Chicago – February 1922
Remus wrinkled his nose and shook his head. “Too damn sparkly, Vicky. You need to give ‘em oomph along with the shine.”
Vicky, to her credit, leaned into the vanity, pushing at the curls in her hair. The sparkly headdress she wore was weighing them down, but she didn’t seem to mind as she shook her hips and ignored Remus where he sat (irritated) behind her. She was an old chorus girl, one that didn’t need the work that she landed, but one that did it for the fun of it. Her lover was buying her too many expensive things – like that damn headdress – and Remus wondered when his wife would notice the money he dropped on this lovely little flapper. Probably never.
To pass the time while Vicky swarmed the mirror, Remus let his eyes travel down her long legs… and then he smiled.
“You’ve got a run, baby.”
Vicky (finally) leaned back from the vanity. After a little bit of twisting, she looked down at the tear in her pantyhose with a noise of despair. With a sad coo, she braced her hand on Remus’s shoulder and kicked off her shoes. He took the opportunity to look at himself in the mirror so he could curl his mustache just the way he liked it. When Vicky leaned on him a little harder, he braced his shoulder so she could pull off her pantyhose and toss them across the room. At least she was dedicated and willing to go out and sing and dance without them.
What was that saying? The show must go on, with or without clothing.
(That was how Remus remembered it, anyway.)
The door to the dressing room opened and Roman stepped in just in time for Vicky to look at him and say: “Your brother put a run in my tights.”
Remus baulked. “Did not! This little harpy was hogging the mirror.”
Vicky was quick to turn on him. “Mistah Kingsley’s gonna make a dishonest woman of me.”
Leaning into the vanity, Remus snorted, “You wish, babydoll.”
Vicky only giggled as she slipped past Roman and out to the bar. The sounds were big and bright from the band when the door opened, and even after it shut Remus could hear the wail of a trombone and the squawk of a clarinet having too much fun. He wanted to go out and have that fun. He wanted to straddle his microphone and gave the entire bar a good time. But there was an itch in his throat, and he reached for his favorite bottle – only to realize it wasn’t there.
He went back to assessing his mustache in the mirror.
Roman must’ve seen him reach. Roman couldn’t have missed that. But he feigned ignorance as he went to the lounge in the corner and fell into it with a huff. Remus gave him a wry grin and a look from the corner of his eye.
“What’s wrong, stud? Couldn’t get it up with Logan?”
“Ahah, you’re so funny. Let’s put you in a looney bin, you’re so fucking funny.” Roman said harsh words, but he was calm as he kicked his feet up and crossed them at the ankle. “Virgil’s gone to get us bourbon.”
“So?” Remus asked, more nonplussed than anything. “Sounds like old news to me.”
Roman shrugged oddly. “Thought I’d let you know.”
“Why the fuck would I care what Virgil’s doing?”
Roman blinked slowly. “Tell me how you really feel.”
“I think Virgil’s time would be better spent tying up Patty, don’t you?” They both paused to imagine Patton tied to a four-post bed with silk scarves. Remus sighed. “Bet that would break that shitty fake smile he wears.”
“I bet it would break a lot of things,” Roman agreed. “Like his bed.”
Remus pursed his lips. “Or his back.”
They paused to imagine this new scenario, and Remus snorted a laugh before he went reaching again (out of habit, damn it). His hand hit open air and he dropped it to the surface of the vanity. Like he meant to place it there. Like it didn’t matter. He fiddled with a compact makeup case that belonged to one of the girls.
“When do we go on again?” He probably knew. He’d just didn’t care to remember. Roman inspected his nails pointedly.
“We’ve got time.”
“How much time?”
Now Roman looked at him. “Why the hell do you care?”
Remus fidgeted and bounced his leg. “’cause I need a smoke, ya wet blanket.”
“Huh.” Roman looked at him. “Dumbass.”
“You’re a dumbass.”
Even if he said that, Roman dug into his pocket and produced a pack of cigarettes. Remus took one and lit it up with… that looked like Patton’s lighter. Remus gave him an approving look as Roman said, “Took that and the pack right of Patty’s pocket when he wasn’t paying attention.” Roman practically glowed with self-satisfaction. “He didn’t even notice they were gone.”
“Aw,” Remus cooed dramatically. “After all this time, you’re still a two-bit pick pocket.”
“Hey, hey… I learn from the best,” Roman said as he gestured to Remus in mock-respect. Remus only laughed loudly at that.
After he took a long drag, he blew a cloud of smoke that hung above them like their own raincloud. Roman leaned back, relaxed and smarmy as all hell. Remus reached, and there was nothing to take from the vanity. But he didn’t mind this time. He simply leaned into the vanity and took another drag as he said:
“All you did was snatch a couple cigs and a lighter. I managed to snag myself a mob boss.”
Roman made a face. “That’s a totally different skillset, Remus. I didn’t even have to take off my pants.”
“Nah, nah,” Remus tutted pointedly. “I’m the best, so I make the rules.”
“What’s that thing Patty says about the pot and the kettle?”
Roman glared at him. “Both are black.”
Remus pursed his lips. “Oh yeah? Maybe I need Logan for this joke to land.”
“I can see tomorrow’s headline in the papers” Roman said dreamily. “Local musician murders brother for being Too Damn Funny.”
With a laugh, Remus reached – why did he keep doing that? – and then switched hands with his cigarette. Taking a long drag, Remus let out another breath of smoke and sighed. “When do we go on again?”
Roman leaned back, got comfortable, and smiled. “We’ve got time.”
Chicago – September 12th, 1921
Remus had an itch deep under the skin. The kind that made him fidget and bounce his leg as he looked around the car for… fuck he wasn’t sure what he was looking for. He didn’t want to escape, not when Dee was sitting there driving and looking edible. Other things were edible. Like wine. Wine with the cocaine. That good drink that would smooth things out, make it all less… shaky. Just one drink would do the trick. Two, tops. Maybe he’d agreed to do this whole… “giving it up” business too soon.
Irritably, Remus chewed his fingernails as they drove through the night-darkened city at a snail’s pace. Couldn’t they get there any faster? The sooner they were done with checking on the shipment issue, the sooner Remus could… what? He wasn’t sure. The two lackeys in the back of the car weren’t going to let him do anything without Dee’s say-so. And that was irritating. Why did he agree to this? Because Dee said he was good without it? Because he wanted to sing at The Patron again?
