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the brother, the butcher

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Rust had been nervous all day.

His shirt was askew, tie loose, and every time he reached for his coffee the unbuttoned opening in his shirt would gape. His hair stuck up in places, curls randomly protruding from a mussed mess of frizzy chaos. It was generally known throughout the CID that he functioned in a constant state of insomnia and sleeplessness, but there were actual shadows under his eyes today, and the skin over his face seemed stretched, tight over his gaunt cheekbones like wax.

“You look like shit,” Marty remarked helpfully from the other side of their shared desk.

Rust glared at him in reply. Marty, unperturbed, had a calm sip of his coffee. The amount of caffeine that they jointly consumed in one day would be enough to choke a horse, but that was fairly standard in their line of employment. Marty watched as Rust lit his fourth cigarette of the morning, noticing the way his partner’s hands shook slightly.

“The hell’s up with you, man? I ain’t ridin’ with you if you’re gonna pass out on me.”

Rust tossed his lighter aside, bracing his elbows on the desk. He sucked hard on his cigarette, cheeks hollowing, letting out a cloud of smoke in an angry sigh. Marty raised an eyebrow.

“My brother’s visitin’. Today.”

“The fuck?” Marty exclaimed, sitting forward. “You’ve got a brother?”

Rust nodded. His lips were pressed into a thin line, and his eyes were tight with the guarded look he got on the rare occasions that a suspect managed to get under his skin. Marty’s incredulousness gave way to curiosity.

“…You’re scared. Aren’t you?”

Rust nodded. He swallowed, throat moving with the action, and Marty wondered when he’d last eaten actual food.

“He’s a bad man.” Rust said, voice quiet and urgent. He gestured with the two fingers that were holding his cigarette, sending a whirl of smoke through the air. “I know I’m an anti-social prick, and a real pain in your ass-”

“Yeah, that’s definitely true.”

“- but he’s bad, Marty. The kind of bad that gives you chills for years after you put a fuckin’ serial killer away. You know the psychopaths that don’t have motive? That do whatever the fuck they want, that kill just because they feel nothin’ at all? That’s what he’s like.”

 Marty frowned. “And this is your brother you’re talkin’ ‘bout? Your own brother?”

Rust had another drag of his cigarette. His movements were fast and agitated, and Marty– for the first time since meeting Rust– thought he looked jittery. He was shaken, right to his core, and Marty didn’t quite know how to react. Jesus, he’d never had siblings, but he could never have imagined this was how someone would feel about their own brother.

“You stay away from him, a’ight? Don’t even look at him. If he figures out we’re friends, he’ll fixate on you, and trust me when I say you do not want that.”

“Oh, we’re friends now, are we?” Marty asked, grinning.

Rust’s eyes widened furiously, and Marty’s smile disappeared in a flash.

“Shut the fuck up. This is serious.”

“…Okay. Alright.” Marty nodded, feeling uncomfortable. “Jesus, Rust.”

Rust reached for his coffee mug, lifted it to his mouth. Finding that it was empty, he rose from his seat and went to get a refill. Marty watched him go, frowning.

 

***

 

A few hours later, when Rust had nearly finished his packet of cigarettes and Marty’s caffeine buzz was starting to turn into a headache, Cathleen walked over from the reception desk.

“Visitor for you, Rust,” she said, eyes wide and voice quiet.

Marty blinked, and did a double-take. The man slowly ambling into the room behind her was dressed in jeans and leather, and he was taking off his black Stetson hat with slow, leisurely movements. His hair was cropped close and short. His face was exactly the same as Rust’s; the same cheekbones, the same mouth, the same jaw.

But his eyes.

His gaze was totally empty. Cold as the dead of winter.

Marty, suddenly, knew Rust had been telling the truth. He sat rigidly still in his seat, swallowing nervously. He was seized by the unexplainable impulse to pull out his gun and empty the clip into this abomination’s forehead. This stranger wearing his friend’s face.

Rust stood, movements slow and intentionally careful. His left hand, ever an indicator of emotion, flexed into a fist by his side. The whole of the room was watching, conversations interrupted by shocked glances at the twins.

“What’re you doin’ here?” Rust asked. “We were gonna meet tonight.”

“Well hello to you too, brother.” the man finally said, his tone a cold, flat shadow of Rust’s voice. His eyes were half-lidded, black as the pits of the ocean. When he spoke, his lips barely moved. Marty had to repress the urge to shiver.

There was blood on this man’s hands.

Remembering what Rust had said about not attracting the brother’s attention, Marty looked down at his desk, busied himself with paperwork. He felt a shudder hum down between his shoulders, and he was sure there was a gaze trained on him. He felt, absurdly, like prey. As if this man were about to lean across the desk and sink his teeth into Marty's throat.

“Ain’t you gonna introduce me to your friends?” The quiet voice said, and a blush of fear and embarrassment heated Marty’s cheeks. He continued writing his report, handwriting becoming progressively more illegible, and wondered where the fuck his pride had gone.

“I ain’t got no fuckin’ friends, Joe, you know that,” Rust snapped, “So why the hell don’t you just tell me what the fuck you’re doin’ here?”

There was a moment of silence. Marty held his breath.

“…Well, a’ight then,” the stranger laughed, the sound the furthest thing from humour Marty had ever heard, “Let’s talk outside.”

Marty saw Rust grab his coat off the back of his chair before they departed. He made the mistake of glancing up, only to see the man’s eyes fixed on him as he walked away.

He was smiling. Like a shark who’d tasted blood.

Marty looked back down at his desk. The moment they left, the room erupted into gossip and exclamations of surprise. Marty took a deep, unsteady breath, and tried not to feel like there was a target on his back.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust followed his brother outside.

They had always been different, the two of them. Even as boys. They had seen too much, noticed things that children had no right to be aware of, wild eyes shining out from dirty faces. Rust always, always remembered how close they’d been– their shoulders touching, holding hands, playing games with sticks and jagged knives. Out in the woods like they had been raised by wolves. And remembering their brotherly bond, their companionship… that was the worst part of it, for Rust. Knowing that Joe had always had a hold over him, even in the beginning.

He wished he could say that things had simply changed one day. That Joe had turned to him, eyes alight with some kind of perverse fascination, and said something that revealed the truly violent depths of his boyhood. But that would be a lie– because, really, Rust had always known. He had seen the way Joe looked at dead things. He had smelt the stench, ignored it, tried not to wonder why his brother was keeping mutilated birds under their bunk bed.

Joey, he’d said, still innocent at that stage, dad's gonna get angry.

Joe had smiled. Eyes dead and cold, even then, his cheeks remaining slack as his mouth twisted into a mockery of human emotion. It’ll be our secret, Rustin, he’d said.

They had so many secrets.

He led Joe out into to the parking lot, to his car. They slid into the front seats, natural as anything, and a pull of nausea tightened Rust’s gut when he saw how identical their movements were.

He’d forgotten what this was like.

“I told you we were gonna meet tonight.” He said, trying to keep his voice steady.

“I know,” Joe replied calmly, pulling a gently smouldering cigarette from between his lips, resting his elbow on the car windowsill. He didn’t bother elaborating, didn’t bother apologising for turning up at Rust's workplace uninvited. Rust swallowed tightly, throat warm with his thrumming pulse, and he wanted to press two fingers to his jugular, measure his own anxiety in an attempt to calm it. Joe was a blank space in his perception, a cold absence. There was nothing behind his eyes, no discernible depth to his emotions, no empathy to speak of. He was a genuine psychopath. Always had been. Calculating and cruel, even at the age of ten; snapping the necks of small birds just so he could see if it affected him at all.

It never had.

“You’ve heard about the Yellow King,” Rust stated, because he knew Joe had.

“I have. I also heard that you caught him.”

Rust shook his head, licked at his lips. He wanted to shift in his seat like needing to scratch an itch, but he was rigid and still, too afraid to move. Joe didn’t fidget. He didn’t tap, fiddle, or hum. He was a finely tuned machine, and their shared childhood told Rust that his brother was always moments away from violence. He’d never been able to predict what would set Joe off. He’d never known what Joe wanted.

“No. We shot some of his... acolytes, but… it wasn’t him.”

“Yeah?” Curiosity, flat and perverse, crept into Joe’s voice. Like a snake, sliding up from his throat. “How d’you know that, Rustin?”

“You know how.”

“Tell me.”

“I just-” Rust’s skin prickled with a flush of fear, and he kept his eyes trained on the windscreen. He sighed as if irritated, but really he was just trying to regulate his breathing. “I just know, okay?”

“Mm. You always were special like that.”

Rust swallowed again. His mouth was dry, and he wished he could leave. Wished he could escape.

Joe had always been fascinated with their connection, their shared genetics and their identical faces. He’d carved a hole in his own palm, once, then looked up at Rust with a curious blankness as blood poured down his hand. Do you feel that? He’d asked.

“Will you help me or not?”

“You ain’t asked for nothin’.”

Rust grit his teeth. Felt his bones grind. “Fuck you. You know what I want.”

Joe had a pull of his cigarette, breathed in deep. Rust continued to look away, though he knew Joe’s dead eyes were trained on him. He was certain that he’d dream of grey corpses and blood-soggy feathers tonight.

“My payment,” Joe murmured, exhaling a cloud of smoke deliberately into Rust’s face, “is twenty-five thousand upfront.”

Rust let his eyes slide closed, and he breathed in slowly through his nose, lips pressed together into a hard line.

“I ain’t got that kinda money, Joe.”

“I know.” Joe replied calmly. “Lucky for you, I still have a soft spot for family. I’ll do it for free.”

Rust nodded, dizzy with the knowledge that killing was as easy for Joe as breathing. He wanted to open the car door and get out, run as fast as he could in the other direction. He knew this was wrong, that he shouldn’t be resorting to murder, but he couldn’t get those two kids out of his head. That dirty mattress. The boy, limp in his arms and stiff as rigor mortis started to set in. He just wanted to stop all the horrific things that were being done to children, to women.

He felt something against his cheek, and he froze still. Fingers. Joe, reaching across the car, moving as silently as a jungle cat in the grass. Ready to eat. Ready to kill.

He didn’t dare breathe as Joe stroked a thumb down his cheek.

“The bloodlust feels good, don’t it brother?” he breathed, “I’m so proud of you.”

Rust shook his head, movements jarred and trembling.

“But I’m also aware of your nature, Rustin, so as much as I want to trust you… I do need to make sure this goes the way I want it to.”

A breath shivered out from between Rust’s lips.

“What the fuck do you want?” Rust hoarsely asked, wishing his voice didn't sound so helpless.

Joe shrugged, as if this were just a casual, normal conversation. “For me to be uninterrupted. If you have a change of heart, or if you tell anyone about this, you best believe I’ll make you suffer for it.”

His hand slid off Rust’s cheek, drawing down across skin like a knife, before he leaned forward, lips at Rust’s ear. Rust shook with the effort it took to sit still.

“You try to stop me,” Joe whispered, “and I'll have my way with that pretty blond friend of yours. Understand?”

Rust jerked in his seat. He yanked open the car door, stumbled out, a hand at his mouth. This was why he never looked in the mirror. This was why he couldn’t stand to see his own reflection– because he didn’t see himself, he saw Joe.

“No,” he said, breathless, sickened, “No, Joe. No fuckin’ way. Deal’s off. You ain't gonna hurt Marty.”

Joe got out of the car, and Rust swayed where he stood. He felt like he was about to collapse. His brother, the demon, smiled. Rust wanted to rip off his skin and reveal everything underneath. Expose his true nature to the world.

“Deal’s already made, Rustin. Best stay out of my way.”

He turned on his heel. Rust watched him walk away, and couldn’t move. Panic bubbled up inside him, vile and vicious, and he nearly doubled over.

It was only then that he truly realised the mistake he’d made.

 

 

Chapter Text

When Rust returned, Marty almost had to look twice– just to be sure that it was Rust.

He didn’t have to look long before he was convinced. Rust was walking stiffly, body taut as a bowstring, eyes trained downward with the peculiar wariness he tended to display when he was truly afraid. Like he wanted to sink into the floor and disappear out of sight, and for everyone to just leave him the fuck alone. The last time he’d looked like this had, not coincidentally, been the last time he’d tried to start a fight with Steve Geraci.

“…You a’ight, man?” Marty asked cautiously as Rust lowered himself back down into his seat, reaching automatically for his packet of cigarettes. It was a fast, desperate movement; like a man stranded in the desert, clawing for water. He pulled the last cigarette out of the box, crushed the flimsy cardboard in one fist and threw it across his desk, lighting up in one fluid motion. He sucked in a lungful of smoke so hard that his cheeks hollowed, and he was still looking down, eyes wide with some kind of terrified intensity. Marty remembered Crash. Remembered how Rust had changed into someone violent, someone scared beyond measure.

“C’mon, Rust,” Marty frowned, “the fuck did you two talk about out there?”

Rust glared up at him with haunted eyes, and Marty thought, fuck. He wasn’t going to get any answers out of Rust, not like this. He wondered what the hell Rust’s brother had said to him, what could’ve been so terrible that two minutes of conversation would shake him right to his core.

“Nothin’ that’s your concern,” Rust replied quietly, rolling his cigarette into the corner of his mouth so he could talk around it, “go back to your fuckin’ report, Marty.”

“Screw you, man,” Marty said, because he knew that Rust needed him to be chill, needed him to not ask any questions right now. He even huffed out an annoyed laugh for the showmanship of it.

As soon as Rust looked down at his own paperwork, though, Marty peeked worriedly up at him. He glanced around the room and saw that everyone else had gotten the message too; Rust was practically vibrating, ready for a fight, ready to fuck someone up just to get them to leave him alone.

He was fucking scared, and everyone knew it.

 

 

Chapter Text

A week later, a body was found at a roadside by some hunters.

He was mutilated, which shocked Rust. Deep stab wounds covered his body with blackened, dried blood, bluish skin turning stiff under the mess. He had been a big man, with big hands, and Rust hated looking at them– because, while none of the policemen around him did, he knew what those hands had done.

And it was his weight to bear alone.

The lower half of the man’s face was gone, practically torn away, skin missing in chunks, reddened flesh having long since stopped seeping blood. Rust hadn’t told Joe about ‘the man with the scars’, hadn’t told him that several of their witnesses had named such a man as being an acquaintance of Dora Lange–it disturbed him and relieved him beyond measure, knowing that Joe had been smart enough to remove identifying features. Just another body by the roadside, now. No one important. No one that would be mourned.

It felt right. It felt like justice. Rust had to stop himself from smiling, from laughing hysterically, sickened by his own malicious sense of victory. He remembered all the children and the women, their faces and their bodies, and thought, yeah, fuck the motherfucker. He deserved it.

