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Affected Judgment

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Jack "Cowboy" Kelly, when he wanted to, slept like the dead.

During his years at the top of Manhattan's underground, he'd be up at the crack of dawn to train, work, and handle the organization's business. It had taken years to break the habit, but now that he was an independent artist (with a degree thank you very much), he could sleep as late as he damn wanted to on a number of nights.

 

The previous night had been one of them. 

 

It was his 6th anniversary with the love of his life and he had pulled out all the stops: He had cooked dinner and brought it up to the rooftop of their building, which had a candle lit table set up, with a projector and screen already playing his favorite movie (Jack wasn't the biggest fan of Singin’ in the Rain, but seeing that smile when it was chosen was all worth it.)

The dinner had gone amazingly, the two not having to say much as they relished in one another's company. A few cups of wine later, and the two were waltzing to Gene Kelly's rendition of the title song, Jack whispering the lyrics in his love's ears.

 

The mind-blowing sex afterwards hadn't been planned per se, but as Jack was being pounded into his mattress, he found it was hard to complain.

 

The night had been perfect in every way, ending in him holding the man he loved in his arms, murmuring sweet nothings in his love's ear until about 3 in the morning.

 

He should have known something was going to happen to ruin his morning.

 

The sound that woke him up would have been undetectable to anyone else. But he wasn't anyone else. It was just the slightest shuffle of a curtain, but Jack was awake in an instant. It wasn’t his love, that he knew for a fact. He had spent weeks memorizing his love’s footsteps and breathing pattern for this very reason. 

 

Which meant someone was in his home.

 

Jack kept his eyes closed and his breathing regulated, but his mind was three steps ahead. Though he hadn't pulled a trigger in a month, it came as easy as breathing; In a single second the gun kept under his pillow was grabbed, three quick pulls of the trigger resounding through his New York loft.

For a moment it was quiet. 

 

"Congratulations," the voice of a young man said to his right, tone rigid and sarcastic as Jack cursed him to hell and back the second he heard it. "You killed your wall."

 

Spot. Fucking. Conlon.

 

That bastard.

 

A harsh noise that sounded suspiciously like his blinds being opened accompanied the muttering voice, and he yelped as the blankets covering his near-nude body. Were yanked off of him. Thank God he was wearing boxers if nothing else.

Groaning, Jack just managed to open his eyes and lift his head before a pillow smacked him and knocked him back down.

"Hijo de tu Madre," An all too familiar voice cursed at him, making Jack groan unintelligibly. It was way too early for this shit and it didn't help that he was slightly hung over.

"Fuck off, my ma's dead," he groaned, opening his eyes and recoiled at the brightness of the sun streaming in.

After letting his eyes adjust, he saw a short, angry boy in his bedroom, arms crossed and eyebrow raised. Years ago, that look would have been accompanied with a loaded gun and fear coursing through Jack's veins.

Now it was just mild annoyance.

" G'Morning, Spot," Jack greeted, a cheeky smile that would have seemed genuine to anyone else but Spot knew him well enough to know it was his "I'm-this-close-to-putting-a-damn-bullet-in-your-skull" smile.

Putting the gun down, he grabbed his phone off the bedside table, sending the "All clear" message to the fellas in the building who heard the shots, vaguely paying Spot's presence any attention.

He long ago stopped wondering how the boy got into his apartment. As far as he knew, Jack had never given him a key, but this was Spot Conlon. There was no building the boy couldn't get into.

Instead of responding, Spot critically analyzed his room, scoffing at any disarray he saw. Jack opened his mouth to complain he wasn't his ma, but stopped himself. Spot was a meticulous person, it was how he had kept the organization running. He had been groomed from childhood to do so, had never been given any other choice.

 

Jack wasn't going to berate him for it.

 

So he quietly let him, eyebrow raising slightly more as Spot saw the piles of clothes discarded on the floor. "Really?" He asked, steel tone to his voice. "You got so dicked down last night that you forgot breakfast?"

Jack sputtered, not going to admit that that was exactly what had happened, but was saved as a beautiful man came walking in, shirtless and dripping wet, his pajama bottoms riding low on his hips and his prosthetic leg peeking through slightly. It was obvious he had just gotten out of a shower. 

The man smiled at Jack, even though there was a certain tightness in his eyes that was definitely from overhearing the shots, and the wind was almost knocked out of him. 

