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to ruin in our hearts

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one.

She was dead.

She was dead.

She was dead, and every officer belonging to the CCU was still alive, and Bubonic hated them for it, every single one of them.

But it was Detective (Second-Grade) Thomas M. Calligan, the arresting officer, the son of a bitch who'd been on duty the night she'd done it, that he hated the most.

It was the first thing he'd done, after. He'd sat there and sliced his way with perfect, icy precision, unshakable focus, into the CCU's systems, and he'd brought up every relevant record they had.

Thomas M. Calligan's personal file hadn't been particularly difficult to locate. His official photo made him look clean-cut, bland. Harmless.

And oh, Bubonic was going to enjoy taking him apart.

Not killing him. That wouldn't have been enough. That would never have been enough.

Calligan hadn't killed her, after all. Calligan had just sat in front of her and looked into her eyes and systematically made her believe there was no way out. And then he'd locked her in a box and left her there, and he'd been too stupid to take her goddamn shoelaces—

Bubonic would simply return the favor, that was all. Bubonic would make Calligan understand that he couldn't run, couldn't hide; that he would never be allowed to move on or forget, to leave this behind him. That he would never be free.

That no matter where he went, no matter what he did, Bubonic would be there waiting for him.

 

 


 

 

two.

"See you around, Detective Calligan."

Bubonic gave the camera a long, intent look—tilted his head, the mask, upward at an angle he'd already tested to be sure it would work, so Calligan couldn't possibly miss the slow, smug smile he was allowing to slant across his mouth.

And then he let it fall away, and he stood there silent and unmoving for a deliberate stretched-out beat before he reached up and shut the camera off.

He'd edit it out before he sent it. Or perhaps he'd find a use for it; he liked to employ a few effects now and then, flicker from his smiling face to an icy stare and then back again, just for the hell of it. Just for the satisfaction of imagining it might disconcert Calligan, might unsettle him for even a moment.

Fucking Calligan.

Bubonic sneered reflexively at the camera's now-unseeing eye, tugged the mask off his head and tossed it at the camera tripod's feet. It was useful, the mask. He knew that. He'd been using it for years already, ever since he'd chosen his alias; ever since he'd become Bubonic, in every way that mattered at all. And these days, he appreciated the opportunities it gave him to taunt Calligan strategically—include closeups of his eyes, or the disdainful shape of his mouth around Calligan's name, that wouldn't return anything but nonsense if the CCU tried to process them through facial recognition.

But at the same time, it didn't feel like enough.

Nothing ever felt like enough—

He closed his eyes, drew a slow breath and let it out.

This tended to happen, after he filmed himself for these little missives. He was focused on Calligan, addressing Calligan directly with every ounce of frigid precision he could muster, and yet Calligan wasn't here, couldn't meaningfully be confronted. His frustration and fury inevitably spiked.

There was a different kind of satisfaction in preparing the videos, editing them, packaging them up—knowing Calligan had to be on his guard for them, imagining how they would burst to life across his screen at the stroke of the right key.

But in the moment, it was a grating irritation. Part of him wanted to tear the mask off; close the distance, even if in this particular case it was visual rather than physical. Part of him wanted fiercely for Calligan to have to look at him. To have to see him, to have to fucking acknowledge him.

Enough. Calligan would, once the video opened itself. Whatever Bubonic chose to set the keybind to, Calligan would type it sooner or later. And once the video had started, Calligan wouldn't be able to look away—not just because Bubonic always set them up to deactivate any connected peripherals while they ran, so they couldn't be minimized or quit out of, but simply because Calligan was a cop. Because he was going to believe that this was evidence, that it would help him catch Bubonic someday, and that meant he wouldn't be able to miss a second of it.

Wasn't that a lovely thought. Bubonic felt the corners of his mouth tug themselves into something like a smile. Calligan probably had them all saved, filed away. He probably had to rewatch them, now and then; probably took transcripts, sat there listening over and over as he wrote out every single word Bubonic had ever said to him.

How wonderful.

