Touching Loneliness, a Wiseguy coda to 'Dirty Little Wars' by Sue Castle.
"How does it feel, Roger?"
Vince was talking to McPike, but Roger was looking at Herb Ketcher when he answered. "Ever had your skin cut back far enough to see the bone?"
He had believed for a long time. He'd known the 'why' Vince was so emotional about. Over the past two decades he'd gone from certainty to shadow, and lost that belief somewhere along the way. At least, he'd thought he had, until he discovered that he carried the spark of that earlier belief in his heart.
Ketcher killed it, too. The same time he sent that psychotic bastard in to kill Preet. Vince said he'd been laughing when he came out of Roger's loft, after seeing the bodies.
Roger believed him. If nothing else, Roger believed Vincent.
The showdown with Ketcher was long overdue. It was pathetic that it had taken the death of the only other person in his life who cared about him to bring it home. Ketcher didn't leave loose ends. Roger was now, and had been since he'd refused to assassinate Vincent Terranova, a loose end. A walking dead man.
Vince argued with McPike about his team. Vince won, as Roger knew he would. Beneath the ice that was slowly cracking around the dike holding his emotions in check, Roger was slightly warmed by the intensity of Vince's passion. Maybe Preet hadn't been the only one who'd cared about him. But she was the only one who'd known exactly what he was, suffered for what he was, and still cared about him.
It was time Vince learned a little more about Roger Lococco.
The ice broke with a crash, and words Roger had been biting back unspoken for years spewed forth. Disillusionment, frustration, pain ... directed as much at himself as at Ketcher. Since he'd been a boy, all Roger had tried to do was the right thing. Then the right thing became doing whatever had to be done for the right to prevail. Somewhere along the line it had been twisted into whatever had to be done for Ketcher to win.
Ketcher wasn't going to win this one. The walking dead man would see to that.
He was nearing the end of his control, formidable as it was, when he finally stopped raging at Ketcher long enough to snarl at him, "Do you believe in anything?" Ketcher had no answer to that. The most telling answer he could have given. "Fifteen years, captain!" Roger screamed. "For what? Destiny?" A world of disbelief in the one hissed word.
"For our children!" Ketcher yelled back. Roger would have laughed if he hadn't been so damned close to crying.
"I don't have any children! I don't have any family! I have nothing!" Except money, and who gave a damn about money? Not Lococco. He'd had money since he was a child. All it had ever given him was isolation. Then he'd had passion, for an ideal, and Ketcher had destroyed that, leaving him back where he'd started. Filthy rich and completely alone. He stepped in close to his former superior officer, now nothing better than an animal.
"You and I used to believe in something." You stopped believing. I stopped feeling. He brought his gun up again. He could have done it for himself but it would have been meaningless. This one last death before his own would have meaning, and Herb would know precisely what that meaning was. "This is for Preet."
Ketcher broke. He threw his hands up, tried to run, cowered on his knees hiding his face against the wall sobbing denial. It would do him no good. Roger followed, placing the barrel of the pistol against the back of Ketcher's skull. He barely heard Vince yell, "Roger! Don't!"
Then Vince was at his back, warmth radiating from him, and Roger wanted to ignore him but couldn't. So he tried to explain instead. Tried to make Vincent understand at least part of it before it was too late to explain any of it.
"I'm a dead man, Vince. Whoever this man answers to they're coming after me. I want the satisfaction of knowing that he is gone."
Vince's hand hovered over the small of Roger's back. He could feel it even without an actual touch. Vince spoke urgently into his ear, and Roger listened to the words pouring over his shoulder without taking his unblinking eyes off Ketcher.
"And I want the whole pie, Roger. You're about to take that away from me. Listen to me." As if he could do anything else. Vince was so ridiculously passionate sometimes. Roger stayed his pull on the trigger and Vince went on. "If he slips through and they manage to hit you, I swear on my family I'll kill him myself."
Maybe not so ridiculous with all his passion. A Terranova vow actually meant something. Roger let the words sink into him, accepted the truth in them and the willingness within himself to trust Vince to do this, and tried to let go of the gun.
His fingers wouldn't uncurl. He had to squeeze the trigger. The compulsion to shoot was too strong to deny. He raised his hand to point the pistol toward the sky and squeezed. Over and over, until the bullets were gone and the hammer was tripping on empty air. A warm hand closed over his fingers, taking the gun gently from him, and his hand closed into a fist before dropping to his side.