Emotion bubbled up inside him, and he was sure that everyone around him could see it, could sense his jubilation and his frenzied panic; he paused, a good distance away from the body, and pressed a hand against his face. He didn’t like feeling these things, didn’t like knowing that Joe was probably smiling right now, thinking that they were bonding over this shit. Fuck, he was scared. He was so damn scared, because Joe never did anything without taking twice what he deserved in return, and Rust knew that a war was coming. He’d have to fight to keep everything that he had, have to fight just to stay sane. Have to fight to keep Marty safe.

When they were sixteen, Rust had developed a crush on a girl– his first crush, incidentally, which was probably why Joe had taken it upon himself to butcher her dog and bring its heart back to Rust in a Valentine’s Day chocolates box. The blood had congealed. Rust would never forget the smell.

“…goddamnit Rust, look at me!”

Rust blinked, surging back into reality. He blinked, found that his eyelashes were wet with tears. He wiped at his eyes, jerked his shoulder out of Marty’s clutching hand. The forensics team were hovering nearby, crowded around the back of their van, casting Rust curious looks as they gathered their tools. A truck went past on the road.

“M’fine,” he mumbled, looking at his shoes.

“You don’t look fine,” Marty said, voice strained with a worry that made Rust ache, “You’ve been actin’ weird all week, man, how ‘bout you sit this one out-”

“No. No.” Rust shook his head, pulled a pack of cigarettes of his jacket pocket. Marty’s hand landed on his wrist immediately.

“You can’t smoke at the crime scene, not before forensics have been through. Jesus, Rust.”

Rust snatched his wrist out of Marty's gentle grip, stowing the cigarettes again. He held up both hands, stepping away with a dramatically petulant expression of surrender.

“Fine. You fuckin’ happy?”

Marty looked exasperated, and still worried– and Rust hated the tightness of his eyes, the taut line of his jaw. He hated it because all he wanted was to fold himself into Marty’s embrace, tell him everything, and hide forever in the safety of his closeness. He didn’t want Joe’s poison. He wanted Marty, all his beautiful flaws and his terrible weaknesses, and his unyielding sense of right and wrong.

But he knew he couldn’t have what he wanted.

So he turned on his heel, walked right up to the body as his vision swayed and fluctuated from sleeplessness and stress, and tried not to collapse. It was only when he got closer that he saw a line, deliberately carved across the Yellow King’s forehead.

A crown.

 

***

 

Marty watched Rust out of the corner of his eye as he drove, hands tighter on the steering wheel than usual. Rust was staring out his window, head deliberately turned away. The silence was so fucking unbearable that Marty was almost considering turning on the radio. He hardly ever turned on the radio.

“That crime scene… it got to you, huh?”

Rust didn’t look at him. His hands skittered over his lap, fidgeting; he’d finished off his packet of cigarettes within twenty minutes of leaving the crime scene, and he was obviously itching for more. Marty was actually starting to wonder whether someone could smoke too many cigarettes.

“Wouldn’t say it affected me none, nah.”

Marty chuckled humourlessly, forehead tight with a worried frown he’d been wearing for days now. He didn’t bother telling Rust that he was talking fluent bullshit, because they both knew it. He’d just be stating the obvious.

“Listen, Marty…” Rust cleared his throat, “I know I ain’t been at my best, lately. But I’m gonna be fine. It’s… it’s all gonna be fine.”

His voice shook, just a little, and Marty shot him a nervous look. Rust lifted a hand to his face, curled it into a fist, thumb lightly resting between his lips. Marty had a flash of memory; the first time Rust had done that, they’d been coming back from Dora Langue’s crime scene. They’d been sitting exactly where they were now. He suddenly realised how much had changed– how deeply they knew each other now, the things they’d been through since that fateful day. The death and the violence and the secrets. Sitting opposite each other, eyes meeting, the quiet words, Are you sure you wanna do this? He remembered how they'd carried those two children out from that godforsaken den of torture, Rust moving forward first and picking up the dead boy, because he knew Marty couldn't. He remembered being in the hospital afterwards, waiting to be cleared so that they could go back to the CID and spin a tale of lies. They hadn't spoken, but they'd sat close, hearts still racing from the gunfire and the violence and the children. Shoulders touching. Thighs pressed together. Sides brushing as they sucked in slow, deliberate breaths. He'd wanted to pull Rust close against him, whisper, I know what you did, even if nobody else is ever gonna know. I know you're the bravest fucking man I've ever met.

Marty nodded, turned his gaze back to the windscreen.

“A’ight. But when you feel like talkin’, you know where to find me.”

Rust didn’t reply.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty watched Macie and Audrey skate away over the ice, small hands entwined, lights flashing over them as they glided further away. He felt a senseless wave of panic overwhelm him, just for a moment, and he gripped the rink fence as the smell of a musty trailer and old blood assaulted his senses. He’d been dreaming of them, occasionally, gripped by night terrors in which it was his daughters he found on that mattress. The visions were always so real, so stark, and the vividness of it had sent him to his knees, vomiting, more than once. He wondered what Rust dreamed of. They'd never talked about it, but there was a mutual understanding between them about the marks that day had left on their souls. He wanted the comfort of Rust's understanding, but he didn't have the courage to ask for it.

“Thanks, think I needed that,” he forced out the words, smiling unconvincingly as he turned back to Maggie, “think they did too.”

She had her arms crossed, a fury etched deep into her soft features that made him want to cry, because he knew that he was solely responsible for making her look like that. He wondered where it’d gone so wrong. How he’d dug himself so deep. One mistake leading to another, and another, and another. He was a collection of fuckups.

“Were there others?” She asked, voice flat, like she didn’t want to know but she had to ask. A matter of pride. “Besides her, were there others?”

For a moment, he thought she was asking about the children. He remembered the mattress, again, and closed his eyes. Shook his head, held onto the fence tighter.

“No. There wasn’t anyone but her.” A lie. Maggie knew that, surely.

Her lack of reply confirmed it.

He opened his eyes, but looked past her, over her shoulder. He felt stale, tired, battered down. He was so tired of this, so exhausted of fighting to be with her. He wasn’t made for commitment. Maybe once, maybe back when they’d just met, but now…

“I can’t do this anymore, Maggie,” he whispered, “I won’t.”

She inclined her head to the side, a twitch of anger. “What’re you saying?”

“Sayin’ that I’m a piece of shit, and you deserve better. I won’t let you forgive me, ‘cause if you do, then I’ll forgive myself. I don’t deserve that. All I want is to see the kids sometimes. I can understand that it’ll be a while from now ‘till I can meet with them next, so they can adapt to me not bein’ around… but if you’ll just give me that, Maggie, just give me a few days a month with them, then I’ll,” a tremor crept into his tone, and he looked down, trying to hide his face as he started to cry, “I’ll leave. I promise. Gonna pay child support and all, do right by you and the kids, but... can’t trust myself with your happiness, Maggie. Can’t trust myself with theirs.”

He met her eyes reluctantly, jaw clenched, letting her see that this was genuine. This was the truth. She was hurt by his words, he could see that. Still angry, still in love with him despite everything. They’d been so happy, once. A long time ago.

“So you get to walk away.” Her mouth twitched, and he couldn’t tell whether she was smiling or holding back a sob.

“I’m sorry, Mags. I’m so sorry.”

She raised her chin, crossed her arms tighter. A fighter, a warrior, even in the direst and most horrific of times.

He was glad that his daughters would be raised by her.

 

***

 

He found himself on Rust’s doorstep, and it felt inevitable. When Rust pulled open the door, Marty smiled crookedly at him, held up a bottle of whiskey as he swayed. Rust’s calm eyes flickered up and down, cataloguing him, recognition settling into his features. They were, after all, two lonely drunks.

He didn’t ask what had happened, and Marty didn’t want him to. He opened the door wider, smoothly took the bottle as Marty leaned against him.

Marty’s vision dimmed, and he felt like he was coming home.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty wouldn’t have minded dying, but that would’ve taken too much effort. He struggled awake, feeling like his body had been drained of moisture, that he’d been dehydrated to the point of mummification by all the alcohol. His stomach sloshed, and he found himself retching into a bucket that, suddenly, was held in front of his face. A strong hand rested between his shoulder blades, rubbing at his back as he emptied his guts. He thought he heard Rust murmuring quiet sympathies, but shit, surely he was hallucinating.

When he was done, shaking and gasping, Rust pulled away from him, handing him a glass of water and two aspirin.

“Jesus, you’re a damn godsend,” Marty croaked, peeling open the foil off the aspirin and dunking them into the water.

“Yeah, I know,” Rust replied quietly as he walked away, “Come out into the kitchen when you’re done. Breakfast’s a greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray.”

Marty choked down a retch. “You fuckin’ asshole.”

Rust flipped him off, the ghost of a grin flitting across his face, and Marty returned the gesture weakly.

 

***

 

They ate breakfast together. It was weird. All the months they’d spent together, and they’d never once shared a breakfast. Rust made him toast and beans, and yeah, it was army-grade basic shit that kind of made Marty concerned for Rust’s dietary wellbeing, but Marty was grateful anyway. He chewed laboriously, watching Rust slowly move about the kitchen, cleaning and washing up with a methodical blankness. He still seemed on edge, nervous; he'd been off-kilter since that day his brother had turned up, and Marty didn't like it. Seeing Rust like this made him imagine Rust's childhood, which wasn't a train of thought he wanted to entertain. The idea of Rust, young and defenceless, made him uncomfortable.

“That brother of yours,” Marty began hesitantly, “he still around, or…?”

Rust kept his attention focussed on the plate he was cleaning. “Nah. Don’t think so.”

“You don’t know? He’s your twin.”

“We ain’t close.” Rust stacked the plate on the drying rack. “Told you that before.”

Marty nodded, swallowed a mouthful of beans, having chewed them into mush. He figured that would make the digestion somewhat easier.

“…You had a rough time of it, for a while back there. Was that to do with your brother, or the Lange case, or-”

“Marty,” Rust interrupted quietly, “you come to my house dead-drunk, and I take you in. I don’t ask questions. Expect you’ll do me the same courtesy.”

“I’m grateful, a’ight, I’m just-”

“Just what?”

“Concerned.” Marty snapped. “You jackass.”

Rust picked up another plate, started washing it. “Be as concerned as you want. Just don’t ask questions. You stay out of it, y’hear?”

That rang a bell in Marty’s mind. He remembered how Rust had insisted, wide-eyed and frightened, that Marty stay away from his brother.

There was more going on here, Marty was sure. Something was wrong. His instincts weren’t dulled by his hangover; in fact, they were razor-sharp, and what they were telling him made him very, very nervous.

Rust was trying to protect him.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust knew exactly why Marty had shown up at his house. Maggie had called him about half an hour before he'd had arrived. She’d sounded relieved, heartbroken, and grudgingly worried about how Marty was coping. Rust had been both amused and endlessly touched by her sympathy for him; the whole situation was messy as fuck, but– as far as he could tell– this was the best way it could’ve ended. He was almost proud of Marty for doing the right thing. Which was a weird feeling.

When he wandered out into his kitchen the next morning and was greeted by nothing but silence, he found himself meditating on the nature of Marty’s company.

Rust liked having Marty around.

He poured himself a coffee, listened to the metallic click of his lighter as he lit himself the first cigarette of the day. He breathed in deep, closed his eyes and felt the nicotine wash through him, chemicals firing in his brain. A sip of caffeine completed the experience, and his breakfast ritual had begun. But he found himself wanting something else. He found himself wanting Marty; slumped over the bench, slowly munching his food, gazing around with glassy, half-lidded hangover eyes. His absence was a tangible thing, and Rust found himself looking around the kitchen with a redundant kind of hope.

That was when Rust saw him.

He froze, as one tends to do when they become suddenly aware that someone is standing in their house. Joe watched him calmly, leaned against the wall, head tilted back. His Stetson was resting against one denim-clad thigh, and his head was tilted backwards, eyes pinned to Rust like a predator’s. Rust didn’t know how the fuck he’d missed him. Joe’s black clothes were a silhouette against the white wall.

“Mornin’, brother,” Joe drawled.

 “How the fuck did you get in here?” Rust moved away from his coffee, towards the cutlery draw. Where the knives were.

Joe moved too, like he was Rust’s reflection. He slid his hands into his pockets, eyes unblinking and cold. He came to a stop on the other side of the kitchen bench, and Rust was thinking about tactics, movements, how to crush someone’s throat with a fist.

“Don’t sound too grateful now, do you. That hurts my feelings, that does. After everythin’ I did for you, leavin’ your Yellow King by the side of the road for you to find. Cut up all pretty.”

“I asked you how you got in here.” Rust repeated.

“Don’t be a fuckin’ moron, Rustin, and don’t act like I’m one either.” Joe held up something. A VHS tape. “You’ll wanna see this.”

Rust didn’t look at the tape, didn’t break eye contact. “What is it?”

“You’ll see.”

“Tell me first.”

A smile twisted the lower half of Joe’s face. “Found this in the home of a Yellow King’s follower. Or maybe more than a follower. Maybe…” he lowered the tape, slid it slowly across the bench, “…he was even higher up in the order.”

Rust didn’t touch the tape. Didn’t look away. “I want a name.”

Joe watched him dispassionately. His arm moved smoothly, and before Rust could even begin to seek out a knife, the barrel of a shined, glossy gun was pressed against his forehead. Terror filled him, but he held still, and did not move.

“Sit your ass down, Rustin,” Joe murmured, “and watch the fuckin’ tape.”

 

***

 

Rust threw a book at the television so hard that it shattered the screen, sparks erupting as the black and white horror story continued to play, fuzzy and indistinct. He was on his knees immediately, crawling to the VCR player, yanking out the tape with his sleeves pulled over his fingerprints. He wanted to smash it. He wanted to set it on fire and cast it down to the depths of Hell, where it belonged.

Joe didn’t even blink.

“Fuck,” Rust panted, head in his hands, “fuck, fuck, no,”

“That was Marie Fontenot,” Joe murmured, as if the whole thing was just a vague curiosity to him, “if I’m not mistaken.”

“You fuckin’ psychopath,” Rust hissed, mouth against his palms.

Fingers seized his hair, pulled his head back. Rust cried out without intending to, a grunt of pain, hands flying up to grasp Joe’s wrist. When their gazes met, Rust's face was tight and his eyes were scared; the balance of power was well and truly established.

Joe looked down at him. Rust’s scalp was on fire, and he knew that fighting back would be useless. They’d been here before, more than once.

“I wish I could step inside your head, brother,” Joe mused quietly, his voice almost gentle. “Wish I could feel everythin’ you feel. Like a live wire… a raw nerve.”

He reached down, over Rust, crowding him. He picked the tape up off the floor. He pressed his fingers against the cheap plastic, rubbed them around, making sure that Rust got the message.

“Don’t like bein’ insulted by you, Rustin. Never have. Now, I can clean this tape, and wipe your fingerprints off it… or I can give it to your lovely little CID friends. See what they think of it.”

Rust jerked in an attempt to get away, but Joe’s wrist was locked, and a spasm of agony shook Rust from the tightening of fingers in his hair.