Mood halfway restored, Bubonic reached out and lifted the camera from the tripod, set it down on the desk beside the closest laptop. Pure practicality: the video had already finished transferring, uploading itself to his archive server as soon as the camera had stopped recording. But the camera had further to fall from the tripod than from the edge of the desk, and Bubonic always liked to demonstrate a certain respect for his equipment, when he could.

He'd edit the video itself later. Send it to the CCU this weekend, perhaps, to minimize the chances that Calligan would notice its arrival—Bubonic had already checked, and Calligan would be off-shift. He'd be back in on Monday, activate it in perfect ignorance; watch it play out in front of him, realize what it was and be furious he hadn't detected the file in advance.

One next week. And then, hmm. Three weeks since the last one. Perhaps six until the next, and then two within a day of each other, and then eight weeks after that. Keep Calligan unable to predict them, never knowing when the next might arrive and yet unable to stop anticipating that it would.

Perfect.

 

 


 

 

three.

There were good reasons not to do it.

Very good reasons, in point of fact. He didn't show his face to anyone; he hadn't in years. Or at least he didn't show his face to anyone who had any particular reason to care about it. He did go out without the mask sometimes, just to glory in the anonymity of it—accepting polite smiles from strangers, returning them, basking in the thought of the way they'd look at him if they only knew how many warrants were out on him, if they only knew what he'd done. If they only knew what had been done to him.

But they didn't, and they never would; they had no reason to care. He was an extra passing across the set, that was all.

It wouldn't be that way with Detective Calligan.

And it wasn't as if Bubonic didn't already have his attention. It wasn't as if it were necessary, strictly speaking. Yes, it was going to be a very special day: their anniversary, one might say. And Bubonic hadn't settled on a complete roster of events just yet, hadn't finalized his timetable, but all the possibilities that merited serious consideration could be accomplished remotely. That was part of what gave them that merit—remote activity could be concealed from the CCU so easily. Physical evidence could be so much trickier, in its relentlessly analog reality.

It would be simpler, cleaner, safer, to stay away. To remain nothing but a masked face on a flickering screen, a screeching laugh and a taunting voice, as far as Detective Calligan was concerned. It would be the right decision. And yet—

And yet.

And yet it was so impossibly tempting.

He'd always enjoyed the position he occupied. Standing back and looking out at the masses, removed. Observing—observing everything, because there was so much they all simply gave away, not understanding how readily available it was to anyone who came looking for it. Altering, when he chose to, because the rules of their world were so much less certain than they understood; because they trusted so blindly. Because who else was going to teach them a lesson, if he didn't? A green light at an intersection, and suddenly they couldn't be bothered to use their eyes, their minds—an authority telling them everything was fine, and it was easier, more comfortable, to believe it than to question.

And he sat back and watched them, with a certain vague pity for that helpless thoughtlessness, that inability to make decisions possessed of sense or meaning.

But perhaps he understood a little better, now. Perhaps he wasn't so different from them after all.

Because he wanted to do it. There was no possible justification for it; he knew what Detective Calligan's face looked like from every angle, had scraped thousands of social media posts for images Calligan probably hadn't even known he'd been captured in the background of. He knew what the inside of Calligan's apartment looked like, thanks to various archived real estate listings featuring "virtual tours"—as if what was virtual possessed no convincing reality of its own. Calligan's CCU colleagues, Calligan's friends, Calligan's emails; Calligan's favorite bar, the sandwiches he ordered for lunch, the coffee he bought, his dog.

Nothing meaningful could be gained by walking up to him in person. Nothing meaningful except the experience in and of itself: facing him at last, looking into his eyes, close enough to touch.

It shouldn't have felt worth it. Thinking about it like that, it shouldn't have felt worth it in the least.

But it did.