Because… son of a bitch. Had he forgotten Roman? No, he didn’t. He was mad at Roman. He didn’t forget. It was impossible to forget his own twin. He was just distracted. Lots of people get distracted. It happened every day. And it was happening with Remus as he wondered – what would he do if this feeling didn’t go away? Maybe it wasn’t working. Maybe he just needed to get another bottle of the cocaine-wine and just be done with it. One drink a day. Maybe every other day. That wouldn’t be so bad. He just needed to figure out a way to broach the topic to Dee.
While Remus thought this, Dee was driving slowly on purpose. Just to see how jittery Remus was. Just to get a gauge on what exactly he’d be able to do once they arrived at their supplier route. If Remus was too loud or shaky, it might make the contacts nervous. Situations like this needed pressure… but tipping the scales too far was almost too easy. Oh, dilemma, dilemma… to leave Remus in the car to keep him out of trouble, or to bring with along to keep him out of more trouble? Dee wasn’t sure yet.
So he drove, pointedly ignoring the way Remus could shoot him dark looks from his periphery before turning away. His leg bounced. He chewed his fingernails. Dee almost wanted to take Remus’s hand from his mouth and hold it so he wouldn’t make himself bleed, but he knew Remus would be irritated by that. Really, anything seemed to irritate Remus.
After they’d left the house just to give Remus a taste of fresh air, he’d seemed to realize he wasn’t being given free reign of Chicago. Remus had agreed to this, however. He had agreed that Dee could use any and all methods to keep him on this path. Sobriety was a curse and Remus was feeling the sting of it. A plunge into ice water was only fun if it was quick and followed by a warm drink… Remus was wading in the arctic. Dee couldn’t envy him if he tried.
“Where are we going?” Remus snarled eventually. Dee liked the growl in the words, though he didn’t say so.
“To our suppliers, dollface. I need to see with my own damn eyes what’s happening to my middlemen since everyone seems to think I’m playing games…” Dee couldn’t keep the edge from his voice, but he smoothed out the remainder of them when he concluded: “And we’ll root out the problem.”
“Yeah? You said you’d whack someone if I behave,” Remus said, a strange ring in the words. Dee ignored it, though he probably shouldn’t have. Remus went on. “So what happens if you find the problem?”
“We solve it.”
Remus’s leg bounced incessantly. “Yeah? Tell me how, big boy.”
“Shanie,” Dee said casually. “How do I solve problems?”
In the backseat, Shanie pulled a revolver from their jacket, snapping open the chambers with a click and spinning it thoughtfully. “Depends on how many bullets you give me, boss.”
Dee nodded thoughtfully and gave Remus a smile. “See? Simple solutions down to the number of bullets.”
Remus looked interested, but there was still that shine in his eyes. The one that spelled trouble ahead. The one that meant he wasn’t fully there. He was unsettled, like his bones were queasy. Dee returned his eyes to the road, watching for the streetlamp that marked the road to the docks. They turned slowly. Casually, some might say. Down the ramps and down into the shipyard. Easy blending for anyone looking to disappear. There weren’t enough lights on the docks to make the place habitable at night. Lucky for Dee, his mother used to call him nocturnal. He thrived in the shadows.
Once the car was parked back behind one of the long, metal warehouses, Dee made sure to give Remus a hard look.
“Listen, songbird… I know better than anyone that you like to have your fun. And I want that,” he said in a low, purposeful purr. “I want you to have all the fun you want… but this is my work. Hang back and let me do the talkin’.”
Remus’s fingers twitched and itched at the cuffs of his sleeves. That itch and burn was getting to him, Dee could see that. And Remus’s voice still had that snarl when he said, “Whatever you say, stud.” Though he quickly amended that with: “If this goes off the rails, I’m taking your gun.”
Dee smiled thinly. “We’ll see about that.”
They got out of the car with Delia and Shanie in tow; they were two dark, angry figures slinking along behind them, searching the shadows for any sign of danger as they walked toward the lowly lit interior of the warehouse. Remus was twitchy in all kinds of ways, but Dee didn’t let it throw him off his groove. He knew what he needed to do. A good scare could do it. A good bluff was only effective if the threat hung over the situation just right.
So he put his hands in his pockets – calm, collected, look unworried – and rounded the open mouth of the warehouse doors. He saw the men immediately. A group of three—no, four, standing under the suspended light of the warehouse. Crates lined the walls… plenty of good wooden boxes that would give Patton the boost in popularity he desperately needed… so why were they struggling so much? Why weren’t these boxes getting to The Patron? Dee smelled a rat.
That smell got stronger when the contact, his contact, was talking to people he didn’t know.
“Johnny,” he said, startling his unfortunate contact and making him spin on his heel. The men standing with him looked equally startled to see Dee step into the thin circle of light that was cast by the lamp. He stood back, shoulder’s relaxed and expression bitterly amused. Johnny looked ready to croak then and there; he’d been caught selling Dee out. By Dee himself, no less. Still, Dee smiled. “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny… you old so-and-so.”
Johnny pushed the cash in his hands into his pockets. Dee was certain he saw a couple Benjamins slip into his back pockets, and Dee knew guilty money when he saw it. Johnny was looking around for an escape already, his eyes darting around the warehouse as his associates made slow moves for their guns.
“Mister… Mister Dee,” he said, his voice quivering like a man on a tightrope. Dee was armed with a pair of scissors, ready to send him falling. But he kept up the calm airs as Johnny sputtered, “Wha… I’m just. We were just—”
“Long time no see, Johnny,” said Dee with that calm smile. His eyes slid over to Johnny’s associates. Their hands were on their guns. They all knew they were three tense words away from a standoff. And Remus, on Dee’s right, didn’t have a gun. Carefully, Dee tried to maintain the balance he needed. “Who’re your friends? Don’t think I recognize a single face here. Do you, Shanie?”
From the shadows, Shanie’s voice came low and dangerous as they cocked their pistol with a sickening click. “No, boss. Not one.”
Dee made a perplexed face, just for the theatrics. “That’s real odd, Johnny… didn’t you promise me you’d keep workin’ for my interests?” He rocked on his heels, seeing the way the light cast Johnny in a sickening glow. “Did… did you lie to me, Johnny?”
