”

“He hasn't gone anywhere,” Bec stated and Pazzi narrowed his eyes as the empath looked back to the gate. “He's still here.”

 

The wood doors creaked when they opened and a blast of cool air blew past him as he stepped into the dark hallways of catacombs. Candles flickered down the length of either side of the walkway that was lined with skulls, bones, and mummified corpses. The haunting features were only partially illuminated.

Bec followed the ancient fortress wall of millennia-old stone as it led him deeper into less-aged corridors of the chapel's crypts and catacombs. He kept his steps slow and controlled, slowing his breathing to listen for any other movements but everything he did seemed to make a sound that echoed. Despite this, he swore he heard unhurried footsteps moving ahead of him and paused.

“Huesyth!”

The unhurried footsteps stopped as Bec’s shout echoes along the passageways. No reply and a quiet moment passed before the footsteps resumed their march. The empath was quick to follow after them, unafraid of what might’ve been lurking in the shadows beyond the corpses staring emptily back at him. It seemed to be a game of pausing, listening and continuing and it was a game he and Huesyth played well. It was one of the ways he knew for sure that it was Huesyth he was chasing in the dark. His presence was always something so very tangible to the empath.

But before he could pinpoint exactly where the other set of footsteps were heading, another sound seemed to break through the calm of their chase.

“Signor Reyes?” An irritatingly familiar voice echoed after him and at that point, Bec’s steps stuttered.

He sighed softly to himself, turning on his heel and moving back the way he heard the investigator’s voice coming from. He was trying to be particularly quiet after that but after approaching Pazzi from behind, the man startled and whipped around. The investigator pressed the barrel of his gun against the empath’s chest. If it had been a few months earlier, maybe Bec would’ve reacted but he didn’t. After being gutted, he was numb to such attempts on his life.

Calm and quiet but unnerved, Bec whispered. “You shouldn't have come down here alone.”

Pazzi lowered the gun, holstering it at his waist before looking back up at the empath. “I'm not alone. I'm with you .”

A tight, amused smile crossed Bec’s face as he scoffed. “You still don't know whose side I'm really on.”

Cautiously, Pazzi seemed to tense as he stared at Bec. “What are you going to do when you find him? Your il Mostro?”

The empath cocked his head slightly. “What I do with my monster is no concern of yours”

“You and I carry the dead with us, Signor Reyes,” Pazzi expressed. “We both need to unburden ourselves.”

There was no reason to argue with the brick wall in front of him. He was as persistent for justice as Bec was for revenge. “Why don't you carry your dead back to the chapel before you count yourself among them?”

His eyes stayed focused on the empath, scanning over every detail of his face, before Pazzi exhaled deeply. “You are already dead, aren't you?”

“We all are. Anyone who’s stepped into Huesyth’s path is.” Straightening up, Bec took a step backward into the shadows. A willing freefall into the dark that he once feared. “Buonanotte, Commendatore.”

He left Pazzi standing in the dark he didn't belong in, alone. Straining to listen. But Bec moved deeper into the catacombs despite his rational instincts telling him to leave while he still had a chance. His heart and some gut feeling that could’ve been chalked up to his wound aching tugged him deeper. It may have technically healed but it was still a constant reminder. A grounding presence to earth to keep him from floating away in the fountains of blood.

“Huesyth…” Bec called again, trying to keep his voice from breaking.

A shadow that didn’t belong to him moved out of the corner of his eye at the end of the corridor he was passing. Bec’s attention snapped up and landed on the silhouette of a man at the end of the hall, body tense like he was ready to strike at any moment. Through the dark, he couldn’t see any features or the expression on Huesyth’s face, but he didn’t need to. Bec could almost imagine the surprise and disbelief at his presence. The empath didn’t move, barely breathed because he felt if he did then the other man would startle and skitter back into the shadows.

Despite himself, when his eyes met the dark shape of the doctor, a small, sad smile tugged at the corners of the empath’s lips.

“I forgive you,” Bec said gently to the man hiding in the shadows, to his monster.

Looking into what he thought were the eyes of the man that tried to kill him was a strange experience. Standing there in the dark, forgiving him for trying to kill him and cutting their children out of his stomach, was even stranger. He waited for any kind of reaction and time felt different as the world itself held its breath waiting for the doctor to either run away or charge forward.

It seemed to be the latter for as soon as the quiet moment passed, the silhouette surged forward. Only the flickering lights of the candles lit his expression for a second at a time and it was indescribable, Bec couldn’t place it.

For once, the empath didn’t flinch away or immediately fight back. He accepted whatever Huesyth had planned for him even if he was crossing the distance to finish the job he started eight months previous. But both of Huesyth’s hands gripped either side of his head and pulled him closer until their lips were crushed together.

A frenzied mess of lips and teeth and emotions they had kept repressed. It was the closest thing to what felt right that Bec had felt in months. Huesyth pulled back first, staring down at his empath with wonder before he moved down again, intent on gaining another kiss. But Bec’s hand slip up Huesyth’s front and wrapped loosely around his throat, using the grip to push Huesyth back. Their hot breath puffed against each other’s face, warming them despite the cool air around them.

The empath didn’t look up to meet the other man’s eyes despite the fact that he knew they were lingering on him. Wetting his lips with his tongue as his grip tightened briefly on the doctor’s neck, Bec whispered breathlessly into Huesyth’s chest. “I’ll find you later.”

Hesitantly, caught off guard by Bec saying later , Huesyth’s hands dropped from Bec’s face and he wordlessly slipped out of the empath’s embrace. Swallowed up again by the darkness of the catacombs until his footsteps disappeared. Forlornly, Bec stood with only the shadows to keep him company as if waiting for a response he knew he’d never get.

Chapter Text

Shafts of light flooded the living room of the apartment through the arching windows but Huesyth remained in the darkest section of the room, seated facing the crackling fire across from him. Movement came from beside him as Bedelia leaned against the doorway into the room with a glass of wine in her hand.

She sipped from it, her head tipping slightly to the side. “Was it nice to see him?”

He had no idea if the word ‘nice’ was how we would describe the feelings that seemed to burst from his chest when the sound of the empath’s voice reached his ears. Or the sight of him that graced his weary eyes, silhouetted by the candles around him. Beautiful but foreign until that tiny smile quirked his mouth. It was something so painfully beloved and familiar. It wasn’t sharp or malicious and when black blood didn’t stream from his plush lips, Huesyth knew he was real.

Desperate and hungry for his affection, Huesyth rushed to the younger man’s embrace even if he wasn’t welcome there. The doctor knew he shouldn’t have touched him or pulled him close enough that the empath could’ve sunk a hidden knife into his exposed underbelly. But the monster in his mind had been pacing for months, so much so that it probably left a groove in the floor of his memory palace. Impatient, searching, but as soon as it set eyes on the real Bec, it seemed to freeze before howling . A deep and guttural sound, screaming at him to take hold of his former lover and never let go of him again.

So Huesyth did and, for a split second, he let his monster pull Bec close, rain affection onto the empath like he could kiss the wounds of those long months away. But his tongue was like a razor blade that left no one unscathed, even himself. His teeth were too sharp. Too eager to bite, too hungry to be trusted around something so precious and he pulled back to breathe only to have his beast begging him not to. But when he tried again, a hand gripped his neck, stalling his movements and keeping him a distance away.

The empath didn’t look up at him, his heavy breathing brushing against Huesyth’s chest as he muttered that he’ll find the doctor later.

He had no idea if it was a threat or a promise but Huesyth hesitated before he stepped backward, disappearing into the dark before he overstayed his welcome.

“It was nice... among other things,” Huesyth offered. “He knew exactly where to look for me.”

As she approached him slowly, Bedelia told. “You knew where he would look for you and where to leave clues that he knew how to follow.”

“He said he would find me again… he said he forgave me,” Huesyth recalled like he still didn’t believe it himself.

The doctor could feel Bedelia staring, fascinated by the strangeness of the empath just as much as Huesyth was. “Forgiveness is too great and difficult for one person. It requires two: the betrayer and the betrayed. Which one are you?”

He hesitated before answering. “I'm vague on those details.”

“Betrayal and forgiveness are... best seen as something akin to falling in love.”

Love. Such a strange concept to him. People would say it wasn’t a term that would fit with him because his nature wasn’t kind. His nature wasn’t gentle enough for love and it hadn’t been since he was a little boy who told his brother that their mother was sleeping and wouldn’t wake up. That was a different kind of love that was taken from him that day but he knew that what he felt for Bec went deeper than that.

There wasn’t a word to describe just what he felt for the empath.

“You cannot control with respect to whom you fall in love,” Huesyth muttered.

Ignoring the pathetically vulnerable tone of his voice, Bedelia sipped her wine. “You are going to be caught. It has already been set into motion.”

That set his jaw on edge and he questioned lowly. “Is that concern for your patient or concern for yourself?”

“I'm not concerned about me,” Bedelia stated bluntly. “I know exactly how I will navigate my way out of whatever it is I've gotten myself into... Do you?”

“I did.”

She paused to weigh his meaning. “Where will Bec Reyes be looking for you next?”

He had thought about it after he left the catacombs. There was no reason for Bec to delay in his finding of the doctor except for one reason. He needed all of the facts before he came to his final conclusion and there was only one place to find them.

“Someplace I can never go,” Huesyth replied. “Home.”

Suddenly, smooth hands rested around his neck and for a brief moment, he thought it must’ve been Bedelia until something cold dripped onto his cheek. Huesyth swiped a finger through it and it came away black.

The hands were an ashen tan, nails painted black and curling until they dug into his front. More drips of black blood stained him and he felt like soon they will swallow him.

 

TRENTO, ITALY

“We’re here,” His brother said, the rental car rolling to a stop off the side of the dirt road.

Dawn was breaking and his eyes slid open to reveal a high stone wall, slightly weathered with age and encased with thick vines. Bec blinked, thirteen hours of travel seemingly passing in the blink of an eye when he was so enraptured in detangling his own mind. The two men stepped out of the car, trekking up the rest of the way to the entrance.

A towering wrought-iron gate stood above them, a chain dangling uselessly from the doors as if it had been cut and pushed aside for someone to enter and then haphazardly put back into place. The design engraved into the metal was that of a snake devouring a man with the inscription ‘TENUTA CAVALLI’. Amaund yanked the chain out of the way, forcing one of the oxidized gates open for the two of them to slip through.

There were fresh marks in the dirt from the gates being opened previous. Vines snapped off and tire tracks on the road that spiraled up the slight mountain to the imposing crumbling castle that stood high above the woods trying to engulf it.

“Well that’s intimidating,” Amaund commented, adjusting his black cowboy hat on his head as they began their trek towards the structure. It would be a long way and Amaund’s attempt at lightening the mood wasn’t working as well as he probably though it was.

“If it turns out he was lying to you and we wasted three hours coming here, I’ll kick your ass,” Bec huffed, holding an arm around his stomach when the rawness of his scar was jostled.

“You saw those tracks back there,” Amaund reminded, motioning over his shoulder with his head. “Someone was here recently.”

Bec muttered to himself. “Probably the cops.”

Less pessimistic than his brother, Amaund scoffed. “Stop it.”

“How do you know he even wants to help us, Amaund?” The empath questioned.

“He told me so himself. He wants to stop his brother just as much as we do.”

Bec paused and his eyes landed back on the castle they were approaching. “I think we have different definitions of the word stop.”

He heard a soft sigh but his brother didn’t retort. They walked in silence until they finally reached the final stretch towards the castle itself. But it didn’t take long before Bec noticed something, moss-covered metal fencing that they had to walk through, lower than the wrought iron gate but just as extravagant. A family cemetery seemed to pop up around them. Tombs and small mausoleums overgrown with weeds and ivy, shrubs and saplings. All of them were older, some even crumbling to pieces in disrepair except for one.

Nearer to the entrance was a well-tended stone, recently cleaned of any infesting growth, with a delicately carved angel as its headpiece. Inscribed into the stone was the name, ‘ MIA CAVALLI ’, and below were the smaller words of ‘ Beloved daughter, mother, and wife’ .

As Bec observed the headstone, Amaund crossed behind him and quirked an eyebrow at the stone sitting a few feet to Mia’s side. It was completely consumed by moss and towering grass, cracking under disrepair and lack of care. Nowhere near as taken care of as the other one. The taller man crouched down and took hold of the vines, tearing away one of the corners to reveal only part of a name.

SALVA-

Upon reading that, Amaund immediately dropped the vines back into place, standing quickly to brush his hands clean of dirt and moss.

“Can you give me a minute?” Bec asked and Amaund furrowed his brow at his brother. “I need to… collect my thoughts.”

Realization seemed to hit and Amaund nodded, motioning to one of the bigger mausoleums. “I’ll, uh… I’ll be over here.”

The taller man wandered off back into the cemetery as Bec snorted softly to himself but when he blinked, he found himself sitting in one of the therapy chairs among the tall grass and tombstones.

“It isn’t usually healing to see your childhood home…” A voice began. Bec looked up to see Huesyth sitting across from him, well-coiffed, besuited, and clean. Much like how he would normally be during their sessions. “But it helps you measure whether you are broken or not... how and why, assuming you want to know.”

“I do want to know,” Bec clarified. “Is this where construction began?”

Huesyth glanced up to his childhood home where it was perched on high. “On my memory palace? It's the door at the center of my mind. And here you are, feeling for the latch.”

Regarding him with something akin to a smile, Bec added. “The spaces in your mind devoted to your earliest years... are they different than the other rooms?”

The sky darkened and shifted, the empath blinking to reveal the shadowy interior of Huesyth’s office back in Baltimore. Their positions were switched to how they’d usually be, Bec in the chair closest to the door and Huesyth across from him.

“Are they different than this room?”

Huesyth scanned over the room, taking in every detail as he did during their last time, burning journals. “This room holds sound and motion, great snakes wrestling and heaving in the dark. Other rooms are static scenes, fragmentary... like painted shards of glass.”

“Everything keyed to memories leading to... other memories. There are certain rooms you... can't bring yourself to go into. Nothing ever escapes from them that causes you any comfort.”

Cocking his head slightly, Huesyth offered. “Screams fill some of those places, but the corridors do not echo screaming... because I only hear music.”

The daydream seemed to shatter at the sound of a gunshot echoing off in the distance. Bec’s eyes snapped open at the sudden noise and he found himself still standing in the cemetery but Amaund was rushing back towards him.

“Did you hear that?” The taller man asked.

Bec’s eyes searched around. “Where did it come from?”

Amaund’s gaze followed up towards the castle and the empath narrowed his eyes. Despite the sounds, Bec pressed on towards the estate but Amaund stood in front of him just in case. They finally found themselves hiding behind the trees at the back of the home, the backyard of sprawling knee-high grass and also a decrepit building that stood to the side of the yard. Abandoned horse stables with one of the tall barn doors hanging off its rusty hinges. Another shot rang out, then another and the brothers’ eyes followed the sounds.

A long, quiet moment passed before a dark shape moved out of the trees as well which had them hunkering down more. A brunette man in black clothes with a hunting rifle hanging from the strap around his torso and three dead pheasants dangling from his other hand. At the sight of him, Bec heard Amaund take a sharp breath.

The man entered the decaying stables through the broken door, disappearing into the shadows of the building. When Bec began to turn towards his brother to ask what he wanted to do, he saw Amaund immediately stand. He began speed walking through the grass towards the stable door as well. Bec scrambled after him but couldn’t catch up in time to stop him from entering.

It was just as dark inside the dilapidated stables as Bec thought it would be and that set him on edge. He had no idea where the man could’ve been hiding considering each of the individual stalls seemed to be completely concealed. But nothing seemed to stop Amaund from pressing on towards a dim light at the end of the long hall and only slowing once he reached it. Lit by a single lantern next to him, the man was facing away from them at a workbench, pulling plumes of feathers off one of the birds he’d just hunted.

Instead of rushing into his line of sight as Amaund did, Bec stood behind the wall to one of the stalls and watched his brother.

“Delmar…” Amaund breathed and the man stiffened at the new voice.

Bec could see the way his hand twitched towards the rifle leaning against the wall next to him but instead, he turned back to match eyes with the taller man.

For a moment, everything was still and quiet and Bec was sure the other man was ready to attack them. Until, the man, Delmar, lurched forward and wrapped his arms around Amaund’s neck, pulling him down for them to crash their lips together. Desperately, they clung to each other, pressing deep kisses to the other’s lips as if they were prepared to swallow one another whole in order to keep them there.

They pulled back for a breath, lovingly pressing their foreheads together. Amaund breathed a laugh against Delmar’s lips, running careful fingers through the overgrown stubble on the shorter man’s face.

But Delmar’s eyes noticed the movement out of the corner of his eye and met gazes with Bec as he hid in the shadows.

 

Bedelia approached the table, placing the platter of feathered meat before Sogliato, next to a bowl of olives and other hors-d'oeuvres. On a slick, clear block of ice at the other end of the table, Huesyth used an ice pick with brutal precision to smash ice to chips to fill their glasses.

“The Studiolo is a small, fierce group,” Huesyth began. “They have ruined a number of academic reputations.”

The doctor watched Sogliato peel off a feather of the cooked meat, popping it into his mouth without knowing that it was from a human arm. “Appearing before them is a peril.”

“You were very eager to see me discredited, Professor Sogliato.”

Sogliato scoffed loudly. “You sang for your supper before the dragons at the Studiolo.”

“And you sang very well,” Bedelia offered politely.

Sarcastically, Sogliato offered mute applause. “First, applause, and then by... wet-eyed acclamation. The memberships affirmed you as master of Palazzo Capponi.”

Huesyth smiled tightly as he poured the punch romaine from the cocktail mixer into the now iced glasses, handing either of the glasses to Bedelia and Sogliato. “Punch Romaine, a cocktail created by Escoffier. It was served to first-class guests on the Titanic during their last dinner.”

Suspiciously, Bedelia eyed Huesyth before averting them to Sogliato who sipped from his drink, obviously enjoying it once making a mock toast. “The committees have a new curator and they do not miss the old one.”

He held back a smirk and instead feigned modesty. “If my victory pleased the professore, I could not tell.”

“Then you weren't paying attention,” Sogliato muttered.

“I pay lots of attention,” Huesyth retorted as he placed his plate at his setting so that he could wrap a hand around the handle of the icepick. “But not in a wide-eyed, indiscriminate way.”

He swiftly turned and stuck the metal tip of the pick straight through the thin bone of Sogliato’s temple. The man’s eyes go wide as he stared, unfocused and blurry from the placement of the pick, and he choked and twitched.

Shocked and horrified, Bedelia looked up at Huesyth as the doctor calmly took his seat at the head of the table. A long beat of silence passing between them before Huesyth sighed softly. “That may have been impulsive.”

Bedelia furrowed her brow at him. “Been mulling that impulse ever since you decided to serve Punch Romaine.”

Sogliato was still choking on his words, struggling to speak as if he still could before chuckling. “I... I can't see.”

He muttered strings of incomprehensible Italian words mixed with chuckling and harsh coughing before Bedelia finally had enough. She unrolled her napkin and crossed to the other side of the table to wrap it around the handle of the pick before yanking it out. Blood poured freely like a spout from the hole in Sogliato’s head and he immediately slumped forward face-first into his bowl of olives. His mumbling went suddenly silent and the doctor quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Technically, you killed him,” Huesyth reminded, chewing on one of the feathers of meat.

Blood quickly filled the bowl and overflowed onto the table in a dark pool as Bedelia skittishly placed the ice pick back onto the table. “Are you no longer interested in... preserving the peace you found here?”

“You cannot preserve entropy. It gradually descends into disorder.”

Bedelia squinted her eyes at the doctor. “Two men from the Capponi are dead.”

Huesyth shrugged as he drank from his cocktail. “I can only claim one of them... technically.”

“You're drawing them to you, aren't you? All of them.”

He neither denied or agreed.

 

“When did you get to Italy?” Delmar questioned, leaning back against the workbench.

“About a week and a half ago, I think,” Amaund answered. “We would’ve been here sooner but we needed to make a stop.”

Delmar cocked his head slightly. “Where’d you stop?”

“The Norman Chapel,” Bec cut in before Amaund could answer.

The empath watched as Delmar’s face noticeably fell at the mention. “Palermo…”

“Familiar?” Bec questioned.

“Huesyth and I lived all over Italy after I got out,” Delmar explained. “Palermo was one such place. Hue loved going to the chapel.”

“It apparently left a deeper mark on him then you might’ve thought,” Bec muttered before asking. “How old was Huesyth when you lived in Palermo?”

Delmar looked off, thinking back. “Twenty, maybe? We had just left Florence.”

“How long did you live in Florence?”

Curiously, Amaund looked over at Bec, asking with his eyes just what the empath was trying to get out of this. But Delmar answered clearly. “About five years. We stayed close to our uncle until I started getting good work.”

Perking up at the mention of their uncle, Bec thought back to what he’d remembered. Alessio was his name, he took Huesyth in two years after his father’s death and his brother’s imprisonment. They never said what happened to the uncle after the Cavalli brothers moved out.

“Is the interrogation over yet, Special Agent Reyes, or do you got anything else for him?” Amaund quipped as he folded his arms over his chest.

“It’s alright, Amaund,” Delmar soothed. “He’s got every right to his answers.”

“Do you know who I am?” Bec asked.

The older man nodded with a shrug. “I know the vague idea of you. Hue didn’t like talking about the people in his life with the people in his life. But I know how much you meant to him.”

The empath couldn’t help but scoff. “You didn’t get the whole story, did you?”

Delmar seemed to pause before his brow furrowed. “No. No, I didn’t.”

“Bec, wai-” “The night he left, he gutted me,” Bec seethed. “He tried to kill me. He murde-”

A hand dropped over Bec’s mouth but it was too late. Delmar stiffened against the workbench and his hands seemed to grip the edge until they turned white.

“What? What else did he do?” Delmar demanded.

The empath yanked Amaund’s hand away before the taller man explained quickly. “He murdered a girl named Abigail. She was their, uh… like their surrogate daughter.”

Delmar paused as his expression fell but then his shoulders slumped. “Yeah, I met her. I, uh… I had my suspicions that he managed to mess everything up for himself.”

He really didn’t know. Huesyth really didn’t tell his own brother anything about what happened. It made Bec wonder just when Delmar stopped asking questions and started following whatever Huesyth said. But Bec was led across the sea for answers and he wasn’t stopping until he got them.

Through the knee-high grass, they crossed the yard and Delmar fiddled with his ring of keys before unlocking the back door. Creaking as it opened and flooding the dusty, dark home with natural light. He ushered the brothers inside and let the door shut loudly behind them, lock mechanics rattling.

“The parlor is just ahead and to the left of the stairs,” Delmar explained as he pulled his rifle off his body to lean it against the wall.

Amaund and Bec pressed on in the direction that Delmar had given and the hall opened up to a large foyer. Dark floorboards creaking beneath their feet as Bec looked to the right to see a tall staircase swooping in a curve up to the second-floor landing.

Gazing down at them at the center of the staircase was a large family portrait of a handsome family. A beautiful young woman with waves of brown hair crashing over her shoulders and dressed in a delicately beaded gown. She was seated in an ornate chair in front of a tall, imposing suited man with inky black hair slicked back from his forehead, a heavy hand placed on her shoulder. A toddler was resting in her lap and a slightly older boy standing to her left, both looking much like the two adults.

The painting looked aged due to the yellowing of the varnish and the flimsiness of the frame but the figures remained prominent and clear.

Someone tapped his shoulder and he looked back to see Amaund motioning with his head to the parlor that Delmar had mentioned. A warmth seemed to emanate from the room as a fire crackled from the ornate fireplace. The two stepped in and could see the crown of someone’s head poking out from the top of the couch. Heavy footsteps moved up behind them before Delmar entered the parlor as well and circled to the front of the couch.

“Aunt Hisayo,” Delmar began and the head they saw looked up at him, curiously. “We have guests.”

Turning to the two idling in the parlor walkway, an older Japanese woman made herself known. Her smooth black hair tied up in a messy bun, and she looked between them with a raised eyebrow before offering them a warm smile. “Oh, hello. I had no idea we were having guests.”

She stood, moving around the couch to shake either of the brothers’ hands as she introduced herself. She barely came up to Amaund’s shoulder. “Hisayo Cavalli. I’m Delmar’s aunt.”

“Amaund Reyes and this is my brother, Bec,” The taller man introduced, laying a hand on the empath’s shoulder.

Her dark eyes widened slightly before a cheeky, knowing smile graced her lips, looking back at Delmar. “Is this the Amaund you’ve told us about?”

A bright red tint immediately rose on Delmar’s cheeks, fidgeting slightly as he whispered. “Zia, per favore non dirglielo.”

Hisayo chuckled to herself at his blushing before another pair of footsteps entered the room. The group all turned to be met by an older man, black hair streaked with lines of gray to give him a distinguished look but he wore it in loose curls that stopped at his ears. His square jaw and straight nose reminded Bec of the man in the portrait over the stairs but this one was older and he had deeper wrinkles around his mouth and eyes that lined up when he smiled at them. He was handsome and probably the happiest Cavalli that Bec had ever seen.

“This the cowboy we’ve heard of, huh, Del?” The man said, stepping forward to shake Amaund’s hand.

Delmar sighed loudly and Hisayo stepped out from behind the men to say. “We’re not supposed to talk about it, lovely.”

“Oh, sorry,” The man chuckled, waving his hands in his defense. “Amaund, right? Call me Alessio. I see you’ve already met my gorgeous wife.”

Alessio held a hand out for his wife which she gladly took and let him pull her closer. They held each other lovingly as they scanned each of the younger men before his eyes land on the empath. “And you are?”

Bec’s eyebrows seemed to hit his forehead like he was just reminded that he was indeed in the room and not watching from an omniscient perspective. Everyone’s attention was all on him then. “Bec Reyes. I’m Amaund’s brother.”

Sticking a hand out to the empath, Alessio greeted him. “It’s lovely to have you.”

They shook hands politely before Delmar moved behind them to whisper into each of their ears and some form of realization seemed to click into place on their faces. But when Delmar pulled away, everything seemed to go back to normal.

“Well are you two gentleman planning on staying the night?” Alessio asked.

Bec immediately shook his head before Amaund could answer for them. “No, no. We need to get back to the city.”

“It’ll be dark soon,” Hisayo cautioned. “By the time you get back into town, the trains won’t be running.”

“We’ll get a hotel,” Bec stated.

But Amaund patted a hand against Bec’s shoulder as if to calm him before he can deny them again. “No, we will not. If you have a place for us then we’ll gladly stay.”

Delmar seemed to breathe a sigh of relief behind his aunt and uncle but before they could gush about how happy they were, the shorter man spoke. “I can show you to a couple of the guest rooms.”

Amaund pushed on Bec’s back until he started moving to follow Delmar, through the foyer and up the stairs. As the empath passed by the portrait, he matched eyes with the adult man and glared back at his steely, painted face.

“My uncle had a team come in already and clean some of the rooms out before we showed up,” Delmar explained to them.

As they turned to the right at the top of the stairs, Bec looked back the other way to the dark end of the hallway where two doors stood. Ominous and untouched for what seemed like decades. But Delmar opened one of the guest room doors on the other end and then walked across to another one parallel to the first to swing it open as well.

“The rest of us are staying in the rooms downstairs so we’ll be, uh… out of your way.”

Lingering in the middle of the hallway between the two doors, Delmar ran his hands across the back of his black jeans. Before Amaund could say anything, the shorter man shot off back down the stairs. It was almost like he couldn’t stand being up there. The brothers matched eyes one last time before Bec shrugged, swinging the guest room door shut behind him.

 

Night settled like a heavy blanket over the castle and it became something out of a Victorian horror movie. It was encased in shadows and dark corners that could’ve been hiding someone that was about to leap out and stab him. That had been his biggest fear at the time but if he stayed in that room any longer, he’d go crazy again.

The place was dusty and creaky and had such a dark atmosphere to it. Years of sorrow were weighing the castle down, dragging it into the dirt to bury it among the graves of the family cemetery. Bec could feel it like it was a physical presence.

He moved down the stairs as quiet as a ghost and only offered a sparing glance to the portrait before averting his look. It made a shiver run through him. The fire in the parlor was still going and when Bec stepped back in, he found Alessio sitting back in one of the armchairs, nursing a drink on a side table as he skimmed through a book.

The older man’s eyes were immediately drawn to the empath and his look warmed at the sight of the younger man. He offered a calm greeting and an easy smile. “Buonasera.”

“Good evening, Signore Cavalli.”

Dismissively, Alessio waved a hand. “Please, Bec, let’s skip the professionalism because let’s be honest… neither of us would be considered professionals.”

Bec gave a breathy laugh as he went to sit on the end of the couch that was closest to the older man. “I guess you’re right.”

Alessio’s eyes lingered on the other man briefly before he sipped from his drink. “So tell me, Bec, why have you come to the majesty of Italy?”

“My brother wanted to find Delmar.” It wasn’t a complete lie but the truth was far more painful than that. “They were seeing each other before Delmar… moved away.”

The smile on the older man’s face seemed to shake and almost drop. “Really? It wouldn’t be because of Huesyth, right?” Bec’s eyes snapped up to meet Alessio’s and the older man quirked his head slightly. “I know a lot more than you might think, giovanotto. I also know that you are a former Special Agent for the FBI. You must be far smarter than you’re letting on.”

The empath stared, body stiff like he was ready to run. “How do you know that?”

Alessio shrugged loosely. “Delmar told me and what he didn’t tell was simply inferred based on the suddenness of my nephews’ return. They hold no love for the memories this place brings so I knew it must have been a dire situation that brought them home. How do you know Huesyth?”

“One could argue, intimately.”

Nodding in understanding, Alessio conceded. “I guessed correctly then.”

“You know what he does?” Bec questioned and Alessio nodded. “All of you know but none of you have done anything to stop it.”

The older man stared back, face relatively blank besides the pinched look of his brows. It was as if something heavy was rested on Alessio’s shoulders, a great burden he couldn’t be rid of. “I blamed myself for years for what became of my nephews, Huesyth especially. The boy was never right again after his father’s death but I thought… I thought it was a form of grief. He wouldn’t talk about it to me or to anyone.”

“He was killing people,” Bec snapped. “He was eating them. He still is.”

Alessio averted his eyes, looking back into the fire. “I know. For years, I chose not to know and even now I pretend not to.”

“Why?” The empath demanded.

“Because after what happened with my dear, old brother, Salvatore, it was better to ignore whatever was brewing inside of Huesyth,” Alessio retorted. “He lost everyone he loved so quickly and I just… wanted to protect him. Protect him like I couldn’t do with any of the others. Sometimes ignorance truly is bliss and I chose to believe my nephew was just a successful, happy doctor.”

The empath released an unsatisfied sigh, shaking his head slightly before Alessio continued. “He is not a whole person anymore, not like you or me, and I don’t think he ever will be again.” He motioned around with one of his hands. “A part of him died in this house with his mother and another part with his father. He’s been leaving parts of himself everywhere he goes ever since. Sometimes he’d visit those parts in his dreams. His, uh… His memory palace. That’s what he’d call it.”

“He was checking up on them,” Bec muttered.

With a slight sadness, Alessio nodded again. “I’d like to think so. See how the garden grew without his watering and care.”

A pause before Bec asked. “Do you think he’s disappointed by what he finds?”

“I think some of the parts have died since his leaving. He can’t get those back.”

It appeared that the more the castle rotted away, the more his memories of it did. No wonder he didn’t return. It would ruin his pristine version of it that he had cemented into his mind. The good memories would be ruined.

Suddenly, a gunshot rang off in the distance, muffled through the many walls between them and the outside but enough to make the empath jump. His eyes searched around for the sound.

“It seems Hisayo and Delmar can’t sleep either,” Alessio chatted, taking another drink from his glass but this time finishing it off.

“Is shooting a regular occurrence?” Bec asked.

“When I brought Hisayo to Italy to live with me, she took a liking to hunting and later taught Delmar after we took the boys in. They like to bond over it.”

A family of hunters and apex predators all living together, looking down at the flocks of prey together.

Another two shots made the walls rattle around them and Alessio didn’t even flinch. “I’m sorry for whatever he did to you, Bec.”

The empath scoffed softly. “I’m sorry you had to raise him.”

Alessio gave a hearty laugh. “He wasn’t bad when he was young.”

Bec paused briefly before asking. “Can you tell me anything about his mother?”

“Oh, Mia,” He breathed out joyously, voice full of nothing but love and respect. “She was young and beautiful and willful , such a young talent. Could’ve been one of the greatest pianists of the century if she put her mind to it… but she was gentle. Gentle and kind. She was the life of the party, wanted to make everyone happy. She gave and gave and gave, poured her heart into everyone she met but my brother drank every drop of it and left her empty.”

“You don’t have a high opinion of your brother, do you?”

“Would you?” Alessio’s voice trailed off as he stared into the crackling flames dancing in the fireplace. “When he was away on his business trips, that was the happiest her and the boys ever were. Hisayo and I would come up from Florence and spend the weekend with them. We never had children of our own but we would spoil those two.”

Another distant shot broke their conversation again and Alessio couldn’t help but chuckle. “I guess we shouldn’t have spoiled them so much, hmm?”

“You couldn’t have predicted what would happen… I still wish you would’ve done something afterward though.”

Alessio offered another shrug. “Life is full of would’ve and should've and could’ve. You get to my age and you realize you are riddled with all sorts of regrets. I regret letting Mia go back to my brother. I regret letting Salvatore take those boys after her death. I regret waiting so long to adopt Huesyth after Delmar went away. Hell, I regret the wine I drank this morning when Delmar told me everything.”

Bec paused, letting the other man’s words sink in. “...What would you do if I told you that Huesyth has finally reached the end of his rope?”

Alessio hummed, not at all shocked. “They’re finally closing in on him. I can’t say I’m surprised that he’s ended up this way.”

“You’ve been expecting this?” Bec questioned.

Gazing off to think, Alessio hummed. “Huesyth is clever… manipulative and cruel. But even clever boys can get the rug pulled out from under them by this thing we call love.”

Bec looked up, startled, and found himself staring into Alessio’s eyes. He wanted to believe it was an unkind joke but he could tell that Alessio wasn’t the type to manipulate. “You really think I love him?”

Alessio gave him a faint smile. “I can see it on your face, however, you try to hide it. I can see it on Delmar’s face every time he gazes at that cowboy… I even once saw it on Mia’s at her wedding. Love is our creator and destroyer. It builds us up, gives us hope, and hope is painful and deadly.”

That rang familiar in Bec’s ears. One of his last few sessions with Huesyth before he left the country. A creator and a destroyer in a constant tumble with each other. One is on top then the other is on top and on and on they spin. Creation building itself up only to be brought down again, torn apart and burned.

But the cycle continued and so did creation.

“Thank you for speaking with me, Alessio,” Bec mumbled, rising from his seat.

“Of course, Bec. If you need anything else, I’ll probably still be here.” The older man uncorked the bottle of whiskey sitting on the table and poured more of the amber liquid into the glass.

The empath stepped out of the parlor and decided against going back upstairs. Instead, he followed the sounds of the shots back the way they came in and let the back door open with a creak. As soon as he stepped out, the change was almost instantaneously noticeable. The air was crisp and clean instead of being smothered by dust, a breeze making the trees rustle slightly. But floating aimlessly through the air was what seemed like dozens of glinting fireflies. Bright and shining like green stars touching down on Earth.

It was beautiful like a horror movie slipping into the shoes of a fairy tale.

Another shot rang out, louder and clearer than ever. He could hear things beyond the trees rustling and running away from the sounds but he could see the source of the noises. Delmar was standing beneath a crumbling gazebo and lining up a shot on a tree several yards away while Hisayo stood next to him, sipping from a glass of wine. He approached them, making sure they could tell he was there just in case Delmar would turn that gun on him.

“Hello there. Bec, right?” Hisayo asked with a smile.

Delmar turned to look back at the empath over his shoulder, only lowering the rifle slightly.

“That’s me,” The empath answered.

“Is there a problem with something?” Delmar questioned.

Bec shook his head to ease Delmar’s mind. “No problem. Just can’t sleep.”

“Well join the party,” Hisayo effused. “I hope it wasn’t the gunshots keeping you up.”

“I-... I’ve just had a lot on my mind these last few months.”

As the seconds passed, Delmar seemed increasingly more and more uncomfortable in Bec’s presence until he finally flipped the safety back on the rifle he was holding. He passed it back to the older woman. “I’m gonna head inside, zia.”

Though Hisayo furrowed her brow in confusion, she took the gun. “Alright, Del. See you in the morning.”

Shoving his hands into his jacket pockets, Delmar quickly left the gazebo and moved back into the house. This left Bec with Hisayo and her rifle.

“Don’t think too much into it,” Hisayo soothed, leaning the rifle against the rails of the gazebo, paint peeling and cracking with age. “He’s been on edge since he came back from America.”

“I think I might have something to do with that,” Bec mumbled.

She cocked her head slightly. “What do you mean?”

Bec didn’t want to tell her but he felt if he didn’t, she’d ask again and then bring the rifle back up. “I told my brother to stop seeing Delmar. Then told him to leave town and stop talking to Delmar because I thought that…” “That Huesyth was dangerous?”

How is it that they know their nephews so well?

Hisayo shrugged at Bec’s bewildered face. “We always had our suspicions and Huesyth always had his brother tied around his finger.”

The empath could see that clearly, didn’t need a therapist to figure that one out. “I guess that explains why Delmar seems so attached to Amaund.”

Almost minutely, Hisayo narrowed her eyes at the younger man. “Your brother was looking for Delmar because he cared for him. Why are you looking for Huesyth?”

He chewed on the question, unconsciously glancing down to his abdomen to where he knew the scar resided under his clothes. “I've never known myself as well as I... know myself when I'm with him.”

She considered the answer silently before finally averting her gaze. “You won't find Huesyth here. There are places on these grounds he cannot safely go. Bad memories.”

“What do these grounds hold for you?” Bec questioned, genuinely curious.

A small smile quirked Hisayo’s lips before she motioned around her with her hand. “This is the gazebo that my Alessio proposed to me in. Back in the day, blooms of columbine flowers and oleander would tangle around the beams. It was beautiful. This home was beautiful.”

“Until?” Bec asked after she paused.

Hisayo sighed softly. “Until Salvatore married Mia. Everything seemed to fall apart after that. The beauty seemed to bleed away as the boys got older and… God, after Mia died… Salvatore just seemed to get angrier.”

The image of Huesyth’s father appeared in his mind like a half-rotted log bobbing to the surface in a swamp. The devil being called forth by the mention of his name to offer an unfair bargain. Tall, intimidating, and more ruthless than Huesyth could ever be but he wasn’t a hunter or a predator. He was dead and rotting in the dirt where he belonged. He couldn’t hurt anyone else anymore.

“You know, Delmar looks just like his mother. The same exhausted eyes and tender hands so desperate to care for things but that rage he carries... That rage was not Mia’s.” A shiver seemed to wrack Hisayo’s body at the thought. “It seems that is the only thing his father left him with besides those scars.”

Bec looked up at the older woman. “What did he leave with Huesyth?”

“...This house and every screaming spirit that resides in it.” Hisayo said as she gazed up at the castle. “No wonder he left this place to decay in the pursuit of love.”

Scoffing slightly, Bec shook his head. “He didn’t leave looking for love.”

“He may not have been looking for it but I think he certainly found it.”

“I think he gutted me and left me bleeding out on his kitchen floor. That isn’t love,” The empath hissed as he stepped down from the gazebo stairs.

Hisayo stayed quiet, gazing at the empath as he fought off the urge to retreat. Until she gently assured. "I think something in his darkness reached out to you… and I think you said yes."

 

Heavy knocks came from the door to his room and Amaund jumped at the sound, more frightening than the gunshots outside. He pulled himself out of the bed, crossing the room to open the door and reveal Delmar standing on the other side in the dark of the hall.

The shorter man’s eyes immediately moved up to match with Amaund’s. “Sorry. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No, sugar. Not at all,” Amaund drew back, opening the door wider. “Wanna come in?”

Skeptically, Delmar looked past the taller man but still moved into the room without complaint and Amaund let the door slide shut behind him.

He turned to see Delmar standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, hands stuffed in his pockets with his shoulders tense. So unsettled. But he turned back to Amaund and his eyes seemed to warm at the sight.

“Are you okay?” Amaund questioned.

Delmar shook his head. “I’m fine, Amaund.”

“Did something hap-” Amaund was about to ask.

But Delmar took a step toward the taller man and wrapped a hand around the side of his neck, pulling him close and into another deep kiss. Those sweet, familiar lips that fit perfectly against his own. Amaund had grown to crave them over their weeks together and miss them over their months apart. As they pressed together, Amaund’s limbs seemed to tremble at the thought, at the touch of his lover. He had been waiting for what felt like forever to have Delmar back.

One of Amaund’s hands gripped Delmar’s hip, holding him close as they kissed, while the other slid down between them to palm at the older man’s growing bulge under his dark pants.

“God, you have no idea how much I missed you,” Delmar whispered, pulling back slightly to press his forehead against Amaund’s.

The shorter man took hold of the hand resting on his hip and guided it behind him, eyes meeting Amaund’s with a glint of a grin. He led Amaund’s hand to dip below his waistband, showing him what he had done. Amaund let out a soft sound, a smothered sigh or moan, as he felt his fingers come away with damp warmth from lube.

“I’m ready for you,” Delmar breathed with a crooked smile. “Didn’t want a repeat of that time in my brother’s place.”

Amaund couldn’t wait another minute, pulling his hand from Delmar’s pants so he could tug the shorter man tight against his chest to claim his lips again. He was sick of the thick layers of Delmar’s clothes and roughly yanked Delmar’s black jacket off of his shoulders before tossing it aside. He struggled with the t-shirt though as he refused to separate from planting seething kisses against Delmar’s lips to pull it off correctly. But Delmar chuckled against Amaund’s lips and helped him by pulling the shirt off and over his head.

“Bed, please,” Amaund growled against the shorter man’s lips as his hands worked at the button of Delmar’s jeans, struggling to free his straining length.

Delmar had slid his hands beneath the thin tank top Amaund was in, smoothing the palms of his hands against the warm skin revealed until the taller man finally yanked the top off of himself so that they could feel closer still.

Finally, Amaund pushed them back onto the bed so he could tug Delmar’s jeans and underwear off of him and toss them aside. He needed to be close to him, needed every available inch that Delmar was willing to give him. Delmar’s straining cock pressed against his belly as the taller man took him in hand, curling his fingers around the length as Delmar moaned against his jaw. Pressing sloppy, uncoordinated kisses to any available skin.

Pulling him close, Delmar claimed Amaund’s lips again in a far more bruising kiss, threading his fingers through the long blonde locks as he wrapped his legs around the taller man’s waist. He couldn’t wait any longer and finally pulled Amaund down so that the shorter man could roll on top of him. Straddling his waist as he leaned closer, letting their cocks rub against each other between their stomachs. Amaund’s hands shot up to Delmar’s hips, gripping tight enough to leave bruises as they rocked together.

They pulled away from each other as Delmar slid a hand between them to wrap his fingers around Amaund’s swollen length, thick and heavy in his hand.

“I missed you so much,” Amaund mumbled. A smile teased at Delmar’s lips as he leaned down to press another kiss against the taller man’s mouth.

Slowly, Delmar scooted back, lining himself up so that Amaund’s cockhead pressed against his rim. Delmar began to press down onto the length, savoring the stretch and burn, hissing into the air as he inched down. Though he stretched himself beforehand, the lube had already partially dried and he hadn’t taken anything as big as Amaund’s in months. But the look of debauched awe that crossed the shorter man’s face as he took the full length until he settled at the hilt made it all worth it.

Desperately, Amaund’s hand ghosted over Delmar’s body, every curve, and crease, imperfect scar or tight muscle. Memorizing him in case the shorter man slipped through his fingers again. The pressure, the heat, the tight squeeze around his cock was better than he remembered, though it might’ve been because of how long they had spent apart.

Amaund moaned as Delmar began to raise himself back up before slamming down, beginning to move, to set a pace for them to follow. His head was spinning, heart pounding within the cage of his chest as he watched his lover bouncing on his cock.

Delmar dropped hard onto Amaund’s cock, leaning back slightly as he did so the taller man’s dick was slamming pointedly against his prostate. With his head thrown back in ecstasy, he let out a sharp cry as the shocks of pleasure bolted up his spine. He leaned back down again to claim his lover’s mouth, rocking down against him.

“Fuck, Amaund,” Delmar breathed. “I missed you…”

Amaund moaned slightly before sitting up straight with Delmar in his lap, smoothing his hands against the shorter’s man’s back as he held them close so that their chests were pressed flush against one another. His fingers felt at the raised edges of the scars carved into Delmar’s back, felt the muscles work and tense under his skin. The taller man buried his face into Delmar’s chest, pressing bites and kisses against his collarbone as he worked Delmar down onto his cock. His lover clutched his shoulders, moaning into his ear as his forgotten cock was rubbed against Amaund’s stomach, oozing wet.

“You feel so good, sugar,” Amaund mumbled against Delmar’s skin, feeling the shorter man tighten around him involuntarily. “...God, I thought I was never going to see you again.”

A sharp whimper slipped from Delmar’s lips and all it took was one more hard thrust before the shorter man was reaching his climax, cum sputtering between them and painted the skin of their stomachs with white.

The tight contractions of Delmar’s body around him was what drew Amaund over the edge, emptying himself deep inside his lover’s hole. Delmar let out a deep moan at the feeling, the familiar gush of warmth spreading through him before Amaund finally fell back against the sheets. Their breathing was heavy and ragged as Delmar rested his hands against Amaund’s sweaty chest to feel the rise and fall of it.

As he came down from the high, Amaund slid his hands up to grasp the ones on his chest, holding him there before he felt warm drops on his skin. He opened his eyes to see Delmar gazing down at him, backlit by the moonlight coming through the window behind him and eyes watery with tears streaming down his cheeks. A choked sob managed to escape his lips and one of Delmar’s hands immediately pulled away from Amaund to clap over his mouth before any more sounds could get out. Trying to smother any sound of weakness.

“No, no, no, honey. It’s okay,” Amaund whispered, gently lowering Delmar onto him and cradling the shorter man’s head against his shoulder.

Another muffled whimper came from the shorter man as tears warmed his skin but Amaund held him tightly, grounding him to the present.

 

Night had settled over their apartment and with that came the quiet. A festering sort of quiet that Huesyth couldn’t stand because soon his mind would start to fill in the quiet with insults and jabs. He couldn’t stop for a moment, he could let the apparition return again.

After dinner, Bedelia would retreat to the bathroom, soak in the tub for as long as she saw fit to wash the sin from her body until her skin was pruning. Her eyes were closed when he entered the room as she was mostly submerged below the soapy, opaque water with her head tipped back against the side of the tub. He rolled up his shirt-sleeves before kneeling behind her, oozing some sweet-smelling shampoo into one of his hands. He massaged his fingers into the wet tangles of her blonde hair, the sudden touch causing her jump momentarily.

She settled back into the touch, both sensual and threatening, and let her eyes slide shut again before asking softly. “What were you like as a young man?”

“I was rooting for Mephistopheles and contemptuous of Faust.”

Bedelia mulled over the answer, her eyes opening to stare at the ceiling. “Would you like to talk about your first spring lamb?”

“Would you?”

A pause as Bedelia thought. “Why can't you go home, Huesyth? What happened to you there?”

“Nothing happened to me. I happened.”