“I want you to apologise.”

Rust growled out a bark of laughter, tears springing into his eyes from the pain. “You’re fuckin’ with me. We watch that, and all you care about is-”

“How do you think Marty would feel, knowin’ that you had this tape? Hm? You’re an outcast, Rustin. People will believe you were bad all along, it ain’t a stretch to imagine.”

Rust closed his eyes. When Joe made threats, he wasn’t fucking around.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

The fingers tightened. “Say it again.”

“I’m,” Rust’s voice shook, pained, “I’m sorry, Joey-”

He was thrown forward, dropped to the ground. He stayed there, breathing hard, forehead against the floor. Joe’s fingers caressed his neck with a tenderness that frightened Rust more than violence. He wished he could get up and fight, but he couldn't. Joe was the one person he'd never been able to disobey.

“I’ll take care of this. Don’t you worry, Rustin. I’ll kill them all.”

 

 

Chapter Text

After Joe left, slinking away like something reptilian, a phantom dredged out of their shared childhood, Rust picked himself up off the floor and sparingly glanced at the broken glass surrounding his television– before rising to his feet, fast and unsteady, and twisting around to swing his fist into the wall. His knuckles connected with the brick, the impact shooting up his hand and into his wrist, something snapping and cracking. He howled with the pain, staggering back, feeling as much hatred for himself as he did for Joe.

This was the pattern of their lives, and had been this way since Rust had run away from home at the age of seventeen.  Rust would precariously, and slowly, build his life up from the ground, making a small handful of friends, living alone and watching his windows for fear of Joe’s silhouette falling upon his pathetically under-furnished homestead. He would get a job, work, and keep to himself, hoping that he would disappear into the masses. The longest he’d ever been able to disappear was when he was Crash. Four years of addiction and mould-damp shooting galleries, just to flee from his daughter’s death and his brother’s deviously manipulative attempts at showing sympathy.

Joe would always find him. No matter how far Rust ran.

He would come, with his words and his violence, and he would beat seven shades of shame through Rust before disappearing again. Rust would not sleep. He would not eat. Then, once his affairs were in order, he would leave again. Another city, another job, another life. It’d never really been a problem before, to accept their game of cat and mouse, cloak and dagger, brother and killer. Their faces blurring and mixing, words and actions turned indistinct by the fuzziness of a memory burned white with drugs. Two small boys, always haunting Rust no matter where he went. Vessels for the corruption of childhood.

Rust went into the kitchen, knuckles bleeding. Found his whiskey, had a hard slug of it, bent over the table and struggled to force breaths down his throat. His hand was shaking, and he knew he’d broken something.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Rust needed drugs. He needed the fucked up philosophies of Crash. He needed to be hard and violent if he could survive what he intended to do next.

He had to stay.

The thought terrified him, and he put his lips to glass and tipped his head back, let the cheap imitation of liquor burn all the way down his throat. Like petrol. Like acid.

Rust had to stay, and he had to fight this. It had become an honour to even exist, with Joe lingering behind his every decision, and he was tired of just surviving. He wanted more. He wanted Marty, and he wanted this to be his life.

Which meant he had to be prepared to die for it.

 

 

Chapter Text

On Monday morning, Marty dragged himself out of bed with the exhausted determination of someone that hadn’t yet had their morning coffee. He trudged out into his kitchen, sleepy but content, the quiet of his home seeming more peaceful now that things were better between him and Maggie. He could see his children, legally, and now that he’d fully accepted the gravity of his mistakes he felt grateful for Maggie’s leniency towards him. It would be once per month, initially, until he could prove he was stable and unwavering in his commitment to paying child support.

He poured himself a coffee, pulled on a dressing down, and retrieved the newspaper from his front door. He returned to the kitchen, put on some toast, and sat down to wait for it to be ready. His coffee– black and strong, the way his father had taken it and the way Marty would take it probably until he died of heart failure– hit him hard.

His newspaper rested before him, ready to be pored over with the cynicism of a seasoned policeman, but when he opened his eyes he wasn’t focussed on the blotted text before him. He was thinking.

Part of the reason that he’d ended up destroying his family, he knew, was his inattention. His inability to think about what was real, what was established and genuine, and the problems that hovered on the horizon. Denial had been the currency of his downfall, and he was determined not to become that deluded again. He wanted to be aware of himself, and of others around him. The tenuous threads that bound him to the people he loved.

Marty wasn’t even shocked to realise that Rust was one of those people.

He didn't have anyone else left.

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe thought a lot about what other people did.

It was less a case of interest or fascination than it was a necessity. He was unable to instinctually express natural, humanlike emotion, and so had to concoct it. His life was a performance. He could talk himself into anything, and construct elaborate tales of fiction so seamless and impeccable that he could be in a room with a person for an eternity and not have to tell one single lie. He was as well-oiled, effective, and cold as his 2nd generation Glock 17. He had an always-ironed wardrobe that contained only shades of grey and blue, with accompanying white and black pieces. He wore his police duty belt snug around his trim waist, and laid out his work locker with in unchanging, cemented order. Everything had a place. Everything was within his control.

He had weaved an elaborate disguise around himself. Every aspect of his highly orchestrated life wrapped around him like a cocoon, but– unlike most antisocial recluses– he didn’t do it to protect himself. He did it because he knew how to survive, and his childhood had been a complex experiment in human interaction that had taught him a number of things. The most important of the lessons he had learned was that he was different, and that normal people do not like things that are different.

The second most important lesson was what love felt like.

He had felt love the day he saw his brother shyly conversing with a plain, unimpressive girl with dirty blonde hair and a laugh that made Joe itch to tear her throat out. He had known, in that moment, that love was vicious and cruel, and that he loved Rustin beyond anything he had ever felt for another person. He had not loved his father. He had not loved his rumoured mother, whose existence was only proven by the offsprings she had managed to spawn.

He had enjoyed slaughtering the girl’s dog. Enjoyed painting himself in the endlessly gushing blood, raising his face to the night sky, imagining that he could feel the glow of the moon whispering against his slickened skin.

Can you see me? He’d inquired of the emptiness before him, voice flat and almost disinterested. Are you there?

He’d been certain that, if God was watching, surely he’d have been struck down. He wasn’t meant for anything above him; he was destined for darker things. Even then, he had anticipated what awaited him in death. The warmth of the Devil’s fire.

But God had not struck him down, and that had left Joe with only one conclusion.

There would never be anyone to stop him.

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe lay on his back and gazed upwards at the wire base of a cheap hotel mattress. Springs were coiled, sharp and barbed, and looking at them only confirmed the cause of his discomfort during the nights he had spent in this shithole. The stained, slightly soggy carpet under him was musty and uncomfortable. Joe didn’t mind. His body was a vessel, nothing more. He liked to fuck, but beyond that he was just a slab of meat that happened to possess consciousness.

He heard a scratching noise. His face pulled into a delighted smile, and he felt giddy.

Come a-running, brother?

He shifted his grip, fingers around his gun, finger resting against the trigger with the same curious tenderness that he had seen his brother measure his pulse with. He inhaled slowly as the lockpick in his door shifted and prodded, and it was only because he knew that Rustin was the person trying to come inside that his breath hitched slightly, trembling with an unnameable emotion. If love was cruelty, he didn’t know what this was. Exhilaration. Anticipation. Bloodlust.

Rust opened the door. Joe listened to him approach.

He wasn’t surprised by this development. Normally, their game involved him giving chase, and Rust fleeing, trying in vain to establish a life anew. Joe considered his brother to be a disobedient dog. One that just could not understand that being kicked was a necessary part of its training.

He had known that, eventually, Rust would try to bite back.

Rust’s shoes made quiet, hushed sounds against the floor as he tentatively explored the room. Joe turned his head, so slowly that he appeared not to be moving at all. He watched Rust’s feet. Felt his own lips part, his chest hum with something he could not understand– the same feeling that made Rust his one exception. The singular force in Joe’s life that he could not control.

He almost wanted to stand. To slide out from under the bed, drop his gun to the floor, and say, Come on. Embrace his brother in violence. Their bodies would meet in the most glorious of conflicts. It would be colossal, prodigious; the history books would talk of it, the legends of the Gods and the demons would be nothing to their rage. Their fury, their love. Joe would tear him apart, and be torn apart in kind; reflections, meeting in physical, tangible interaction. Twisting and laughing and screaming.

He listened to Rust walking about. Listened to his quick breaths, his quiet footfalls. Joe wondered why he had come here. Was murder on his mind? The possibility excited Joe somewhat.

Will he look under the bed?

Joe knew that, at this time of morning, everyone else was starting work. Marty would be starting work.

Joe hated him.

He hated him because it was obvious how attached he and Rust were, and it made Joe sick. He would do something about it, when the time came. But for now, he waited. He listened. He observed, and let his strategies manifest like a puzzle smoothly revealing itself. A growing dilemma, with its own consciousness and solution.

He wouldn’t need to kill Marty. That would be too kind.

 

***

 

Eventually, after several minutes, Rust left, obviously believing that Joe was nowhere to be found.

Joe almost felt disappointed.

 

 

Chapter Text

When Marty got to work, he almost wished he’d never come in at all.

Everyone was looking at him with a mix of pitying sympathy and dislike, and he knew that the single, solitary response to his divorce was, shame you couldn’t keep it in your pants, Marty.

Marty was late, so when he walked in he looked hopefully towards his and Rust’s desk, hoping to see that familiar face looking around with impassive eyes– he knew that Rust was the one person he could trust to leave this whole divorce thing the fuck alone, and all he wanted was an excuse to go for a long, scenic drive with him so that they could talk about philosophical bullshit and argue over trivial nonsense. He didn’t want to be at work at all. It was only the words child support that had given him the enthusiasm to come– that, and the knowledge that Rust would be there. Marty’s human shield against all other forms of human interaction. He wondered, sometimes, when they’d become such close friends.

But his expectant smile faded. Rust wasn’t at his desk.

Hoping that Rust was just taking a piss, but feeling a strange sense of unease creep into his gut when he remembered how unsettled Rust had been lately, Marty leaned over the reception desk and said, “Hey, Cathleen?”

“Yeah, honey?” She turned to him, a knowing glint in her eyes that said she had adopted a more amused reaction to his marital failure. Good. He needed her on his side.

“You seen Rust come in at all today?”

She pursed her lips, as if she needed to consider the question. Cathleen had one of the quickest minds that Marty had ever seen; there was not one single thing that occurred, or one single person who entered the doors of her workplace, without her knowing. She liked to pretend to be slower than she was, because she was ‘only a receptionist’, and intelligence was a threat to a lot of policemen who liked to believe they were the bosses of this turf. The fact that Marty was aware of this made them close, and he liked knowing that he was a little smarter than the men he worked with– most of whom thought Cathleen’s intelligence was limited to entertaining jokes and good coffee.

“No, not yet sugar,” she drawled, voice easy and light.

Marty’s heart fell. He smiled anyway, and thanked her.

 

***

 

By lunchtime, Marty was ready to bolt. Everyone had been either treating him with hostility, or defending him with an aggression that was borne of an empathy he didn’t enjoy witnessing. There were too many unfaithful bastards in the world, himself included, and the whole state of affairs– haha­– was nothing more than depressing.

He was getting ready to make a run for it when Rust finally walked in.

At first, Marty felt relief when Rust's wiry, lean form strode into the CID. The eagerness Marty felt for Rust's company was almost staggering, in fact– but it quickly disappeared, replaced by a concern that slammed into him, made him drop his pen onto the desk and rise from his seat, walking to greet Rust without really intending to.

Rust was cradling his right hand. It was bandaged, spots of blood smudged over his knuckles. He looked wild, mentally unsteady, and Marty knew that he had to get him out of here before Quesada saw him.

“Come on. Now.” Marty wrapped his hand around Rust’s bicep, pulled him towards the exit. Rust went willingly, not even offering a muttered complaint at being manhandled like a child– and that was fucking worrying. Rust had the pride and stubbornness of an old mule.

Marty led him out the door and around to the side of the CID building. He crossed his arms and tried to look admonishing, but missed the mark and just ended up looking worried instead. Rust stared down at his shoes and held his hand gingerly.

“You been to a hospital for that hand?”

Rust shook his head slowly. He turned his face away, jaw tight, throat stretching and craning. His eyes were watery, and Marty almost considered walking away right then and there, clueless as to how he could deal with the fact that Rustin Cohle was on the verge of crying. Marty sucked in a sharp breath, rubbed at his chin, and decided that any clever approaches to this conversation would be fucking useless. Better that he just be honest.

“I’m worried about you, man.”

Rust huffed out a breath of laughter. A desperate attempt at normalcy, one that failed. He glared off to the side and shifted uncomfortably.

“What happened?”

Again, Rust did not respond.

“Come on, then, at least let me take a look,” Marty reached over, took Rust’s wrist, and paused for a moment, shocked that Rust had actually allowed himself to be touched. Marty stepped closer, closing the distance between them, a discomfort niggling at the edges of his thoughts as he wondered what they would look like right now if anyone saw them. Two men holding hands.

Marty tried not to think about that. Tried not to allow his mind to go there, as it had gone there nearly every night since he’d met Rust.

He peeled off the bandages, noting their yellowed tinge, the grimy sensation of unwashed fabric between his fingers. He flinched when he saw what lay underneath. Swollen flesh, misplaced knuckles, and angry red skin split by violent gashes. He knew that it would be infected soon, if Rust continued to use old bandages.

“Who the fuck did you beat up?”

“No one,” Rust spoke for the first time since he’d arrived, and his voice was strained, “Just… got angry. Joe visited, and he-”

He stopped speaking. The small amount that he had confided, the accidental slip of honesty, made Marty tingle with uncertainty. Rust was never like this. Something was very, very wrong.

“Your brother do somethin’ to you?”

Rust pulled away. He wrapped the bandage around his hand again, harder than necessary. His cheeks were ruddy from dehydration and a night lost down the bottom of a bottle.

“Somethin’ happened, Rust– I ain’t an idiot, and you can’t hide this shit from me forever. What's goin' on?”

“Nothin’. Don’t involve yourself-”

“There you go with that bullshit again,” Marty hissed, holding out an arm and catching Rust as he turned to leave, “What the fuck have you gotten yourself into that’s so dangerous you’ve gotta protect me from it?”

Rust looked at Marty, and fear filled his eyes. The same powerless, bone-deep fear that Marty, throughout his career, had learned to associate with victims. The ones that couldn't protect themselves. The ones who had been hurt so badly they would never be the same again, and could never be reached by anyone on the other side of an interrogation table, let alone embraced by a lover beneath sheets. Marty had always been shaken to his core by the remnants of death, the fragile souls that survived with nothing but a half-life. He never slept after seeing them tremble, looking into their hollow eyes and hearing their whimpered words.

He'd never imagined he would have to see that fear in his friend's face.

"Rust..." Marty breathed, "What's he doing to you?"