“No!” Johnny said quickly. Dee could see his associates moving back a bit, but Delia and Shanie were watching, too. They had their guns in-hand… so did Johnny’s friends. A lovely little standoff with Dee and Johnny in the middle. Dee smiled darkly, and Johnny quivered. “This just—I didn’t want—”
“Cut the crap. I’m not in the mood for a song and dance.” Smoothly, Dee kept his hands in view as he reached over to Remus and pulled him back and out of the way. Just in case. Caution was sometimes necessary, as loathe as he was to utilize it. To his surprise, Remus took a stumbling step back. The movement was accompanied by a glare from the man, but Dee didn’t take his eyes off Johnny and his adversaries.
Remus, however, didn’t seem to understand the danger he was clearly in. How he was a veritable liability. How he was the one member of this entire interaction that was, on all fronts, expendable. He seemed to puff up like a ruffled bird, and if Dee wasn’t careful, he might say that Remus looked ready to smash Johnny’s skull in with a tire iron.
“It’s you?” he asked through clenched teeth. All eyes turned on him, and the shine of a pistol had never set Dee on edge like this before. He tried to push Remus further back to no avail; Remus pushed against him, taking a step forward. Toward Johnny. But more importantly, toward the guns that were now trained on him. “You’re the one screwing with Patty?”
Dee quirked an eyebrow. “Rather think he’s messing with me, kitten. But that’ll work.”
Remus wasn’t assuaged. He looked venomous and ready to bite; when he did, he’d surely take a chunk of flesh with him. With fire in his eyes, he snarled at Dee and ripped his arm out of his grip. Then, he turned on Johnny. The bastard in question didn’t stand a chance, and he cowered at the sight of Remus, feral and painfully sober.
“Why?” he asked, more growl than words. Dee caught himself sneaking a glance at Delia and Shanie. They were still watching Johnny’s associates carefully. With guns drawn and faces pinched unhappily, his lackies were coiled like clock springs. One false snap and they’d all be lead paperweights. Remus couldn’t read the room; he couldn’t seem to get outside his own head which was spiraling and angry at everything. And it showed when Remus grabbed Johnny by the collar and shook him hard. “Why the hell are you fucking with The Patron?”
“Remus—” Dee said, only to be made painfully aware of the guns being raised.
None of them were pointed at him.
With a jolt, Dee realized he was… he was scared. Scared? That was new. He wasn’t used to that feeling. There was anger, of course. A lot of damn irritation when people were poking their noses in his business, but there was nothing like fear to make a man reassess his current standing with the world.
He was horrified at the possibility of Remus going up with the gunsmoke. Terrified of having to drag himself back home and away from the body, where they would have to put it somewhere else to be discovered. Mortified at the idea of having to stumble back into Patton’s office and tell him—tell him… oh, god. Oh god, he couldn’t do this. He shouldn’t have brought Remus with him, no matter how wild and fiery he was. He couldn’t work with Remus putting himself in the line of fire.
Frantic, Dee raised his hands and loudly said: “Everyone stop!”
Remus turned on him, a sharp, flickering glare pointed at him over his shoulder. The guns were still in the light, all trained toward the middle of the room. All trained toward Remus, and subsequently Johnny, who was still captive by the lapels. Delia and Shanie were silent, stiff as stone. Johnny’s men were icy as their guns, cocked and loaded, begged for a reason to be fired.
Maybe Remus didn’t see his hands shaking. Maybe Remus didn’t see a lot of things in that warehouse. But Dee could feel the tremble in his fingers. He felt anger rise up in his chest; an indignant kind of bubbling that felt like boiling tar at the base of his throat. How could someone be angry at themselves for being scared? The knowledge that the fear didn’t do anything for the situation didn’t help. He was spinning his wheels.
Oh dear lord… was this how Patton felt all the time? Helpless and fighting it all to net zero? That poor, poor man. Dee would have to kiss him and apologize later.
‘I’m sorry, Patton,’ he’d say once he was safely within the walls of Patton’s office. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t realize how all-encompassing your self-loathing could be.’
“Johnny,” Dee finally said, breaking through the thick silence. “You’re selling out my suppliers.”
There was no room for argument. Johnny went looking to his associates for help, but they provided nothing. Not even a twitch of their eyebrows. Dee saw one of them flex their grip on the gun. Lousy discipline. Dee didn’t have the time or luxury to play coy anymore.
“We can all walk away from this easy,” he said lowly, his eyes glinting in the sallow light of the warehouse, “You give me a name, and I let you leave with all your fingers and toes.”
Johnny looked for an out. He craned his neck, flustered and unable to untangle himself from Remus’s grip as he struggled. Remus didn’t loosen his hold, and Dee felt panic spark in his stomach when Remus’s fingers tightened on Johnny’s lapels.
“I… I don’t—” Johnny managed to sputter just a bit. “I’m not—"
“A name!” Remus shouted, raising the tension so high, Dee could feel is crowding around his neck and choking him. He narrowed his eyes, and Remus gave Johnny a good, hard shake. One that was firm enough to make Johnny’s head snap back as if he had whiplash. “Dammit, you’re fuckin’ with the wrong bar!”
Dee stepped forward to take his shoulder. He saw those tense hands. The flex of those fingers. Too close to the guns, too far from safety. “Remus—"
“Tell us who paid you!” Remus shouted, earning distant, dark looks from Johnny’s associates. The men that were paying him. The men that really had the answers. They took several steps back, trying to remove themselves from the situation. Or perhaps just trying to get some distance before the guns went off and the splatter hit their suitcoats.
Taking Remus’s shoulder, Dee tugged him back a solid step and managed to say, “Remus, don’t—”
But Remus shook him off. Hands shaking. Eyes wild and angry. He looked to Johnny. He wound up to punch him, just to get his point across. But the point was already made. Johnny would crack like an eye on the pavement. He was an easy scare. An easy liability.
And his associates knew this.
In a flurry of movement, Dee took Remus and pulled him back so hard, Remus stumbled, tripped, and fell back against the floor. Good thing, too. The guns went off and left Dee’s ears ringing. There were those telltale flashes of light, just a spark that made him wince and blink a few times, just to get the spots out of his eyes. Johnny was hit no less than three times, looking startled and surprised by this turn of events before he wobbled, hesitated, and crumbled to the ground.
While Dee’s ears rang with a high-pitched shriek, he watched Delia and Shanie as they pursued Johnny’s associates. They had started to run, trying to escape in the gun smoke of a firefight, but Delia and Shanie were damn good shots. Both of their targets were stumbling along on borrowed time.
