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Of Ghosts and Monsters

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October 26, 2022

There’s something shocking about the flicker of flames on the cold, blue walls of my bedroom. Something sort of wrong and disconcerting. The fire’s only a few hours old and I should stoke it, add a few logs, but I can’t convince myself to move from the bed so it’s already burning down to embers.

The grandfather clock says it’s half past midnight, but I think it’s a little slow. I’ll have to remember to ask Bass to have it wound in the morning. It seems trite, but he insists I direct all my requests to him and that I not refrain from asking for what I need. It’s just a power play, I understand that. He wants me to feel comfortable with him, to feel like we’re friends or something. Some days I almost believe it.

He can be very convincingly charming when he wants to be.

I pause in writing at a knock on the door, the bedroom startlingly quiet all of a sudden without the scratch of my pen on paper. I don’t need to call out that it’s open because the only person it could be is Bass and he never waits for permission anyway. That goes with the territory on the whole captive-captor thing. Lack of personal space.

The door swings in and he leans in the doorway, jacket hanging open, feet bare, and a bottle in one hand. Lifting the bottle, he murmurs quietly, “Have a drink with me?”

I don’t answer, just arch an eyebrow in the direction of the table and he takes the hint. Bass closes the door behind him, uncorks the brandy, (he’s in a melancholy mood if he’s bringing something I actually like), and pointedly ignores the glasses on the table.

It’s become a ritual, lying on my too-small bed and drinking from the bottle in the middle of the night. I don’t know what it says about me that I almost look forward to it. There’s an excitement about the… twistedness, of the energy between us. We’re captive and captor, yes, but we’re also rivals and friends and practically family. We’re Mathesons adjacent, Mathesons not by blood but by marriage and hellfire.

Bass holds the bottle out to me first as he leans against the bed, faux-gentleman to the last. I give him a moment’s pause, eyeing the label before wrapping my fingers around the neck of the bottle, threading between his. He lets me tug on it a few seconds before releasing his grip and lifting a knee onto the bed.

I’m tipping the bottle up to my lips when he snatches the journal out of my hands and flops beside me, his feet dangling off the end of the bed.

“Hey!” Brandy hits my tongue, a sweet burn, and I try unsuccessfully to grab for the little leather book but he holds it out of my reach, apparently melancholy but mischievous.

“…convincingly charming when he wants to be,” he reads out loud, voice low and scratchy, and I can practically feel him grin. “Would that be me you’re talking about?”

I knock the journal onto the bed and deftly tie the leather cord around it, tossing it onto the nightstand. “Not at all. That would be Captain Burroughs,” I retort, going for haughty as a pull a name out of thin air.

Bass’ brow crinkles before realization dawns and he rolls his eyes at me, throwing an arm over my waist. “Fuck, the old guy? Don’t toy with me, Rach.”

So, melancholy, mischievous, and overly familiar.

I hide my smirk in a gulp of brandy, passing him the bottle. “Yes, you, Mr. President. Your charms might be buried under murderous tendencies but they do exist, on a good day.”

“Like today?”

“When you’re drunk and leering at me? No, Bass, not like today.”

He gets that hurt look in his eyes, face pinching together like his tear ducts are a little too close to the surface. “It’s not a leer. You’re too… somethin’, for a leer.” Bass tucks my hair behind my ear, fingertips lingering on my cheek until I press a finger to his palm and guide his hand away from me. “Too smart. Too pretty. Too stuck-up. Too wounded.”

“And whose fault is that?”

His eyes dart away from my face to the dying fire; a less aware woman might mistake the action for guilt. It’s not guilt. It’s frustration, that all his ploys and threats haven’t worked on me. It’s hurt, that I blame him for my position when Miles was the one who brought me here. (That’s just simply easier on my sanity.)

Bass feels many things about my being here, about the way I inhabit Miles’ old room and the fact that I’ve forgotten more about the power than I’ll ever tell him. (That’s a lie, I haven’t forgotten anything.) I make him angry and passionate and twist him up in knots he didn’t know he could contort his insides into.

It’s a bit satisfying, having that much of an emotional shock collar on someone so outwardly powerful.

I’m peeling the wrapper slightly under my fingers when he lifts the bottle out of my hands and presses it to his lips. “Is your life really so dull you have to write in your diary about someone you loathe? Couldn’t you, I don’t know, be writing about how you ended the world, for example?”

“I don’t loathe you.” It’s easiest just to ignore his pleading, angry questions.

