It was six years later when Winston called.
Robert's relationship was done by then. It had been done for years because it just hadn't lasted with Electra the way he'd hoped it would, after they left San Juan. It turned out her real name wasn't Anna any more than it'd been Electra, but honestly that was fine because he'd lied, too, because he guesses old habits die hard. His name wasn't Joseph and it sure as hell wasn't Robert, either, though that was how the people who knew him knew him and it's how they still know him now. And when, fourteen months later, it all fell apart between them, he was glad he'd never told her anything he couldn't just dismiss or take back. It turned out life was just a whole hell of a lot simpler for the tomcat they'd bought to be Pearl's boyfriend than it was for Tom, Pearl's owner's boyfriend. His retirement plans were down the tubes.
He'd never told her that his name was Thomas and he'd been born and raised in Brooklyn, that his parents were Italians who'd come into the US when the war began in Europe, and honestly she never asked. He never told her how many marks he'd retired and not because he didn't know, but also not because she didn't ask. It was just simpler if all she knew about who he was was what she had to, what she learned in passing, like the fact he took cream and two sugars in his coffee back on US soil but drank it black in Europe, like the name on his really good fake passport was Joseph De Luca but he was happy to go by Joe. And when they started making plans, she found out he could teach her enough Italian to order a caffè at the café on the piazza out in the sun that he told her about now and then; but when it came to it, she didn't go with him. He went alone. He guesses it wasn't unexpected, all things considered, but that didn't mean he wasn't disappointed.
He didn't blame her that morning when she told him it was over, when took her stuff and moved away, not one little bit - hell, he helped her pack her boxes into the back of the U-Haul. She was who she was and he was who he was and he'd known going in that relationships borne out of intense situations, really intense situations, fail ten times to one, but he guesses he'd liked the idea of it. He'd liked the idea of her, of his hands in her hair, or her smart mouth, of getting out of the business for good, of settling down with two cats and the best damn security system a surveillance expert like she was could put together on a near-unlimited budget. In the end, his security system extended to a flimsy-ass old lock on the front door that stuck sometimes and a loaded gun he kept under his pillow. The last he heard, she and the cats had an apartment in Paris overlooking the Seine and he guessed she'd loaded the whole damn building up with cameras the way she'd done back in Seattle. He's never visited. He's never even tried to check if she's still there, or if she ever was. He guesses it's better that way. Their paths don't need to cross again.
And when she left, he let her take the money 'cause the $2 million wasn't the whole story of his finances. He'd had years in the business, after all, and hadn't sunk it all into apartments or guns or hand-stitched tailoring, just enough to lead the kind of life he'd wanted to. He bought a villa in Tuscany with what he had left in the Caymans and made pasta by hand in his kitchen every now and then, brushed up on his Italian with the locals in the town nearby, drank his coffee black, and he was only bored sometimes.
He adopted a dog, a lazy mutt he called Caesar that slept in the shade on his porch all day and barked half-heartedly at the mailman who just laughed and petted him till he calmed the rest of the way back down 'cause all he ever wanted was attention. He'd spent fourteen months chasing Pearl down off of the top of bookcases and out from under the bed so it made a pretty nice change, he thought, he told himself, tripping over the dog at the foot of the bed who didn't yowl and morph into a ball of claws, scraping dog food into a bowl and knowing at least Pearl wouldn't be turning her nose up at it till they brought out a can of tuna. He ran in the morning, cleaned his guns once a week in the afternoon right there on the worn old kitchen table, rode a motorcycle into town at the weekend and watched soccer on the TV in the bar just like the locals did. He was only bored sometimes. Really. Only sometimes.
And then, Winston called. He didn't ask where he'd gotten his number though he might've told him if he had. What he did was take his damned lazy dog to the nearest boarding kennels and hop on the next flight out of Pisa. He was in New York the next day, in a cab headed into Manhattan. He told himself he missed Tuscany, the hills and winding roads and all the places he might've grown up if his parents had never left. He told himself he wasn't glad to be back, in the New York traffic in a yellow cab, and maybe he even meant it, just a little.
He'd never meant to go back, but if Winston needed his help then retirement or no goddamn retirement, he was there. He owed him that. There was nothing else to it.
They met after dark that first night when he got back from Europe, in the bar downstairs in the Continental. He didn't need directing to the table. He knew where Winston would be because they'd been there before, before he'd owned the place. Years before, they'd practically lived there between jobs. There'd been times when one or both of them had moved out of their apartments and they had lived there.
"John," Robert said, as he took the last remaining empty seat at Winston's table. "Winston."
John Wick nodded his response, taciturn as ever, which was something Robert's always liked about him. "Robert," Winston said, as he pushed a glass of freshly-poured scotch to him across the tabletop. Robert took it and glanced at their fourth as he clenched his jaw.
"Bobby," said Miguel, his eyes on him, the rim of his glass up by his lips. He was smiling faintly, but his eyes were wary. His eyes were sharp.
"Miguel," he replied, and he turned to Winston, telling himself it wasn't only so he could ignore Miguel, as Miguel watched him, as he drank.
The meeting was brief and to the point, like everything was where Winston's business was concerned. He had a job for the three of them, working together, that he said he could only trust to them and no one else, and none of the three of them could really say no to that, not given what they all owed him. John agreed, finished off his drink in one last big mouthful, and then he left the table. Miguel agreed, finished Robert's drink, and then he left not long after. Winston shook his head after him and poured another drink, one for each of them. Robert didn't bother to have him switch out the glass for a fresh one, one Miguel hadn't just drunk from; considering their history, it seemed petty in the extreme.
"Don't tell me you thought you'd killed him," Winston said, when they were alone, or as alone as they could be in their current location.
"I never wanted him dead," Robert replied, not that that exactly answered the question, but Winston seemed to understand despite that. They'd known each other a long time by then: Robert guesses maybe thirty years. They go back because they started out together, once upon a time, they just wound up taking different paths; Robert had made himself into the best damn assassin he could ever hope to be, and at some point along the line Winston had taken a curious sidestep into management. He'd called shots. He'd been the voice on the phone sometimes, or the typist behind the computer screen. But he'd always had a dream, and Robert had always known it.
That dream was the Continental Hotel, or at least it was what the Continental represented. It was a safe haven, neutral ground, protected space for a price, and now, at least, he had the power and sway to make it work. He just needed one little favor from the three of them, and the pieces would all finally fall into place.
They had a drink together, for old times' sake, for fifty marks they'd retired together in twenty countries across ten years. Winston raised his glass and Robert raised his and they toasted the future instead of the past, but in the end they talked about it anyway, snippets, anecdotes, the time in Lima, the time in Madrid, the girl in Stockholm, the woman in Beirut. The next day, Robert Rath, John Wick and Miguel Bain would start to silence the last of the dissenters; they'd make the Continental's rules stick firm and fast; it might take some time, a few weeks, a few hard weeks, but they'd make Winston's dreams come true. Their debts would be paid, and Winston would have what he wanted most in the world.
Winston clapped Robert on the back and said, "I should thank you for coming."
Robert gave him a wry smile and replied, "Save the thanks for when we're done." They both knew it wouldn't be easy. Nothing good ever came easy. So they had one last drink there together in comfortable silence and then, at length, they went upstairs to their separate rooms. He had a feeling Winston's would be heavily fortified. They'd already made two attempts on his life.
When Robert got upstairs, put the key in the lock and went inside, Miguel was in his room.
"You took your sweet time, anticuado," he said, lounging on the bed with a smile on his face. He had his boots on and his knees were bent up so the dirty soles rested on the clean white bedspread, which was just like the son of a bitch. Robert sighed and shut the door. Were he honest, he wasn't even particularly surprised to find him there. He'd almost expected it.
"I'm not in the mood for games, Miguel," he said, shrugging off his jacket. He smoothed it over the back of a high-backed chair at the room's small dining table and then he glanced back at the bed. "It's late. I had a long flight. I'd like to sleep."
"And who says you can't?" Miguel turned onto his side, his head on one hand, and patted the bedspread beside him. Robert shook his head as he started to loosen the knot in his tie, and Miguel's eyes narrowed. His smile dimmed. "What, you're asking me to leave?"
"I'm asking you to leave."
So Miguel swung his feet off of the bed. He stood. He ran his fingers through his hair, pushed it back off his face, tugged at it, scowled. "Fuck you, Bobby," he said, and he stalked straight out of the room. He slammed the door. Robert guesses he had that coming, all things considered.