Instinctively, Dee checked himself for any knicks or holes. There was no burning. No aching. He turned to Remus, seeing him sitting up on the floor with a dazed look on his face. There was blood on his face, but it wasn’t his. That was the spray from the brand-new hole in Johnny’s shoulder. Two more muffled shots rang out – at least, from what Dee could hear; he knew not to worry about the others. Delia and Shanie had them. Instead, Dee looked down at Johnny, who was gasping up at the ceiling of the warehouse like a fish on land.
Going to him, Dee ground his heel into Johnny’s shoulder and hearing a faint, muffled, agonized shout under all the ringing in his ears. Finally, he had regained some sense of control over the situation, even if it was quickly spiraling
“Give me a name!” He shouted. At least, he felt like he was shouting it. He felt his vocal cords strain and the rumble of his voice in his chest, but the sound of his own voice was odd and warped in his ears. It had been a long time since he’d been that close to a gunshot. They were efficient, that was for sure. But lead pipes and broken knees tended to send messages better than corpses. Less chances of being caught, anyway. But that wasn’t the point. He was standing over Johnny, watching him writhe as he – presumably – choked on cries of pain. “Give me a name, Johnny! Who is doing this? Who is going against me?”
Johnny coughed, and Dee saw blood fleck on his lips. He coughed again. Then he began to choke as more blood welled up in the back of his throat. Dee leaned back and away. There was a bullet hole in Johnny’s chest. Dammit. He wasn’t about to let all that fruitless suffering go on. He was a mobster, not a monster. Irritably, Dee pulled his gun out of his breast pocket. He glanced back at Remus.
“Cover your ears,” he said to him, only pausing to repeat himself when Remus blinked sluggishly and stared at Johnny. After a moment, Remus raised his eyes to Dee, and he lifted his hands to his ears. It wouldn’t be much, but it was better than nothing. He aimed his gun, lifted his head to look away, and pulled the trigger.
Johnny stopped writhing.
It wasn’t even five minutes before Delia and Shanie returned to the center of the warehouse, their faces looking like mirror images of distaste and disappointment. They didn’t have Johnny’s associates with them, but there was a looseness to their shoulders that gave away the fact that they didn’t escape. They just weren’t going to be coming with them as captives. He would be lying if he said this didn’t disappoint him spectacularly; another dead end.
With a bitter twist of his face, Dee pulled his hat low and glared down at Johnny’s corpse. He should’ve just given them the information. Then again, Johnny shouldn’t have turned on him at all. On one hand, a fact. On the other, an ultimatum. On a third, the unsatisfactory truth. Dee didn’t have three hands, so he took a deep breath… and sighed.
After rubbing his ears a bit, Dee managed to regain most of his normal hearing as he turned to look at Remus. Remus, who was still sitting on the floor of the warehouse. Remus who was strangely still and oddly quiet. Remus, who for all intents and purposes, had said he wanted to pull the trigger. Now he was looking at the blood pooling on the floor, watching the watery edges of it come reaching for him. Dee reached down to offer him a hand, and Remus took it.
His hands shook. Fear was evident. This was something Remus had not expected; no one really anticipates the significance of taking a life. Not until it was laid out for them. And now, rotten and wrecked, they stood next to a lifeless body that was still warm. Dee grimaced, handed his gun to Shanie for them to dispose of, and put his arm around Remus’s shoulders. Remus allowed himself to be steered away from Johnny, though he cast strange, perturbed glances at him over his shoulder.
They returned to the car. Delia got into the back, her eyes lingering on Shanie as they handled the guns. They said they’d get a cab. Dee didn’t remark on this. Remus was shellshocked and quiet on the drive home. Once inside, Dee waved Delia away to do some digging on Johnny’s ‘friends.’ They were going to find out who they were if it took them all night.
Remus, however, went straight to Dee’s bedroom. Like it would save him. Like it was a haven from whatever was happening in his head. Dee followed behind him, hanging his coat and hat by the door and slowly trailing after his songbird. It was too quiet. So quiet, he wondered if Remus was plotting something. But no… no, Remus didn’t have that much forethought. Remus acted on impulse. This… well, it seemed an awful lot like shock.
Once they were in his bedroom, Dee went to his washroom, removing his bloody shoes and putting them in the wastebin for later. Then he inspected his hands, shirt, and face for blood spatter. A drop here, a stain there… easy to manage. He changed out of his gunsmoke-smudged clothing and into a clean pair of trousers and button-up shirt. The other clothes joined the shoes in the wastebin.
When he exited his washroom, Remus was sitting on the bed. His shirt was removed (much to Dee’s appreciation) and he was staring at the blood spattered along the pale green fabric (much to Dee’s dismay). From the looks of it, he was practically unharmed. There wasn’t a bruise or bullet hole to be found. This was a small victory in the shadow of Remus’s expression.
He was quiet. Dee had always tended to like the quiet, but not like this.
Never like this.
Stopping a few meters away from the bed, Dee pushed his hands into his pockets and cocked his head to the side. “What’s on, songbird?” He asked, testing the waters of conversation. Remus seemed to glower at his sullied shirt. Dee thinned his lips and tried to wave it away. “I can buy you a new shirt, dollface. No stress.”
That didn’t seem to be what Remus wanted to hear. He simply pushed and pulled the fabric under his fingers, his eyes trained on the red spots as if they were offending him. When he spoke, it was softly. Unbefitting of someone normally so wild and colorful. He was muted in sepia, and Dee knew their altercation at the warehouse caused it.
Fixing it was the problem. Unless this was something that couldn’t be fixed. That remained to be seen.
Fidgeting, Dee tried to salvage the situation. “You ain’t hurt, are you?”
Remus’s voice was dark. “No.”
Dee hated how the works didn’t seem to behave right in his mouth; it didn’t make sense to him. He was a con and a cad. Why he couldn’t sweettalk his lover into relaxation? Maybe the gunshots had gone to his head. Maybe he wasn’t thinking straight. Maybe… maybe the last time he’d seen someone like this was when he was with Patton. Maybe the last time something like this happened, Patton looked at him and cried. And maybe, just maybe, Dee had said the wrong thing.
Remus looked at his shirt, and Dee tried to think of what he’d said to Patton. Or perhaps he tried not to think of it at all. “The blood won’t come out,” he said. Remus didn’t react. “I’ll buy you a new one, Remus. Don’t—”
“I don’t give a shit about the shirt, Dee.”