The quiet stretched between them and Huesyth let his fingers work through the soapy strands until Bedelia peered up at him. “How did it feel to take lives before they even began?”

His hands went deathly still against her head but when he looked down, it wasn’t Bedelia gazing up at him with those empty, dark eyes.

Does he haunt you? ” The imaginary Bec asked him, pushing his dark curls back into the doctor’s hands. “ Do you have nightmares about how he cried out for you to stop? Wonder what his last thought was before the bloodloss pulled him under? It was probably about how spectacularly you... failed…

Huesyth’s hands drew back from the tub as the water began to darken with blackened red and soon the figment slid down until he was fully submerged under the water, disappearing from Huesyth’s view.

But before he could be horrified by what he saw, something bright fluttered out of the corner of his eye. He looked up to see two butterflies, golden and fragile, resting on the sink countertop next to him. Their colors were too vivid to be real and they were too calm to be in his presence. The little insects’ wings fluttered gently and they floated off together out of the room.

 

After his pendulum made its final swing, he opened his eyes again to watch as the night time seemed to bleed out of view. Like someone was washing away the years of decay and disrepair until the castle was back to its former state. Standing tall and shining and cared for against the blue sky, each brick and molding and intricate arch repaired for Bec’s eyes. Budding flowers and trimmed hedges instead of invading vines and overgrown grass consuming rotting wood. With the sun bright over his head, the empath moved down the cobblestone path that led into the front yard.

“Dai amore!” He heard a shout before a woman emerged from the tall front doors, the long skirt of her green dress billowing around her as she moved down the stone steps. Following closely after her were two children, a slightly older brunette boy and a smaller one with dark black hair. They rushed passed him on the path after their mother before catching up to her in the grassy part of the yard.

With flowers surrounding her, she spun in circles as they rushed around her, the brunette curls of her hair bouncing with her movements before the smaller boy grasped at her skirt. They collapsed back against the grass in a pile of giggling joy, the boys laying across her chest.

“Bel lavoro, ragazzi,” The woman resounded through her laughter.

“Facciamolo ancora!” The darker haired boy called and the woman ran a hand through the short strands of his hair as he sat up.

She was still giggling at her sons stomping around her until her eyes looked up passed the empath. Abruptly, her smile withered as fast as a rose struck by lightning.

The suddenness of the change made a shiver run up Bec’s spine and he turned to see exactly what she was looking at that could cause such a reaction. A dark car, windows tinted, was pulling up the gravel road, coming to a stop in front of their home. The driver came from the front and quickly made his way to the back door to open it, bowing deeply as the occupant stepped out. A tall, black-haired man stood from the dark recesses of the car, straightening the jacket of his suit where it had been wrinkled. His sharp eyes scanned the planes and landed on the woman and her sons in the yard.

“Papà è a casa, mamma! ...Mamma?” Bec looked back to see the woman still staring, smile still extinguished until the brown-haired boy put a hand over her’s.

“Mamma?” He asked her, frightened over her unresponsiveness.

It seemed to snap her out of the daydream and she looked back to her boys, mustering a small smile. “Andiamo dentro.”

She stood quickly, robotically, brushing her skirt clean before taking the hand of the younger boy and leading them back towards the house. Following them with his eyes, Bec spun in place until he turned back again to find himself standing in a bathroom. He found the woman sitting in front of a vanity, brushing out her long hair before she came across something stuck in the tangles. She pulled a small flower petal out of the locks, pale pink and white. Bec watched her smile in the reflection of the mirror, real and warm, before she placed the petal in front of her on the vanity.

Suddenly, a dark shape stepped into the room out of the corner of his eyes and the tall man from before came into view, stripped of his tie and stuffy suit jacket. He slid up behind her like an oil stain swallowing everything whole and placed his hands on her shoulders, Bec watched her tense under the touch.

“Come sei stato senza di me, mia moglie?” Salvatore muttered deeply, rubbing her shoulders in a way that he must’ve thought was comforting.

“Io... mi sei mancato, amore,” Mia hesitated, not looking up at her husband. “Anche I tuoi figli hanno mancato anche te.”

Hands stilling, Salvatore nodded to himself. “Buono. Starò a casa molto più a lungo di quanto pensassi. Il mio prossimo viaggio non è per altri pochi mesi.”

At that, Mia seemed to still as well, stiff under his large hands as he leaned down to press a kiss against the top of her head. He squeezed her shoulders one more time before pulling back and slipping out of the room again. As soon as he left, a breath Mia seemed to be holding rushed from her lungs and she ran a hand down her face. She was terrified.

She tried to breathe through the panic attack rising in her chest but she couldn’t, tears burning at the sides of her eyes. The more she tried to wipe them away, the more streaks fell across her cheeks until her face was rubbed raw and red.

Straightening up in her seat, the sobs wracking her body subsiding only minutely, she looked up into the mirror again. Until her eyes met with an orange bottle on the vanity in front of her. With shaking, hesitant hands, she reached for it and gripped it tight. The pills within it rattled loudly and she let out a shaky breath as she went to open the top.

He didn’t want to see the end of the scene. Bec blinked and he found himself seated in a pew, an arching, golden ceiling of a cathedral stretching far above his head as he looked towards the altar. Blooming flowers of varying colors, trimmed and snipped, were organized in bouquets surrounding a darkly colored coffin, perched on a stand. It wasn’t open, the body inside wasn’t able to be seen, but beside it on a stand was a large photo. A living Mia was pictured, still smiling and vibrant with happiness.

A sharp sniffle drew his attention away from the coffin. The empath looked to his side and found the two young boys sitting next to him in the pew. The youngest curled against the chest of the oldest as he held his little brother close and let him cry onto his dress shirt. The older boy’s face was bright red too, eyes watery and skin raw in places. He’d been crying too but his tears had run out.

At the same time as a loud crash reverberated through the quiet, Bec and the older boy looked up to see Salvatore and a younger Alessio entering the cathedral again, arguing quietly but sharply in Italian as they went. Whatever Alessio was trying to say, Salvatore wasn’t listening and based on the way he almost tripped on his own shoes, Bec assumed he wasn’t completely sober.

“Fratello, per favore. Lasciami prendere i ragazzi per il fine settimana,” Alessio begged, reaching to place a hand on his older brother’s arm.

Salvatore flinched, knocking off the hand before it could even make contact and snapping at the shorter man. “Non dirmi come allevare i miei figli!”

The taller man turned to the boys, grabbing hold of the oldest boy’s arm. “Stiamo andando a casa ora.”

He yanked the oldest one up, dragging the younger boy with his brother as they clung to one another. The youngest sobbed harder, whimpering as he was pulled from their seat and Bec nearly reached out to stop him.

“Salvatore, aspetta. Posso prenderli per te-”

“No!” Salvatore barked again before hauling off the two boys, leaving Bec and the younger Alessio in the dust of the cathedral.

Another blink and Bec stood at the base of the stairs in the Cavalli estate. The dark of night consumed the home much like Salvatore’s suffocating presence and it seemed devoid of all life. Until a scream pierced the silence from upstairs, sending a shot of fear up Bec’s spine. Slowly, the empath turned on his heel before resting a hand on the banister, pulling himself up the steps. They creaked beneath his shoes as he crept closer and closer to the sounds of violence that Bec was hearing. The closer he got, the more his anxiety rose until he finally made it to the top of the stairs.

The only light came from the left end of the hallway, a door sitting partially open and moving shadows from within. There were loud shouts in Italian that had Bec swallowing back a lump in his throat. But then there came a clatter from within and the door was slammed open as Salvatore stomped out of the room. He looked older and rougher and clutched in one of his hands in a white-knuckled grip was a bloody belt. Bec could guess what he had just done.

Suddenly, Salvatore’s eyes snapped up at him, matching Bec’s gaze for the first time since the scenes began and his face twisted in rage. He shouted something again, dark and angry as he pushed forward towards the empath. Fear struck Bec deeply and he took a step back before finally having to stumble away as Salvatore sped up. Something lodged under Bec’s foot, tripping him and sending him tumbling back onto the floor in a heap.

He curled in on himself when he saw Salvatore raise the belt again. But then came the heavy sound of something slamming against a skull before a large object crashed down the stairs. Raising his head up, Bec still saw a shape standing above him but this one was breathing heavy through his rage, dark hair hanging in his face before he looked down. Below them was Salvatore, in a crumpled mess at the base of the steps with a mess of blood around him, mangling his hair.

He was still writhing with life though and the shape above Bec slowly stepped down the stairs. The creak of every step striking another nerve in the empath, until he was leering above the taller man. Before Salvatore could regain any coherence as to what was happening, the shape brought down the blade of a hatchet into the man’s head in a fit of rage, making the taller man go limp immediately.

But that didn’t satisfy the shape’s bloodthirst.

With a sharp scream, he tore the hatchet from the man’s skull in a gush of blood and brought it back down. Over and over again until blood was splattered against every available space at the bottom of the stairs. Brain matter and pieces of skull mashed together as he beat Salvatore’s head in. Suddenly, the shape stopped in his movements, breathing heavily with exertion as he straightened up above his first victim.

He turned, making his way back up the stairs at a slow, calm pace but stopped once he reached the top in front of Bec. His shoulders rose and fell with his breathing and as the minimal light finally caught the shine of the blood that stained his front and face, Bec saw the young dark-haired boy, slightly older now. A yellowing bruise colored the side of his face and his lip was swollen and blistered from a fist. Those weren’t fresh injuries.

The bloody hatchet blade glinted in the low light as it dangled at his side, threatening. But he didn’t attack like Bec thought he would. He turned and walked back towards the door with the light at the end of the hallway. Slipping out of sight again with a trail of blood drops following after him.

He had seen enough. Bec let out a shaky breath when he opened his eyes again to stare up at the unfamiliar ceiling of the guest room. There was a pain deep in his chest and his throat was tight.

Did you learn something new? ” A voice asked and Bec sighed, turning his head slightly to see the onyx vision of wendigo Huesyth laying next to him in the bed, staring up at the same ceiling with empty eyes. Its tail stretched long off of the bed, coiling onto the floor beside them.

“Was this supposed to make me forget?” Bec questioned, a poor attempt at deflection.

Not forget, no, ” The wendigo replied. Its voice sounded so much like the snake. “ You’d be a fool to forget but you have already whispered your forgiveness against my lips before you knew half of what you know now. Did that change anything?

“Was it supposed to make me feel differently about you?”

A small smile graced the monster’s lips. “ No, my love. Not necessarily. Take from it what you want but understand that the love I know is a maddening kind. It makes a monster out of everyone that it touches.

“I’m not afraid of it…” Bec was no stranger to the type of love that Huesyth has. He was more familiar with it than ever before. But he turned in his bed, rolling onto his side to better face the snake man next to him. “I miss you... I miss this. Laying beside one another and talking late into the morning.”

The wendigo finally looked over at the empath, smile still present. “ A sense of belonging to something that didn’t judge or try to change you. Something that saw the real you.

Bec averted his eyes at that. “But I didn’t get to see the real you, Huesyth. Not for a long while.”

The figment furrowed his brow slightly. “ When I held you in the shadows of my home, I did not pretend. I owned those shadows and they adored you.

A pause stretched between them. “Everyone keeps talking about how much we loved each other… is it rude if I find it hard to believe?”

No, you’re not rude… but you also don’t think it's hard to believe.

When Bec looked away and back again, the Huesyth he had imagined was gone but the feeling he left was still prevalent.

 

Morning came barely a few hours after and with that came Alessio and Hisayo’s car that would take them far away from there. Their personal driver opened the door for them at the front of the house as they kissed Delmar’s cheeks and hugged him close. They waved to the two guests standing awkwardly in the doorway to the home before finally departing.

As their car slid out of sight down the tall hill, Delmar finally turned back to the other two. Stepping up the front stone stairs until he stood before Bec.

“I'll help you find him,” Delmar said simply. The older man looked more tired than Bec remembered him to be.

The empath was taken aback, gazing up to Amaund who seemed just as surprised as he was. “Why would you help us?”

Delmar averted his gaze, looking around at the outside of the crumbling castle, slowly decaying around them. “I have no reason to stay here. Not anymore.”

 

The morning sun filtered through the windows around them, warming the doctor as his fingers worked across the keys of the piano. But his playing didn’t stop Bedelia from attempting another impromptu therapy session.

“What your family made you feel was beyond your conscious ability to control or predict.”

“Or negotiate,” Huesyth finished without looking up.

Bedelia continued. “I would suggest what Bec Reyes makes you feel is not dissimilar. A force of mind and circumstance.”

“Love,” Huesyth described simply, looking up only briefly. “He pays you a visit or he doesn't.”

“Same with forgiveness," Bedelia added. "And I would argue, the same with betrayal.”

“The god Betrayal. Who presupposes the god Forgiveness.”

Bedelia paused briefly. “We can all betray. Sometimes we have no other choice.”

“My family didn't betray me. They influenced me to betray myself, but I forgave them for that influence.”

“If past behavior is an indicator of future behavior, there is only one way you will forgive Bec Reyes.”

Someone leaned against his side, tucking their arm around his arm as he played. He knew who it had to be when they purred and nuzzled against his shoulder. But he didn’t look up at the figment. “I have to kill him.”

Chapter Text

He didn’t know what he was going to find when he opened that door. Even as the rickety elevator climbed higher and higher, Amaund still didn’t have a clear reason for being there. He told himself that it was because he wanted to know if Delmar had any idea about how horrible that brother of his was. But an interrogation was a poor excuse for wanting to talk to your ex after you abandoned them.

The elevator dinged happily before the doors slid open. As Amaund stepped out onto Delmar’s floor, his eyes were immediately drawn to the door of the shorter man’s apartment. Before he could mentally talk himself out of it, his legs were carrying him to the entrance. He stood silently before it, holding his breath to listen beyond the thin, wooden barrier but he heard nothing. Beyond that door was total silence and that set dread lose through Amaund’s mind.

Huesyth wouldn’t kill his brother though, would he? Amaund didn’t think so. Not after everything he’d done to keep him around.

So he looked up and down the dark hallway he was standing in before removing the thin pieces of metal from his pocket, sliding them into the lock. Amaund heard the mechanisms click and the door slid open smoothly with a quiet creak. He stepped into what used to be the living room to find nothing. Just eggshell white walls and scuffed up wooden floors. Confusedly, Amaund rushed around to each of the rooms in search of any signs that someone was even living there before. But there was nothing.

The entire apartment had been cleaned out.

Before he could completely freak out, Amaund heard someone passing by the open door to the apartment. He ran over to the door, looking out to see an older woman moving toward the elevator.

“Um, excuse me, ma’am,” Amaund said. The woman turned to him and raised a graying eyebrow at the taller man. “You wouldn’t happen to know what happened to the tenant who lived in this apartment, would you?”

She looked to the apartment number and recognition crossed her face. “Oh, a nice young man lived there. He left in quite a rush the other day, banging and stomping around. After he left, a group of movers came and took out all of his stuff.”

“Do you have any idea where he went?” Amaund asked.

She shook her head. “Oh, no, dear. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. Thank you so much for your time.”

The woman offered a smile as the elevator door finally slid open for her to step into. Amaund backtracked into the apartment again to let out a disgruntled sigh.

Delmar had left. He had no idea where the shorter man went but he was gone. Amaund had no idea why he was even surprised that Huesyth probably convinced Delmar to take off. But whatever the reasoning behind the sudden leaving, Amaund was devastated that he was so late. He was just about to leave and never return when a dark shape caught his eye.

Among the cream-colored kitchen, set upon the countertop, was a darkly colored flip phone. It looked cheap but virtually untouched by use. He raised a confused eyebrow at it before approaching and pulling the note out from underneath it.

Scrawled across the small page in quick, frantic strokes was a message: I know it wasn’t your fault. -D.C.

Something about the simplicity of the message struck him deeply. Amaund leaned back against the counter to try to breathe through the relief that overcame him. But at least Delmar knew that it wasn’t Amaund’s choice. He didn’t want to leave Delmar but he couldn’t risk the safety of his siblings.

Lot of good that did in the end.

 

“I want to know.”

“It… It might be hard for you to hear, Mr. Reyes,” The doctor hesitated.

The constant rhythmic beeping of the machines around him was beginning to give him a headache on top of the throbbing, dizzying pain cut into his abdomen below those crisp white bandages. “I need to. I need to know the truth.”

The doctor sighed gently. “The incision was quite precise. Most of the worst injuries were external or due to blood loss. Except... there was a nick to your intestines and extensive damage to your reproductive organs. Most of it was too damaged to save so we had to remove your uterus and your left ovary. Do you understand, Mr. Reyes?”

Bec blinked back the tears that threatened to form in his eyes. “I won’t have children. Not ever again.”

“I’m so sorry for your losses,” The doctor consoled before there was a knock at the door. He went to it, opening it and spoke quietly to whoever was there. The doctor asked into the room. “Feel well enough for a visitor?”

The doctor exited quickly before Bec could ask any other questions, holding the door open for someone else to move inside. Their shape was blurry and dark before he finally stepped forward.

Chilton stood at the foot of his bed with a bouquet of flowers in his arms. The empath reacted as poorly as expected. Disappointed by who he wasn’t, disappointed by who he was.

“Hello, Frederick,” Bec mumbled.

“You were expecting someone else?”

The empath swallowed heavily around the dryness in his throat. “I was hoping for someone else.”

“He knew exactly how to cut you,” Chilton said, voice not carrying much pity. “They said it was surgical. He wanted you to live.”

A sharp exhale slipped from Bec’s lips as he ran a careful hand along the edge of his bandages, muttering darkly. “He killed my babies.”

“Your twins were… a tragic miscalculation.”

Bec scoffed softly. “He left us to die.”

For a brief moment, Abigail stood before him just as he had last seen her. Hair pulled back in a ponytail with her neck and face covered in blood. “But we didn't,” Abigail assured.

The empath blinked and Chilton was all that remained of her. The other man sighed softly as he approached. “Couple of suckers we've been. He set us up and knocked us down… or, in your case, knocked you up. What bothers me the most is, I think it was easy for him. Shooting monkeys in a barrel. You were pregnant and had encephalitis. I do not know what my excuse was.”

Bec didn’t want to play this game with the other man. His chest was aching with emotion but he provided the best answer he could. “Compulsive imitation.”

Chilton suppressed a snort as he sat the bouquet on the table next to the empath. “How dull. But maybe. You do know that the medication you were taking while under my hospital's care was not safe for pregnancies, right? You probably knew that already. That anger of yours didn’t give you enough time to care when you had revenge to wreak.”

“I had twelve hours a day to stare at the wall and be angry… It was the only thing that made sense at the time.”

The other man nodded in what he probably thought was an understanding way. But Bec could tell that Chilton wasn’t there to listen. He loved the sound of his own voice even with the fact that he had most of his real teeth shot out of his face by Miriam Lass. His cosmetics were certainly impressive to have given him back his ability to drone on.

Chilton ran his gaze up the empath’s body. “I am learning all sorts of new things about myself these days. I'm learning new things about you, too.”

He didn’t like the way that sounded. “Imitation allows us to better understand the behavior of others.”

“I have great empathy for you, Bec,” Chilton expressed and Bec would have believed him if he didn’t seem so literally two faced. “Both of us eviscerated and accused... I have literally felt your pain.”

“I’ve just had my children cut out of my stomach,” Bec hissed softly. “Don’t ever compare our situations again.”

That seemed to be the moment when the other man had enough with playing at being sympathetic. Chilton pulled up a chair to Bec’s bedside, sitting down with a heavy sigh. “You need a friend, friend . You will leave this hospital under a cloud of suspicion.”

“Not a cloud,” Bec denied. “A fog.”

“I can help you get Huesyth Cavalli out of your head.”

With a huff of a laugh, Bec finished his sentence quickly. “And into your hospital.”

Idly, Bec watched as two shadows passed in front of the frosted glass of his hospital room door. Arguing with a third shadow outside but the words didn’t carry into the room.

“There's an opportunity here... For both of us. We can catch the man who framed and maimed us. The man who took your children from you, brutally and violently.”

‘Us’ was an ugly word to use. There was no ‘us’ and Bec let his head lean back against the pillow in his content agony. “There's no opportunity here, Frederick. Not for you. But you are alive despite all possible odds. You’re one of the survivors, you shouldn’t be so reckless.”

But Chilton didn’t look terribly dissuaded as he looked the injured empath up and down. “The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears this is true. This is your best possible world, Bec. Not getting a better one.”

”He’ll kill you if you come for him,” Bec warned. “He’s not worth that.”

The door burst open and the first thing Bec saw when his vision focused was Sofia’s face, eyes ringed with red and mouth open in shock as she stepped into the room. She gazed upon her brother’s condition in disbelieving anguish before she moved forward to grip Bec’s hand.

“I’m so sorry, Bec…” Sofia apologized, not even paying attention to the other man in the room.

Sofia wrapped her arms delicately around her brother’s shoulder in a hug and he soaked up the warmth he got from her.

A taller shadow lingered closer to the door and when Bec opened his eyes to look over her shoulder, he saw Amaund. Removing his cowboy hat before gesturing with his head for Chilton to leave. The doctor listened, quickly scampering out the way he had come and leaving the siblings alone together.

 

Huesyth emerged from the kitchen doorway with a platter of lamb, swiftly placing it on the table before his two guests. He sat directly in front of the empath, Jack to their side at the head of the table where only Huesyth had sat before. The older agent looked the empath with a small quirk of a smile, nodding almost imperceptibly. A signal. Unspoken communication.

But then he looked ahead, matching eyes with the doctor across their sacrificial lamb. A signal of their own. This is what could’ve happened that night.

Almost all at once, Jack reached for his gun inside his jacket but before he could, Bec reached out to grab the older agent’s arm to stop his draw. Jack’s eyes left Huesyth to go to the empath, wide-eyed, stunned by the betrayal. Pained.

But then came a clean, neat cut across Jack’s neck as Huesyth drew his serving knife across the length of the older man’s throat. They held him there as he struggled but the blood kept running, staining the older agent’s front and the table in front of him. The two still living rose up and met eyes across their first kill together… as one.

The daydream slipped from his mind when his eyes opened again. He remembered what he had been doing then before he let his painfully traitorous imagination run wild. The doctor is gone and he would soon have to accept that.

But the broken terrarium stand wasn’t going to fix itself and the cold was starting to make his bones ache so he quickly began working again. Snow was beginning to fall heavier than before and he worried that he’d be snowed into his house. The faster he got it done, the faster he could leave the cold garage. A sound seemed to drive him from his work though, looking back over his shoulder to find Jack approaching him through the snow. A dark shape against the white frost.

Bec was surprised to see the older agent, not exactly sure if he was happy or not at his presence. It had been a long while since he’d seen him and their last meeting wasn’t exactly pleasant.

“I had hoped you would come looking for me…” Jack began as Bec turned away to begin working again. “But I understand why you didn't.”

The empath sighed softly. “What can I do for you, Jack?”

“Well, I'm here to, uh, make sure that you don't contradict the official narrative. Well, we're officers of the FBI, wounded in the course of heroic duty.”

Abruptly, Bec’s hands stilled in their movements of tightening a bolt. He didn’t look up because he knew he’d laugh in the older agent’s face at the ridiculousness of it all. “That's not true for either of us. I was a consultant. A teacher. None of this should have been my job. It was yours , Jack.”

“Well, we were supposed to go together. That's... That's on me. My foul. My bad.”

“If you went when you were supposed to… If you followed the plan,” Bec growled softly back at the agent. “Your ‘bad’ killed my kids, Jack-”

The empath cut himself off before a sob could wrack through him and make his words sound weak. The wound on his heart was as fresh as the one in his abdomen. A tense silence stretched between the two and Bec felt uncomfortable goosebumps form across his skin.

“How far along were you?” Jack finally asked and Bec sighed.

“Four months… maybe five. I wasn't exactly counting.”

There was a pause and Bec could guess the question that was coming next. “Who was the father?”

A pain in his chest flourished into a deep ache around his heart and he clenched his teeth to keep himself from screaming.

“You know who the father was,” The empath relented before muttering. “ Everyone already goddamn knows.”

The older agent paused. “...When did you two get together?”

“You mean when did he kiss me or when did I kiss back?” Bec felt Jack’s pointed stare on the back of his head before he finally relented. “After Abigail woke up… and then after Nicholas Boyle attacked them at the Hobbs house. I broke it off when I got arrested.”

Another heavy pause. “You remember when you decided to call Huesyth?”

Bec went still again but he still didn’t look up. “I wasn't decided when I called him. I just called him. I deliberated while the phone rang. I decided when I heard his voice.”

“You told him we knew,” Jack reminded as if Bec couldn’t remember every moment of that night. It was seared into the backs of his eyelids.

“I told him to leave... 'cause I wanted him to run.”

“Was it the kids that changed your mind?”

Shaking his head slightly, Bec replied. “...No. Not entirely.”

Quietly, Jack asked. “Why?”

“Because…” Bec hesitated, exhaling softly as emotions began bubbling up to block his throat. “Because he was mine…” He could hear Jack shuffle, noticeably content with the answer but Bec cut in before he could leave. “And because I wanted to run away with him.”

Suddenly, he heard Jack stop and felt the heavyweight of his gaze but he went back to adjusting the leg length on the stand.

 

He shouldn’t have gone back.

He shouldn’t have but his conversation with Jack had stirred the bad memories stewing in his mind again. Somehow he’d found himself walking among the halls of Huesyth’s abandoned home. He collected impressions again as he moved like a silent ghost through the house: dark, rich colors, dark wood floors, bone-pale marble. It was a miracle that Bec once found it all so comforting. He thought it was warm and inviting.

The kitchen seemed to call to him, a whisper into his ear that reminded him of the snake that rested heavily on his shoulders not too long ago. The empath stepped inside and found it just how they had left it which meant to say it was just as heart-wrenching to look at. He shouldn’t have come back there but he had to. His legs felt like they were going to fall out from under him so he braced himself against the wall that he had bled out on, sliding down to sit.

But that dark stain on the kitchen floor reminded him of how Huesyth loved. With knives and violence and bloody sacrifice. It was a kind of love that twisted Bec’s guts, maimed his soul, and took and took and took until nothing remained.

But was that really love?

Why would love put a knife in his gut? Why would love put a gun in his hands? Was it for his becoming? Was it for revenge? Was it for this picturesque fairytale life he knew would never be real? Questions piled up as high as a tower but no answers did. He would need Huesyth if he ever wanted to get any of those answers.

He isn’t ever coming back, a thought reared in Bec’s mind, sharp with rage and dripping with acidic vexation. A part of him was so glad he wasn’t ever going to see that vicious man’s face again because the empath knew he would probably strangle him to death right there. He would gouge out Huesyth’s eyes if he could, claw at his face until he was unrecognizable. Mutilate him like Huesyth mutilated Abigail and their children.

But a softer voice whispered from the boiling anger, sobbing horribly to the point where it made his chest ache with a hollow emptiness that Huesyth left behind in his wake.

He has to. God, please, he has to.

There was a warmth on his cheeks and Bec was sure that his temper was making his head hot again until something dripped onto his chest. He brought a hand up and wiped away a stream of tears streaking his face with the sleeve of his jacket. Everything in him wished it was a drop of blood from his nose and that soon, he’d wake up from that long, hellish hallucination in the doctor’s office. It had to be just another nightmare and any moment Hobbs’ ghost would appear and strangle him until he awoke covered in sweat.

But he didn’t wake up and the nightmare didn’t end. Instead, he was pulled from his illusions by the sound of the wooden floors creaking. He knew immediately who it was and quickly scrubbed his face dry of any trace of tears. From the shadows of the hall that led to the dining room, Alana wheeled into the kitchen beside him, staring at his profile curiously. Her bones had been shattered from her fall and she was lucky to not be paralyzed but for the time being, she was stuck in a wheelchair.

“What are you doing here?” The empath asked without looking at her. He knew his voice was strained, weak sounding and watery. Pathetic.

He could feel her worried expression on him before Alana relented. “I guess I'm looking for you.”

Bec didn’t believe her. He felt like she was more accurately settling a nagging feeling in her own mind. They all had scores to settle after Huesyth left them scattered like ashes and that house held all of their demons within it. “That's a good guess.”

“What are you doing here?” Alana questioned.

The empath hummed softly. “Visiting old friends.”

Alana looked away from him, gazing around the room. “You're not tempted to forget?”

No, something hissed darkly in the back of his mind. It was his voice, not the snake’s. “No, I... I don't want to forget. I'm building rooms in my memory palace for my children and all my friends.”

Alana turned back to him, observing him as any doctor would. “A relationship with Huesyth is blackmail elevated to the level of love.”

“A mutually-unspoken pact to ignore the worst in one another in order to continue enjoying the best.”

She narrowed her eyes slightly. “After everything he's done, the things he’s taken from you... can you still ignore the worst in him?”

The empath didn’t know the real answer but he wasn’t going to find it with her here. “I came here to be alone, Alana,” Finally, Bec looked up at her. “If you wouldn't mind…”

With a slight hesitation, Alana moved away back into the dining room, leaving Bec alone. But he turned back to find Abigail sitting against the wall next to him, her throat cut, face covered in blood, but she offered a small, encouraging smile that Bec returned.

 

He wasn’t invited to Bella’s funeral. No one really was but he showed up to the chapel anyway, dressed like he himself was the corpse because he knew Jack. He may not have known Bella but he knew Jack. The heavy doors closed loudly behind him and he saw the back of Jack’s head in the very front pew, facing the coffin at the center of the aisle. It was opened, surrounded by beautiful displays of flowers of all kinds. He quietly approached and slid into the pew behind Jack, who peered back at him only momentarily.

Jack began speaking, gripping a letter tightly in his hands with ink smeared from tears. “I opened my eyes this morning and at that moment, before the weight of the day came for me, I didn't even think about Bella dying. I still think she was hoping to die while I was out of the room, but... I was there when her heart stopped. And I held onto her until her brain died.”

“I hope she's somewhere today, Jack,” Bec consoled. “And that she's comfortable.”

“Did you give the twins a funeral?”

The empath hesitated at the suddenness of the question, sighing softly. “My sister wanted to… I didn’t.”

He could see Jack nod slightly in understanding. A funeral would’ve been too painful for everyone involved and there was nothing for them to bury. Just empty, little coffins in the lonely dirt and a headstone with little angels carved into it. It was meant to be a form of comfort. To have something physical to mourn.

But Bec wasn’t comforted by a slab of stone. He mourned the twins the way he loved them and it didn’t require a grave.

“I hope she can see it in my heart. She had to die on me. I knew it was coming, but it still smarts,” Jack looked slightly back over his shoulder. “I know what's coming for you, Bec. You don't have to die on me, too.”

The older ex-agent rose from the pew and handed the letter he’d been holding to the empath. Confusedly, Bec opened it as Jack left and immediately recognized the cursive calligraphy. Huesyth’s handwriting.

 

The abruptness of his leaving left her mind in a spin but the reason for his leaving left a bitter taste in her mouth. Sofia had done everything for him, believed him when he said they would catch the cannibalistic bastard and then everything was spun on its head.

And then Bec was stabbed.

And then Bec left.

He better be glad he left because if he was still around when Sofia got that voicemail from him then she would’ve slapped him silly. Of course, the snakes were left with her in his absence. She had gathered everyone up and put them into their tanks at her house but had left behind one of the spare light sets. Returning to his empty, far away house made a pain bloom deep in her chest but she got what she needed and as she was leaving, flicking off the lights and slipping out the front door another person approached.

She jumped slightly at the movement, fearing the dark more than ever since that doctor’s disappearance but she found Agent Crawford approaching the door from the night outside. The agent looked different from the last time she saw him, more wear and tear. Deeper shadows under his eyes and grayer hair. If Sofia looked at him too long, she knew she would find a scar along his neck as well but she didn’t let her eyes linger.

He looked at her quizzically before asking. “Where’s Bec?”

But the man gazed up at the now-empty house, an expression of defeat and disappointment written all over his face.

Sofia’s shoulders slumped. She knew the feeling all too well. “He’s already gone, Agent Crawford.”

 

Making quick work of the rope holding the boat in place, he undid it, rolling it up and tossing it in before hopping in as well. The sail rose high above him but before he could get it to its full height a voice called from behind him.

“Bec, wait!” The empath’s head snapped to look back over his shoulder towards the sound and found his brother quickly approaching the docks that Bec had the boat at.

Bec groaned loudly in frustration. If he was there to stop him then Bec wouldn’t let him do it. “No, Amaund. I need to go.”

“I know!” Amaund called as he approached, placing a hand on the outside of the boat as if that would stop it. “I know. I know… but listen to me for like two seconds.”

The empath matched eyes with his brother, motioning with his head for him to continue. “I know where they are, Bec.”

Eyes widening briefly before narrowing, Bec asked. “How?”

“They went home,” Amaund clarified without really clarifying anything, fumbling into the boat with his long legs.

“‘They’?” Bec repeated.

Amaund looked at his brother. “Delmar went with him. They’re in Italy right now.”

He didn’t want to know Amaund’s sources and instead let him settle into the boat as long as he was the one to fix the boat for departure.

Soon, all they had was the ocean. Stretching miles and miles around them with no land in sight. The boat cut through the waves like a knife through butter. The wind whipped past them, tousling their hair, as Bec steered them towards the horizon.

Chapter Text

“On still evenings, when the air was damp after a rain, we used to play games.”

The rails of the train screeched loudly with a sharp sound of metal grinding against metal. Delmar and Bec sat opposite one another in a sleeper cabin, occupying the two chairs beside the window with a table. There were also bunk beds with Amaund asleep in one of them, and a small bathroom off to the side. The sounds of the train rattled through them.

“One of them was when Huesyth and I would run off into the woods around our home and see who could find their way back the fastest. The dark made it harder to see where we were going. We’d return in the middle of the night covered in mud and leaves, sometimes blood if we got caught in the brambles. Back then, he was charming... the way a cub is charming. A small cub that grows up to be like one of the big cats.”

“One you can't play with later,” Bec simplified. He knew what Delmar was trying to dance around.

Delmar sighed softly, his eyes turning back to the window to gaze at the quickly passing scenery. A rolling countryside that stretched on for miles. “The day I was released from the detention center and met my brother again, my uncle was supposed to be with him, but he was alone… and he was different.”

“How was he different?” The empath questioned.

“He had just turned sixteen and yet he was carrying himself differently. More sure of himself and his hands didn’t shake anymore. I went in with the image of my blood covered twelve-year-old baby brother seared into the back of my head and I came out to that… person. I thought I was teaching him but… I guess I learned from Huesyth, too.”

The empath furrowed his brow. “He comes in the guise of a mentor, but it's distress that excites him.”

“I'm not in distress,” Delmar firmly disagreed as his eyes back to glare at the other man.

“Not anymore,” Bec added, not breaking eye contact with the older man until Delmar did. “Has he made you kill anyone for him?”

The older man went still in his seat, odd considering his constant squirming. Shadows around his eyes seemed to darken at the thought. “It wasn’t for him. He never asked me to kill anyone. It… It was an accident.”

“What happened?” Bec asked, interest piqued.

“We had been living in America for a while. I’d begun working illegal fights in order to keep my gym open but… that night was a bad one. I was distracted, my mind was somewhere else, and the guy almost had me in the final round.” His voice trailed off as he kept his eyes trained on the floor instead of the empath. “He grabbed my arm to throw me on the ground and something in me just snapped… along with his neck. It was the last fight I did.”

Bec could see it clearly. Delmar slicked with sweat and blood from his own broken nose, digging his bandaged hands into his opponent’s face before snapping the head to the side. The sound of the bone cracking loud enough to silence the screaming fans around him.

“Is it still on your mind? Do you see yourself killing him over and over?”

“No... I see you,” The older man sighed, folding his arms over his chest. “How do you know Huesyth's in Florence?”

With a quirked eyebrow, Bec’s hand went to the inside of his coat and drew out a postcard featuring a photo of the Uffizi Gallery with the Primavera displayed, handing it to the older man. “Botticelli.”

With hesitant hands, Delmar took the card, gazing at the image of the painting with eyes full of familiarity. He knew it as well as Huesyth did. “We started going to the gallery on and off after I got out. I had no idea why he liked it so much but… I wanted to spend time with him.”

“You had no idea what you were coddling,” Bec stated.

Delmar seemed to deflate. “Not completely. I knew what he did to our father but I didn’t think… I didn’t think he’d devour me too.”

“You’re resting in the belly of the beast… you just haven’t been digested like the rest of us yet.”

The older man had apparently had enough of listening to the empath ramble and finally stood from his seat. But before he left the cabin completely, he paused at the bottom bunk that Amaund was sleeping in. Lowering himself down, Delmar ran a careful hand through Amaund’s hair and pressed a gentle kiss against the side of the taller man’s face. Loving and tender before he straightened up and left the cabin.

 

“I kept cochlear gardens as a young man to attract fireflies. Their larvae would devour many times their own body weight in snails. Fuel... to power a transformation into a delicate creature of such beauty.”

“To the misfortune of the snail,” Bedelia mumbled from the window she was gazing out of, a silk robe wrapped around her body to keep her warm.

“Snails follow their nature as surely as those that eat them.” He approached her from behind, offering her one of the glasses of whiskey he had poured for them.

“Fireflies live very brief lives,” Bedelia mused.

Huesyth sipped from his glass. “Better to live true to yourself for an instant than never know it.”

“Not like Bec Reyes does.”

The doctor was beginning to think that Bedelia tossed the empath’s name around like that so carelessly just to get a rise out of him. He wasn’t going to admit that it worked every time. “An insect lacks morality to agonize over. Bec agonizes about inevitable change.”

“Almost anything can be trained to resist its instinct,” Bedelia reminded with a look over her shoulder at the man. “A shepherd dog doesn't savage the sheep.”

A deadly smile quirked at Huesyth’s lips as he approached the woman again, standing by her side. “But it wants to. Bec has reached a state of moral dumbfounding. Empathy and reciprocity.”

“Reciprocity…” Bedelia repeated softly. “If we keep track of incoming and outgoing intentions, Bec Reyes is en route to kill you while you lie in wait to kill him. Now that's reciprocity.”

She pulled away from him, leaving him alone by the window until he looked up to see the dark figure of mind Bec seated at the head of the table. Despite the grotesqueness of the figment, he held a hand out for the beautiful, golden butterflies to rest delicately on his fingers. He observed them curiously with softened, coal colored eyes despite the until they pulsed slightly with light and the figment reacted in kind.

Shhh, my darlings…” The imaginary man cooed softly. “Your father will be home soon.

The twin butterflies glowed slightly brighter, soothed by the figment’s words as they fluttered away from him.

 

Their cabin door slid open suddenly but Bec didn’t have to turn away from the ceiling he was staring a hole through to know that it was Delmar. Night had descended on them once again but Amaund had been sleeping soundly for some hours. He didn’t know why Delmar was returning but the older man sat heavily back in the chair he occupied before.

The empath peered over at him from the top bunk only briefly before settling back in when the man began speaking. “Are we obligated to talk?”

“We don’t have to,” Bec replied softly.

“Strange to talk so much about these things,” Delmar mumbled. “Huesyth never wanted to. I’m not used to hearing voices outside my own head.”

“I hear voices from all directions. In the gnawing sameness of your days... did you look at the shape of things? At... what you were becoming?”

Delmar shook his head, unconvinced. “I wasn't becoming anything at all. Not evolving or changing or adapting. I was standing still. Exactly where he left me standing the night he killed our father. Like taxidermy.”

“Hollowed out and... filled with something else,” The empath compared.

“Not something else. I'm not as malleable as you are. I was violent then sure. But I think you like it.”

“Huesyth and I afforded each other an experience we may not otherwise have had.”

He felt Delmar look at him. “If you don’t kill him, you’re afraid you are going to become him.”

Answering simply, Bec breathed. “Yes.”

There was an empty pause that left a hollow feeling in his chest. Then, Delmar added quietly. “There are ways of influence other than violence.”

 

Display cases containing the tools with which to inflict savagery on the human body were scattered around him as he worked and half-assembled statues were partially unpacked. Various workers moved around the room, dressed in coveralls, unpacking torture instruments from crates.

“Dr. Fell?” A man’s voice questioned.

For his reply, Huesyth did not look up from the statue piece that he was cleaning. “Yes?”

“I am Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi from the Questura di Firenze.” The name was familiar and Huesyth finally looked up to meet eyes with the inspector as he flashed his badge. He showed no recognition in his eyes and immediately looked down again. “I was wondering if you ever met your predecessor?”

“Never met him,” Huesyth answered quickly. “I read several of his monographs.”

He hoped that the inspector’s memory wasn’t as good as his but Pazzi was stepping towards, hopefully not to get a better look. “The officers who first investigated checked the Palazzo for any sort of note farewell notes, suicide notes, found nothing.”

“The going assumption is, he eloped with a woman and her money,” Huesyth offered, giving a small smile.

Pazzi laughed politely. “What is the going assumption regarding Professor Sogliato?”

“Still no word?” Huesyth asked, feigning ignorance as he straightened up.

“You may have had the last word with Sogliato. Your colleague, uh…” Pazzi peered down his small notebook. “Signor Albizzi tells me no one has spoken to Professor Sogliato since he declined your invitation to dinner. He is the second to have disappeared from the Palazzo.”

The inspector seemed hyper-aware of the people around them. They must’ve given him some form of comfort against the monster he was standing in front of. “Like any good investigator, I'm sure you're sifting the circumstances for profit.”

The doctor could see the wheel spinning in Pazzi’s head as he stared at the younger man. “Both were bachelors, well-respected scholars with orderly lives. They had some savings, nothing much.”

As the older man finally turned away to leave, Huesyth recognized something in Pazzi. “Commendatore Pazzi?”

The inspector froze and without looking back asked. “Yes?”

“I think you are a Pazzi of the Pazzi, am I correct?”

Turning back to the doctor confusedly, Pazzi questioned. “How did you know that?”

“You resemble a figure at the Della Robbia roundels in your family's chapel at Santa Croce.”

Pazzi nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. That was Andrea de Pazzi depicted as John the Baptist.”

“Then there's the most famous Pazzi of all: Francesco. He attempted to assassinate Lorenzo the Magnificent in the cathedral, at Mass, in 1478.”

“Yeah. The Pazzi family were all brought low on that Sunday.” Slowly, the inspector approached the doctor again. “If you come upon anything, Dr. Fell, anything personal from the missing men, will you call me?”

“Of course, Commendatore.” Pazzi turned to leave but swiped a brochure for the exhibit before he slipped out of sight.

That night, Huesyth took his emotions out on the piano at the center of the apartment’s living room. Flashes of his time before the Primavera went across his mind and he was reminded of a recurring face in the crowd behind him as he sat before it, sketching pieces and parts of the painting.

He heard the approaching sound Bedelia’s heels over his playing as she entered the room. “I prefer the sound and feel of the harpsichord. More alive, the music arrives like an experience, sudden and entire. The piano has the quality of memory. Today has the quality of memory.”

“You've met Inspector Pazzi before,” Bedelia stated as his playing ended. Not a question, a fact.

“In my youth... We shared a fondness for Botticelli and crossed paths in the Uffizi Gallery, beneath La Primavera.”

“Does he know... what you are?”

Huesyth offered an amused smile at her choice of words. “When I looked into his face and stood close enough to smell him, I was well aware that all the elements of epiphany were present.”

Bedelia leaned against the piano, studying him calmly. “And yet here you are, free to tell me all about it. What happened?”

“He must wait and lurk and think. It's too soon to flush his quarry. He's deciding what to do.”

She stepped away from the piano then. “Someone's put a price on your head.”

“As an early warning system, a bounty is better than radar,” Huesyth explained, his fingers glazing over the keys gently without making a sound. “It inclines authorities everywhere to forsake their duty and scramble after me privately.”

Bedelia questioned. “Should Rinaldo Pazzi join Professor Sogliato and the late curator of the Palazzo down in the damp? Should his body be found after an apparent suicide?”

“No,” Huesyth answered simply. “Rinaldo Pazzi, a Pazzi of the Pazzi, chief inspector at the Florentine Questura, has to decide what his honor is worth.”

Voice going low, Bedelia asked. “What is it worth to be known as the man who caught Huesyth Cavalli?” 

“For a policeman, credit has a short half-life. It’s in his best interest to sell me.”

He began to play again, a silent signal that the conversation was over between them. Silently, Bedelia stood and left the room the way that she had come, leaving the man alone until his eye caught the shadow of someone else entering the room. The figment of Bec came passed him, running a gentle hand along the back of his shoulders as the black robe he wore billowed behind him. Without a word or quip or horrific action, mind Bec stood in front of the window, peering into the night as if searching for a boat far off on the waves. The doctor’s playing finally tethered off again before they were left in total silence. 

“Are you waiting for something?” Huesyth asked, growing tired of the quiet.

...Someone,” The figment clarified without looking back at him. “Like you are.

Huesyth furrowed his brow at the vagueness of the answer but relented. “We haven’t spoken this civilly in a long time.”

No, we haven’t. You didn’t want to speak to me.

The doctor sighed at the underlying accusation hidden beneath the relaxed facade. “And I’m sorry for that.”

Mind Bec chuckled softly and finally turned to the other man. It was strange to see him so calm after the twisted version of his face had spent so long haunting the doctor. “ You really aren’t. I feel like you forget that I’m from you, Huesyth. Your memory palace is as much my home as it is my cage.

“The cage door is open. You can go any time you’d like,” Huesyth snapped back but mind Bec only stared.

I only say what you really want me to say. What you’re too scared to say.

“I am not scared,” Huesyth denied.

A small smile crept onto the imaginary man’s face before he stepped forward from the window, cupping the doctor’s face within his hands. “ I love you, ” The figment expressed, so sincere and open that it made Huesyth’s chest flutter.

But he reeled his emotions back in long enough to ask. “Did you say that because you wanted to or because I did?”

The sweet smile sharpened to a grin, knife-like. “ Now you’re catching on.

He withdrew from Huesyth’s reach and returned to gazing out the window like a damsel trapped within a high tower. The doctor cocked his head. “Who exactly are you waiting for?”

I am not the only Bec Reyes, lovely, ” Mind Bec reminded, peering over his shoulder with blackened eyes. “ Do you really think you’re the only Huesyth Cavalli?

 

Something warm dripped onto his face and he opened his eyes slightly to look into the dark of the cabin ceiling, expecting to see the nothingness he’d associated with it. But more dripped onto him before he realized that it was dark splotches of blood.

Suspended above him, Delmar was penetrated many times over and over by a bramble of antlers that seemed to be growing out of the ceiling. His eyes were empty and glazed, staring off into the middle distance.

The empath couldn’t move, couldn’t look away until finally, he blinked.

The unblocked dark returned. There was no other sound in the room beyond his own breathing and the gentle noise of Amaund sleeping below him. He leaned over the side of bunk to check to see if Delmar was sleeping with him but instead found Amaund alone, face buried in his pillow.

He hopped down from the bunk as quietly as possible, slipping on his shoes and coat before moving out of the cabin. Finding himself at the caboose, he saw Delmar there, standing alone with his hands braced against the railing. Bec debated whether or not he should even go out there but finally relented and joined Delmar at the rails.

Delmar didn’t have to look at the empath to know who it was but that didn’t stop the flash of disappointment.

He looked back towards the night, watching as it passed them by. “I like the night. It's more than a period of time; it's another place. It's different from where we are during the day.”

“We're different from who we are during the day,” Bec added. “Little more hidden, little less seen.”

“When life is most like a dream.”

Bec turned, staring at the older man a moment and wondering if he should push. He decided it was now or never. “Why are you searching for him? What are you hoping to find?”