“Mm, but isn’t that what you tell yourself? That everything’s my fault so you get to hate me and not him?”

“So many question marks tonight. Why are you here, Bass?”

He tips his head back and stares at the ceiling for a moment, a tiny heartbroken and humorless smirk on his lips. “It’s been four months today.”

Bass doesn’t have to elaborate. Four months since Miles tried to kill him and chickened out. The first few weeks, Bass really thought he’d come home and they’d call a truce and talk about it but then he just vanished. By now, he could be in Brazil or California or the fucking Arctic circle. They’ll never find him and Bass knows it.

And I know it. At this point, I don’t know what I would do with him if Bass hauled him home and made him answer for his crimes. Given the opportunity, would I slit his throat or just thank god he’d come back? He did abandon me after all, but it’s Miles and Bass is right that I never could quite hate him.

I realize I’ve been silent for too long and lay a hand on his arm. “I know.”

“You know there’s a standing order to bring him in alive? It’s stupid, ‘cause I don’t think I could kill him if I had the chance but I don’t want anyone else doing it.”

“You can’t hate him either,” I’m whispering before I realize I’ve opened my mouth. That’s a dangerous habit around Bass, speaking without thinking.

“It’d be like hating my right arm,” he says to the bottle. “Or my lungs.”

Bass twists around to look me in the eye suddenly, his features sharp and severe in the firelight. “Why can’t you?”

Well that is the question, isn’t it, Bass? The be all, end all question. Not how do we turn the power on? But rather, why do we still love Miles?

It takes me a careful moment to formulate an answer. “Because Miles makes me feel like no one else does.” It’s a selfish reason. It’s not because I can forgive everything he’s done to me. It’s not because I think he’s my true love or some sentimental bullshit. It’s because when I’m with him, I feel everything intensely and passionately.

“He’s whiskey.”

That might be more articulate if Bass wasn’t quite so drunk, but I understand him anyway. Miles is an addictive substance, he’s my (our) whiskey and nicotine and heroin all rolled up into one wounded, confused man with too much power and too little trust.

I glance sidelong at Bass and slide the brandy bottle out of his fingers. “If he’s an addiction, haven’t we just been put through four months of cold turkey rehab? We should be feeling better by now.”

“Nah, couldn’t be that easy. Four months to get over forty years? No way.” Bass tips the bottle in my direction. “Well, twenty in your case. Maybe you should be feeling better, but not me.”

The alcohol swirls over my tongue, sweet and bitter and pungent mixed with the citrus scent of Bass on my bedspread. He’s right, of course. Miles abandoning me here, it hurts somewhere infinitely greater than the day he said he didn’t love me and just shy of the day the doctors told me my son might not be able to breathe properly.

But for Bass, it’s a kind of hurt I can’t fathom.

I’m just reaching out to squeeze his hand when he rolls off the bed to stoke the fire up. I snatch my hand back, clinging to the brandy bottle. There’s a swell of heat as he adds a few logs, nudging the embers half-heartedly and leaning one hand against the mantle. The little cluster of dried flowers and pumpkins there are cast in deep shadow but the fire shines warm on his face as he stares into it.

Leaning my elbow back on the pillow, (Miles’ pillow), I tap a fingernail against the glass bottle. This room, it’s like being trapped inside Bass’ memories. The couch smells like Miles, (there’s a whiskey stain carefully disguised with a throw pillow), and though I never saw it with my own eyes, I can just picture him draped in one of those chairs, his body too large and gangly for the delicate antiques.

Maybe it’s time for Bass to paste some new sense-memories over the top of all that pain.

“Bass.”

The dried flowers crinkle at the brush of his fingers but he doesn’t respond, just tightens his grip on the mantle and stares at the flames, like he wants to dive headfirst into them.

“Bass.” Quieter this time, softer.

The muscles in his neck tense and before I can try one more time, he bangs the poker back on its hook. “What?

“Come to bed.”

Bass doesn’t whirl around in surprise or laugh like he’s won something or any of the responses someone who doesn’t know me so well might have. Instead, he just takes a breath, strips off his jacket and marches across the room, eyes narrowed. He stands at the edge of the bed, hands on his hips, and demands, “Why?”

“Because you’re sad and I’m lonely. What other reason is there for ill-advised sex?”

He reaches out, fingers skimming my hair like he’s deciding whether this is going to be tender or painful. Finally, he takes the bottle and sets it on the nightstand. Sinking onto the bed with a sigh, he stares at my hand on the bed, wedding ring glinting in the firelight.