Well. That was that, wasn’t it? Dee pursed his lips. This conversation wasn’t over. “You were all over the place, Remus. Unpredictable. When you’re unpredictable, everything can go wrong. I wasn’t willing to—” he paused, swallowed his pride, and said, “I wasn’t willing to roll the dice on that. Not like that. Not with you.”
Remus hesitated. “They were gonna shoot me.”
This wasn’t a question.
“They were gonna kill me because… he was gonna talk?”
That was a reasonable assumption. “Yeah.” Dee kept the distance between them. It felt like they both needed it to breathe. The silence stretched out like a leather chord, and Dee was desperate for a pair of sheers just to cut the damn thing and have this unease go away. “Easy to get rid of the liabilities. They don’t want me going fishing for answers, the chumps… well.” He shrugged loosely, like it didn’t matter. “They’re dead now.”
That seemed to be a cause for deep consideration on Remus’s part, and he thought for a long while.
“You know,” Remus said lowly, his words coming through thoughtless and tired. “I know how much blood is in a person.”
Dee blinked. Remus stared at his shirt, and Dee realized Remus wanted some sort of prompt, though it was wholly unnecessary. Dee, willing to please, murmured a gentle: “Oh?”
“Got stabbed once,” he said lightly. As if it didn’t really matter. “By an old flame. He has high as a damn kite, so he wasn’t really… he wasn’t really himself. Probably a bad sign on his part, but I wasn’t… I don’t know. Thought I had it coming. Anyway. It wasn’t so bad, considering… but… you don’t really realize. How much blood is in a person until you’re watching it all come out.” He thought for a moment, looking at the blood spatter on his shirt. Then he seemed to steel himself at the sight. “… I’ve been through hell.”
“Yeah,” Dee said.
“Lived through shit. Got stabbed by one cat, smuggled in a closet by another, the next got me into cocaine and…” he stopped, seemed to see something beyond his hands, and went quiet.
“Yeah,” Dee repeated for lack of better response. His hands were clenched in his pockets as he fought to remain neutral and attentive.
He wanted to know the names of these ‘old flames.’ Just so he could find them and cross off their names like a laundry-list of things to Take Care Of. But that wasn’t the point of this conversation. It really wasn’t. Dee just couldn’t for the life of him figure out what the hell was the point.
Quietly, he went to the bed and sat himself down. Remus glowered, but it was just aimed at the floor this time. His hands still shook, but it was more of a symptom than a result. Dee made no move to comment on this. Instead, he waited. And Remus huffed.
“You know, I… I got used to it. The whole… string of bad lovers. I got used to the second shoe dropping and everything going up in flames. Figured that’s what I deserved. I was a stupid kid with nothing to do and no one to care… me and Roman, we was…” he paused, scratched at his hair, and then growled unhappily. “I don’t even know what we were doin.’”
“Surviving, if I had to guess.”
“Was that it?” Remus asked him, his eyes finally flickering to Dee. Bloodshot to hell, those beautiful, beautiful eyes stared at him. Unfocused. Trying to see into him. Dee didn’t flinch, not that he had to. Remus broke first. His gaze slunk away like a wounded animal. “Not sure that’s what it was, Big Daddy. Not even sure what the hell we were playing at. Music makin’? Maybe. Thinkin’ we’d strike a big cat like a damn goldmine and get… recognized. Put on a stage.”
What did this have to do with anything?
“Thought maybe… maybe if we were just lucky enough. That if the right sucker came along and looked at us, we’d have it made. If we could just… find the right one. Roman fell head over heels before everyone that smiled and I just… followed the money. Easy scent. I just wanted us to have it done. To have… something. Hands in the butter, you know?”
Dee did not know.
“Doesn’t work like that, though.” Remus said through a tight jaw. His mustache twitched and Dee itched to reach out and curl the ends like he used to. When he could get Remus to smile wickedly and laugh at Dee’s smug, besotted smile. He couldn’t. Not now. Remus huffed and looked down at the shirt in his hands. “Life ain’t that easy.”
“It never is, baby.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah. I know that. I’m not stupid.”
“Never said you were.”
Remus paused with his eyes still fixed on the fabric. “I didn’t know he would… have so much blood.”
There it was. Now it came full circle.
Dee reached a hand over to Remus, to touch his back, to console him… but the action felt ingenuine. Like he couldn’t really make this better as it stood. So he let the hand drop to the blankets once more. Remus didn’t look at him, and that was fine.
“You think you know,” he said, like he had to explain himself. Dee tilted his head to the side, showing he was listening. “You… you think you know how much blood is in a person. You get stabbed once and think, ‘well, shit, didn’t know I had it in me!’ and you’re not even talking about… ha, it’s just—it’s…” he stopped, threaded his fingers through the fabric of his shirt… and let it fall to the floor. His eyes looked haunted. “Didn’t think it would be like that,” he said. “Didn’t think… there’d be that much blood.”
Dee wasn’t sure what to say to that. “You never see a man get his ticket punched?”
“No,” Remus admitted hollowly. “Not like that. Not up close and not… not like that.”
Dee nodded slowly. He wasn’t sure what this shock felt like. Once upon a time, he might’ve known. But being born into a family of practiced, business-driven killings was sure to foster a low level of intolerance. He just wasn’t bothered anymore. And yet, when he thought of Remus being injured, he was sent into a blind panic. Maybe he was going soft. Or maybe he’d gone soft long ago, considering he still stuck out his neck for Patton on a daily basis.
Maybe that’s just what love was.
Quietly, Dee put a hand between Remus’s shoulder blades, holding the weight there and feeling the way the muscles shifted as Remus pivoted to look at him. They stared at each other for a moment, gauging… whatever was happening between them. Then, Remus twitched his mustache thoughtfully.
“You pulled me outta the way,” he said. This wasn’t a question.
“’Course I did, baby.”
Remus narrowed his eyes. “You were right there. If they’d missed Johnny, you would’ve—”
“I know what happens when a trigger gets pulled, Remus.”
For a long moment, Remus stared at him with those tired, strained eyes. The ones that clearly itched for something to calm him down. Eyes that begged for something more… but Remus didn’t ask for drugs. He didn’t even whine about them. He stared, and then muttered:
“Never been with someone that put me first.”