He turned on the lamp and he turned off the lights and he finished getting undressed, folding his pants, his tie, his shirt, balling up his socks like the ritual of it could take his mind off of the things he was there to do and who he was doing them with. When he turned back the sheets and climbed naked into bed, the fucking thing smelled like Miguel's cologne, like the shampoo he'd used, like gun oil underneath it all. And when he gave up on his book 'cause he just couldn't concentrate worth a damn, when he put it down on the nightstand and turned off the lamp, it all came back. He'd spent years trying to forget, for all the good it'd done. He still remembers.
He didn't sleep well. He thought maybe it would've been oddly poetic if he'd dreamed of the past, maybe the jobs he'd worked with Winston, maybe that goddamn mess with Miguel, maybe something else entirely, scenes from his early days. He's never been particularly sentimental about the job, even if he'd always been billed as the one with the big heart and the strict moral code - he didn't mourn the people he'd killed, didn't feel like he'd lost anything of himself in killing them. He thought sometimes that maybe made him a monster, because he's always been a hell of a lot closer to Miguel in terms of morals than he has the general population. His morals are how he chooses which jobs he takes, which marks deserve to die, like that's his right. He's killed people for a living for as long as he can remember. He's been good at it. He'd like to regret it, but he doesn't.
He didn't sleep well and in the morning he showered and he ordered breakfast up from room service so he wouldn't have to spend that time with John or Winston or, dare he even think it, Miguel. He liked John, sure, the guy was a pro, he did the job with a minimum of fuss - he was efficient, but he'd developed a name for himself. People knew John Wick and knew his face and while that was great for shock and awe, while that was great for baba yaga and all those scary Russian stories, it didn't make for a really great assassin.
John was more of an enforcer than a hitman, a strong one, a really skilled one, the guy you sent to fuck up the competition once and for all, the guy you sent to really hammer home a message, and he was only getting better at it. Robert did long-range rifle shots. He did poison, he did staged suicides and wrecks and carjackings gone wrong. He was always the guy you called to get the job done quietly, when the mark's retirement was what mattered and not the guy who did it or the message it sent. Miguel, well. Miguel was more like a cross between the two. People knew his name if not his face; you sent Miguel Bain to say you'd sent Miguel Bain.
He ate breakfast at the table by the window with the blinds closed, just in case, not that that would've stopped a really determined shot. As he was buttering a slice of toast, he heard the telltale click-click of a lockpick; by the time the door swung open, he had a gun in his hand aimed toward the incoming intruder's likely center mass just in case. But, of course, it was Miguel, who blithely ignored the gun in Robert's hand and sauntered in across the room, sat himself down at the little table's second chair and proceeded to steal Robert's newly buttered toast right off the plate. Rather than say a word about it, Robert just put down the gun and buttered a fresh piece while Miguel picked up his cup and took a sip of his coffee. Robert refrained from mentioning that, too. It wasn't like it would've stopped Miguel doing it anyway.
"John and I were expecting you at breakfast," Miguel said, between bites of toast. Robert stoically didn't say you've already had breakfast and now you're stealing mine?, and he didn't say he thought the idea of chatty Miguel Bain having breakfast with functionally near-mute John Wick was close to hilarious; he picked up his coffee instead and finished it off before Miguel had the chance to.
"I wasn't feeling real sociable," Robert replied, setting the cup back down on the tray. And then he stood up in his Continental Hotel monogrammed bathrobe and went over to the bed where he'd laid out his suit and as he shrugged off his robe and then dressed, he pretended he couldn't see in the mirror that Miguel was watching him do it. He took off his robe though he was naked underneath it and pretended Miguel's eyes weren't on him as he pulled on first his underwear, then his socks, then his neatly-pressed pants. It was nothing Miguel hadn't seen before but it maybe bothered Robert more than it should have. Even now, everything about Miguel bothers him more than it should. He's an antagonistic son of a bitch. He's provocative.
Robert turned as he pulled on his shirt and he buttoned it while Miguel poured himself the last cup of coffee from the cafetiere on the tray. He tied his tie while Miguel drank the lukewarm coffee in three mouthfuls, still watching him over the cup. He sat down on the corner of the bed to put on his shoes and when he stood again, Miguel stood too, stepped forward and adjusted Robert's tie with a smirk, hands up under his chin, hands right by his throat, studying him from far too close by. He could see the faint stubble at Miguel's jaw. He could see the flecks of color in his eyes, the folds in his lips. With the curtains still closed, under the hotel lights, he looked almost exactly the same as he had that night in San Juan.
"Let's go to work," Miguel said, after a long, near-uncomfortable moment, then turned to head for the door. Robert couldn't have agreed more.
As he followed Miguel out of the room, he just hoped that was the end of it; he suspected it wouldn't be. Nothing had ever been simple where Miguel Bain was concerned.
When they went down to the meeting room Winston had set aside for their little project, when they spoke with John, there were clear differences of opinion right from the outset.
It was nothing unexpected, Robert had to admit; they all had different styles, after all. John had always met the mark head-on, explosive, and Robert favored the detached approach, but however disparate their actual methods were, their approaches were strikingly similar: they made plans first, and then they executed them. Miguel, for all his combination style, was further from them both in strategy than they were from each other. He wanted to take his rifle, go out into the street, find a perch and shoot on sight. Robert and John both wanted to know the game plan first. They wanted exit plans. They weren't so seat-of-the-pants in terms of operations, at least not unless they got pushed to it.
They went over two weeks of surveillance tapes at the table that first day, Robert and John passing the remote between the two of them while Miguel paced like he'd been caged. They ate lunch in there, closeted together, Miguel going marginally stir-crazy while Robert and John worked, twirling a pencil with one hand, leaning so far back in his chair it wouldn't've taken more than a stiff breath to knock him over, drumming his nails on the table until Robert reached over and slapped his hand down on top of his. Miguel just flashed him a sharp, toothy grin and carried on until John turned, too, then he held up his hands and laughed and sat back quietly, at least for a start. It turned out Miguel didn't want to find out what John might've done to stop him that Robert wouldn't, and Robert couldn't say he blamed him. Chances were they'd both seen some of the things that John had done first hand.
Sitting there, Robert was under no illusions that he was the intimidating one of the two - it's not like he's ever believed it, knowing John's methods like he does. He liked John then and he still likes him now, he'd worked with him a couple of times when he was still new in the business, he'd run into him a few times over the years and they'd sat down to amicable dinners in restaurants or drinks in bars or coffees in cafés, but he also knew that if the order came down, John Wick would put a bullet in his head without a second thought about it. That was the difference between them: Robert would've missed John if he'd died, but John... Robert wasn't sure he'd miss anyone in the world, except maybe Winston. He was a hard man to read, so it was hard to say.
They worked through till after dark, though it was winter and dark set in early so that wasn't exactly late. Then they went out, separately, earpieces in place and all three of them tunes to the same channel. They did their due diligence there at Winston's competitor's semi-upmarket strip club with its mediocre foot traffic, Robert at the scope of his rifle in a window across the street, high up, watching over Miguel while he poked around the exterior and John went inside to have a drink and tuck worn bills into women's underwear to cover his recon. And then they left again, much to Miguel's frustration; he swore in Spanish over the radio when Robert said that was it for the night, they were heading back to the Continental. That was why he'd been the eye in the sky in the first place; Miguel would've shot first and asked questions later.
He ordered dinner from room service over the phone and was halfway through his soup when he heard the telltale click of lockpicks at the door. Miguel stepped inside. Robert put down his gun.
"John and I were expecting you for dinner," he said, and sat himself down across the table. He picked up a bread roll and tore it in half, snagged a knife and started to butter it. Robert didn't protest, not even when he leaned across the table, picked up his wine glass and took a long drink from it.
"You didn't see enough of me today already?" Robert asked.
Miguel snorted in amusement and made what might've been a pretty rude gesture had there not been a wine glass present in his hand. "We thought we might continue working over dinner," he said. "You don't agree?"
Robert shrugged, then leaned across the table and took back the glass, his fingers brushing Miguel's. "We have time," he said. "Are you in a rush to get this done or do you want to do it right?"
Miguel put down the bread and ran his hands through his hair, leaned back in his seat there with his fingers tangled up tight in his long curls, and he eyed him like he knew he was right but didn't particularly want to admit it. He sighed instead, dramatically, and shook out his hair with his head tilted back about as far as it would go. Robert knew the limits of Miguel's movement well, not that that was something he wanted to admit, either. What he didn't know quite so well was the new length of his hair; he'd grown it out and started looking like some kind of 70s rock guitarist.