His fiance was beautiful. His smile was brighter than the sun could ever be, running his fingers through his still-wet soft blonde hair, his green eyes bright and clear, the laugh lines around his mouth and his forehead a simple reminder of his joy.

And his body was a nice bonus.

When they had first met, Jack never would've expected the small boy who wore over-sized sweaters and cuffed jeans would have an honest-to-God six pack, but Charlie Morris had the upper body strength of a Greek god. Having used forearm crutches for a good portion of his life, it made sense. 

That was another thing about Crutchie, a nickname given to him all throughout his childhood, that Jack admired: life had treated him like shit and yet he found a way to smile through it all. 

Just seeing his smile made Jack feel the same way he did when Crutchie first agreed to a date with him and he hoped the feeling never went away.

"Sean!" Crutchie grinned as he noticed the man in his bedroom, not even surprised that he was there. A small smile broke on the younger man's face, though it was obvious he was trying to fight it.

 Crutchie was one of the few people on the waking earth who could call him by his birth name and get away with it, and Jack couldn’t help but notice that Spot seemed to lower his walls around Crutchie. He seemed more like a boy than a hardened mob boss. 

"Hi Charlie," Spot responded, sticking a hand out and shaking hands before yelping when dragged into one of Crutchie's famous hugs.

"God, I feel like I haven't seen you in forever!" He said, and Spot laughed as Crutchie ruffled his hair. Jack swung his legs over the bed, grumbling about Spot never letting him do that as he rummaged through his dresser to find jeans.

"Sorry to steal your prometido, Crutchie, pero es domingo," Spot apologized and Jack rolled his eyes: the asshole was always speaking in Spanish because he knew Jack was too stupid to learn it. But it didn't help that Crutchie was somewhat fluent too. 

No te preocupes," Crutchie laughed. “¡Es tu mejor amigo! Más bien, es tu familia. Y la tradición con la familia es importante, Sean. No olvides eso.”

"Ok, what are you two saying?" Jack complained, now wearing a simple tee as he walked over to where his two favorite boys were. Placing his hands on Crutchie's hips and kissing him soundly on the lips, he gained a pleased hum from his fiance and a groan of annoyance from his best friend.

"He's saying you owe me breakfast, so hurry up güero, I'm starving."

 

-----

 

Spot Conlon didn't fall easily, but when he did, he fell hard. 

Love and romance was something he promised he would never strive for, but as he watched the beautiful boy strumming his guitar, it was easy to forget.

He was, for lack of better words, ethereal. It was obvious he was taller than Spot was by the way he was hunched over, his blonde curls falling into his face, but not enough to where Spot couldn't see his eyes. They were blue, so blue that he couldn't find anything in the living world to compare them to; the ocean and the sky would never be that crystal clear and beautiful. His pale skin glowed in the sunlight and his fingers effortlessly glided across the guitar in his arms, voice clear and strong as he sang:

 

Coffee and Cigarettes are best when shared with you

 

We'll go to waffle house or your mom's house and share a cup or two

 

Yeah I have friends but they have friends

 

And they have friends and they have parties and I'm so awkward

 

So what do you say, just as friends, we see a movie this weekend? Alright? Okay.

 

As he sang the line, he looked up and made contact with Spot, and smiled before going back to his song. Much to his own dismay, Spot's breath hitched and he felt the tips of his ears burning.

 

Oh he was screwed.

 

"So," Jack said from across the booth, snapping Spot from his stupor. The older boy took a long sip of his coffee before continuing, scrutinizing Spot the whole time. "I guess this is why you wanted to choose the restaurant this time?"

"Fuck off, Kelly." Spot growled, responding too quickly, to which Jack only raised an eyebrow. "Ok, fine" Spot spat, slightly shrinking into himself. "I like the food."

"The food is mediocre at best, Spot," Jack snorted. Instead of looking at his friend, he stared at the boy who had just finished performing. "And I know you. You hate going to new places where they don't know you, you hate anything with live performances, and you hate coming to Manhattan."

 

Spot hated that he was right. 

 

"...what the hell are you getting at, Kelly?"

"My point," Jack said, taking a bite of his pancakes. "Is that you are here to talk to that boy." 

He didn't even need to follow Jack's gaze to know who he was referring to.