“I'm not searching for Huesyth,” Delmar stated, shaking his head. “I know exactly where he is.”

“Is he still in Florence?” Bec questioned.

Delmar looked up at the other man before answering. “Yes.”

Before Bec could lose his courage, he finally asked. “...Do you know what he did to me?”

Sighing softly, the older man looked away. “I know he hurt you but I can’t change that.”

No. I mean what he did ,” Bec cut in. Confusedly, Delmar turned to him for him to continue so Bec exhaled softly. “When he tried to kill us all- When he stabbed me, I...I was pregnant.”

Suddenly, the older man seemed to freeze in his spot, hands tightening ever more around the rails until his knuckles turned white.

“I was pregnant with his children… and he killed them.”

“You’re lying,” Delmar murmured darkly. “He wouldn't have done that…”

He knew he’d have to prove it. Hesitantly, Bec’s hands went to his shirt, pulling up the tail of it just enough to expose his stomach. Running across the length of his abdomen below his belly button was a long, lightly colored scar, turned up at either end in a shape akin to a grin. It may not have looked bad then, freshly healed with puckered scar tissue, but it still ached. Phantom pain and real pain.

“He killed them, Delmar.”

Delmar’s disbelieving eyes were zeroed in on the scar until he brushed a shaking thumb against the tapered edge of it. His cold hand made a shiver run through the empath.

“Why didn’t he tell you?” Bec asked through the prolonged silence.

But the older man shook his head slightly, not taking his eyes off of the jagged scar. “He knew what I would do if I knew.”

Putting his shirt back down, Bec narrowed his eyes at the older man. “What would you have done, Delmar?”

Finally, Delmar’s eyes met Bec’s and a small, joyless smile quirk the corner of his lips. “I told you... there are ways of influence other than violence.”

He rested a calming hand against the shorter man’s shoulder but his eyes were different. They were strangely cold, almost like a metal fist. “But violence is what he understands.”

And with that, the hand on his shoulder tightened into a grip before Delmar violently wretched Bec over the railing, sending him tumbling onto the train tracks below. He disappeared out of sight and the train kept going until Delmar finally released a heavy breath.

It was a split-second reflex that had Delmar reeling before he stumbled back inside. Why did he do that? Why would he do that? But the empath couldn’t have died from a fall from that height. On the other hand, Delmar couldn’t return to their cabin without Bec with him. Amaund would never forgive him. Sighing softly to regain himself, Delmar straightened up. Squaring his shoulders before he made his way back to their cabin to find Amaund just where he was left hours ago. His face half-buried in his pillow with his blonde locks falling in his face. Happy and sleepy.

It made Delmar’s chest ache as he kneeled down beside his bed and gently shook his shoulder to stir him. “Amaund?”

Rousing from sleep with soft breath, Amaund barely opened an eye to look up at the other man, rubbing a hand down his face. “What’s up, sugar? We there yet?”

“No, no. Not yet,” Delmar soothed. “But I… I want you to come with me for a minute.”

Amaund groaned slightly as he sat up in bed. “Jesus, how long have I been asleep?”

“A few hours I think… a while.”

The taller huffed out a breathy laugh, standing up to his full height with minor struggle. A grin was brought to Amaund’s lips as he leaned down to press a kiss against Delmar’s forehead but then he looked back at the bunks to find the top one empty. “Where’s Bec?”

“He couldn’t sleep so he went out to walk around the train.”

Amaund sighed, placing his hat back onto his head. “He hasn’t slept in days. He’s about to wear himself out.”

“Yeah, yeah… I know the feeling.”

Delmar interlocked their arms as they moved out of the cabin back to the caboose. The taller man gave him a curious face but Delmar slid his hands up to cup his face before he could ask what was happening. He pressed a tender kiss against his lover’s lips, affectionate and gentle and so unlike most of their romantic interactions. It effectively took Amaund’s breath away and Delmar slid his hands down to lay them against Amaund’s shoulders.

He drew back, enough to stare into Amaund’s hooded eyes and smile softly, sadly. “...I love you.”

A multitude of micro-expressions passed over the taller man’s face but Delmar didn’t give him time to react before he pushed him back, flipping him over the railing after his brother. Hearing the dull thud as Amaund landed against the tracks in a heap, face-up, staring into the far-off night sky.

Until a blur shot passed him, as quick as a flash until they stopped abruptly in their run to scamper back to his side. Through the dark, Amaund could make out the bloody face of Bec, heaving breaths as he glared down at the other man.

“Your boyfriend pushed me off a train ,” Bec hissed loudly, echo carrying off into the empty woods.

Amaund didn’t react but inhaled deeply. “Yeah. He did the same to me.”

Throwing his hands up in agitation, Bec huffed before finally reaching a hand out to his brother. The taller man stared briefly before Bec shook his hand at him, Amaund gripping it and pulling himself up with it. His bones protesting from the fall.

Standing at the center of the tracks, the two looked towards the direction that the train had gone. They were close enough to walk. They’ll get there soon enough by foot even with their injuries.

 

“Dr. Fell?”

A smirk quirked Huesyth’s lips at the familiar voice. He knew the inspector would return soon but not several hours. “Buonasera, Commendatore.”

Pazzi’s eyes turned to land on Huesyth as he emerged from the shadows of the exhibit casings. “Buonasera, Dottore Fell.”

“Back so soon?”

“Given the nature of your... exhibition and the contents of our last conversation, I brought something I thought you might like to see.” Pazzi sat a wooden box that he had tucked under his arm on the desk at the center of the room. He opened the cage and from within drew out a grotesque metal mask fitted with a wicked, barbed mouth bit. “It was supposedly worn by Francesco de Pazzi when he met his end. My family guilt cast in iron.”

Huesyth approached the piece as it was set on the table, observing it as he set aside the knife he was using to slice a pear. “A scold's bridle. May I?”

“Of course,” Pazzi said, all too friendly compared to their last meeting.

Huesyth reached into his suit jacket, pulling out a pair of soft curator’s gloves to avoid leaving marks on the metal. Carefully, he picked the bridle up, turning it in his hands to scan over the little details. But he felt Pazzi’s eyes on him just as much as his eyes were on the bridle.

“A wonderful heirloom,” The doctor complimented as he set the piece back down. “I'm so glad you stopped by, Commendatore Pazzi, as I... have a family heirloom for you.”

Stepping away, Huesyth retrieves an older wood carving from a low cabinet, a man hung by his neck with his entrails snaking down to his feet. When he turned back to approach the man, he could see quick movements from Pazzi as he tucked a handkerchief back into his suit jacket pocket. Huesyth rested the carving before Pazzi.

“Beneath the figure is written a name. Can you make it out?”

“It says, ‘Pazzi’.” The inspector noticed.

“This is your ancestor, Francesco, hanging outside the Palazzo. This particular illustration is bowels out. I've seen others bowels in. By all accounts, Francesco was led astray by thirty pieces of silver from the hand of the Papal banker.” Huesyth matched eyes with Pazzi over the carving to see that a darkness was leaking through the familiarity in the inspector’s eyes. He was one of them. “It's hard to see, but here's where the archbishop bit him. Eyes wide as he choked, the archbishop locked his teeth in Pazzi's flesh.”

Huesyth took the carving, placing it back where he had kept it in the cabinet behind the inspector before grabbing the doused rag. “On a related subject, I must confess, I've been giving very serious thought to doing the same.”

Before Pazzi could react, Huesyth wrapped a hand around his face, smothering him with the ether-soaked cloth as he kicked and thrashed in the doctor’s grip. Until finally going still.

 

Pazzi’s limp form was strapped upright to a dolly, positioned to stand before one of the large windows with his mouth taped shut but Huesyth was growing bored of the unconscious man already.

He stood in front of him, slapping at his face several times to wake him up once he saw him begin to rouse. “Can you hear me, Signor Pazzi? Take a deep breath while you can. Clear your head.”

The inspector’s eyes blinked tiredly, slowly. Still not understanding what was happening.

“I haven't had a bite all day. Actually, your liver and kidneys would be suitable for dinner right away…” Huesyth tied one of the ends of a thick orange power cord to the window frame before unraveling the rest to begin tying it into the design of a noose. “Tonight, even, but the rest of the meat should hang at least a week in the current cool conditions. I didn't see the forecast, did you?”

Pazzi stared, empty and silent but clearly panicked, as Huesyth finished the hangman’s knot in the cord. “I gather that means ‘no’. If you tell me what I need to know, Commendatore, it would be convenient for me to leave without my meal. I will ask you the questions and then we'll see. You can trust me, you know, though I expect that you find trust difficult, knowing yourself.”

Huesyth looked up from the impromptu noose he had made. “When the police didn't come, it was clear that you had sold me. Was it Mason Verger you sold me to?” Shakily, Pazzi nodded with a smothered groan. “Thank you. I called the number on his ‘wanted’ site once, far from here, just for fun.”

He put the noose he had fashioned around Pazzi’s head, tightening it securely around his neck like a tie. “Have you told anyone at the Questura about me?” Pazzi’s head moved side to side but it was shaky and confusing and the doctor narrowed his eyes. “Was that a nod?”

Shaking his head faster to mean ‘no’, a sudden ringing came from the inspector’s pocket. With a raised eyebrow, Huesyth dug through the pocket on the inside of the man’s jacket, removing a buzzing phone to press it against his ear.

He answered casually. “Pronto.”

A woman began quickly speaking on the other line. Urgently as if she was worried about something and didn’t want to be interrupted. “ Inspector Pazzi. My name is Alana Bloom. You don't know me, but I know your benefactor-

A rueful smile crossed his lips at the sound of Alana’s voice. “Hello, Alana. I'm afraid the inspector is otherwise occupied.”

There was a pause. “... Is he dead?

“There is nothing I would love more than to be able to chat with you, Alana, but you caught me at a rather awkward moment.” Huesyth turned back to Pazzi as the inspector looked on desperately at the phone, just out of reach. “Nice to hear your voice.”

He hung up the phone quickly, stuffing it into Pazzi’s pocket before adjusting the straps that kept Pazzi bound.

“Huesyth?” A hesitant voice called and the doctor’s head snapped up to the doorway, hand going towards the knife in his pocket before stalling. Pazzi groaned loudly, thrashing only slightly at the sound of another person’s voice.

But the voice wasn’t a savior. It was Delmar, hair a mess and jaw covered with untrimmed stubble. He had a hunting rifle in his hands, its barrel facing towards the ground. His eyes were wide as he looked between his younger brother and the man bound next to him.

“Hello again, Delmar.” Huesyth smiled genuinely. “You’ve picked a funny time to return.”

Delmar hadn’t taken his eyes off of the inspector’s back. “Who’s that?”

“You probably remember Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi from about twenty years ago,” The taller man identified. “He had the police destroy your apartment looking for evidence that I was-” “Il Mostro di Firenze. I remember.”

Huesyth nodded before he looked back to the tied up man. “Commendatore, I hope you can return the courtesy of remembering my dear brother.”

Desperately, Pazzi groaned again, trying to be louder but the tape over his mouth wouldn’t allow it.

“Huesyth, please. You don’t have to do this-” “How was the estate? As we left it?”

Delmar stared, fighting for the right words. “I-It was fine.”

“Well while you were there licking your wounds, Pazzi here managed to track me down and try to sell me for a bounty. You’ve missed a lot. We’ll catch up in a moment.”

Before he could draw the knife he’d found tucked away in Pazzi’s other pocket, Delmar begged. “Please don’t kill him.”

The doctor turned back to the older man, quirking a confused eyebrow at him. “Why not?”

“While I was there, I wasn’t licking any wounds. I was opening old ones.”

At the admission, Huesyth scoffed softly. “Foolish of you to return there. The whole place is like an old wound. I should have sold it for scrap after we left.”

“Huesyth, he’s a cop ,” Delmar snapped at the taller man, trying to get him to see reason. “You can’t blame a man for doing his job!”

The doctor’s eyes went back to his brother, something dark flashing through them. “He was trying to sell me. That isn’t legal justice, Delmar.”

“What the hell do you know about justice!” Delmar demanded through clenched teeth.

A light breeze blew through the room from the open window and Huesyth caught a scent beneath that of Delmar’s. Sweet hay drying under the sun, the salt of the ocean, and the bite of something entirely unique that didn’t belong to his brother. 

It was him . Delmar stunk of him .

“So you’ve reunited with that cowboy who abandoned you,” Huesyth stated, his lip curling back in a slight snarl. Baring his teeth. “How did you manage that?”

Delmar looked like he didn’t want to answer before explaining. “I left a phone in my apartment before we left… I had been talking to him the entire time we were gone. I told him where I was.”

Suddenly, Huesyth went still as he stared at his brother disbelievingly. “You’re the reason that Bec is here.”

He had thought it was all a coincidence that Bec had returned to him but no. It was his brother pulling the strings behind his back to get the cowboy into his arms again.

“You’re the reason that Amaund stopped talking to me,” Delmar countered harshly. “He knew what you were so you scared him off.”

“I did that for us , Delmar-” “You did that for your goddamn self! You do everything for yourself. All of this is a game to you but not to me.”

That was the farthest from the truth but… it was true that Huesyth never really thought about how his actions may have affected Delmar. He only ever did what amused him and if doing that ever hurt Delmar then he didn’t mean for it.

Huesyth played in the minds of everyone that he came across, pushing them, persuading them. Plucking every nerve he could like he was playing the harp sometimes without even meaning to.

Shaking his head, Delmar’s eyes began to water around the edges. “I was so wrong. I thought I was safe… but I was the one who was being eaten.”

No, ” Huesyth said, firmly. “Not you. Never you.”

“Meat is meat. You don’t know the difference.”

He wasn’t getting anywhere with Delmar. The time back at the estate had set his mind down this path of alienating his own brother. The doctor sighed softly before he finally looked back to Pazzi, now mostly awake and staring wide-eyed at the taller man next to him.

“So, Commendatore, which do you think? Bowels in or bowels out?” “Huesyth, wai-” “Out, I think.”

In a fluid movement, Huesyth plunged the blade of the harpy knife into Pazzi’s abdomen, dragging downwards to split his stomach open. He circled the dolly and calmly tipped Pazzi forward, flinging him out of the window. The inspector fell to the extent of the electrical cable and it pulled tight against the window frame with a loud snap as Pazzi’s neck cracked. There was a wet slap of the older man’s intestines hitting the ancient cobblestone below his swinging body.

But instead of looking back at his brother’s horrified face, Huesyth stepped forward to peer out of the window and found the dark shape of none other than Jack Crawford below.

“What did you just do?” Delmar asked from behind him, voice soft but strained.

Without taking his eyes off the older agent, Huesyth replied. “What had to be done.”

The two held their positions until Huesyth moved back into the room, breaking the moment and no doubt sending Jack running inside. “We need to leave. Now.

Huesyth passed his brother, grabbing a hold of his arm to begin dragging him towards the only exit.

“Stop, stop, stop !” Delmar snapped, pulling against Huesyth’s grip until the doctor whipped around to shout in his face. “Fight with me later!”

In a blur of movement, Delmar planted his fist in the center of Huesyth’s face, causing the taller man to stagger backward. When Huesyth regained himself, brushing the blood away from his nose, he looked up to see Delmar aiming the barrel of his rifle at the doctor’s chest.

Resigned to the punishment, Huesyth’s shoulders slumped with a sigh. “I’m trying to help you…”

“Why didn’t you tell me Bec was pregnant when you gutted him?”

Taking in a heavy breath, Huesyth tried to explain. “Because y-... you didn’t need to know all of that. I didn't even know until after I…”

“Until after you already killed them?” Delmar spat venomously. It wasn’t an actual question. Delmar knew for sure. “Until after you tried to massacre all of your friends? You can kill every shred of goodness you have in your life but you won’t make me miserable too.”

He matched eyes with his brother over the rifle between them. “Delmar… you are the only shred of goodness I have left.”

Something seemed to melt in Delmar, a tear running down his cheek. “...You’re my brother. I love you but… But you’re like a festering wound.”

At that moment, Huesyth understood his brother more than he had in the last twenty years of his life. They had crossed countries and oceans, traded lives like cards, walked through the bloodshed together in a way that Huesyth thought made them equal. But they weren’t equals as he had thought. It was Huesyth’s carnage that he was dragging his brother through. He was drowning Delmar in it not saving him. 

Through his misery, Huesyth offered a small smile. “Sometimes you have to cut the limb off to survive.”

The older man gave him a shaky nod, bringing the rifle closer and Huesyth didn’t flinch. But he did watch the way that the gun shook in Delmar’s unsteady hands until the older man gave a harsh shout. Flipping the rifle around, Delmar smashed the butt of the gun against Huesyth’s jaw which sent him flying through a display case, showering him in glass. When Huesyth tried to stand, Delmar planted a boot in the center of his chest and kicked him through the back of the case, through another plate of glass and onto the floor beyond.

His head pulsed with pain and glass dug into his skin. The doctor attempted to scramble to his feet again before another fist was slammed into the side of his face. Blood oozed from his mouth and hands tangled into the back of his vest, wrenching him up and throwing him onto his back as another fist hit his cheek. The calloused knuckles beat against his face, blood splattering across the floor from Huesyth’s mouth until a hand wrapped around his throat to keep his head flush to the floor. With bleary eyes, Huesyth looked up to the face of his brother, knuckles bloody and eyes filled with rage as he raised his fist again.

Huesyth flinched at the action, eyes closing in preparation for the next blow. But a quiet moment passed and the next blow never landed. He opened his eyes again and found that the dark rage in Delmar’s eyes had subsided. All that was left behind was an empty sorrow, a deep-rooted pain that coiled around Delmar’s mind. His hand was shaking, the tight coil of his fist loosening as he choked back a sob.

Before the doctor could reach out to his brother, a dark shape moved above them and a heavy blow landed on the back of Delmar’s head. It sent him flying to the side and crumbling into the scattered pieces of broken glass.

Standing over him with a hook from one of the displays that he had just knocked Delmar out with dangling in his hand was Jack. Huesyth rolled onto his stomach in an attempt to scramble away but Jack swung and sank the heavy meathook into the doctor’s calf, dragging him back to the older agent. Twisting around, Huesyth kicked the man in the face but Jack recovered to send a foot into the center of Huesyth's face. Leaning down to begin raining heavy blows onto his chest and stomach.

The older agent dragged the doctor up by his shirt front and threw him across the room, sending him slamming into a breaking wheel. Huesyth yanked the hook from his leg, struggling to his feet before another heavy fist landed across his face. His head rocked back against the wheel as he slid to the ground, blood gushing from his nose and mouth. His arm was caught between the spokes of the wheel and Jack turned it to catch his forearm in the wooden grip. His arm strained to the breaking point but didn’t yet snap.

Huesyth groaned in pain, breathing heavy with the effort to stay fighting. “I brought Bella back from death and you returned her to it. Is that where you're taking me, Jack?”

Jack hit him again, a clear enough answer to Huesyth’s bloodstained question. As the pressure on the wheel lessened, it allowed the doctor to slide to the floor before he was dragged up and flung into the glass of another display. With rough hands, Huesyth was hauled back towards the window that Pazzi’s body was hanging from. He kicked and punched all the way until he was dropped and Huesyth propped himself up against the open window and spit red from his mouth.

Covered in blood from glass and hits, Huesyth breathed through the pain blossoming within him when Jack finally stalked back up to him. He leered over the doctor with the bloody hook back in his hand. Looking up at the older agent, Huesyth questioned. “How will you feel when I'm gone?”

A small, joyless smile pulled at Jack’s face as he approached. “ Alive.

The hook was swung up, slamming into the underside of Huesyth’s jaw and sending him hurling backward out of the window. For a brief second, Huesyth was content in letting himself die like that, at the hand of the man he tried to kill, but then his arm lashed out and took hold of Pazzi’s body. Snagging onto the inspector’s clothes, Huesyth worked his way down the man’s body to hold his legs before letting himself drop. He hit the ground below, landing hard on his injured leg but staggered to his feet.

One last look up before Huesyth disappeared into the shadowed columns of the museum, escaping into the night.

Little did he know that Delmar had awoken within the room as he escaped, pulling himself to his feet despite a pounding headache shooting around in his skull. He scooped up his rifle, quickly stumbling out of the room before the older agent could turn around to notice that he was missing, smearing one of the blood pools with his boot.

Chapter Text

With the dawn light shining just barely through the bathroom window, water ran over his head and neck, forming rivulets down his back, burning over open wounds. Feminine hands wring the sponge out on the bloody glass cuts in his hands as he stared with lidded eyes at the deep scars on his wrist.

He hooked his bloody calf over the side of the bathtub he was resting in, his cut and bruised body straining with the effort. The sponge carefully cleaned the blood away from the mangled wound in his leg before those skillful hands began suturing the wound closed. But Huesyth watched as Bedelia worked on him, drinking in her concentration, her determination. As she finished the last suture, Bedelia finally noticed the wounded animal that was watching her work and her eyes turned up to him.

Neither of them said anything but Huesyth could practically see the cogs turning in her head even as she worked. She drew the thread up she was using to stitch him up and snipped off the excess.

 

They cut the power cord holding the inspector’s body over the plaza and it fell into the waiting arms of the police officers below. It was lowered onto a gurney and carried off along with the pile of spilled innards that were resting on the ground. Even from beyond the police barricade where Bec and Amaund was he could recognize the figure of Jack standing there, observing the scene as they took Pazzi away. He had no idea why Jack was beyond the police line or why his knuckles looked bloody even from a distance.

He knew why Jack was in Italy though. The older agent had chased Bec across the sea for a chance to put a bullet in Huesyth’s head. It almost made Bec feel a twinge of anger that he was used so that the other broken dolls Huesyth left behind could get their revenge too. But he swallowed that feeling, turning back to the taller man by his side.

“Stay here,” The empath told his brother but Amaund just nodded tiredly and leaned back against the stone wall. His face wasn't as badly cut up like Bec’s was but he was bruised around his forehead and eye. He lowered his cowboy hat down around his eyes as Bec slipped past the barricade to approach the older agent.

“Jack,” Bec called out.

Hesitantly, Jack turned to him, scarcely daring to believe in what his ears heard before his eyes landed on the empath himself. There were too many things that they could have said then. They could have thrown words back and forth like knives or simply let the past quietly slip by. Neither sounded particularly appealing to Bec. Instead, the empath stuck a hand out to his former boss. They shook hands as the guilt began to set in on them both.

As he was led up into the exhibit that Huesyth had apparently been working on when Pazzi came for him, the empath took in the carnage. The broken glass, the blood-splattered and smeared across the floor. The same kind of carnage left wherever Huesyth had been.

“He's wounded... and he's worried.”

Wounded maybe, the blood on the floor was clue enough to that, but Huesyth never worried about anything. If he did then he never showed it.

Bec shook his head slightly. “No, Huesyth doesn't worry. Knowing he's in danger won't rattle him any more than killing does.”

“If Rinaldo Pazzi had decided to do his job as an officer of the law, he would have determined very quickly that he was Huesyth Cavalli.” Jack looked down at an ancient wood carving resting on the table, a man hanging and disemboweled in the same way that the inspector was. “Would have taken him less than thirty minutes to get a warrant.”

“All those resources were denied to Pazzi. As soon as the thought to sell Huesyth crossed his mind, he became a bounty hunter.”

Jack eyed the empath as Bec moved around him to survey the destruction. “He was outside the law and alone and here we are: outside the law and alone.”

A breath escaped Bec’s nose as he nodded. He hadn’t been apart of the law in a while at that point and the thought of teaming up with anyone didn’t feel right. Teaming up with Jack specifically made the pain in his gut flare-up. “Have you told la polizia they're looking for Huesyth Cavalli?”

“They're motivated to find Dr. Fell inside the law,” Jack pointed out. “Knowing who he is, what he's worth, it will just coax them out of bounds.”

“That'd be a free-for-all,” Bec commented.

“And Huesyth will slip away again. We can’t let that happen,” Jack urged before Bec felt the man’s eyes linger on him. “Will you slip away with him?”

The empath thought about lying. It would have saved him some shame if he had but instead he turned back to the older agent. Mumbling softly, Bec replied. “Part of me will always want to.”

“You have to cut that part out,” Jack said firmly.

A breathy chuckle escaped Bec’s nose as he scanned over the room of torture instruments in their displays. It certainly fit the aesthetic that Huesyth adored so much. “No, of course, you found him here, not because of the exhibit, but because of the crowd it attracts. You had him, Jack. He was beaten down and helpless. Why didn't you kill him?”

There was a pause before Jack sighed. “Maybe I need you to.”

Bec wasn’t surprised in the slightest that Jack was trying to push that burden onto the empath. But the younger man’s attention was drawn away from the older agent as he went back to the bloodstains. Something was off about the scene though in one of the dark smears, a boot print that wouldn’t match the shoes that Pazzi or Huesyth would’ve been wearing. “There was someone else here.”

“Yes, there was,” Jack told, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets. “A brunette man who attacked Huesyth before I was here.”

That sounded eerily close to a certain Cavalli that shoved him off of a train in the middle of the night. “What happened to him?”

The older agent averted his eyes from Bec, answering meekly. “I knocked him out but when I came back, he was gone.”

Bec nodded, content with the answer but knowing Amaund would probably pitch a fit if he knew. “You have any idea who it was?”

Jack studied him before stating. “No. Do you know who that man was?”

The empath had been truthful up to that point and that was the only time he truly hesitated in his answer. Delmar’s actions may have angered Bec but at the end of the day, he wasn’t a real killer. He didn’t kill Huesyth because he couldn’t do it.

Bec shook his head. “No. Huesyth has pissed off enough people that we might not ever know who it was.”

 

“I want to be able to draw these streets from memory,” Huesyth expressed as he looked out over the Florence streets from the apartment balcony, the gentle breeze brushing past his skin. “I want to be able to draw the Palazzo Vecchio and the Duomo.”

Bedelia drew closer, removing the pencil and sketchbook from his hands as she said. “You won't be coming back here for a very long time.”

“Memories of Florence will be all I have. Florence is where I became a man. I see my end in my beginning.”

“All of our endings can be found in our beginnings,” Bedelia explained as she turned and moved back inside, Huesyth following after her. “History repeats itself, and there is no escape.”

Bedelia slid the sketchbook and pencil into a small suitcase at the table, his coat draped next to it. “You've packed lightly.”

“I packed for you,” Bedelia stated, looking back at him with a face of stone. “This is where I leave you. Or more accurately, where you leave me.”

Huesyth was far less surprised then he thought he’d be. He quirked his head slightly as he studied her. “This isn't how I intended to say goodbye. I imagined it quite differently.”

“I didn’t,” Bedelia said firmly, standing confidently next to the packed suitcase. “I knew that you intended to eat me, and I knew that you had no intention of eating me hastily.”

“Would be a shame not to savor you.”

Bedelia gave a tight smile, void of any real joy. “I have not marinated long enough for your tastes. When they come for you…” “And they will come…” “What will you say of me?”

The doctor nodded slightly in understanding. “I will help you tell the version of events you want to be told. I will help you because you asked me to.”

The two exchanged a smile, such an odd understanding between the two of them. But Bedelia’s smile wilted first and she seemed to steady herself, reminding herself that she was playing games with a lion. “You may make a meal of me yet, Huesyth... but not today.”

 

The lock rattled under the pressure of his strength before it cracked softly and he let the door swing open. He had the rifle resting on his hip as he slipped quietly into the apartment, closing the door behind him. It was far darker and even quieter in the apartment than when he had left it but he moved further in.

But the sound of movements led him into the side living room and he found the familiar woman with the head of curling blonde hair. She was pulling up the sleeve of her dress and tightening surgical tubing around her forearm. Bedelia’s eyes were drawn to the mirror in front of her and she met eyes with Delmar in the reflection, the tubing snapping out of her mouth as her teeth loosened around it. She actually seemed shocked to see him again.

“You must be looking for Huesyth,” Bedelia stated, recovering from her surprise as elegantly as always.

It seemed that everyone around him was always better at hiding their emotions. He couldn’t help the fact that his heart was sewn onto his sleeve but he asked anyway. “Where is he, Bedelia?”
She turned in her seat to face him, narrowing her eyes at him quizzically. “You look terrible.”

So that’s how it’s going to be then. She won’t answer his questions until she was done picking him apart. Delmar scoffed softly, “I was visiting family… leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”

Her expression turned curious and Bedelia stood from her chair, approaching him slowly. “So you've come all the way from home. Did you regret it?” The man didn’t answer, Delmar’s eyes glancing to the tubing around her arm to which she put her other hand over it. “Medicinal purposes.”

Delmar studied Bedelia and felt that he finally understood what the blonde woman was thinking after all those months. He carefully offered. “We’re like his birds. He locks us in cages to see what we'll do.”

“Fly away or dash ourselves dead against the bars,” Bedelia described and she cocked an eyebrow at him. “You once thought that you were safely beyond the cage, perched on his shoulder like a treasured pet.”

“I was wrong,” Delmar murmured but he narrowed his eyes at the woman. “He left the cage doors open for you and you haven't flown away.”

“But you did… and now you’re flying right back to him. How does he inspire such devotion?”

Delmar had no idea but it wasn’t loyalty or devotion that led him back into the streets of Florence. He shrugged at her question. “I don’t know. You're his psychiatrist.”

“You could add into what I've learned from my experience with him and from the mute postures of the dead.” Slowly, Bedelia approached him, not taking her eyes off of him as she asked. “Were you there? Did you watch as the wild beast within him turned from the teat and entered the world?”

A sinking feeling began in Delmar’s chest as his heart fell to the pit of his stomach. But Bedelia wasn’t wrong in her question. She had her theories and she wanted them confirmed before it all came crashing down. That kind of brewing curiosity should have gotten her killed but instead there she was, still asking questions. Still curious.

“I was there when the beast was born out of the blood of our father and I watched him grow. I coddled him, protected him… I watched him sharpen his teeth for bigger prey,” Bedelia’s eyebrows raised at the answer but Delmar continued. “And I taught him how to cover it all up when it got to be too much.”

“You made his veil?” Bedelia questioned, a tilt of disbelief in her tone.

Delmar scoffed softly at the insinuation. “You really think if I made it then he’d be a doctor and a socialite like he is? No, that was all him. But he just used me as an example of what a real human is like.”

She furrowed her brow at him. “You were his model.”

“I guess you could say that,” Delmar shrugged. He paused briefly, chewing on his next words. “Someone wants to kill him.”

“More than one someone, I'd say. What do you want?”

Delmar adjusted the weight of the rifle as he sighed. “I don’t know what I want. I held a gun on him and I couldn’t pull the trigger… I don’t want him dead but I don’t want him out there anymore.”

A smirk pulled the corner of Bedelia’s mouth. “You want to cage him. Cage him like he’s caged us. I used to think that Bec Reyes was Huesyth's biggest mistake... I wonder if it isn't you.” Bedelia turned from him but paused, slightly peering back over her shoulder to whisper. “You should have killed him, Delmar.”

He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other before finally answering. “I know.”

Bedelia straightened her back, facing away. “Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to take my medicine.”

She stepped away from him, sitting back down in her chair to take up one of the needles, and left him to see himself out of the apartment.

 

They knocked heavily on the door but got no response, Jack stepping forward to knock again and this time the door opened abruptly to reveal none other than Bedelia Du Maurier. She looked between them, unfocused and dazed eyes staring blankly through them.

“Mrs. Fell, I presume?” Bec asked cynically.

They were let into the apartment without much of a fuss from the woman but were led into the living room where a scattered batch of small bottles filled with an unknown liquid were left on the table. A bundle of needles placed suspiciously carelessly next to them. It all seemed far too staged for the empath’s liking but Bedelia dropped herself heavily into one of the chairs, gazing at the older agent as he studied one of the bottles. She shrugged a bit as the silence carried on too long.

“My husband is a doctor,” She explained. “He's been treating my condition.”

“And what condition is that... Mrs. Fell?” Jack asked doubtfully.

“I get confused,” Bedelia said simply.

Bec scoffed loudly, enough to draw Bedelia’s eyes to him. “Oh, please. You need to get over yourself, whatever self that is, Bedelia.”

She quirked an unimpressed eyebrow at him but her eyes were still blurry as she slurred. “My name is Lydia Fell.”

“You expect us to believe that you somehow lost yourself in the hot darkness of Huesyth Cavalli's mind?” Bec chuckled disbelievingly, approaching the blonde woman. “That Lydia Fell is some construct?”

Jack held his phone out to show her own missing person’s report with her likeness pictured to the side but she squinted at the screen as her vision refused to focus. The older agent asked. “This is you, isn't it?”

“Well…” Bedelia huffed. “Now I'm really confused.”

With a light laugh, Bec leaned closer to her, mockingly whispering to her just as she had done to him all those months ago in the halls of the hospital. “I... don't ... believe you.”

Bedelia stared at him, focusing solely on him and a brief flash of annoyance went across her face. Something she couldn’t even bury. He drew back from her as Jack continued. “You... are not confused, Bedelia.

“That is not my name.”

“Oh, you know who you are and what you've done, and you know exactly how you're going to wiggle out of it.” Bec motioned to the small bottles of liquids on the table. “What is this? Sedatives? Hypnotics? Ethanol? Scopolamine? Midazolam?”

“The same cocktail that Dr. Cavalli served Miriam Lass,” Jack noticed, motioning to the woman with one of his hands. “You've been freebasing your alibi and I'm not even mad at you. To tell the truth, I'm fairly impressed.”

Bedelia blinked, slow and half-lidded as her head lolled from side to side to watch as either of the men talked at her.

“Mostly because you're still alive. When this fog of yours clears... I'd love to hear how you managed that,” Bec expressed sarcastically.

She was steadfast in maintaining her front but there was an almost unnoticeable glint her eyes as she turned to ask Jack. “You say my husband murdered a chief investigator. If so then where is the polizia? Shouldn't they be questioning me?”

“Don't worry. They will,” Jack replied firmly, sitting in the chair across from Bedelia.

“They sure are taking their time. What could possibly be the delay? Oh, I have an idea.” She cocked an eyebrow up at the older agent. “Do you?”

Slowly, Bec began to make his way out of the room. Quiet enough that Jack couldn’t hear him as he left but he could still hear the older agent say. “They're being bought by the same people that bought Rinaldo Pazzi.”

The front door closed behind him and he couldn’t help but run away back down the hall.

 

It was quiet. Deathly quiet and the people were scarce among the gallery, guards even scarcer. Despite its eerie vacancy, Bec knew that at least one person was there among the art.

He had no idea what he was planning on doing once he saw the man again but the feeling of the rough outline of the knife in his jacket pocket was enough to dispel any fears he had about his own safety. But some gut instinct told him that Huesyth wouldn’t attack him. A foolishly ignorant instinct as the last time he told himself that, the doctor plunged a knife into his stomach and killed his children. But he sighed, pushing down his anger at the thought and forcing himself forward through the maze-like halls.

Coming to the turn that led to the painting at the center of his lover’s memory palace, Bec hesitated in his steps. Huesyth was sitting on a bench before the Primavera, quietly sketching the painting like an echo from Bec’s imaginary scene of the doctor twenty years in the past. But someone was sitting next to him, a man with tan ashen skin and darkly colored hair who was draped in a short black dress and similar colored robe.

It was Huesyth’s guest who noticed him first, looking back over his shoulder and Bec was suddenly staring into the blackened eyes of himself. His copy, who looked younger but far more ragged, stared at him before a knife-sharp smile split over the other’s face.

It stood, circling around the bench and brushing past the empath quickly. When Bec’s eyes followed, he found the figment of himself rushing to the end of the hall towards a dark-suited figure with towering antlers. The humanoid wendigo turned, its empty eyes landing on the other version of Bec and it opened its arms as the figment flung himself into the awaiting embrace. They wrapped their arms around each other, the wendigo pressing kisses onto any available skin of the imaginary Bec’s neck and shoulder as they held one another.

Like long lost lovers finally reunited.

Averting his eyes, Bec looked back into the room with the Primavera, swallowing back the heavy emotions before he stepped forward. As he approached the bench, Bec could see Huesyth’s face ever so slightly twitch to the side once he noticed he wasn’t alone. But his shoulders seemed to relax when he noticed just who it was.

Warm and curious, Huesyth’s eyes followed him as he circled the bench and sat down next to the doctor, his face just as cut up as Bec’s but on the opposite side. The empath’s gaze went up to appraise the painting before him as Huesyth would but he felt the doctor’s eyes only lingering on him.

“If I saw you every day, forever, Bec, I would remember this time,” Huesyth whispered almost breathlessly as the younger man turned back to him.

With a gentle chuckle, Bec hesitantly reached a hand out to rest it lightly on the exposed skin of Huesyth’s wrist below his jacket sleeve. Checking to see if he was real and not imaginary like the two out in the hall but he felt the warmth. The pounding of a rapid pulse and he drew his hand back satisfied.

“It’s so strange seeing you here in front of me,” The empath sighed softly. “I’ve been staring at afterimages of you in places you haven't been in years.”

“I hope your image of me has been cleared,” Huesyth expressed.

Bec nodded slightly. “I wanted to understand you before I laid eyes on you again. I needed it to be clear... what I was seeing.”

The doctor’s eyes scanned the expanse of Bec’s face as if he was drinking in every detail in fear of forgetting before he asked. “Where does the difference between the past and the future come from?”

“Mine? Before you and after you,” The empath explained. “Yours? It's all starting to blur. Your mother and father, Abigail, Delmar...”

“How was Delmar when you saw him?” The doctor asked curiously.

“He pushed me and my brother off a train.”

Huesyth raised an eyebrow but he couldn’t hide the small smile on his face. “Atta boy.”

A breathy laugh escaped Bec’s nose. That felt right, an easy air between them that the empath hadn’t felt in so long. But his smile quickly fell and he wrung his hands in his lap as he questioned. “Why did you stab me?”

The question seemed to sober the mood almost instantly and Huesyth averted his eyes. “I saw you… but it wasn’t you. It was a figment of my imagination. A rather abusive one that managed to get out of my control. I tried to kill it.”

That must’ve been the copy of himself that he saw leave the room to go tangle with the wendigo out in the hall. “Instead you... killed them and you covered your tracks by killing Abigail.”

“I wasn’t covering my tracks,” Huesyth answered quickly. “I was… covering the cracks in my chest.”

A heavy sigh escaped the empath’s lips as his eyes went back to the painting. “It seems that you and I have begun to blur.”

“Isn't that how you found me?”

It wasn’t that hard for the empath to find him. Bec had walked the same halls as Huesyth did, felt the floor below his feet that his father’s blood had soaked into. He listened to everyone in Huesyth’s life say that they watched the monster from the time he was born but did nothing. He held every memory he uncovered close to his chest like they were sacred but they burned him. They burned that last shred of humanity or rational thinking that still clung to him. He shouldn’t want to be with Huesyth anymore, not after all the painful things the doctor had done to him.

“Every crime of yours... feels like one I am guilty of,” Bec admitted, to himself and to the doctor. “Not just Abigail's murder, every murder... stretching backward and forward in time.”

“Freeing yourself from me and... me freeing myself from you, they are the same.”

Bec finally turned back to the taller man, his eyes softening as their gazes locked. “Huesyth… I don’t want to free myself from you. We're conjoined. I'm curious whether either of us can survive separation.”

“Now is the hardest test: not letting rage and frustration... nor forgiveness, keep you from thinking.”

They kept their gazes locked onto each other before Huesyth finally looked away, closing his sketchbook with the pencil inside. He went to stand but the empath made the split-second decision to reach a hand out to stop him. Only briefly surprised, the doctor looked at the hand and then at Bec before he let himself be gently lowered back down onto the bench. For a long moment, Bec only studied the other man’s bruised and cut up face before moving his hand up to cup Huesyth’s jaw. He tipped his head and kissed Huesyth’s mouth, their lips barely brushing together.

It was soft, almost innocent in comparison to the last brutal slam of teeth and tongues they shared within the dusty darkness of the catacombs. They reveled in it, the simple affection of just resting their hands on each other as Huesyth set his sketchbook aside on the bench. Bec pulled back only slightly to stare into Huesyth’s eyes, gauging his reaction and wondering if he was making the right decision in allowing this to happen. But he was pulled back in like he so often was and let Huesyth deepen their kissing, his tongue dragging against Bec’s. It was as if he’d been starved for Bec’s lips.

He let out a whimper when the sharp points of Huesyth’s canines just lightly drug across Bec’s bottom lip. But Bec let out a harsh breath as he pulled back again.

“Can I…” The empath trailed off as his hand moved slowly down Huesyth’s stomach, pushing the heel of his palm against the bulge at the front of the doctor’s pants. The taller man raised a curious eyebrow at him before his eyes nervously went to the open door of the room they were in. “It’s fine. There’s no one around.”

“I don’t think that makes it fine,” Huesyth reminded him but Bec shot him a glare. “Whatever you want.” 

The empath nodded and he eased himself out of his seat, down onto his knees on the hard floor in front of Huesyth. He stroked lightly over the doctor’s clothed thighs, palms warm and his cheek rubbing against the bulge between the taller man’s legs.

Bec’s breath spread and seeped into the fabric of Huesyth’s pants like liquid heat and the empath worked quickly in undoing the man’s belt and zipper. Finally, Bec pulled the offending underwear down enough for Huesyth’s cock to be bared to the chilled air, planting a few wet kisses to the tip.

“Ah, Bec… ” Huesyth muttered.

The empath made a pleased sound around his mouthful as he slid the length of Huesyth’s cock into the tight heat of his mouth. He was always so surprised with himself over how much he seemed to enjoy that particular act. But there was something so empowering about how he’d draw it out with teasing kisses and licks, only enough to make the doctor come apart at the seams. He missed it. He missed all of it.

Dark eyelashes curved down against Bec’s cheeks as his hands stayed firmly on either of Huesyth’s thighs, slowly taking his cock deeper. Huesyth rested a gentle hand on the empath’s cheek, avoiding any of the cuts or tender bruises, as the younger man pulled back enough to run his tongue up the length. The empath shuffled closer, kissing the tip of his cock once again before opening his mouth to take it back between his lips.

“You’re so beautiful, lovely,” Huesyth whispered breathlessly, stroking his other hand through Bec’s curls.

Eyes looking up briefly, Bec blinked once as if he was surprised before his cheeks seemed to flush a dark shade of pink. An endearing color as Bec took his cock as he deep as he could until he felt it bump the back of his throat. Reflexively, Bec’s hands tightened on the doctor’s thighs before he pulled out entirely to draw a ragged breath, just one before he guided the dick back between his lips. Bec’s throat seemed to tighten as he tried to swallow around the large mass in his mouth which drew a breathy groan from the doctor.

Bec,” Huesyth sighed, his hand tightening in Bec’s hair.

The empath moaned around the length and Huesyth couldn’t hold back anymore. His orgasm seemed to pulse through him as he spilled into the younger man’s mouth. But Bec stayed still as the doctor came, his hands finally loosening around the taller man’s legs when he pulled back. With his hair mussed and cheeks a sinful shade of pink, Bec swiped a tongue over his lips to clean the excess cum from them.

Rearing up, Bec pressed their lips together again as he pulled Huesyth’s pants back together, tucking away his softening dick and buckling his belt. The empath pulled away, their mouths lingering over each other’s as Bec scanned his lover’s face.

Before he lost his nerve, Bec murmured. “Take me with you.”

Huesyth furrowed his brow and he seemed almost confused by what Bec was telling him until realization hit him. Cupping the doctor’s face in his hands, the empath held his gaze, pleading. “We can leave here. Run away like we were supposed to before anyone can find us.”

“They’ll find us…” Huesyth replied, brain still trying to catch up.

Bec scoffed softly. “That’s because you managed to piss off every cop in the city.”

There was a moment of quiet before Huesyth rested his hands on Bec’s hips. “You’re serious?”

“I shouldn’t want you but… but I can’t imagine life without you.” The empath's hands tightened into fists. "And if you leave me again I might just shove you in front of a train."

Bec nudged their foreheads together before Huesyth suddenly stood, straining with his injured calf as he did. He looked down at the younger man, studying if he was truthful. “Shall we?”

A smile came to Bec’s face, taking one last look at the Primavera. “After you.”

Together, they exited the gallery the way that they had come, moving through the streets and the people scattered about expertly. Bec let Huesyth lead them despite the fact that he had no idea where they were going from there. But he wasn’t paying attention when they finally arrived at some apartment building that the empath didn’t recognize. He gave the taller man a raised brow when they stepped into the elevator but Huesyth didn’t explain until they were entering one of the apartments.

“We won’t be here long,” Huesyth explained quickly, closing the door behind them and moving into the dark home.

Bec’s eyes scanned over the inside of the place, fingers running gently over some of the decors and collected a bit of dust. Someone hadn’t been home in a while. The empath followed after where he’d seen Huesyth disappear to and found himself before a long dining room table, the doctor near the other end.

“Whose apartment is this?” Bec asked, smoothing his hands over the back of the chair at the head of his end of the table.

Huesyth perked up as he rummaged through a small suitcase before averting his eyes. “It belonged to a man I worked with at the museum.”

“Past tense?” Bec noticed and Huesyth gave him a small, one-shoulder shrug before stepping away again and tossing the suitcase into another room. “Why exactly are we here, Huesyth? It just feels like we’re wasting time.”

“Have a seat, my dear,” Huesyth told as he left the dining room.

He was moving quickly around the space, sporadic. Almost worrying but Bec shockingly calm as he walked the length of the table and sat at the other head of the table. Picking at the white linen, he watched Huesyth as he rushed around the apartment, returning to the dining room every now and then to set the table. Dishes and silverware, glasses and folded napkins. Finally, Huesyth sighed and slipped into the chair to Bec’s right. He observed his work, shoulders still tense as if ready for a fight.

“I don't indulge much in regret, but... I am sorry to be leaving Italy. There were things in the Palazzo Capponi I would have liked to read. I would have liked to play the clavier... and perhaps compose.” Huesyth turned his attention solely to the empath, reaching out a hand to rest on top of Bec’s. “I would have liked to show you Florence, Bec.”

“I’ve seen enough here,” Bec offered. “I’d like to see something new now.”

A small smile graced the doctor’s face. “And I will gladly be your guide from here.”

The empath’s eyes were drawn to a third-place setting at the other end of the table. “Are we expecting company?”

 

“Are you sure this is where they’d be?”

The older agent doubled checked the address that he’d written down. It was right but that didn’t ease Amaund anymore. “This is the apartment of Huesyth’s last known suspected victim. A Professor Sogliato.”

Amaund offered a small shrug. “...Well, we don’t have anywhere else to go.”

They slipped into the lobby, intricate golden decor giving it a warm but expensive feeling. Amaund could only imagine the bill for renting a place like that. The pair moved to the directory displayed on the wall and found the name ‘SOGLIATO -- 7B’ among the list before they moved into the elevator. Jack pressed the button marked with the number seven but as they let the door begin to slide shut, a gloved hand reached out to stop it. The door was forced open again and standing on the other side was someone that made the taller man freeze.

Delmar stepped into the elevator with a long case in his hands. He met eyes with Amaund only briefly, body tensing before he was drawn to the agent by his side. They moved aside for the new occupant and Delmar pressed himself against the farthest wall, pressing the button for the very top floor almost out of instinct. The elevator lurched to life and the cramped space only felt smaller with the amount of tension filling it mostly between Amaund and their new occupant. The taller man was drilling a hole into the side of Delmar’s skull with his glare and he could see the way the shorter man shifted uncomfortably under the gaze.