Cold expressionlessness came down over Rust's eyes, like shutters drawing closed, and Marty felt panic grip him, thinking, No, no, don't push me away. I can help you.

"Rust-"

Rust pushed Marty’s hand off his waist, and walked away.

 

 

Chapter Text

Two weeks later, things were different. Rust was acting out and had been threatened with suspension four times. Their car rides were stiff and silent, and the bruised skin beneath Rust's haunted eyes was darkening with every night he spent in a sleepless frenzy. Marty tried to talk to him, kept trying even when Rust refused to answer.

Marty didn't know what was happening. And not knowing made it worse, because Marty had seen Rust calmly describe graphic torture as if it was as commonplace as the weather– he couldn't comprehend what could encompass a man like Rust in such senseless fear, what would cause terror to intrude into his every waking moment. He stayed up late thinking about Rust's twin. The man with a shark's smile. In his dreams, the man had blood in his teeth.

As if that wasn't enough, he arrived at work one morning to find the FBI were there. Apparently, there had been a series of carefully concealed assassinations in Louisiana– so well hidden, in fact, that the CID hadn't caught them. The latest victims, found that morning in a shallow grave, were Billy Lee Tuttle and Eddie Tuttle. The case had gone countrywide.

Rust hadn't looked surprised.

As if he'd been expecting it.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty had led enough interrogations to know how to survive them.

He played dumb.

He smiled, gestured cluelessly, let his expression relax at the right intervals as he feigned stupidity. It was too easy. Too simple to read the weaknesses of the men in front of him, to pander to how much they wanted to write him off as yet another nonthreatening local cop. He almost hated how Rust had slid under his skin, nestled in his head, changed the way he viewed the world and the people around him. But he loved it too. Because pretending to be a dumbass– pretending to have only enough brain in his head to keep a clever woman from finding out that he was fucking every girl that caught his eye– was horrifying. He hated to think of who he’d been before Rust had taught him to distrust everything and everyone, including himself.

He was only in the interrogation room for five minutes.

As he sauntered out, he gave Rust a short glare which was not returned. Rust didn’t look him in the eye, and continued on into the interrogation room, cigarette hanging from his mouth and jacket over his arm like he belonged in some kind of fucking noir film. Marty swallowed hard, tried to keep his face neutral as he imagined Rust sitting on the wrong side of that table. He wondered whether Rust was even capable of keeping his opinions to himself– shit, he might get arrested just for being an annoying son of a bitch. He’d known cops that had charged for obstruction of justice on far less.

He took a seat at his desk and waited.

 

***

 

As time passed, the minutes ticking on by, accompanied by the growing whispers around the room, saying, maybe Cohle’s cracked after all, maybe he’s fuckin’ insane, you seen how he fuckin’ looks at them corpses, like he wants to take ‘em home, Marty was ready to vomit. There was a growing itch inside him, and he couldn’t decide what he wanted more; to get his hands around Rust’s neck and demand to know what the fuck he had gotten himself into, or to lay his hands on that brother, beat him down and show Rust that he was safe. He was frustrated, worried, and frightened.

There was a third option. One that presented itself in hazily unfocussed flashes of heat, propelling through Marty at unexpected moments, usually when Rust turned at a certain angle or lifted his hand to his face, two long fingers holding a cigarette aloft like it was a joint. And Marty would think about how he wanted to touch Rust, to hold him, to feel him and claw at him and kiss him, so hard that neither of them could breathe at all, pressed so close that they could never escape the tangle of limbs and clothes–

Sitting alone at his desk, pants tighter for the pressure inside his underwear, Marty blinked. He peeked around guiltily, shifting in his seat, like someone could hear what he was thinking, like someone would take one look at him and just know that he dreamed about his partner on a regular basis.

But everyone was looking away. They were staring expectantly at the interrogation room– like hungry vultures– where the door was opening and Rust was emerging, face relaxed and posture lengthened with lean, easy strides. He gestured for the next cop to go in, and everyone looked around with raised eyebrows and disappointed sighs, mutters about the incompetency of FBI agents already being exchanged. Rust ignored them all and looked right at Marty.

Marty held his gaze, tried not to think of mouths and skin and heat. He jerked his head minutely towards the entrance of the CID, saying, I’ll meet you outside.

Rust walked off.

Marty prepared himself for the conversation that was coming, and tried to focus.

 

***

 

It was only when Marty got out into the parking lot that he saw how bad everything was.

Rust was bowed over the dashboard in his car, hands a blur of movement as he tried to hide what he’d been doing. Marty ripped open the door, got in, and slammed it closed behind him. Rust looked up, eyes hooded, pupils already dilating, somewhere between Crash and the broken man who’d turned up drunk for that damn family dinner. White powder dusted his upper lip, and his mouth was open, face slack with dumb intoxication. Marty swore and grabbed at Rust’s hands, trying to find out what he was taking– but Rust slapped him away, and it was only then that Marty realised how close they were. Rust grabbed his wrists, hard, just like he had that day in the locker room, and yanked him close. Rust’s lips were slick, his tongue resting between his teeth, and Marty couldn’t breathe properly.

“What the fuck are you doing?” He whispered.

Rust sucked in a sharp, unsteady breath. The drug was making its way down into his deepest instincts, and he wrapped a hand around the back of Marty’s neck, pressed their foreheads together. Marty tried to move away, but Rust held him still, and their ragged breaths mingled in the too-warm air. Their faces were so close.

“Rust-”

“He’s killin’ them, Marty,” Rust’s voice trembled, and Marty’s neck burned with the pressure of Rust's bruising fingers, “I made a mistake. I just wanted the Yellow King dead, I… I shouldn’t have brought him back here, I… I’ve been runnin’ so long, I…”

Marty froze. Panic, insidious and creeping, made his skin prickle. “…What…?”

“I fucked up.” Rust’s voice twisted into a sob. “He’s gonna hurt you if I don’t do what he says.”

“Hurt me how, Rust?”

Rust shook his head, curls against Marty’s forehead as he started to lean away. “You oughta fuck off, Marty. You oughta run from me-”

Marty grabbed a handful of Rust’s jacket, fisted the fabric and pulled them close. He wanted to kiss Rust, but he was so afraid. He didn’t know what was happening.

“No. No, you piece of shit, I’m not lettin’ you do that. I’m not lettin’ you push me away ‘cause you think it’ll save me. I ain't leavin' you alone in this.”

“Marty-”

“I’m gonna drive you home, you motherfucker,” Marty hissed through his teeth, vicious in his determination to protect his partner, “and you’re gonna tell me everythin’. You get me?”

“I can’t. I shouldn’t even- I’ve said too much, I’m puttin’ you in danger-”

“We can handle this, Rust-”

“No. No, you don’t get it. You don’t understand.” Rust was actually trembling now, shaking, and Marty reached out a hand, gripped his shoulder hard enough to keep him in one piece. “He’s not like anyone else. You’ve never met anyone like this.”

Marty’s chest tightened as he heard the sheer, unadulterated pain in Rust’s voice– and he wanted to hold him. Wanted to press his lips, gentle and tender, to Rust’s sobbing mouth, and say, it’s okay, it’s okay. I’ve got you.

But he didn’t.

He pushed Rust away, said, “Get into the backseat. I’m gonna go tell the fellas we’ve caught a break. You listening? Rust?”

Rust swayed in his seat, eyes half-lidded. He was too high to argue.

Marty felt ill.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty hauled Rust out of the car, draped him over his shoulder, muttering quiet curses and even quieter words of consolation. Just a little further, c’mon Rust, I got you.

Joe observed them as they made their slow, stumbling way up into Rust’s apartment. Rust couldn’t get his feet under him properly, which caused him to stagger; head lolling limply, cheek pressed against Marty’s neck as his body sagged under the weight of drugs and insomnia. Joe watched from the shadows, from the other side of the street. He didn’t need to hide, particularly, nor did he need to make any special effort to disappear from their awareness. He melted into the landscape, every facet of his being reduced to figments of light and colour. The sun slipped across his face, liquid and pulsing, but did not pause. He was a creature of nocturnal habit, after all. The daylight shine could not touch him.

Joe used stillness as a weapon, just like all predators. What his human counterparts had forgotten, he had not; where they were softened by evolution and consumerist consumption, he was sharpened by apathy. He was the jungle cat, the vampire, the wolf who waited to sink its teeth into warm, willing flesh. He could stand here all day and no one would notice. They would march on by, thinking of other things, brains saturated by advertising, sex, junk food, and lukewarm anger. Easy targets. Boring lifers. Generations and generations of lemmings, lining up for their three-meals-a-day life sentence in their unseen prison; the mediocrity of modern living.

Joe would not be seen by them. Not unless he wished to be.

His eyes were the only part of him that moved. Pinned to his brother, obsessively tracking him. He knew that Rust was his prey. This had always been the case– even back when they were children, even back in the wilderness of Alaska and the darkness of their father’s mourning.

Joe looked at his brother, digested him from afar, hungry for more. His pale skin. His hair, glued to his forehead by a sweat borne of terror and tiredness. His closed eyes, fluttering as he staggered between unconsciousness and waking. His lean frame, trembling as he tried to remain upright; his body, that was a mirror image of Joe’s own superior form. Joe wanted it all. He deserved it all.

After all. Rust was made in his image.

He remembered the perfection of it. Their Eden, their garden of paradise. Running together, wild and free, two prodigy children with identical faces and secretive eyes. They had spoken a language no one else had understood, and they had been alone in the world. Together, as it was meant to be. They had been two angels. A set of biologically beautiful twins, born into a world of maggots that did not deserve them. Their childhood laughter rang clear in Joe's mind, and he understood what he had to do. He needed Rust by his side again, and there was only one way to accomplish that. He had to take away everything that Rust loved, and leave him with nobody else to turn to.

He'd done it before.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty got Rust inside, tried to gently lower him onto the too-thin mattress that served as a pathetic excuse for a bed. Rust curled up, glaring around with tear-filled indignant eyes, seeming furious at the icy shivers that wracked his body. He looked so small that, for a moment, Marty wondered if he could do this. If he could face the danger that had reduced such a strong man to something so weak. But then, he supposed, Rust had always been weak. Just not in a way that most people knew how to see.

Armed with that thought– and with the misguided hope that he could be stronger than Rust, at least in this fight– he knelt by the bed and started searching Rust’s pockets. Rust whined angrily, eyes falling closed, hands making fists by his jaw. Marty focussed on the task at hand and tried desperately not to imagine Rust as a little boy. Tried not to imagine that brother of his. Because, whenever he did, he would see a shivering, hollow-eyed boy, looking up at a world too big and terrifying for him to understand, poisoned by the demon child clinging to his side. Marty had known children like Rust throughout his career. They either went one way or another; too fragile to cope, or feral beyond belief.

He was starting to see which way Rust had gone. And probably the most frightening part of all of this was that he hadn’t expected it– he’d fallen for the act, for the dramatic violence and the twisted martyrdom of Crash, the way Rust slipped into black leather and suits like they were weapons. Rust had concealed his vulnerability in a seamless bluff, and Marty had fallen for it.

“Is this it?” He snagged a bag of white powder from Rust’s jacket, held it up to the light. “Rust, is this what you took?”

Rust tried to focus. His eyes wandered over to Marty’s face blindly, so Marty carefully slapped his cheek.

“’Ey, c’mon. Look at it. Is this what you took?”

Rust forced his lips to work. He mumbled something incoherent, but it sounded like a confirmation, and Marty figured he would take what he could get. He pressed two fingers against Rust’s neck– against his lifeline, his pulse, just like he’d seen Rust do when he thought no one else was looking– and felt his heart hammering. Fast, but not too fast. Not so fast he’d need to drive Rust to some backwards hospital out in the middle of nowhere, and pay an unlicensed doctor handsomely to yank Rust back to life and keep quiet about the cocaine in his system.

“You’ll be okay,” Marty stood, sighing, “I’m gonna get rid of this. You stay here.”

Rust protested, words nonsensical, and a switch flipped somewhere deep in the primal areas of Marty’s brain.

“For fuck’s sake, just do what I tell you! You really think I’m gonna let you do drugs on my watch, while your psychopathic brother is out there killing people? Jesus fucking Christ, Rust!”

He let his words slice through the air, let the volume splinter at Rust’s cognition. He watched as Rust shook, trembling in the silence that followed, and he almost wanted to kiss him better, almost wanted to smooth his thumbs over Rust’s cheeks and dip his tongue inside, to taste. Marty wanted to fold himself over Rust's battered body and make promises with his hands, consolations with his mouth.

And he almost did.

But he was standing in the middle of a barren home, surrounded by books on murder and crime, and Rust looked so small. So breakable, like if Marty touched him he would crack down the middle and never mend again.

So Marty didn’t touch him.

“I’m gonna help you,” he promised instead, quieter than he thought he would ever have the strength to be, “but you gotta trust me. A’ight?”

Rust hid his face under shaking hands, and did not answer. A tiny sound escaped his mouth, and it broke Marty’s heart.

He went to go flush the coke down the toilet.

 

***

 

By the time he came back, Rust was asleep. His skin was pale and glistening, and Marty knew that Rust would just have to sweat the hit out. No other way around it.

He looked around the sparse apartment, only allowing himself to briefly consider leaving to get clothes and food. He knew he couldn’t. Not with Rust like this.

So he dragged a chair over from Rust’s dining room table, dumping a stack of crime scene photos from the chair onto the ever-growing piles where one would ordinarily expect to see plates, cutlery, maybe even fucking candles for decoration. He set it up next to the bed, fell into it, and tried not to feel an overwhelming sense of pity for the man in front of him. Prisons were more welcoming than this apartment. But it didn’t change the fact that Marty had nowhere else to be; no one else to be with. He looked at Rust for only as long as he could stand, before the emotions inside became unbearable.

All Marty wanted was to heal him.

 

***

 

Marty had never been good at stakeouts; too impatient, too wired– and, most importantly, unable to go without sleep for very long. So, as was inevitable, he eventually drifted off, chin against his chest and hands limply splayed against his thighs.

He dreamed of Joe.

He dreamed of a boy that lay dead, a boy with purpling cheeks and a face frozen by rigor mortis. He dreamed that the boy woke up, sat up smoothly, the mechanisms behind his eyes whirring onwards with the emotionless, cold progression of a well-oiled machine. Looking straight at Marty. Deep into his soul.

Marty realised he was going to die.

 

***

 

When Marty woke up, he could not breathe. He fell from the chair and onto his knees, crawling forward onto the mattress, wheezing as he tried to force breaths down into his lungs. He wrapped his arms around Rust and clung on for dear life.