 

 

By the time the date itself was two weeks away, Bubonic had worked everything out perfectly. Twenty-four hours of choice entertainment—nothing too unscrupulous, nothing actively criminal that Calligan might feel compelled to report. Or at least nothing that could be linked to Bubonic physically. A lost dog, an error in a record; he did like to sign his work, but that would be all right, wouldn't add up to the kind of evidence Calligan could actually use. An online listing with the "wrong" address, and an apartment door that happened to have been left unlocked. An earnestly protective young man who'd been sent a doctored photo, no doubt by a concerned third party who hadn't realized it was a fake.

And the stars had conveniently aligned: Hamish's pathetic thirst for publicity was so great that he'd agreed to go along. Detective Calligan was going to have a night to remember, on multiple levels.

And Bubonic could get what he wanted, and Detective Calligan wouldn't even know it.

He sat back in his chair, eyeing his screen, and ignored the persistent sense of itching dissatisfaction.

Wasn't that enough? It had to be. It had to be. There would be plenty of amusement, plenty of gratification, in standing in front of Calligan—Detective Calligan, at that—and knowing Calligan had no idea who he was looking at. Precisely the sort of situation he enjoyed the most; him, knowing everything, acting with meticulous intent, and Calligan, knowing nothing, oblivious until it was too late and unable to correct for it.

He shifted his weight, and then dug his nails into his palm, irritated by his own restlessness.

Yes, all right, perhaps there would be equal gratification if Calligan knew. Hypothetically; he couldn't countenance taking that kind of risk without a great deal more work in advance. But—hypothetically—

Hypothetically, he could just imagine the look that would be on Calligan's face, in the moment he understood who he was talking to. What would cross it first? Fury, after a year's worth of Bubonic's relentless taunting? Grim satisfaction, if he believed he'd found himself with the opportunity to arrest Bubonic at last? Vicious delight, perhaps, depending on the scenario; if he thought he'd trapped Bubonic somehow, if he thought he had the advantage.

He wouldn't, of course. Bubonic allowed himself a cool smile at the thought, and let his eyes fall shut.

He wouldn't have the advantage, and if anything, he would be the one who had been trapped. Those were the only circumstances under which he could ever see Bubonic's face and know what he was seeing, after all.

Hypothetically.

And hypothetically—Bubonic would have the opportunity to make that clear to him. To smile, and lean in close, and murmur into Calligan's ear; spell out in excruciatingly explicit detail how wrong Calligan was, to believe he had Bubonic on the ropes. To watch the look on Calligan's face change.

Perhaps he'd have the sense to be afraid. Perhaps his eyes would go wide—perhaps his breath would start to come too quick, and he wouldn't be able to stop it. Perhaps he'd falter back, come up against a wall. Swallow hard, in the grip of the realization that he was helpless, cornered, that Bubonic could do anything to him—

Yes, that was satisfying. Satisfying, a warm pleased prickle of heat passing across Bubonic's skin just picturing it.

Of course, knowing Calligan, he wouldn't have the sense. He'd stay angry, counterproductively, with no appreciation whatsoever of the position he'd been put in. He'd push back. He wouldn't give an inch, not of his own accord; whatever Bubonic decided to want from him, to extract as even approaching a fair price for what he'd done, would have to be taken from him, and he'd fight it every step of the way, until Bubonic made him yield.

Not that it was going to happen, Bubonic reminded himself.

Not—this year, at least.

 

 


 

 

four.

He knew Detective Calligan was coming long before he heard the footsteps on the stairs.

It was all going very well. He chatted idly with a handful of the people who'd shown up in response to the ad—he felt almost fond of them, though of course they had no idea they were doing him something of a favor, and he appreciated their initiative. He puttered around as if looking through Calligan's things, as if he hadn't already had what amounted to a fairly thorough inventory of Calligan's belongings just given the trackers he had monitoring Calligan's online purchases.

He was also tracing the location of Calligan's phone, at least as closely as the nearest cell tower could help him figure it. He checked it every few minutes, and when Calligan was perhaps two minutes away, he suggested to the last two lingering pillagers, disappointed in the slimness of the remaining pickings, that Calligan's mattress looked like it was in pretty good shape. Mattresses could be so expensive, and the two of them together weren't going to have any trouble carrying it.