It felt like hours passed before the elevator door made a cheerful ding and finally opened, Jack immediately stepped out but looked back curiously when he noticed that Amaund wasn’t by his side. “I’ll check with the front desk to see if anyone has come or gone since Sogliato’s disappearance.”

Before Jack could speak against it, Amaund’s hand stuck out to press the lobby button again, standing deathly still until the door closed again and then he slammed Delmar into the wall of the elevator.

The shorter man let out a grunt as the wind was basically knocked out of him, his head snapping back against the wall. But he wasn’t even allowed to protest before Amaund shoved his forearm against Delmar’s throat.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Amaund growled.

“I-I’m sorry, Amau-” Delmar tried to apologize but the arm over his throat pressed harder, cutting off his words along with his breath.

“Sorry isn’t good enough! You threw me and my brother off a goddamn train, Delmar.”

The shorter man shook his head, struggling to swallow around the arm. “I’m so sorry. I… I had to face him. I had to know.”

Amaund furrowed his brow at the other man, studying him, and Delmar flinched when Amaund suddenly yanked his arm back. He expected a punch or being pulled back and tossed into the wall again but instead, two hands clasped the sides of his head. He was pulled up and his lips were attacked with harsh kisses, teeth taking hold of his bottom lip and biting down enough to pierce his skin. The twinge of pain collided with the feeling of Amaund slipping his thigh between Delmar’s legs, pressing up against the growing bulge in his pants.

A moan slipped from between his lips but Amaund smothered any sound that could escape. He brought his hands up to tangle in the front of Amaund’s shirt, pulling him ever closer if it was possible.

“I’m sorry,” Delmar mumbled against the taller man’s lips. “I’m sorry... I’m so sorry.”

“Shhh,” Amaund hushed gently. “You’re okay… We’re okay now.”

The cheerful ding resounded again and Amaund sighed heavily as the door slid open to reveal another empty hallway of the top floor. “Did you need to get off, sugar?”

“No. Only clicked that button ‘cause you guys had chosen the floor I needed.”

Amaund scoffed, pressing their lips together sweetly again as the door slid shut again.

 

Their trap was set and he was told that all there was left to do was wait. But they didn’t have to wait long because soon he could hear the front door of the apartment being pushed open. The empath allowed himself to go limp in his chair, letting his head lull barely moments before a dark shape moved in the doorway.

It was Jack, arms out with his gun drawn in front of him. The older agent stopped nearly cold in his tracks when he noticed the empath, scanning the room quickly for any sign of Huesyth before approaching Bec at the other end of the table. The only sound in the apartment was a distant sizzling from the kitchen.

“Bec…” Cautiously, Jack neared Bec, resting a careful hand on his shoulder as the empath stirred and blinked.

“He’s under the table, Jack.”

Before Jack could react, an arm shot out from the dark under the table and sliced his Achilles heel. He dropped hard onto the floor next to Bec as the empath stumbled out of his chair to swiftly plant his shoe in the older agent’s face, knocking him out. Huesyth crawled out from under the table and made quick work of binding the older agent to the chair at the other end of the table. He hooked him up to an IV drip that the younger man didn’t bother asking what was it was. But the empath kept his eyes on Jack as Huesyth left to tend to the burners in the kitchen and that allowed him to watch Jack begin to come to, making a motion to move his face before sudden fear wracked when he realized he couldn’t move.

The doctor returned to witness this as well. “I've taken the liberty of giving you something to help you relax. Won't be able to do much more than chew, but that's all you'll need to do.”

“Huesyth…” Jack began softly. “You can have me but let Bec go.”

The doctor gave the agent a curious expression. “But why would I let him go? He’s exactly where he’s chosen to be.”

Jack looked at the empath, confused and nearly devastated. “Bec…”

“You were supposed to die in my house, Jack,” Huesyth cut in firmly, drawing the older agent’s attention back to him. “Not our children.”

Averting his eyes as they began to water, Jack went to the empath. He questioned softly. “Do you think this is justice?”

The younger man could feel his hands starting to shake at his sides before he took up his glass of wine, downing the last bit of the drink. He didn’t look back to Jack when murmured. “Justice is just revenge in a prettier package.”

The doctor must have noticed how uncomfortable Bec was getting and smoothly changed the subject. “Oh, I didn't have an opportunity to ask you during our last encounter, but did you enjoy the exhibition? A different kind of evil minds museum…”

“Not that different,” Jack sighed. “We were supposed to sit down together at your house in Baltimore, just the three of us.”

“You were to be the guest of honor,” Huesyth reminded as he took the empty glass from the empath and refilled it from the bottle.

Bec gratefully took a sip from the now full glass. “But the menu was all wrong.”

Putting down the bottle, Huesyth retrieved a diabolical-looking electric bone saw. He looked up to address the empath when Bec swallowed heavily at the sight of it. “Jack was the first to suggest getting inside your head. Now, we both have the opportunity to get inside of his. Chewing literally what we could only chew figuratively.”

With the flick of a switch, the saw buzzed to life in his hand, the blade whirring quickly. Wielding it, Huesyth approached Jack to stand behind him but before he continued, he held out his empty hand to the empath. Bec’s eyes went to the saw but then to the offered hand before he hesitantly accepted it, allowing the doctor to pull him closer.

“Huesyth…” Jack begged softly. “ Stop.

But the doctor pressed Bec back against his chest and allowed the empath to take hold of the saw instead. He kept his hand over Bec’s to begin guiding the whirling blade towards Jack’s forehead. Bec knew his hands were shaking unsteadily but Huesyth held him firmly but then the blade actually nicked slightly at Jack’s skin. A dark line of blood leaked over his brow before Bec shook his head, yanking his hand back along with Huesyth’s.

“No. No , Huesyth. I can’t do it,” Bec quivered as he flicked the saw off, tossing it onto the table in front of them and stepping away.

At the younger man’s reluctance, the doctor quickly followed and rested a hand on Bec’s arm to keep him from completely leaving. “Bec, wait-” “I can’t do this, Huesyth.”

“It’s fine, lovely,” Huesyth soothed, cupping Bec’s jaw with one hand. “Everything’s fine. I’ll handle everything.”

But then came a loud clatter, a stampede of approaching footsteps that had both of them looking back towards the doorway that led out into the hall.

 

The smell of dead meat filled his nose but the compartment they were in was too dark for the empath to tell where it was coming from. All he really knew is that his hands and feet were tied so that he could be strung upside down by what felt like a hook.

A meat hook, his mind supplied. For pigs and cattle.

Finally, the truck lurched to a stop, making them swing back and forth on their hooks. A sudden clang reverberated inside as the door was unlocked and opened, a gust of frosted air rushing out of the refrigerated truck as light flooded inside. As his vision cleared he found Huesyth swinging on the hook next to him, surrounded by pig carcasses on similar hooks. An electric whirring caught Bec’s attention and he focused his blurred vision on a shape moving outside of the truck until Mason Verger appeared. The sound being his electric wheelchair he was sitting in and his grotesquely scarred face seemed to pull up in a lipless smile, looking between them with great satisfaction.

“Gentlemen, welcome to Muskrat Farm.”

Chapter Text

“It’s fine, lovely,” Huesyth soothed, cupping Bec’s jaw with one hand. “Everything’s fine. I’ll handle everything.”

But then came a loud clatter, a stampede of approaching footsteps that had both of them looking back towards the doorway that led out into the hall. Then emerged the armed figures of five Italian policemen, each holding their guns on the two standing by the table.

“Do what they say. Whatever they say,” Huesyth whispered and Bec nodded quickly.

“Sono un ufficiale del FBI. Ascoltami. Mi chiamo Jack Crawford,” Jack tried to say to the officers but they weren’t listening, all attention on the two who weren’t strapped down. “Sono un ufficiale dell' FBI! Ascoltami! Ascoltami…”

But a man stepped out from the group, one that didn’t have his gun immediately drawn and smiled at Jack when he met eyes with him. The two being threatened slowly laced their hands behind their heads and slid down onto their knees.

“Commendator Benetti…” Jack named. “Don't imagine you're here to make an arrest.”

“No. You imagine correctly,” Benetti chuckled before he turned to the men on their knees.

He nodded once and one of the armed police stepped forward and slammed the butt of their gun against the back of Huesyth’s head. Dropping to the ground heavily, the men quickly subdue the doctor, zip-tying his hands behind his back. Benetti’s eyes landed on the empath, staring in horror as Huesyth had a bag shoved over his head. 

“Take Cavalli and this one. He'll pay us double for both.”

Bec didn’t see anyone approach him but he guessed that he wasn’t supposed to. He didn’t feel pain bloom on the back of his own head before his vision went dark.

 

The first unrecognizable shape he saw in the room once the crowd cleared had a bullet put through his head. His partner flinched, taking the next bullet in the shoulder as he spun away before the third hit him right in the forehead.

“What are you shooting at exactly?” Amaund snapped from his side as he finished buttoning his shirt back up.

Delmar lowered the rifle from his sight, his foot resting on the edge of the adjacent building. “We need to go back over there.”

Amaund was confused, he often was but he let the shorter man lead him back over to the apartments they had left. They took the stairs instead of the elevator but when they arrived, the door to the apartment of Sogliato was partially ajar. Raising the rife, Delmar let the door creak open and he stepped into the home with Amaund moving in close behind him. The pair scanned the dark room they found themselves in until their eyes landed on the two dead bodies and the back of the head of a man in one of the chairs at the dinner table.

“Agent Crawford?” Amaund questioned, his confusion evident in his tone.

The man still living perked up only slightly at the voice. “Amaund?”

Christ, ” Amaund hissed, pushing passed Delmar to go to Jack’s side to observe the bloody stream going down from a gash in his forehead. “What the hell happened?”

“Would you mind pulling this needle out of my neck?” Jack asked, oddly calm for the type of situation he was in.

But when Amaund’s hand went up to remove the needle, Delmar demanded softly. “ Wait.

The taller man’s eyes went to Delmar as the man stepped forward into Jack’s view, rifle still raised. “Where did they take them?”

Jack scanned Delmar, recognition finally settling in. “You’re the man who was in the museum that night.”

Delmar narrowed his eyes questioningly. “You really don’t remember me, do you?” Jack raised his brows as if to ask ‘Am I supposed to?’ “Huesyth’s party on the night that Abel Gideon disappeared.”

Suddenly, a wave of memories seemed to filter back to Jack. the pair could tell when Jack could finally put a name to the face. “Delmar Cavalli. The older brother.” The agent’s eyes peered around at the two bodies around them. “Did you do this?”

“Of course.”

“I appreciate it,” Jack thanked.

“Save your thanks until we all make it out of this alive,” Delmar told as he finally lowered his rifle. He asked again. “Where did they take them?”

Jack sighed. “They are most likely taking them back to the U.S. To Maryland. I can even tell you the exact address once you've pulled this needle out of my neck.”

“Then what?” Delmar snapped.

“My ‘then what’ consists of getting out of Florence alive, since I'm supposed to be dead... which puts me in no position to stop whatever it is you intend on starting.”

“We don’t intend on starting anything,” Amaund interrupted them. “We’re ending it.”

The taller man matched eyes with Delmar before the shorter man gave him a nod. Amaund pulled the IV needle from Jack’s neck with a gush of the clear liquid. The older agent cringed in pain but besides that, made no move to do anything else.

“Where?” Delmar demanded.

“Muskrat Farm. The Verger estate near the Susquehanna River in northern Maryland.”

The two swiftly prepare to leave but not before Amaund took a gun out of one of the dead officer’s holsters and laid it on the table in front of Jack. He’d need it when he could move again.

 

Finally, the truck lurched to a stop, making them swing back and forth on their hooks. A sudden clang reverberated inside as the door was unlocked and opened, a gust of frosted air rushing out of the refrigerated truck as light flooded inside. 

As his vision cleared he found Huesyth swinging on the hook next to him, surrounded by pig carcasses on similar hooks. An electric whirring caught Bec’s attention and he focused his blurred vision on a shape moving outside of the truck until Mason Verger appeared. The sound being his electric wheelchair he was sitting in and his grotesquely scarred face seemed to pull up in a lipless smile, looking between them with great satisfaction.

“Gentlemen, welcome to Muskrat Farm.”

“Your people might have assassinated me in Florence, Mason,” Huesyth quipped next to him.

“Where's the fun in that?” Mason mused as his wheelchair approached them, shadowed by a balding man. In the one hand that Mason could still use, he twirled a shining steel knife. “I still keep my father's knife, ever ready to slip into a pig's back to check the depth of the fat. Cordell, if you would.”

The man shadowing Mason around them to stand behind Huesyth, turning the doctor on his hook so that Mason could come ever closer and press the blade of the knife into Huesyth’s lower back. But the doctor didn’t flinch at the pain or the blood it drew. Disappointed by the lack of reaction, Mason drew the knife back to check the blood. “A little lean, I think. Maybe we should fatten you up, shall we?”

The two prisoners were lowered from their hooks and bound in two hand trucks as they were wheeled through the pig barn, all the while listening to Mason spiel on. “It is more trouble to move a semi-wild pig against its will than it is to kidnap a man.”

They came to the center of a circle of pig pens, Huesyth and Bec brought to either side. Apart but facing one another.

Cordell commented to his boss. “Pigs are harder to get a hold of and big ones are stronger than a man.”

“There are the tusks to consider if you want to maintain the integrity of your abdomen.” Mason wheeled closer to the groggy-looking empath as the two hand trucks were shackled to the walls. Despite the fact that his face could barely emote, Bec could tell that there was a proud smirk on his nonexistent lips. “Something worth maintaining, Mr. Reyes. Tusked beasts instinctively disembowel but I don’t think they so casually kill their own young in the womb.”

The empath stared, unimpressed by the heir’s attempt of cruel amusement at their expense but Mason didn’t care. Mason wheeled over to the doctor next. “At swine fairs, I've seen exotic pigs from all over the world. You are the best of all that I've seen. We are going to have some good, funny times, Dr. Cavalli.”

The heir moved away, leaving the two prisoners at the mercy of a team of Verger servants. The bloody clothes they’d been stewing in the past couple of days were finally stripped from them and replaced with pressed dress shirts, jackets, and ties. It was as if they were being dressed for a dinner party and Bec’s guess was proven right when their hand trucks were wheeled into an extravagant dining room. The carts were folded down so that they were in a seated position before their respective place settings.

The doctor looked as dapper as usual in the suit and tie they had dressed him in, almost like his old self. The heir and Huesyth were on either head of the table with Bec sat in the middle on Huesyth’s left side. Unlike the empath, Huesyth was left with his right hand free to move, much like how Mason was paralyzed.

“I snatched Jack Crawford right out of your mouth,” Mason commented to Huesyth from his end. “You must be famished.”

Cordell, the one who had been shadowing Mason all night, stepped up to Huesyth’s side to place a tray of oysters before the doctor. Huesyth only glanced at the mollusks before returning his eyes to Mason.

“There is an inescapable parallel between you and Jezebel, Mason. As keen of a Bible student that you are, you'll recall dogs ate Jezebel's face, along with the rest of her.”

“Dogs, not snakes. If Jezebel was right with the risen Jesus, the Riz would have provided her with a new face, as He has provided mine.” Mason’s eyes turned to Bec, sitting quietly between them as they snapped at each other. “The transplant surgery is extremely skillful, which is why Cordell here will be performing the face-off.”

Cordell placed another tray in front of Mason before straightening up and sending a creepy smile the empath’s way. “Hello.”

A shiver ran through Bec’s body as Cordell stepped away again and disappeared out of sight.

“You boys remind me of that German cannibal who advertised for a friend and then ate him and his penis before he died,” Mason began to retell. “Tragedy being, the penis was overcooked. Go to all that trouble to eat a friend and you overcook his penis. They ate it anyway. They had to, they committed . But they didn't enjoy it. I'm committed to enjoying every bite of you.”

Realization washed over Bec like ice water being poured down his spine. “You're going to eat him... with my face?”

“Yes. I thought it was only right to have the last face he sees be the one of his favorite bitch,” Mason answered. “I got a taste for it after you two had me eat my nose.”

Out of the corner of his eye, the empath could see Huesyth’s face darken before the doctor added. “You must be terribly proud that you could even pull this off. It's dangerous to get exactly what you want. What will you do after you've eaten me?”

“You could wreck some foster homes and torment some children...” Bec muttered darkly.

Mason hummed slightly at the sarcastic suggestion. “Oh, I'll drink martinis made with their tears.”

“But where, Mason, would the hard-core fun truly come from? The preparation? The consuming itself?” Huesyth asked.

Mason clicked his tongue as Cordell reentered the room from what seemed to be the hall to the kitchen. “It's foolish to dilute such ecstatic time as this with fears about the future.” The heir’s eyes lingered to the empath again. “Uh, Cordell, Mr. Reyes is looking very dry. A little moisturizer, please.”

Bec immediately tensed as the man stepped away to retrieve the container as the doctor cut in again. “I'm curious… what will be the first cuts of me you'll serve?”

“The first course will be your hands and feet, sizzling on a Promethean barbecue,” Cordell answered as he prepared the moisturizer. “The coal is white and very hard, makes a clear ringing sound when struck.”

Huesyth stared at Cordell a moment, sneering a bit as he loomed over Bec, before he looked back to Mason, amused. “You've thought of everything.”

“And after that, we'll have a little pajama party, you and I. You can be in shorties by then. Cordell is going to keep you alive for a very long time.”

Now holding the container, Cordell leaned down at Bec’s side to apply it. But the empath’s head jerked up fast and he locked his teeth into the flesh of Cordell’s cheek. The balding man growled loudly in shock, pushing the bloody-mawed Bec off of him but letting him take a chunk of his cheek with him. He spat the ragged piece of skin onto the empty plate in front of him, leaving a red smear as it lay there like a personal insult. Cordell clutched at his bloody cheek, shaking with pain and rage as he glared at the empath.

“Well, no pajama party for you, Mr. Reyes,” Mason groused and Bec met eyes with Huesyth who seemed far too happy for their situations. “We're gonna feed you to the pigs as soon as Cordell has removed your face... in a much more civilized fashion than you just tried to remove his.”

The empath coughed, spitting the disgusting taste out of his mouth and onto the floor as another pair of men returned to wheel Huesyth away again.

 

The white-hot metal disk was pressed just below his shoulders, at the center of his back, and the sounds were immediate. His flesh sizzling loudly as it was burned and the scent of smoke and cooking skin floated to his nose. He didn’t react, barely flinched, just let the pain rush through him because there wasn’t much he could do about it. His hands were tied above his head, stripped naked and left bound inside one of the square pig pens out in the barn to be tormented.

Cordell, on the other hand, had his face freshly stitched with his reattached skin that Bec had torn off. The skin around where the teeth sunk in was mottled with purple and black bruises and he knew it would only get worse. Cordell poked at the coals with the branding iron that had the Verger family crest printed on it, sculpted from iron.

“Mason would've preferred to brand your face,” Cordell explained just out of Huesyth’s sight. “He fought bravely and with his own funds against the Humane Slaughter Act, and managed to keep face-branding legal.”

“It's very important to Mason that I have the pig's experience,” Huesyth conceded but his voice sounded bored.

Finally, Cordell moved into Huesyth’s line of sight, beyond the walls of the pen and the doctor’s reach. “Mason has done beautiful things with these creatures. Very special. Truly visionary.”

“He has a wealth of information and resources in his faceless skull,” The doctor spat.

Cordell quirked an unimpressed brow at the comment against his boss’s hideous face but Huesyth just smiled back. “The longer you stay respectful, the longer you'll keep your tongue.”

“And when I do lose my tongue?” Huesyth inquired curiously.

“I'll boil it and slice it very thin, marinate it in olive oil, garlic, parsley, and vinegar.”

Huesyth cocked his head slightly, the most he could do with his arms forced above his head. “Simple and clean... and delicious.”

“Have they told you the drill?” Cordell asked and the doctor gave him a confused look. “The drill is, in a few hours, I'll come down here and remove everything you have below the elbows and knees. I'll keep you going with IVs and tourniquets until the very last. Some things are best saved for last. Once you're dead, I'll prepare your loins and ribs... aged.”

Huesyth was unaffected by the promises of his own death. If anything, he was all the more intrigued. “Meats are aged not only for tenderness but mainly for flavor.”

“And flavors change. Every day I'll feed Mason some new part of you,” Cordell promised with a thin smirk and empty eyes. “And don't you worry, Dr. Cavalli, you will always be cooked to perfection .”

 

He was left alone at the dining room table, blood still smearing his lips and chin and leaving a horrible aftertaste in his mouth no matter how much he tried to spit it out. Bec wasn’t told when Mason would need him for surgery so all he could do was wait.

Wait for the inevitability of his own death. Seemed like the story of his life.

There was movement out of the corner of his eye and he fought back his urge to flinch when he thought it would be one of the Verger servants or Cordell with his mangled face coming back to finish the job. But it wasn’t either.

Instead, Alana stood in the doorway to the dining room in a dark-colored pantsuit, using her cane to limp into the room, assessing him as she approached the table.

After the fear subsided, all that was left was confusion. “What are you doing here?”

“I'm Mason Verger's psychiatrist,” She answered calmly. Her voice was strained though, emotion leaking through.

A small scoff escaped the empath’s bloody lips, nothing but breath. He wasn’t nearly as calm as her. “Oh... Is this part of his therapy or yours?”

“I think we're all working through some issues. I'm putting an emphasis on self-preservation,” Alana explained, sitting in one of the vacant chairs to take the weight off her injuries. She looked across the table at the man, bound up and blood-covered like a wild animal, and revealed. “Jack's alive.”

“Good for Jack,” Bec huffed before matching eyes with Alana. “You helped Mason Verger find us.”

“I helped Mason find Huesyth ,” Alana corrected firmly. “We followed Bâtard-Montrachet when we should have just followed you.”

“Almost as ugly as what Mason wants to do to us is the fact that he can do it with the tacit agreement of people sworn to uphold the law.”

But Alana wasn’t letting him get under her skin the way that he wanted to. She had put up with far too much from Mason to allow that to happen. “I was trying to get to Huesyth before you. I knew you couldn't stop yourself, so I had to try.”

“By facilitating torture and death,” The empath added.

“I can bear the thought of Huesyth tortured, not necessarily to death. I'd say he has it coming, wouldn't you?” But she stared at him a moment longer, before finally blinking as if to remind herself just who she was speaking to. “Or maybe you wouldn't.”

Bec cocked his head slightly, narrowing his eyes. “What did you think would happen?”

“I thought Jack Crawford and the FBI would come to the rescue.” Wishful thinking that even Bec wanted to happen in the past but both of them knew better. “But the finer details of what I thought would happen have evolved.”

“Then you have to evolve with them, Alana,” Bec implored. “It's the only way to survive. You have to spill blood. Either by your own hand or... someone else's.”

 

The pigs around him snorted, kicking at the walls of their cages in frustration over their cramped spaces. But Huesyth was bound in his own pigpen, the brand burn remained raw and livid on his back. His neck, arms, and legs were tied to each corner of the cage as he was forced onto his knees. He strained against his binds to glance over his shoulder at an Italian police officer near the door, a tranquilizer gun on the table beside him.

“Buonasera, signor,” A woman’s voice greeted.

The officer perked up as she entered, tipping his head to the passing woman. “Buonasera, Signorina Verger.”

A moment later, delicate, heeled feet came to a standstill in front of Huesyth’s face. It was all he could see due to the ropes around his neck.

“Thank you for coming, Margot,” Huesyth acknowledged, his voice straining against the stress on his limbs. “Hasn't been that long since I treated you. Have you started taking the chocolate, as Mason likes to say, after you fought him for so long?”

“Are we in therapy now?” Margot asked with a slight chuckle at the end. Her voice trailed off and he could practically imagine how her smile withered away from her face.

He stared at her shoes and prompted. “You tell me.”

Hesitantly, Margot lowered herself onto her knees as if preparing to pray and finally Huesyth could see her more clearly. He could distinguish a flurry of micro emotions. Doubt, fear, anger, and there was something else that she probably hadn’t felt in years. Something far more buried. Hope.

“Mason promised to give something back to me,” Margot divulged to the captive man. “Something that he stole. There was a surrogate all along. It's a Verger baby. My baby.”

“Mason will deny you,” Huesyth breathed out. “He will always deny you. If you truly want this then you know you'll have to kill him for it.”

“Are you saying you'd do it for me?” Margot questioned but her eyes were beginning to glisten with tears. “I could never trust you.”

Huesyth adjusted his weight on his knees. “No, of course not. But you could trust me never to deny that I did it. It would actually be more therapeutic for you to kill him yourself. You'll remember I recommended that in session. Several times.”

“Wait until I could get away with it, you said,” Margot reminded him.

“What difference would one more murder charge make to me?” The doctor questioned. “I'm the only other suspect you've got. You can do it when it suits you, and I'll write a letter gloating about how much I enjoyed killing him myself.”

He could see the cogs in her head turning as she considered his offer but before she could answer him, there came the sound of another set of heels and the click of a cane. Alana entered the barn as well, smiling at the police officer. “Buonasera.”

Before he could respond, Alana took up the tranquilizer gun and shot one of the darts into the officer’s neck. He dropped to the floor hard as Margot quickly stood and stared, dumbstruck.

“He has a pocket knife,” Huesyth told.

Without question, Alana retrieved said knife from the officer’s pocket, crossing the rest of the way to Huesyth’s pen. She stood over him briefly, taking in his embarrassing state before lowering herself into a crouch in front of him, leaning her cane against the pen.

“I was trying to save Bec from you. A useless plight, I know, but right now, you're the only one who can save him,” Alana explained, cold but desperate. “Promise me that you'll save him.”

Pulling his head up as far as he could, Huesyth stared silently. “I promise... And I always keep my promises, Alana. Just cut the ropes on one arm, give me the knife and leave. I can do the rest.”

Carefully, Alana stood and opened the pen door as Margot lingered behind her. She crouched again, blade resting against the rope but she didn’t slice it yet. Instead, she matched eyes with them. “Are you going to kill Mason?”

“Margot is,” Huesyth clarified. The other woman stiffened behind them, pulling her fur coat closer around herself.

Alana furrowed her brow at the doctor as if studying him. “Could I have ever understood you?”

“No,” Huesyth answered simply.

She glared at him before standing slightly, slicing through one of the ropes holding his left arm out. After placing the knife before him, Alana quickly stood back and moved out of his way to allow him to bite the rest of the rope off his wrist. He took up the knife, slicing off the ropes holding his neck and other hand before he stood from the pen. Rising up out of the confines and removing the thick leather collar from around his neck, Huesyth exhaled heavily as the weight was lifted from his shoulders. The beast had awoken from within the depths of the Verger mansion.

 

There was a sudden stillness and silence as the empath opened his eyes again to stare a hole into the operating room’s ceiling. Bec was stripped of his shirt, strapped to a gurney under a bright light with his head in a surgical vice holding him absolutely still. The only other sound besides the beeping heart monitor he was attached was that of the wheels of Mason’s wheelchair as he was rolled into the room. He mentally prepared himself for the chattering animal brought in.

“Now, Cordell told me if I waited long enough, he could grow me a new face from my own cells,” Mason began. “But I was adamant it was your face I wanted. I was looking at your face while you were watching me cut mine off and I thought, ‘Oh, that's a nice face’.”

“You're going under now, Mr. Verger,” Cordell expressed, dressed head to toe in blue hospital scrubs. “When you wake up, your face will be bound and uncomfortable.”

“Have you accepted Jesus, Mr. Reyes? Do you have faith? I do. I'm free! Hallelujah...” The heir went suddenly quiet but Bec couldn’t turn to see what exactly was happening.

A shadow fell across Bec's face as Cordell suddenly came closer, fussing around him over the settings of the monitors. A perfectionist. Before the empath saw the glint of a needle and felt the sudden pain of it entering his forearm.

“This will immobilize your body, but you'll feel everything,” Cordell explained, putting the syringe aside before cupping Bec’s jaw in his gloved hand. “I'm going to cut off your face without anesthesia, Mr. Reyes.”

That seemed to make the full horror set in and Cordell moved out of sight again. Bec’s arm began to go completely limp at his side no matter how hard he tried to move it against the restraints. Finally, his eyes went to the side as far as they could go and they found the shining steel edge of an assortment of surgical tools, glinting under the stark light in the dim room. Panic began to rise in his chest and he released a shaky breath.

The horrible excuse of a surgeon returned with a marker, putting black dashes around the perimeter of Bec’s face and jaw. But once he finished the marks, Cordell leaned in uncomfortably close. Close enough that Bec could feel the man’s warm breath on his cheek.

“You'll be sure to let me know if this hurts, won't you?” Cordell asked, as sadistically cruel as Mason himself.

Bec wished he could have spat in the man’s face or bit off his other cheek until he couldn’t stitch it back together. But all he could do was shake against his bonds and watch the glint of a scalpel as it was raised to his jaw and pressed into his skin. He felt the initial cut, the warmth of the line of blood that welled to the surface and began to drip down the side of his face. The pinprick of pain made him freeze in place.

What the empath couldn’t see was the dark shape moving into the room behind Cordell, dressed in dark clothes he had stolen and dripping with the blood of the other guards he had slaughtered. The monster that simultaneously haunted his dreams and inhabited a cherished crevice in his heart.

This monster quietly set aside the gore covered hammer in order to take up one of the sharpened knives resting on the tray of surgical instruments. A red-stained hand that was curiously devoid of any jagged claws reached out from the shadows and landed heavily on Cordell’s shoulder. Cordell flinched horribly, dropping the scalpel with a clatter to whip around and face whoever had scared him but stopped short when the knife was plunged into him just above his groin. The blade was pulled upwards with violent force, yanking and hacking through the organs and skin in its way as he was disemboweled by the blade.

Blood poured like a red waterfall, pooling around their feet and soaking their fronts before the knife finally stopped just because it couldn’t cut through the dense material of his collarbone. Cordell was choking on the blood bubbling out of his mouth, his hands gripping uselessly at Huesyth’s forearms as strength quickly left him. Huesyth yanked the knife out and all but tossed the man’s body to the side. It crashed to the floor of the operating room, his guts spilling, and Huesyth’s were immediately drawn to the empath strapped to the table.

He went to his side, reaching to hold Bec’s face but stopping barely inches before he touched him. His hands were stained, filthy with Cordell’s blood, and he pulled back again to instead undo the straps holding the empath down. But when he moved to the wrist restraints, his eyes found the jagged scar spanning Bec’s abdomen.

His own chest clenched as he stared at it. Feeling overwhelmed, the doctor couldn’t help himself, smoothing a bloody hand over the edges of it and smearing red across the empath’s stomach.

 

Delmar stared off into the snowy vista, his rifle resting in the crook of his arm as the world around him settled into dusk. An entire day had passed since he had found his brother emerging from the dark of the Verger mansion, cradling none other than Bec Reyes in his arms as he limped away. The rifle had only gone off twice, taken out two guards rushing after the pair as they escaped but that was two more bodies on his mind. He didn’t know how Huesyth could live with the number of bodies he had piled up.

Amaund and Delmar had driven them back to Bec’s abandoned house and since then, he hadn’t seen either his lover or his brother since they had gone to take care of Bec. He wasn’t horribly injured, but whatever drugs they had given seemed to had messed with his head. But it was fine. Delmar didn’t expect to see them until he saw FBI SUVs coming up over the hill.

But instead of the sound of tires against gravel, he heard the front door open behind him and he turned to find Huesyth standing on the porch, staring at him with his bruised up face. Quietly, the brothers scanned each other up and down as if they were looking at different people. Strangers almost.

“Will you go back home?” Huesyth finally asked him. “ Can you go back home?”

“No more than you can, Hue,” Delmar retorted. “When I went with you, I uprooted my entire life. Again. I have to face the consequences of that.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Delmar. None of it was ever your fault.”

But Delmar smiled and, though thin and entirely void of joy, it was the first one Huesyth had seen in a long time.

“That’s not entirely true. I’m not an idiot. I take full responsibility for my part in allowing this behavior of yours to continue.” Slowly, the older man shook his head. “I thought I understood you… but I don’t. At least I can admit it now but at one point I thought I should cage you.”

“Would you have watched over me?” Huesyth questioned.

“I would’ve… but some beasts shouldn’t be caged.”

Huesyth raised an eyebrow at his brother, this man who seemed so different than the one he’d taken to Italy with him. So different than the brother who had defended him for all those years they ran together. Delmar had played many parts over their years but his most convincing were always the heart and soul of the family. Despite the fact that the pieces of his heart were held together with superglue and bandages and his soul had been sucked out.

But the way he was then, standing on that porch with a rifle on his arm, was him at his rawest. That was his truest, most tired state of being and it made Huesyth chest ache in despair.

He never deserved any of it.

Huesyth sighed through his nose. “You don’t owe me anything.”

The older man shrugged slightly without taking his eyes off his brother. “I know.”

Delmar was sure of his answer and Huesyth could tell that he was. He knew where they needed to go and on that porch was where they were going to finally part ways for the first time in twenty-two years.

“The most stable elements, Delmar, appear in the middle of the periodic table, roughly between iron and silver.” Huesyth scanned his brother in all his tired glory and he smiled proudly. “Between iron and silver... I think that's appropriate for you.”

Before Delmar could respond, the door opened behind them and out stepped Amaund. He looked between the two brothers before settling on Huesyth. “He’s passed out.”

Huesyth offered one last look at his brother before nodding and stepping back into the house to leave the two alone on the porch. The taller man didn’t take his eyes off Delmar but he averted his gaze as soon as Amaund came into his view.

“What are you gonna do now?” Amaund asked gently, tucking his hands into his jacket pockets.

Not bothering in hiding his anxiety, Delmar shrugged. “I got no idea.”

“The FBI… You know they’ll probably be asking you questions too.”

Delmar nodded shakily with a breathy chuckle. “Kinda expected it considering I shot a couple of guys in front of an agent and then held him at gunpoint.”

Amaund, on the other hand, wasn't laughing. “I’ll take care of you… if you’ll let me.”

Eyes widening briefly, Delmar shifted his rifle in his arms to lower it more. “I got so much pain batting around inside my head. It wouldn’t be worth it to subject you to it too.”

But Amaund shook his head, stepping forward to hold the shorter man’s face in his hands like he was precious. “...I think it would be worth it, Delmar. Let me help you.”

A soft, relieved sigh escaped Delmar’s lips as he pressed more firmly into Amaund’s touch as if he was going to disappear. But he let the rifle slip out of his hands, clattering to the porch so that he could wrap his arms around the taller man. Amaund held him close, allowing him to soak up all of the warmth and love.

 

Consciousness seemed to filter back to him slowly. His eyes fluttered open and the first thing he noticed was that he could move again. He clutched his fists into the threadbare sheet beneath his hands and sighed gratefully at the feeling.

The next thing he noticed was the warmth that spread through him and that the nick on his jaw wasn’t hurting anymore.

He was in his home at Wolf Trap, in his bed with his own clothes on and a blanket tucked around his legs. For a brief, shining moment, he thought that maybe it really had all been a terrible nightmare that he’d finally woken up from. Bec sat up in bed, searching for an answer that could prove him wrong. But then it came in the form of the front door rattling as it was opened and in stepped Huesyth. The doctor was dressed in dark clothes that didn’t seem to fit him, his face still very much cut up and bruised. He still had a lingering weight on his shoulders.

“Huesyth?”

The taller man perked up at the sound of his name, sliding the door closed behind himself before moving into the bedroom to take a seat in the chair he had pulled in there. Huesyth crossed his legs much like how he did during their therapy sessions. “Do we talk about teacups and time and the rules of disorder?”

Bec sighed, leaning back against the wall. “Do we have to do this?”

He watched as Huesyth swallowed heavily. “I think it would be helpful.”

The empath couldn’t argue with that really and Bec finally let himself slip back into their old ways. “The teacup is broken. It's never going to gather itself back together again.”

“Not even in your mind?” Huesyth questioned, narrowing his eyes. “Your memory palace is building. It's... full of new things. It shares some rooms with my own. I've discovered you there. Victorious.”

A headache was beginning to bloom behind his eyes and Bec breathed out heavily through his nose. “When it comes to you and me, there is no decisive victory. Certainly no decisive victor.”

“We are in a zero-sum game?”

The empath took that in, took in the strangeness of his empty home and the fact of Huesyth sitting in it after everything he had done. “When they come for you… they will come for me too. I helped you get Jack in Florence, helped you incapacitate him, and nearly helped you saw his head open for us to eat. B-But if you leave now and let them take me instead… then maybe I can throw them off the trail while you get away.”

Huesyth seemed taken aback by even the suggestion of running again, of leaving Bec behind to pick up the pieces. “You’d have me abandon you again?”

“I’d have you get away from being locked in a cage, Huesyth,” Bec clarified. “The FBI will come whether we want them to or not. But they’ll be gentler on me if they think… that I have been manipulated all this time.”

The taller man’s face seemed to drop, as cold as steel. “You’d let them think of you the same as they will think of Bedelia.”

“Except I can do it a hell of a lot better,” Bec quickly added. “Our history adds depth… The twins add reason and your nature adds believability. It can work but you need to leave.”

“Do you want me to leave?” Huesyth asked as if he already knew the answer. But he didn’t.

“I want you to live . I want you to… end this,” Bec snapped before his voice began edging off into a whimper. “Please stop… I-If you love me, you’ll stop.”

Whatever petty anger that the doctor held seemed to melt away at the sight of Bec’s desperation but he averted his eyes, his gaze downcasted from the empath. “You delight in our wickedness and then berate yourself for the delight.”

But the younger man shook his head sadly. “You delight. I tolerate. I just… I don’t have your appetite.”

Huesyth sighed, soft and dejected, before standing but before he could leave, the empath shot out a hand to grip the doctor’s arm. He was softly tugged down by his jacket lapels and Bec pressed a gentle kiss against his lips. A kiss full of longing and expectations lost to the wind. Bec moved his hands up to hold his former lover’s face tenderly, pulling back only enough to look into the doctor’s eyes.

“Goodbye, Huesyth.”

The doctor said nothing else and Bec couldn’t place the expression he saw on his face. Slowly, Huesyth slipped out of the man’s hands and left the house.

He was alone again. Amaund leaving with Delmar soon after. He had no idea where Huesyth had gone or how he left but it didn’t matter because as long as he was gone, he was safe. Bec shouldn't want him to be safe but he would have time to be frustrated with himself later on.

It was only a couple hours later when the lights shined through his living room windows and Bec took a deep breath before he emerged out onto the porch. Snow swirled around them as armed agents jump out of the vehicles, armed and ready and moving towards the house. Until Jack passed through the front headlights of one of the SUVs, head freshly stitched and bandaged and walking with the assistance of a cane. The two stared at one another as Bec came to a stop at the edge of the porch, some of the agents entering the house in search of the doctor.

“He's gone, Jack,” Bec offered calmly.

The disappointment on Jack’s face was immeasurable as he hit the point of his cane against the ground in frustration. The Chesapeake Ripper had slipped through their fingers again and Bec buried the elation that made him feel.

“Jack!” Came a shout and Bec couldn’t help but flinch as every pair of eyes flashed toward the sound. A second later, Huesyth emerged from beyond the trees, arms outstretched above his head, almost welcoming. “I'm here.”

Every available agent immediately circled him, their guns were drawn as Huesyth came to a stop a few feet in front of the older agent and kneeled on the ground at his feet.

“You finally caught the Chesapeake Ripper, Jack,” Huesyth told.

Unconvinced and still laced with disappointment, Jack shook his head as he stared down at the doctor. “I didn't catch you, you surrendered.”

“I want you to know exactly where I am.” Huesyth’s eyes were drawn to the empath, still staring in confusion and heartbreak from the porch at the scene, and he offered a sly smile. “And where you can always find me.”

But Bec didn’t stare for very much longer. The expression on his face hardened as quickly as it came to him, he took a step backward before he turned and escaped back into his home.

Chapter Text

THREE YEARS LATER

The glass was filled, slow and ceremonious, the liquid of the white wine glittering like crystal in the low light of the office. After taking a deep whiff of the wine, he adjusted his tie, plaid like the rest of his suit. One that looked so much like the ones he used to wear in his life before.

“Bâtard-Montrachet and Tartuffi Bianchi,” Huesyth named the drink, slowly rolling the liquid in the glass.

He looked across his desk to find Alana sitting in a chair before him, between the two therapy chairs. Her hair was pinned up instead of left to hang in loose curls and wearing a sharp, crimson-colored pants suit. It was a fitting look for her newly evolved form. “It’s how I found you in Florence.”

“Betrayed by good taste,” Huesyth tsked. He had never thought of himself as predictable but back then, he never was in the right state of mind. Still, Huesyth wouldn’t let this be turned back on him. “Is good taste itching at you in your daily rounds of institutional life?”

“An itch easy enough to scratch when there's cause to celebrate.” Alana held up her own glass of wine in cheers though her face remained severe and joyless. “Congratulations, Huesyth. You're officially insane.”

That proclamation should have made him happy, at least relieved, but Huesyth sat his glass aside on the desktop. “There's no consensus in the psychiatric community what I should be termed.”

“You've long been regarded by your peers in psychiatry as something entirely Other. For convenience, they term you a monster.”

“What do you term me?” The taller man asked.

“I don’t,” Alana stated firmly. “You defy categorization.”

The woman sipped her wine to cover the outburst and Huesyth stared curiously. “Do you still prefer beer to wine?”

Alana’s jaw clenched ever so slightly. “I stopped drinking beer when I found out what you were putting in mine.”

He quirked a brow at her. “Who.”

“Who,” Alana repeated but her voice echoed in a way that didn’t fit the space they were in.  

The doctor blinked again and the dark of the scene seemed to flash away to reveal his true location. Sitting in a BSHCI issued jumpsuit before a large glass wall inside a stark white cell that was perfect for him to project the images of his memory palace onto. There was a small scattering of books, drawings, and articles that intrigued him across the metal table that he was sitting at. It was minimal but he was only allowed so much.

Alana still sat before him, a safe distance on the other side of the glass. “This means you'll be spared the federal death sentence. They had enough to convict you a dozen times over.”

“A baker's dozen,” Huesyth corrected. “Lest we forget Mason Verger... you're welcome.”

You're welcome, Huesyth,” Alana replied with amusement. “The needle was guaranteed, but you beat it all on an insanity plea.”

“I'm not insane.”

Alana finally stood from her seat. “You know that and I know that. A dozen or a baker's dozen, it doesn’t matter. Enough people have died.”

He looked up at her, matching eyes with the new hospital administrator and twisting his pencil in his fingers. “You haven't.”

“A promise in waiting, isn't it?” She narrowed her eyes at the doctor through the glass. “A promise you intend to keep.”

A small smile graced Huesyth’s features. “I always keep my promises.”

 

“Sanguinaccio dolce. A classic Neapolitan dessert, with almond milk. It’s easier on the stomach.”

Unamused, Chilton eyed the doctor from the other end of the table. His no doubt mutilated face was tastefully covered by cosmetics based on the perfumed smell of foundation and the metal of what seemed to be dentures. “Sanguinaccio dolce. You have served me this before.”

Though Chilton was dressed stylishly in his suit, Huesyth remained in his stuffy jumpsuit. “One of my favorite desserts. Traditionally made with pig's blood. In this case, a local cow.”

Chilton’s plastic spoon hesitated before it entered the emptied orange filled with chocolate mousse and his eyes went back up to the doctor. “And when you last made it for me?”

Huesyth’s hands came up to rest on the table, the shackles around his wrists rattling noisily at the movement. “The blood was from a cow, only in the derogatory sense.”

Though he wasn’t looking up anymore, digging into his own dish, he knew the other doctor was thinking back to that time. Chilton may have hesitated but he soon took up a spoonful of the mousse and tasted it, savoring it. “Blood and chocolate. That should have been the subtitle of my book. But I promised myself I would never use colons in my titles. Colons lose their novelty when overused.”

“You'll have to write another book then,” Huesyth offered idly as he enjoyed his own mousse.

“I am. But it won’t be about you.” Chilton shrugged slightly, proud of himself. “Like overused punctuation, the novelty of Huesyth Cavalli has waned.”

It was meant to be a dig at the doctor’s importance but Huesyth wouldn’t be forgetting about how he was the one who built Alana and Chilton’s newfound fortunes. The bitter truth is just pesky like that and wouldn’t be slipping from his mind anytime soon.

The doctor didn’t look up from the red-tinted chocolate as he asked. “What is the subject of your new book, Frederick?”

“The Tooth Fairy,” Chilton named. A ridiculously disrespectful name. “I find folks are a bit more interested in him as of late. He is the debutante. Although he does lack your love of presentation.”

“More of a shy boy, this one,” The doctor commented.

“Love to hear your thoughts,” Chilton added as he set aside his spoon. “What do you think about the Tooth Fairy?”

Huesyth finally met eyes with the other man, narrowing his gaze. “I think he doesn't like being called the Tooth Fairy.”

“It is not as snappy as Cavalli the Cannibal, but he does have a much wider demographic than you do. You, with your fancy allusions and your fussy aesthetics, will always have niche appeal. With this fellow, there is something so universal about what he does. Kills whole families... and in their homes. He strikes at the very core of the American dream.” Chilton licked his spoon clean of any chocolate. “Might say he’s a four-quadrant killer.”

Huesyth looked up again to find a sudden figure standing over Chilton’s right shoulder and mind Bec quickly tangled his hand into the other man’s hair. Chilton’s forehead was slammed forward onto the heavy table, violently and over and over again until blood gushed from his head. His forehead seemed to cave in by the time the figment gave up with a deep growl before a blood-curdling scream erupted from his mouth, filled with rage and frustration. It was just as messy as it was satisfying until he blinked again.

The real Chilton was smiling and still eating his mousse without a care in the world, untouched and unharmed.

 

MOOSEHEAD LAKE, ME

The pine-forested hills surrounding the partially frozen lake was almost achingly beautiful, covered in pure white snow and ice. A vast blue sky stretching far above them but on the ground, an ax sliced easily through a thick log, cutting the wood into pieces that would be easier to burn. Even with the thick layers of clothes to block out the chill restricting her movements, Bianca still bent to pick up the next log to be cut. But the loud sound of a car door shutting had her turning around quickly to match eyes with a dark figure.

A man dressed in black with a brimmed hat, just moving away from the well-kept SUV. His face seemed to drop when he didn’t recognize the face that he was met with. “Sorry… I’m Special Agent Jack Crawford. This is the Crow residence, correct?”

“Yeah. You’re in the right place, man,” Bianca looked the agent up and down before turning up to the house to shout. “Sofia!”

Peering up to the front door that Bianca was facing, the man watched as Sofia emerged and the woman took one look at him before her brow furrowed.

“Agent Crawford,” Sofia began coldly. “Why are you here?”

He gave her a polite smile. “Ms. Crow, it’s nice to see you again as well.”

Sofia sighed with a shake of her head. “Don’t start. What do you want?”

Before Jack could answer, another car pulled up the gravel, snowy driveway and stopped beside the SUV. Out stepped the empath, looking almost younger than the last time he had seen the older agent but the second Bec’s eyes laid eyes on Jack, his face fell. He shut his car door loudly, stepped back and opened the back door to allow out the young girl he had driven home. Snow crunched under Avery’s boots as she and Bec walked up the driveway the rest of the way before reaching the bottom of the porch steps.

Bec and Jack kept their eyes locked on each other while Avery excitedly rushed up the steps to meet with her mother. “Hi, mama!”

Sofia couldn’t help but smile warmly, running a hand through her daughter’s curling hair. “Hey, baby. How was practice?”