He could feel himself closing down as he turned from the quivering mess that used to be Herb Ketcher and walked out of the hangar. The air felt good, cold and damp in his lungs. McPike and the OCB team swarmed around like busy ants, gathering up the evidence Roger had so carefully planted, taking the would-be insurgents and their opportunistic leech of a self-proclaimed president with them.
It wasn't over, but for the moment, there was stillness.
McPike took the prisoners away for questioning, and Roger watched silently as the cars pulled away. Warmth radiated by his shoulder again and he asked, "Where to now, Buckwheat?"
This time, the hand hovering over him landed, the Italian need to reassure through touch breaking Vince's tenuous hold on his ability to give Roger any distance at all. Patting his shoulder, soothing him like a nervy hunting dog, Vince outlined plans. A private jet back to Bethesda, an OCB safehouse, debriefing by the DoJ and CIA, hearings, protection from whomever until they knew he'd be safe.
He would have smiled if his face hadn't felt frozen. Safe? He was dead. There was no safe.
He didn't bother to say it, simply allowed Vince to pat him and reassure him and take him to the airstrip. He strapped himself in and stared out the window, feeling Vince's concerned gaze on him for the long flight east but unwilling to meet it. If he did, the dike would crumble away completely, and the ensuing flood would swamp them both.
This wasn't the time or the place.
Vince hovered behind him like a clucking nanny all the way to the safehouse. Roger let him. Dinner was Thai takeout but neither ate much. Roger built a fire, then sat back with a bottle of whisky and tried not to think. It worked, for a little while. Then Vince sat down across from him and added questions to staring in his quest to break through Roger's wall of silence.
Little did he know the wall was made of tissue paper.
Roger hadn't thought of his life as being deliberately isolated. He operated in shadows. He'd believed that his commanding officer had the same agenda that he did, and he'd run with that belief for over a decade. It had made sense that he wouldn't know Ketcher's superior. CIA operatives survived by limiting knowledge, compartmentalizing themselves so that if they were taken operations wouldn't be compromised. It was the only way to protect one another.
Of course, it was also a great way for a rogue bastard with no scruples to abuse his power and use stupid agents who didn't realize what was going on to further his own agenda, too. Since Saigon fell, Roger had been running in deep cover, Ketcher his only contact. He'd thought he'd been fighting the good fight in the middle of a mud pit because that was where the adversaries were. He hadn't known he had so much damned mud on himself there was no way to tell the difference any longer between himself and the enemy. Roger finished off the last of the whisky and Vince got up to open another bottle.
Betrayal. He'd tasted it before. He'd been betrayed, and betrayed others, but always before it had been for a greater cause. Or so he'd believed.
"I hate him."
For destroying what I thought I was fighting for. For destroying my belief. For the pain I can't ignore any more. He didn't say any of it, but he knew Vince heard him clearly, because he asked about Preet.
"I was seventeen."
Pain lanced through him in flashes of memory. A tiny, dark room, not much more than a futon on the floor and a little altar in one corner, a box in the other for her few belongings. A petite woman with big dark eyes and a knowing mouth, moving her hands on him, her fingers in him, her tongue against him. Using her body to teach him things about himself he'd never imagined and making him fall into what he thought might have been love if he'd known what that was.
"I didn't know you could be touched like that."
The first time he refused Ketcher's kill command. The alternative he'd cried over, when he was alone. The agony in those dark eyes as he sliced her tongue from her mouth. The understanding in those hands when he brought her home. The bond they'd formed over the past twenty years. He had taken care of her; she had taken care of him. After he had taken her tongue.
"I never forgave myself."
He'd only refused to kill at Ketcher's orders for personal reasons twice. Oh, more than once, when Ketcher's bloodlust would have fucked up the mission. But only twice had he refused to kill because he couldn't do it.
Roger wasn't aware of the fact that he was pleading out loud. "Preet. Forgive me. Please. Forgive me."
So much to forgive.
Warmth brushed his face, and he finally looked away from the fire into which he'd been staring for hours, until his vision was nothing but flames he hadn't seen for the veil of memories. Vincent crouched beside his chair, one hand touching his cheek lightly, trapping a tear against his skin. Roger was vaguely surprised. He didn't cry. Not in front of anyone else.
"You ready for bed?" Vince's voice was rough and gentle, and his eyes were shadowed. Roger stared over at him.