He could've sworn Rust held him too.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust knew what the sickness was like. He knew what it was like to come down off blow, to have paranoia filling in your mind with thoughts pure marinated in poison, throat wrung dry from the force of vomit being dragged out of your stomach, every surface trembling with the convulsive hallucinations of a brain fucked to hell by chemicals. He remembered waking up on Ginger’s mattress one morning– morning? Afternoon? Night? Who the fuck knew, now, and it didn’t matter anyway– to find that he had swallowed his tongue. Or, he thought he had. Damn convinced that he’d split the flappy organ right down the middle, felt it slide down his throat, blood pouring down his chin in hot, viscous globs. He’d laughed, thin frame shaking with heaving pleas for air, writhing around thinking, tongue fucking salad, that’ll do you right son, have a good fucking taste-

Memories. Just memories. Rust jerked awake, fingers already in his mouth, searching, probing. He gagged a little, the sound echoing around in his empty skull. But he could feel his tongue, could tell that he was okay, okay, you’re okay, Jesus fucking Christ lord fuck-

So he let go, fingers dampened by saliva. Lay still, trembling. Just trying to breathe. Trying to calm down, listening to his heartrate sprint, feeling his body go limp. His physical existence was alien to him, in these moments. These comedowns. He was an observer, a curious absentee, just in for the stay. Just passing through.

He always fancied that he could just… drift. Leave his body to flounder, empty and hollowed-out; blank eyes and shallow breaths, no consciousness. Christ, it sounded compelling.

At least he wouldn’t have to deal with a pain that only getting high could solve.

 

***

 

When he woke next, Rust could feel that his consciousness had reassembled. Or maybe he had reassembled himself into consciousness, dragged his soul back from purgatory and into the prison of his cranium. Square peg, round hole, all that. He didn’t fit, and his thoughts felt incorrect. Like they were coming from the side, slanted, perspective tilted into something that he would never be able to describe. Fuck, he needed barbitals, opiates, benzos, Phenylalanine, Magnesium, 5-HTP, L-Dopa, a warm shower, some relaxing fucking music and maybe a sweet little apocalypse to absolve him from all human responsibility.

He opened his eyes, fully aware he was not going to be afforded a global disaster of biblical proportions, and focussed dazedly on the white sheet under him, stained yellowish from nightmare sweats. He breathed in, reacquainted himself with mortality by inhaling the familiar musk of his apartment.

Then he started to realise what was unfamiliar.

An arm draped over his stomach. A foot pressed against his calf, breaths tickling his neck.

He froze still.

Terror. Horror. Fear. Remembering his childhood, the way he and Joe had fallen into a too-small metal frame bed, once so safe in their supposed innocence, sleeping beside each other like puppies. He remembered the dawning realisation that a Devil had been warm at his back all those years; a baby-faced demon spawn with Rust’s face, that had slid into the womb beside him and grown like a parasite.

And he tensed. Ready for a fight. Ready to kill.

Then he separated reality from memory, and last night’s events came to him in a rush. Meaning… meaning that…

Marty, he thought, oh fuck, Marty. Marty’s in bed with me.

They hadn’t fucked. Surely they hadn’t. Urgency cut through the blurred hysteria of his hangover, and he tried to think back, wrestle his brain into cognisance.

No. No, they hadn’t.

But–

Oh fuck. Oh fuck.

He’d told Marty. He’d told him about Joe-

It was that thought that propelled him up off the mattress, scrambling, breaths too fast and too shallow. Marty blinked awake, sprawled on his side, looking bleary and exhausted. His hair was sticking up in endearing tufts, and any other day Rust would’ve bent down to kiss him. Just because he could, just because Marty was so warm and so close. But Joe's words rang clear as a curse in his head– I'll have my way with that pretty blond friend of yours– and he knew this was no time to be thinking about anything except survival.

“Th’fuck,” Rust slurred in place of a greeting.

Too high to speak.

Everything went black, and he was asleep again.

 

***

 

Waking again. A raw burn in his throat, an acidic taste that said vomit. Fingers in his hair that said Marty, and had Rust trembling.

“Thank God you're awake Rust,” Marty whispered, and Rust flinched at the volume of his voice.

“You need t’run,” Rust forced the words out, even as they made his head cave in with explosions, “Marty, he’ll hurt you-”

“I’m gonna help you, asshole. We’ll deal with this together.”

“Marty-”

“Go back to sleep, for fuck’s sake. I’ve got my gun, ain’t nothin’ gonna happen that I don’t allow. I've got you.”

Rust struggled, fought to sit up. But Marty’s hands were so gentle, and all he wanted was to be touched. He turned his head, searching, and found Marty’s palm cradling his jaw.

He felt safe.

How hilarious.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust had pulled him close, yanked him near in a fit of drugged terror, and then fallen asleep. Now, Marty cradled Rust’s head in his lap, fingers cupped around the curve of that fine skull, the ridges and lumps of bone hard beneath soft brown hair. It was different like this, now that Rust was unconscious again. Without the crude perfume of smoke to obscure the lovely lines of that face, Marty was free to look.

Free to touch.

Every stroke of his fingers against Rust’s hair felt bold, audaciously daring. His breaths were thick in his throat, caught somewhere in his windpipe, and he was certain that Rust was about to jerk awake and level him with a punch to the jaw.

But time went on. And Rust stayed where he was, eyelids flickering faintly in his sleep. Whenever Marty’s hands stilled, Rust’s exhalations would grow harsh, tinged with whimpers. Marty knew he would have to stop eventually– he was well aware that, even if Rust wanted this comfort now, he wouldn’t later. He would be ashamed. Angry. As was the right of any man who had pride in their own strength.

Shit, Marty thought, if he knew I was touching him like this, fuck,

Marty craned his head up towards the ceiling, closed his eyes, trying to escape the intensity of his secrets. The weight of Rust’s head against his thigh seemed surreal. Something Marty should only ever have been afforded in a dream, a midnight adventure into pleasures he would never be afforded. But sunlight slipped across the desolate blankness of Rust’s apartment, and Marty couldn’t convince himself that this was a hallucination, the vision of a desperate man– even if he could taste the ghost of Rust against him, feel invisible curves of a naked body beside him in bed.

Rust was clothed. He stank of vomit. All Marty was doing was sitting there, holding him, keeping him calm. But still, knowing that Rust was right in front of him nearly sent Marty over the edge.

Oh, God. The things he wanted

Marty pressed his hand to Rust’s forehead, a broken sigh shivering out from between his lips, and this was all he needed. This was all he could take. All he deserved.

His hand trembled.

 

***

 

Rust woke up again, and he was cold. The cocaine had left him chilled, shivers wracking his body, but it was… more than that. He felt alone. An absence beside him, against him, and he shuddered with it, reaching his arm out across the mattress.

Marty, Marty…

Rust opened his eyes and could see him tottering around in the kitchen, cooking something hot and rich. Something that had Rust’s stomach twisted with a mix of hunger and nausea. He retched, arching up off the bed, and then a curse was hissing across the apartment– Marty was at his side in seconds, a bucket in front of his face. Rust curled upwards, coiling towards the offered bucket, and the warm pressure of Marty’s hand on his back was comfortingly familiar. He wondered, as he gagged, how many times this had happened since he’d taken that cocaine in the parking lot. Had he been awake? Had he been asleep? How many days had it been? Had Marty really fallen asleep beside him, or was that hazy memory just a product of his deeply delusional imagination?

He retched until he was done. His belly was scraping in on itself, empty, and there was nothing else to throw up but stomach acid. Green and viscous and thick. Fucking awful.

“You good?” Marty asked him. Rust nodded, shoving him away weakly.

Marty went off to clean the bucket. Rust stayed where he was, not capable of much more than regulating his breathing and trying to keep his stomach from imploding. Quicker than Rust knew how to process, Marty was back, and there was a mug being pressed into Rust’s hands. Steaming soup, thick with vegetables and meat. Rust stared down into the depths of the cup, throat heaving. A wave of hair trembled against his forehead, and he tried to control his shivering, to no avail. He wished Marty would just fuck off and leave him to suffer in peace.

But Marty sat beside him. Hands folded, patient as a saint.

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate all this, Marty,” Rust began, then coughed, clearing his throat hoarsely, “but can you just gimme a sec to-”

“Eat.” Marty ordered him flatly. “Then we’re gonna have a talk ‘bout what the fuck your brother’s doin’, and what part you had in it.”

Rust took a long, hard breath. Fuck, he needed a cigarette. He needed a whole pack.

He ate the soup instead.

 

***

 

When Rust was done, Marty took the bowl from him. He washed it up in the kitchen sink, stacked it alongside the other dishes he’d cleaned. Now that he was regaining his senses, Rust could smell cleaning fluid, see newly freshened surfaces that practically fucking glimmered.

“The hell you doin’ tidyin’ my kitchen, Marty?” He mumbled, words loose and slurred.

Marty flipped him off, wandered back over to the mattress. He didn’t sit down, this time– he crossed his arms, head tilted to the side, face hard with anxious fury. Standing above Rust. The goddamn inquisition.

“I did right by you, Rust. I’ve covered your ass, I’ve told the guys at work that we’re chasin’ a lead, and I’ve cleaned up this shithole so you can function like a human being while you come down off illegal fuckin’ drugs. So don’t bitch, don’t whine, don’t complain. Just talk to me. Tell me exactly what you brought your brother into town for. Tell me what he’s been doin’.

Rust shook his head. “No.”

“For fuck’s sake-”

Marty was on him in an instant, hands at his neck, fabric strained in his fists. Rust shook with the force of impact, hands rising to protect himself.

“Rust,” Marty hissed, “Fuckin’ talk to me,”

Rust tried to push him away. Tried to fight him off. They tussled, aggressive and exhausted, until Rust’s back was against the wall and Marty was straddling him, knees braced on either side of Rust’s hips. Rust found his mouth at Marty’s cheek, breathing hard as Marty panted against his neck. Rust’s chemical-saturated heart was hammering with exertion and cocaine hyperactivity. Their closeness was not lost on him, and a lightning bolt shuddered through his ribs when Marty’s lips brushed his jaw. He wanted to arch up into Marty’s groin, grind their bodies together in a way that couldn’t be mistaken as accidental. He'd wanted that since the day in the locker room.

Instead, he gave in.

Slumped against the wall, head lolling forward, body held upright only by Marty’s hands. Rust knew he didn’t have a choice. He knew he would have to tell Marty everything, now, because Marty was the only thing tethering him in the violent storm that his life had become.

“I just wanted to save them,” he breathed, voice a scratch of sound that struggled to escape his throat at all, “the kids, Marty, the ones he hadn’t killed yet… When I saw that boy, that girl, I knew I couldn’t… I couldn’t let that happen again, I…”

Marty stilled. His hand flattened, palm against Rust’s sternum. Rust felt tears in his eyes and wished he could stop them, wished that Marty's touch didn't feel like his salvation.

“Tell me,” Marty ordered Rust, quiet and gentle, as if he knew that Rust couldn't deny him anything.

Rust reached up and took the back of Marty’s neck in his hand, pulling him close. Mouth beside Marty’s ear.

He let it all pour out in whispers.

 

 

Chapter Text

He told Marty everything.

As the urgency and fight faded from the air, they both became more aware of what they were doing. How they were pressed together, the back of Marty’s thighs heavy against Rust’s hips, pinning him to the mattress, denim stiff and tight over his ass. Marty’s hands loosened on Rust’s shirtfront, and then he was easing away. Rust just looked up at him, ready for a blow, ready for judgement to be imparted on him in the form of Marty’s fists. Shit, maybe he even wanted it. Longed for it. Anything to keep Marty against him, their bodies connected, touching. He wanted Marty to get angry. He wanted Marty to fuck him up.

But Marty just moved off him, knees dragging on the mattress, crawling backwards in a kneeling position. And maybe that was the most intense moment of it all, the distance widening and serving to emphasise how close they’d been before. Marty fell down to sit beside him, back against the wall. Rust didn’t look him in the eye. He reached down and sought out the cigarettes and lighter that he kept beside his bed.

Silence.

Marty seemed too fucking stunned to talk. Rust supposed that it made sense. I hired my brother to kill the Yellow King. I didn’t know he wouldn’t stop.

I didn’t know he would come after you.

Rust lit up, let the click of the lighter slice through the air, metallic and sharp. He inclined his chin upwards, hissing in a breath through his teeth, smoke streaming down into his lungs. When he exhaled, Marty breathed in, like he wanted a hit of nicotine too. Rust held out his cigarette wordlessly.

When Marty took it, their fingers touched.

Rust almost laughed.

“Ain’t you gonna say anythin’?” Rust asked dully, taking back the cigarette when Marty was done, disturbed by the calmness of all this. “Rage on ‘bout how I oughta trust the brothers in blue, and not go off doin’ shit by myself?”

Marty licked at his lips thoughtfully. Rust watched him from the corner of his eye, and wondered if Marty tasted ash.

“…The things I’ve seen with you, Rust…” Marty murmured, taking the cigarette from Rust’s hand again, “…think it’s safe to say I don’t trust the law no more. Not the way I used to.” He had a drag, coughed, wiped invisible ash off his t shirt, sparking an unexpected jolt of affection in Rust. That was his habit. Marty was copying him.

“I know why you did it. Called him in. What really gets me is why you felt the need to do this alone, Christ,” Marty sighed. He sounded tired. “After all we’ve been through. Did you really think I couldn’t take this? We could’a gone about it different. Could’a done this right.”

“Wouldn’t have been a right way to do it.” Rust took his cigarette back. “And you wouldn’t have said yes.”

“Bullshit-”

“This was an assassination, Marty. Killin’ a man. You really think that would’ve been an option in your head, huh? Even if it was a man like the Yellow King?”

Marty looked at him, blue eyes bright with outrage. Rust held his stare, had a deep suck on his cigarette– and, if he saw Marty glance down at his mouth, surely it was just delusion. His vision was blurry, and his head was pounding. He needed to sleep for a month.

Marty looked away. Rust felt a petty sense of victory, having won their staring contest.

“…Can’t believe you grew up with that insane motherfucker.”

Now it was Rust’s turn to look away, to grit his jaw tight, to try and contain himself. For a second there, he’d forgotten about Joe.

“Was he always…?”

“Yeah.” Rust cleared his throat. “Yeah, he was always like this. Even when we were…” small, innocent, young, just fucking babies, how could a boy be so fucking evil, he ain’t even been in the world yet, “…Even when we were kids.”

Marty went quiet again, mulling that over, and Rust really wasn’t keen on that. He didn’t want Marty to consider the logistics of it, didn’t want to hear the silent reasoning and the nagging insights like, yeah, of course you can’t function in society, you’ll never be normal, not if you grew up with that fucking monster-

“Listen,” Rust reached his arm out, hand automatically finding the mug that was stationed beside the mattress as his permanent ashtray. He tapped out the cigarette lazily, sighing, “This ain’t your fight. If you wanna cut and run, you better do it soon.”

Marty snorted. “What the fuck do you mean, this ain’t my fight? He’s gunnin’ for both of us now, idiot.”

Rust’s hand stilled for a moment, and then he shook his head minutely, taking another drag to cover his embarrassment and shame.

“…Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. M’sorry, Marty. Fuck.”

