Everything smelled like fire, after – well. After the fire.
The clothes White wore that night stunk of gasoline, even after two cycles in the washer aided by the strongest detergent he could find. His hair was no better. Even his skin carried the faint scent of smoke.
That wasn’t the reason why White felt like scrubbing his body until it was raw and bleeding, but it did well enough as a distraction. He soaped up and did not think about vigilante crime. He definitely didn’t wonder if his brother would look at him one day and see a pretentious ass, the kind that got their house burned down in the middle of the night.
Then Black went into cardiac arrest, and everything else sort of lost importance.
“Oi, Black! Open the door, I know you’re in there!”
White groaned miserably. His chest still smarted, heart clenching in phantom pain as his twin twisted in a hospital bed half a city away. He pulled himself up from the floor by clutching at a nearby dresser and cursed Sean’s impeccable timing. White didn’t have Black’s hang-ups about the other man, but he was certainly on the way of acquiring brand new ones.
Sean pounded at the door. It felt like he was rapping his knuckles directly against White’s skull. White nearly wrenched the doorknob off in his haste to stop the damned noise.
“What do you want?” he snapped, and immediately felt bad about it.
Sean glared. “You haven’t been by the garage.”
“So? I’ve got other things to do,” White said. It came out more defensive than he had intended.
“You know what I think? I think you’re scared,” Sean said, smiling meanly.
White mustered a glare of his own and tried not to let on how on the mark the man was.
“Fuck you. I’ll drop by in a couple of hours, since you obviously can’t live without me around. Happy now?”
Sean didn’t look impressed. He leaned in, too quickly for White to draw back in time. A large hand pressed against White’s forehead, then cupped his cheek.
“You’re cold,” Sean said.
“I’m fine,” White replied, then caught up with what was happening and finally took that step back. “Get out.”
“Fine. Don’t expect me to haul your ass to the hospital if you keel over from pneumonia or some shit,” Sean said.
White slammed the door shut in Sean’s smug face. Sean laughed, the sound growing more distant as the man thundered down the stairs.
White touched his own face. His cheeks burned under his fingers.
“Who was he?”
White groaned in his pillow. He’d almost drifted off – in Sean’s bed, because Gumpa was a tyrant and Sean was surprisingly hospitable for someone who tried so hard to be an ass – and Sean’d gone and elbowed him in the ribs. White retaliated by kicking the man in the shin, then buried his head under a blanket that smelled like motor oil and detergent and Sean.
“Little shit,” Sean grunted. He rolled over and White absolutely did not squeak when he was suddenly crushed under the man’s weight. “You won’t get off that easy,” Sean said, breath hot against White’s ear. It was probably meant to be a threat.
White’s whole body shivered, and not at all in fear. “Who’re you talking about?” he remembered to ask.
“The guy that was riding with you today,” Sean said.
White’s brain finally came online. “No one important,” White said, trying to sound cool and dismissive and not mildly aroused and panicked.
Sean pressed down more firmly. White almost didn’t hear what the other man said over the blood pounding in his temples.
“Sure. Because you let just anyone ride your bike. What the hell are you hiding, Black?”
He sounded off. Hurt, almost, and White had to bite his lip so he didn’t do anything Black wouldn’t, like comfort the man.
“It’s none of your business,” he said instead.
Sean growled. The sound rumbled down White’s back right through the blanket and his clothes, burning into his bones.
“You fucking him?” Sean asked.
White stilled. “What?” he croaked out, but Sean wasn’t done, his words mean and heavy in White’s ear.
“Or is he fucking you? Looked like a soft rich boy. Wouldn’t have thought he’d be your type.”
“What the fuck is the matter with you!” White shouted, flushed red with anger. He tried to buck Sean off, but the other man was about twice his size and mostly muscle. The polite thing would’ve been for Sean to let him go on his own. Sean wasn’t the polite type, obviously.
White decided that he wasn’t, either, and bit down on the closest exposed bit of Sean with a snarl.
“Fuck! Black, are you a goddamn dog? Let go!”
“You gonna get off me?” White demanded, the words muffled.
“Yes! Jesus,” Sean shouted, scrambling back to his side of the bed as soon as White unclenched his teeth. He had a hand pressed over his cheek. “You almost took my ear off!”
“You deserved it, you prick,” White snapped. “You talk to me like that again, and I will have your fucking head, you got me?”
“Alright, alright,” Sean grunted. He got under the covers and turned his back to White, shoulders hunching. “It was just a joke,” he muttered.
“It wasn’t funny,” White told him.
Sean didn’t say anything. They went to sleep in sulky silence, a foot of empty space between them.
Morning came too soon. White woke up with the blankets around his ankles and Sean’s muscular thigh draped over his legs, pinning him in place. His sleep-addled brain had only just gone from, hmm nice to, oh shit when Sean woke up and looked at White like he could read every thought White pretended not to have about him. He didn’t pull away, and neither did White. Something heavy hung in the air between them, tugging them close.
White may have leaned in, or started to. Anyway, that was when a can of tear gas rolled into the room, and White’s priorities rapidly shifted. He got himself and Sean out and didn’t punch Gumpa in the face only because he couldn’t see all that well with his eyes swollen nearly shut.
“You gassed us,” he gasped.
“It’s training,” Gumpa replied, all cool and calm and not at all like a man who’d almost blinded his two close friends, “Always be prepared.”
He clapped a hand over White’s shoulder in passing. White blinked after him, torn between anger and a frightened sort of respect.
“You saved me,” Sean said. It sounded like an accusation.
White kept on pouring water over his eyes. “So?”
“Why?” Sean demanded.
“Sorry, next time I will leave you to suffer,” White snapped.
“Black would have,” Sean told him.
White nearly dropped his water bottle. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.