They looked at it consideringly, and then agreed—clapped him on the back, grateful for the advice, and hefted it up.

Someone had already taken Calligan's sheets, almost half an hour ago. Bubonic had been the one to suggest that, too; he'd felt oddly pleased, even proprietary, carefully carving up Calligan's life and giving it away, one piece at a time.

One more person to get rid of, and Bubonic pulled it off just in time—because that was Calligan, had to be. Slowing, as he watched belongings he had to recognize, passing him in the stairwell, and he'd pull his gun, because that was the only way Calligan knew how to deal with anything.

Bubonic spoke lightly, offhandedly, as if he had no idea, and he kept his back to Calligan; nobody who knew Calligan had a gun would do that. He kept talking, aimless, harmless. Who really wants used linens, right?

He didn't let the last word out all the way. Turned, as if to offer a smile, and then startled, full-body.

It was easier than it should have been. Detective Calligan was—tall.

Tall, intent. A little snide, a little vicious. Bubonic hadn't precisely expected that.

Not that it mattered. He stuck to the plan, courteously handed Detective Calligan a clue and watched his gaze flicker in comprehension, his eyes taking in the emptiness of the apartment with a fresh understanding of what it meant. His inanimate possessions were one thing; but he took a sudden sharp stride forward, raised the gun again even though he had to think he was facing a helpless civilian. Such wonderfully inappropriate conduct—Bubonic had always known he had it in him, of course, but still. What a pleasure to be reminded.

And then, abruptly, Calligan was gone. Calling for the dog, striding away at an oblique angle toward the frankly terrifying steel lockbox that was his bathroom, as if someone might have managed to shut a full-grown husky in there. Foolish.

As quickly as he'd moved away, he was back. And this time, he was—he crossed the room, passed in front of Bubonic, twice as close as he had been before.

It was bizarre. The sudden physical presence of him, invasive, unignorable. Bubonic had kept his hands up, because anyone would with a gun in the room, a wielder who'd threatened to use it, but as Calligan passed him—nearly brushed him, the corner of his open jacket dragging with brief weight across the undone zipper of Bubonic's—he drew away in a clumsy half-shudder he found himself unable to control.

It was the position he was in, that was all. Hands up: undefended, his belly and chest and the tender insides of his wrists all offered to Calligan, when he knew full well how little Calligan could be trusted, how carelessly cruel he was. It was the strain of it, of having Calligan within arm's reach, having to remind himself not to touch him, not to wring his neck, not to shove him to the floor and pin him there and strangle him slowly. That was all it was.

Within a breath, Calligan was on his phone. Tracking the dog, that was it. And then he was gone.

He didn't look back. He didn't spare a second thought for the man he'd left standing in the middle of his apartment.

Which was exactly what had been supposed to happen. And yet for an instant, the only thing Bubonic could think was—he would have. Bitterly, helplessly, Calligan's attention drawn so quickly away; but he would have looked again, he would have stayed, if he'd known it was Bubonic.

 

 


 

 

five.

Insofar as it was possible to permit it, Bubonic liked Lindy Sampson.

She was intelligent, capable. He'd never have tried to hire her otherwise. And she couldn't be blamed for allowing the CCU to get their claws into her; she believed she needed them, for her sister's sake.

He liked her, in the vague approving sort of way he'd have liked anyone who could do what she did, who'd gotten as far as she had.

But that wasn't why he told her.

It wasn't because she deserved to know, either. He wasn't interested in attempting to make that sort of judgment.

It was because it would make things more difficult for Detective Calligan, that was all.

It was practical. She was intelligent, capable; if the CCU figured out exactly how capable, found a way to set her on Bubonic, that might cause him more trouble than was convenient. But she wouldn't let that happen, if she knew. She wouldn't let that happen, and she'd know better than to trust Detective Calligan. She'd know better than to let him use her.

She'd know better than to get close to him.

She needed to know better. She needed to stay away from him.

So Bubonic told her.