They sat there at the table or another fifteen minutes while Robert ate his dinner, Miguel stealing a bite of broccoli, the other bread roll, a piece of steak from Robert's fork while he was pouring a fresh glass of wine from the bottle. It wasn't silent - far from it, because Miguel talked. Miguel talked with his mouth full and talked without, talked when he drank Robert's wine, talked when Robert left the table to take off his jacket and tie and shoes when he was done with the food. He talked about jobs he'd had and places he'd been, the first time he'd left Spain, the first time he'd gone to New York, one winter just like that one, in the snow. He lounged on the bed and he talked while Robert undressed and when Robert went through naked into the bathroom to take a quick shower, he just increased in volume so Robert could hear him over the running water. Miguel watched him as he came back out of the bathroom in his Continental bathrobe, still talking, except he'd spread all of Robert's guns out over the bedspread and was sitting there crosslegged in the middle of them with his boots still on. Robert didn't ask what he was doing with them, just started clearing them away.
"Time for me to go?" Miguel asked. "And I thought we were getting along so well."
Robert removed his bathrobe and tossed it over the back of a chair, naked underneath, and threw back the bedspread, settled down with his back to the headboard. "Yeah, time for you to go," he said. "Unless you're gonna tell me a bedtime story."
Miguel snickered as he picked himself up off of the bed. "I suppose I should let you get your beauty sleep, anticuado," he said, over his shoulder, as he headed for the door. "You look like you need it. Perhaps several days."
The door closed behind him; Robert reached for his book, but somehow the silence made it harder to concentrate. He gave up and he went to sleep.
In the morning, Miguel turned up with breakfast and sat there eating Robert's toast while he talked. They went downstairs to the meeting room together after, drank more coffee while going over building plans, while Miguel disassembled, cleaned and reassembled a rifle and three separate handguns and whistled under his breath. They ate lunch and Miguel sat with his feet up on the table, juggling apples like he'd lost the will to live; Robert caught one mid-air and bit into it while Miguel lost concentration and dropped the other two on himself, then on the floor. Miguel scowled. Robert shrugged. John sighed.
They spent the evening on further recon, observing guard patterns, then headed back to the Continental. When Robert's room service arrived, Miguel wandered in alongside it, confusing the hell out of the trolley-pushing hotel employee until Robert tipped him and sent him on his way. And then, Miguel talked. He stole Robert's food and drank his wine and he talked through it all, wandering around the room as he did so. He unboxed Robert's rifle and sat there at the table, toying with it, testing the pressure of the trigger, peeking through the blinds with the scope, and he was talking all the while, chattering incessantly, telling him a story about his first hit, the gun he'd used, the distance he'd shot from, the angle, how he'd been gone before anyone even noticed the guy was down.
"Is there a reason you're telling me this?" Robert asked, as he started to pull off his jacket, more or less the first thing he'd said all evening.
Miguel raised his brows. "You want me to stop?" he asked, like that answered the question and didn't avoid it completely.
Robert didn't reply. He just took off his clothes and headed into the bathroom to shower and for better or worse, Miguel took that as a sign to continue. Robert wasn't sure if he'd meant it that way or not.
He was there again in the morning, drinking Robert's coffee. He was there all day, crumpling up sheets of newspaper and tossing them in the general direction of the waste paper basket, missing as often as he hit the target but at least he shut the fuck up. And then they went out and they did the first of their five jobs; they set up, they waited, and when the time came John and Miguel walked into the club and the Russian came out in a body bag. Miguel cursed under his breath the whole way back to the hotel, a cloth wrapped around his hand, that one of the Russian's guys had slashed straight open with a knife as long as his forearm before Robert shot him in the neck and put him down.
"Call the doctor," Winston said when they got back in.
"I don't need the doctor," Miguel replied, tersely. "I'll take care of it." Of course, he was dripping blood on the parquet floor at the time. John shared a look with Winston, who shared a look with Robert.
"I'll take care of it," Robert said. "I'll make sure he doesn't die on the premises."
"Don't do me any favors, anticuado."
Robert raised his brows. "I'm doing him a favor," he said, with a nod in Winston's direction. And Miguel eyed him, but he didn't object till they were upstairs sitting at Robert's little dining table, Miguel's hand cleaned up, Robert stitching it with his fingers around Miguel's bloody wrist caught on Miguel's bloodied silver bracelet, and even then it was just a string of Spanish curses. Winston's hotel rooms came with medical kits stashed in the closet as standard, even back then. When he was done, Robert's shirt was covered in smudges of Miguel's blood, so he stripped it off and dropped it into the designated red waste bag for secure disposal and Miguel did the same with his own. Robert thinks it's always been the thoughtful little touches that make the Continental what it is.
When Miguel turned back to him, shirtless, Robert could see the scars he knew he'd put there on him. He knew them well, knew their shapes, knew the line that led down from Miguel's shoulder where the surgeon had cut him open to get at the bullet that'd gotten lodged inside, knew the through-and-through to his side, twin scars front and back, relatively neat. Miguel had to know that was what he was looking at, but he just stole a t-shirt from Robert's suitcase and tugged it on with a wince but without a word. He looked at Robert, whose skin was still bloody even without his shirt, smudges over his forearms and his fingers and his chest, and for a moment, just a moment, as Miguel held his gaze, he was sure Miguel was going to quit playing this dumb fucking game with him and do what he was there to do. But the moment passed.
"It looks good on you," Robert said, gesturing at the shirt. It did, but that wasn't exactly his point and they both knew it.
Miguel chuckled wryly. "I'll bring it back," he replied, and the whole exchange was familiar to them both. But there was no more to it. Miguel turned and he headed for the door without another word. It clicked shut behind him. Robert watched him go.
They were one down and four to go and so far so good, but somehow in that moment it didn't feel a whole lot like success.
That night, he couldn't sleep.
He tried. He really did. But in the end he was just lying there restless in the dark, listening to the traffic on the streets outside, listening to the faint ringing in his ears from a thousand old gunshots at too-close range, trying to deny that he still got keyed up after a kill. He's never liked killing - not like some of the guys he'd worked with over the years did - but there's a certain satisfaction to getting the job done, a thrill to a well-executed plan. Death has never weighed too heavy on him, even if they've always known him as the moral one, the one who needed to know the guy deserved it, no bumping off rich men's wives to save them the divorce or the other way around, minimum collateral damage. People think that makes him moral. He's pretty sure it just makes him pragmatic.
He turned the lamp on by the bed and for a while he tried to read but in the end he couldn't concentrate. He got up and he turned on the television, tried to get into some old spy movie but he'd seen it more than once before in hotels around the world, dubbed in ten different languages he did or didn't understand. He cleaned his rifle, though he knew it didn't need cleaning. Then he gave up, dressed, and he went downstairs to the bar.
He was on his second drink when he noticed he was being watched, which should've told him he wasn't in the right frame of mind to be out of his room in the first damn place; he should've known the situation straight off the bat or he had no business being out in public, not at a time like that, not engaged in doing what he and John and Miguel were doing. But as he finished off his second scotch he realized, sighed and sat back there alone at Winston's reserved table. He could've tried to blame it on the low light or the too-loud music or the people in the room, but he knew what the issue was and didn't try to fool himself about it. He poured himself another drink from the bottle on the tabletop. And then, Miguel walked over.
"Is this seat taken?" Miguel asked when he got there, his tone polite, which was a left turn and a block away from typical. Robert shook his head and so Miguel sat down opposite, set down his glass and held out his hand to him across the table. "Miguel Bain," he said. "Pleased to meet you."
Robert forced himself to smile. The game was still on, after all, the ridiculous game they'd started six years before back in San Juan. He took Miguel's hand, his stitched and bandaged hand, and shook as Miguel winced.
"Robert Rath," he said. "What happened to your hand?"
"I had an accident at work," Miguel said, looking briefly at the blood seeping through the bandage, then he shook his head. And it was nothing like San Juan there in the bar, not at all, there was music and dancing, practically a club and not just a place to drink attached to the hotel like the first place had been. It was winter outside, the snow melted and frozen and melted and frozen five times over, not so damn hot all they did was sweat till it got hard to piece a thought together. But somehow it was just the same, even with Miguel sitting there in jeans and Cuban-heeled boots with a sports coat over his stolen t-shirt, his hair tied back instead of slicked back, and there was no gun in Robert's inside jacket pocket, not this time. But it was the same. He knew what was going to happen.