Bed. Nightmares. Crying in the dark, where it belonged. "Yeah." His own voice sounded rusty in his ears. He had no idea how long he'd been begging ghosts for forgiveness.
He pulled himself to his feet, swaying but catching himself before Vince could. He tried to give Vince a smile, but the shadows deepened, so it must not have been particularly convincing, so he stopped trying. He turned toward the bedrooms in the back of the house, and Vince followed.
At the door to the room he'd take until he had to disappear, Roger turned to Vince. He stared up into the dark blue eyes of the only man left alive he actually trusted, and nodded. "Thank you."
Vince looked confused. "For what?"
"Pulling me out when it was time." He'd tell Vince about his other arrangements later. The money in a metal suitcase, the accounts in a Swiss bank that waited for the time when the whys Vince asked no longer gave answers he could swallow; the escape route when it was time for Vince to disappear.
"You're my friend." Vince said it as if that was all the explanation he'd ever have to give. Roger held his look.
Maybe it was.
The smile he gave then was a little more believable, and Vince gave him a half-smile as reward. Roger turned to go into the room. Vince's voice stopped him before he could flip on the light.
"You gonna be all right?"
Hell of a question. Roger closed his eyes, feeling the pain in his head threaten to break through his skull as the memories and regrets pounded at him. His fists rose to his forehead, thumbs uselessly soothing his temples. He'd try not to scream and frighten the kid when the nightmares hit.
"Yeah," he answered finally, carefully not looking at Vince.
Long arms wrapped around him from behind, a full-body embrace he endured stiffly. His defenses were shot to hell, though, and within a few seconds he weakened, slumping back against Vince's body. He only realized he was shaking when Vince started patting him again, without breaking the hug.
"You sure about that?"
The whisper against the side of his neck jolted him, throwing him into a state of arousal that shocked him. Maybe it was the memories of Preet, mixed up with the loss and the unusual closeness of another warm body. Maybe it was just Vince. But with a suddenness that unnerved him, Roger wanted Vince to stay. From the drowsy caresses Vince was giving him, and the determined way he was holding on to him, he had the impression Vince wanted to stay as much as Roger wanted him to.
"Are you sure about this?" Roger asked. He caught one of Vince's hands and settled it over his growing erection, making it crystal clear exactly what 'this' he meant. He expected Vince to freeze, then withdraw. Vince was a toucher, and perhaps he hadn't realized how close to the edge Roger was. It was another shock when Vince leaned closer, wrapping him up in a tighter embrace instead of retreating as expected.
"You never think I know what I'm doing," he chided Roger softly. Roger tried to shake his head, but Vince was kissing the side of his neck, and he couldn't move.
"Do you?" This time, his voice sounded strangled. Vince's hand moved at his crotch, and his voice gave out completely.
"More often than you know," Vince told him.
Roger stood still, absorbing the touch, feeling Vince's heat seep into him. There were many cold, lonely, empty places in him, but for reasons he didn't completely understand, he'd let Vince into a few of them. Tonight he needed that warmth more than he needed his normal isolation. He'd always been one to lick his wounds in private.
Vince's hands moved on him, leaving his cock and trailing around to his hip, turning him until they faced one another. In the darkened room, Vince's blue eyes looked black, and huge, and hungry. Vince cupped Roger's chin in one hand and raised his face, leaning close, slowly, giving Roger every chance to step back.
Roger leaned forward.
It was the gentlest kiss he could remember receiving in years. The last person to touch him with such care had been Preet. Memory stabbed him again, and his own hands were moving. Not to push Vince away, but to grab his head and pull him closer. Roger opened his mouth, tongue pressing into Vince's mouth, prodded by desperation as much as need. Vince took the kiss and flowed with it, gentling it until Roger could see beyond the past again. Until it was Vince holding him, not himself holding Preet.
Drawing back finally, Vince didn't let go of him. He dropped kisses on Roger's cheeks, his nose, his brow, his temple, along his jaw, until Roger stopped shaking and started kissing him back with the same darting touches. It was a few short steps to the bed, and they stripped one another on the way, pausing between kisses to pull shirts over heads. Vince unfastened Roger's jeans, pulling them down off his hips then pushing him gently down to sit on the edge of the bed.