Marty looked over at him, and Rust didn’t meet his gaze. Kept his eyes down low, head bowed.

Shit, he thought, what have I done. What have I fucking done.

“Nah.” Marty said, softly, “Ain’t your fault. Not really.”

It is. It is, goddamn it, you perfect piece of shit. I hate you. I hate you. I love you. I hate you.

Rust nodded like he agreed, flimsy paper between two fingers like the familiar sensation could save him from all his sins. Smoke and fire, humming against his skin, singeing burns into his fingerprints. Maybe he could scrape away his identity, defy the legacy of his bloodline. Burn his skin away and leave it all to die.

Madness.

“So. How’re we gonna play this?”

“…You’re askin’ me that?” Marty demanded incredulously.

Rust shrugged. “Thought you might have one or two opinions on the subject.”

Marty snorted with amusement, muttering, “Yeah, I do you, you prick,” but he shifted where he sat, and his pride at being given control was obvious. Rust thought back to their Iron Crusaders gambit, remembered how much Marty had loved the collaboration, the secrecy of their investigation. It never failed to endear Marty to him, knowing how much the man valued friendship and closeness. The way he wasn’t afraid to show it.

“First,” Marty held out a hand, authority and seriousness hardening his voice, “we need to get back to work. The FBI are gonna come knockin’ on our doors eventually, if we’re actin’ off, spendin’ too many days out of the office. I’ve already got a cover story sorted for today and yesterday-”

“Look at you. Prepared an’ all.”

“- yeah, fuck you. Anyway, we gotta get back to our normal schedule, try to keep you outta Joe's clutches. If you stay away from him, he'll be forced to come for you instead, and we'll have the advantage. Secondly-”

“There’s a list, huh?”

Yeah, there’s a fuckin’ list. Secondly, you’re gonna stop takin’ all these damn drugs.”

Rust raised his eyebrows, turned his unimpressed gaze on Marty. “Am I, now?”

“Yeah, you are.” Marty glared back at him unflinchingly. “I need you steady. I know this,” he waved vaguely around the apartment, “method used to work for you, but it clearly ain’t workin’ anymore. You’re a damn timebomb when you’re on blow or smack, and if you plan on survivin’ your demented twin psycho, you gotta clean up your act.”

“That why you made me soup?” Rust asked flatly, not liking being told what drugs he could and could not take. “To clean up my act?”

Marty blushed, looked away. “You ungrateful ass.”

“Ain’t ungrateful. It was awful… mothering of you.”

Marty punched his arm. Rust swallowed down a grin and had another drag of his cigarette. They fell into silence again, and a thought occurred to Rust. One that he didn’t like, and one that he knew Marty would hate even more.

“There is another option.”

Marty’s eyes zeroed in on his face, and maybe it was the heaviness of Rust’s expression, or maybe it was just his tone of voice– either way, understanding slackened Marty’s features, immediately followed by anger and frustration.

“No, Rust.”

“If I give him what he wants-”

“What he wants is you, Rust. No.” Marty stood, hands tight by his sides, fists straining, skin straining white over his knuckles. “For fuck’s sake. Stop it. Oh, and somethin’ else– you ain’t stayin’ here no more.”

Rust blinked. “S’cuse me?”

“If I leave you here alone, he’ll kill you. Grab what you need, we’ll leave today. You’re comin’ to mine ‘til this is over.”

Rust felt heat boil beneath his jeans as the suggestion manifested in his head, and he pictured fucking Marty in the bed he’d once shared with Maggie. He had another deep drag and tried his hardest to look annoyed, and not like he was imagining riding Marty so hard that they made dents in the wall from rocking the bed.

“I’d be puttin’ you in danger. No.”

Marty laughed, shaking his head. “I’m already in danger. ‘Least this way we’ll be able to keep each other alive.”

“He ain’t exactly lookin’ to kill me, Marty.”

And he’s not looking to kill you, either, he thought, but didn’t say. Thick sickness built in his gut when the vision of them turned into a vision of Joe and Marty, his brother’s hands on Marty’s hips, holding him steady as they moved to a rhythm that was too fast, too violent, Marty's face pressed into the pillow, tears streaming down his cheeks, eyes wide and horrified-

Fuck no, fuck, fuck,

Then-

Then everything stopped.

A silent epiphany. A quiet revelation. Rust realised what he would have to do. Joe would never stop, he would never give up, and Marty would never be safe.

Not unless Joe was dead.

"...Rust? You with me here?"

Rust tapped his cigarette over the mug, dazed and silent, as he accepted his fate. He would have to kill his own brother. And if he died himself during the process, it'd be worth it. He looked up at Marty and considered him, wondered when this damn fucking idiot had come to mean so much to him.

Marty watched him worriedly. "...'Ey, you good, or...?"

Rust nodded. He felt calm. He felt ready.

Prepared to die.

Prepared to kill.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust wandered into Marty’s house, the lines of his body unsteady and staggering, a smooth sway to his walk that spoke of loose, tired withdrawal. He had a bag slung over his shoulder, tattered and old, one hip cocked to the side when he stood in the doorway of Marty’s spare bedroom and looked over his new lodgings. His hair was askew, hanging over his face, and Marty thought, fuck, because Rust shouldn’t have had the right to look so uniquely enticing. Not like this. Not hungover, patched up with pills and coffee, shattered deep down inside his fragile heart.

“Thanks. Looks good,” he said, short and clipped, and Marty nodded like he wasn’t seriously considering what the fuck he was doing. Rust was an enigma wrapped up in addiction and loneliness, and here Marty was thinking they could just live together like two civil, normal people. What the fuck was this, playing house? Would they make dinner together? Enjoy a warm breakfast while they read a newspaper?

Would they make slow, easy love in the afternoons? Warmed by beer, tired with the world?

“Sure,” Marty replied, “I’m gonna go take a shower. You need anything?”

“No.” Rust answered him, predictably, setting down his bag.

Marty fled when Rust tugged at the hem of his shirt and pulled it over his head. The glimpse of that brown, scarred back made Marty hard, and when he was safe in the solitude of the shower he let his hand wander down to his cock. Head tipping back, mouth opening, heart humming like a trapped bird.

I’m so fucked.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust was shockingly easy to live with.

He drank beer like normal people drank water, did the dishes when Marty grumbled and fussed like he was an underappreciated wife that needed help around the house, and tidied up after himself. He didn’t talk much, as per usual, unless he felt the need to regale Marty with philosophy and bullshit. Marty answered him in kind, with cynicism and sarcasm, and it was perfect. They fell into a rhythm that was alarmingly natural, like they were meant to slot together into this strangely calm domesticity. Marty had expected it to be much, much harder than this.

They left in their own cars each morning, drove to the CID separately, Rust often dawdling on his way so that they arrived at different times. Marty tried not to think too hard about the secrecy with which they hid the fact that they were living together, and what people would assume if they knew– it was as if they were having an affair. Trading kisses and touches behind closed doors, a hidden sin, a relationship that no one would understand, let alone approve of.

He knew it was just his imagination. Knew he was just making something out of nothing, fantasising about things that Rust would never give him.

But still. He got off on it, when he could, and determinedly ignored Rust’s pointed glares on the mornings when Marty had been up all fucking night, jerking off so hard and fast that it was almost painful, knowing that Rust could hear him but so caught up in it that he really could not bring himself to care.

“Sleep well, Marty?” Rust would ask dryly.

Marty would reply with his middle finger, stuck up in the air with a crudeness he tried not to compare to… other things.

 

***

 

One month passed, then two. The fear that had, at first, intruded into every moment of silence, started to fade. Rust went back to his place to occasionally make sure that Joe hadn’t taken up residency there– but, aside from that, the shadow of Rust’s brother no longer hovered over them like a heavy, untouchable curse. They both settled into an easeful, relaxed routine. Marty wondered if Rust even noticed; either way, they never talked about it. And Rust didn’t ever bring up leaving.

They still took cases, still worked the job, still argued about interrogation techniques and covered each other’s asses when the job got too much and they laid hands on a particularly vile criminal. Rust still smoked too many damn cigarettes, still grit his jaw when Quesada chewed him out, and Marty still defended him with only as much effort as was needed to maintain Rust’s pride. But they were closer. More united. They still bickered like schoolboys, but actual fighting between them was rare– shit, it was almost like neither of them could really get a kick out of conflict anymore.

Marty thought about Maggie, sometimes.

But mostly he didn't.

 

***

 

 

One afternoon, Marty’s car was in the shop, so they took Rust’s truck home. If any of the other detectives gave them the side-eye, they ignored it. Didn’t matter what anyone thought.

Rust fell into the driver’s seat with a cigarette between his teeth, one hand folded around the steering wheel, the other dangling between his spread legs. Marty gave him an appreciative glance as he settled against the car seat’s supple leather, didn’t even bother telling himself he wasn’t aching to slip his hands under that tired brown suit. He liked the way Rust’s shirts pulled tight into the waistband of his pants. He liked the way Rust’s belt was snug against his hips.

He liked all of this.

“You’ve got some meat on ya,” he said smoothly when Rust looked over, “think my cooking’s doin’ you good.”

Rust snorted, held his cigarette between two fingers as he pulled out of the parking lot. His eyes went all squinty when he had a deep drag. Marty would’ve laughed if it weren’t so fucking enticing.

“I gotta say…” Marty mused, turning his face back to the windscreen, “you’re calmer than I thought you’d be. Y’know, considerin’ how close you are to all this. To your brother.”

Rust didn’t reply.

“You doin’ okay?”

“I really don’t need this cheap therapy bullshit, Marty.”

“Oh, screw you, man,” Marty replied easily, used to their banter, “Come on, just… Just work with me, would you?”

Rust shrugged calmly. “I am. I’ve done everythin’ you wanted me to. Even moved in with you, for fuck’s sake.”

Moved in with you. Marty wished his heart didn’t leap so damn much.

“What more d’you want?” Rust continued, no heat in his tone. Just deadpan mockery. The kind that made Marty eager to take fucking control-

“I just wanna make sure you’re alright, jackass,” Marty bit back.

Rust glanced over at him, and Marty met his stare with raised eyebrows, an expectant look on his face. He gestured sharply to prompt Rust into speaking, and Rust turned away, looking back at the road with a heavy sigh. He had another suck of his cigarette, slower now. Stalling.

“Still dream ‘bout him. But that ain’t nothin’ new.”

Marty nodded, expression sobering.

He sat in quiet contemplation for a moment. Letting Rust get comfortable with this conversation.

“…How long you been runnin’ from him?” He asked quietly, wondering why he’d never asked before. Probably because he knew enough to guess the answer.

“All my life, feels like. He…” Rust sighed again, smoke drifting over to Marty, swirling against his skin. “He never wanted me to have anythin’ that wasn’t him.”

“Fuck.” Marty rubbed at his face worriedly. “How does that happen to a person, huh?”

“He was born wrong. I used to think about it more, used to… try and rationalise how he was. Thought maybe somethin’ had happened to him when we were kids, somethin’ I missed…” Rust fell silent for long enough that Marty glanced carefully over a him, wondering if he would continue. Rust didn’t meet his eyes, drawing a patient breath before he continued. He looked tired. “But there ain’t no understandin’ Joe. Regardless of how he got this way, there ain’t no changin’ him.”

Marty thought back to when he first met Joe. That day in the office, pinned into place by those hollowed-out, empty eyes. The promise of violence in that icy blue stare.

“Mm. Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Rust nodded, fast and impatient like he was eager to change the topic of conversation. Marty could hardly fucking blame him. “You got any siblings?”

Marty frowned. “What?”

“What, you goin’ deaf? Asked whether you got any siblings.”

Marty laughed, shifting in his seat. “Sorry, I just… I don’t ever remember you askin’ me a personal question before.”

Rust glared at him as if to say, come the fuck on, Marty, I’m makin’ an effort here.

“Yeah, uh…” Marty shook his head, “No. Not really.”

“The fuck’s not really mean?”

“Mom never could have any more kids. They tried, for a long time, but… I was their miracle boy.”

He laughed to cover the sadness in his voice, but he knew that Rust heard it anyway. A memory formed in his mind. His mother, standing by a clothesline, smiling at him as he ran from the house, the sun warming the edges of her face. She’d always had such a lovely smile.

“Yeah,” Rust said softly, “figures.”

“The hell you mean by that?”

“Your ego had to some from somewhere.”

“Oh, fuck you, man,” Marty whacked him lightly on the leg, hand glancing off Rust’s thigh. He caught the small, quirked smile tugging on the edges of Rust’s lips, and it made warmth glow on his cheeks. Rust looked away after a brief pause, still smiling, and Marty did too. They moved together now. Bound. Linked by something that Marty couldn’t have named even if he had tried.

“I’ll, uh,” Rust cleared his throat, glancing away with an awkwardness that was decidedly unlike him, “I’ll make dinner tonight.”

Marty frowned. “What?”

“Christ, you are hard on hearing, ain’t you. Said I’ll make dinner.”

Marty’s frown deepened. “…Why?”

Rust drew in a deep lungful of smoke. “’Cause I’m tryin’ to be nice, you shithead.”

“…Again, why-”

“Forget it.” Rust snapped.

“No, no, go ahead,” Marty grinned, a snigger building in his throat, “wouldn’t wanna impede your efforts to be civil now, would I?”

“You fuckin’ idiot,” Rust muttered.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust went by the grocery store, returned to the car with a paper bag in one arm. His sleeves were rolled up, hand curved around the base of the bag, other arm dangling by his side. Smoke trailed after his cigarette like he was a degenerate goddamn cowboy, hips swaying like they deserved a tactical belt and a gun holster.

Marty wondered if this was what it meant to be seduced.

 

***

 

When they got home– and fuck, the idea that this was their home now made Marty ache– Rust unloaded the groceries in the kitchen, the slow movements of his arms almost as attractive as the way he used firearms. Marty hung around, leaning against the fridge with a cold beer in one hand, peering over at Rust as he cut up ingredients. The sting of onions made both their eyes water, and Rust cracked a window.

Marty had left Audrey and Macy's drawings up on the fridge, stuck in place with magnets, but they didn't make him sad anymore. This, right here, with Rust? This felt like family.

“What’re you making?”

“Meatloaf.”

Marty snorted. “Somehow, I expected you to make somethin’ weird I ain’t never had before.”

Rust flipped him off with vague disinterest. “Wouldn’t think you’d be the kind of man to want his horizons expanded, Marty.”

Marty laughed again, louder now, thinking, Oh shit, you don’t know the half of it.

“Get fucked,” he replied cheerfully. “But seriously– why meatloaf? You got a hankerin’ for it, huh?”

Rust shrugged, eyes still trained down on the chopping board. “It’s quick n’ easy. Lived on this recipe when I was a kid.”

“Why’s that?”

“Dad who worked full time, no mom– who the fuck do you think did the cooking? If Joe and me hadn't cooked and hunted, we'd have starved.”