He should've gotten out of there right then, headed out, gone for a walk around the block, gotten himself a drink in another bar, found a different hotel where he could've stayed the night and Miguel couldn't've found him. He even considered it, just standing up and heading for the door, and maybe Miguel would've even taken the hint and stayed where he was, not followed him out, and that could've been the end of it. But goddamnit, he wasn't going to flinch first, not after all that time.
"So what do you do, Mr. Rath?" Miguel asked, like they didn't both know already what he'd say.
"I'm in investment banking," Robert replied, because he'd said it before, because it'd seemed like as good an idea as any back then and now it was just how the game was played.
And, right on cue, Miguel said, "My previous lover was a banker." He smiled as he sipped his drink, the over-expensive whisky Winston had always liked. "He made it sound like an interesting profession. Do you enjoy your work?"
"It pays the bills," Robert replied, toying with his glass, rocking the base against the tabletop. "So, does your ex work in the city?"
Miguel smiled. "From time to time," he said. "Perhaps you know him."
"Yeah, maybe I do."
Miguel swirled the scotch in his glass. There was still blood on the bracelet round his wrist that he hadn't gotten all the way off. "Perhaps you and he have other things in common."
"Yeah, maybe we do," Robert replied, levelly.
"I have a room upstairs, as it happens," Miguel said. "Would you like to find out, Mr. Rath?"
Robert couldn't possibly say it didn't occur to him to say no. It occurred to him to say no, he just ignored that occurrence and drained what was left of his scotch in one mouthful as he watched Miguel and his amused expression there across the table. There were a hundred reasons to say no, to say we're not doing this again, Miguel, to tell him to drop the act because it wasn't going to wash again, but he just stood up instead. He wasn't going to be outplayed.
"If you're gonna take me upstairs, I think you better call me Robert," he said. Miguel smiled.
Miguel led the way, though Robert knew it. He led him out of the bar and into the hotel lobby instead of out through the main doors and he called the elevator, lingering close - far too close - by Robert's shoulder, his arm brushing his. They went up to Miguel's floor and there was nothing like the excuse they'd had for it the first time, the air cool, Robert's judgement still clear, unimpaired. He should've stayed in the elevator and ridden it up an extra floor, walked down the hall to his own room, but he didn't. He should've turned back when they got to the door, but he didn't do that either. He went inside and he closed the door behind him as Miguel turned on the lights, all of them, the two lamps that sat one either side of the king-size bed, the row of spots over the mirror, the overhead lights that weren't even slightly subtle. Some places he'd stayed had tried for subtle lights. Considering some of the stuff that went on inside the Continental, they needed the light, or at least the option for it.
Still, he couldn't help but think maybe it would've been easier if the lights had been low. Maybe then, when Miguel came closer, it would've been easier to pretend what he was doing wasn't so fucking stupid, that maybe the guy he was with wasn't the same guy he'd shot in San Juan, the same one who'd meant to kill him just to take his place. Maybe when Miguel looked at him it would've been easier ignore the angles of his face all exposed by how his hair was tied back at the nape of his neck, easier to ignore his mouth when he pressed it hotly to his neck just underneath his jaw, right over his pulse. When Miguel's hands found the buckle of his belt, when he tugged his pants down over his hips and palmed his cock over his underwear, maybe he could've pretended it was some other guy, some other Miguel, someone he'd met in the bar and not this stupid, stubborn game they played. When Miguel went down on his knees and tugged down Robert's boxers, when he teased the tip of his cock with the tip of his tongue, he wouldn't've been thinking about another night in another place before he'd shot but for once not killed.
Miguel brought him off with his mouth in minutes, his uninjured hand at Robert's hip, Robert's hands in Miguel's hair. And then Miguel swallowed hard and laughed and rocked back on his heels to look up at him in that stark, bright light. Robert knew if Miguel took off his shirt, he'd see the scars he'd given him. He knew he was flushed and breathless and he was just as much to blame for this dumb move as Miguel was. He should never have gone there in the first place. He shouldn't even have left Italy.
"Look, I've got an early start in the morning," Robert said, tucking himself back in quickly. "You mind if I let myself out?"
Miguel smiled up at him wryly, from his knees on the floor, and Robert could tell he was hard inside his jeans. Maybe he should've stayed and done something about that, should've gotten him off with his hand or maybe his mouth though fuck, the idea of going down on Miguel just seemed ten times more obscene than anything they'd done, made his softening cock given a twitch of renewed interest. But he didn't stay.
"Sure, I can take care of this myself," Miguel said, amused, rubbing the heel of his uninjured hand over the front of his jeans.
He was unzipping them as Robert left. He couldn't make himself look back. It was all he could do to keep himself from running.
In the morning, Robert woke to the sound of his door swinging open. Miguel had the room service trolley, if not the outfit to match, and within five seconds of Robert opening his eyes it was clear things were back to normal, exactly as they'd been before. There'd be no mention of the night before or that night in San Juan or anything they'd done at all. Robert couldn't say he was surprised, and he couldn't say he was disappointed. He had no earthly idea what he would've said. There maybe wasn't anything to say at all.
Miguel talked while Robert showered, while Robert rested his forehead down against the tiles and sighed. Miguel talked while Robert clamped one hand down over his own mouth and while the other went down to wrap around his cock; Miguel talked while he brought himself off right there, his eyes squeezed shut, the bathroom door wide open. The son of a bitch didn't stop for a second. Robert wasn't sure when it'd gotten so the sound of his voice turned him on, but it turned out that was just a fact.
They worked all day, made loose plans for marks four and five since they'd be relatively easy, relatively simple, but focused on their second and third marks, business partners they were pretty sure they could take out in one action. They made plans. They checked details. They spent the early evening scouting locations, checking intelligence, calling in favors from some of John's new contacts and some old ones of Robert's. Then they went back to the Continental and Winston met them at the door; while John went to dinner with Winston, Miguel trailed upstairs with Robert like he'd been invited along and not like some food-robbing interloper. They went to Robert's room. They ordered room service, finally enough for two. Miguel didn't shut up. Robert hadn't expected him to.
And then, Miguel left. And then, Robert attempted sleep. And then, stewing in his own fucking juices, he gave up and he dressed and he went down to the bar. Miguel was there. Of course Miguel was there. He hadn't really expected any different.
They went up to Miguel's room again that night and Miguel shoved him up against the wall, got his hand between the two of them and they rubbed against each other like there was any sense to it at all, did it till they came, just like that, breathless and unsteady, leaning one against the other still in their clothes. Miguel pressed his injured hand to the wall and hissed with it and in the morning, like nothing had happened, Robert changed the dressing on the cut. Miguel let him. Miguel talked right through it, interspersed with his usual cursing.
They were there again the night after. They knelt together on Miguel's neatly made bed and they shoved at each other's pants, got them down around their hips and then Miguel's hand caught both their erections there together. Robert's hand closed over his, squeezed tighter, made them both take a sharp, unsteady breath, and when they came, when he could pull himself together enough to stand, Robert left. In the morning, Miguel had ordered a second cup to share the coffee and extra toast to go along with it. They were probably on Robert's bill.
They were there again the night after that. Miguel stripped naked and knelt there on the bed, smirked as he touched himself and Robert watched him do it from across the room. Miguel brought himself off just like that, slowly, teeth bared, muscles straining right through his neck and chest and thighs and abdomen, and all Robert could do was lean back against the wall and rub the heel of his hand against the front of his well-tailored pants. Miguel came with something like a growl, with an arch of his back and a clench of his stitched hand at his thigh. Robert came after, still fully clothed, feeling like a perennial idiot standing there with a spreading wet patch in his expensive suit pants. Miguel did things to him, and he didn't even have to touch him to do them.
It was the same the night after that, too, after they'd taken out mark four. John had to think fast and got his shoulder wrenched out by the kick of his shotgun but Winston said he'd take care of that and shuffled him away and later, after the same goddamned convivial dinner as usual, they met in the bar and they went to Miguel's room and Miguel stripped Robert down to his skin, bit by bit, item by item, pushed him down on his back on the bed and straddled his thighs. While Miguel stroked them both together, Robert twisted his fingers into the sheets so he wouldn't wind up pushing him down face-first against the mattress. Robert kept himself stock still so he wouldn't shove him down on his knees and have him right then and there the way he wanted to. He'd shot three men dead in the process of getting John out of there alive and what he wanted to do was fuck Miguel till neither of them could move a damn muscle. He wanted to fuck Miguel till he came in him and then maybe he'd drink himself to sleep. Maybe he wouldn't even leave the room after he was done. Maybe he'd stay right there with him, force Miguel's hand and end the game for good, once and for all. It was difficult to say if he wanted that or not. It was difficult to say what would've happened if he'd done it.