Sean glared at him. White glared right back, barely feeling the strain on his eyes over the adrenaline pumping in his blood.
They got into it again. Midway through the argument, Sean pushed White up against a broken-down truck that was rusting away out in the yard and all White could think about was the sweat rolling down the other man’s throat, how it might taste.
“Are you afraid of Gumpa yelling at you now? Is that why you’re letting me push you around?” Sean demanded.
“If it was for real, I’d let you die,” White snapped back.
Sean watched him leave. His eyes burned over White’s back, like his fingers had that morning, when they had held each other in the quiet.
Two weeks later, it was for real. White bruised his knuckles breaking some guy’s teeth. Absolute cover letter material for a future diplomat.
They were not even on a job. White was out getting groceries, of all things – they did keep a fridge in the garage, and it was Black’s turn to restock. Gumpa sent Sean along to help him cart stuff; Yok was out chasing after his painter and the rest of the gang was busy finishing up a rush order. White had the sneaking suspicion Gumpa was trying to get him and Sean on friendly terms. Joke was on him, White guessed, since Sean wasn’t interested in being friends with Black and White was interested in being more than friends with Sean.
It hurt his head if he thought about it too long.
Sean bitched about coming with the whole way to the mom-and-pop store the gang frequented, then refused to go in on account being there on ferry duty only. White’d rolled his eyes and left the man to his own devices – which, in retrospect, had been his first mistake.
The second came when he walked out of the store some fifteen minutes later. He could barely see over the paper bags in his arms, but the sound of fists hitting flesh and Sean’s dirty cursing was clear as day.
White dropped the bags and ran toward the fight without a second thought.
It was five against one. Sean’d held his own pretty well, but he was sporting a busted lip and a black eye and one of the guys hitting on him was flashing a fucking knife. White got between them and knocked the bastard flat on his ass with a punch that was powered more by anger than any real skill.
“Shit, it’s Black,” one of the assholes shouted.
The fight staggered. The wanna-be gangsters exchanged looks, and White got some air in his lungs and a moment to think. He grinned as meanly as he could.
“We’ve got a few more guys coming. Let’s wrap this up, yeah? I don’t feel like sharing.”
That was enough to send the gangsters home, though they did hurl a few insults in parting that had Sean frothing at the mouth.
“Ignore them. Dogs yapping,” White told him. He shook his hand, holding back a wince. Punching someone bare-handed was much harder than it looked in the movies. More painful, too.
“Come here,” Sean said.
He took White’s injured hand. White watched as the man examined his fingers and knuckles for fractures, mind empty of all but the vivid red of Sean's mouth.
“Did you really call the garage?” Sean asked.
“When would I’ve gotten the time?” White snorted. “I’m fine, let go already. You’re the one who’ll look all pretty for days.”
Sean didn’t let go of White’s hand. He looked White in the eyes, robbing him of whatever words he’d meant to say.
“You didn’t let me die,” Sean said.
White’s tongue felt too big for his mouth. “Well, I,” he floundered, “we've got to get the groceries – the groceries!”
The paper bags were right where White’d dropped them. All the eggs were broken, and most of the beer cans’d popped open.
Sean went in with him this time. He even pushed the cart around, with minimal complaining.
“A twin brother.”
White froze in the doorway. Sean stared at him from his seat next to Black’s hospital bed, face devoid of expression. Black’s heart monitor beeped in the silence, counting off seconds.
“How did you get in?” White asked.
Sean tilted his head toward a window. It was connected to a fire escape, a glaring security flaw. White would have his brother moved to a more secure room. Provided that he himself survived the coming confrontation, of course.
“My name is White,” he said. He forced himself to take a step closer, another, until he was standing at Black’s bedside. “Black’s twin brother, yes.”
“Who did this to him?” Sean asked.
White felt like he could breathe again. “That is what I am trying to find out,” he said. His hands shook, so he clenched them, trying to keep still. He didn’t know why he was afraid. Sean wouldn’t actually beat him up in front of his brother’s comatose body.
“You lied to us,” Sean said.
White hunched his shoulders. This, he realized. He was afraid of this.
Sean’s chair scrapped over the floor. White startled, then almost jumped out of his skin when Sean grabbed his chin and urged his face up until he met the man’s narrowed eyes.
“You lied to me,” Sean hissed.
White opened his mouth to defend himself, only to find Sean’s tongue in it. His alarmed squeak turned into an embarrassing moan.
Sean pulled him in by the waist. He really was all muscle, hot and hard against White, smelling of all of White’s best dreams. White panted the start of questions between kisses. Sean shut him up every time, uninterested in making any sense.
“Sean,” White began when they finally broke apart, lips swollen and wet. Sean looked no better and White almost leaned right back in, wanting to suck a bruise over that golden skin.
“I like you,” Sean said. “I’ve liked you since – fuck, since I saw you. You don’t know what it was doing to me, thinking that you were Black.”
White bit his lip, trying to suppress a besotted smile. Sean let out a wounded noise and bowed down to take White’s mouth again. White’s legs nearly went soft, every nerve alight.
“We’ll help you find out who did this to Black,” Sean promised.
White took a shuddering breath. Some great weight left his shoulders and he leaned against Sean, mouthing his thanks in the man’s chest.
Sean kissed his forehead. “He’ll be fine, don’t worry. Black is tougher than this. He’ll make it out of this damn bed, and he’ll have all of us looking out for him while he recovers.”
Sean’s lips trailed down his cheek. White felt the man’s grin against his skin.
“And once he does,” Sean whispered in White’s ear, “I’m telling him I kissed the fuck out of his brother with him lying not two feet away.”
White punched him. Gently, though, and he did kiss it better.
Then he kissed it worse, and they were asked to vacate the hospital premises.