“It was great,” Avery beamed. “Uncle Bec said he’ll make hot chocolate after dinner.”

Curiously, Sofia raised an eyebrow at her brother and Bec offered a meek smile, shrugging. “She made me promise. Can you guys, uh, head inside for a minute?”

Warily, Sofia narrowed her eyes at Jack once more before sighing softly and motioning to Bianca to follow them inside. The ax blade was slammed into the log to keep it from laying on the ground and Bianca passed by the two men to join her wife on the porch. The two intertwined their hands and took Avery inside, leaving the empath outside with Jack.

Moments later, Bec returned to the chilly porch to hand Jack a cup of hot cider to help fight off the cold. Jack accepted the offered drink, sitting in one of the porch chairs while Bec leaned back against the railing.

“You don't want to talk inside?” Jack asked as if he could read the empath's mind. Bec didn’t immediately respond but he sipped his own drink casually. He didn’t want the agent there on his sister’s land, let alone in the house. “Oh, you don't want to let me inside. I've come too far to let the cold stop me, Bec.”

“Why should the cold stop what common sense couldn't?” Bec chided.

“You were very hard to track down. I went to your old house in Wolf Trap but it had been sold apparently. How long have you been living with your sister?”

The empath thought back to when his address had accidentally been leaked online and he had to put up with nonstop mail from the insane admirers of his old lover. The half-coherent ramblings of macabre people asking him how it felt to carry the spawn of their ‘idol’. Sofia finally made the choice for him to move in with her when one of those lunatics made their way onto his property and Bec ended up having to call the cops. That was about as much as he could handle.

“About a year and a half now, I think. I’ve actually been pretty happy with the arrangement.”

He could feel the agent’s eyes drilling through him like he was looking for some kind of secret that Bec was hiding. “How much does Sofia know?”

“She knows what I’ve told her… And whatever the ‘official narrative’ is.”

The older agent didn’t seem all that impressed with the reminder. “The official narrative of you being manipulated into helping him?”

Bec averted his eyes, sipping from his drink. “Mm-hmm...”

Jack raised an eyebrow at the younger man. “So, you don't want to talk about it here.”

“Location doesn’t matter. I don't want to talk about it at all,” Bec corrected sharply. “But you've got to talk about it, so let's have it. Just, uh... just don't get out any pictures, 'cause Avery is just inside.”

“How much do you know?” Jack questioned as he sat his drink aside on the table.

Bec sighed, thinking back to those magazines and local papers he had spotted while in town the past few days. “Two families killed in their homes a month apart. Similar circumstances.”

“Not similar. The same . You ever think about giving me a call?”

The empath scoffed softly. “No.”

“You know what it is?”

He had no idea what the agent wanted him to say about the matter. It was grating on his nerves. “I didn't call you because... I didn't want to. I don't think I can be of any use to you, Jack. I-I don't think about this stuff anymore. I don't think I could do it now even if I wanted to help.”

One of Jack’s gloved hands went to his front jacket pocket and removed a photograph, holding it out for the empath to examine. A happy, smiling family. A mother and father with their two young kids.

“All dead,” Jack reminded with a shake of the photo as if the message wasn’t clear enough. “I think this freak is in phase with the moon. He killed the Jacobis almost four weeks ago in Chicago. Full moon. Then killed the Leeds family in Buffalo the night before last and it was a day short of a lunar month. With a little bit of luck, we might have a little more than three weeks before he does it again.”

The front door rattled again and Sofia stepped out, looking between the two men before staying on Bec. “Hey, sorry to interrupt. Can you come and help me out with dinner?”

 

The fire burned, warming the living area and the four adults and one child conversing in the dining room right next to it. Despite his better thinking, Bec had invited Jack in for dinner but unlike usual, Sofia was very accommodating. It was cluttered but comfortable as Avery giggled when their chocolate labrador would weave under her feet in search of dropped pieces of her fish dinner.

“People would dump their unwanted pets here all the time,” Bianca explained to the older agent when she saw him eyeing the animal. “Usually someone from the pounds would claim them but no one wanted Molly here. So we ended up taking her in.”

The dog perked up at the mention of her name, wandering over to Bianca’s side to brush her nose against her thigh. Bianca relented to the sad eyes she was getting from the canine, reaching a hand down to scratch behind the labrador’s ear.

With a warm chuckle, Sofia returned to the table with the bottle of juice she was sent to retrieve, taking her seat next to her wife and allowing Bianca to tuck her arm back behind Sofia’s head. She gave her brother at the head of the table a cheeky glance as she refilled his glass. “Yeah, it seems like we’re just suckers for strays.”

“You're not fooling anybody,” Bec chuckled.

The adults all shared a laugh and Bec met eyes with Jack again. He seemed happier too despite everything. He smiled far easier than Bec would think. The cut on his forehead from the power saw that Bec was sure would scar was almost unnoticeable but the greying of his hair was.

The older agent smiled warmly. “You have a nice life here.”

Bec nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I'm lucky here. I know that.”

Before they could linger on their feelings, Avery quickly cut in. “Can I take Molly out to pee?”

Raising up slightly to check if Avery had finished her dinner, Sofia looked over to Bec. In silent agreement, the empath nodded. “I’ll go with you, Avery.”

“Okay!” Avery approved, hopping up from her chair and making clicking noises with her tongue to get the dog’s attention. “Come on, girl!”

“How old is she?” Jack asked in reference to their daughter.

“Eight,” Bianca answered with a smile.

Bec rose to follow the young girl, slipping on his jacket and Avery’s before corralling Molly out the front door which left the two women alone with Jack.

Not wasting time, Sofia leaned forward onto the table. “So, whatever he says he wants to do, you'll take him anyway, won't you?”

“I have to-” Jack tried to respond but Sofia quickly cut him off. “No, you don’t. You definitely do not need him. You work for the goddamn FBI, can you not find anyone else!?”

Bianca reached forward, resting a calming hand on her wife’s. “Hey, hey, hey, it’s okay.”

“I promise I'll try to make it as easy on him as I can,” Jack eased but Sofia wasn't having it.

“That isn’t saying much, Agent Crawford. If it’s not these serial killers batting around in his head, it’s encephalitis, it’s hospitals for the criminally insane or, hell, it’s murderous therapists who kill his kids-”

She slapped a hand over her own mouth as Bianca gaped at her but Jack wasn’t as shocked. He seemed more resigned to the horror than Sofia would ever be. Even years after the fact, she had still never really gotten over that night in the doctor’s Baltimore kitchen. Bec never talked about it. She knew why but that didn’t make it any easier.

Miraculously, it was Bianca who objected next, resting a hand on Sofia’s. “Crawford, you may have never heard what it sounds like when he wakes up screaming because his ‘babies turned to blood’, but we have... and it’s awful. His mind is not a healthy place for him to go back into.”

Jack spoke up again, calm and quiet as he reached into his jacket pocket and produced two photos. “I know what I'm asking and I wished to God I didn't have to.”

He sat the pictures down on the tabletop, sliding them over to the two women. Bianca retrieved the photos and allowed Sofia to peer over her wife’s shoulder at them to find pictures of living, smiling families. The same ones she had seen posted underneath the headlines of “TOOTH FAIRY MASSACRES ‘PERFECT FAMILIES’”.

 

Jack saw himself out only an hour later once night fell over the cabin home. The empath had said that he would get back to Jack on his answer of if he was going willingly or not but it left a heavy air between the siblings in the house.

It was when Bec was pulling off his shoes in the guest bedroom that he heard a gentle knock on the door to his room. He turned to find Sofia leaning against the doorframe, her face pinched in thought. “I’m not gonna tell you what to do, Bec.”

“God forbid,” Bec mused, tossing his boots aside.

Sofia sighed in agitation at his sarcasm. “The last time you got stirred up in something like this you almost had your face surgically removed by a crazy millionaire’s crazy doctor.”

“The events were unrelated to solving crimes like Jack wants me to do,” Bec deadpanned.

“Don’t even start with me on the logistics of your weird life.”

Bec snorted softly. “You’re starting to use your mom voice.”

With a huff, Sofia stepped more into the room so that Bec couldn’t avert his eyes from her again. “At least Avery knows when to stop beating a dead horse. You know, I know, that if you go out there again you will not be the same person when you come back.”

“I haven’t been the person you knew in a long time.” The empath looked up to match gazes with his sister and he saw her expression crumble. Her emerald eyes growing wet with tears. “How bad do you think it’s gonna be if I stay here and read about the next killing knowing I could’ve done something about it?”

“I don’t care because at least you’ll be here and not getting dragged back into the dark again,” Sofia snapped, shaking her head. “Call me selfish or a bitch, but Christ, Bec, I can’t lose you.”

“You won’t,” Bec asserted. “I might be different… but I won’t be gone entirely.”

The younger woman just seemed to sigh sadly, turning on her heel to swiftly exit the room but before she could step out of sight, Bec called after her.

“Sofia…” Slowly, she turned back to him and Bec muttered. “You don’t have to save me. I’m not your responsibility and… it’s never been your fault.”

She gave a watery huff. “Okay, now you sound like Bianca.”

“Well, Bianca is usually always right.”

They share a laugh, soft and warm but filled with underlying fear at the outcome. Bec had no idea how this swan dive back into the madness would end.

“You’re gonna do this no matter what, aren’t you?”

As his laughter died, Bec sighed softly. “I don’t know.”

Sofia wasn’t as convinced by his ignorance. “I’ve given you everything I could… but if you don’t want it anymore then I can’t make you stay. But I’m sure as hell not gonna say I let you go.”

“He’s killing families, Sofia… I can’t have that on my mind.”

She nodded in understanding, knowing she couldn’t change his stubborn mind even though she wanted to. Finally, Sofia finally slipped out of the room again, shutting the door behind her as she left to leave Bec alone.

But he found himself lying back on his bed and staring into the dark of the ceiling. He stared at the shadows as they moved over the wood, scanning for any sort of pattern in the shapes. The dark seemed to mold and shift into a familiarly antlered figment of his mind that he had managed to avoid seeing for what felt like a decade.

Bec blinked repeatedly, sitting up quickly to shake the sight from his mind until he looked over to his dresser. Specifically, the top drawer on the right that he didn’t use very often but one that he knew contained something that had been nagging him. He rose slowly from his bed, crossed the room and quietly removed an envelope from the drawer.

Exiting his room, Bec sat down in front of the fire still crackling lowly so that he could tear the envelope open only to remove a smaller one from within it. He considered it briefly before opening that one as well. A folded paper fell to the floor from the envelope and the first word printed in large bold letters on the front of it was ‘Massacres’. A newspaper clipping but alongside it was also a handwritten letter that he unfolded and recognized the handwriting immediately.

His breath caught in his throat before he finally began reading the charcoal words.

Dear Bec, we have all found a new life, but our old lives hover in the shadows. Soon enough, I fear Jack Crawford will come knocking on your door. I would encourage you as a friend and as something other, not to step back through the door he holds open for you. It's dark on the other side and madness is waiting…

Huesyth’s voice seemed to whisper in his ear as if he was right there in the room with the empath and telling him that warning himself. But this wasn’t a warning that Bec needed. Pondering the note only briefly, Bec folded it back over, scooped up the newspaper clipping about the Tooth Fairy and tossed them both into the fire. They burned quickly, curling up into darkened ashes atop the burning logs.

 

BUFFALO, NY

With the half-moon glowing above the empty house, Bec moved like a ghost through the house after passing the empty doghouse out on the porch. He was still and silent, just getting a feel of the dark house. His flashlight beam passed over the mundane remedies of a stereotypical mundane American family and he felt out of place among them.

He moved into the living room to find smears of bloodstains, drag marks and strangely, barefoot prints of blood. They were counted with yellow police markers and Bec followed them up the stairs onto the second floor. The trail led him into what he assumed was the two Leeds boys room.

The beds were empty, their sheets flung aside on the floor. Red strings were used to represent blood spatter, one on the first boy’s pillow and the other on the floor next to the bed. As his flashlight passed over the strings, the small balls on sticks that were placed to show the bodies placements became the dead Leeds children, but only within the core of the flashlight beam. Like a small wormhole through time, lying as they were found and photographed. Bec stepped back out of the room and continued down the hall to follow the blood.

His flashlight found an ominously opened door at the end of the hallway. A collection of red strings from the middle of the hall and Bec found the father’s, Charles Leeds, body lying face down in front of the flashlight beam. As he approached that imposing door, Bec passed a smashed mirror hanging in the hall. Its shards shining brilliantly as the flashlight played over them and the empath’s face was fragmented by the pieces.

He pressed on and finally found himself standing in the master bedroom. Dark shapes were all he found until he looked to his side to see the light switch, flicking it on.

Red was the only thing he saw.

Red strings, red stains that would probably never come out again, the whole room was spattered in deep red. Multiple points of origins were placed all over the room, two different ones on the bed, and it left the room strung with red. It was jagged, almost jarring, insanity .

It took Bec a moment to realize he was shaking. He had to compose himself, breathing deeply before resolutely reopening case file. Bec scanned the information quickly, relearning locations and injuries and placements but his eyes kept going back up to the bloody bed. The file closed again and his eyes slid shut. Even there, behind the darkness of his own eyelids as he waited for the pendulum in his head to swing, Bec couldn’t even begin to name what he had hoped to accomplish through this.

But the bright pendulum still swung in his mind, wiping the room clean of the strings and light.

The killer licked the suction cup and with gloved hands stuck it onto the glass. The glass cutter traced a quick circle in the clean panel then pulled the circle out, setting it aside. He reached inside through the hole and unlocked the back patio door. Purposefully, the killer strode through the house and up the stairs, large and aggressive, like he had known exactly what he planned on doing. Immediately going to the end of the hall and into the master bedroom where the Leeds couple laid in comfortable slumber.

A knife was pulled from the killer’s pocket and he moved Charles Leeds’ head back to quickly run the blade over where the artery would be. Gouts of blood poured free from the wound as the man was roused, choking and gripping uselessly at his throat while his wife lay sleeping beside him. “I cut Mr. Leeds's throat as he lies asleep beside his wife.”

The killer moved back to the door to flick on the light which finally awoke Mrs. Leeds. He turned back to her as she held her arms out to stop him but he pulled his silenced gun from his waistband and shot her in the abdomen.

“I shoot Mrs. Leeds. The bullet enters to the right of her navel and lodges in her lumbar spine.”

The killer looked over watching as the man still struggling to keep the blood in his body rose from the floor even as he choked. “Mr. Leeds rises, his throat cut, to protect the children.”

Mr. Leeds lurched toward the killer but was tossed aside back onto the floor as his wife looked on from the bed, struggling through her shock and pain, gripping her stomach as she too bled out.

The killer stepped back, moving back into the hallway and down towards the boys’ room as they slept. Completely unaware of the carnage brought upon their parents just a few rooms away. He pulled his gun again and the muzzle flashed brightly in the dark room.

“I shoot one of the two boys in bed.” There was a distinct soft crying and the killer crouched, grabbing hold of the small feet sticking out from under the second bed to drag out the second son. “The other boy I pull out from under his bed and shoot him on the floor.”

Another shot and the crying was abruptly cut off, replaced again by the choking and arterial splatter of Mr. Leeds and his wound. The killer stepped back out into the hall to see the man stumbling from the master bedroom towards him before he suddenly collapsed onto the hallway floor on his way towards the intruder, who didn’t react.

“Losing gobs of blood, Mr. Leeds falls and dies outside his sons' room.” Approaching the body, he looked up to his side to find his own reflection staring back at him. “The smashing of mirrors begins.”

He slammed his fist into the mirror, shattering it and the image that was projected back at him. Collecting some of the shards, he returned to the master bedroom where Mrs. Leeds had bled to death. He placed shards over her eyes and mouth, reflecting his own image in her face.

The killer stared down at the bed she was splayed on before turning to the stains against the wall. “I moved the family after they were dead and later put them back where they were when I killed them.”

Posed by the killer, Mr. Leeds and the two boys were propped against the wall, all of them having the same treatment of shards of glass placed over their eyes and mouth. The mirrors glittered while the rest of their bodies were left in darkness. They looked on eerily at the scene of Mrs. Leed laid out on the golden sheets of her bed, blood pooling and soaking through on her yellow nightgown.

“Talcum powder on the body. There's none in the house… I have to touch her.” He looked down at his hand, snapping off the latex glove and allowing a cloud of white dust to sprinkle out onto the body. As she was bathed in the warm golden glow, the red strings returned behind him, stretching out from the killer’s back like wings. “This is my design.”

Bec blinked back to reality, inhaling a deep breath before he choked on it as a sob forced its way out. Hot tears were running down his cheeks and it took every ounce of energy he had left to not let his shaking legs take him to the floor. But it didn’t stop his weeping in the low light of the blood-stained bedroom.

 

The light of day did nothing to stop the shaking in his bones. He felt rattled after what he had experienced. Unstable again and unsure of the profile he was building of this killer. It was what he hated most about his ‘gift’. Bec could never tell what was the killer and what was his own mind revolting against him to tell him he needed to stop. Emotions were tricky and unpredictable like that.

Jimmy Price, now a Special Agent in his own right, held up a partial fingerprint that he had managed to pull off of Mrs. Leeds eye before she was set to be buried, showing it the older agent and Bec.

“It's a partial. Probably a thumb.”

“Jimmy, you're the light of my life,” Jack deadpanned.

“I know. The print was smudged. Came off Mrs. Leeds's eye. Never did that before.” He couldn’t help but steal a glance the empath’s way, finally expressing with a smile. “I just, I'm... I'm, sorry. I'm just surprised to see you back.”

From behind Bec, Brian greeted. “Welcome back.”

He wasn’t staying, especially with the way that he felt after leaving the Leeds home. The dark feeling that lingered in the back of his mind like a stain.

“Jimmy,” Jack asserted in order to gain the older man’s attention back to the work at hand.

Jimmy motioned to the trays that contained to the shards of glass. “The mirror pieces all had those smooth prints. Forefinger on the back of the piece wedged in her labia, smudged thumb on the front.”

“He polished it after he placed it so he could see his face in there,” Bec told.

“One in her mouth was obscured by blood, same with the eyes. Ran an AFIS. He's not in the print index.”

Brian wheeled a trolley into the room, a stand displaying s teeth molded in resin. “We could run a ‘Have you seen these teeth’ sort of APB. They're distinctive.” They all stood around the mold and observed the odd shapes of the teeth. “Pegged lateral incisors here and here. I mean, the teeth are all crooked. The central incisor has a corner missing, the other central incisor has a groove in it.”

“A snaggletooth son of a bitch,” Jack insulted to make it easier to understand.

“Yeah. And he bites.” Brian closed the hinged model with a dull clack. “A lot.”

Bec finally spoke up again. “He may have a history of biting in lesser assaults. May be a fighting pattern as much as sexual behavior.”

Jack turned his attention to the empath, lingering in the doorway of the BAU lab they were in as if readying himself to run away. “What’s he fighting, Bec?”

The empath had a few ideas…

 

The next day, he arose from the images plastered onto his mind and managed to drag himself out of his crummy motel room and back to Jack’s office. The older agent was already there as if he was waiting for the empath to show up. Jack removed his reading glasses from his face as he looked the rumpled empath up and down, no doubt noting the sleepless nature of the younger man.

“You were asking about the dog,” Jack began, scanning a report he had been given. “Last night, a vet called the police. Leeds and his oldest boy took the dog into the vet the afternoon before they were killed.”

“What's going to happen to it?” Bec asked.

Jack shook his head and placed his glasses down on the desk. “Please don't worry about the dog.”

“What do you want me to do then?” Bec questioned with a chuckle.

“The best you can, that's all.”

The empath paused briefly, rethinking everything from the last three years before finally relenting. “There is something else I can do. I can wait until I'm driven to it by desperation in the last days before the full moon. Or I could do it now, while it might be of some use.”

Jack clasped his hand in front of his face. He knew exactly what the empath was about to tell him but that didn’t stop him from asking. “Is there an opinion that you want, Bec?”

But that wasn’t it. After his years away from the dark, he must have grown soft to it. He had never broken down crying about a case before and one had never haunted him as much as this one. It was unsettling. It made his skin crawl like there was a stranger let loose inside him. But there was one person that he knew would set him straight again. Someone he knew would never be affected by something as minuscule like a quadruple homicide.

“It's a mindset I need to recover,” Bec explained. “I have to see Huesyth.”

 

With the Norman chapel ceiling towering high above him, Bec stepped into the middle of the aisle to be bathed in the warm sunlight leaking through the stained glass. He moved forward, down the aisle towards the altar where he saw a familiar suited figure facing away from him. But he didn’t have to see the other man’s face in order to recognize who he was.

The scene seemed to flash away and Bec found himself back where he had begun. Standing in front of the glass wall to Huesyth’s cell where the doctor was facing away from him. A bright white jumpsuit to match the sparse, white walls of the cell.

At the sound of a guest, the doctor perked up before turning to face the empath. His face seemed to soften at the sight which caused an ache to flare up in Bec’s chest.

“Hello, Dr. Cavalli,” Bec greeted.

A quirk of a smile. “Hello, Bec.”

Chapter Text

The doors into the room shut heavily behind him, a resounding sound echoing throughout the cell far more loudly than the empath expected. His first thought was that this person in front of him couldn’t be Huesyth. His hair was longer than he had ever seen it and for a brief moment he thought that man in the jumpsuit would turn and Bec would see Salvatore Cavalli himself. No matter how impossible that would have been.

But the doctor perked up at the sound of a guest and he could see Huesyth raise his head only slightly from the metal table he was looking down at. Apparently scenting the air as he commented. “At least you aren’t wearing that atrocious aftershave you wore in court. This one is far more appealing for you.”

Finally, Huesyth turned to the empath, gazing at him from the other side of the glass barrier between them. For a brief moment, all of the air in the room seemed to be sucked out. Thankfully, it wasn’t Salvatore. It wasn’t even close to the stoic man depicted in the portrait that Bec saw in the decrepit Italian estate. His expression seemed to soften at the sight of the empath which caused an ache to flare up in Bec’s chest.

“Hello, Dr. Cavalli,” Bec greeted after a moment of silence.

A quirk of a smile on those familiar lips. “Hello, Bec. Did you get my note?”

There was no point in lying. Huesyth would know if he lied. “I did. Thank you.”

“Did you read it before you destroyed it?” Huesyth questioned, knowing all too well of Bec’s proclivity towards trying to destroy his connections towards the dark. No matter how unsuccessful they might be. “Or did you simply toss it into the nearest fire?”

Bec gave a breathy huff through his nose. “I read it... and then I burnt it. Your warning came a little late I’m afraid.”

“And yet you came anyway,” Huesyth noted before slowly approaching the glass with calculated steps. He was the same distance away from his side that Bec was from the other. Not going any closer than Bec would. “Despite the circumstances, I'm glad you came. My other callers are all... professional . Banal psychiatrists and grasping second-raters. Pencil lickers.”

Bec’s gave averted, scanning the ill-fitting white jumpsuit on the doctor’s body before going back up again. “I want you to help me, Dr. Cavalli.”

“Yes, I thought so.” The doctor looked Bec up and down as well. “Are we no longer on a first-name basis?”

The empath hesitated slightly. He hadn’t even noticed he’d been doing it but it must have seemed spiteful.

Huesyth ,” Bec corrected himself. “Will you help me?”

Huesyth didn’t respond immediately, regarding the empath with a curious eye that probably would’ve made Bec’s past self squirm with discomfort. But the taller man’s nostrils flared slightly as if taking in more of the scents coming through the holes in the glass.

“I smell dog... and pine and rosin beneath that shaving lotion,” Huesyth described but he steadied his gaze and narrowed his eyes at the empath. “Your old brand was something a child would select, wasn't it? Is there a child in your life, Bec? I gave you children if you recall.”

“Which one?” Bec asked with a slight sneer. “The one you had killed by Mason, the one you slit the throat of, or the two you cut out of me?”

He had years to try and attempt to remedy that wound Huesyth left on him and now he was fairly content to live the life lacking the family he wanted. The universe just thought he didn’t deserve it. That was something he was forced to stomach.

Huesyth’s face, on the other hand, seemed to abruptly fall at the reminder but Bec continued undeterred. He couldn’t let this get the best of him yet. “I came about Chicago and Buffalo. I know you've read about it.”

“I've read the papers. I can't clip them. They won't let me have scissors, of course.” Huesyth cocked his head slightly. “You want to know how he's choosing them?”

Playing along with how Huesyth beating around the bush, Bec gave a loose shrug. “I thought you would have some ideas.”

For some reason, Huesyth seemed unconvinced over his motives. He had every right to be since they both knew that Bec wasn’t there for purely professional reasons. Nothing is professional between them. “You just came here to look at me. Came to get the old scent again. Why don't you just smell yourself?”

“Your scent in my life has diminished with time, Huesyth. There’s nothing left of you there,” The empath explained. “I expected more from you. That routine... is an old hat.”

“Whereas you are a new man. You’re different now, Bec.”

Without missing a beat, Bec replied. “If you’re looking for the old me, I’d check the morgue. It’s where we all left a lot of our old lives… our old selves.”

The doctor offered an understanding nod but then he paused. “Have you been with anyone else since my imprisonment?”

The question had momentarily taken Bec by surprise. It was almost clumsy compared to how he had been conducting himself but it was strangely endearing. “There was an attempt at my sister’s behest for me to move on.”

“And?”

Bec scoffed softly at the ridiculousness. “Uh, not many people want to sleep with the guy that got pregnant by a serial killer and Freddie made sure my face was plastered right alongside yours.”

Huesyth cocked his head slightly, confused almost. He scanned the empath as if asking how anyone could not want him. “I wouldn’t have minded.”

“That’s the point,” Bec reiterated. “I’d rather avoid any other men like you.”

“...I think we both know there aren’t any other men like me.” An eyebrow was quirked at the empath before Huesyth finally stated. “Let me have the file. In an hour we can discuss it like old times.”

That seemed too easy. Bec stared through the glass as if he was waiting for the other shoe to drop but it didn’t seem to be coming. He nodded slightly and offered a nearly genuine. “Thank you, Huesyth.”

He began to cross over to the document tray in the glass but Huesyth mirrored his movements. Sliding the file into the tray, Bec sent it through all while Huesyth leered at him from just beyond the glass. His expression was shadowed more in the corner of the cell where little didn’t carry, features exaggerated by deep shadows and highlights.

“Family values may have declined over the last century, but we still help our families when we can.” Huesyth looked up from the file he retrieved, matching eyes with the empath as Bec saw his own reflection in the glass cast like a ghost over the doctor’s face. “You're family, my lovely.”

There was a rush of a sudden emotion for Huesyth that the empath couldn’t name. What he could name was the rush of pain to his heart but he swallowed it down. Bec knew what he was getting into when he agreed to do this. Straightening his shoulders, Bec stepped back and walked away again.

He left Huesyth to read the file but found himself roaming until making his into the relative safety of the hospital administrator’s office.

“It's good to see you looking so well, Bec,” Alana approved where she was sitting back comfortably against her office couch, watching as the empath paced the length of her office. Formerly, Chilton’s office. She wore a white pantsuit with a black and white striped jacket, so unlike her old wrap dresses but perfect for her new attitude. Her usual loose curls were pinned up and kept out of her way, professional and business-like. “But I can't help but wish you weren't here.”

Bec stopped in his tracks in a way he hoped didn’t appear too sudden, turning back to her. “All we can do now is wish and hope.”

There was a pause as Alana let the words settle. She cocked her head slightly, inquiring. “How did it feel to see him again?”

The empath paused before sighing softly to himself. The jumble of feelings that surged through him was hard to describe in words but he knew what Alana wanted to hear. 

She wanted to hear about how terrible it was. How bone-chilling it was to even be in the same room with a man like Huesyth. How having his former lover looking him up and down like a piece of meat made his skin crawl. But that wasn’t everything because it was far more welcomed to him than anyone would understand. He didn’t flinch at the monster baring his teeth at him anymore.

But that wasn’t what Bec was going to tell Alana of all people, someone who was right in her anger against Huesyth.

She wanted an answer though and Bec couldn't babble his way out of this. “Like... Huesyth was looking through to the back of my skull. Felt like a fly flitting around back there. I had the absurd feeling that he was walking out with me. Had to stop outside the doors to make sure I wasn’t being followed.”

Alana nodded, she knew exactly how that felt it have a ghost haunting her life. “I know that feeling. Well, at least, Jack Crawford is pleased.”

The empath chuckled as Alana offered a red-lipped smile but his good spirits were quickly diminished. “He showed me pictures of the families. I looked at my sister and her wife… my niece and I couldn't tell him no.”

“And Jack was counting on it.”

Bec sighed, placing his jacket on the back of a chair before finally taking a seat on the other end of the couch. “Are you still with Margot?”

“Yes,” Alana answered simply and Bec caught the smile that tugged on her lips. “We have a baby. A Verger baby. A son.”

Bec nodded as she spoke. “Good for Margot.”

He thought back to how desperate the Verger heiress was to have a child, her hopelessness when Mason had ripped her chance away from her like he had chopped her legs off and dumped her in the desert. Anyone would’ve been broken from a lifetime of such treatment.

Then there came Huesyth, whispering rebellion in her ear and all but handing her the knife… or in Mason’s case, the eel that slithered down his throat. No matter how Margot ended up doing it, Bec was happy for her. Genuinely, he was.

“Good for me ,” Alana reiterated which cut through his thinking. “I carried him. He's my son. He's the Verger heir.”

There was a greedy little tug in the back of his mind that almost caused him to sneer. Well, he thought he had his emotions about his childless life under control but apparently not. But he shook the feeling away. There were more pressing matters at hand. “So... what are you doing here then?”

Alana paused and Bec could see when her left index finger picked at the manicured nail on the same hand. A nervous quirk he had never seen her have but she clenched her jaw and pressed on to explain. “There are only five doors between Huesyth and the outside... and I have the keys to all of them. Huesyth's never been... great with boundaries. ‘He who sups with the Devil needs a long spoon’.”

Swallowing back an annoyed sigh, Bec stood from his seat again and returned to his position like he was about to start pacing again. “I'm not letting him in, Alana. You don’t have to worry about me.”
There was a pause and Bec thought the conversation was finally over but Alana wouldn’t let him off the hook that easily. “I'm not just worried about you. Last time, it didn't end with you.”

 

He returned to the basement, opening those elegant double doors again to find Huesyth seated behind his desk, pouring over the case file that Bec had given him. Without looking up, Huesyth commented. “This is a very shy boy, Bec. I would love to meet him.”

But behind the glass, the scenery changed before Bec’s eyes. It became so much more familiar and settled into a kind of comfort he hadn’t felt in so long. Huesyth was seated behind his desk in his office back in Baltimore, back in his plaid three-piece suit, with the glass between them completely gone. As if they had returned to the start of it all.

“I'm sure you would,” The empath quipped as he approached the front of the desk, closer to the doctor then he had been in years even if it was just in his mind.

“Have you considered the possibility that he's disfigured?” Huesyth questioned. “Or that he may believe he's disfigured?”

“That’s interesting,” Bec expressed but his tone must have given him away. The doctor looked up at him, scanning his face and finding what he was looking for.

“That's not interesting to you.” Huesyth stood from the desk, circling it until he stood in front of the empath. “You’ve thought of that before, haven’t you? That beautiful brain of yours never ceases to amaze...”

A warmth began to rise in the empath’s cheeks and he averted his eyes.

“He smashed all the mirrors in the houses, not just enough to get the pieces he wanted.” Bec removed one of the photos from the pile of crime scene pictures. One of dead Mrs. Jacobi with her face streaked in blood but her features covered in glass. “These shards are set so he can see himself in Mrs. Jacobi's eyes.”

“Could you see yourself in their eyes, Bec?” Huesyth suddenly asked. “Killing them all?”

Everything around him seemed to darken until he looked down to find Mrs. Jacobi there, lying splayed across her back on her bed with Bec standing over her head. With her golden robe splayed over her, she was surrounded by billowing red soaked sheets but her eyes and mouth were still covered by glass.

“The first small bond that stretches between you and the killer itches and stings like a leech,” Huesyth continued, voice carrying in somewhere just behind him. 

They glanced around the room, which had shifted into the bloody living room, and at the shards of glittering broken glass but when Bec looked up into one of the broken mirrors. His face fragmented and a piece fell out of place to shatter against the wood floor. It left a black hole in his head, an empty space in his being.

“Like you, Bec... this killer needs a family to escape what's inside him.”

Finally, Huesyth stepped forward, retrieving a large glass piece from the ground to hold up before him but the reflection in it wasn’t the doctor. The wendigo stared back at Bec, hollow eyes and towering antlers.

“You know a fair amount about how these families died. How they lived is how he chooses them.”

Maybe they were getting somewhere now that Huesyth has played his game. The empath questioned softly. “How is he choosing them?”

“How did you choose yours? Based on the rose perfume lingering on your jacket, I assume your sister has become your sole provider of stability. A nephew or niece…” Bec was sure that he didn’t give anything away but Huesyth seemed to know him better than that. “A niece absolves you of any parental or biological blame. By now, you know better than to breed. Can't pass on those terrible traits you fear the most.”

The suited doctor stepped away to stand before the large floor to ceiling windows of the Jacobi house, looking out into the yard. Without looking back, he inquired. “Why are there no descriptions of the grounds? I see floor plans, diagrams of the rooms where death occurred. What were the yards like?”

Suddenly, the scenery shifted again. With the full moon overhead now, they stood a good distance away from each other in the snow-covered backyard. “They were big... fenced in with trees all around. Why?”

“If this pilgrim feels a special relationship with the moon, he might like to go outside and look at it before he tidies himself up.” They both look up to the pitch-black sky, but the moon was so big that it seemed to bathe the snowy yard in its clean light. “If one were nude, say, it would be better to have outdoor privacy for that sort of thing.”

Confused, Bec turned back to the doctor only to find he had his eyes drilling into the empath. “One must show some consideration for the neighbors.”

He looked away again and Bec followed his gaze back to the moon as the pieces began tumbling into place. “Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight, Bec? It appears quite black.”

Huesyth’s voice slowly faded.

All that was left was his own labored breathing, the air in front of his mouth coming out in white puffs. The killer raised a blood-covered hand up to the white orb in the sky so that it was silhouetted. The aforementioned black stained him from head to toe in streaks of drying blood on his skin.

 

It wasn’t long after Bec left that the doctor’s hands were shackled through the holes in the glass of his cell as Alana lurked around behind him, two orderlies standing guard as she searched. He had only a vague idea of what she was looking for but it was more likely than not just a simple warning to him. He couldn’t help but pleased with himself though. From the way that Bec had skittered away, Huesyth knew he got under the empath’s skin.

Alana couldn’t take that victory from him even if she had tried.

“You've come to wag your finger?” Huesyth asked the glass, knowing it gained the woman’s attention.
From behind him, Alana mused with a voice void of humor. “I love a good finger-wagging.”

“Yes, you do... How is Margot?”

The crude remark seemed to bounce off Alana’s skin without a flinch as he watched her vague reflection in the glass as she went over the drawings on his desk. “Your cogs are turning, Huesyth. I can hear them clicking.”

“Click, click, boom, ” Huesyth mumbled softly, more for his own humor than to her but Alana could hear the sarcasm from a mile away.

Her heels clicked against the floor in a steady pace. “I don't know what you're planning with Bec Reyes, but you're planning something. Why wouldn't you be? You've already cracked the lid. Why not peel it back and took a look under?”

“Bec came to me ,” The doctor reminded.

“Yes, he did.”

Huesyth replied firmly. “I advised him against it and against Jack’s calls.”

“I’m sure,” Alana replied doubtfully.

Huesyth sighed. Anything he said wouldn’t mean anything to her. “Whether you’d like to admit or not, Alana, I care very deeply about our dear empath. Are you suggesting I don't have his best interests in my mind?”

He could almost hear the smile on Alana’s red-painted lips. “I'm stating it as fact.”

The sound of her approaching heels had Huesyth straightening only slightly. “You've got Bec dressed up in moral dignity pants... nothing is his fault.”

“I've been courteous... and you have been receptive to courtesy,” Alana said quietly like it was some deal hatched just between them. “But these niceties are conditional, and the conditions are non-negotiable.”

She came to a standstill behind him, over his left shoulder, and Huesyth nodded. “I must behave myself.”

“I know what you're afraid of,” Alana whispered close to his ear but not close enough for him to reach out and bite her lips off. “It's not pain or solitude. It's indignity . You're a little bit like a cat that way. I'll take your books. I'll take your drawings. I'll take your toilet.”

She stepped away, crossing back towards the secret door in the side of his cell that the orderlies opened for her. But before she left, Alana turned back to him. “You'll have nothing but indignity... and the company of the dead.”

Oh, but the dead aren’t nearly as interesting.

 

The Jacobi’s sang, off-tune and scattered but warmly, full of joy in their well-furnished living room. The young daughter sat before a layered cake with a slightly tilted cone-shaped birthday hat on her head, swiftly blowing out the candles once the song ended. Their buoyant energy elicited a smile from the empath, watching the birthday party as if he was there.

But Bec blinked again and found himself staring into the iPad in his hands playing the same thing he had just seen. He stood in the center of the living room, the Jacobi house was dark and void of any furniture. Empty and lifeless but the screen in his hands still displayed the happiness.

 

The next night, Bec was summoned back to the B.A.U. lab and the men there were gathered around a dirty shoebox with the name “Kate” written on it in a childish hand.

Brian removed the lid to find a bundled up towel which he unfolded to find a white, decomposing cat body with a flower tucked between its front paws. “Found it behind the Jacobis' garage. There’s a flower between its paws, wrapped in a dishtowel, strangled.”

“Son of a bitch,” Jimmy cursed.

Brian raised an eyebrow at the older man next to him. “Okay... Seems like you're more upset about the cat than you were about the children, but…”

“I'm particularly fond of cats. I'm not particularly fond of children.” Jimmy’s eyes seemed to land on the empath briefly before he did a double-take, stammering. “Oh, uh… no offense, Bec.”

The empath furrowed his brow in confusion. “None… taken?”

“Well, it’s just that you, uh… you lost your…” Jimmy’s words seemed to fade out as he motioned to the younger man with his gloved hands and Bec realized what he meant.

You lost your kids.

Bec nodded quickly and shook the thought from his mind. “Yeah, yeah… no offense taken.” He cleared his throat a bit, folding his arms over his chest. “What about the Leeds' dog?”

“It was punctured in the abdomen,” Brian explained. “The vet worked on him. He should be okay. They thought he was shot, but they didn't find a bullet. They thought he was stabbed with an ice pick or an awl.”

Jimmy shook his head, muttering quietly. “The son of a bitch.”

Ignoring the repeated comment, Bec clarified. “So now he feels compelled to hurt the victims' pets before he comes to kill the family?”

“It eliminates an early-warning system,” Jack added finally. “Case the place, kill the pet, then the family.”

“We should send a private bulletin to veterinarians and animal shelters, asking for immediate reports of animal mutilation.”

“Chicago and Buffalo are four states apart,” Jack reminded firmly. “Nothing's been found to link these two families. What do they have in common?”

“They were both happy…”

 

The snow crunched under his boots as he moved through the Jacobis’ backyard, scanning the treeline. He didn’t know what exactly he was looking for but he was following instinct over reason. That’s what Huesyth would tell him to do.

Instinct led him to climb over the tall wire fence, dropping down into the thicket beyond their private yard. But as he pushed aside the branches in his way, he found a hollow in the brush, a single thick stump protruding out of the ground like a seat. A hunting blind of sorts with a rotting apple core half-buried in the snow. He took a seat on the log, looked up through the foliage at the Jacobis’ yard to find a perfect view. But he turned to the tree trunk next to him to see that it had a fresh carving in the wood.

Some kind of cryptic symbol, a rectangle with a vertical line cut through the middle. It was done with a sharp knife and a careful hand.

“I sat here. And I watched them…”

The empath moved back into the yard over the fence after bagging the apple core and was met with a flash of color.

Red.

Freddie Lounds stood in the yard, staring at him and intercepting the path he needed to take in order to leave the yard. She gave him a quirk of a smirk. “Now, are you just keeping America clean or is that evidence?”

He clutched the evidence bag tighter in his hand as he crossed the yard. “You're trespassing, Freddie.”

“I was trespassing before the blood dried,” Freddie quipped and her voice grated on his already thin nerves. “When did they call you in?”

“I'm not talking to you,” Bec hissed as he passed her.

“We're co-conspirators, Bec,” The redhead tried to tell, causing the empath to pause in his steps and turn back to her. “I died for you and your cause.”

“You didn't die enough,” The empath groundout. “You came into my hospital room while I was sleeping, flipped back the covers and snapped a photo of my temporary colostomy bag.”

Freddie shrugged loosely. “And I covered your junk with a black box. A big black box. You're welcome.”

“You called us ‘murder husbands’,” The empath sneered.

“Well you were pregnant with his kids and you ran off to Europe together. How does the Tooth Fairy compare with Huesyth Cavalli?” Freddie questioned as if she already knew the answer. “Haven't seen anything like this since the Massacre at Muskrat Farm. Funny thing about that massacre: not only did Dr. Bloom survive, but she also got rich. Cavalli's living in the lab under her care. What kind of arrangement do you suppose they have?”

It was Bec’s turn to shrug. “A complicated one.”

Freddie nodded but she was scanning every reaction of the empath like she was sliding him under a microscope. “Couldn't be more complicated than your relationship with Huesyth. He killed your children but you still went back to him in Europe but then you testified against him in court. Now you paid him a visit? Before you lie, know that I know you did-”

“Don’t you ever mention them again,” Bec finally snapped, hissing in the redhead’s face. “You can talk about me all you want. Trust me, I’ve been called every name under the sun because of you and your tabloid trash. But if you ever talk or write about my children again, I will-”

He stopped himself before he could finish his threat. Freddie didn’t look affected by it all, only slightly taken aback by the outburst. A wave of unbridled anger was beginning to rise in the empath but he reeled it in and had to step away before things got nasty.

“Goodbye, Freddie,” He spat.

Bec turned and began making his swift retreat back to his car before Freddie yelled after him. “‘Federal manhunters, ‘stymied in their search for the Tooth Fairy, have turned to the most savage killer in captivity for help. 'It takes one to catch one,' a federal official told this reporter’.”

Bec paused in his steps, shouting back over his shoulder. “‘Takes one to catch one’? Are you referring to Huesyth Cavalli or me?”

“I'll let my readers decide,” Freddie offered with a cock of her head. “If you're smart, you'd use me. All psychopaths are narcissists. They love to read about themselves.”

Shaking his head clear of her voice, Bec continued to walk away.

 

Hey, Bec ,” The familiar voice came through the phone and Bec couldn’t help but smile. “ Do anything good today?

Bec scoffed slightly, leaning back on his motel bed in a huff. “I’d like to think so… It seems everyone is out to remind me of every bad thing that’s ever happened to me though.”

Jesus, dude… ” He could hear the cringe in Sofia’s voice, see it in his mind as if he was standing next to her in the kitchen of the cabin as she was doing dishes. Just telling her about his day. “ You’re not making me feel any better about this.

“I know… I’m sorry. Wouldn’t read any tabloids any time soon if I were you. Freddie Lounds is digging into me.”

Sofia paused before hesitantly responding. “ Uh, I think we’re a little late on that.
“Why?” Bec questioned.

Bianca took Avery into town the other day and she saw Uncle Bec on a cover of TattleCrime. That woman works fast.

Bec groaned, running a hand over his face. “Yeah, she does. She’s a pain in the ass.”

He could hear her snort over the speaker. “ Avery thought it was great to see you but I’m pretty sure she just didn’t know what the article title said.

“Thank god,” The empath expressed. “How are the snakes doing?”

Sunday is bugging out as always but the others are fine. Might have to replace their lights if it keeps getting colder like it is.

“I should be back to do it for you by then,” Bec offered.

Another pause. “ Yes, you will be. I miss you, and I know you're doing the right thing. It's costing you too, I know that. I'm here for you... we’re here for you, Bec.

It was Bec’s turn to pause, staring up at his motel room ceiling. “I miss you too. Night, Sof.”

Goodnight.

He hung up quickly. But it was long before his mind began to drag him into the dark and he found himself standing back in the Jacobis’ master bedroom. Their flowing, blood-stained sheets curling around who he thought was the wife. But it wasn’t. The face that was covered by glass shards was Sofia’s and her body began to glow a strong golden light. He was covered in blood, his sleep clothes soaked down to his skin and he threw his head back in an anguished scream before he startled awake again.

Trapped within the confines of the motel bedsheets, he threw them aside and scrambled to his feet to flick on the bedside lamp. The dim light flooded the room as he ran his hand through his sweat-soaked hair. He stumbled into the bathroom, tossing aside his sweaty t-shirt before leaning over the sink. When he looked up into the mirror, he assumed to find the glass broken but it wasn’t. Until he stared too long and his face itself fractured and cracked, a piece falling free just as it had in the hospital with Huesyth.

The empath quickly blinked until the cracks disappeared but the nauseous feeling they brought on remained. When he shuffled back into the room, the clock on the nightstand displayed in bright numbers of 11:23 PM. He hadn’t even been asleep for very long. But now his bare skin was slick with sweat and he felt like he was about to shake out of his body with the power of his tremors.

Bec didn’t even feel like he was still conscious when he dug through his jacket by the door to pull out his phone and dialed the hospital’s number.

Baltimore State Hospital, ” A man answered and Bec already felt ridiculous.

“Hello. My name’s Bec Reyes. I’m the FBI consultant that was at the hospital the other day. I’d like to speak to Dr. Cavalli.”

The man on the other end of the phone hesitated. “ Well, Dr. Cavalli might be asleep, Mr. Reyes.

“Then wake him up ,” Bec demanded harshly.

“... Please hold.

That was rude of him and the empath knew Huesyth would probably have something to say about that but he was also tired. There was a long period of complete silence that left Bec time to rethink just what he was doing. He was picking at the course comforter on his motel bed like he was waiting on his crush to come back to the phone. It really was ridiculous and he almost hung up the phone when finally a familiar voice was patched through.

Hello? ” The doctor sounded tired, his accent was slurred and heavy.

Though his voice momentarily caught in his throat, Bec breathed meekly. “...Hi, Huesyth.”

There was a soft, relieved exhale. “ Hello, my dear. What do I owe the pleasure of hearing your lovely voice again so soon?

Bec scoffed lightly as he leaned back to lay on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. No matter how pathetic he sounded, he needed to get his mind straight. “I had a nightmare. This guy is… really starting to get to me and the pieces... the pieces don't make sense, Huesyth.”

They may not make sense now but the pieces will fall into place soon enough. Sometimes it takes longer to wade through the thickets of madness lurking in the minds of those you find yourself entangled with.

The empath nodded along as if the doctor was actually there and could see him. “It all just seems like a long line of suffering that never ends.”

I know it may seem that way but I know you. You have not survived this long to be defeated by this shy boy.

Bec’s hand curled into a fist against his forehead, face pinching in frustration. “Huesyth, it’s not just that. I don’t... I don’t feel safe.

There was a soft sigh before Bec swore that he felt a hand rest on his wrist. He let the hand pull his fist away to reveal Huesyth laying in the bed next to him. The doctor’s face was such a welcomed sight that he almost let out a whimper, even it was a figment of his imagination.

That beautiful, complex brain of yours is filled with sweet honey as much as it’s filled with hives of bees. A constant paranoid buzzing in your ears, itching at the back of your skull. We all have our swarms of bees, dear. They never stop stinging.