And he knew from the look on her face that it had worked; that she believed him, and she wasn't going to forget what he'd said. She was going to think of it every time she looked at Detective Calligan.

She was going to back off, and leave him to Bubonic. And the satisfaction of that certainty was hot, and sweet; a pleasure.

 

 


 

 

and one.

Calligan shifted, just barely, and made a strained little sound in the back of his throat.

Finally.

Bubonic had already turned on his heel, had already begun pacing back toward the head of the sofa, so he was in the perfect position to come to a stop standing over Calligan, to ensure that his glaring, sneering face was the first thing Calligan saw when Calligan's eyes twitched weakly open.

Hours. Hours and hours—but then Calligan had cleverly gotten himself ambushed, beaten, and drugged, with uncharacteristic thoroughness and attention to detail.

There was still blood on his face, in the crook of his elbow where the needle had gone in. Bubonic had refused to stand there cataloguing its slow trickling progress, the gradual loss of surface gloss as it had begun to dry. Hence the pacing; frustratingly necessary, because for some indefinable reason, it had proven utterly impossible for him to concentrate on his phone, on cracking Calligan's laptop, on a hundred other ways he could have passed the time entertaining himself.

But never mind. It didn't matter now, because at last, at last, Calligan was coming around.

His first weak stare was dazed, unfocused. His eyes fell shut again after a moment, and Bubonic wanted to slap him for it, to dig his hands into Calligan's hair and yank furiously, until Calligan quit trying to slip away. Calligan wasn't allowed to slip away, and it was about time he realized that.

Before he could turn that urge into action, though, Calligan rendered it unnecessary. Made another low scratchy sound, shifted a little further—raised one unsteady hand to his head, his face, and presumably felt the flaking blood there, the ache of bruises settling beneath the skin. He blinked several times, squinted, and seemed to come to the understanding that he recognized the ceiling above him, the furnishings around him, the angle of the light; that this was his apartment, that the surface beneath him was his own sofa. Bubonic could practically check off each item on the list, watching Calligan's gaze move around the space.

And then, at last, Calligan looked at him.

Blankly, for a long moment. Uncomprehendingly.

"You," he said hoarsely, after a moment. "Please tell me you're not here taking my stuff again."

Bubonic had no patience left for this. He simply couldn't be bothered. He allowed his face to twist further still, kept his eyes fixed sharply on Calligan, and murmured coldly, "Aw, bad day at work?"

Partial credit: Calligan immediately appreciated the difference. Presumably remembered not only the nameless stranger in his apartment that day, but the way that stranger had spoken to him. A friendly, casual tone first—and then panicked, anxious, once Calligan's gun had come out. But neither approached the way Bubonic was speaking to him now.

Calligan's eyes narrowed warily. He tried to push himself up, so he wasn't lying on his back on the sofa but instead leaning up against the arm of it behind him; so he might have half a chance of getting his feet on the floor in a hurry, if he needed to.

And it almost worked. His arms shook, his elbows braced unsteadily against the cushions, and he began to lift himself and then flinched at what the tension across his torso must have done to his ribs.

"Inadvisable," Bubonic assessed. "But by all means, keep trying, if it makes you feel better."

"Not sure I could feel a hell of a lot worse," Calligan said slowly, without looking away. "What are you doing here? What happened? I don't—I don't remember—"

He went still, eyes half-closed, dredging through the sludge in his own mind. And then he moved, brought a hand up—found the crook of his other elbow with his fingers, and stared at the telling bruises there, the smattering of injection points.

"Yes, that's right," Bubonic said, warm, as if to applaud his perspicacity. "They drugged you. Nothing addictive, Detective—or at least the odds you managed to develop a dependency are on your side, considering how little time they had you."

"Thanks to—you," Calligan said, almost a question, one eyebrow raised.

"Well, it certainly wasn't thanks to you," Bubonic told him brightly. "You were utterly helpless. Why, anyone might think you'd done it on purpose. Provoking them the way you did, making such a relentless nuisance of yourself—making it clear that you were monitoring them, that you were ready to take the least excuse to detain them, even for a day, even for an hour, if it would cause them some inconvenience. Making it clear that the only way forward was going to be to get rid of you.