"I'm not here to speak to him, Jack," Spot said, taking a long drink of his black coffee to calm his nerves. Spot Conlon didn't get flustered, didn't catch feelings, and didn't want to be in this situation.

"You've changed your entire routine for him; what do you even know about him?"

Spot thought about denying it all, lying straight to Jack's face, but he knew he couldn't. They weren't like that, they were honest with each other. The last time Spot lied to him, Crutchie was…

 

 But Jack had pulled him out of that life, and for that, Spot vowed to never lie to him. 

 

"His name’s Anthony Higgins. It's his 2nd year in college, theatre major. He's a dancer, grew up in the foster system, allergic to strawberries, plays guitar, has a thing for Madonna, speaks fluent Italian, smokes, has a bit of a gambling habit, talks back to our professors, and he sings here every Sunday."

Jack's mouth dropped open, fork paused halfway on its way to his mouth. "Ok, now you're just stalking the poor kid."

Spot grunted, dropping his head slightly to avoid eye contact, just itching to punch himself until he got over this. "I am not. We're...friends. I've just been attracted to him for-- this is pathetic." He muttered, not even bothering to finish his sentence. It was stupid, so so stupid.

"Well, why don't you just go talk to him?"

At that, Spot's eyes shot up, a nervous shock shaking him to his core. He didn't get it; he wasn't afraid of anything, but the thought of letting himself anywhere near  Race terrified him. "Don't kid, Cowboy. I'd be no good for him."

Jack's smile grew, and Spot's blood run cold; he knew that smile and had grown to pity any person caught on the other end of it. That cocky, sly, dangerous smile had led a boy to rule the streets of Manhattan for years and for numerous corpses to be left for NYPD to find. And it only happened when the man had an idea in mind.

"Well why don't we find out?" Jack asked low, and raised an arm. "Hey, Anthony! Over here!"

Spot's eyes widened and he quickly leaned forward, murderous rage coursing through him. "Hijo de tu puta madre! Jack Kelly, I swear to God, I will fucking skin you'se alive and force Charlie to watch as you scr--"

"Jack!" a voice interrupted. "Jack, you're here!"

" 'Course I's here!" The man exclaimed, getting out of the booth to drag the boy in and clap him on the back much to Spot's surprise. He knew Jack hated physical contact with anyone he didn't know. "Sean!" Jack exclaimed, throwing a shoulder over the boy and casting a wicked grin to him. 

"Meet Anthony, my lil' brother!"

----

"Race, stop!" Crutchie scolded, slapping his hand away as Race tried to run his fingers through his hair. "You'll mess up all my work!"

It was Friday, and Racetrack Higgins was panicking. Earlier that week, he had just finished singing at Jacobi's Diner like he did every Sunday when he spotted his older brother sitting in a booth, calling him over. Just happy to see him again, Race hadn't even noticed who was with him in the booth until it was too late.

 

Sean Conlon.

 

On Race's first day last semester, he was so busy sending a message to his roommate Albert that he hadn't noticed where he was going, walking straight into a man holding coffee.

 

It was then that Race first met the legend that was Sean Conlon.

 

Everyone on campus knew the serious business major who could ruin your life with a snap of his fingers. All sorts of rumors were spread about him; he was undercover with the FBI, he was old blood money, he was a young criminal mastermind who had evaded law enforcement for years. 

Race had worried it was going to be his last day on the planet, but he held his head high as he looked into the boy's eyes. "I'm so sorry."

The entire lecture hall held their breath, and imagine his surprise when Sean simply glared at him and spoke in a low clear voice.  "Do that again, and you're dead." 

Without waiting for a response, he walked out of the room without turning back.

Race had been lucky, but being himself, he just had to push his luck. The next day, he made his way to the back of the lecture hall, where Sean sat surrounded by empty seats. He had secured a place just glaring daggers at anyone who approached him. 

 Race knew he was already in the danger zone. He didn't say anything, just sat down and placed a cup of black coffee on the boy's desk before silently listening to their professor. 

The lecture wasn't long, but he was on edge the entire time. He could tell Sean was staring at him the entire time. When they were dismissed, he reached for his bag and made to leave, but Sean spoke for the first time that morning.

 

"You aren't scared of me." 

 

It wasn't a question, it was a statement. Race looked back at him and found the boy analyzing him. "Why?" 