But every morning, Miguel let himself in with breakfast and it was just like nothing had happened at all. They acted like the bruises at Miguel's wrists and hips weren't in the shape of Robert's hands. They acted like the bar downstairs didn't even exist and they went back to work with John in the meeting room, laying out their plans day by day. Miguel's concentration improved inside the room once he realized the next kill was scheduled as his and two weeks after they'd arrived, two weeks of photographs pinned up on walls, tapes played on the TV, guns and ammunition and timelines and surveillance, two weeks of jerking each other off in the evening after glasses of Winston's good scotch in the hotel bar, they hit mark five. Miguel did it. Just two and three left.
The night they retired mark five, Winston invited Robert to dinner and so he went. They talked about old times, not about the job at hand, not about the way Robert had orchestrated Miguel's exit when Miguel's plan had been to shoot his way out. It might have worked the way Miguel had wanted it but Robert had seen a more elegant way and then there Miguel had been, hopping the roof to the next building and then the one after that, letting himself down the fire escape into the alley behind a Chinese restaurant instead of running out guns blazing. Robert almost wished he'd let him do it his way. Sometimes he put on a hell of a show.
When he got back to his room afterwards, Miguel was there. He'd ordered a $500 bottle of wine on Robert's room service tab to go with his plate of mac and cheese and greeted him with a raise of his glass. He was already half-drunk before they even got any further and later, when they made it back to Miguel's room from the bar, his face was flushed from the alcohol. When Miguel kissed him, for the first time in years, for the first time since the first time, hard and fast and close to desperate, he tasted like scotch over wine and when Robert pushed him back, Miguel scowled.
"I'm not gonna do this while you're drunk," Robert said.
"I wouldn't be drunk if you hadn't stood me up for dinner," Miguel replied, flippant. But then he realized what he'd said, how he'd slipped, how the two halves of the game had just collided, and then the expression on his face flashed half-panicked before it flashed angry and he turned and punched his injured hand into the nearest glass-fronted painting on the nearest wall. It shattered and the glass rained down all over the carpet while Miguel's knuckles bled and all Robert did was turn and walk back out the way he'd come. He left him there. When he got back to his room he locked the door, shoved a dining chair up underneath the handle and rested his damn fool forehead down against the wall over by the lightswitch. He didn't turn it on.
It would've been so easy to do it, he thought as he stood there. It would've been so easy to do just what he'd done that night years ago, in the heat and the sweat and the fucking all-pervading lunacy out there in San Juan. He remembered all of it from start to end, still does, from his hand on the door stepping into the bar to the cemetery after it was over, the prickle of sweat on his skin under his clothes, Miguel's teasing, taunting smile and the pseudo-polite tone he spoke with. It was a game they'd started that night and maybe he wasn't sure either one of them had lost, but they damn sure hadn't won it, either.
He jerked himself off there, up against the wall, too fast, his pants pushed down around his thighs, his shirt hanging down and getting in the way but that wasn't enough to make him stop. Everything had been so much simpler with Electra; she'd had predictable behaviors and he'd liked that, he'd liked her. He'd liked her cat obsession and her dependence on her morning coffee. He'd liked her skill with a computer, though he knew she knew he'd abused that on occasion. He'd liked the straightforward way she'd always told him what she wanted and when she said what she wanted, she'd always meant what she said. Miguel lied. Miguel played games. He liked soccer and sometimes he liked movies and he liked to do all the touristy shit in every new place he went to but mostly Miguel liked to fuck with people. Miguel wanted to drive him crazy or maybe he just wanted a friend or maybe, who knew, maybe he still wanted him dead and he was just biding his time till payday, till checkout, till they were off of Continental grounds and he was fair game again.
Robert came with a shout he muffled with his jacket sleeve and he had Miguel in his head when he did it. He didn't need this. He should've told Winston sorry, he was out of the business for good, and stayed out there in Italy. He should never have gone back to New York at all.
He went to sleep wondering what the hell he was going to do next. It wasn't exactly a restful night.
In the morning, the chair shoved up against the door meant Miguel couldn't just let himself in; he had to knock. He knocked hard.
Robert answered the door stark naked, fresh from bed, woken up by the knocking. While he pulled on his bathrobe, Miguel poured coffee into cups at the table, so when he got over there Robert picked it up, took a sip and found cream and two sugars, just the way he liked it. He put it down again, rubbed his face and took a seat.
"What was your first job?" Miguel asked, his tone conversational, as he picked up his own coffee.
"I'm guessing you don't mean waiting tables in my uncle's restaurant," Robert replied.
Miguel's mouth twitched into something that wasn't quite a smile. "No," he said. "And the restaurant was your grandfather's. You don't have an uncle."
Robert sat back in his seat and eyed Miguel across the table. "Mob lieutenant in Jersey," he said.
Miguel tutted and wagged one finger up in the air, shook his head. "Mob enforcer in Brooklyn," he corrected.
"So you already know what my first job was," he said. "Why ask?"
"I want to hear you say it. From the horse's mouth."
So he told him the story. He had no real idea why he did except then again, why not? It wasn't exactly anything the son of a bitch didn't already know. Miguel was a Robert Rath aficionado, knew his back catalog inside out and Robert already knew that, so he told the story of his first job, how he worked himself up to it, how he spent three days figuring out how to do it, how to get away, what he'd have to do. And then he'd arrived there that night at the club where the guy spent his nights and he'd waited in the alley and when he came out for a smoke, when he lit up a cigarette, Robert put two bullets in his head and one through his heart just to make sure. Then he went back to his grandpa's place and ate leftover pasta in the kitchens after closing just to heave it all up again outside twenty minutes later, but it wasn't from some sense of moral outrage or horror at this thing he'd done. He's never felt horror, not once in all these years. There'd just been too much nervous energy in him after it was finished, like there always is. He'd just been too damn keyed up. He remembers the feeling, even now.
They went to work after that, back to the plan for two and three. One of Miguel's contacts had information they could use and if it turned out to be good, Robert knew it'd be the break they needed because damn, those guys had tight security. They were old school Russian mafia with a new school approach to personal protection and short of storming into their restaurant to go down in a blaze of bloody glory, the intel about their next meet was the best opportunity they were going to get.
That night, after dinner, he didn't go down to the bar. The next night, he stayed right there in his room again. The third night and the fourth night he read his damned book and had a drink and he went to sleep before it even got up to 11pm. The fifth morning, Miguel picked up his book while he was dressing after breakfast and lost his page; Robert spent the fifth night trying to find it again, no fucking idea where he'd left off because he hadn't been paying too much attention to it. He knew he'd been having trouble concentrating. He'd been spending his breakfasts and his dinners telling stories about his past just because Miguel asked him to and trying not to question why he did it. He'd been thinking about Miguel sitting down there in the bar after, waiting to see if he'd turn up. He'd been thinking about whether Miguel had been in the bar at all after that slip he'd made. He'd been asking himself why the hell it mattered either way. He'd been trying to pretend he wasn't getting himself off to the thought of all the things they'd done, and a dozen things they hadn't but he wanted to.
During the day, they planned. Miguel hated it but when he actually joined in he was creative, innovative, brought something to the table that John and Robert didn't. They had their plan in four more days, four more nights steering clear of the Continental's bar. Three more days and the pieces were in place. Two more after that and it was time to end it, go for broke, get it done and get paid.
They took them at the meet, at the restaurant, surrounded by security. They blew the door to the secure back room right off of its hinges with carefully placed devices and the three of them went in, a gun in each hand, and they shot every last person in the building who got in their way. It wasn't elegant in the slightest but it was a statement, the kind John liked to make, the kind Miguel did. It was a statement, the three of them there side by side, John Wick, Miguel Bain and Robert Rath, the best in the business, working together, working for Winston and the Continental. It was a statement and it was sure as hell planned down to the second, just the way Robert liked. And when they walked out, bloody, the smell of cordite clinging tight to their clothes, it was done. The dissenters had been silenced. The Continental's rules would stick and Winston would finally have his dream. They did their job in a hail of bullets and smoke, fought back to back, and then they left. Robert doubted it'd be forgotten.