“…Huh. Didn’t consider that.”

“Probably ‘cause you never had to do shit as a kid.”

Marty bristled, glaring across the kitchen at the back of Rust’s neck. “’Ey, fuck you. It ain’t my fault you were raised by wolves.”

Rust paused for a moment. He put down his knife smoothly, the metal blade making a quiet noise against the weathered wood. He cupped the pile of chopped onions and dropped it into a mixing bowl, and Marty was so hypnotised by the shape of his hands that he didn’t notice the silence had gone on too long to be comfortable.

“Don’t insult my father, Marty. He did his best after mom left.”

Marty’s gaze snapped back up, his throat tightening with an anxious swallow. He heard the flat pain in Rust’s voice and wished it didn’t impact him so fucking much. Rust wasn’t even his to consider. He ought not feel so goddamn responsible.

“Sorry.”

Rust nodded calmly.

“…You want a beer?”

“Sure, Marty.”

 

***

 

Marty set up placemats and cutlery, sat down as Rust laid down two full plates of meatloaf. The domesticity of it was both weird as fuck, and perfect.

Marty dug his fork into the loaf, mouth already watering at the rich, lusciously flavoursome smell that rose from the steaming meat. He chewed on a mouthful eagerly, moaning as the succulence hit him in a burst of taste. It was only when he glanced up that he realised Rust was yet to touch his plate, and was instead sitting there watching Marty’s reaction.

“This is fuckin’ great, Rust, shit.”

Rust looked down, his bashful shyness betrayed only by the tightness of his grip around his cutlery. Marty beamed at him, still chewing.

“Seriously, I mean it. You’re cookin’ from now on.”

“Ain’t your fuckin’ wife, Marty.”

“Yeah, well, I ain’t yours neither, I shouldn’t hafta be the one always cookin’. How ‘bout we take turns, huh?”

Rust looked up at that, at the implication that this arrangement would stretch on indefinitely, and his expression was carefully arranged into blankness. He licked at his lips and watched Marty as if he were trying to solve a puzzle. Marty raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Feel free to tell me to fuck off whenever you like, y'know. You don’t owe me shit.” His voice was soft, tender and thankful in a way that cut right to Marty’s core.

“…Yeah, well," Marty sighed, trying to stay casual, "you don't need to go anytime soon, Rust. Know your brother's still out there somewhere.”

Rust nodded. His gaze dropped to his plate as he began eating, but Marty didn't look away. His expression twisted with pain at the thought of spending his nights alone.

Please, he pleaded silently, Never, ever leave.

 

 

Chapter Text

After dinner they did the dishes, and then went their separate ways. Marty sat down and turned on the TV, settling back into the familiarity of his favourite armchair, belly full and a beer cold in his hand. He let condensation chill his fingers, pretending to watch the TV when really he was listening to Rust shuffle around in his bedroom, navigating around the piles of paper and cardboard that had migrated from his home to Marty’s house. He didn't even know what was playing onscreen. Some western with cowboys and a predictable plot.

Marty shifted in his seat, rested a hand on his thigh, thought about what he would be doing later. Thought about touching himself to thoughts of Rust, trying to hold back the soft whimpers that threatened to break past his lips at any given moment. Having Rust here with him was the best kind of addiction. He was torn in two, struggling between desire and reality. He could never have Rust, not the way he wanted, but fuck, he was so fucking close, just a few rooms down from Marty on the nights when he arched under the sheets, heated past boiling point, face red as he gripped his pillow, thinking, please, please Rust, fuck, just come on over here and touch me, hold me down like I need you to-

Marty jumped out of his skin when a pile of papers landed heavily on the coffee table before him. Rust settled down onto the couch with a file in his hand, eyes trained on the words as if he didn’t know he’d just frightened the shit out of Marty.

“…You mind, Rust?”

“Nah.” Rust flipped the file open with a calmness that infuriated Marty as much as it captivated him. “Not really.”

Marty glimpsed a flash of a photograph from inside the file; a dead woman, lying on her back, grainy and unfocussed in pixelated dots. He sighed angrily, found himself saying, “I prefer to keep work away from my relaxation, Rust. Christ,” He had a long pull of his beer, “thought we were gettin’ somewhere with this living arrangement thing.”

Rust looked up, blinked slowly, lethargically. Marty’s chest burned with a mourning that he didn’t know how to control. Everything about Rust’s sloped, tired posture called for Marty’s hands, for his mouth, begging to be comforted with touch. Marty wanted to soothe him. Wanted to pull him close and tell him it was all okay. Tell him he didn’t need to look at case files in his spare time just to feel worthy of existing.

Marty looked away, for fear he would do what he wanted. What Rust needed.

And he knew that Rust saw it in his face. Saw the hint of sadness there, the deepest sorrow he had ever felt. He had a drink of his beer and wished he wasn’t so fucking transparent. Wished Rust didn't have the ability to turn his mood on a dime.

“…You a’ight, Marty?”

“Yeah,” Marty looked down at his lap, which turned out to be a mistake when he realised that he was half hard in his jeans. He sucked in a breath, fidgeted, looked back at the TV. “Just, uh… missin’ Maggie, y’know.”

Rust was silent for a pause.

“Don’t stand on ceremony, Marty,” he said eventually, “if you wanna go out and get laid, feel free. You ain’t my babysitter. Go find someone to fuck.”

Marty closed his eyes as if exhausted, as if his biggest problem right now wasn’t those fucking words coming out of your mouth, Rust, fuck, let me kiss you please, just touch me like you touched your wife when you had her underneath you-

“Nah,” he replied, hoarsely, “nah, I’m good.”

“You obviously aren’t-”

“When’s the last time you went out and got some, huh?” Marty interrupted sharply, opening his eyes to glare at Rust. “I don’t ever ask why you ain’t fond of fuckin’ nobody. So piss off outta my business.”

Rust raised an eyebrow. Marty could tell they were at an impasse. Any other day, Rust would’ve left this alone. He would’ve backed off, because they were only cop partners after all, and pursuing the argument really wasn’t worth the trouble… Except now they were more than that, weren’t they? They were living together.

Marty saw Rust’s lips parting with a retort, and his heart jumped.

Yeah. Yeah, they were going there.

Fuck.

“If you must know,” Rust said slowly, “I ain’t interested in it.”

Marty’s eyes narrowed. He looked away, after a moment. Back at the TV, as if that could mean he’d be impartial in this goddamn discussion.

“…You must be the only damn man on the planet to say that, Rust.”

Rust shrugged. “I find someone I… I love, and maybe I’ll… want it.”

Marty licked at his lips, held his beer bottle a tad tighter, dizzy with the hesitant nervousness in Rust’s voice. He stared at the TV like he was trying to burn a hole through it with his mind.

“…You don’t do it just to…” he cleared his throat, sniffed, “…let off steam, then?”

“Nah.”

“Why not?”

Rust exhaled quietly. There was the quiet flip of paper, a dry sliding sound as he turned a page in his file. “Don’t get no satisfaction out of it ‘less I feel somethin’ for the person.”

Marty snorted. “You’re doin’ it wrong then.”

“Seems you are too, if your failed marriage is anythin’ to go by.”

Marty smiled bitterly. "You don’t know the half of it.”

It was the wrong thing to say. The wrong way to phrase it. He went still, as if there was a gun to his head, and he could feel Rust looking at him.

“…What’s that mean, Marty? Huh?”

Marty’s cheeks burned, and he had a long gulp of beer. Not that it helped.

He almost did it. He almost stood up from his chair and walked over to Rust, knelt over him on the couch, knees either side of Rust’s hips, just like when they’d wrestled on Rust’s mattress– he could picture it now. He would kiss Rust, slow and gentle, and Rust would stare up at him with absolute shock, and for once Marty would get to see uninhibited emotion in those brilliant eyes. Then he would shift closer, pulling out his best moves, touching Rust in all the ways he had learned throughout years of affairs. He knew how to fuck. He knew how to tease. Rust would gasp roughly, maybe draw an arm back to strike Marty across the face, but Marty would hold him still, whisper, please, just let me… let me touch you… and Rust would breathe haggardly against his mouth, hot and hungry, hair hanging over his forehead, and in Marty’s mind he wanted it, he needed it, and his body would twitch and jerk when Marty slid his hand under that waistband-

“Marty.”

“I didn’t mean nothin’ by it.” Marty snapped. “Shut up, will you? Tryin’ to watch TV here.”

 

***

 

The next morning, they ate breakfast together. They didn’t talk much– but then again, that wasn’t unusual.

Marty should’ve known. He should’ve sensed what was coming. The air should’ve been heavier, the world should’ve been darker, the edges of everything should’ve been sharpened by fear and paranoia. But he had forgotten to be scared. He had forgotten why they were living together at all.

He had forgotten about Joe.

As it was, they went about their business as usual, until Marty was leaving through the front door. He paused and looked down, frowning at the envelope that sat on his doorstep, inoffensive and small, as if it wasn't about to destroy everything that he and Rust cared about. He bent down and picked it up, felt the thick texture of expensive paper against his fingers. He turned it over in his hands, and it was only when he saw Rustin written in looping, grandiose handwriting that his blood ran cold. 

He told himself that it could just be someone else. Someone that knew Rust was staying here, someone that was playing a fucking trick on them.

No. He knew the truth.

"Rust. Rust? Come here. Now." Marty looked out, glancing around his street, seeing no movement, not even a twitch of human presence. But he knew Joe was watching, and the inborn instinct of fleeing prey took hold of him; terror settled deep into his gut, and he locked the front door as quickly as he could. Rust appeared behind him, dressed and ready for work. When he saw Marty closing the door, he paused, a question on his lips– then he looked down at the letter. His expression turned from confusion to horrified understanding.

Finally.

Joe had come for them.

Rust took the letter from Marty's hands carefully, handling as if it were a bomb. If only. Maybe that would've been better. Less destructive.

He slid a finger under the envelope's flap, ripped it open smoothly. Pulled out the single photograph it contained. A polaroid of him and a brunette woman, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, smiling widely with the delusion of youth, the happy disregard that only young parents could know. In the woman's arms was cradled a small baby girl, looking over at the camera with wide eyes, a thumb in her small pink mouth. Rust's daughter.

A circle had been drawn around the child's face. A black ring, like something ancient; a curse. A confession of murder. The message was clear and unmistakable, and Marty remembered Rust telling him, once, The cops never found the person who hit her.

Marty put a hand over his mouth.

"Oh God," he whispered, "oh, Christ."

I killed your daughter, that black circle said.

Rust didn't move. He was frozen still.

"Rust. Look at me." He took hold of Rust's shoulders, desperation turning his words into pleading whispers. "Look at me, right fuckin' now. Look at me. Look at me."

Rust didn't. He couldn't. There were no tears in his eyes. No emotion at all.

He was reduced to nothing but the emptiness of a father who had been cut deep by loss, the hollow-eyed trauma of young boy who had only ever known love with it came alongside hurt. Marty's hands moved to hold his face, to cling to him, try and hold him close, try and keep him from the violence that was sure to erupt.

"Don't. He's probably just lyin', okay? Don't go after him. We can figure this out-"

Rust pushed him away. Like a noise splintering through silence, the movement was abrupt and harsh, and Marty stumbled away, feeling as if he were about to throw up. He took hold of Rust's lapels, swung him around into the wall, held him still by pressing against him, their faces close enough that he could see the tears starting to brim in Rust's eyes, the ghost of a little girl's body floating behind his gaze-

"Don't, Rust, don't play his games, he'll kill you-"

Rust took hold of his wrists and pulled until bone was snapping, something popping at base of Marty's palms and sending pain shooting up to his elbows. He howled and doubled over, remembering that day in the locker room, realising that Rust had just broken both his wrists.

"No," he gasped, "No, Rust, don't, please-"

Rust tore open the front door, slammed it closed behind him. Marty fell down onto his knees, arms cradled in front of him as his fingers pounded with white-hot agony, tears blurring his vision.

"Fuck," he heard his voice waver, unsteady with a sob, "Fuck, no, no, no-"

He pounded a fist onto the ground, screamed in his frustration.

No, no, no,

The pain was enough to knock him unconscious.

 

 

Chapter Text

Maggie lay in her bed thinking about blond hair. She thought about soft hands and devotion, and the desperate intensity with which Marty had once loved her, both in bed and out of it. His blue eyes had always been crinkled with anger or amusement or adoration, so easily drawn to passionate emotional outbursts. That had, in the end, been the thing that failed him– but also the thing that had caused Maggie to love him in the first place.

She thought of him, as she often did, and closed her eyes for want of his company. Affection and resentment waged an unsettling war inside her, and she tried to keep it down, tried to hide it from her children. They asked about him so often. Where's daddy? When will we go home? Why is grandpa so upset, momma?

Maggie was no stranger to the stark realities of life, and working as a nurse had taught her that, regardless of victories and sorrows, the world just keeps on spinning… which was why, logically, she knew that she would be fine. She had no doubt about that. She would find someone, someday, that could help her to love again. She would be hurt for a while, and then she would recover.

It was her daughters that worried her. In Audrey’s eyes she saw the ghost of an ancient woman, someone who had already seen the world, and now lay somewhere beyond Maggie’s straining reach. She had the same reaction to fear as her father had; viciousness. She was old enough to know that something was wrong, and she pushed away the world with her small, trembling hands, crying out at the injustice of her dying childhood, lashing out at her sister when the pain got too much.

Divorce was just another word for loss.

So, when Maggie’s phone rang that morning, as she lay in bed contemplating the crumbling mess of her family, she shouldn’t have felt a warm, fuzzy relief to hear Marty’s voice tentatively call out her name over the line. She probably should’ve been angry.

But the end of their marriage didn’t negate everything that had come before. And she was too tired for hatred.

“Marty,” she muttered, frowning at the ceiling as she held the receiver to her cheek, “why are you calling?”

“I, uh. I need… I need your help.” Marty laughed, and it was only then that Maggie’s heart started to beat faster, concerned by the helpless, hysterical edge to his voice. His words sounded too-loud and muffled, like he was holding the phone against his face with his shoulder.

“What is it? What’s happened?”

“It’s… nothin’, really, nothin’ all that bad. I…” He sucked in a sharp, shaky breath, “I, um, fell over. Broke my wrists.”

Alarm bells. Panic stations. She knew a lie when she heard it. “No, you didn’t. What really happened? Were you in a fight, Marty? Jesus-”

“No. No, please, just listen to me. I can’t… I can’t tell you what happened. It’s about Rust, okay? He’s in trouble. I need to help him, but I can’t- I can’t do that until I can move my hands. Just need to know how serious this is, need you to come take a look for me. Okay? Please? Maggie?”

Maggie sat up rigidly, jaw clenched. Marty was… crying.

“We have kids, Marty. I won’t put them in danger. Whatever you’re mixed up in-”

“It’s not like that.”

“Then what’s it like?”

