Maxwell lay in bed, the blankets tangling around his body like thick ropes. He could feel Hugo's eyes watching him in the pitch darkness. Was he looking at him with the same wrathful contempt he had earlier that evening, or had his gaze softened?
"Hugo?" Maxwell croaked, gripping the damp blankets in his fists. Sweat trickled down his forehead in rivulets.
"Nightmares again?" Hugo asked with a hint of amusement. Maxwell shook his head, relief flooding over him. For a moment, he feared Hugo wouldn't respond to him, that he would give him the silent treatment for his misbehavior during their performance. His skin still crawled from the judgemental eyes of their audience on him, expressions changing from enraptured merriment to confusion and disdain.
Laughing at him and not with him.
Maxwell pushed the blankets off, the cool air freezing the sweat to his skin.
"I can't sleep at all." He wanted to ask for Hugo to lay with him, to hold him against his chest as he tried in vain to enter the dark refuge of sleep, but guilt trapped the request in his throat.
"Poor Maxwell," Hugo cooed, voice dripping with sanguine sarcasm. "Lonely, are we? You should get used to it, once I get Kee to see things my way.""
Don't say that." Maxwell fell to his knees against the cold hardwood floor, crawling towards Hugo's chair. "You don't mean it."
"Says you. You better get used to being alone, that's what I'm saying."
"Please stop telling me these things." Maxwell laid his hands on Hugo's thin knees, rolling his palms over them in a beseeching motion. "We're partners. I need you."
"You're pathetic, do you--mmph!"
Maxwell closed his hand over Hugo's mouth, running his other hand around his back and dipping his fingers into the control panel. Hugo bit him, right over the first set of teeth marks. Maxwell gasped in pain, but he still pulled Hugo against his chest in a tight embrace.
"You're mine, don't you understand? Mine. You can't leave me. I won't let you. I'd sooner be dead than see you with that no good, rotten bastard."
Hugo shook his head free of his grip, letting loose a nervous, high pitched giggle. "Then we'd both be better off, wouldn't you think?"
Maxwell bit his lip, his eyes stinging. "It doesn't matter what you say. You won't leave me. You can't."
"I can and I will," Hugo insisted, struggling ineffectually against his chest. Maxwell lifted him from the chair and stood up on unsteady legs. He laid Hugo on the pillow next to his, still damp with his sweat, and folded Hugo's arms across his chest.
"We make a great team, you and me. He could never have what we have." Maxwell crawled into bed beside him and slid a hand under his back. "I would kill for you, you understand."
"Perfectly well," Hugo muttered in response, eyes flickering towards the door. Maxwell felt a surge of jealousy, imagining who Hugo was thinking about. His grip tightened on the controls, and Hugo's mouth opened in surprise.
"I would do anything for you." Desperation seeped into Maxwell's voice, and he knew he was pleading.
Hugo rolled his eyes. "Anything but step aside."
Where the crook of his arm disappeared under Hugo's shirt, Maxwell no longer existed. There was nothing but wood and pulleys and levers, all that consisted of his dear Hugo. He longed to truly feel the controls again, to force Hugo’s lips to say I love you and his eyes to see nothing but him.
But that was a time long since passed.
"You don't know when to let things go," Hugo said, shifting his body pointedly. "You can't see when you're no longer wanted." His eyes turned towards the door again, and Maxwell's face flushed with anger.
"Expecting someone?" He could barely spit the words out through how hard he was grinding his teeth. Hugo winked at him.
"Not just yet."
"I won't let him take you." Maxwell used his free hand to shove Hugo down hard onto the mattress. He made a soft sound of discontent at the treatment, but Maxwell didn't relent, jabbing his chest to accentuate each word. "You. Are. Mine."
"You may have my body, but not my heart." Hugo sang the last word, cruel and mocking.
And then he laughed.
Maxwell let out a strangled yell. He slapped Hugo across the face, the back of his hand stinging red.
In an instant, Maxwell was back onstage at the club, rows of elegantly dressed women dazzling in their furs and diamonds, the men radiant with old money stitched into the very fabric of their being. Both his hand and his face burned with the many eyes prying him apart.
Hugo had made a pass at his rival and insulted him in scarcely one breath, in front of everyone, and Maxwell temporarily lost control of himself.
It wasn't his fault; Hugo made him do it.
The most horrible image was Sylvester Kee's lopsided smile. He acted confused like the rest of them, but he had the sharp eye of a fellow entertainer who recognized that his mask had slipped. He saw that what was lurking underneath it was raw and needy and pathetic.
A fractured sliver of Maxwell's heart warned him that he also saw desire in those eyes, an acknowledgement of how special Hugo was, of what a lovely partner he had. It warned him that Kee wanted Hugo for himself.
Beneath him, Hugo released a tiny, helpless whimper that caused tears to spring into Maxwell's eyes. How could he convince him to stay if he couldn't stop hurting him? If Hugo left him, if that hack ventriloquist stole him away, it would be akin to losing a piece of himself. Maxwell simply could not bear it.
"Hugo, I...I didn't mean it. Please forgive me." Maxwell cried into Hugo's shirt, but he was offered no comfort. Hugo's small body froze, refusing to grace Maxwell with his cooperation any longer.
No matter how hard he sobbed or pressed his face into Hugo's stomach, no matter how many sorrowful kisses he tenderly placed on Hugo's palms or the tops of his shoes, Hugo did not utter another word for the remainder of the long, miserable night.