It was after, later, round about midnight, once Robert had gotten the blood out from under his nails, when he finally had the chance to think about it. Miguel had had his back in there, just like John had, but with Miguel it had been unexpected. Miguel had stood between him and the barrel of a gun and he hadn't flinched. All he'd done was laugh and turn his gun on the next guy, then the next, and so Robert had done the same. They'd met in the middle of it all, just a second between gunshots, ears ringing, and Miguel flashed him a smile he couldn't help but return. Miguel understood: Robert had never been moral in his life. Morality was a story he told himself to make believe he wasn't everything everyone told him he shouldn't be. It was a story he so he could tell himself he wasn't a bad guy, deep down.
Electra had believed that, that he wasn't a bad guy, not really. But Miguel didn't give a damn if he was.
So, he went down to the bar.
He remembers how easy it was to blame it on the heat.
There in San Juan it was too hot, it was fucking oppressive, it was sweat tricking down his spine and soaking through the back of his shirt. It was that way even at night, past dark, and when Electra left without a word to see the festival, it was still hot. When she left to see the festival, the festival wasn't the first place he went. He went to the bar of the high-class hotel down the street where he'd drunk one last drink with Nicolai the night before he'd killed him but hadn't. He knew he didn't need to worry about Electra. Not right then, at least. Miguel wouldn't be looking for her, not yet.
He told himself he went because of history, because the only thing he could think about was how he'd put a bullet in Nicolai's chest and seen him fall right after. The truth was he thought he should be thinking of Nicolai, that it was fitting somehow. The truth was, as he walked down the street, as he opened the door, as the sweat trickled right down the length of his spine, that he wanted to think of Nicolai, the way he wanted to be good and right and moral. But there was something else in his head instead, someone else, and he shouldn't've let the son of a bitch get in there in the first place. He'd already fucked up before it even began.
Miguel was already there when he arrived, drinking almost too quietly at the far end of the long bar, alone. That was fine, though, he'd pretty much expected it because, after all, Miguel was a fan of history. Robert was sure enough that he didn't reach for the gun tucked into the inside pocket of the jacket he was carrying over his arm, like he needed a jacket at all in that heat and it wasn't just cover for a firearm. He ignored Miguel eyeing him across the room and he ordered a drink in shitty-accented Spanish, then he went to a table and he sat himself down. He took out a book. He only half read it. He was waiting.
His second glass of scotch was almost gone when Miguel finally made a move. He made his way across the room with his glass in one hand and Robert didn't watch except peripherally, from the corner of his eye the way he'd been taught back in the day, when he'd first started in the business. Miguel danced around chairs and waitresses, drawing attention the way men like they are are all taught not to, his drink in the air and a smile on his face till there he was, at Robert's table, the table, not the same one but in the same spot, as close as he could get to where he'd sat that night with Nicolai. The place had changed, all low, upholstered seats in the crisp air of the AC with low, glass tables there between them, 90s chic. The place had changed but that didn't change matters at hand.
"Is this seat taken?" Miguel asked, his tone polite, almost pleasant. Robert looked up and shook his head; Miguel sat, switched his glass into his left hand and held out his right to him across the table. "Miguel Bain," he said. "Pleased to meet you."
For a moment, Robert just looked at him sitting there in his tailored slacks and his oversized shirt with its sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his hand outstretched. It was a game, of course, a deviation from history but not that far away, not yet. He'd pretended with Nicolai, after all, to an extent. He'd lied to him. It seemed like Miguel was all about games, win or lose, live or die. It was likely the reason he did what he did, and Robert had seen it all before, the gamblers, the thrillseekers who always got themselves killed or caught in the end, and it never even took long. Robert was careful. Part of being the best was just staying in the game. So he played along.
"Robert Rath," he said, and leaned forward to shake Miguel's hand with the one in which he wasn't holding his book. It was a solid handshake, businesslike, despite Miguel's almost teasing smile. "So, what brings you to San Juan, Miguel?"
"I'm on vacation," Miguel replied, as he sat back in his seat. "In my country, I'm a torero. You know this word?" He balanced his glass precariously on one knee and made bull horns by his forehead with his index fingers. "Torero?"
"Sure, torero," Robert replied, watching Miguel sweep up his glass before it could fall. "You're a bull fighter."
Miguel snapped his fingers. "Yes, a bull fighter. A matador de toros." He finished off his drink and set his glass down on the table with a flourish. "And what's your profession, Mr. Rath?"
Robert finally closed his book and set it down on top of his jacket in the next chair. "I'm in investment banking," he said. "I'm pretty sure it's not as much fun to talk about as being a matador. I bet you get some pretty big crowds."
Miguel shrugged and signalled a passing waitress for two more drinks, then turned his attention back to Robert. "My previous lover was a banker," he said, nonchalant, one arm thrown casually over the back of the chair. "He told me this was a cutthroat business, quite like the corrida." Robert raised his brows. Miguel smiled placidly, but the look in his eyes was pure amusement. "I'm sorry, Mr. Rath. Does my sexuality offend you? That's not my intent."
"Not at all." It wasn't a provocation Robert had any intention of rising to. And it was intended as provocation.
Miguel's smile warmed. "Good," he said. "He was American, just as you are. He was very good at his job, he said. He said he liked the cut and thrust of his profession. Of course, he also liked to put his cock in me, and then call me filthy names because I enjoyed it very much. I learned a lot of new words from him. He expanded my vocabulary greatly." He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, suddenly conspiratorial. "Would you like to do this, Mr. Rath?"
Robert's stomach tightened. It was all part of the game, of course, Miguel trying to shock him, trying to unsettle him, trying to make him ultimately concede defeat, but he wouldn't. He couldn't. There was too much at stake, not just pride, though pride might have entered into it.
"Would I like to expand your vocabulary?" Robert asked.
"If that's what you want to call it, Mr. Rath." Miguel's smile widened. "I have a room upstairs."
So Robert shifted, leaned forward on his knees just like Miguel had. "Pay the waitress," he said. "Then take me to your room. And I think you'd better call me Robert, Miguel. I don't sleep with men who don't call me by my first name."
It was easy to blame it on the heat because in the rooms upstairs, outside the bar, there was no air conditioning. The faint chill in the air gave way in a wall of heat as Miguel pushed open the door that led through into the hotel and it was almost instantaneous, the prickle of sweat at his brow, the thickness of the humid air, how it made his pulse pick up a couple of extra beats per minute or maybe that was something else instead.
They went across the foyer to the elevators and found all three were out of order, maintenance, electrical works, some fucking thing that meant they pushed open the door into the stairwell and climbed five floors in heat just like it was a staircase into an active volcano. Miguel's hair was slicked back with sweat by the time they got there, three doors down the sixth floor corridor from the stairs, and Robert's shirt was soaked. Miguel unlocked the door. They went inside. And because neither one flinched first, because it turned out they were playing a game of chicken in a fucking oven and it was too hot in there to even think straight, it was easy to blame it on the heat.
He doesn't know who kissed who first. Maybe it was Miguel that started it and that seems to make sense, even now, but then again maybe it was him, maybe he was two steps past delirious with his cerebellum slowly liquefying, or maybe they got there together at the exact same moment. He guesses it doesn't really matter because either way it happened, his fingers in Miguel's damp hair and Miguel's hands tugging at his belt and it was rough, because it couldn't've been anything else, not given who they were, not given who they were to each other.
He remembers pushing Miguel up against the nearest wall, hearing the back of his head hit it, feeling Miguel bite down at his lip in retaliation. He remembers Miguel shoving him back and shoving him again, his hands right in the center of his chest, remembers his calves hitting the end of the bed and he hit it, his back on the mattress, his feet still on the floor. Miguel untucked the front of Robert's shirt and then he pulled apart, hard, buttons scattering, fabric tearing, then he did it again till the whole front of Robert's damned expensive shirt was an unmitigated, irretrievable mess. But the son of a bitch didn't even look proud of himself, didn't even look pleased, didn't even pause to survey his handiwork, he just pulled his own shirt off over his head and then he straddled Robert's thighs. He kissed him again, hot and hard.
Robert pushed him off. He pushed him so damn hard he wound up on the floor, laughing his ass off as he got back up but Jesus Christ, there was venom in that look. Miguel toed off his boots. He unbuckled his belt. Then they were both pulling off their own damn clothing as fast as they could, Robert stood back up, who the hell even knew whose clothes were whose when they hit the floor, and the next thing he knew they were back on the bed, they were naked, he was stretched out on top of the son of a bitch, between his thighs, their skin sticking against skin, cocks hard against each other. Miguel slapped him hard across the face, swore at him in Spanish, but he ground his hips up against him so he was pretty sure that wasn't stop. Robert leaned back, went up on his knees, spat into his hand and slicked his cock with it, like somehow that was a good idea, and when he rubbed the head of his cock between his cheeks, when he pushed up into him, hot and tight and almost painful, all Miguel did was laugh a breathless, demented fucking laugh between ragged breaths like he couldn't believe it was happening any more than Robert could. If it hurt him, he didn't seem to care. If it hurt him, he wanted it to.