And dammit, that cut deep. How dare he assume that Dee was some good-hearted, singer-loving, head-over-heels bastard? How dare he think that Dee was putting him first? How dare he say that Dee didn’t want him to be in any damn danger?
He had no right being correct.
Then, like he wasn’t waiting for a response, Remus went on. “If I wasn’t there… you could’ve gotten your names. You coulda scared him into it. I know you. You’d use your scary smile on him.”
Dee raised his eyebrows and tilted his head coyly. “Scary smile?” He repeated. “Me?”
“Yeah. That one you use when you’re playing it loud and proud with a bluff that’ll knock out a powerline.” Remus snorted, the first Remus-y sound he’d made since they returned. Then, he looked a little perturbed. “… Don’t think I’ve ever seen you use that smile on me.”
Letting his fingers drag down Remus’s spine, Dee hummed. “Don’t think I’d have to, songbird.”
That was another thing that made Remus pause, and he fidgeted with his hands restlessly. “If I… hadn’t needed my fix, I wouldn’t have been there. If I wasn’t there, then… Patty wouldn’t be strugglin’. If I—”
“If the sun stopped chasing the moon, we’d all be out of a tide and out of a morning.” Dee shrugged. “What good is looking back? It happened. You can’t change that now. You’re alive. That’s what matters.” Remus rolled his eyes and it made Dee smile. Gingerly, he reached up to push some of Remus’s curly hair from his eyes. Remus gave him a dark look that sent lightning over his skin. “What’s got you, songbird? This is all fixable. I’ll get my man. I always do.” He paused to cock his head to the side curiously. “It ain’t like you to worry about everything else.”
Remus’s lips curled in distaste and he looked away. Dee didn’t chase him. Not yet, not when this wasn’t the fun chase they usually pursued. Remus took a breath, held it, and then let it all out in a sigh that could’ve spun windmills.
“I guess this whole… ‘get sober to go back to normal’ bullshit is wearing me out, fat cat. Thought messing around and shooting someone up would help distract, but…” a beat, “Don’t think I can manage it.” That made Dee frown, but Remus followed up with, “Not sure if I know what… normal really is. Picking pockets?”
“Ooooh,” Dee said indulgently. Remus perked up.
“Fishing jewelry out of purses?”
“A good pickpocket could take the watch right off a man’s wrist,” Remus smiled smugly. “A great pickpocket can get a man’s wallet while whispering somethin’ real nice in his ear.”
Dee narrowed his eyes but didn’t fight his smile. “Sound like cheating to me.”
But Remus was already reaching for him, kissing him and pushing them back against the pillows. There was a strange, fluttering urgency to each kiss. Less about scratching an itch and more like Remus needed the pressure of Dee against him. As if proximity could solve it all. As if this was the ‘normal’ he was trying to chase, and god, if it was, then Dee would let this be ‘normal’ for the rest of his life.
He managed to get his thumbs hooked on Remus’s beltloops when Remus lifted himself onto his elbows to look at him. Really look at him. Dee almost wanted to be bothered by the scrutiny, but the glimmer in Remus’s eyes gave away his benign curiosity.
“Hey,” Remus said after a few seconds. Dee shifted to fold a hand behind his head calmly.
“Hi, pretty boy.”
Remus cracked a smile, then rested his chin in the palm of his hand, almost like he had to sit and stare at Dee for a long, long while. Like he was a puzzle. Remus didn’t have the patience for puzzles, though. Dee narrowed his eyes, and Remus was blunt as he said: “When are you gonna tell me who you really are?”
Dee blinked. “I’m… Dee. You know that.”
“Yeah, yeah, the super famous Mr. Dee and all that garbage—but really,” Remus said, his eyes staring into Dee’s intently. “Why the big secret, hot stuff? Do I ever get to know?”
For a moment, Dee could only stare at him. His name was a tricky thing. Give people a name, and they can trace all the way back to the start of you. Give people a name, and they know all of your vulnerabilities. Your connections. The people you hate and the people you love, all combined in a neat category assigned… to a name. Dee stared at him.
Had he ever planned to give Remus his name? Or was this his opportunity to make himself into something new? Something other than what he was. Something other than Patton’s little Janus-beast. Something stronger. Better. Something that had no connection to his past. Something that meant Remus wouldn’t be able to look back, point, and say: “That was you? Oh, Janus,” in that soft, pitying tone. The time before his scars. The time before his first kill. The time before he was ‘Mr. Dee’… these were all long-past and long ago.
And was he willing to share that vulnerability? Was he willing to let go of years of discretion just because this man asked him? Maybe. Most likely. He knew he was hopeless when it came to Remus. He knew that he was stupid with feelings and too sharp to put them into nice words or actions. Too sharp, Patton always told him. Too sharp and pointy.
Well, this was as close to a rounded edge as he was going to get.
“Janus,” he said quietly, like a prayer in the low light of the room. Remus stared down at him with eyes that glowed intently. His dark skin played magic with the shadows, and the curl of his hair fell like a curtain over his brow. Dee stared up at him and he wasn’t quite sure what he felt. This revelation didn’t seem to stick right away. And he was more baffled as he repeated: “My name is Janus.”
“Janus,” Remus repeated. Then he repeated it again. Then three times, like he had to practice the name. After a moment of thought, he said: “I just watched Janus shoot a backstabber to death.”
Dee—no, Janus. He was Janus, wasn’t he? After so long under his own guise… he was Janus. And Janus smiled wryly. “Nah, nah… you saw Dee shoot a man to death. Big difference, dollface.”
Remus made a show of knocking on Janus’s forehead. “You got more than one of you in there? Do I get to crack open your head and poke around to find out?”
Janus snickered. “Wouldn’t you just love that?”
Remus folded his hands on Janus’s chest and settled down. “Janus,” he said. It tingled to hear it. Like someone running their fingers through his hair and giving a little tug. Then again, “Janus.”
“I heard you the first time.”
A pause. Then, “This might be stupid,” he said, “But I think I get what Roman says about Logan.”
Janus tilted his chin – pulling at his neck uncomfortably – to look Remus in the eye. “How’s that, songbird?”
“I get it when he says all that sappy crap.” The words were so painfully soft. So strangely gentle. Remus looked at him sleepily, wrung out from withdrawal and shock. Tired and willing to sleep. And yet, so ready to look at him… and smile. “I get it. All that… ‘I love him’ stuff. I get it.”