"And then, more cleverly still, you gave them the perfect opening! Tell me, Detective Calligan, what exactly is it that makes the concept of backup so abhorrent to you? If anything, I'd have assumed that you enjoyed a certain degree of camaraderie with the rest of your colleagues at the CCU—that you trusted them to do their jobs, at the bare minimum. And yet I can only conclude that that was far too much to expect, given your behavior."

The look on Calligan's face had begun to change. Expression left it; Calligan lay there, blank, as if aware there was no possible defense for the degree of his idiocy. Only his eyes were left unshuttered—sharp, fixed with increasingly urgent intensity on Bubonic.

"You sound just like Shaw," he murmured, bland. "Except she uses fewer words."

"And her methods have clearly proven ineffective," Bubonic bit out, "so you'll excuse me if I choose not to adopt them. You gave them an opening, and they took you. Thought they'd have a bit of fun with you, I imagine."

Calligan's chin came up. "And then they realized what they had," he guessed, "and made you an offer. Bubonic."

So he had figured it out. No doubt he felt very perceptive indeed.

"Indeed they did," Bubonic agreed, and he was still standing at the head of the sofa, beside Calligan; it was the easiest thing in the world to lean down, to catch Calligan's lifted chin in his hand, to press his thumb along the line of the jaw on one side and extend the grip of his fingers along the other. "Which was helpful. I had a general location already, but being able to trace that message saved me a good deal of time."

Calligan's gaze flickered. He'd gone tense, with Bubonic's hand on him, now that he knew that that was what it was; kept his face locked down in smooth unreadable lines. But the barest uncertain furrow was returning to the span above his brows.

"You—"

Oh. Bubonic almost laughed. Unbelievable.

"You think I took it," he said, soft. "You think I took it. You honestly believe I would appreciate having your gift-wrapped corpse delivered to my doorstep by that pack of goddamned amateurs."

Calligan rallied briefly, tensing, gaze piercing. "Isn't that what you've always wanted?"

"Oh, Detective Calligan," Bubonic said, as icy and sing-song as he had ever said it in one of a hundred videos, voicemails deposited directly on Calligan's phone without an origin or callback number—seated in his own chair, murmuring it to himself in satisfaction as he'd invented yet another orchestrated catastrophe that could be arranged for Calligan. "You have no idea what I want." He tilted his head, allowed gravity to draw him closer to Calligan's trapped face. "Do you honestly think I couldn't have killed you a thousand times over, by now? If I'd wanted you dead, you'd have been hit in the middle of a crosswalk by an eighteen-wheeler with a green light, the morning after it happened," and Calligan listened to the words hit in the middle of a crosswalk, eighteen-wheeler, without a single flicker of reaction, but the morning after it happened—he flinched, eyes closing, a hitch passing through the muscles of his jaw and throat beneath Bubonic's hand.

But it couldn't possibly matter to him. Bubonic couldn't afford to believe that it might matter to him.

So he ignored it, and leaned closer still, until his mouth was practically catching on the stubble crossing Calligan's cheek as he said, "And if I did decide to kill you, Detective Calligan, rest assured I would permit no one to deprive me of the pleasure of doing it myself."

Enough. He drew away again, straightened where he stood. He'd let go of Calligan's face, step away, sneer. Taunt Calligan a little longer, and then go; in the state he was in, Calligan would hardly be able to follow.

That was what he was going to do. Except he looked at Calligan again, with his hand still closed on the underside of Calligan's jaw, and there were no words for the way Calligan was staring up at him.

"You stopped them," Calligan said quietly.

Bubonic allowed his mouth to twist. What an understatement. "I took them apart," he bit out. "I incapacitated them utterly. They had no right—"

Calligan barked out a hoarse laugh. "Jesus. As if you've got the grounds to be pissed at anyone for fucking with me, when you can't go a week without it yourself."