Race hadn't known how to respond to that, and he found himself looking at Sean a second too long. "Because you're not scary. You're lonely." The words hit the boy like a bullet, Race could tell by the way he flinched. It wasn't a massive movement, only a slight shift of his left eyebrow. He thought he had said the wrong thing, but Sean smiled. It was a small one, if anything it made him look sinister, but Race took it as a good sign. 

"You got guts, Anthony. I'll give you that."

That he did. Nothing scared him anymore, not even the fact that Sean knew his name. "That mean I can sit here tomorrow?" 

Sean did react then, let his jaw drop in surprise. He snapped it shut the second he realized he did it, and he looked up at Race. 

"I… I don't see why not." He looked down at the cup still on his desk-space. “Take it as a thanks for the coffee.”

After that, the two had begun a tentative friendship.

They sat together during lectures, took notes whenever one of them wasn’t there, even helped each other with assignments. It wasn’t uncommon to now see the short morbid boy walking side by side with the tall boy who was always grinning like he knew something you didn’t. The rest of campus grew to respect Racetrack, his friends claiming that he was the only person Sean Conlon tolerated. 

 

It didn’t take long for Race to fall for him.

 

At Jacobi's, Sean simply blinked, looked between his brother and him, before nodding his head at him.

"We've met, Kelly."

That came as a surprise. Jack had never mentioned knowing Sean, having known him well enough to go out to breakfast with him.

Jack only nodded back at Sean and prompted Race to sit with them. He had, only to have Jack leave less than a minute later saying he needed to use the bathroom. By the time they paid for breakfast, they hadn't even noticed Jack had straight up left them.

it had been kind of awkward for a few minutes, but nearing an hour later, the two had slid into their usual banter. But...but there was something different about it. Sean was more tense, more hesitant. After a while, Race just had to ask.

 

"Ok, what gives, Conlon? You as nervous as a blushing virgin on her wedding night."

 

"Well I's got plenty to be nervous about, Tony."

 

Race muttered an apology to Crutchie, twitching nervously. "I'm a walking disaster, Crutch. It'll be a miracle if I can make--" He stopped for a moment, fidgeting with the cuffs of his shirt as he turned to his face the vanity. 

"Woah..." 

 

"Well, I's can't think of a single reason why you'd be nervous,” Race said, raising an eyebrow and huffing out a laugh.  “Unless you's trying to ask me out or somet--"

 

"And if I were?"

 

The second the question came out of his mouth, both boys sat there, staring at one another. If he knew any better, Race could have sworn Sean was blushing. 

 

"If I…I were to, you know,  ask you out… what would you say?"

 

Race looked at Sean. Really looked at him. He was attractive, that much was obvious to anyone with eyes, but there was something else about him. The way he was only slightly hunched over, trying to feign nonchalance. The way his right index finger was drumming every few seconds. He was asking a question but he was nervous to hear the answer.

The waitress chose that moment to come over and lay the check down between them with a smile. Whatever came over Sean was gone in an instant but Race didn’t let it go. He fished out two twenties and left them on the table before standing. He started to walk away, but he looked over his shoulder at his friend.

 

“I’m free Saturday at 7.  If you don’t bring me flowers, our date’s off Conlon.”  

 

With a grin to rival the Cheshire Cat, he winked at Spot’s stunned face, and walked away. If he swayed his hips more than usual, well, that was something only he and Spot knew.

He looked in the mirror and couldn’t believe how good he looked.  He and Jack had money, sure, but he rarely used it on clothing. The button up shirt he was wearing must have been a hundred dollars, easy, tailored to fit him exactly. He had put on his best blazer, one that cost half a grand, but slid on jeans. He didn’t want to look too fancy.

“Sean’s not gonna know what hit him,” Crutchie said, grinning at him in the mirror. Race returned the smile but it grew into a frown as he caught something. 

“How’d you know his name was Sean?" Race wondered out loud. He and Crutchie were as close as brothers, but in the mayhem of preparing, he hadn't had time to tell him the name of his date. He caught Crutchie's look in the mirror. 

"Jack told me," the man said, but he wouldn't meet his eyes. Crutchie was lying to him. 

"Do you...do you know Sean?"

The man looked up at him at that, a small smile on his lips as he met Race’s questioning gaze. 

"No. I don't."