“This won’t change anything,” I murmur without touching him. “I’m not going to suddenly spill my guts, just because you…” In rare honest moments like this, there’s no use pretending that Ben was an algebra teacher.

“And I’m not suddenly going to feel bad about keeping you here. I know.”

Finally I reach up to stroke my knuckles down his cheek. “Let’s just forget about Miles for a few hours, all right?”

Bass barks a laugh and he glances up at me with those spark-filled eyes. “How can we, when this is all about him?”

I don’t bother protesting, (what would be the point?), just let him yank me to the middle of the bed on my knees and unbutton my pajamas with the efficiency he usually dedicates to an execution order. He tosses my shirt over the footboard and runs graceful hands over my exposed breasts like they’re nothing special and like he has to touch me, all at once.

“What did he used to do to you? With you?” Bass demands, eyes narrowed at the slant of my lips.

“Bass-” There’s an exasperation in my voice I can’t contain, this obsession of his getting quickly out of control. His desperate need to know every piece of Miles that wasn’t his to hoard, now that he doesn’t get to own any piece of the man.

His grip is rough, too tight on my upper arms, and I cringe. I need this release, (on some level, I need Bass), but maybe tonight was the wrong time to start something.

Tell me.”

But my head is quicker than the knot in my stomach and I’m calmly insisting, “Not until you’re undressed too. Even playing field.” I arch an eyebrow, suddenly in control of myself again.

Bass presses his lips together in a thin line, unused to being challenged, except for in the walls of this room. I’m not afraid of him. Never have been. We move away without taking our eyes off each other, stripping down until the footboard is littered with our clothes: my satin and his wool.

There’s an exchange of appraising glances as he takes in the shape of my body, the patch of curls between my legs and the clench of my fists at my sides.

As I take in the sharp cut of his shoulders, the stark black tattoo on his arm and his proud, handsome cock.

We both kneel and stretch out on the bed, my head propped up on my hand. There’s maybe eight inches between us, and Bass reaches out a hand to trace the curve of my breast to waist to hip.

“Tell me,” he says again, gentler this time, more of a plea.

“Miles…” I feel like I’ve lost my voice all of a sudden, throat closing up around the personal, intimate details of our affair. “He usually spends a long time kissing me first. Deep and… intense.”

Bass brushes my hair out of my face before he leans in, holding my stare until our lips are almost touching. His eyes are so blue, so like looking in the mirror. I surge forward the last few millimeters and snap my eyes shut at the brush of our mouths over each other.

As first kisses go, it’s an odd one: we’re both already naked on top of the covers and yet he’s sort of shy with me, at first. Ben’s never been one for the extended make-out and Miles is so overwhelming, I don’t quite understand at first that Bass is just warming up. His tongue finds my bottom lip, tugging the tender flesh between his lips before he’s digging deeper.

He has one hand at my jaw and that’s so bizarrely familiar, so very like Miles, I could nearly cry if he didn’t taste so utterly different: all lemon and sweet, where Miles is fresh streams and whiskey.

Bass plants his free hand on the bed and lifts himself over me without breaking away, tipping his head so my teeth catch on his lips, the scrape of sensitive nerves on sensitive skin drawing shaky groans from each of us.

I slide my hands up his torso, warm skin under my palms like an oasis after so long without any contact. The last time I was kissed, it was Miles, that day in the rain at the gates of Philly, like he wanted to taste me before he walked through the walls of Bass’ kingdom again. The last time I did this, wrapped my legs around someone and clung to them, it was Ben, a few weeks before Miles turned up at our door. We didn’t even have sex the night before I left, though we knew we never would again. It felt phony, to pretend we would crave each other like that after I was gone.

But Bass, he’s here and now and there’s slick sweat where the fire warms his face and his cock is half-hard between us and if I didn’t get off so much on pretending to have power, I’d close my eyes and let him have me.

I have no delusions that Bass is experiencing any of this same sensory overload; I know all too well that he has a different girl every night.

He breaks away, taking his tongue from mine and drawing it down my throat instead in a wet, agonizing stripe. “Then what?” he whispers, stubble burning my skin to a raw, shouting red.

My brain snaps immediately back to the game, back to the twisted threesome we’re having with the ghost of Miles. I wrap my arms around his neck, and smirk to myself. “Then he goes down on me.”