Intolerable. Absolutely intolerable, as if it were in any sense comparable; Bubonic snarled, tightened his grip—dug his nails into the skin of Calligan's jaw, the side of his throat, because Calligan was covered in the marks those idiots had left on him and Bubonic hated it. Because the only marks that should be on him were—

"You were ignoring me," he spat, and only understood he hadn't precisely intended to say it when he saw Calligan's eyes widen, felt Calligan's throat work under his hand, and ran the words back in his head. "You were wasting all your time on them, and they weren't even interesting enough to deserve it. But you walked right into their hands anyway, like the idiot you are."

"Bubonic," Calligan said, slow, wary.

"And they knew. They knew, they made the offer, as if I'd thank them—as if they shouldn't have known better than to touch you in the first place."

"Bubonic—"

"They knew," Bubonic snapped. "And they should've known what it meant."

Calligan lay there looking up at him. Still trapped by the span of his hand, and yet he didn't seem to realize it anymore, was no longer tensing against Bubonic's grip. He lifted a hand, but it was only to wrap it slowly, almost cautiously, around Bubonic's wrist.

"And what's that," he murmured.

But not as if it were a question he needed the answer to. As if it were a taunt, a goad.

Bubonic felt something snap, some long-tested restraint he hadn't entirely understood was holding him back. He made a soft furious noise in his throat, and he tipped Calligan's face up, dragged Calligan's head off the arm of the sofa, and he bit Calligan's mouth, dug his teeth into Calligan's lip—kissed him.

Kissed him.

It didn't matter. It wasn't going to matter. He could shove Calligan away afterward, sneer at him; make him understand that of course it had just been one more way Bubonic had decided to fuck with his head, to ruin his life, because what other motivation was there? For all that Calligan was a detective, he'd never been particularly good at looking past the most obvious explanation—and in this particular case, there was no reason why he should, considering how ludicrous any other option would be.

He'd never have the slightest idea.

It was strange, how it felt to think that. It should've been a reassurance; this was an error it would be entirely possible to recover from, at least as far as Calligan was concerned.

Recover from, and even—repeat, since Calligan would be unable to perceive it for what it was. Repeat; escalate beyond, the kind of steadily intensifying provocation Bubonic had already favored when it came to Calligan.

But it was oddly difficult to think tactically about it. Calligan's mouth was hot, tender from the blow it had taken and bloody-tasting from the fat split in it. Bubonic's teeth in the spot, applied without gentleness, made Calligan shudder beneath him, a sharp pained sound caught in the back of Calligan's throat.

Perhaps Bubonic wouldn't need to shove him away. Perhaps Calligan would do the work, push him, hit him. Calligan wouldn't be able to hurt him, considering the state Calligan was in, and Bubonic would be able to laugh at him and saunter out, functionally untouched.

Except Calligan wasn't pushing. Calligan had one hand still gripping Bubonic's wrist, and the other—the other lay quiet at his side. He hadn't moved it. His fingers tightened, the tips of them digging into soft tendons, into the base of Bubonic's hand.

He wasn't supposed to be holding on. He wasn't supposed to like it.

Bubonic made an irritated sound into his mouth, shoved him back down into the sofa beneath him and pinned him there, and kissed him harder; and Calligan took it, and hung on, and didn't let go.

At last, Bubonic broke away, held Calligan down so he couldn't do anything about it and dragged his mouth from Calligan's freshly bloodied lip to his ear. "I hate you," he said softly. "I hate you more than anything, Detective Calligan."

"Yeah," Calligan murmured, "so I gather." He was shivering a little, fine soft tremors all through him, and his eyes looked huge and dark in his face. "Shit," and that was quieter, under his breath, almost inaudible. "Shit, why did you have to—" and then he twisted, turned his face into Bubonic's jaw, blindly found Bubonic's mouth again, and maybe—

Maybe he did understand. Maybe he hated Bubonic, almost as much as Bubonic hated him.

How wonderful that would be, Bubonic thought distantly, and closed his eyes, and let Calligan kiss him: took it, and hung on, and didn't let go.