“You’re right,” Janus said lowly. “That is stupid.” Remus pinched his side, and Janus laughed a bit before he ran a loose hand through Remus’s curls. That was all it took for Remus to lower his head and close his eyes. Janus took a deep breath. (Janus… he would have to get used to his own name again. Funny how that could fall out of use.) And with a sigh, he closed his eye. “I think I get it, too. All that… ‘I love him’ stuff.” He felt Remus laughing against his chest, more fond than irritated. And Janus smiled. “It definitely makes more sense than half that crap that’s going on in this damn city.”
“Well, now you’re just whining.” Remus reached up to blindly pat Janus’s face. It worked. He slapped a hand right into Janus’s cheek. There he pinched at the sides of Janus’s mouth and muttered, “Put your mouth to better use.”
Janus gently removed the hand on his face and thought for a moment. “Is that an order?”
Remus perked up, looking far too excited. “Is it?” He asked gleefully. Janus sighed.
This was going to be a long night.
Chicago – October 9th, 1921
A month had come and gone too quickly. A month of Janus relearning how to respond to his own name (now that Remus was using it). A month of Remus learning not to ask for his coca-wine concoction (though he still craved it). And a month of Janus spinning his wheels and wanting to tear his hair out searching for the source of Patton’s lost suppliers. He was a dog at the dinner table, finding only the smallest scraps and remnants of what he desired: answers.
He’d done stakeouts, tail-missions, and even the most boring forms of bribery. It amounted to dead-ends on the docks and empty alleys when there should be deals. Whoever was fiddling with his livelihood obviously wasn’t scared of him. And no matter how many times Janus assured Patton that it was being taken care of, that he was in capable hands, and that he didn’t need to worry about the supplies – as he was still well-stocked – Patton still worried.
This may have also had something to do with the fact that Remus had yet to return to the stage.
It was a difficult work in progress, that was for damn sure. But Remus had been sober for a month, and that was no easy feat. Smoking ordinary cigarettes was always a good distraction, and after a few minutes of that, he would stop his fidgeting and he would ask Dee how long it took to drown someone with cinderblock shoes.
The answer was “typically five to seven minutes,” though Remus had seemed disappointed with that answer. Especially when Janus tacked on, “We don’t have to resort to that often,” just so he could smile and wink. This was beside the point.
Remus hadn’t returned to The Patron for good reason, and now with a month of sobriety under his belt, Janus deemed him ready to step back up on his bright and shiny stage. Remus was practically itching for the chance to get back up there and sing, but there was still a hint of hesitation in his every movement. Most likely because he hadn’t spoken to Roman the entire time he was away.
From what Remus had told him, they had never gone through such a long stint of silence before. And no matter how much Remus laughed it off, played it for a joke, or pretended not to care… it was clearly wearing on him. And so, after a month of grueling quiet and Remus tearing apart his home whilst angry and fitful and fighting his addiction, they drove to The Patron an hour before opening, eager to put Remus back into place. It was like putting the last glass bottle in the last open shelf. Perfectly aligned, just as they were all meant to be.
When they entered through the front door of The Patron, it was despairingly quiet. The band had yet to pick up their instruments to warm up, and not even Roman chatted with them up on the stage. It was all nervous whispers and conspiratorial glances. Like they knew everything was going to come crashing down at any moment and they were just waiting for it. Janus never knew that they would be the on-land recreation of the Titanic’s monumental sinking. Could history repeat itself so soon?
Remus didn’t seem to mind the quiet, though. Not with this odd mood staining his vibrant presence. He was like a soggy towel, heavy with something that Janus almost wanted to call guilt, and he shuffled through the tables ahead of Janus without a word. He knew where to go. Janus was just along for the ride in case things took a sharp left turn.
Roman was perched on the edge of the stage with one leg hanging over and kicking lazily. Janus arched an eyebrow at the sight; interesting. Logan wasn’t with him? The joint was hardly open. It was curious that Logan and Roman weren’t tangled together like they usually were. Not that Janus really cared, in the end. He simply admired the way Roman lifted his head, saw Remus, and seemed to sputter and pop like a lightbulb that turns on only to burn out right after. Had he missed Remus? Definitely. Was he still bitter over the way Remus left the bar two weeks earlier? Absolutely.
After kicking himself down from the stage – the band in the pit stopped what they were doing to watch this with suspicious interest – Roman and Remus met halfway between the stage and the tables. Remus didn’t smile, and Remus didn’t even look him in the eye. He shoved his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels a bit. This was more awkward than a run-in with a priest at a strip club.
Janus hung back, leaving himself a bit in the shadows to avoid pulling all of the attention from Remus. Roman didn’t like him, of course. And at any moment, Roman would gratefully shift his anger to Janus… but this wasn’t about him. It was Remus and his outburst that led them to that moment. The wine, the cocaine, the lights and the sounds… it brought them back here, to Patton’s bar, like a big show of symmetry. Right back where they started.
After what felt like too long, Roman finally mumbled, “Hey.”
Remus, ever the elegant speaker, still didn’t look Roman in the eye as he showed him his middle finger and said, “Hey,” right back.
Janus wanted to say something. To say, ‘That’s not quite how you make up.’ But he doubted it needed to be said. He didn’t really have siblings. Maybe rude gestures were, in fact, the path to recovery. Patton and Lollie’s screaming match had seemed cathartic, at least.
And to his surprise, Roman’s grimace broke. First it was a small smile, then a grin, and then, with a fond shake of his head, he laughed. The sound was so soft, it could be mistaken for a cough. But he laughed. And then he reached out… and shoved Remus. Just a bit. Just enough to make him stumble back. Remus looked at him. For a moment, his shoulders were tense. His hands curled into fists. Janus narrowed his eyes; did he actually have to step in?
Remus moved before he could think to do so, and Janus watched as Remus shoved Roman hard. Roman went stumbling back several steps, but he wasn’t angry. He laughed again. And Remus… Remus joined him. They shoved each other a bit more, but now it seemed like they were just trying to figure out how to put a hand on the other’s shoulder without lingering too long. Like they had to make sure the other was there, alive and alright, before laughing it all off at the other’s expense.
Was that… was that siblings? Maybe Janus was just too far from the word of brothers and sisters to understand what this laughing and pushing was supposed to mean.