"Hijo de puta," Miguel cursed, his teeth bared, and Robert caught the meaning of that one as Miguel wrapped his legs up tight around his waist and squeezed like it was his ambition to break bones. But his hands were tight at Robert's biceps and Robert shifted his hips, rocked against him, his hands spread wide on the bedspread, so hot he was probably leaving fucking sweaty handprints. Miguel pulled him down into a kiss with one hand rough at the back of his neck and Robert got one hand up to the headboard for leverage, pushed hard, pushed deeper, made himself groan against Miguel's mouth and Miguel cursed again, English this time, so damn filthy Robert almost had to wonder if the story he'd told back in the bar about his vocabulary extension wasn't true after all.
He didn't have the stamina for it to last long, not in that fucking heat. He pushed against him, thrust hard into him, and Miguel's fingers raked at his collarbones, dug into his biceps, one thumb trailing down over Robert's throat as his other hand went down to wrap around his own cock. Ordinarily, Robert might've said it might've been easier if Miguel had closed his eyes or if he had; they were watching each other the whole damn time that night, he was watching as Miguel's lips parted, as he clenched his teeth, the look on his face fucking murderous. He was watching as Miguel came, as he pulled even tighter around his cock and came over his hand and over Robert's belly and then Robert was done, too, bucking into him once more, twice, three times, more than five and less than ten, erratic, before he came in him in agonizing, exhilarating pulses.
And after, once he could move, all he did was push himself back up on his knees. For a minute, longer, while they caught their breath, he was still inside him. Miguel didn't try to make him move, he just wiped his hands off on the bedspread then tucked them up under his head and watched him. And, for once, the garrulous fuck kept his mouth shut. It would've been easier if he hadn't.
He wanted to put his hands around Miguel's neck and squeeze. He wanted to reach for the gun still tucked into the inside pocket of his jacket, push it up under Miguel's jaw and pull the trigger. He didn't. He ran his hands over the inside of Miguel's thighs instead, squeezed at his hips, and then he pulled out and he pulled back and he left the bed. He put on his clothes, his motions unhurried, as Miguel lay there and watched him. And when it came to his shirt, he held it up and looked at it, glanced at the buttons lying scattered on the floor and at the torn fabric, and he balled it up and tossed it into the trash on top of Miguel's empty water bottles and a stack of apple cores. He pulled on Miguel's shirt instead, with its sleeves still rolled up to the elbows, the room still so damn hot that it stuck straight to his skin.
He rolled up his tie and stuffed it into his pants pocket and as he did so, Miguel pulled himself up from the bed, running his fingers through his damp hair. He crossed the room, naked, not a second's hesitation, not a hint of shame, stepped right up and adjusted the collar of his shirt that Robert was wearing.
"It looks good on you," he said, running his hands over Robert's chest.
"I'll bring it back," Robert replied. He's pretty sure they both knew that was a lie.
Miguel pushed him back. He pushed him back and Robert stepped back until his calves hit the seat behind him and he sat; Miguel followed, straddled Robert's thighs and sat himself down there, forearms resting at Robert's shoulders, his fingers at the nape of his neck.
"Stay the night," he said, his mouth at Robert's jaw, by his ear. He nipped him there with his teeth, his fingernails dragging over Robert's scalp, making him shiver in spite of the heat. Robert's palms skimmed Miguel's thighs, swept around to the small of his back and pressed there flat to his over-hot skin. Then he shifted again, got his palms to Miguel's jaw and eased him back, thumbs over his cheekbones.
"I can't," he said, not sure why he'd even want to, not sure why Miguel would want him to, if it was all part of the game, if he was still trying to get the upper hand. And for a moment, it looked like Miguel might say something as he studied Robert's face, except then he smiled tightly and he stood abruptly, laughed lightly as he turned away.
"It was a lot of fun meeting you, Robert," he said, then he glanced back over his shoulder. "Maybe we'll do this again sometime."
Robert smiled wryly as he stood and retrieved his jacket, his gun weighing heavy in the pocket. "Yeah, maybe we will," he said. And he turned to leave.
Miguel didn't stop him. And that night, after they were done with Winston's marks, after they were done with their job, Robert knew he was finally done telling himself he hadn't wanted him to.
They met in the bar.
Miguel was there, sitting at Winston's table, nursing a scotch the way Robert had all those nights, his head tilted back against the back of the booth. He looked up when Robert walked over, his expression wary.
"Is this seat taken?" Robert asked. Miguel eyed him and then shook his head; Robert took a seat and held his hand out to him across the table. "Thomas Rossi," he said. "Pleased to meet you."
There was a moment when Miguel looked like he hadn't an idea in his head of what to say, followed by a moment when Robert thought maybe he'd just reply Miguel Bain. What he did instead was rub his face with one hand, run that hand through his hair, then take Robert's and shake. Miguel had taken out the stitches, probably himself, but there was an angry line still there over his palm.
"Alejandro Morientes," he said. He looked fucking appalled that he'd said it, but there it was. He had to know Robert knew his name, his real name, his given name. He had to know he knew Miguel every bit as well as Miguel knew him. He had to know he'd done his homework, that he'd used Electra's computer skills to find out everything he could about him and even after that, Robert knew people, people would could trace a face to a name to a past they'd tried to hide. He'd gotten copies of Miguel's medical records, photographs of all his scars, including the ones that he'd put on him. He'd traced him right back to his hometown in Spain, to a family he hadn't seen in years because they'd never understood him. He'd sat down with Miguel's grandmother and talked to her about him, heard her stories about his childhood, seen the house that he'd grown up in. His family really were bull fighters, even if he'd never been himself. It turned out some of the lies he'd told had been more like vast exaggerations. Perhaps he found it easier to keep them straight that way.
And then, once he'd had the details to fill in the story, he'd followed Miguel's work. He still knows the names of the marks Miguel's retired just as well as he knows each one he has himself. For six years, he watched him improve. He watched him locate and evaluate his marks, watched him watch them, watched him plan, saw that reckless streak that said shoot now, think later get ground down smoother at the edges though 'smoother' has never meant 'smooth'. He watched him toy with some of them, get close, observe them, watched him screw with them or just plain screw them, good at it because he didn't give a damn about their lives. He worked as hard as Robert ever had, took risks Robert never had but mostly they paid off. If there's one thing he hopes Miguel understands, that he hopes maybe he's taught him or at least time has, it's that you don't kill the best to be the best: you just do better work. He thinks one day Miguel will get there, if he lives that long. What Miguel didn't know then was a couple of his closest calls, he'd been saved by Robert Rath running interference.
"So, what's your profession, Mr. Rossi?" Miguel asked.
Robert smiled as he poured himself a drink and refilled Miguel's, his eyes shifting from the bottle back to Miguel. "I kill people for money," he said, straightforward for once. "I'm good at it. Maybe I'm the best at it." And Miguel laughed, loudly, practically grinning with it, shaking his head like he couldn't believe what they were doing.
"I think we need to go upstairs now," Miguel said.
"Yeah, I think I'd say we do," Robert replied. He figured Winston wouldn't mind that he'd wasted two glasses of good scotch. They left them there untouched on the table.
It was Robert who led the way out of the bar, Robert who led the way through the foyer and into the elevator. It was Robert's floor they got out at and his door they went through and Robert who closed it behind them, Robert who locked it. And maybe Miguel didn't look nervous when they got there, when they were locked inside and the lights were on, maybe he didn't look awkward, but he'd lost something he'd always had when they'd done this before and maybe gained something else he hadn't had, too.
"What now?" Miguel asked.
"Do you remember San Juan?"
"Which part specifically?"
Robert went closer. "You know which part," he said.
"The part where I took money to kill you or the part where you shot me and left me for dead?"
Robert shrugged. He lifted his hands and took the lapels of Miguel's jacket in them, pulled tight. "The other part."
"The part where your old friend Nicolai double-crossed us both?"
One of Robert's hands went up higher, his palm at Miguel's throat just for a second before he ran it back, tangled his fingers into the back of his hair. "The other part," he said.