To my disinterested surprise, he doesn’t give me hell for effectively telling him to get on his knees, just drags his mouth down between my breasts and over the slope of my stomach. Though his usual girls are half my age and flawless, (but for the marks left by clients like him), I’m somehow not self-conscious with Bass. We’ve watched each other age and grow since we were practically kids ourselves.

Grow into selfish monsters and killers.

But grow nonetheless.

His tongue traces my cesarean scar, memorizing the faint ridges on my skin like he has a morbid fascination with them. My fingers thread into his curls and what was a game slips back into intimacy as he nudges my legs open with his shoulders and draws his nose against the sensitive skin of my thigh.

“How?”

“Hmm?” My eyes are closed, head tipped back against the pillow, braced for the feel of his tongue inside me, so he has to repeat the question.

“How does he go down on you, Rachel?”

I open my eyes to stare at the ceiling tiles, my skin humming with pent up energy. “Is this about one-upping him or about being him?”

“Is this your fantasy about being with him or about getting back at him?”

Fair enough. A log shifts on the fire and crumbles into embers. “He usually, ah,” I clear my throat, voice stronger when I start again. “He usually starts up the middle with the flat of his tongue and then he- he goes for my clit.” My breath catches as Bass follows instructions, dipping into me for too-brief seconds and then sliding the tip of his tongue around my clit.

God, it’s so much after so long. I squeeze my eyes shut, fingers driving into my hair even as I’m still tugging on him with the other hand. Some part of me must stay grounded because I hear myself continue to give him direction, even though most of my attention is scattered between the feel of his lipstongueteeth, the unbearable heat of the fire and the weight of three lifetimes of guilt crammed into this tiny bed.

“…up, up a little higher- oh-”

“…he does two fingers then, uh, three when I beg for it…”

“…right- fuck, Bass, right there…”

“…please, god yes, more…”

I’m digging into ancient memories here but if I slam my eyes shut really tight and pretend I can hear the old electric buzz of everything, I’m in a hotel room with Miles, my body young and childless and yet-to-be-heartbroken. I force my eyes open because that’s a dangerous fantasy, so much more so than what Bass and I are doing.

It would be so easy to lose myself in that kind of fantasy.

My head is fuzzy, my foot bouncing against Bass’ back, when he cuts into my darting thoughts. “Does he let you come like this?” he rumbles against my hip and all I can think of is Miles kneeling between my thighs with three fingers curled up inside me, just like Bass is now, and begging me to come.

“Yeah,” I manage, the single syllable ripped raw out of my throat. “God, yes. Miles takes every orgasm like a personal win.”

Bass chuckles quietly, digging his fingers in harder and tonguing my clit faster until the sounds I’m making are no longer words and his breath is coming in short, sharp pants on my skin. I don’t hold back, just wrench on his hair and mumble my incoherent approval.

He peels my legs off his shoulders when I’m finished and leans on an elbow, moving to wipe his fingers on the bedspread, but I slap a hand around his wrist. Bass lifts his head, eyebrow raised, but I think he knows what I’m going to say as soon as he catches my eye.

“Miles always sucks them clean.” My voice is steady, for the first time since I suggested sex. Because this, this is the game: the competition for Miles’ all-consuming attention. “If you want the authentic experience, anyway.”

Bass holds my stare for long seconds before raising graceful fingers to his lips and sucking them clean one at a time. He can’t ever contain what he’s feeling and I can see the sparks of jealousy in his eyes as he pictures Miles lapping me off his skin.

Finally, he lays his hands flat on either side of me and leans in so there’s bare inches between us. “Then what?” Bass sounds dangerous, and I find I rather like it. No pretenses, no false civility. Just two murderous people stripped down to what we really are.

I smirk, hooking my feet behind his calves. “You think he could hold out any longer before getting inside me?”

Bass grinds his jaw, like he’s suddenly regretting his demands to hear all about how Miles makes love to me, but hitches my hip high on his and rubs his cock between my legs. My confident defiance splinters a bit at the promising sensation, and he sinks into me an inch.

It’s something I’ve wondered for years, if the two of them were ever romantic, or at least physical. Or if their affair was purely macho self-deception. Still, I’m sure Bass knows that he isn’t as thick as Miles.

Just like the rest of him, his cock is long and lean and though it’s an utterly different feeling from Miles stretching me open, it’s altogether pleasant. Bass is, not surprisingly, rather good at this. He drives deep inside me, reaching down to where it pinches and I have to dig my nails into his shoulders in retaliation as much for balance.