The empath met eyes with the figment and sadly revealed with a soft voice. “I can’t do this forever.”

And you won’t have to ,” Huesyth whispered. “ I wouldn’t let you suffer in this stewing darkness forever and certainly not alone.

“Don’t say things like that,” Bec pleaded.

Huesyth furrowed his brow slightly. “ What? The truth?

“Alana could be recording this, you know?”

Huesyth huffed with a snort. “ She isn’t as tasteless as Dr. Chilton was. Even if she was, I’ve found myself more against taking orders from her as of late.

A hand landed on Huesyth’s cheek, cupping the man’s face. “If you stopped pissing her off on purpose then she’ll leave you alone.”

A small smile before a deep. “ Yes, my lovely. I’ll do as you say if I’m allowed to ask you a rather personal question.

Bec sighed. The word ‘personal’ made the empath squirm slightly because they were way too personal with each other but he relented. “I… I guess. Go ahead.”

Huesyth seemed to lean forward more, getting into Bec’s face to ask lowly. “ Have you touched yourself at all since my leaving?

Just as Bec suspected, his cheeks immediately went red. “What did I just say?”

It’s a yes or no question, ” Huesyth reminded, a cheeky smile growing on his face as his fangs glinted in the low light.

Initially, Bec didn’t want to answer. He especially didn’t want to answer truthfully but there was always something about Huesyth that made him want to tell the truth. So he swallowed any dignity he had left, any growing fear the Tooth Fairy could throw at him, and he mumbled. “Y-Yes...”

A wolfish smile and a quiet. “ Oh.

Bec settled back against the pillows and his hand drifted lower towards the slowly tenting bulge in his boxers, palming himself through the thin material. “Would… Would you like to keep going?”

A deep chuckle that sent a shiver straight through the younger man’s body. “ What would you like me to say to, beautiful?

He pushed aside the fabric, plunging his hand into the front of his boxers. “Anything. Just keep talking to me, Huesyth.”

Mmm, very well. I imagine these years apart from your lover have been rather hard on you, haven’t they?

“Mm-hmm,” Bec breathed as he pulled his cock free. He licked his palm slightly before wrapping his slick hand around his length and biting back a strangled moan.

But then came a chiding sound into Bec’s ear as if the doctor was nuzzling up next to him and whispering in his ear. “ Please don’t hide your sounds. You know how much I love all the little noises you make, Bec.

The rosy color in Bec’s face was leaking down his body, heating him up from the inside out. This had long since spiraled out of the empath’s control and he found it better to just let himself go. For a time, he can forget. He was good at that. “What would you do if you were here right now?”

His eyes had slid shut but the other man in his bed smoothed a hand against the skin of his lower stomach and Bec knew his hips twitched into the press of that hand. “ I would take you apart, my dear. Piece by piece until your legs wouldn’t work anymore.

“How?” Bec pleaded, the word coming out breathy and quiet.

Hmm ,” The hand dipped lower and wrapped around the tip of Bec’s dick, leaking over his fingers. “ I’d kiss you breathless, bite along those lovely hips of yours. Then, I would take your gorgeous cock into my mouth. Let you sit heavy and hot in my throat until you couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Hnn, yes…” Bec moaned. He stroked harder, a thumb rubbing over the slit to collect the wetness there and spread it down the shaft until the empath was bucking into it. “Please, Huesyth-”

Stretch you open with my fingers, my tongue. You’d be on the edge, toeing it for so long if you’d let me take care of you. You’d be going mad with pleasure but then you’d be open and ready for me, wouldn’t you?

“Oh, god… ” He could feel Huesyth’s eyes on him, imagine the way the doctor’s tongue ran across his lips as a predator’s would.

I want you to stroke yourself faster, Bec. Feel it as if I’m there with you. Feel me.

His back was beginning to arch off of the mattress as he whimpered sharply. “Huesyth, please, I can’t hold on-” “ My hand would wrap around your thin throat, hold you down as I slid into you. So nice and slow that you would think you were about to burst from it but then I’ll go deeper.

Bec’s hips stuttered, jerking up from the mattress as his grip around his cock tightened. He couldn’t form words through the jumbled mess of moans and cut off pleads.

I’ve already been so deep inside you, Bec. Deep enough to leave a piece of myself in you but I would go beyond that. Claim your heart and soul until we were so entangled in one another that they couldn’t cut us apart anymore.

“Ah, please. Yes-” The empath nodded frantically, feeling the sweat along his body begin to reform with his new activity but at least it wasn’t nightmare sweats. He jerked himself faster, perhaps sloppier than Huesyth would actually allow but he didn’t care.

Years of being alone, years of not having another soul touch him let alone drench him in affection and lust like Huesyth was doing, it took its toll. Bec felt like his entire body had been set on fire just by Huesyth’s words. He had no idea when along the line that the doctor had gained this much power over him but Bec hoped that Huesyth was coming apart too. Just by listening to the sounds of Bec’s whimpers and cries and desperate murmurings for more attention. 

The empath could imagine the doctor writhing against the wall of his cell, palming at his own hard length through his jumpsuit with the phone tucked between his ear and shoulder.

The image drug another ragged moan from his bitten lips before he came, spurting white all over his hand and stomach. As his hips twitched, cock dribbling with the last drops of his pleasure, Bec still felt eyes on him. A catlike grin standing sharp and white from the shadows as a pair of lips pressed a kiss against his sweaty face. It felt real and warm. The only comfort he’d felt in a long time and it was from someone who wasn’t even there.

Huesyth spoke softly into his ear, warm and loving and almost as breathless as Bec. “ My beautiful, lovely empath… you continue to surprise me.

There was an odd, out of place mechanical noise that had Bec’s eyes snapping open again to find that the line had been disconnected. The motel room was still dark and lifeless, his cum was drying on his stomach as his skin cooled. It felt like a sudden amputation of a limb that left him empty. Every negative feeling began rising in him again and he sighed heavily in overwhelming disappointment.

Why did he keep doing this to himself?

 

Huesyth thought it would be Bec seeing him again when he was warned of another visit. More questions that the empath could bounce off the doctor. He liked their little back and forth, it was amusing and Bec’s mind was endlessly fascinating to the doctor. But what was even more fascinating was their little late-night phone call that Huesyth would have loved to discuss more in-depth with his beloved empath.

But as Huesyth waited standing behind his desk, hands tucked behind his back casually in preparation, the door was opened and in came Jack Crawford.

Genuinely surprised, Huesyth offered a sharp-toothed smile as the agent approached. “As I live and breathe, I thought I'd seen the last of you, Jack.”

“Dr. Cavalli,” Jack offered cooly.

The doctor’s eyes scanned the other man up and down, taking in his new attire. “You're dressing younger. Have you taken up some sport you enjoy with a new partner? Tennis, maybe?”

Jack also looked down at his all-black attire but returned his gaze to the taller man. “ You've taken up your sport with an old partner.”

“I wrote Bec a note... warning him that you would come calling one of these days.”

The agent nodded. “Yes, I read your note before my office forwarded it to Bec.”

Huesyth cocked his head slightly, scanning the agent’s forehead for traces of the power saw scar. “To whet his appetite or yours? You've placed him back in the pot, and you're letting him cook.”

“We're all in this stew together, Doctor,” Jack sighed, taking in the appearance of Huesyth’s cell.

“It would be more honest if you ate his brain right out of his skull as we tried to do to you.”

“And you’re nothing if not honest,” The older agent sneered.

But Huesyth stared through the other man, narrowing his eyes. “Even after Bec looked you in the eye and chose me, chose our life together, chose to hold that saw against your skull, you still went back to him for help. I can only imagine the look on his face when he saw you again.”

“He chose to stop,” Jack corrected firmly. “You never did.”

Familiar words came tumbling back to the doctor. The image of the empath’s desperate face, his clutching hands, his gentle lips, and teary-eyed pleading. Please stop… If you love me you’ll stop.

For the first time in a while, Huesyth averted his eyes first from the older agent to regain himself. “This shy boy has already seen Bec. He already knows his name.” He looked back at Jack, moving around the desk to stand before the older agent and the glass. “Are you chumming the waters, Jack?”

“It takes one to catch one.”

Ah, Freddie Lounds and her clever slogans but it was incorrect. A mistake in the count. “It takes two to catch one.”

Jack sighed softly to himself. “Bec has never been more effective than he is with you inside his head.”

Huesyth gave a rueful, proud smile.“I agree, but don't think you can persuade me to play along with appeals to my intellectual vanity.”

“I don't think I'll need to persuade you, Doctor,” Jack explained. “You'll either play or you won't.”

The doctor stalked closer to the glass until he could see the vague image of his own face over Jack’s. “Bella used to say your face was all scars if you knew how to look. There's always room for a few more. How much room does Bec have, Jack?”

The older agent didn’t humor Huesyth anymore, stepping back from the glass before exiting the room again. But he wasn’t left alone forever because barely an hour after or so after Jack had left, an orderly appeared. One he recognized, a respectful woman named Denise who didn’t shoot snide comments at him or poke him like an animal in a cage. She pushed an older office phone through the tray in the glass, letting the cord stretch to its length.

“It’s your attorney,” She said before immediately turning and walking back out of the room.

Huesyth smiled. “Thank you.”

He crossed the length of his cell and retrieved the phone from the tray to place against his ear. “Hello?” He greeted.

There was a muffled silence on the other until a breathy voice answered. “Hello, Dr. Cavalli. I wanted to tell you that I am delighted that you have taken an interest in me. I don't believe you would tell them who I am, even if you knew.” It only took the doctor a brief moment to recognize just who he was on the phone with. The shy boy everyone seemed to be buzzing about. The important thing... is what I am becoming. I knew, you alone would understand this.

He took a long moment to think, contemplating a response before he asked. “Tell me. What are you becoming?”

There was a pause before a darker, harsher voice answered. “ The Great... Red Dragon.

Chapter Text

“Hello?” He greeted.

There was a muffled silence on the other until a breathy voice answered. “ Hello, Dr. Cavalli. As an avid fan, I wanted to tell you that I am delighted that you have taken an interest in me. I don't believe you would tell them who I am, even if you knew.

It only took the doctor a brief moment to recognize just who he was on the phone with. The shy boy everyone seemed to be buzzing about. “What particular body you currently occupy is trivial.”

There was a breathy, relieved laugh. “I knew that you alone would understand this. The important thing... is what I am becoming.

He took a long moment to think, contemplating a response before he asked. “Tell me. What are you becoming?”

There was a pause before a darker, harsher voice answered. “ The Great... Red Dragon.

Just hearing his voice was enough. Enough for Huesyth to start imagining the killer in his mind. It painted a vivid picture of who this man was and who he wanted to be. The doctor could almost imagine sitting across the room from him in his Baltimore office, mid-therapy session.

I have admired you for years,” The man on the phone expressed, voice filled with awe, but Huesyth put a face to the words. And I have a complete collection of your press notices. Actually, I think of them more as unfair reviews.

“As unfair as yours? They like to sling demeaning nicknames, don't they?”

Tooth Fairy, ” He spat like acid.

Curiously, Huesyth cocked his head. “What could be more inappropriate?”

It would shame me for you to see that... if I didn't know that you have suffered the same distortions in the press.

“You've read Freddie Lounds' latest?”

The other man paused and Huesyth could see him shake his head in dissatisfaction. “ ...It’s not a good picture of you.

“Your speech is bent and pruned by disabilities, real and imagined, but your words are startling.”

I want... to be recognized by you.

Huesyth gave a quirk of his lips. “As John the Baptist recognized the one who came after.”

I want to sit before you as the Dragon sat before 666 in Revelation. I have... things I would love to show you. Someday, if circumstances permit, I would like to meet you and watch you... meld... with the strength of the Dragon.

The fire seemed to roar into Huesyth’s vision as the man described it, the thick leathery red wings spreading wide as they reared up and the Dragon, perched high on a rock, roared into the sky. “See how magnificent you are? ‘Did he who made the Lamb make thee?’”

 

“...He never called me by my name. That was strange at first, and then it wasn't strange.” The door to the lecture hall closed quietly behind the empath as he entered. He turned to see the blonde doctor in front of the podium and her eyes met his. “And then my name was Lydia Fell.”

It was then that they both became painfully aware of the presence of the other but the audience was listening in rapt wonder at her tale. That was all it was. A tall tale.

After the phone call with Huesyth, Bec was left filled with brewing regret. He shouldn’t have left himself open to attack like that. From how easily he was swayed, he should’ve just rolled over and let Huesyth sink the knife back into his gut, finishing the job.

Bec’s emotions were a mess. Both from the Tooth Fairy that he had now set loose in his mind and from Huesyth.

But he knew one person that could probably get him to take his mind off of it for a while.

“Deeply-felt truths about myself as Bedelia Du Maurier were smoke and mirrors of the highest order,” Bedelia proclaimed. Bec worked his way into the audience, taking a seat in the gallery but Bedelia’s gaze followed him. Her eyes watched him carefully. Even when they weren’t on him, he was in her peripheral like she was waiting to be attacked. “What we take for granted about our sense of self, everything we see, everything we remember, is nothing more than a construct of the mind.”

She took steps forward as she spoke, moving down the aisle towards the empath before Bedelia laid a gentle but unwanted hand on his shoulder. Bec eyed her hand and then her face with an uneasy mix of skepticism and pity as Bedelia slipped away again to move back to the podium.

“Dante was the first to conceive of hell as a planned space. An urban environment. Before Dante, we spoke not of the ‘Gates of Hell’, but of the ‘Mouth of Hell’. My journey to damnation began when I was swallowed by the beast.”

Bedelia locked eyes with the empath as applause erupted around them. Minutes later with the lecture finished, the people began filing towards the exit, passing by Bedelia at her podium to offer their congratulations. She humbly accepted their compliments, offering her thanks and shaking their hands. The last of the crowd filtered out and that left the two Huesyth Cavalli ‘victims’ alone together. It was time for the patient empath to confront the woman who looked up at him with a friendly face.

“Poor Dr. Du Maurier, swallowed whole. Suffering inside Huesyth Cavalli's bowels for what must have felt like an eternity.” Bec approached her at her podium, calm but silently seething. “You didn't lose yourself, Bedelia, you just crawled so far up his ass you couldn't be bothered.”

“Hello, Bec,” She greeted, unimpressed with his attempts to unsettle her.

The empath’s eyes moved around the impressive space of her lecture hall and he thought of how she achieved such a status. “You hitched your star to a man commonly referred to as a monster... You're the Bride of Frankenstein.”

Bedelia’s lip couldn’t help but curl at the corner, deceiving her friendly facade. “We’ve both been his bride but I think you have me beat in his favoritism.”

With his jaw clenching in annoyance, Bec continued. “How did you manage to walk away unscarred, huh? I'm covered in scars.”

She cocked her head slightly. “I wasn't myself. You were. Even when you thought you weren't, you were.”

“I wasn't wearing adequate armor.”

“No. You were naked.” Bedelia closed her lecture notes. “Have you been to see him?”

Bec hesitated slightly before answering. “Yes.”

A pointed grin flashed across her face. She seemed amused by his honesty. “You haven't learned your lesson, have you? Or did you just miss him that much?”

The question was rhetorical but it seemed to dig deeper than he wanted it to. He was never good at keeping the control of conversations and this one was quickly slipping through his hands. “Have you been to see him?”

“I've seen enough of him,” Bedelia scoffed. “I was with him behind the veil. You, on the other hand, were always on the other side.”

She collected her things, retrieving her briefcase from the ground by the side of the podium before making her way towards the exit but Bec said after her. “Something we should talk about.”

Without looking back, Bedelia concurred. “You’ll have to make an appointment.”

 

The doors opened again and Huesyth peered up at whoever was entering his cell. Denise the orderly entered with the same pushcart as before with the phone resting on it but before she reached the glass wall, she turned to the doctor.

“Go behind your worktable,” Denise told. Huesyth listened, setting his book aside on his cot before standing and moving behind the desk at the center of the room. “If you approach the barrier before you hear the lock snap, I'll mace you in the face. Understand?”

“Yes, indeed,” Huesyth concurred.

The orderly placed the phone through the drawer in the glass and closed the door, locking it with the aforementioned snap.

“Thank you so much, Denise.”

The orderly nodded politely as she quickly left the room and closed the doors again to leave Huesyth in total privacy or at least the closest thing to it. He crossed the cell and picked up the phone from the slot.

Are you ready for your call? ” A man’s voice asked from the speaker.

“Yes, please.”

As soon as he heard the phone begin to ring, he quickly began to unscrew the telephone’s bare faceplate, exposing the wires and relays inside.

You've reached the offices of Byron-

He used the soft pen he’d been given to begin poking around carefully within the relays, quickly disconnecting the call. A few more prods before the ringing began. He replaced the front of the phone, clicking it back in place, and pressed it against his ear.

Operator, ” A new voice picked up.

“Operator, I don't have the use of my hands. Could you please ring 667-JL5-0102?”

Of course. Have a nice day.

“Thank you.”

More ringing and then a woman’s voice answered. “ Dr. Frederick Chilton's office.

“Is this Linda?” Huesyth questioned.

Linda doesn't come in on weekends.

“Maybe you could help me then, if you don't mind,” Huesyth began. “This is Bob Greer at Blaine and Edwards Publishing. Dr. Chilton asked me to send a copy of his book to someone, and Linda was supposed to give me the address and phone number, but she never did.”

Well, she’ll be in on Monday if you’d like to call back, ” The desk woman reassured.

“I have to catch Federal Express in about five minutes, and I don't want to bother Frederick at home. It's just right there in his contacts. I'll dance at your wedding if you'll read it to me.”

There was a pause, a moment of thought before he heard her sigh softly.

Okay, I’m opening the file, ” She explained and Huesyth couldn’t help the smirk that played on his lips.

With a purr in his voice akin to a lion lazing in the sun, Huesyth directed her. “Be a darling and slide that cursor down to the letter R, give it a click and I'll be out of your hair.”

Alright. What was the name?

“Reyes. Bec Reyes.”

 

“Have you had any contact with him?”

Bedelia paused before answering. “He sends me greeting cards on Christian holidays and my birthday. He always includes a recipe.”

Bec scoffed slightly, looking across the way to find the blonde sitting across from him in her house office. It felt strange to walk the same paths as Huesyth once did and sit where he had sat. “If he does end up eating you, Bedelia, you of all people have had it coming.”

Her brow twitched up a bit, curious as to when he had drawn that conclusion. She didn’t seem as concerned by the prospect of being consumed as Bec would imagine. “I can't blame him for doing what evolution has equipped him to do.”

“If we just do whatever evolution equipped us to do, murder and cannibalism are morally acceptable,” Bec clipped as he crossed his legs, sitting back more firmly in the chair.

“They are acceptable,” Bedelia interjected with a light shrug. “To murderers and cannibals... And to you.”

“And you ,” Bec cut in, far more of a sneer than he wanted it to be but he wouldn’t be thrown under the bus alone. Not when so many others had a hand in it as well. “You lied too, Bedelia. You do that a lot... Why do you do that a lot?”

His question made Bedelia raise an eyebrow at the man. “I obfuscate. Huesyth was never not my patient. Covert treatment suffers secrecy and disapproval.”

“Covert because... Huesyth was an uncooperative patient?” Bec questioned.

“Covert because I was a cooperative psychiatrist,” The blonde woman answered. “‘Do no harm’.”

“And did you?”

“I did,” Bedelia said but she tacked on the end of her sentence a firm. “ Technically.

The empath nodded. “You dared to care.”

“Not the first time I've lost professional objectivity in a matter where Huesyth was concerned.”

He remembered her retelling of the patient that she had indirectly killed. Apparently, it was under the influence of Huesyth which he could believe. But she had shoved her entire arm down his throat until he had choked on his own blood. When is the line drawn between manipulation and pure participation?

Bec cocked his head to the side slightly, letting his eyes avert from her for a moment. “How is one patient worthy of compassion and another not?”

“I'm under no illusion how morally consistent my compassion has been,” Bedelia told him firmly. “How is one murderer worthy of compassion and not another?”

“All that time you were with Huesyth behind the veil, you'd already killed one patient. Did it ever occur to you to kill another?”

With a frustrated strain to her tone, Bedelia sighed. “My relationship with Huesyth is not as passionate as yours. You are here visiting an old flame while I’m trying to avoid it’s rekindling. Is your sister aware of how tangled within Huesyth’s web you truly are?”

Uncomfortable now, he straightened up slightly in his chair because he’d been thinking about that since he had left. His sister was no idiot. She knew exactly what had happened between he and Huesyth and if she didn’t know the full story, she could at least assume. Sofia was hopeful that he’d make the right choices but Bec saw her smile wither out of the corner of his eye when he packed his car up.

He swallowed his own shame and the heavy knot sitting in his throat. “Realistically… I think she holds no expectations for me to return just to save herself the heartache of hoping.”

“You couldn't save Huesyth, not from himself or his past. Do you think you can save this new one?” Bedelia asked and Bec narrowed his eyes at her, struck by the question. “Your experience of Huesyth's attention is so profoundly harmful, yet so irresistible, it undermines your ability to think rationally.”

“I am thinking rationally,” Bec snapped at her.

But Bedelia seemed doubtful as if she had heard the exact answer from someone else. “You're walking down the street and you see a wounded bird in the grass. What's your first thought?”

The empath had to think far longer for his answer than what was really necessary. His words were chosen too carefully. “It's vulnerable. I would want to help it.”

“My first thought is also that it's vulnerable. And yet... I want to crush it. A primal rejection of weakness which is every bit as natural as the nurturing instinct. Of course, I wouldn't crush it, but my first thought is to do just that.” She paused, her eyes averting towards the tall windows of her office before she turned back to the empath. “One thing I learned from Huesyth is the alchemy of lies and truths. It's how he convinced you that you're a killer.”

“But you’re not convinced I am?” Bec questioned. If he remembered correctly, everyone else was very convinced.

“You're not a killer. You're capable of righteous violence because you are compassionate.”

“I think you’re the only one who truly believes that,” The empath expressed before he furrowed his brow at her. “How are you capable?”

“Extreme acts of cruelty require... a high level of empathy. The next time you have an instinct to help someone, you might consider crushing them instead. It might save you a great deal of trouble.”

 

Huesyth stared down at the photo of the symbol that Bec had found carved into the tree beyond the Jacobis’ yard. They were still lingering extremely close to the glass, next to the tray where Huesyth removed the photo.

“It was done carefully and cleanly with a very sharp knife,” The empath explained but he wasn’t looking down at the photo. He was studying the doctor’s face, scanning over the blank mask of Huesyth’s human guise and trying to find the cracks in it. “It was not the work of a child.”

The doctor said without looking up. “It's a Chinese character which means, ‘You hit it,’ an expression sometimes used in gambling.”

“A lucky sign. The character also appears on a mah-jongg tile. Marks the Red Dragon.”

“‘And behold a great red dragon…’” Bec eyed the doctor a moment as he stepped away, knowing the tricks and mannerisms of Huesyth. “Are you familiar with William Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun? Blake's Dragon stands over a pleading woman caught in the coil of its tail. Few images in Western art radiate such a unique and... nightmarish charge of demonic sexuality.”

Rolling his eyes, Bec ignored the very prominent insinuation. He didn’t need an art history lesson when his mind was drenched in blood. “The man who killed the Jacobis and the Leedses saw something in them that drew him in and drove him to do it. He chose them because something in them spoke to him.”

“The Jacobis were the first to help him, the first to lift him into the glory of his becoming,” Huesyth explained and his words were padded with flourish. “The Jacobis were better than anything he knew.”

“Until the Leedses,” Bec added.

Huesyth cocked his head a bit like the curious animal he always had been but there was a slight grin on his lips. “As the Dragon grows in strength and glory, there will be more families to come.”

The empath sighed. That was the last thing he had wanted to hear. “I have to believe there is a common factor and that we will find it... soon .”

“Otherwise you have to enter more houses and see what the Dragon has left for you. I can only imagine the fear and stress this is causing you but there are eleven days to the next full moon. I like this Dragon, Bec. I don't think he's crazy at all.”

Huesyth slid the photos back into the tray before they met eyes on either side of the glass. The reflections of their faces seemed to line up as if they were the same person. “I think he may be quite sane. A magnificent thing, to watch the world through his red haze.”

A pause passed between them and they just stared. Bec’s focus becoming so pointed that he could almost imagine that the glass wasn’t there at all. It was just them, posturing like they always did to see who could find the killer quicker.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Bec suddenly questioned and his mouth twitched at the corner. “Watching everyone scramble for answers while fearing that this guy will somehow not follow the pattern and end up killing more people.”

And that was when his mask flickered ever so slightly. Huesyth grinned, sharp and mean and so self-assured. “Like rats running from a hungry cat.”

“We aren’t running away, Huesyth,” Bec snapped, furrowing his brow.

Huesyth shrugged a bit, folding hands behind his back innocently. “Well, you’re certainly not running towards him. Not yet anyway.”

Slowly, Bec shook his head a bit. “You must’ve been bored. All these years with nothing to do, nothing to keep you interested. All you’ve done is listen to people tell you what you are. Assign you labels.”

Huesyth’s face slowly dropped until he was nothing but a stone statue of himself, watching with predator’s eyes as Bec spoke. The empath knew he was twisting the knife but he didn’t like being played with. He had enough of being a cat toy for serial killers to bat around whenever they pleased.

Though, he should have known better than to take his frustrations out on Huesyth because the doctor suddenly smiled. “And what label have they assigned you, dear? Victim? Accomplice? Are you a part of a statistic now just like Bedelia, Jack, and Alana? Another casualty of Cavalli the Cannibal?”

“It’s easier to deal with than you think,” Bec answered quickly. Too quickly.

And Huesyth noticed his defensiveness, raising an eyebrow at the other man. “It’s as easy for you to deal with as it is for me. Bite your tongue and let them say whatever it takes for you to slip through the cracks at least mostly unscatched.”

He didn’t have a better answer so instead, Bec snapped. “Is there a point to this?”

Huesyth paused, mouth a thin unimpressed line. “...We’re conjoined, dearest. Remember?”

At that moment, Bec’s blood went as cold as ice, freezing in his veins.

Oh, that day where his body ached from being thrown from a train and his head pulsed with confusion. Everything hurt but then he saw Huesyth, sitting before the Primavera like he had done a dozen times before, and Bec just knew. He was so eager to escape the city, escape his life, and run away with the person who had caused him so much pain. Then Mason’s men came and it was like he had reality bashed into his skull.

Through the thoughts coursing through him, Huesyth’s voice cut in. “You can’t be rid of me anymore than I can be rid of you. I’m in your blood and you are in mine. We share scars and share space in this world and in any other.”

“Huesyth, stop-” “And there’s that denial again,” Huesyth seethed softly. “Denial is a sickness and the longer you hold onto it, the sicker you get. You’ll be driven mad by it.”

“Is that what happened to you?” Bec asked.

“...I’ve never denied myself anything.”

The empath took a step back, breathing in deep before scoffing. “Liar.”

 

BROOKLYN MUSEUM

He had followed Huesyth’s suggestion of the painting to the museum that held it. Devoid of the general public because of the day but he was allowed to go with one of the tour guides to see the famed watercolor in the vault below.

“It's just this way, Mr. Reyes,” His tour guide began, walking him towards the line of elevators against the wall. “You know, you're the second person who's asked to see the Blake today. Guess it’s a popular day.”

That left a sinking feeling in the empath’s gut but he kept quiet and followed the guide down a few flights. He swallowed heavily at the sound of the elevator dinging, signaling their arrival to anyone who might be down there.

They stepped out of the elevator, into the racks of paintings surrounding them before the guide turned to him. “Wait here. Paula, I have another visitor for The Great Red Dragon... Paula?”

The man moved off, into a room where Bec couldn’t see him anymore. But darkness moved out of the corner of the empath’s eye and his attention was drawn back to the elevator behind him. The door was sliding shut but he noticed the tips of men’s dress shoes, someone was pressing themselves against the side of the elevator to hide. He thought quickly and maybe not all the way through because he stuck his arm between the doors to open them again.

A tall man with cropped black hair and a prominent nose slowly turned, dressed in a light grey suit. Glimpsing down the man’s face, Bec noticed his cleft lip on the left side of his face. It all seemed to move in slow motion until it all snapped back into place.

Before Bec could calibrate just what was happening, the man reached forward and snatched the empath up by his shirt collar with startling power. He ripped him up from the floor and slammed the smaller man against the back wall of the elevator before violently tossing him away back onto the floor between the paintings. With a grunt of pain as he hit the floor, Bec scrambled to stand and race after the man but the doors slid shut in his face. He clamored towards the stairwell and threw himself out into the main hall, desperately searching for any sign of the man. He was gone.

Chapter Text

“He ate a painting.”

“He ate it?” Jack repeated in disbelief.

Bec’s head pulsed with pain from where it had been slammed into the back of the elevator. He felt completely battered but he had to put up with the agent’s shouting. With a shrug, he said again. “He ate it up. The Art Squad in New York snapped to it when they found out what he ate.”

Face still lax with shock or maybe even disbelief, Jack shook his head slightly. As he rested his arms on his desk, Bec could practically see the cogs turning in his head even as he began going over their findings. “They pulled two partial prints from the plastic pass he used. No ID, but it's still the same thumb that was on Mrs. Leeds' eye.”

“What about the docent at the museum?” Alana asked from one of the chairs in front of Jack’s desk.

“He had a sweet touch with her,” Bec explained. “She had to have, uh, four stitches. Mild concussion, but he didn't kill her.”

Confused, Alana furrowed her brow. “Why?”

“He would have been better off killing her... and you,” Jack said, motioning to the empath with his head. “Why didn’t he? He’s never had problems with it before.”

“Maybe he's trying to stop,” Alana suggested with a slight shrug.

It was a notion that landed hard with the empath. In reality, it seemed simple. Maybe he wants to stop , but to Bec it was so much more. When Huesyth held a knife to Abigail’s throat, he couldn’t stop. When Delmar gripped him and tossed him over the side of a moving train, he couldn’t stop…

When Bec himself took Randall Tier’s head in his hands and snapped his neck with a crack as loud as a gunshot, he couldn’t stop.

Jack asked the woman seated on the other side of his desk. “You think there's a way to push him to be self-destructive?”

But Alana furrowed her brow again at the older agent. “You mean push him towards suicide?”

“Suicide suits me just fine,” Jack clipped, holding no sympathy for the Dragon.

“If he's really trying to stop, he's not going to kill himself,” Bec cut in. Both of the others looked up to the empath as he looked between them. “How could he be sure his death would affect whatever's inside him?”

“You must know something about him otherwise you wouldn't have found him,” Jack pressed.

Bec matched gazes with the steely-eyed agent. He knew that Jack would eventually see through the thin veil of sanity that he’s been holding on to. The empath offered a thin sort of smile.

“Jack Crawford, fisher of men, watching my cork move against the current. You got me again. Huesyth told me where to find him.”

Jack seemed to deflate with disappointment. Who wouldn’t be disappointed in knowing that Bec was still listening to everything that the doctor said?

Bec continued nonetheless. “He knows. He knows who the Dragon is. He probably treated him.”

 

It stunned me the first time I saw it.

“Like Blake peeked in your ear and saw the Red Dragon there. Coiled inside you. Coiled around you. This new twoness with the Dragon is disorienting for you.”

Our wills were one,” The man explained. But not now. Not since her. The Dragon has never spoken to me before. It was frightening.

“What did it say?” Huesyth asked.

It called my name. It wants her.

Huesyth quirked his eyebrow. “If it weren't for the power of your becoming, if it weren't for the Dragon, you could never have had her.”

He hesitated before describing. “ I... put my hand on her beating heart. Heard the sound of her... living voice. A... A living woman. How bizarre. I don't want to give her to the Dragon.

“The Dragon is in your belly now…” Huesyth began lowly as if whispering into the man’s ear. “You can choose to have her alive. You don't have to worry about feeling love for her. You can always toss the Dragon someone else.”

He considered that for a moment before expressing. “ Bec Reyes interests me. He… was your lover and bore your children but he’s getting close. He’s handsome but purposeful.

“I understand the interest but... he has a family.” Huesyth leaned back against the wall of his cell. “Save yourself. Kill them all.”

 

“Mom!” She heard her daughter shout. Bianca’s head snapped up to find Avery rushing towards her back onto the porch. “ Mom!

“What?” Bianca asked, taking in the tears running down her daughter’s face.

Avery pointed back down to where she had run from. “There’s something wrong with Molly!”

The young girl grabbed her mom’s hand, pulling the woman up from her chair to drag her to the porch steps and motioning down to where the chocolate-colored dog was laying in the grass to the side of the driveway. Lying on her side but still breathing, shallow and slow.

Working quickly, Bianca drove Molly and Avery to the veterinarian’s office in town. One of the nurses took the dog into the back room but they weren’t allowed to go back with her despite Avery’s demands.

“Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on with her,” Bianca explained, switching her cellphone to her other ear when Avery leaned against her side from her chair. “The vet is looking at her now.”

Should I come by too? ” Sofia asked, concern lacing her words.

“No, no. You don’t have to leave work. I got it handled for now.”

Sofia sighed softly and Bianca could imagine the way her wife would pinch the bridge of her nose. “ Do you think she could’ve gotten into something?

“I thought I was watching her pretty well.” At that moment the door to the back room opened and the female vet in a white smock came through. “I got to go, Sof. The vet is here.”

She hung up her phone as she stood, the doctor addressing her. “She may have gotten into something she shouldn't have. Has there been any changes in her diet?”

Bianca shook her head. “We feed her canned food. The same brand we’ve always used.”

“Is it canned food made in China?” The vet asked and Bianca furrowed her brow. 

“Is it bad to be made in China?”

“If it’s pet food,” The vet concurred. “Dogs get poisoned by Chinese pet food all the time.”

Bianca tried to think back and remember the labels on the cans but she didn’t know if she saw a Made in China sticker. But before she could explain that to the veterinarian, Avery piped up from behind her. “Is Molly gonna die?”

“No, she’s not gonna…” Bianca went to answer but she looked back to the vet to ask. “Is she gonna die?”

“No. I mean, you got her here really fast and the activated charcoal should soak up whatever's in her system.” Bianca let out a relieved sigh. “It would help though if you could bring me a sample of whatever it is she’s been eating so we can run some tests.”

Bianca nodded. “I'll bring it by tomorrow.”

“Okay, in the meantime, we'll keep Molly here overnight and we'll monitor her recovery,” The vert offered before looking down at Avery. “She should be fine.”

“Thank you,” Bianca thanked as the vet walked away and she sat back down in the lobby chair next to her daughter.

“Should we check on Uncle Bec’s snakes too?” The young girl questioned.

“The snakes don’t eat dog food, baby.”

Avery shrugged. “I know but I’m worried about them. I just don’t want Uncle Bec to be sad like me when I found Molly.”

Bianca couldn’t help but give a small smile at the sweetness of her daughter. She ran a gentle hand through Avery’s hair before standing. “Okay. Let’s go check on your uncle’s snakes then.”

 

“I'm not fortune's fool…” Bec started, slowly turning to face the doctor. Huesyth was staring up at his oculus in the ceiling of his cell and the moon shining down on him. “I'm yours. ‘Behold the Great Red Dragon’.”

“And did you?” Huesyth asked, finally turning his attention back to the empath. “In all his glory?”

“The Brooklyn Museum is closed to the public on Tuesdays,” Bec said as if Huesyth didn’t already know. “But researchers are admitted. You knew that's when we'd both be going.”

Calmly, Huesyth stepped around his desk to close the distance but they both kept a substantial amount of room between them. Even without the help of the glass barrier. “A sophisticated intelligence can forecast many things. I suppose mine is sophisticated enough.”

Bec narrowed his eyes at the doctor’s attempt to derail the conversation. He wasn’t telling Bec something and he thought he might know what it was. And if he was right about it then Bec was angry . “He's contacted you, hasn’t he?”

“How do you imagine that happening?” Huesyth asked back with a tip of his head and Bec knew he was playing coy. “Personal ads? Writing notes of admiration on toilet paper?”

“Huesyth, I could’ve been killed -” “But you weren’t.”

Bec stepped forward finally as if he could get into Huesyth face. “There's a family out there who don't know he's coming. We can save them... Tell me who he is.”

“I don't know who he is.” Bec hated that he saw a version of truthfulness on Huesyth’s face. He really didn’t know or at least he didn’t know enough but then he followed it up with. “When you close your eyes, Bec, is it your family you see?”

“Huesyth, stop. Why are you doing this now? ” The empath hissed. “How is he choosing them?”

With a careless shrug of his shoulders, Huesyth quipped. “Social media, I imagine. Can't be too careful with privacy settings.”

Bec let out a frustrated groan and wanted to dig his nails into his own eyes. “Do you know who they are?”

“Yes,” Huesyth answered simply.

“And you're willing to let them die...”

Huesyth’s face barely moved, didn’t reveal anything to his emotions and Bec wanted to scream at his closed off nature. “They're not my family, Bec. And I'm not letting them die. You are.”

 

She had no idea what woke her up. A sixth sense that roused her from what she thought was a deep slumber. Something was wrong. Something was off and it wasn’t just the lack of a dog at the foot of her bed or the lack of the sounds of Bec screaming from a nightmare. Moonlight through the sheer curtains sent moonlight through streaming across the covers but a shiver was sent down at her spine at a sound out of place.

Boards quietly creaking outside on the patio that matched slow footsteps. Sofia leaned over to her wife, quickly shaking her shoulder until the other woman awoke with a low grumble. Sofia shushed her softly though.

“Someone’s outside the house,” Sofia whispered.

Bianca’s eyes seemed to snap open wide but Sofia pushed her to stand before she could ask any more questions, digging the aluminum baseball bat out from under the bed. They both quickly threw on real pants and boots, Sofia moving across the hall to Avery’s room while Bianca waited by the door. Until the distant sound of a lock clicking downstairs had a spike of panic shoot through her. But she squared her shoulders, hands gripping the bat handle tighter as she made her way towards the stairs.

She could see a shadow pass by the steps downstairs but whoever it was, they didn’t come up just yet. Moving down the steps slowly, none of them creaking under her weight, Bianca came to the first floor. She pressed herself back against the wall, following where she thought the shadow went.

Bianca nearly sighed once not finding anyone until she saw a tall dark figure emerge from the guest bedroom that Bec usually resided in. She quickly moved a hand over her mouth, stepping back into the shadows again before the man could see her.

Those creaking boots began coming towards her again, back in the direction of the stairs but as soon as he stepped into her line of sight, she swung the bat as hard as she could at the man’s head. It connected with a resounding clang as the metal hit skull and the man’s head snapped backward with a pained shout, whatever he was holding clattering to the floor. Bianca had half a mind to kick whatever it was away from his grasp until a hand gripped her hair.

She was yanked backward by the dark brunette strands, dropping her bat as she was dragged into the man’s arms and pulled up off her feet, but she reached back to dig her nails into the man’s face. That hand tangled in fabric however instead of skin and, with a grunt of effort, she flung her head back to slam into the man’s face again.

Bianca was dropped heavily to the floor, pulling the fabric off with her descent but he tumbled to the floor too with a crash. Before he could collect himself, Bianca scrambled over to him and slammed a fist into his face. Wailing her fists onto the man’s head until his large hand came up and gripped her throat with a powerful force, stealing her air from her lungs.

It was the first time she could actually see her attacker. Even covered in blood from his busted nose, he had an identifiable face with his square jaw, prominent nose, and almost scared eyes. But then his cleft lips parted with a spine-shivering roar and his teeth were jagged, crooked, and yellow. Too big for his mouth. Too monstrous for his human face. 

He lunged at her, his grip tightening around her throat as he stood and pulled her onto her feet. He slammed her head once into the wall, a fuzzy pain shooting through her skull as her vision blurred. A trickle of hot blood running down her brow.

But she dug her nails into his wrist, thrashing like an animal in his grip as she kicked at his legs until the heel of her boot slammed into the man’s groin. He howled in pain as his grip loosened and she fell back to the floor, attempting to make her escape until a steel grip wrapped around her leg and yanked her back. Her elbow was aimed at his face but he growled again, pulled her arm out and sunk his horrible, ugly teeth into her forearm. It drew blood to the surface and she could feel the raw stinging like needles shooting up her veins.

She shouted, slamming her fist into his face until his teeth finally withdrew as he stood to his full, towering height above her. With his grip firmly around Bianca’s arms, he dragged her back into the living room, back towards the stairs, and she screamed. Thrashing and kicking again but he seemed tired of it. He pulled her, held her over his head with a strength that didn’t seem possible and threw her down onto the coffee table in the middle of the room. The table shattered under the force of her landing and her head slammed against the floor.

Everything was fading in and out of the darkness of unconsciousness as Bianca coughed, struggling to pull herself up out of the splintered wood around her. But then the dark shape moved over her again. She blinked away the pain in her body until her eyes focused on the barrel of a gun with a silencer being held over her. The man was breathing heavily, his face bloody and twisted with rage as he glared down at her.

It seemed like an eternity passed as she stared up at who she thought would be the last face she’d ever see. But then there was another shout of effort before that aluminum bat was slammed into the side of the man’s head. He crumbled to the side but the bat kept coming, banging against him over and over until the new attacker thought he wouldn’t get up and then Sofia straightened. Breathing rapid and uncoordinated, she reached a hand down to her wife.

“We need to go. Come on!” Sofia ushered as she pulled her wife up.

“Avery…” Bianca whispered, spitting blood out onto the floor.

“Outside,” Sofia clipped. “Let’s go.”

They rushed out the front door, slamming it behind them as they rushed down the porch stairs but instead of immediately rushing to the road, Sofia led them under the porch. Behind the stacks of cut logs, they moved towards the car only to hear the front door clatter open above them with a slam. They froze in their movements as heavy boots stomped out onto the porch above their heads. But through the dark, they could see Avery duck down below the car, her face lighting up in the night at the sight of her mothers.

Sofia held a finger to her lips, signaling for the young girl to be quiet but the boots moved. The man was pacing towards the car and it was only a matter of time before he noticed Avery’s tracks in the snow. Thinking on her feet, Sofia grabbed one of the logs and tossed back in the opposite direction, letting it clatter into the treeline away from Avery. They listen as those boots follow above them and Bianca quickly waved her daughter over to which Avery listened. Rushing over under the porch and falling into Sofia’s arms. The three hugged each other tightly as Avery choked down a small sob.

Before the man could notice there wasn’t anyone there, Sofia held out her keys to the car and the alarm blared out into the silent night. Lights flashing, sound blaring cutting through the silence. As soon as they heard boots and the sound of silent shots breaking the windows to the car, the trio rushed the other way and burst out into the trees until they came onto the road. They ran and ran through the night, Avery carried in Sofia’s grip as her mothers’ feet sunk into the deep, slush of snow covering the road.

Once they reached the main road, Bianca stepped out into the high beams of an oncoming car, waving her arms. “Wait! Hey, stop!”

The car came to a screeching halt, swerving to miss the bloody woman as the two on the side of the road shouted to Bianca.

“Go, go, go,” Bianca snapped and Sofia and Avery rushed to the passenger side as the driver stepped out.

“I almost killed you!” The driver shouted as he watched a little girl get pushed into the back seat of his car, laying on the floorboards. “What are you-”

“Get back in the car!” Bianca demanded.

Before he could respond a silenced shot hit him in the head with a spray of blood across the taller woman’s face. She flinched with horror as the driver dropped to the ground and Sofia screamed at the sight of the dark figure moving towards them. The women scrambled into the front seat of the car, Bianca in the driver’s seat and slamming her foot onto the gas before he could get to them but not before a bullet shot out the driver side window. He was opening fire on them but Bianca floored down the road, tires sliding momentarily on the slick roads.

Forcing breaths into her burning lungs, Sofia leaned over the middle console, only slightly but then another rain of bullets hits the back of the car, shattering the back windshield. A spray of blood splashed across the front of the car as a bullet rips through Sofia’s left shoulder. That was what got Avery to scream, glass raining down over her but Bianca kept driving as Sofia shook with pain.

She didn’t know if it was the blood pounding in her ears or not but she swore she heard another anguished scream echo out into the night.

 

He walked into the horrible glare of hospital fluorescents but it didn’t stop him from nearly sprinting down the halls towards the waiting room. Passing FBI agents and hospital security as he rushed through the halls until he found the room he was directed to. The door was guarded by two FBI agents and threw the door open.

Within the room, Avery flinched, squealing slightly at the noise as every pair of eyes in the room shot up to him. Jack was there, notebook in his hand, and sitting on the bed with the eight-year-old girl sobbing into her chest was Bianca. Her face was badly bruised, a bandage over a cut on her right eyebrow and another thicker bandage wrapped around her right forearm. Blood was staining her face slightly and her eyes were wide, jittery with fear. Bec sighed in relief at the sight of them alive but he noticed the lack of the third member.

“She’s in surgery right now,” Jack explained at the sight of the empath’s distress, pocketing his notebook. “She should be fine.”

He swallowed heavily, nodding numbly. Jack patted him lightly on the shoulder as he left the room and left the three alone.

Struggling for words, Bec stared the floor as he spoke. “Bian-” “Is there anything else I need to do before we see Sofia? Agent Crawford took a statement, they scraped skin samples from under my nails, they took a description. Is there anything else?”

The empath looked at her, scared out of her mind and on edge as she clutched her baby close. “You three are safe here.”

Bianca scoffed, the sound watery as her throat closed around a sob she wanted to keep buried. “Is this the same crazy guy that you left to go find?”

Bec swallowed heavily. “We think so.”

The woman’s eyes finally moved up to meet his. “Did Cavalli have anything to do with this? I read that magazine, Bec. They said he was helping with this case.”

“Bianca, I think you two need to rest.”

The woman’s brow furrowed in anger. “That guy’s face is seared into my brain. I can’t close my eyes without seeing him. I… I will rest when I can see Sofia.”

He nodded, mouth pressed into a thin line. “I will catch him, Bianca.”

She didn’t respond instead she just continued to shush Avery as she cried, pressing kisses to the crown of her head. Even from across the room, Bec could see her little body shaking. He took the hint and stepped back, leaving the room to step out into the corridor where Jack was waiting.

“Get anything?” Jack asked.

His fear and worry had subsided slightly and in rushed a seething rage that was visible to anyone paying attention. “I’m not in the mood, Jack.”

“Resentment is raising a blister in you, Bec.”

The empath nodded tightly with a small huff as he shoved his hands into his jacket pockets. “You think you might lose me after this, Jack? You think I might go back to my family?”

Jack looked back to the door of the hospital room but then to Bec. “For a minute, I did.”

The answer was an honest one but it made Bec want to scream until his throat started bleeding because Jack didn’t even seem surprised. “Right. And then you realized what I realized, which is I can't go home and neither can they, not until the Red Dragon is out of the way.”

He left Jack in that hallway, paced around the hospital until Sofia was later let out of surgery and then he, Bianca, and Avery all went to her room. The door slid open, more FBI agents on the outside, and the woman and child went first into the room. They found Sofia lying in the bed with her eyes closed, her inky hair splayed out across the pillow, clean dressings over the left side of her shoulder and arm where the bullet hit. Tubes and IVs running in and out of her. Bianca and Avery moved to the other side of the bed, Sofia’s uninjured side and the empath saw the woman breathing heavily as tears streamed down her face.

He had no idea if they were tears of sadness for her wife’s state or joy at her being alive but she gripped Sofia’s limp hand in hers and held it. Suddenly, It felt like he was a stranger even with his own sister but he breathed through the want to curl into a ball and cry and simply slid into the chair next to the door. Minutes past and he hadn’t noticed he’d let his eyes clothes until he felt a tug on his hand. He opened them to find Avery’s tear-stained, bright red face staring back at him.