"Oh, that part," Miguel said. "That was my favorite part. I enjoy cemeteries."
Robert snickered under his breath and ducked his mouth to the side of Miguel's neck. "Yeah, the other other part," he said, as he pushed the jacket from Miguel's shoulders. It dropped to the floor at his feet.
"You mean the part where you took my shirt and never returned it?" Miguel eased him back, his hands at Robert's shoulders. Miguel met his gaze. "You mean the part where we had sex?"
Robert nodded faintly. "Yeah. That part."
"Ah." Miguel took Robert's tie in one hand and pulled on it just hard enough to make him step even closer, right up against him. "Have you thought about it sometimes?"
Miguel grinned, showing his teeth. "Me, too," he said. "You know, Bobby, I think we can do better."
Robert couldn't say he didn't want to try, at least.
They took off their clothes under the bright hotel lights, seemingly unhurried but Robert knew better because he knew that look on Miguel's face, that look that said any second it would be gunsots and to hell with the plan. They took off their clothes and set them aside, Robert's in a high-backed armchair, folded neatly, Miguel's on the dresser, just as neat or even neater, maybe just to screw with Robert's head. And then, when they were naked, when they were already half-hard from the idea of it, they stepped back in together, skin to skin and mouth to mouth. Miguel kissed him. He kissed back. It wasn't a game, or at least it was the end of one. It was hard to say who won.
There was no heat in the air to blame when they went to bed; the blinds were drawn on snow that was settling in on top of ice and Robert thought maybe, just maybe, he'd stay on a few more days instead of heading back to the airport, heading back to Italy. He splayed his hands against Miguel's back and Miguel's hands dipped down to squeeze his ass, made him laugh against his mouth. Maybe they didn't need heat to blame it on, he thought then, at least not when Miguel gave him an exaggerated wink and turned toward the bed.
They went down together, Miguel catching Robert's arms as he went so they fell in a heap, all elbows and knees, cocks pressed to bellies until they shifted around and Robert wound up lying there on his back, Miguel stretched out on top of him.
There was lubricant this time, a whole damn tube of it to go at, and Miguel had clearly been rifling the drawers because he went straight to it in the drawer in the nightstand with the Gideon Bible and a box of cheap no-brand hotel tissues. Robert let him, wondering which way it was going to go, wondering what Miguel was planning, except he knew him well enough to know there wasn't a plan. What he did was slick Robert's cock with it, taking his time, stroking it thickly over the length of him from base to tip and back again, his fingers rough and warm, then he reached back and he did himself, slicked himself while Robert watched him do it. Miguel didn't even have the courtesy to blush.
"Jesus," Robert muttered, low, under his breath.
"Please, it's Miguel," Miguel corrected, smirking at his own damn joke. Robert just shook his head. He didn't say the name was Alejandro; it was enough for him that Miguel knew he knew.
There was no excuse for it when Miguel shuffled up higher, when he straddled Robert's hips instead of his thighs, when he took Robert's cock in his hand and he settled himself down onto it. Miguel hissed in a breath through his teeth as he did it, his muscles taut, and Robert just grasped Miguel's thighs to keep from bucking straight up into him. He hadn't had a guy in six years, not since San Juan, hadn't felt a whole lot like it were he honest. He'd thought about Miguel sometimes, like this, in his bed back in Italy, in hotels around the world, back in San Juan in that room that was twenty damn degrees past too hot. And Miguel shifted his weight, ground down against him, his hands spread out wide against Robert's chest, his cock resting heavy against Robert's taut abdomen.
There was no excuse for it when Robert shifted his hips to push up into him, none at all when Robert wrapped his fingers around Miguel's cock and stroked. There was no excuse when minutes later they shifted, changed positions, when Miguel went down on his knees and Robert shuffled up behind him, pushed into him in one long thrust, pulled out and did it again and made him groan into the pillows. There was no excuse when Miguel pushed up, pushed back, leaned against Robert's chest and they ground their hips together, Robert pushed up balls-deep inside him. They shifted again after that, Miguel down on his back, Robert on his knees between Miguel's thighs as he pushed back in and then he leaned down, hands either side of Miguel's shoulders, gave a thrust that rocked the bed and made Miguel chuckle breathlessly. Maybe there was no heat in the air but their body temperatures soared, Robert's muscles got tighter, Miguel yanked on the bars in the headboard and pulled up to change the angle and fuck, then he was in him even deeper, his jaw clenched because he had no idea how much longer he could hang on. So he didn't.
He came in him in fits and bursts, in stuttering jerks of his hips, so damn hard he thought he might break his damn teeth from the way he clenched his jaw. And Miguel stroked himself, did it quicker, harder, brought himself off while Robert was still in the midst of it and Jesus, he got tighter around him with a splash of come against his belly, pulled tight around his cock and made him bite off a groan with it, done, spent, so much for his stamina even without the heat. Miguel was flushed an unflattering shade of red right through his cheeks and his chest and Robert stayed right there a moment, watching him, before he pushed back up to his knees, unsteady, still inside him.
Fuck, Robert thought, it was just like the last time. It was just like the last time except there were more scars on Miguel's skin. Maybe tomorrow they'd make more. But for right then he ran one hand over the scar in Miguel's shoulder, his fingertips tracing the line from the surgery that led down onto his chest. He ran his thumb over the scar in his side and if he stretched his hand just right, his pinkie finger found the matching exit wound.
"Are you thinking of trying again?" Miguel asked.
"What makes you think I tried the first time?"
"I nearly died, Bobby. I should know, I was there."
"No, you didn't."
"You're so sure?"
Robert pulled out of him slowly then, took a breath and settled down on top of him, against him, propped up on his forearms, close, Miguel's thighs framing his hips.
"I'm sure," he said, meeting his gaze, looking him dead in the eye. "Do you really think I missed?"
The realization spread across Miguel's face visibly. He understood.
Robert hadn't meant to kill him: he knew exactly where he'd put the bullets.
Winston paid them in the morning, a case of coins each. John had a job to get back to, enforcing for the Tarasovs; Miguel, on the other hand, had no particular place to be. Neither had Robert. Winston looked amused when he told them to stay as long as they wanted.
They stayed where they were, just checked Miguel out of his room and into Robert's and that worked since he'd spent half his time there anyway. Robert learned Miguel snored like a growling doberman but it wasn't like he couldn't live with that; he'd managed to tune out his incessant chitchat, he could tune out that, too.
And then, after a week or so, Winston came to them with a job. A two-man job. They took it, and they've never looked back.
He walks into the bar and Miguel's there, waiting. He knew he would be. These days, they're never bored.
"My last lover was a banker," Miguel says. "We had just one night together, but it was..." He gestures vaguely with both hands up in the air, showing the scar across one palm that Robert knows well. He's pressed his mouth there. He's felt the catch of it against his cock. "It was passionate." They both know that's true.
Tomorrow, they have a job to do. Tomorrow, they have a mark to retire. And when they're done they'll go back to the villa in Tuscany or they'll go back to the Continental in New York and for a while, between jobs, they'll live their lives. Miguel likes soccer and Robert's grown to appreciate it. Robert likes to read and Miguel reads, too, so he can not so gently mock his taste. And they'll clean their guns on the kitchen table or they'll drink with Winston in his hotel bar and they'll know they're the ones who helped put the Continental where it is today.
Miguel shuffles forward in his seat there in the bar. He leans forward, forearms to his knees. "He was the one that got away," he said, his voice low, conspiratorial. "You remind me of him. Around the eyes. Just...older."
Miguel looks amused but it's been another six years, after all; he is older, just north of sixty now, Winston's age, and John's the one who's trying to leave the business, not him. Robert's older but he's still not anticuado, no matter how Miguel teases. Maybe one day he will be, maybe one day Miguel will finally do what he set out to do that day and put a gun to his head, press it right between his eyes, pull the trigger and finally make him obsolete. But that day is not today. There's no gun under Robert's jacket. It's in a case with Miguel's, two near-identical Rugers with their silencers temporarily detached so they'll fit inside, side by side. Sometimes they pick up each other's by mistake but that hardly seems to matter, given what else they've shared.
"Pretend I'm him," Robert says, and Miguel agrees. They leave the bar. They go upstairs, the torero and his investment banker, two sides of the same coin. This time, the air conditioning works just fine. There's no excuse, but they don't need one.
Tomorrow, they'll go to work. Between them, they're the best in the world, and they work as a team.
Tomorrow, they'll go to work. But tonight, well, tonight's just for the game they play.