Instead, he stood to the side with his hands in his pockets. He had a lead to follow, and he was keen to get that started. With his eyes flickering to the bar, he saw Patton’s lanky barback fiddling with a small wooden crate of rum. While Roman and Remus continued to slap at each other, Janus reached out to touch the small of Remus’s back. This caused their little fight to pause, and Remus looked back at him with glittering, mischievous eyes.
Remus grinned. “I’m always right, hotshot.” He didn’t get a chance to say anything more as the backup singers from the stage spotted him and began to shriek excitedly. It was just a chorus of Remus’s name, and as soon as it got his attention, Remus swiveled to see them. “Girls!” He shouted, throwing his hands into the air. “Vicky! Genie! Scarlet! My girls! Look at you, a sight for sore eyes!”
With a bold sweep of his arm, Remus grabbed Roman’s face while saying, “Get outta here, you ugly mug, I need to see my girls!” and skittered over to the stage where he was bombarded by a sea of sequins and laughter and kisses. The man would be covered in mutli-colored lip stains before the bar even opened. It made Roman and the band laugh, and Janus could only smile.
Remus was back in his element, ready to shock the world and set it on fire just for the glow.
His eyes slid back over to the bar. Patton’s barback was gone. With narrowed eyes, Janus put his hands in his pockets and started for the back door, eager to catch him in the quiet of the loading dock… only to be interrupted by a damningly familiar face.
Patton stepped out of his office and looked at him with wide eyes. “J—Dee!” He said, all flushed cheeks and lips that almost wanted to turn up in a smile. He was clearly happy to see him after so long away – the money still came to him, so he wasn’t completely dead in the water for a month. But still, it was clear that he was looking for someone else. “You’re early! Is… is Remus here? Is he alright? How’s he been? Eating well?”
Janus forced a smile to his face as he leaned forward to pinch Patton’s cheek. “Always such a little busybody, Patty-cake. Does it ever get tiring?”
Patton laughed, though it was high and caught in his throat. Janus knew a fake laugh when he heard it. “You’d be surprised.” No, he really wouldn’t. “But… Remus…?”
Janus nodded his head toward the main bar, his eyes stuck on the back door that open a sliver. “Out with his girls.”
“Oh… and… and he and Roman, did they…?”
“They shoved each other.”
Patton blinked. “Alright?”
Janus gave a hopeless shrug. “I don’t know, Patty. Is that how you and Lols would make up?”
With a scrunched little expression that Janus almost found kissable, Patton thought for a moment. Then he shrugged. “Not sure. Maybe? Depends on the shove.”
“Well, they laughed.” Janus supplied as he watched the door. “That’s promising.” Patton concluded that he didn’t have Janus’s attention, and he started to step away. But Janus caught his arm, holding Patton captive. Patton wasn’t worried in the least, and he gave Janus a curious look. Janus met him with calculated eyes. “That barback of yours.” Patton’s cheeks flushed a fresh scarlet. “Where’d you find him?”
Patton blinked. “I… on the street, ‘suppose? He was tall. Strong. I needed a barback. I offered him a job on the spot.”
Janus gave him a long, hard look. Patton was a terrible liar, and this didn’t seem like a lie. He was just genuinely confused as to why Janus would care. There was no apprehension. No fidgeting. Just vague confusion. After a moment, Janus released his arm and kissed Patton’s hairline.
“Go see Remus, Patty. And get a glass of water.”
Patton touched his hair and muttered, “Water?” while he wandered away, but Janus didn’t mind. He slipped out of the back door and onto the loading dock. There, at the base of the ramp that led to a small, rundown truck, stood Patton’s barback. Tall. Strong. Wire-thin and fidgeting with anxiety. No one was even out there with him and he looked ready to fight his way out.
With a forceful shove, Janus slammed the back door shut. Just to startle Virgil. Just to make him jump and turn to look at him. Janus smiled, and Virgil’s panicked gaze quickly turned sour.
“What the hell are you doing back here?” He asked, as if he wasn’t the one who was in line for interrogation. Janus tilted his head coyly, and Virgil looked at him with dark eyes. “You’re not supposed to be out here. Don’t you have a mob to run?”
“Don’t you have boxes to move?” Janus shot back smoothly. Virgil frowned and shuffled over to the crates in the back of the truck, reluctantly pulling them out of the bed and down to the ground. Janus lingered at the top of the ramp, thinking… then he slowly walked down. Virgil watched him carefully, like a spooked animal. And it wasn’t until Janus had gotten halfway down the ramp that Virgil stopped moving crates. He just held still. Watching. Janus held firm halfway down the ramp. “Patton tells me he found you on the street. Offered you an easy job. That true?”
Virgil didn’t answer. It wasn’t like Janus was with the law. He couldn’t arrest Virgil for his answer. Still, Virgil didn’t seem keen on giving him anything. So he was quiet, and Janus narrowed his eyes.
“Where did you say you were before Patton found you?”
“I didn’t,” Virgil replied coldly.
“Yeah?” Janus probed, eyeing the way Virgil tensed like he was going to bolt. “Yeah, you didn’t come from the docks?”
Virgil narrowed his eyes. “Can’t tell if you’re sayin’ that because you’re trying to pin something to me… or because you’re racist.”
Janus blinked. “What the hell does your race have to do with it?” Virgil looked a little surprised by that, and Janus lifted the hands in his pockets in a vague, faux-casual shrug. “I’m trying to figure out where you came from. And if you’re from the docks, then we need to have a little chat. No stakes, no threats… just a little tongue-waggin’. Like pals, just without the funny business.”
Virgil hesitated. That was a half-descent sign… but there was always the chance that he was simply paranoid. He’d earned that right a long time ago.
“And if I’m not?” He asked. “What then?”
Janus gave him another shrug, just for the hint of unimportance it gave the air. “Then I drop it, ‘suppose. You’re no good if you don’t have information.” Virgil’s jaw clenched and unclenched, and Janus narrowed his eyes. “So? Did you work down at the docks?”
“No,” Virgil said almost immediately. “No, I didn’t.”
Janus smiled. “Good.” And with his hands in his pockets, he turned on his heels and went for the door. Almost immediately, Virgil was moving crates again. It was clear that he was relieved. And in many ways, so was Janus. One more door was opened. One more chance, one more possibility. He didn’t have to keep spinning his wheels with the possibility of Lollie. No, he had something else.
Now he knew that Virgil was a liar.