“Can I sit with you, Uncle Bec?” The girl asked, her breathing hitching slightly.

His heart snapped in his chest but he nodded, pulling the girl into his lap so she could bury her face in his neck. The feeling of hot tears soaking into the shirt was all he could feel.

 

The click-click-click of heeled shoes approaching and the wheels of a pushcart had Huesyth setting aside the book he was reading. As he suspected, Alana emerged into the room beyond the glass wall with said cart, the telephone trolley. She did as Denise usually did and plugged the phone into the outlet near the tray, all without speaking a word. But then she looked back at him as he sat up on his cot, cocking his head slightly.

“I'm sorry to interrupt,” Alana began, not a hint of an apologetic tone in her voice. “You have a telephone call. It's your lawyer. Would you like to take it?”

“Did he say why he was calling?” Huesyth asked.

Alana stepped around the cart to stand in front of the glass unobstructed. “I called him. To confirm that he hasn't called you. Not since you've been declared insane.”

Huesyth raised an eyebrow at the woman, not offering any hint of guilt. “I could have told you that.”
“If only I'd known to ask.”

“If only,” His lip quirked slightly at the side in a smirk.

Alana questioned, this time cocking her head. “Would you have told me the truth?”

“In my own way, I always have.”

Though Alana didn’t seem convinced by the answer, she didn’t argue with him immediately. Instead, she went back over to the phone and brought it to her ear after pressing a button. “Mr. Metcalf, that'll be all for now. Thank you for your time.”

She killed the call and then her anger really began to show, setting the phone down as the doors to his cell behind her opened again. In walked Jack Crawford yet again but no Bec. The doctor looked between the two on the other side of the glass, staring at him light scolding parents.

“You've been talking to the Tooth Fairy,” Alana snapped at him.

Huesyth finally stood, moving to his desk. “I think he's earned the right to be known by the name he's chosen. He is the Great Red Dragon.”

“You have hubbed hell, Dr. Cavalli,” Jack hissed.

“I often do,” Huesyth replied simply.

Alana sighed heavily at his casualty. “You got what you wanted. Suddenly, you're very relevant. There is one way for you to stay relevant... and comfortable.”

Huesyth gave it a thought, narrowing his eyes at the two. “You want me to speak with the Dragon. Given his recent failure, you believe he will seek counsel.”

“We need to make your contact work for us,” Jack clarified. “Standing trace order for any time you're on the phone. When he calls, you keep him on the line.”

He inclined his head, feeling as though he’d finally pulled the reins back. “I can't refuse him a sympathetic ear. He no doubt needs it.”

It wasn’t long before Denise returned with the pushcart, didn’t look or speak to him as she plugged in the phone and stuck it through the tray again before leaving. He crossed his cell and retrieved it from the slot, putting up to his ear.

“Hello?” There came a heavy breath from the phone before it dissolved into sobs. Huesyth wanted to roll his eyes but he attempted to soothe. “You are the Dragon. You don't have to be afraid. You know who speaks. From the beginning, you and the Dragon had been one. You are becoming and the Dragon is your higher self.”

Another jagged breath before the other man sighed. “ If I'm not as strong as the Dragon, she will die.

“Don't let fear leach your strength.”

I need to think... I need to think, ” The Dragon whispered under his breath, most likely to himself instead of Huesyth. “ I...told her I can't be with her.

“You are almost blind to your own true feelings, no more able to express them than a scar can blush.” Huesyth finally looked up to see Alana and Jack on the other side of the glass, listening intently to the conversation through headphones as they stared at him. “Do you know how you feel about her?”

Yes. I... I'm afraid she will come to the house to talk. I don't know what will h-happen in the house. The Dragon may come down. I know how easily she would tear.” There was a pause as he hissed to himself, breathing heavy still. I think about what the… Dragon will do to me if I don't serve her up. She called me a man. A sweet... man. I didn't hear... Reba's heart.

He stared through Jack and Alana, enjoying the audience before he stated through the phone. “They’re listening.”

He quickly sat the phone down and walked away from it, enjoying the cold rage that ripped through the two others’ face at his betrayal.

Alana wasted no time in having Huesyth strapped up in a cinched straight jacket and shackled to an upright trolley with a white bite mask clipped around his face. Orderlies moved around him, stripping his cell of any kind of luxuries like his desk, books, and drawings. After they had taken almost everything, Huesyth heard the approaching heels as Alana too entered the now bare cell. She stepped into his eyesight, pacing around him as he stared straight ahead until she came to a stop before him.

“You're not the only one who keeps their promises, Huesyth.” He finally moved to match eyes with her as she shouted to the orderlies. “The toilet, too.”

 

His eyes twitched before they fluttered open and they immediately landed on Sofia’s, still lying in her bed but her eyes were open. Her face lit up at the sight of him but then she scanned the room, noticing the lack of Bianca and Avery. They had went out to get food in the cafeteria so Bec leaned forward in his chair.

“Bianca and Avery are safe, Sof. They should be back in a minute.”

After a moment, Sofia nodded, relaxing the tenseness in her shoulders as she scanned her brother’s face. “You look different. You said you wouldn't be the same when you came home.” She nodded loosely to herself, a weak smile pulling at her lips. “Guess I’m different now too, huh? I let you do this. Nobody to blame but myself... And Jack Crawford. I do blame Jack Crawford.”

None of this was your fault, Sofia. You didn’t let me do anything, I ignored you. Jack knew what he was doing,” Bec sighed heavily. “And so did I.”

“Is he after you now? That guy that attacked us?” Sofia questioned. “Is that why he came after us?”

Bec swallowed heavily, attempting to swallow back the rage. “He came after you because Huesyth suggested it. He urged him to do it.”

Sofia rolled her eyes at the mention of the name and looked away from him, shaking her head slightly. “It's a clammy, sick feeling.”

“Yeah, I know it is.”

“Bianca almost died . I almost died… I knew it was him. I saw your picture in that paper and I knew it was him.” Her voice was getting harsher but she took a deep breath. When she exhaled it, the anger seemed to go with it as she was left exhausted but calm. “Hell, I actually got mad there for a second.”

He offered a reassuring smile despite the wetness gathering in his eyes. “I hate this, Sofia. I'm so sorry.”

Sofia nodded shakily. “We got matching scars now, huh, Bec?”

“...I guess we do.”
“We'll be back home, won't we?” Sofia asked.

It was Bec’s turn to nod. “Yeah, you will be. You’ll be safe… and happy.”

She looked back to him, studying him as if she could see every ghost lingering behind his eyes. He always seemed so haunted but even more so at that moment. “It's tough to hold onto anything good. It's all so slippery.”

“Slick as hell,” Bec agreed softly.

“I should’ve… I should’ve held onto you, Bec,” Sofia muttered, eyes watery with tears.

With a soft smile, the empath shook his head. “I shouldn’t have bit your hand when you tried to hold me.”

The door behind Bec slid open at that moment before Sofia could respond. In came Bianca and Avery who met eyes with the now awake Sofia.

“Mama!” Avery shouted, running around the bed to Sofia’s uninjured side.

She tried to hug Sofia’s neck and despite the cringe of pain on her face, Sofia didn’t push her away and wrapped her uninjured arm around her daughter. They squeezed each other tightly before releasing and Bianca stepped in, leaning down to nuzzle her face against Sofia’s as if she would never see her again. The women gave watery chuckles to each other, pressing gentle kisses against the other’s lips as they held each other close. Slowly, Bec stood from his chair, suddenly feeling unneeded in the room.

He slid the door opened, moving out into the hall and he looked down to find familiar faces moving towards the room. Amaund and Delmar, pausing in their steps at the sight of him but he didn’t have time to be surprised by their presence. As he squared his shoulders and moved off, the world seemed to blur until the dark, double doors opened in front of him to reveal Huesyth’s now virtually completely empty. The doctor regarded him from the other side of the glass, directly in front of Bec as the empath seethed.

“I'm just about worn out with you crazy sons of bitches,” Bec growled out.

“The essence of the worst in the human spirit is not found in the crazy sons of bitches,” Huesyth responded. All too calm and all too proud. “Ugliness is found in the faces of the crowd.”

“What did you say to him?” Bec demanded softly, keeping his anger in check for as long as he could.

“‘Save yourself. Kill them all,’” Huesyth said casually. “Then I gave him your sister’s home address.”

The empath stared at him for a moment, trying to wrap his head around the completely unapologetic reply. “...Why, Huesyth? Why did you do it?”

“The Dragon wanted you , Bec. He said you were getting too close but I gave him an alternative.” There was a pause and the doctor just looked through the empath like he was looking through the glass pane that separated them. His eyes unfocused. “I thought there was a clearer motive to my actions. Attention, relevancy… your undivided loyalty…”

“But nothing is ever so clear-cut with you, is it?” Bec snapped.

I know this hurts, my dear, but it was always meant to. ” For some reason, that seemed to break something else in Bec’s chest. Something he thought he was beginning to repair but Huesyth continued undaunted. “How is your sister?”

Shocked, Bec scoffed. “How's my sister? She's lucky. She took a bullet to the shoulder and she was lucky it didn’t go through her head .”

“She survived the Great Red Dragon,” Huesyth reminded him. “An accomplishment like that takes a pinch more than luck to achieve. When you look at her now, what do you see?”

He furrowed his brow at the doctor. “You know what I see.”

The doctor looked over Bec’s face, studying him now more thoroughly. “Before he became the Red Dragon, this shy boy would never have dared any of this.”

“Well, now he thinks he can do anything. Anything… ” Bec sneered.

“The Dragon likely thinks you are as much a monster as you think he is.”

Suspiciously, the empath narrowed his eyes. “What is this? Some kind of ‘freak of the week’ competition?”

“‘Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, and one is striving to forsake its brother.’” The doctor quoted. “The Great Red Dragon is freedom to him, shedding his skin, the sound of his voice, his own reflection. The building of a new body and the othering of himself, the splitting of his personality, all seem active and deliberate. He craves change.”

“He didn't murder those families?” Bec murmured. “He changed them?”

Huesyth drew closer to the glass, lowering his voice so that only Bec could hear him. “Don't you crave change, Bec?”

There was a pause. A silence stretching between them as he stared at the taller man before Bec shook his head slightly. “I told you to leave and you didn't listen.”

The statement seemed to catch the doctor off guard. It was like the facade cracked for a glimmer of a second after the words left Bec’s mouth. But he wanted an answer. He wanted Huesyth to explain himself. 

“I didn’t want to leave you again,” Huesyth whispered. “I couldn’t.”

“But you did, Huesyth. You did leave me… for three years.” The empath sighed softly, a burning feeling of disappointment taking the place of the rage he had come in with. He took a step backward away from the glass, drifting farther from Huesyth. “All my life I’ve thought that love was dangerous. I thought you would change my mind… but thank you, Huesyth, for the final proof I needed.”

He turned on his heel, marching to the doors but before he did, Bec paused. He shot bitterly over his shoulder. “Do not contact me again.”

The doors closed heavily behind him as he left. Huesyth made no move to call after him.

Chapter Text

Hesitantly, Bec began to describe. “I… I look at my sister and I see her dead... I see Mrs. Leeds and Mrs. Jacobi lying where Sofia should be.”

“Do you see yourself killing her?” Bedelia asked.

In the back of his mind, he saw her lying there on a bed of yellow dead, glass shards placed over her features as she was bathed in deep, gold light. Her pitch-black hair in stark contrast to the rest of the scene. When Bec looked down at his own hands, they were darkened with blood. He never saw her dying or the last breath she took but he put the pieces together.

“Yes,” Bec relented through clenched teeth. “Over and over.”

Bedelia quirked an eyebrow at him. “It's hard to predict when brittle materials will break. Huesyth gave you three years with your family because he was confident that he would find a way to take them from you.”

“Well, he failed,” Bec answered firmly. It was unconvincing and even Bedelia cocked her head slightly.

She asked. “Did he?”

He straightened his back like a soldier and matched eyes with her. “What's he going to take from you?”

He noticed something nearly imperceptible change in Bedelia’s face. Her own back straightened and she shifted a bit in her seat but without breaking eye contact. “Is it important to you that he take something from me?”

Scoffing softly, Bec reminded her with a scolding. “Huesyth does have agency in the world.”

“Huesyth has no intention of seeing me dead by any other hand than his own,” Bedelia countered. “And only then if he can eat me. At this moment, he's in no position to eat me.”

But Bec wouldn’t let the lull her into a false sense of security. The empath sneered softly. “If you play, you pay .”

“And you have paid dearly.” Bedelia’s eyes momentarily flicked down to where Bec’s arms were crossed over his stomach as if she could imagine the layout of his scar. His many scars, both inside and out. “It excites him to know that you are... marked in this particular way.”

“Why?” Bec demanded.

“Why do you think?” Bedelia snapped back as if it was obvious.

The empath gave a breathy chuckle, annoyed by her psychiatric game. “Bluebeard's wife. Secrets you're not to know, yet sworn to keep.”

She gave a one-shouldered shrug but she still seemed annoyed. “If I'm to be Bluebeard's wife, I would have preferred to be the last.”

Curious over her word choice, Bec considered her briefly before he raised an eyebrow. He knew exactly what Bedelia was trying to say. “But you’re not… because he still loves me, doesn't he?”

He could see her lip curl slightly at the edge because Bedelia knew it was true. Bedelia spent months as the replacement Bec in Huesyth’s life and that made her overestimate her value. The second that she made her little plans in Italy on how she was going to survive was the same second that Huesyth decided that he needed to kill her. Or at least get her out of his world.

The only thing that was stopping him was a pane of glass and a few prison bars.

But Bedelia narrowed her eyes at Bec, sitting up straighter in her seat as if she didn’t have a fear in the world. “Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?”

The empath didn’t answer.

It didn’t matter. Bedelia already knew his answer.

 

“Bec's thoughts are no more bound by fear or kindness than Milton's were by physics,” Huesyth explained to the older agent. His voice echoing far more than usual due to his emptied cell. “He is both free and damned to imagine anything and everything. Sometimes all at once.”

“Now that he's imagined the worst of the worst,” Jack offered.

A smile quirked Huesyth’s lips. “Like ducklings, we imprint on those ideas that first grab our attention.”

“What's got your attention, Doctor?” Jack questioned curiously but he knew he wasn’t really asking. Or at least, he didn’t care for a real answer. “God, the Devil, and the Great Red Dragon?”

“Lest we forget the Lamb,” Huesyth finished.

Jack furrowed his brow at the taller man. “Bec is the Lamb of God?”

His sharp eyes carried over the clean white walls, the detailed crown molding of the inside of his cell. It really was like a freshly prepped canvas, stretched and ready for its first brush stroke. “Hide us from the wrath of the Lamb.”

“Who’s ‘us’?” Jack asked. There was an annoyed tinge in his voice as if he expected there to be a new victim already.

“You, me, and the Great Red Dragon,” Huesyth responded as his eyes landed back on the dark shape of Jack on the other side of the glass. “The Lamb's wrath touches everyone who errs. His retribution is even more deadly than that of the Dragon's.”

“It is…” Jack agreed but he tacked on at the end. “For you.

Without disagreeing, Huesyth nodded slightly. Yes, Bec’s vengeance against him will cost him dearly but he had faith in his Lamb. The Lamb that God so willingly sacrificed to him in hope of defeating the destructive Dragon. Their judgment day was fastly approaching and Huesyth hoped to be there to see the Lamb unleashing the full power of his wrath.

“The seals are being opened, Jack,” Huesyth proclaimed as if he were about to shout it into the heavens in warning to the angels. “The lamb is becoming a lion, teeth, claws, and all. ‘For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?’”

“I’ll still be standing,” Jack told, so sure of his future.

“Is your conscience clear?” The doctor questioned as he slowly approached the glass, arms tucked neatly behind his back.

“As clear as yours.”

Huesyth offered a slight quirk of a smile. “Righteousness is what you and Bec have in common. ‘In righteousness the Lamb doth judge and make war’. War against the Great Red Dragon.”

Jack’s face doesn’t change, expression imperceptible even to the doctor. “He's not the Dragon, you are. The Devil himself bound in the pit.”

“Then that makes you God, Jack,” Huesyth reminded as the older agent nodding in agreement. “All gods demand sacrifices.”

 

He restlessly paced about Jack’s office, mind continuously racing as Alana and Jack watched him from their chairs like they were studying him. Bec was used to the judging eyes and they didn’t make his skin crawl as much as they used to. There were other things on his mind anyway as he paused to ask. “We don't have anything else?”

“Eight people dead in a month,” The older agent reminded and Bec wanted to sigh as flashes of the dead children went racing across his mind. “We can't play the long game. You know and I know it's the best way to bait him.”

Bec scoffed softly. “Got me on the hook, now you're dangling me to catch a bigger fish.”
“It was your suggestion.”

“And you're thrilled you didn't have to make it,” Bec grumbled as he met eyes with Jack. 

“You once fooled yourselves into believing you were in control of what was happening,” Alana expressed. “Are you still under that delusion?”

Bec glanced at Alana and for a brief moment, her eyes appeared covered by jagged shards of glass, trickles of blood running down her face. The empath quickly averted his gaze, blinking away the haunting image. “The Dragon has a certain abstract curiosity about me. All psychopaths are narcissists. They love to read about themselves. If you were smart, Jack, you would use Freddie Lounds.”

One of Jack’s hands was tapping gently against his desk, something Bec focused on more firmly instead of whatever his brain would conjure. “She will need to interview you, Bec. Take your picture.”

“I'm in it now,” Bec shrugged. “Can't go home as long as he's loose. So, I really bad-mouth the Red Dragon in TattleCrime. Give him a reason to take a shot at me.”

Jack reminded. “It's got to be a really good shot. What about the setup?”

“Something open. Some place where he can get close to me.”

Alana piped up as the older agent listened. “It feels like a trap to me. And it'll feel like a trap to him. Unless you have a professional voice to legitimize what you're saying.”

“Someone to hide the wire on the snare,” Bec agreed before he and Jack looked to Alana at the same time. “Are you volunteering?”

“No,” She answered quickly, offering a smile. “I'd have to be a fool.”

But they all knew a fool who would fit the profile they needed.

 

“Since your commitment, you have written some brilliant articles for The Northern Medical Journal of Psychiatry,” Chilton began as he waved one of the aforementioned pieces in his hand. No doubt the latest one considering the shorter man’s anger was palpable to the doctor despite Chilton trying to keep a straight face.

With his face kept careful blank, Huesyth said. “Thank you, Frederick.”

“I just finished your most recent piece,” Chilton told, confirming Huesyth’s previous thought. “ Extraordinary stuff.”

The doctor knew where this was heading and could hear the man growing more irritated by the second. “A particularly good one.”

“It may be my favorite. I have seen a lot of hostility. But this was quantifiably bitchy ,” Chilton hissed, his grating voice echoing against the cell walls. “Do you think I am your nemesis?”

“No. Nemesis? No,” Huseyth replied, not trying to hide the laugh that carried through his words at the thought. Who would ever think the sleazy, cowardly man could even compete in being a ‘nemesis’ for Huesyth?

“You refuted my entire book,” Chilton harshly accused, voice becoming louder.

Huesyth shrugged slightly. “It didn't hold up to scrutiny.”

“Of course it didn't, I was lying!” Chilton shouted as he began to go into the offensive. “On your behalf! To save your life! You refuted your insanity defense. I went out on a limb for you and you climbed up there and sawed it off.”

Huesyth had never asked Chilton to do any of the things he had done. Nor did the doctor ever really want it. He didn’t ask for his pity or charity and he knew that Chilton did it for money, not to help sell the insanity lie. But still, the other man’s mounting concerns amused the doctor to no end. He always enjoyed watching the spineless squirm.

“‘Wood burns because it has the proper stuff in it; and a man becomes famous because he has the proper stuff in him.’ You don't have the proper stuff, Frederick.”

Chilton huffed, offended, smoothing out the folds of his suit before he continued. “I am a best-selling author. The journals only still publish your writing for the freak value of your byline.”

Frederick rolled up the article, waving it around carelessly before shoving it through one of the holes in the glass wall. It dropped to the floor of Huesyth’s cell, unraveling in a crumpled mess. Huesyth barely cast a glance to it. “The attention given to you is dwindling since you have been overshadowed by a new, shinier creature. That book is writing itself. I think I'll call it The Dragon Slayer. All I need now is the ending.”

Despite the reaction that Chilton wanted to evoke, Huesyth smiled. “Fate has a habit of not letting us choose our own endings, Frederick.”

This is the ending fate has chosen for you,” Chilton objected as his face twisted into a grin as he reeled his anger back into a simmer. “Your teeth will go and your strength. Nobody will be afraid of you anymore. After Dr. Bloom's reign, you will be out in the ward. The young ones will push you around and use you for sex. All you'll get to read is what you write on the wall... You have seen the old ones. They cry when they do not like the stewed apricots.”

The doctor didn’t respond but he knew his face had darkened. Chilton seemed so sure that his little glass prison would be sufficient enough to hold Huesyth forever.

Staring only a moment longer, thinking himself victorious, Chilton broke the eye contact first to step away and fish through his briefcase to retrieve a copy of his book. “Oh, I'm just going to leave an extra copy of my book right over here.”

Huesyth grimaced at the sight of it but spoke almost without any hint of the real emotions he was feeling. “Thank you, Frederick.”

“I've personalized it for you.” He laid the book down heavily on the small table outside of the cell, wrenching up his briefcase and storming out in a huff.

 

Alana talked Chilton into showing up, pulling him from his verbal sparring match with Huesyth at the hospital so that he may find his way to the hotel room that Bec, Jack, and Freddie were waiting for them in. the hotel room that would become Bec’s home away from home.

When Chilton asked sharply why Freddie was there, Jack responded. “She's here because we need someone who is less concerned about the truth and more about the best story. So, Dr. Chilton, you just lay out your theories. Bec will aggravate them for the record.”

From the couch she was sitting on, Freddie turned to the empath. “You're making statements no investigator would ever make and no straight newspaper would credit.”

“You're not a straight newspaper,” Bec shot back at the redhead. “You sell T-shirts that say, ‘The Tooth Fairy is a One-Night Stand’.”

“I can get you one, if you like. You a small or a medium?” She cocked her head slightly before quipping. “Small, I bet. They aren't selling so well since you started calling him ‘The Dragon’.”

“The killer's objection to the name ‘The Tooth Fairy’ is likely grounded in the homosexual implication of the word ‘fairy’,” Chilton offered, the first good bit of profiling he had done in a while. “Tedious, I know, but if you really want to piss him off, that's what you should call him.”

“Very well,” Jack agreed. “The Tooth Fairy it is.”

With a nod from the older agent, Freddie set up her microphone and recording device on the coffee table in front of her, pressing the button to start before settling back into her seat with her pen and notebook. Chilton took a seat in front of her after she waved him on, speaking with a great authority that he didn’t possess. “The Tooth Fairy's actions indicate a projective delusion compensating for intolerable feelings of inadequacy. Smashing mirrors ties these feelings to his appearance.”

Bec interrupted as he paced behind the other man. “And not only is the Tooth Fairy insane, he is also ugly and impotent.”

The abrupt form of interpretation noticeably threw Chilton off but recovered quickly. “There's a strong bonding of aggressive and sexual drives that occurs in sadists at an early age-”

“He's a vicious, perverted, sexual failure. An animal.”

Confusedly, Freddie quirked an eyebrow at the empath as he paced but jotted down what he said. But Chilton only stared momentarily at Bec before continuing again. “The savage acts aimed primarily at the women and performed in the presence of families are clear strikes at a maternal figure.”

“The Tooth Fairy is the product of an incestuous home.”

They could tell that the journalist was lapping it all up as she scribbled down her notes but this time, without missing a beat, Chilton finished firmly. “This is the child of a nightmare.”

The compassion behind those words gave Bec a pause, contemplating just what he was doing before Freddie pressed ‘stop’ on the recorder.

Jack stepped forward again. “Bec, I think we need a key shot of you here in your... ‘Washington hideaway’.”

The redhead stood from her chair and gave a coy smile. “I'd love something of you in a bathrobe sitting at a desk, poring over this artist's conception of the Fairy.” Freddie produced a hand-drawn sketch of the Dragon, something more akin to a Frankenstein's monster with its square-shaped head and odd hairline. Cast mostly in shadow for the fear factor of it all.

“I'll stand by the window,” Bec deadpanned, stepping over to said window so that he could be seen more clearly. “And make sure you can see the fountain and the Capitol dome. The Red Dragon needs to be able to find this place if he wants to.”

Just before he could shoot off, Bec locked eyes with Chilton as he stood from his chair. “Frederick, would you like to be in the photograph?”

Chilton looked between the empath and Jack before offering a smile. “One for the dust jacket.”

He joined Bec by the window, adopting his best media pose. But just before the camera flashed, Bec raised an arm and placed it on Chilton’s shoulder in a comradely fashion. And the camera shuttered, immortalizing their partnership.

 

A couple of days had passed before the double doors to his cell were opened again and in came the silhouette of Alana herself and in her hand, she held a padded envelope.

Huesyth quirked an eyebrow at her. “Hand delivered.”

But Alana didn’t respond as she dropped the envelope into the delivery tray and closed the hatch, staring at the doctor on the other side of the glass.

“May I open it privately?” Huesyth asked.

“You may not,” Alana firmly stated.

She took a step back as Huesyth approached and retrieved the envelope from the tray. Examining the block letters of the address written in marker on one of the sides, Huesyth curiously opened it and slid out a note with an added gauze wrapped bundle. Alana watched carefully as the doctor unrolled the bundle and revealed two pink, leech-like pieces of flesh. They were void of any blood and their color was ashen but they were unmistakably a pair of lips.

He didn’t have time to enjoy his gift more thoroughly as Jack was called in and Huesyth was wrapped in his straight jacket and strapped to his hand truck.

The table that was removed from the cell previously has been returned as they scanned through the contents of the envelope. The older agent stood in his cell with Alana and two orderlies in the shadows behind the doctor, his hands wrapped in rubber gloves as he read the small but emotional note that came with the lips. ‘ With These He Offended Me ’.

Huesyth popped his mouth before he began. “Dr. Chilton often offended me, so I certainly understand the sentiment.”

Alana steeled her gaze at the bound man but his mood was far too elated to let her dampen it. But Jack held out the metal tray that the disembodied lip was residing on, only one. “Where’s the other one?”

Quirking an eyebrow at it, Huesyth gave a wolfish smile. The cat who ate the… lip it seemed. “This one can provide you anything the other one can.” He looked between the two on either side of him before finding himself looking back to the older agent. “I'm sorry, Jack. The tragedy of what's happened to Frederick has put me in excellent humor.”

Jack and Alana shared a look over the table between them before the older agent told. “Dr. Chilton disappeared yesterday, under armed escort.”

“You pretended to burn Freddie Lounds in a wheelchair to flush me out,” The doctor reminded, genuinely curious. “What were you pretending to do with Frederick Chilton?”

“He profiled the Dragon,” Jack explained. “For Freddie Lounds to write about.”

Alana quickly added. “We wanted to enrage him.”

“Congratulations,” Huesyth sarcastically praised before turning to Alana. “You could've provided anything that Dr. Chilton could. That was almost your lip that I was tasting.”

She ignored the mild threat, possibly thanking whatever force in the universe that was at work for the bullet she had dodged because of feeding Chilton to the fire instead. “You publicly discredited Dr. Chilton. By refuting him, you orchestrated his end by proxy.”

“No, no. this isn’t something that you can so easily pin on me to make yourself sleep better at night. You orchestrated his end, Alana,” Huesyth corrected. “You saw the hole and let him roll right into it. That's a professional discourtesy.”

 

In the video that had been delivered to the B.A.U. Chilton was stripped bare on his torso, they couldn’t see what was holding him in place or where he was but there were images flickering in the background behind the man’s shoulder. Blurry videos of Sofia, Bianca, and Avery going about their day to day lives. Bec said nothing as he, Jack, and Alana watched the tape in the older agent’s office, listening as the obviously frightened man spoke as if he was trying desperately to keep to a script. It was a chilling sight.

“I have had a great privilege. I have seen with wonder and awe the strength of the Great Red Dragon. All that I said was lies from Bec Reyes. I have blasphemed against the Dragon. Even so, the Dragon is merciful. Because I was forced to lie, he will be more merciful to me than to you, Bec Reyes.”

He could feel the others in the room grew more horrified but the personal threat against him only sought to piss the empath off more than he already was.

The on-screen Chilton continued. “Because of Dr. Cavalli’s affection for you, the Dragon mercifully spared your life… and in return, you spat insults in his face. Reach behind you now and feel the small knobs on the top of your pelvis. Feel your spine between them; that is the precise spot where the Dragon will snap your spine. There is much for you to dread. From my own lips, you will learn a little more to dread.”

Jack’s eyes turned from the screen, burning through the side of Bec’s head as the empath stared forward. Into frame stepped a dark figure and the image cleared to reveal a muscular man’s back that was inked with the large image of the Great Red Dragon. Deep colors of black, red, and gold emblazoned in his flesh. From the speakers came horrifying, blood-curdling screams from Chilton, muffled from what Bec was guessing was his lips being ripped off.

The sounds seemed to echo in Bec’s ears, bouncing off the walls of his skull and filling his brain with anxiety. Something deep-seated and bone-chilling that had the empath stepping back, sliding down the wall to sit on his haunches. He brought his hands up to his ears, covering them desperately like a child trying to block out a nightmare. But the sounds didn’t stop, the screams didn’t dissipate until Jack finally stepped forward to turn the monitor off. It left them in such an unsettling silence that the sound of his own heartbeat left goosebumps across his arms.

After it seemed like hours, he looked up though and met eyes with Bedelia. The sun was shining outside the windows of her home office and it felt better than the agent’s dark office or the cell at the hospital.

The blonde stared at him with some buried accusations. “Would you like to talk about what happened with Frederick Chilton?”

Bec sighed softly, collecting himself. “The divine punishment of a sinner mirrors the sin being punished.”

“Contrapasso. You play, you pay.

“Chilton languished unrecognized until ‘Cavalli the Cannibal’,” Bec reminded as he sat back in his chair, straightening up. “He wanted the world to know his face.”

Bedelia gave a one-shouldered shrug. “And now he doesn't have one.”

The empath whispered harshly. “Damned if I’ll feel.”

“We are all making our way through the Inferno. Dante's pilgrims.”

“No, we're not pilgrims,” The empath denied, folding his leg over the other. “We're pets. And the Great Red Dragon kills pets first.”

“You put your hand on Dr. Chilton's shoulder in the photograph. Touch gives the world an emotional context. The touch of others makes us who we are. It builds trust.”

“I put my hand on his shoulder for authenticity,” Bec lied through his teeth and he was sure that Bedelia noticed.

“To establish that he really told you those insults about the Dragon?” Bedelia asked but it wasn’t really a question. They both knew the real answer that Bec tried to hide. “Or maybe you wanted to put Dr. Chilton at risk? Just a little?”

Averting his eyes, Bec mumbled. “I wonder.”

“Do you have to wonder?” Bedelia narrowed her eyes.

He looked back to her, brow furrowing in agitation at being picked apart. “...No.”

“What did you think the Great Red Dragon would do? You were curious what would happen, that's apparent. Is this what you were expecting?”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“Then you may as well have struck the match yourself. That's participation . Huesyth Cavalli does have agency in the world. He has you.”

 

“He did Chilton like it looked like you did Freddie Lounds. Huesyth said he would, in his own way.”

The voice brought Bec back to the present where he and Jack were standing in the hallway outside of the ICU but his mind was still racing. Thinking of himself in the Dragon’s place, drenching Chilton’s lipless body in gasoline before striking the match and sending him up in flames. Pushing him and his burning wheelchair down the road until he slammed into the edge of the public fountain outside of the hotel and flung himself into the water. The fire quickly extinguished before it could melt the rest of his skin away but leaving him charred from head to toe.

“Huesyth told him to,” Bec explained.

Jack kept his eyes on the empath even after Bec looked away. “You okay?”

Bec nodded. “I’m okay. I had the SWAT team.”

“Chilton said your name when they brought him into the E.R.” The older agent advised. “He's trashed. You ought to get ready for this.”

The empath took a breath in an attempt to steady himself before he turned to the curtains and pushed them aside for them to step into the room. At the center was a bath with a bloody, blistered and charred man sitting in it. Chilton’s hair was completely gone due to the third-degree burns and as Bec and Jack circled to stand at the foot of the bath to see his face, they found his lipless mouth. Hanging in jagged, burnt pieces of flesh and exposing his teeth.

The smell was the worst part. Burnt flesh and smoke and the remnants of gasoline that they hadn’t washed away. It made bile churn in the empath’s stomach and he couldn’t help but cringe.

“Frederick, it's Bec Reyes.” The remains of Chilton’s eyes blinked open to blindly search the room for the voice before they landed on the face hovering over him. “I'm sorry this happened to you.”

His eyes locked with Bec’s and his jaw began to move. “You set ne uh. You knew it.” His angry words came out in a dry wheeze, even without his lips formulating the words Bec could understand what he was trying to say. “You set ne uh. You tut your hand on ne in the ticture, like a tet .”

“Can you understand what he's saying?” Jack asked the empath.

“He said, ‘You set me up. You knew it. You put your hand on me in the picture, like a pet.’” Bec translated before he turned back to Chilton. “Did you see anything?”

An agonizing pause for Chilton, every movement and word bringing more pain. “A 'lack woman... and she was 'lind…”

“‘A black woman. She's blind,’” Bec told the older agent.

“Reba,” Jack named. “The Dragon said her name when he called Cavalli.”

 

He heard the doors open behind him and he sighed softly to himself at the thought of having to deal with Alana’s badgering again. Huesyth turned to face the glass, readying himself for another verbal war but instead he paused in his words.

It wasn’t Alana there but instead Delmar himself. His hair was floppy and lighter colored due to sun bleaching, his skin far more of a golden tan than usual and he was wrapped in a wrinkled, old flannel shirt with the sleeves bunched up around his elbows. He looked comfortable, more rugged but comfortable. He had his arms crossed over his chest like a scolding parent, a familiar position with the unfamiliar appearance.

“Delmar,” Huesyth breathed, uncertain if his brain was just playing tricks on him or not. But he assumed his mind wouldn’t imagine his beloved brother in a shirt so dirty looking.

“Hey, Huey,” Delmar greeted, voice still deep and slightly rough.

Without thinking, Huesyth folded his arms behind his back. “How did you convince them to come see me?”

“I asked Dr. Bloom. She said yes,” Delmar responded simply but Huesyth almost didn’t believe him. After everything Huesyth had done, he wouldn’t think that Alana would let him have visitors outside of the investigation. “I know that’s not something you’re used to… asking for things. Accepting the denial of those things.”

“Yes, yes. The mean old cannibal in your life…” Huesyth mused. “Tell me, why have you come today?”

Delmar unfolded his arms, placing his hands on his hips as he shrugged. “Sofia and her family got attacked by this Tooth Fairy son of a bitch. You think we’re just gonna ignore that?”

“Your cowboy never struck me as someone who mettled in family affairs.” Curiously, Huesyth quirked an eyebrow at his brother. “How have you been?”

“Well,” He raised his left hand for Huesyth to catch a glint of metal on his ring finger. A simple silver band that the doctor could notice small scuffs on even from that distance. “Me and Amaund got married... that’s one thing.”

With his mouth slightly ajar, Huesyth looked between the ring and his brother’s face before Delmar dropped his hand back to his hip. “...You never told me you got married.”

“We didn’t tell anyone,” Delmar shrugged. “It happened about a year after you got arrested.”

The doctor straightened up slightly, to the point where he was almost stiff. “Love always came so easily to you. It was simple, clean. You didn’t have to break minds to get someone to love you.”

“No, I didn’t. I just had to keep them away from you and I couldn’t even do that right.”

“You did what you could,” Huesyth expressed. “It was a noble effort for less than noble individuals.”

Disbelievingly, Delmar snorted loudly. “You should not be judging anyone on nobility, Hue. You’re not terribly noble yourself.”

“Not many are.”

“We certainly aren’t. We’re just a couple of jerks screwing people over until we eventually get our heads bashed in,” Delmar conceded. “We’ve been playing games all our lives. I played mom and dad and brother and then when you got older… I just played something that made you look normal to everyone else. I played alibi .”

Before Delmar could continue, Huesyth cut in. “I appreciate everything that you did for me, Delmar. Everything you gave up.”

“All I did was let you become a cannibalistic monster ,” Delmar snapped, dropping his arms in a huff. “That isn’t something that I’m proud of, Huesyth.”

The doctor scanned his brother’s face before a collection of scents finally hit his nose. Something he never experienced himself but he could recognize it and his lips pressed into a thin line. It left a dark feeling in his chest. A fit of acidic jealousy that had him spitting harshness at the other man.

“...You wake every day thirsting for the taste of your own blood… watering at the mouth for it like an animal. Do you think that’s a healthy environment to raise your child in?”

Delmar’s eyes snapped to meet Huesyth’s, confusion wracking his features before he narrowed his eyes. “What?”

“Did you think I wouldn’t notice the scent of baby powder or that of a pediatrician’s office?” Huesyth questioned with a curl of his lip. “Amaund must only be a few months along.”

“Huesyth, stop-” “A happy marriage, a beautiful baby on the way, the ideal life… you’re living the life that I wanted.”

In a fit of anger, Delmar stormed forward, closer to the glass than any smart person would get but he knew that Huesyth wouldn’t attack him. “If I’m living your life then it’s the one that you destroyed, Hue. Bec, the twins, Abigail, you killed them all. You killed any hope in your life because you are nothing if not a miserable bastard.”

His words had Huesyth recoiling slightly. The truth in them leaving a wound before he settled back and let the tension leave. It wasn’t Delmar’s fault.

“Have you or Amaund thought of names yet?” Huesyth asked harmlessly.

Delmar seemed taken aback by the innocent question but he hesitantly answered. “...Lucas for a boy and Lily for a girl.”

“They sound lovely,” Huesyth complimented but Delmar scoffed softly.

“They’re not gonna know you... They’ll know Amaund’s side but they won’t know mine. Not you, not dad. Not any of this.”

The doctor nodded slightly in understanding. It would make sense for his dear niece or nephew to not know of the blood staining his father’s past.

“Then they certainly won’t know the bullets their father planted in those brains outside the Verger manor,” Huesyth reminded, watching as Delmar’s shoulders stiffened. “Your hands are not clean either, Delmar. They will have questions.”

“I’m very good at avoiding questions.” Delmar motioned to his brother through the glass. “ You taught me that.”

“I’m glad I could teach you something…” Huesyth acknowledged with a smile. “I think you’ll be a very good father, Delmar.”

“I don’t need your goddamn approval,” The older man fumed.

“Of course not,” Huesyth offered. “You’re your own man. You make your own decisions just as I do… but I’m sure you will protect your family far better than I did.”

The older man seemed to sigh softly, his anger dissipating. “You could’ve had it all, Hue. That wasn’t anyone else’s fault but your own.”

“...I know.”

Chapter Text

He got the call about the fire victim while he was in the middle of a conversation with his brother in the lobby of the hospital their sister was in. Amaund had been trying to explain to Bec that he was pregnant and Bec had no idea why that was so shocking to him. He knew how in love he and Delmar were and how they were far more ready than he was to become a real family. Maybe it was because he expected himself to have that family before his loner of a brother. But a few years previous, he would be considered the loner of the family.

The victim was a blind woman named Reba McClane. The person that they assumed was the woman that the Dragon seemed so enamored with in his phone calls to Huesyth. She seemed exhausted in her hospital bed as she was recovering from smoke inhalation and light burns, carefully chewing on pieces of ice from a bowl. She swallowed the chunks of ice painfully, her throat raw from the fire.

“He shot himself in the face,” Reba explained to him as he took a seat by her bedside but her voice was strained like she was trying to convince herself it was real. “I put my hand in it. He set fire to the house... He shot himself. I put my hand in it. He was on the... the floor…”

Her words trailed off in an attempt to contain her emotions and Bec raised a hand to rest gently on her arm. “I won't put you through this again, but I'd like to come back by. Just to see how you're doing.”

“How could you help it? A charmer like me.” The bitter, self-reproach was evident in her voice but Bec wouldn’t let her sink into that darkness.

“In the end, he couldn't kill you and he couldn't watch you die,” Bec told. “The people who study this kind of thing would say that he was trying to stop because you helped him. You probably saved some lives.”

Reba muttered. “I drew a freak.”

“You didn't draw a freak,” The empath denied. “You drew a man with a freak on his back. There is nothing wrong with you.”

“I know there's nothing wrong with me,” Reba expressed, her dark, sightless eyes turning barely to where she heard his voice coming from. “In making friends, I try to be wary of people who foster dependency and feed on it. I've been with a few. The blind attract them.”

Bec nodded even though he knew she couldn’t see it. “Not just the blind.”

 

Something didn’t settle right with Bec about the whole situation. He knew they found a body with half its head blown off in that fire but that didn’t mean anything to him. It was roughly the same height and weight as what they suspected Francis Dolarhyde to be. But with the damage done to it by the shotgun and the raging fire, they could never be sure.

It was like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop or maybe waiting to wake up with a gun pressed to his head by the angry man, back from the dead. But his own feelings weren’t evidence. The body was evidence, so was the fire and so was all the things they found in the remnants of the Dolarhyde house, and the FBI and press were running with the story that the Dragon was dead. There was no definitive slayer of said Dragon and he seemed to have slain himself in an attempt to save the woman he selfishly loved.

The story seemed familiar.

The golden gates in the Norman chapel slid open. Just as he had done when he met Huesyth again after three years, he followed the aisle to find Huesyth with his back to him, licking his thumb before extinguishing one of the many votive candles lined up. Though the empath didn’t look up from the candles, he felt Huesyth’s eyes turn to him. A smile gracing his lips like he thought he’d never see the empath again. But the younger man came bearing news he knew wouldn’t go appreciated by the doctor.

“Ding-dong, the Dragon's dead.” His voice echoed, almost impossibly in the space they were in. A reminder of their true location outside of their memory palaces.

He could sense when that smile faded, Huesyth looking away to watch the flickering of the candles. “Are congratulations in order?”

“I didn't kill him,” Bec corrected before Huesyth assumed that there was another Hobbs haunting his mind. “It was suicide.”

“Then he wasn't as strong as the Dragon after all.”

It brought them out of the chapel, returning them to the baren cell in the basement of the hospital that they both loathed so much. Bec shoved his hands into his pants pockets as he avoided Huesyth’s eyes on the other side of the glass wall. “He was trying to stop.”

“I was rooting for you, Bec. It's a shame. You came all this way and you didn't get to kill anybody. The only consolation, I think, is Dr. Chilton.” Huesyth turned to face the empath at that, a spark of accusation in his eyes which sent a shiver down Bec’s spine. The taller man approached the glass to stand in front of the empath, admiring him. “Congratulations for the job you did on him. I admired it enormously. What a cunning boy you are.”

“Are you accusing me of something?” Bec feigned offense.

“Does the enemy inside you agree with the accusation? Even a little bit?”

“I came back to stop the Dragon,” The empath reminded. “He's been stopped.”

“Your family was on his itinerary but they’re safe now. You can go home again. If there's any point.” Huesyth raised an eyebrow at the younger man. “Is there any point?”

“I like my life there, Huesyth.” Bec moved to go to the doors while he still had time. Before he could be sucked back in again but his legs stopped moving against his will as soon as Huesyth began speaking again.

“It won't be the same. You'll see it's not the same. The unspoken knowledge will live with you, like unwanted company in the house. A ghost haunting your abandoned heart.”

Bec scoffed softly, turning back to the doctor. “I want it to be the same.”

Huesyth appeared unconvinced. Always so sure that he knew the empath better than anyone else could and Bec hated that he actually did sometimes. “You will loathe this life that you’ve constructed out of feathers and pine needles. It will crumble under its own weight. Unsustainable.”

“I wish I didn’t have to build a lie to feel safe,” Bec hissed back at the man. “Come on, Huesyth, make hating you easy. Say none of it ever mattered.”

That seemed to make pity well up in Huesyth’s eyes and that only sought to make Bec even angrier. He wanted to snap at him again but his words died in his throat as Huesyth began to speak. “I’ve spent enough time in the shadows of your life. I will not lie to you now.”

Bec’s eyes went wide momentarily and he refused to let the shiver that wracked his body be noticeable. The doctor continued, unbothered. “When life becomes maddeningly polite... think about me. Think about me, Bec, don't worry about me.”

Little did he know how often he infested the empath’s life. Huesyth seemed to infect his mind, body, and soul to the point that Bec could look in the mirror and not know where he ended and Huesyth began.

But do you ache for him? Bedelia had asked him and he didn’t respond because he knew the answer.

So often, Bec let his mind turn back time, erase the real story and construct a fairy tale. One in which Huesyth never had to walk out the door in Wolf Trap. One in which Mason Verger never intervened and they could’ve run away from the police together. One where they had Jack’s brain for dinner and left the mess for the FBI to find. Jack would die a martyr and go down in history while they escaped into a new quiet life. Where no one had to say goodbye and maybe they wouldn’t have been where they were.

Wishful thinking but what was the point in having an imagination as powerful as his if he couldn’t imagine himself an ideal world?

He ached for that ideal world.

And Bedelia was right, he ached for Huesyth.

But the empath swallowed back the ache, slowly approaching the glass again to press his hand against it with a heavy sigh, wishing he could touch the doctor. But he knew that this was the life fate had given him and the hand it dealt him was a cruel one. One where he would usually always lose.

“You turned yourself in so I would always know where you were,” Bec whispered. “You'd only do that if I rejected you... Goodbye.”

He removed his hand, turning to walk back towards the doors and as they opened, Huesyth called to him. “Bec...” The empath stopped with a sigh, turning to Huesyth as he moved closer to the glass. “Was it good to see me?”

The empath raised an eyebrow at the other man, offering a simple smile. “Good? ...It was.

Before he could give the doctor a chance to respond again, Bec quickly left, the doors closing behind him with a resounding clatter.

He returned to his motel room later that night, the gnawing feeling of something wrong following him all the way there until he was closing the door behind him. The dim light flicked on but then something slammed into his back, shoving him into the door. Seizing him from behind before a cloth was clamped over his mouth. He struggled against the hold, kicking the door so that they both fell backward. Though his attacker staggered and they fell to the floor against the edge of the bed, the vice-like grip didn’t loosen.

The empath thrashed against the powerful arms wrapping around him, his eyes wide with fear and fury before his brain began to become fuzzy. His eyes unfocused, glazing over as his legs began to kick feebly before going limp. His vision going black.

The next thing he remembered was water being poured over his head. Groggily and jerkily, he struggled to consciousness and blinked away the droplets in his eyes. He swallowed heavily once he looked up to see a man sitting at the foot of the bed in front of the chair he was tied to. The same man he’d seen in the elevator of the museum. The one that supposedly blew his own brains out. Francis Dolarhyde. But this time he had a silenced pistol in his hand, his face bruised and cut in places. He looked as if he had taken a beating.

But he was very much alive.

“Do you think you can sit up?” Francis asked him. The empath finally noticed his slouched over posture in the motel chair as if he was about to melt out of it. “Try to sit up.”

With a sigh of effort, Bec scooted himself back up into the chair and brushed his wet hair out of his face. “You didn't break my back.”