Bass slides an arm under me, sweat dripping down the small of my back where his bare skin touches mine. I suppress a moan, tipping my head back against the pillow and thrashing under his weight.

Bass, oh-”

He ducks his head to my breast, curls tickling my cheek as he sucks hard at my pulse point, hands leaving bruises on my thighs and waist. I’m going to be sore tomorrow and those marks aren’t going to be the kind that I twist to see in the mirror, a little satiated by the sight of them. Still, it’s all the confirmation I need that he and Miles were physical at one time; the way he’s kneading the tender skin stretched over my collarbone with his teeth is so familiar, it can’t be anything but an imitation. The difference is, where Miles always had to stop short of leaving a mark, Bass is free to paint me in the evidence of what we’ve done.

There’s no one to see, after all.

I’m not exactly gentle with him either though, short nails scraping at his neck and shoulders, and down his back. Miles was always, for lack of a better word, worshipful in bed. He’d start at my toes and work his way up until I was completely boneless and yet somehow still begging him not to stop. I wouldn’t ask that of Bass, wouldn’t want it; it would feel like a betrayal and there’s been too much of that already between the three of us.

The violence in this, it’s the one thing that’s real here, that’s really Bass and I.

Just when I think I could let go and come, even without either of our fingers on my clit, he grunts into my skin, hand fisting in the sheet beside us to steady himself.

“I can see Miles being a missionary kind of guy but always figured you for more the adventurous type,” he gets out through grit teeth.

A dozen images of Miles and I in motel rooms and bathroom stalls flash in my head. “He’s less uptight than you might think,” I murmur. Bass’ smirk only serves to remind me that he probably already knows that. (The liar, like I can’t just imagine him bent over a desk with Miles pounding into him from behind.)

“And what’s his favorite of the more agile options?” Perhaps he’s comparing notes in his head.

“We’re both too tired and drunk for agile,” I argue, nudging him off me so I can roll onto my stomach. “But Miles always did appreciate this view.”

Bass hums his approval and spreads his hands over my waist, thumbs dipping into the crevasse of my back as he slides easily back into me. I can’t help the moan that bubbles out of me, his hips brushing the curve of my ass and his cock so deep and heavy inside me. Gripping the pillow tighter, I push my weight onto my knees and sink back against him.

Bass leans into me, moving his long fingers up my ribcage slowly like he’s counting each rib, thinking of all the ways he could snap them, and then onto my breast. He rolls the nipple between his fingertips, pulling out of me just a fraction before slamming back in.

Fuck, it’s too much and neither of us is going to last long like this. My knuckles graze the headboard with each agonizing pass of his cock in and out and in. I’m almost certain my eyes would be rolling back in my head if they weren’t already slammed shut.

He drags embarrassingly desperate sounds out of me before it’s over, all muffled in the down pillow crushed under us. But it’s the last one that really rips open all my old wounds, when we’re both gasping and he’s going to have to pull out in a second.

“Say his name,” Bass asks, begs, demands.

My hair’s in my face as I twist back to look at him, brow knit and some emotion that’s caught between disgust and arousal welling up inside me. “What?

“Say it, Rach.” He grinds his teeth, grabbing my wrists and pinning me into the mattress. “Or I swear to god, I won’t let you come.”

As if he has full control over that. Bass always was a narcissist. Still, the slow drag of his cock as he pulls nearly all the way out has me almost babbling anyway. As wrong as it feels, I hear myself gasp out, “Miles. Miles, god, yes yesmm-”

Bass pulls back halfway through my orgasm, collapsing onto his elbows with his face in the small of my back as he comes, hard and bucking against the bed. “Miles-” He seems to chokes on his best friend’s name, hands on my hips and shuddering, violent and sad.

The sheets are damp and there’s come drying on both of us but he draws me into his arms anyway and pulls the covers up over us. Runs his fingers through my tangled curls but never makes me face him.

“Why be so honest with me?” I ask finally, when we’re both nearly asleep. We didn’t exactly have an up front and honest conversation here but he did lay some things bare for me I could easily use against him, given the opportunity.

“Because I’m hammered.” Bass sounds sleepy but evasive and I scoff, shaking my head.

“No, you’re not.”

He sighs, untangling his arm from beneath me and pulling away, putting precious inches between us. “Because who are you going to tell?”

When I wake up, the bed is empty, the sun is rising and the fire’s long since gone cold.