Once he was settled, Vince pulled off the jeans and boots, baring Roger to his hands. Cupping them around Roger's knees, Vince knelt between Roger's feet and ran his fingers lightly along the tensed thighs until his arms were wrapped around Roger's hips. Roger stared down at the dark hair brushing against his abdomen, then slowly ran his hands through it, urging Vince slowly down. Not that Vince needed much encouragement.
It was different from Preet, of course. A man's mouth was better for sucking off than a woman's, bigger, somehow hungrier. Different from Mel's whores, or the other toss-offs he'd had. But it felt uncannily like Preet in a way. The care in the touch, the tenderness, they were the same. Vince knew what he was doing, too. His hands roamed along with his mouth, gently shifting Roger's sac, stroking back behind it, causing Roger to unselfconsciously spread his thighs as far apart as he could.
Vince teased him, licking and sucking the length of him then going down and swallowing, his hands never stopping their stroking. Roger was ready before he wanted to be, and his hands tightened in Vince's hair.
"Close," he rasped. Vince looked up at him, his eyes a strange mix of desire and gentleness. Then, still holding Roger's gaze, he pressed one hand firmly up between his thighs and pumped the other down his shaft while sucking hard at the head of his cock. Roger came before he could form another word.
Emotional exhaustion combined with hyperventilation from an orgasm that made his ears ring caused Roger to collapse back on the bed. He was barely aware when Vince swung his legs up, tugged the blanket out of the way and covered him with it. He came abruptly alert when Vince turned toward the door.
"Don't." Don't leave. Stay. Stop me from thinking. Keep the nightmares at bay. Vince turned slowly, looking down at him. Roger couldn't quite make out his expression. Licking his lips, unaccountably nervous, he pulled the edge of the blanket back and did another thing he hadn't done in a hell of a long time. "Please."
The plea worked. Vince turned back to him, finished undressing, and slipped into bed beside him. Roger felt snub, moist heat bump against his hip and reached for it. Vince stiffened.
"You sure?" This time it was Vince asking for reassurance. Roger pushed back the blanket a little further and slid down Vince's body.
"Don't be an idiot." Vince was babbling something in his defense but Roger wasn't paying any attention. Vince's cock was warm and heavy over his tongue, and the thighs under his hands were trembling.
He didn't bother with finesse, simply swallowed Vince down to the base and sucked until Vince bucked against him. Some of the words tumbling from Vince's mouth were warning, but Roger ignored them, too. Vince tasted sweet and sour, salty and thick. Roger kept sucking, gently, until Vince started to twitch away from him, then he let it slip from his mouth and buried his face against Vince's stomach.
Weirdly enough, he felt safer than he had in a very long time.
Vince's hands came down over his shoulders, then drew him up into a loose embrace. Roger lifted his head, staring down at Vince's sleepy, relaxed face. Vince raised a hand and threaded it through Roger's curls, pulling him down for a long, drowsy kiss. Roger could taste himself on Vince; a complement to the taste of Vince himself. He trailed kisses from Vince's mouth along his jaw, down his throat to his chest, then laid his head against the steady heartbeat there and let it lull him to sleep.
Nightmares came, as he knew they would. Preet, blood welling from her mouth, horror in her eyes. Ketcher, howling at him of betrayal. The men he'd killed, the smell of burning and rotting flesh, the screams of dying men and women being driven slowly insane. He closed his eyes, even in his dreams, as he only did when it became too painful to watch, but this time there was a barrier between himself and the pain. Arms and legs wrapped around him, a heavy weight at his back, and he was safe. From the past. From the failures. From himself.
He woke up, but he didn't wake up screaming. Vince moved against him, and Roger reached back to run a hand along Vince's flank, calming him back into sleep. This wouldn't last. Roger knew that. Knew that soon he would have to disappear, permanently, become a ghost. It was the only way he would stay alive, and now, he wanted to stay alive. But he wouldn't lose this connection. Vince had watched his back. Saved his life. He would do the same, from a distance, where he couldn't endanger Vince, could only help. When the time came, he would return the favor, and pull Vince from the fire as Vince had pulled him out.
Roger had been alone a long time. He hadn't allowed himself to be touched, not in any way that mattered, for almost as long. Vince had blown into his life and blown it all to hell, but he'd also gotten Roger out of hell before it could consume him. Vince had touched him, and Roger couldn't cut him out. Isolation was only bearable as long as the alternative was unreachable.
When the time came to disappear, he'd leave a lifeline. For Vince.
Only for Vince.