Francis didn’t seem to notice what the empath had said as he was too busy staring, studying the younger man. “Your face is closed to me.”

“If I can see you, you can see me.”

The taller man seemed amused by Bec in a curious way. “You think you understand, don't you?”

“‘I understand that blood and breath are only elements undergoing change to fuel your radiance’,” The doctor’s voice seemed to echo the quote in his ear. As clear as it would be if he were in the room with them despite it being another life ago. “Huesyth said those words to me.”

The other man’s mouth went pencil-thin at the mention of him. “I wanted to share with Cavalli, and Cavalli betrayed me.”

Bec shrugged slightly. “If it makes you feel any better, no one has been more betrayed by Huesyth than me.”

“I... would like to share.”

Cocking his head slightly, the empath reminded. “You shared with Reba.”

His face seemed to darken slightly, eyes only averting slightly. “I shared little with Reba, in a way that she could survive.”

“But you didn't change her.”

“I chose not to change her,” Francis told. “I'm stronger than the Dragon now.”

Despite himself, Bec could see it. The taller man didn’t have the same fear in his eyes as he did when they had come face to face in the elevator. As he stared at the killer, a plan began to fall into place in Bec’s mind and he swallowed back his own fear. “Huesyth Cavalli is who you need to change.”

“I want to meet Cavalli. How would I manage that?”

How could he make this sound good to the other man without giving anything away? “I let him think that I’m planning his escape… but when the time is right, you change him.”

Francis seemed to take a moment to think about it. He was probably wondering if he could trust the man that had slandered him in the press. “Do you think he’d fall for it?”

Bec scoffed softly with a slight smirk. “If I’m the lure then he won’t be able to resist me.”

“No… No, he won’t, will he?”

The empath nodded. “You do what you need to do. You change him and you become who you were destined to be.”

“Will you watch it?” Francis asked almost shyly.

“I’ll be there to witness it. Witness his change like he witnessed mine.”

The taller man’s eyes went back to Bec, brow furrowing. “What do you get out of it? He seemed to be under the impression that you still loved him.”

Bec sighed. “He betrayed me too. I want to see him suffer… like I had to.”

Nodding in understanding, Francis seemed to take it all in before the empath finally decided to take a chance. He rose from the seat he was placed into and though Francis seemed to stiffen slightly, he didn't stop him. Bec moved into his personal space, standing over him as Francis narrowed his eyes in confusion. He was waiting for the empath to attack him, dig his nails into his face and run but Bec didn't attack.

The empath brought his hands up to Francis’s face, cupping his cheeks despite the flinch. He kept his touch gentle, stayed clear of the cleft in his lip, and kept the taller man’s face turned up to him. “You’re very handsome, Francis.”

The taller man’s jaw worked as if he was holding back the urge to bite Bec’s fingers just as he did to Chilton’s lying lips. Pushing his limits, Bec began to lean down, pulling the taller man into a kiss and Francis let him. Tension seemed to slowly trickle out of him as Bec’s plush lips pressed against his. He felt Francis’s mouth open slightly, his tongue pushing up into him so Bec pulled back.

He ran his tongue over his lips, licking the taste off before whispering. “Show me the power of the Dragon.”

There was a soft rumble from the taller man’s throat as he reached up to grip Bec’s hips and pull him forward so that the empath was straddling his lap. The gun was abandoned on the floor as lips and teeth pressed against the skin on his neck and Bec sighed as those big hands ran up to cover his back. They curled within the fabric before he ripped the empath’s shirt down the seam with brutal strength. He yanked the ruined fabric off of Bec’s body, baring his skin for the taller man’s eager hands to run across.

But as Bec let his lips linger towards Francis’s, licking lightly over the cleft in his lip, the taller man pulled back quickly as if he had been burned. He pulled the empath up as he stood, hauling the younger man onto the bed so that he could lay himself over his smaller body.

Bec sighed softly at the reaction and whispered to the taller man. “We all have our scars, Francis. Though some are more prominent than others.”

He grabbed Francis’s hand and brought it lower, letting the warm fingers press against the tender edges of the long scar cut into his abdomen. “Never be ashamed of what makes you who you are.”

Francis only gazed at him, looking between the empath’s face and his own hands on the scar, clearly lost as to what to say next. So he instead pressed forward again until their lips collided once more. It seemed to be a distraction because as soon as Bec let his arms wrap around the taller man’s neck, he felt hands at the waist of his pants. Along with his underwear, they were quickly yanked down and he could only squirm and try to kick them away as Francis ground his hips down against him.

The hot bulge wrapped in worn black denim that pressed against Bec’s cock had him moaning into Francis’s mouth. Leaning back and letting the taller man’s teeth return to his neck that he had bared for him. It didn’t hurt yet. Not in the way that Bec thought it would even with the taller man fully clothed in a leather jacket and jeans grinding against his sensitive skin. If he closed his eyes and let himself just feel instead of focusing on who he was with then he could almost fool himself into thinking it’s Huesyth.

Maybe it was Huesyth’s teeth against his neck or his hands smoothing down Bec’s naked sides to slide between his legs. But then there was dry prodding at his entrance, working him open with a thick finger that had him arching off of the narrow bed. He cringed slightly as the finger pressed into him, dragging his nails down the back of the leather of Francis’s jacket and no doubt leaving marks in it.

“Patience…” Francis whispered against his neck. “I don’t want to hurt you any more than I have to.”

One by one, a finger turned to two and then three and the pain began to ebb away as he let himself melt into it. Soon enough, the taller man’s hand pulled away to tug at his own zipper before he finally managed to tug his own cock free from the confines of his jeans. Bec couldn’t see it in the lowlight of the motel room but he felt its heavy weight against his hip. Hard and dripping with want.

His legs were pulled up and his knees were pressed back against his chest, held down by one of Francis’s strong hands as the other went back to his cock. The empath could feel the dull head press against his hope and he couldn’t help but suck in a deep breath as Francis pushed in. He made a punched out, breathless sound as Francis pushed all the way to the hilt and settled inside of Bec, the stretch around the taller man’s girth caused an even worse pain to ripple through him. It felt like needles working his way up from the base of his spine and the rough denim did nothing to soothe the burn.

There was a loud rumble of a growl from the bigger man once he was pressed flush against Bec’s ass. The empath could feel him twitching with the want to let loose and pound into him but he was restraining himself. A kind thought that he knew would soon be forgotten when they got moving.

But he didn’t have time to dwell on it when both of Francis’s hands went to hold his legs up as he drew his cock out and shoved it back into the empath with a hard thrust. He paused again and Bec found that the moments where he wasn’t moving were the worst. His mind would immediately go back to the pain so he tangled his hands in the leather of the other man’s jacket.

Move, Francis…” He begged, punctuated by a high pitched moan as the taller man listened.

His hips began to move in tight circles, thrusting into Bec’s heat greedily while the empath was nearly folded in half by his strength. The large cock inside him nudged against his prostate every few thrusts which had his hands falling away from the taller man’s shoulders and tangling in the threadbare sheets below them. His back arching like a bowstring the best it could despite the firm grip holding him down.

But Bec’s body was quickly becoming an overwhelmed mess of sensation as Francis stroked his thighs and began to start fucking him in earnest, senseless mumbles and gasps dripping from the empath’s lips. His mind was getting closer to being a useless puddle of sparks instead of coherent thoughts. But that’s what he kept telling himself over and over. It was about finally feeling something inside him after three years of being virtually untouched, it wasn’t about anything else.

Even if it meant he had to give himself over to the Dragon to be claimed and used as an object of pleasure. Something to help Francis gather his own thoughts. But Bec knew he couldn’t come to terms with his own feelings any more than Bec could. At least the empath knew his place in this story as the sacrifice that should be flayed open on an altar for their God or fucked within an inch of his life by their Great Red Dragon. Francis seemed just as curious as to where this passion would lead them but the empath made sure to not let him linger on that.

Bec groaned appreciatively as the taller man leaned over him to lick up his shoulder, taste-testing his flesh before his dull human teeth sunk into his skin. The lack of pointed fangs made the bite hurt all the more as Francis growled against his skin in an attempt to break through and get a mouthful of blood. The empath raised a hand to run through the taller man’s sweaty, black locks, holding his head there as he watched two leathery red wings unfurl from the other man’s back. They stretched tall, nearly touching the ceiling and their color seemed to leak into the darkness as if bleeding from a canvas.

His hole tightened around Francis’s cock, making the taller man’s hips stutter in their fluid movements. The man growled loudly and lifted Bec’s hips more for a better angle and soon he was hitting the empath’s prostate with every hard thrust. It made Bec’s body tremble with the sensations and he could tell by the way his strokes became more and more off rhythm that Francis was nearing the end as well.

As the taller man reared back, his wings still tall, still intimidating, Bec could feel Francis cum inside him and he moaned after him and followed.

 

He woke up the next morning alone as he expected to be, naked and filthy on top of the ruined sheets of the motel room bed. His hips and legs were covered in bruises in the shapes of hands and the bite mark on his neck was taking on a dark, worrying color of black and purple. Everything from the waist down hurt badly but he knew it was necessary.

It was soon after he had limped out of the boiling hot shower an hour earlier that his cell phone rang and Jack had asked him to come into the BAU to look over Francis’s ‘body’. He sighed softly to himself after hanging up the phone but he dressed quickly in clothes that cover the bite especially and left the room. Once he arrived, he and Jack stood on one side of the twisted, burnt corpse with half of its head completely missing. Supposedly from the shotgun blast that was suspiciously obscuring most of his face in any reconstruction.

“The only teeth we found in the skull were Grandma's dentures,” Brian explained as he retrieved burned, snaggletooth dentures from the ruined skull.

Jimmy motioned to the body before looking back up at Jack. “And the upper part was made of vulcanite instead of acrylic like they use today. No one's made vulcanite plates in fifty years.”

“Dolarhyde had a new acrylic set just like it made to fit him. Chinese manufacturer. The new pair we found on the body. Grandma's old yucky pair we found in his mouth.”

“Well, not his mouth, per se,” Jimmy cut in which Brian agreed with. “We think it's a guy named Arnold Lang... he's missing. Worked at a service station near Dolarhyde and we found his car, but it had been wiped clean.”

“So Dolarhyde snuffs out Lang, takes the dead body back to the house, then does his whole thing with the blind lady, song and dance, ‘Will I shoot you? Won't I shoot you? I don't know.’”

Cutting Brian off to finish the choke, Jimmy mimicked a higher-pitched version of Francis’s voice. “‘I can't stand to see you burn. Boohoo!’ And then blows Lang's head away with a twelve-gauge.”

Jack seemed annoyed by their childish display but continued professionally. “So the routine of hanging the key around his neck was to be sure she felt the body. So she could tell us she certainly felt a body.”

Jack turned his head to the side to see Bec standing next to him, taking it all in just as they were without giving anything away. They didn’t even notice how he was resting all of his weight on one leg instead of the more bruised on. He murmured. “The Great Red Dragon lives.”

Before he could leave, he was pulled into the hallway of the lab by the older agent, speaking quietly to one another. “The obvious thing is to get him to come to us. Bait him with something he wants more than me.”

“He'd have to be an idiot to go for something like that,” Jack thought aloud.

Bec shrugged slightly. “I know but so you want to hear what the best bait would be?”

The older man’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. He knew exactly what Bec was about to say. “I'm not sure I want to but I have a feeling you’re going to tell me anyway.”

“Huesyth would be the best bait.”

Jack sighed but grumbled more to himself than the empath. “Why in God's name would anyone want to meet Huesyth Cavalli?” 

“To kill him, Jack,” He explained as if it was obvious. “The Dragon thinks he could absorb him that way, engulf him, become more than he is.”

Jack’s eyes turned curious, almost accusatory. “You sound pretty sure of that theory.”

“I'm not sure.” Bec shook his head. “Who's sure? I'm not even sure Huesyth would draw the Dragon. I just say that it's our best shot.”

The older agent’s eyes were drawn back briefly to the burnt crisp of a body in the lab beside them. “Set him up how?”

“We take Huesyth into federal custody and we fake an escape.”

 

She stared at him, motionless with her mouth slightly agape as if she’d been stopped mid-sentence. Absorbing just what she had been told and finding herself horrified by it. Bedelia stood from her chair, robotic and stiff, and crossed the office to the bar cart in order to pour herself a drink, her mind no doubt spinning.

The empath watched her carefully, waiting for her to either explode at him or slip out of the room quietly but instead she sipped her drink and looked back at him. “We assign a moment to decision making... But what you’ve proposed is so thoughtless , I find it difficult to imagine that moment exists for you.”

“Decisions are made of kneaded feelings. They're more often a lump than a sum.”

Her eyes snapped back to Bec, fixing him with a pointed glare, and Bedelia stepped closer and sat back down in front of him. “However you think you are going to manipulate this situation to your advantage, think again.”

“There is no advantage. It's all degrees of disadvantage.”

Her glare was piercing but Bec could see the cold fear working its way up her spine. “‘Who holds the Devil, let him hold him well. He will hardly be caught a second time.’”

Bec narrowed his eyes at her, whispering harshly. “I don't intend for Huesyth to be caught a second time.”

Bedelia studied the empath, noticing just what he was proposing and hoping that she was wrong. A flicker of alarm shooting through her eyes. “Can't live with him. Can't live without him. Is that what this is?”

A slight one-shouldered shrug. “I guess this is my becoming.”

“What you are ‘becoming’ is pathological,” Bedelia spat as she stood again, looking away from the empath and taking a long breath.

Bec repeated from what she had told him previously. She thought she had him all figured out then. “Extreme acts of cruelty require a high degree of empathy.”

Bedelia circled her chair to stand behind it, putting some kind of barricade between herself and the empath. She slipped from her drink and probably hoped she could drown herself in it. “You've just found religion. Nothing more dangerous than that.”

“I'd pack my bags if I were you, Bedelia.” He couldn’t help the quirk of his lip as he uncrossed his legs and stood from his chair. “Meat's back on the menu.”

Her face became more enraged than he had ever seen her as Bedelia hissed through clenched teeth. “You righteous, reckless, twitchy little man. You might as well cut all of our throats and be done with it.”

But he won’t cut Bec’s. They both knew just how safe the empath was against Huesyth’s wrath that he was about to unleash. “Ready or not. Here he comes.”

He walked out of the room, listening to her sigh softly to herself in fear.

 

“There's a deal for you, Huesyth. Or there could be.”

Alana’s voice came from behind him but he did not immediately turn to face her. “A deal? With whom?”

“The FBI.”

Huesyth sighed softly, turning to finally face the woman head-on. “So Jack couldn't ask me himself?”

“Jack doesn't know you as well as I do,” Alana explained. “He thought if he asked you for help, you would just torment him.”

Huesyth was glad that the older agent was finally learning about how to deal with the beast hiding in his closet among the skeletons. Sticking his hand blindly into the dark was no longer an intelligent option if he had any sort of attachment to the limb. He tipped his head slightly at the younger woman. “Quite right, too. How wise of Jack.”

“The Red Dragon faked his death,” Alana told.

An imperceptible reaction of something akin to relief crossed the doctor’s face before he responded smoothly. “Good for him.”

“Jack wants to fake your escape,” Alana continued undaunted. “I release you into police custody and Jack uses you as bait to draw the Dragon in.”

He considered it briefly and found that the plan didn’t fit Jack’s line of thinking. It was too risky. Too sloppy. Jack wouldn’t go that far out on the limb in fear of it snapping off but he knew who would. He knew who would mosey out onto the very edge of the limb without a care for who may fall with him. “Was it Bec’s idea?”

With her lips thinning slightly, Alana paused. “Yes.”

“Yes. That worked out so well for Frederick Chilton,” Huesyth retorted sarcastically. “Please, do tell Frederick, if you see him, that I wish a speedy convalescence and hope he won't be very ugly.”

He could see Alana’s brow furrow in agitation before she snapped at him. “I've been on the phone for hours on your behalf, and this is what you get-”

“Any rational society would either kill me or give me my books,” Huesyth interrupted, crossing the floor of his empty cell to stand before her.

He caught a scent then mingled amongst Alana’s expensive perfume. That of charred skin and sterile balm to soothe irritation. The tightness in her shoulders and the monotone nature of her voice all made sense, Alana had been to see Chilton.

She stared at him, face tight with agitation before finally relenting. “If you cooperate in the capture of Francis Dolarhyde, you get your books, your drawings of Bec since that’s all you’ll ever see of him after this, and your toilet. All privileges will be restored.”

Huesyth blinked, scanning her face before asking. “You trust Bec with my well-being?”

“As much as I trust you with his,” Alana quipped.

“You trust me with yours? You intend to release me into police custody. Police are not as wise as you are.” He lowered his voice, keeping it just between them. “I might escape in earnest and come to kill you.”

“First chance you get, I assume.”

Alana was feigning casualty like she didn’t care if he did escape. But her mask was cracked at the edges and was revealing all Huesyth needed to know. She may have adapted to the game she was playing but Alana hadn’t been reborn into the dark like he was. She was equipped to live lavishly, reaping the rewards Huesyth’s arrest had given her, but he could see it going to her head.

She thought she was untouchable or at least unreachable from her high ivory tower but that just wasn’t true.

“You died in my kitchen, Alana, when you chose to be brave. Every moment since is borrowed. Your wife... your child... they belong to me.” She didn’t grow fearful immediately. Her expression steeled as if preparing for an attack despite the glass between them. “We made a bargain for Bec's life, and then I spun you gold.”

But he kept Bec’s life and that was worth all the gold in the world.

 

There was not enough whiskey in the world that could dull the ache in his body. He drank down the two fingers in his glass, feeling the burn go down his throat and settle in his stomach.

“Huesyth has tentatively agreed to the deal, as proposed,” Alana explained, crossing her arms over her chest.

She looked stressed, eyes haunted, but he couldn’t have expected anything else from someone who had just had a conversation with Huesyth.

“What will it take to make him less tentative?” Jack questioned as he nursed his own drink.

“He wants Bec to ask him,” Alana explained as she turned to the empath. “And he wants you to say ‘please.’”

“I’ll say ‘pretty please,’” Bec huffed.

Jack cut in, filling Bec’s glass back up from the bottle. “Well, people are going to stampede if they think that Cavalli is out.”

“Let them stampede,” Bec offered. “Authenticity. And let them believe I helped Huesyth escape.”

“Authenticity?” Jack questioned as Alana gave him a pointed stare.

Bec shrugged slightly. “Someone has to be close when the Dragon comes.”

“And then?” Alana asked.

“We kill Dolarhyde,” Jack answered with a slight nod. “And then... we kill Huesyth.”

They both looked to the empath at that, gaging his reaction as if waiting for him to deny the plan but Bec held up his drink in a mock toast. “To the Devil his due.”

 

The chapel was not empty this time. Mourners dressed in black with their faces shrouded were seated in the chairs on either side of the aisle that Bec was walking down. It was becoming routine, walking down the aisle towards Huesyth but the taller man wasn’t facing away from him. He was standing tall up the steps on the altar and grinned at the empath as he approached.

“I thought you said your goodbyes,” The besuited Huesyth said.

Bec came to a standstill in front of the altar steps. “We've one last goodbye between us.”

“You didn't just say goodbye, though, did you?” Huesyth sneered. “That little extra bit at the end. What was that you said?”

Bec sighed softly and repeated his earlier words. “You'd never have turned yourself in unless I rejected you.”

And with that, the chapel melted away again and left them standing before one another. The glass wall was gone and they were face to face. Without any barriers or prying eyes besides Huesyth being strapped to his standing hand truck with a straitjacket holding his arms in place. Even bound like he was, he still had his air of control.

“Yes. That extra bit,” Huesyth continued just to twist the knife a little more. “I believe that's what they call a ‘mic drop.’ You dropped the mic, Bec, but here you are having to come back and pick it up again. Sloppy work, hmm?”

Bec stared before managing a small smile at being called out. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me even if I told you to. I knew you wanted me to know exactly where I could find you when I needed to.”

“And you did.”

Bec quirked a brow at the taller man. “I need you now, Huesyth.”

The amusement on the taller man’s face was prevalent, uncontainable as he mused. “Ding-dong. The Dragon's not dead.”

“He told you he wanted to meet you,” The empath began, folding his arms behind his back as an air of innocence. “Maybe that was a serious invitation. After the big escape, you send a message to the Dragon in the personal ads and ask him for a rendezvous.”

With narrowed eyes, Huesyth reminded. “He won’t go near a mail drop.”

“He might be curious enough to look at one, see if you sold him out. We chose a drop that can be watched only from a few places a long way off, and we'll stake out the observation points.”

The doctor studied him firmly. “It sounds weak to you, even as you say it.”

But Bec doesn’t blink, didn’t offer even a semblance of doubt, only stepping closer to the bound doctor. “Secret Service has a setup they've never used. They'll let us have it.”

As he scanned the empath, Huesyth’s nostrils seemed to flare slightly as he took in a deep breath. But his eyes suddenly snapped open when the scent hit his nose. His expression seemed to darken as some other man’s smell that he probably also caught on the mail he was sent was found on Bec’s body.

“Bec…” The taller man hissed softly, offended by what he had just found.

“You didn’t make any of this easy, Huesyth,” Bec cut in before the man could get any angrier.

“You have fashioned yourself into quite the Dragon tamer.” Huesyth narrowed his eyes, the anger was evident in his face but he reeled it back in when he spoke. “Did sleeping with him manage to wash the taste of me from your mouth or did it leave its own sourness? Do I linger still?”

The empath sighed. “I did what I did to survive.”

“You can lie to Jack and Alana, your sister and yourself, but you can’t lie to me, Bec,” Huesyth scolded harshly. “I’ve seen beneath your well-guarded veil just as you’ve seen beneath mine.”

Bec narrowed his eyes. “You think you know me so well?”

“I know you did it because you wanted to. Because you could ,” Huesyth shot back at him. “The power, the bloodlust, the thrill of toeing the edge between death and life. To have a predator’s teeth around your neck but know for a fact that it wasn’t to rip out your eager throat. Tell me, how does it feel to know you have the ability to make monsters tremble?”

It felt powerful , the empath wanted to say. It felt like a euphoria Bec had never known before. He had two of the most terrifying serial killers of the modern times on short leashes, both snapping at each other for his attention. Both bending over backward and risking their own hides for a chance with him.

But Bec wouldn’t tell Huesyth that. He didn’t deserve to know the dark little feelings Bec had just yet. He hadn’t earned that right yet.

The empath stepped closer still, moving into Huesyth’s personal space and far closer than Alana had warned him to be. He scoffed softly to himself as his lips quirked up on either side, scanning the doctor’s face.

“What more do you want to know, hmm? Do you want to know about the fact that I can still feel the edges of his teeth against my skin or the fact that his cum is still inside me…” He stood on the tips of his toes to whisper into the taller man’s ear. “Or maybe the fact that he’s bigger than you? You’re our best shot to beat him, Huesyth. Don’t you want to beat him?”

There was a rumble of a growl into Bec’s ear and he felt Huesyth nuzzle his nose against his hair. Earning a clearer inhale of Bec’s own natural smell that he adored so much. He could have easily bitten off Bec’s ear at that angle and told him to leave but he didn’t. He wouldn’t.

“You… have been awfully untrustworthy as of late, my darling, so how do you know I won’t just kill you as soon as I get the chance?”

A breathy chuckle trickled from Bec’s lips as he leaned back, just enough to look into Huesyth’s eyes. They were as green as the day they met, as warm as a forest floor that had been lit by the afternoon sun. “Because I know you don’t want to kill me no matter how many times you tell yourself you do.”

“Is that so?” Huesyth questioned but his voice was lighter. His eyes flickered down to Bec’s plush lips when they began moving closer to him.

The empath pressed their lips together softly, barely any pressure. Huesyth wouldn’t even consider it a kiss because of how gentle and light it was. As Bec pulled back again, the tip of his tongue running over his bottom lip, the taller man couldn’t help but chase him. Only being stopped when the straitjacket wouldn’t let him move anymore. The younger man remained in his space though, just out of his reach as he stared deeply into the doctor’s eyes. He looked soft. Soft and beautiful and glowing in a way that Huesyth had never seen on him.

“...Please,” Bec whispered.

The mask of humanity faltered as Huesyth smiled when he heard the magic word.

 

The country road passed in a blur around them, not that Bec could see much of it considering the only windows were the meshed ones at the back of the transport van. A single cage containing a bound and muzzled Huesyth sat in the middle and Bec was directly in front of him. Besides the driver, the FBI agent next to the empath, and the two police cruisers outside, they were basically alone.

But then came the sounds from outside the van, a cruiser’s sirens that had Huesyth arching an eyebrow as he looked out over his white bite guard. They watched a third cruiser, blaring its lights and sirens, speed passed them through the mesh windows. Out of nowhere, the men were thrown violently sideways as the van swerved before they were hurled forward toward the front when the van dipped and smashed to a halt in one of the ditches. Pain blossomed through Bec’s skull as his vision went black.

He only caught a bit of what happened after as he struggled to right himself. The back door of the van was forced open, flooding the space with light as a dark, blurry figure stepped in to shoot the FBI agent that stood. Blood sprayed the inside of the van and Bec flinched, crumbling back into the corner as the figure went to the cage Huesyth was in. The figure tossed a ring of keys into the doctor’s lap after opening the cage door, glimpsed briefly at the empath, and then left without speaking.

Huesyth climbed out of the back of the van, waiting at the open doors as he surveyed the scene around them and Francis quickly pulled away in the cruiser he had arrived in. The doctor quickly pulled off his straitjacket, unbuckling the bite guard and tossing it onto the ground as he took in his first real full breath of fresh air.

“He's not going to kill us here,” Huesyth began once Bec pulled himself out of the van. He held a hand out for the empath which Bec took, helping himself down and out of the crash. The same cold hand pressed against Bec’s forehead where it was slammed against the front of the van as the doctor observed any damage. He seemed satisfied when there was nothing to find. “What he wants to do requires something a little more private.”

Pulling back, Huesyth crossed over to one of the police cars in the middle of the road and Bec furrowed his brow, quickly questioning. “What are you doing?”

“You know, Bec, you worry too much,” Huesth expressed, opening the driver side door of the cruiser and pulling out the dead driver to dump his body onto the road. “You'd be much more comfortable if you relaxed.”

“I think I’d be even more relaxed if I stopped interacting with serial killers.”

Huesyth slipped into the seat he had freed, closing the door and pulling the cruiser up in front of the empath. The passenger side door opened and another dead cop was pushed out of the other seat to crumble onto the road at Bec’s feet. Leaning across the middle console, Huesyth smiled up at the younger man.

“Going my way?” Huesyth asked.

He looked between the doctor and the body before sighing softly, leaning down to the dead cop to remove his gun from his belt. Tucking the weapon into the back of his pants, Bec slid into the passenger side of the cruiser.

 

With the sun still shining but fading fast, they approached the edge of the cliff. The low safe house was perched on the very edge of the rocks with tall floor to ceiling windows that showed off the expanse of the ocean. The sheer, dizzying height of the bluffs made Bec’s head spin as he stood before it, looking out over the loud, crashing waves below.

“The bluff is eroding,” Huesyth, still dressed in his white jumpsuit, explained from behind the empath. “There was more land when I was here with Abigail. More land still when I was here with Miriam Lass.”

“Now you're here with me,” Bec murmured.

“And the bluff is still eroding. You and I are suspended over the roiling Atlantic and soon all of this will be lost to the sea.”

Though Bec lingered still, Huesyth stepped away to locate the spare key he had hidden outside. By the time Bec found his way after the doctor and they both disappeared into the house, Huesyth already had the top of his jumpsuit unzipped and around his waist as he moved around the house. His torso was bare beneath the jumpsuit and burned into the skin between his shoulder blades was the aged symbol of the Verger family brand. It had healed long ago but it still looked raw, pink and raised around the edges.

Bec had no idea why he was so tense. This is exactly what he wanted but he guessed he really didn’t think about how he would react after he got what he wanted. He sighed softly to himself and slowly stepped forward. Huesyth must’ve not noticed the empath move because when Bec’s arms wrapped around his midsection, he stiffened under the contact.

He relaxed minutely as Bec pressed his forehead between his shoulder blades against the brand, resting a comforting hand on the empath’s forearm. “You let him have you.”

The empath scoffed softly, nuzzling into Huesyth’s back. “Yeah, I did.”

It was Huesyth’s turn to scoff in disbelief, turning in Bec’s grip so that he could face the empath. Bec leaned up to press their lips together more firmly in a warm kiss, far more loving than they’ve been. But as Bec pulled away, Huesyth whispered deeply against the other man’s lips. “I can make you cum harder than he could.”

It caught the younger man off guard and sent a shiver of anticipation down his spine. But he let out an amused chuckle at the promise. “How uncharacteristically vulgar of you, Dr. Cavalli.”

“You bring out the worst of me, my dear, and it's the truth, isn’t it?”

“I should say ‘no’ just to piss you off,” Bec stated matter of factly, tilting his head suggestively at the doctor as he slid out of Huesyth’s arms. “But we still have time before Francis will be here, don’t we? He’d want to kill us beneath the light of the moon.”

He knew he was being a tease but he also knew that Huesyth was playing into the game just as much as he was. They took each other’s hands and Bec was led back into the master bedroom of the house.

Huesyth relished in the chance to peel away the layers of clothes on Bec’s body, revealing his tan skin inch by inch and admiring the collection of shimmering scars. He sat the gun Bec had taken aside and ignored the darkly bruised, savage bite mark on his lover’s shoulder in favor of turning him to face the taller man.

Now standing gloriously naked in front of him, the empath’s hands smoothed down Huesyth’s stomach to the edge of the jumpsuit in order to push it down to the floor as well. It left them both bare for the other’s eyes and they took a moment to just stare appreciatively and touch with feather-light hands.

It wasn’t shy. It was more like they were relearning the bodies they thought they knew so well. Based on the drawings that Alana had confiscated from his cell, Huesyth never forgot all the little details of Bec’s body like small freckles or scars. But the way he scanned the shorter man reverently like a starving man had Bec thinking that he was ready to update his art. Three years was certainly a long time to go unchanged.

The empath ran his fingers through the short strands of Huesyth’s inky hair which was certainly a new development. Bec complimented softly. “I like the hair.” 

The doctor seemed to avert his eyes slightly from the younger man. “I think it makes me look too much like my father.”

He furrowed his brow before resting a hand on Huesyth’s cheek, bringing his attention back to Bec so he could scan his features. His face wasn’t the same as his father’s, it was softer in places. Features put together that were all Huesyth.

He murmured gently. “I just see you.”

It made Huesyth’s body stiffen, taken aback by the honest declaration. Bec smiled and pressed their fronts together as he leaned up to kiss the doctor again, warm and firm.

With a soft voice and gentle touch, Huesyth maneuvered the empath onto his hands and knees on top of the bed. Kneeling behind Bec, he ran his hands up and down the younger man’s back reverently before he leaned forward to kiss his way up his spine. Bec jolted with a shiver as Huesyth’s hardening cock brushed against his ass, oozing precome against his hole. He curled his hand around Bec’s neglected dick, hanging heavy and dripping between his legs, as he ground against him.

“Do you think you could cum just like this?” Huesyth asked softly. “Fucking into my fist with my cock grinding against your needy hole…”

No- ” Bec started, voice breaking as Huesyth’s hand tightened. “Please… I want you inside me.”

“I don’t think you deserve it yet, my dear…” The doctor muttered.

Now, who was being a tease, Bec wanted to say but instead, he whimpered softly. “Make me forget about him. Make me forget, Huesyth.”

Pleased, Huesyth pressed a kiss against the back of Bec’s neck. “Let me see your face.”

Noticeably hesitating at the request, a deep red flush rose on Bec’s cheeks. When he finally turned over to face his lover, bare and flushed, Huesyth was overwhelmed by his affection for the younger man.

“Can you open your mouth?” Huesyth asked and two fingers slid past Bec’s lips. The empath sucked greedily, cheeks hollowing and tongue curling around the invading digits as his cock twitched against his stomach.

His hips were brought up as his legs hooked around Huesyth’s waist and one spit-slicked finger slid into Bec’s hole. Bec’s eyelids flutter and a second finger is added alongside the first, causing him to groan and spread his legs wider. It wasn’t long before the empath was writhing down against Huesyth’s thick fingers, desperate to be filled.

“Huesyth...” He urged the doctor breathlessly, caught within a haze of his own thoughts and their reality. His words caught in his throat before they could escape.

Fuck me like we have a chance at making new life.

It was like the taller man could read his thoughts as his expression turned almost melancholic. The doctor held eye contact as he sunk into Bec’s body, drinking in the sweet sounds that he made as he arched into Huesyth’s thrust. He pulled out for a moment and cherished the look of longing on Bec’s face before he glided back in again.

“I have you, Bec,” Huesyth breathed, leaning down to press gentle kisses against Bec’s cheeks, his forehead, and his neck. “You’re alright… I have you.”

They find a deep rhythm, perfect for them as they maintain it in the rapt silence of the unfamiliar room. Huesyth smoothed his free hand through the empath’s sweaty locks, fucking him as slowly as he wanted to. More careful and loving than they had been in the past. Even when his hips gradually increased in speed, Bec’s response was more along the lines of broken moans and whimpers instead of punched out groans. He allowed Huesyth to see the intensity of his need and his ecstasy. He could ignore the aching pain in his body from Francis’s advances because Huesyth seemed to ease him.

“I-... I lo-” Bec whimpered but cut himself off quickly. He swallowed back the confession like a tablet of poison and let it burn him on the inside.

“Shh, my dear. I know,” Huesyth hushed, noticing Bec’s struggle with the words. “You don’t have to tell me.”

It was so different.

It was as if Bec’s mind was finally silent after screaming itself raw for years. He’d been screaming since that rainy night in Baltimore where his entire life was ripped out from under him. His throat was raw and bleeding from it and after so long, Huesyth pressed his lips against the scar on his neck. Soothing the constant burn and Bec wanted to sob from it. Sob out of relief that after so long he can finally stop the screaming and silence his head.

There were no wendigos, no snakes or wolves or copies of himself bleeding black blood and the antlers were nowhere in sight. It was just him and Huesyth enjoying each other in their painfully human bodies.

Creation and destruction finally finding perfect harmony in the cycle, they found their balance.

“Ah, touch me…” Bec gasped, his arms wrapping around Huesyth’s neck.

His cock was hard and weeping as Huesyth reached back down to take it in his grip. He pumped his fist in pace with the movements of his thrusts and thumbed the leaking head on every upstroke. It only took a few more thrusts against his abused prostate before Bec was coming almost immediately, his back arching elegantly off the bed. A sob wrenched itself from Bec’s chest, tears burning his eyes and running down his cheeks. He reached for Huesyth and pulled him down into a desperate, searing kiss.

With his stomach painted with cum and Huesyth’s lips against his, his hole tightened around the doctor’s cock as if begging for him to follow into the euphoria. His thrusts were becoming uncoordinated, almost sloppy as his pleasure rose. Bec didn’t let him pull away and ran his hands through Huesyth’s short hair, finally having something to hold on to as the taller man groaned into his mouth. He was filled to the brim with Huesyth’s cum and Bec reveled in the feeling that he had been craving.

It wasn’t like Francis but it wasn’t unlike him either. It was just that the feeling of Huesyth’s cock pulsing inside him was so achingly familiar. He knew it by heart, committed the way his hands smoothed down his skin to memory so that it kept him warm during the nights where he felt so utterly alone. Gentle kisses were pressed against Bec’s face, tasting the sweat that formed on his skin and a content purr slipped from his lips.

Finally, Huesyth pulled out of him, leaving Bec’s hole empty and oozing cum. They pulled back the covers on the bed and found themselves dozing under the cool sheets. Bec laid his head across the doctor’s chest, sweaty and exhausted and nuzzling against the taller man’s warmth.

They didn’t speak for several long moments. They just held each other in that quiet moment in the dark of that unfamiliar house where they could both stop pretending.

A hand teased up Bec’s spine, settling on his bare shoulder with the tender bite. “I hope I satisfied your need to forget, lovely.”

The empath snorted softly. “Very, very satisfying, Doctor.”

He rested a hand against Huesyth’s chest where he could feel his heart beating beneath the cage of his ribs.

“I’m glad I could be of service to you again,” Huesyth hummed. But he went quiet for a brief moment until soon he asked. “Did you know that your brother was pregnant?”

“Yeah…” Bec sighed. “Yeah, I know. It seems after you went away everyone got kids, got rich, and moved on.”

“And you did none of that…”

The empath scoffed slightly as he looked up at Huesyth’s face and began pressing his lips against the taller man’s neck. “Your pillow talk certainly needs some work.”

“It’s been three years. Please, forgive me.”

With a soft chuckle, Bec slid a leg over Huesyth’s hips as he straddled him. He was still too loose-limbed and relaxed to do much else besides give the doctor more pleasant kisses. As he basked in the joy and his own ecstasy, he could almost let himself forget just why they were there. Sitting in wait for the rival predator to wander into their nest and try to take his doctor from him. It was there, warm in that bed as he was wrapped around him, that Bec decided that the only person that would be killing Huesyth would be the empath himself.

“We should probably be readying ourselves for the Dragon’s arrival,” Huesyth offered and Bec scoffed as the doctor sat up with the younger man plastered to his front.

“Look at you trying to be responsible.”

Huesyth tugged them into the on suite bathroom to wash the sweat from their bodies but Bec had a thought that sweat would be the least of their problems when Francis arrived. But he gratefully let himself be washed by the doctor’s careful hands. He was then guided back into the bedroom, laying his damp and naked body out on the crumbled sheets as he watched Huesyth go to the closet. The doctor pulled clothing from the dark space, clothes that fit his own looks like a jacket, soft shirt, and pants.

But then he removed a dress, a beautiful wine red color with a flowy skirt and deep v plunge neck, two slits up either side that would stop at his mid thigh. The empath raised an eyebrow at it while Huesyth laid it across the bed next to him.

“You’re very expectant,” Bec teased.

“I’m hopeful,” Huesyth added, not even looking at Bec as he got dressed.

The empath scoffed. “So much for being the responsible one…” He picked at the fine fabric of the dress skirt. “You better not be hopeful that I’ll be wearing heels with this because that will be the death of me before Francis even gets a hold of me.”

“I’m sure I have a pair of boots around here for you.”

And he did, they were slightly big but they were worn and nicely broken in already so Bec had little qualms with them. The dress was soft against his skin and fit perfectly to his curves, it’s measurements were almost suspiciously accurate and Bec would’ve questioned it if he hadn’t remembered that Huesyth had bought him the dress he wore to their opera trip.

Huesyth came up behind him, careful hands adjusting the back of the dress where Bec couldn’t reach before he placed his lips against the revealed column of Bec’s neck. “I didn’t know if this was a funeral or a honeymoon.”

Huesyth hummed in agreement, the sound reverberating through the empath’s skin. “We will get a proper honeymoon… and a proper funeral.”

“I think this is as proper as we deserve,” Bec murmured.

By the time they finally forced themselves out of the bedroom, it was already dark outside and the empath found himself drawn to the windows and the view they provided of the inky sea. A type of night so black that the darkness seemed to hum under his skin. He heard Huesyth moving around the kitchen behind him before the doctor joined him next to the piano, setting down a bottle and a couple of glasses.

“You're playing games with yourself in the dark of the moon,” Huesyth began as Bec turned his attention back to him, watching as the doctor wiped down the wine glasses. “It wasn't surprising that I heard from the Great Red Dragon. Was it surprising when you heard from him?”

Bec doesn’t hesitate with his answer. “Yes and no… but mostly no.”

“You intend to watch him kill me?” Huesyth asked simply, not even looking at the empath as he did.

The empath cocked his head slightly. “I told him I’d witness him change you but you are the one that said I’ve been awfully untrustworthy.”

Bec could see the small smile that brought to the other man’s lips as he used the tip of the corkscrew to break the seal on the wine bottle. “My compassion for you is inconvenient, Bec.”

“If you're partial to beef products, it is inconvenient to be compassionate toward a cow.”

Huesyth gave a soft chuckle as he pulled to cork from the bottle with a resounding pop. He set the corkscrew aside, collected the glasses and handed one off to the empath. “Save yourself, kill them all?”

As he poured Bec a generous amount of wine, the empath averted his eyes, somewhere between shy and ashamed, as he revealed. “I don't know if I can save myself. Maybe that's just fine.”

Huesyth matched his gaze again, eyes warm. “‘No greater love hath man than to lay down his life for a friend.’”

Despite himself, Bec offered a small smile before stepping forward pressing a gentle kiss to Huesyth’s lips. The empath lingered as Huesyth moved back, pouring some of the wine into his own glass.

“He’s watching us now,” Bec sighed, not taking his eyes off of the doctor.

“I know.”

Suddenly, there was a sharp but muffled sound before the window behind Huesyth shattered and then the bottle in his hand seemed to explode in his grip. Glass and wine littered the floor and the stain on Huesyth’s sweater darkened, blossoming a deep red. He’d been shot in the stomach. Beyond the now shattered window was pitch black but then emerged a shape from darkness, a human made from shadows.

In came Francis Dolarhyde, striding out of the black and into the light.

Huesyth crumbled against the leg of the piano, clutching at his bleeding stomach as Francis raised his gun to match Bec’s head. “Don’t run. I’ll catch you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Bec reminded, not taking his eyes off the injured man on the floor.

That seemed to calm the taller man, lowering his gun from the empath as he turned back to Huesyth on the floor. The doctor was breathing heavily through the pain as blood continued to seep through his fingers but he greeted. “Hello, Francis.”

“Hello, Dr. Cavalli,” The Dragon greeted.

Calmly, Bec sipped at his wine, looking between the two men as they observed each other.

“I'm so happy you chose life, Francis. Suicide is the enemy.” Francis lowered himself down in front of Huesyth, sliding his small black duffle bag from his shoulder. “You were seized by a fantasy world with the brilliance and freshness and immediacy of childhood. It took you a step beyond alone.”

“I'm going to film your death, Dr. Cavalli,” Francis growled as he removed a camera and tripod from the bag. He adjusted it, facing the lens towards the bleeding doctor. “As dying, you meld with the strength of the Dragon.”

“It's a glorious and rather discomforting idea.” Huesyth looked back up to the empath, waiting for something.

Francis removed a knife from his pocket, the blade glinting threateningly in the low light of the house. “Watching the film will be wonderful, but not as wonderful as the act itself.”

As calmly as he could, Bec stepped back from the men and reached back to thumb at the gun he had tucked into the band of his dress around his waist.

But suddenly, Francis reared up and slammed the blade into Bec’s face, piercing through the empath’s right cheek as blood filled his mouth and poured down his face. He grasped at the Dragon’s arms, in a futile attempt to fight him off as the blade tore at his skin but then he was raised off his feet. It drove the knife deep, the cut becoming longer. Bec choked on his own blood before he was hurled out through the broken window.

The empath ragdolled across the patio stones, blood spattering in thick drops below him as his legs tangled with the skirt of his dress. He tried to force himself onto his hands and knees as Francis wrenched him up, he reached for the knife and ripped it from his face with a gush of blood. Spinning it in his grasp, Bec sunk it back into Francis’s leg. But with a roar of pain, the Dragon pulled that knife from his leg and slammed it into the right side of Bec’s collarbone. Using it as a handlebar to pull Bec’s shoulders back until he snapped his spine.

Before he could complete the act though, Huesyth came from the darkness, jumping onto Francis’s back and making him stumble, dropping the empath back onto the stones. The doctor’s hands fumbled with the other man’s head in an attempt to snap it but Francis grips the man and throws him off his back. Huesyth clattered to the stones, rolling into a rock with a heavy thud. When Bec looked up at them, large leathery wings were stretched out from Francis’s back as he stalked forward towards the prone doctor.

His hand landed on the knife handle still lodged in his collarbone and Bec pulled it out in a welter of blood. As Francis yanked Huesyth from the ground, Bec ran over to them to sink the knife into the Dragon’s back. He shouted in rage as he reared back and slammed his fist across the empath’s face, sending Bec to the ground before he turned to kick across Huesyth’s face. It knocked the doctor into a woodpile and Bec could hear the clatter of metal.

Francis looked between them both, waiting for one or the other to rise from the ground again but he didn’t see when Huesyth’s hand wrapped around the handle of the hatchet stuck in the woodpile. Not until Huesyth swung low and slashed his Achilles tendon. Flesh and sinew cur free with a gush of blood. Brutal and fast in its efficiency. As they sound seemed to leave Bec’s ears from the noise of the blood pumping through them, he watched as Francis stumbled like a falling giant.

He sunk that knife into his side as Huesyth swung the hatchet again, slicing the back of his knee this time and Francis went down onto his knees. They all seemingly did as they bled and pulsed with pain. But they all looked between one another, forcing themselves to stay upright until Bec’s gaze matched with Huesyth’s.

The empath knew he must’ve looked feral, monstrous in his own way but for once Huesyth didn’t. He wasn’t nearly as bloody as Bec was but he looked proud. So proud of his monster.

Together? Huesyth’s eyes asked.

Together, Bec’s eyes answered as his lip curled back in a blood-filled snarl.

With his leg injured beyond repair, Francis staggered back to his feet only for Huesyth to jump onto his back again and, in an instant, he is already too late to stop Bec’s movements as the empath lurched forward.

He looked down to see that Bec had sunk the knife into his abdomen and he jerks the blade to the side, blood fountaining onto him as Francis bucked and swung like a buffalo fighting off lions. Huesyth wrenched his head backward and leaned in to sink his teeth into the man’s weak throat, effectively ripping it out as he tumbled off the man’s back again.

Francis arched, roaring to the black sky as blood sprayed from his throat and stomach. The moon shone brightly above him as his knees hit the ground in a puddle of his own blood and his wings were still outstretched, still trying to reach up to the sky. The Dragon’s one last attempt to fly away to victory.

But then Bec blinked and they were gone again and Francis fell forward, rolling onto his back as blood bubbled from his throat. His empty eyes looked up to the moon one last time as they went unfocused. It took a moment for Bec to realize the warmth cutting through the blood smearing his face wasn’t sweat but tears.

He lifted a hand to wipe them away and he saw the extent of his damage, blood soaked his bare arms and most of it wasn’t even his. The empath scanned his hand like it wasn’t even his, the way it moved with the dark familiar stains and he gave a weak smile.

“It really does look black in the moonlight.”

Bec looked up to the doctor as he stood above him before reaching out the hand he was studying so Huesyth could take it and help him to his feet. They staggered towards the edge of the bluff as they clutched each other breathing heavily through the pain in their bodies.

“See. This is all I ever wanted for you, Bec.” Huesyth averted his eyes, briefly going back to the dead Dragon on the ground. The dark pool of beneath his body was steadily growing, creating an image that looked almost like wings made of blood. “For both of us.”

But Bec wouldn’t let him look away. He rested a hand on Huesyth’s blood-covered jaw and brought his attention back to the empath. “It’s beautiful.”

A bloody hand rested on the taller man’s shoulder as Bec leaned forward to kiss him, it tasted like copper and salt as blood filled their mingled mouths. But it was beautiful.

It was perfect for them.

They pulled back, staring only briefly before Bec leaned his head against Huesyth’s chest. There it was again, the pounding of the doctor’s heart under his ear, so loud and clear. The only other thing he could hear besides their own breathing and the crash of waves. His arm wrapped more firmly around Huesyth’s neck.

Breathing in softly and allowing himself to relax back into the taller man's warmth, Bec sighed before he pushed them backward. The ground slipped from under their feet as they went over the edge of the cliff and disappeared into the dark below.