Silence, for a moment. The hitching of breaths. She could imagine the way Marty was swaying, head bowed, eyes squeezed closed as he tried not to sob.

“This is about Rust. Not me. I promise.”

She chewed on her lip. The pain in his voice cut through her like a jagged knife.

“Okay, Marty.”

“I just need your help, Maggie, please. You’re- You’re the only person I have left, now that Rust is… And I know that’s not fair, not after everything, but I just- I need you to help me. As a nurse. As a medical professional. That’s all I’m askin’. Just tell me whether I need a hospital or not. And I promise the kids will be okay, I promise, just five seconds of your time and I’ll be out of your life again, I swear-”

“I said ‘okay’, Marty. Where are you?”

Marty sighed with unsteady, shaking relief. “Home.”

“I’m coming now.”

 

***

 

When she arrived, the front door was unlocked. She let herself in, frightened and worried.

“Marty? Where are you?”

“In here,” came the quiet, broken reply.

She found him slumped against the wall in the kitchen, the phone receiver resting in his lap. His hands were held gingerly out in front of him, and his cheeks were damp with the remnants of tears. But his eyes were hard and his greeting nod was perfunctory and businesslike.

“Marty,” she breathed, “Who-”

“Doesn’t matter who.” He held his hands out to her, a begging gesture that made her flinch. “Please, just… take a look.”

She hesitated, but eventually did kneel, taking his wrists carefully in her hands. He winced, but bit back his complaint. She probed the swollen, red flesh carefully, asking him questions, telling him to rate the pain from a one to a ten. Trying to view him as just a patient, trying to be impartial.

It wasn’t a shock that she failed completely.

“Your left hand will need a cast. Your right hand is… damaged, but the impact looks to have been less severe.”

He nodded, seeming relieved, and stood. She looked up at him, face tight with anxiety, before she also rose to her feet.

“Did someone… break your wrists? Deliberately?”

He paused, and then leaned forward to gently kiss her on the cheek. She closed her eyes for a brief second. Allowed herself this indulgence.

“Thank you, Maggie. For everything.”

His voice was a hushed whisper against her face, and then he was pulling away from her, gesturing for her to leave. Her heart broke, but she did what he wanted. She had her children to think of, now. They were her first priority– but she knew a goodbye when she heard one, and she recognised this moment for what it was.

It was only when she was standing in the doorway that she found the courage to ask. "Marty," she began, "I have to know. Was... Was it Rust? Did he do this to you?"

Marty smiled. He looked exhausted, and lovingly sorrowful, as if there were depths to this that Maggie would never understand. He seemed more mature than he ever had in all their years of marriage, and that was what frightened Maggie most of all.

"You'll... come to me, if you need to. Won't you? Marty?"

He shook his head, still smiling. There were fresh tears in his eyes, now.

"Thank you, Maggie. I mean that."

Then he closed the door.

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe liked to wear his hair slicked back. He liked the way it emphasised his cheekbones and his jaw, liked the way his eyes looked cold and steady when there was no hair to get in the way. He liked button-down shirts that he could leave tantalisingly open above his sternum. He liked the way belts hugged his firm, trim figure, keeping shirts tight against his skin. He liked to watch himself in the mirror when he fucked. He liked to speak slow, letting his words meander and hum, spelling out his superior intellect with drawling, sluggish vowels– whispering calmly into the ear of whoever he was pressing into the mattress. Letting them know exactly how he wanted them to feel. Letting words spill out with unfeeling steadiness, never without a calculated intent that made his partners shiver beneath him.

Joe didn’t moan. He didn’t gasp, whimper, or cry out. His hips stabbed out a slow, cruel rhythm, and he could go for hours. It was more psychological than it was sexual.

It was interesting, trying to figure out what he liked, what he didn’t like. When he separated himself from Rust, there was a… lack. An absence. One that he filled with smooth surfaces and neat, perfectly methodical order. It wasn’t enough. He didn’t feel real. He felt so above the rest of humanity that sometimes it got suffocating. He wanted closeness. He wanted Rust under his hands, warm and violent and raw, and he wanted the intensity that only his brother was capable of bringing out in him.

Joe wanted to rip into the only life he knew, and fill his stomach with it.

He found substitutes, occasionally. Weak imitations of who he really wanted, the shining pinnacle that lingered behind his every decision. He was drawn in by the fragments of Rust that he saw flickering in the faces, bodies, of other men and women. The familiar angle of someone’s jaw. The correct tone of voice, the right amount of apathy in somebody’s conviction. As if he could collect parts of Rust and eventually piece him together from all those strangers.

As if it could ever be enough.

Other times he just needed to satisfy an itch. Get himself off so that he could focus on more important things and devote himself– without distraction– to the only cause that mattered. The foundation of his entire existence.

This night was one of those nights.

Her name was Dotti Smith. She had big grey eyes, like a brooding storm, and a listlessness in her childlike voice that said she wasn’t entirely there. When Joe met her, in a club with too many people and irritatingly loud music, her straw hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she was barely dressed. She’d been wearing a skimpy dress that, oddly enough, made her look younger than she was. A lot of men would’ve been attracted to her for that reason. Would’ve seen her youth as commodity, a seductive temptation. Joe liked to think he was better than those men.

But, really, he didn’t give a shit. He just knew what she could give him, and knew he could take it. There wasn’t even malicious intent behind his reasoning. Just sequential, logical steps. He wouldn’t need to hurt her to be satisfied.

He slid his arm around her, pulled her close. Her hands wandered up to press against his chest and, oh, he liked that. She was small against him. His ego crooned in satisfied delight.

“You havin’ a good night, darlin’?” He let his hands settle on her waist, large against the curve of her body.

“I am.” She smiled cheerfully. “Are you?”

“Sure are.” He tugged her to the rhythm of the music, slow and easy. Too fast for a country dance. He’d have preferred another venue, but this served his purpose well enough. “Can I see an ID, sweetheart?”

She pouted. “Why?”

“Wouldn’t wanna do somethin’ illegal now, would I.”

“You don’t see like the sorta man who would care.”

He paused, made curious by the careless, childlike happiness in her voice. She giggled, moved closer, and he held out a palm.

“Show me that ID, pretty li’l lady.”

She scowled prettily, sought a card out from under her dress. It was warm when it touched Joe’s fingers. Warm from her skin, where it had been tucked beneath the band of her underwear, against her hip. It was obviously fake, and claimed she was twenty-one.

He was beyond caring.

 

***

 

He discarded her when he was done. He hadn’t hurt her, of course. His sadism couldn’t be satisfied by damaging someone so willing.

She pulled on her thin dress, twirling the stringy straps between her small fingers like she had seen grown-up ladies posing on cheap trailer television. Her eyes were glossy, like those of a doe or a puppy, and he knew he hadn’t been her first.

He wondered what kind of a woman she’d become. Whether she’d be swallowed up by the human machine, or whether she’d become formidable. Wild. Rabid with foam dripping down her jaw, piston-fast breaths hissing through clenched teeth. He had seen it happen before. Monsters were very real, and it only took a trip down to the dark side to find them. They were borne of the miserable, the defiled, the kicked, the mocked.

“Will I see you again?”

He smiled. “Have a good day, sweetheart.”

Monsters had never been enough to capture his interest.

As she stepped out, a shadow fell upon the concrete of Joe’s motel door stoop. Rust’s palm slapped, hard and fast, against the door, holding it open as the girl went to leave. She stumbled in place, looking up at him, but he pushed her out the door, slammed it closed behind him. Joe was frozen where he stood, half dressed, excitement building in his chest like a symphony. Rust’s face was twisted with a savagery that only a demon could possibly understand. His eyes sung murder, his lips begged for blood. They stood there, breathing heavily, the bland room split down the middle as they watched one another with identical posture. Two halves had come together. Reunited at long last. Every breeze, every whisper of God, was still, and no higher power would stop them now.

Joe's eyes flickered down. The glint of a blade, tight in Rust's fist.

Finally.

He opened his arms in welcome as Rust ran forward.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty made nice with the nurses and doctors, saying I fell down some stairs with a wink and a cheeky smile, enough confidence in his charms that the medical staff all laughed and thanked their lucky stars that he wasn’t just another abusive asshole who wanted someone to yell at after their routine wife-beating session. His injuries, after all, were typical of a fight, and he wouldn't have blamed them for the assumption. Abusive husbands were a disease that spread throughout the human race with a vengeance; he knew that better than anyone.

A few of the nurses knew him as cop, and a few others looked him up and down with interest– enough interest that he’d only recently have amped up his flirting with a definite goal in mind, ruled by his dick and uncontrollable insecurity. But things had changed.

Everything had changed.

The cast around his left hand itched, hot and uncomfortable as he marched out of the hospital. He was trembling before he even made it to his car. Somewhere in the back of his throat, the taste of bile rose up to choke him. He fell into his seat, paused, and then wrenched open his door so that he could vomit.

It landed in splatters beside the car wheel. He gazed downwards, overcome and disoriented, and it was only when he swayed, nearly toppling out of his seat, that he snapped out of his bewilderment. Rust, he thought, fuck, I have to find Rust-

He slammed the door closed, so hard that the glass rattled. He took off, wheels spinning, right hand throbbing where it clutched the steering wheel. He knew he shouldn’t be driving at all– he had one hand bandaged, the other in a cast, his head was pounding, and if he thought too hard about what had happened this morning he knew that tears would rise to his eyes and he wouldn’t be able to control himself.

Marty knew he had to hold steady. He knew he had to keep calm, goddamnit.

He sucked in a breath. Tried to imagine where Rust was, tried to logically sort through possibilities of where the fuck he had gone without picturing what was happening every single second that Rust was out of his sight, what a man who was capable of killing a baby girl would do to his own brother-

Nightmares. Horror. Rust swum before Marty’s eyes, blurry and distorted- there was blood on his cheek, his head inclined unconsciously backwards, a deathly white pallor to his skin, dirt in his hair, a hand wrapped around his neck, Joe’s open mouth pressed against Rust’s collarbone-

Marty slapped himself on the cheek, hissing in a sharp breath. His wheels jerked on the road.

“Fuck. Fuck.”

He had to find Rust.

Where the fuck could he be?

He tried to think. Tried to wrestle his mind into rational logic, think of places that Joe might be staying. Places Rust might have gone to find him. Places that– oh god, places that Joe would take Rust if he… if he…

Marty put a hand over his mouth. The cast was stiff against his sobbing lips, and he was shaking from the tips of his fingers to the heels of his feet, the car revving hard as he shuddered. Hopelessness gripped him, the icy fingers of panic digging deep into his brain, and Rust’s eyeless sockets were like black holes in Marty's hallucination, a cruel vision borne of the cornflower blue codeine tablets that the nurses had handed over to him with a wide smile- and shit, Marty could see the appeal now. He could see why Rust hit the drugs and the alcohol so hard. He wanted the sedating hypnosis of amobarbital, the white crystalline powder that would taste bitter but would dull him into the same heavy listlessness he had seen weigh Rust down so many times. He wanted to drag himself under, drink himself senseless, smoke cigarettes until his throat was raw and stale, wake up on a bathroom floor with a frozen face and no will to live.

He just wanted this to end.

 

***

 

He drove around until he physically couldn’t anymore. When he was done working himself into a state of absolute hysteria, he calmed down enough to walk into CID headquarters and grin at his boss, holding up both hands.

“Fell down some goddamn stairs,” he laughed, “might need to stay on the desk for a while.”

Quesada laughed too. Dumb fuck. Too idiotic to bother even wanting to see through Marty’s bullshit. Ordinarily, his willing ignorance would be irritating and worrysome– shit, the man managed a goddamn police station for fuck’s sake, and his lack of intelligence really did not bode well for the whole seedy shitstorm that was the reality of law enforcement– but today, Marty was just grateful. Take my dishonesties to keep you warm in your bed of lies, you fat fuck, he thought viciously, trying to deny the fact that his every thought seemed to be flavoured with Rust’s particular brand of cynicism.

“Well, a’ight then, Marty, you can stay on desk duty 'till you're better. Where’s Cohle? Y’know what, nevermind– you call him and tell him to take some paid leave. God knows no one’s gonna wanna ride around with that bastard if you’re outta commission.”

Marty’s smile froze on his face. Too big, now. Too fake.

“Sounds good, boss.”

 

***

 

Marty sat down at his desk. Did the mandatory back-and-forth with his piggish coworkers. Then he turned on the police scanner and ignored everything that wasn’t the drawling static of white noise or a voice crackling out of the speakers. He knew he couldn’t search the entire fucking state by himself– let alone beyond that, wherever Joe might’ve taken Rust– but he knew he could at least do this. He could sit here until a call came over the radio that mattered. He knew how to work a case, and right now this was the only goddamn angle he could work.

He wondered what the call would be, when it came. A brawl. A body, found dumped in the bayou. Two men with identical faces and deep, fatal wounds.

Who’s gonna win?

Marty realised, with a sinking feeling so heavy he nearly blacked out, that he may not even be able to tell them apart. If he found a body... shit, how would he even know it was Rust? He clung desperately to the memory of the scars that butchered the skin over Rust's ribs, the tattoo that decorated the meaty hardness of his forearm. That would be his only hope. He wanted to believe that he would instinctively know, that Joe– with his dead insect eyes and rodent face, instincts like a killer and the teeth of a predator– was nothing like Rust at all. But Marty had been a cop long enough to know the truth. A body, in the end, is just a body. They'd be indistinguishable. Twins again, united in death as they had been at birth.

“’Ey, Marty,” someone said, “you alright? Lookin’ kinda peaky there.”

Marty nodded listlessly. He was clutching his pen so hard that his purpling fingers, swollen with bruising, were shaking.

“Marty? You hearin’ me?”

Marty licked at his lips. “Fuck off.”

Whoever it was fell silent. The entire room followed soon after, shocked by his seriousness, and the only sound was Marty’s radio, droning quietly. His reputation as the office joker was disappearing quicker than coffee down the throat of a cop on nightwatch, and he realised that he was alienating himself from his buddies.

He almost wanted to laugh.

So this is what it’s like to be Rustin fucking Cohle.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty took up smoking.

It was masochism, really, though he told himself that he was just trading one vice for another, filling his lungs with toxic gas so that he wouldn’t drink himself unconscious and miss one single second of the police radio’s low, incessant droning. He was glad that Quesada was unopposed to keeping him on desk duty, because the ceaseless cracking of blurry voices filled his every waking moment, and he knew that– if he rode with any other sane human being­­­– they would most certainly tell him to turn the fuckin’ thing off already, and he knew he’d snap.

He’d kill them for trying to stop him.

It became an obsession, as he had known it would the moment that Rust’s hands closed around his wrists and yanked downwards with enough pressure to grind his bones into dust. The agony in Rust’s eyes, spelled out clearer than anything Marty had ever seen, haunted him. Rust hadn’t wanted to hurt him. Rust had wanted safety, had wanted Marty to rescue him, but he had loved his daughter more than anything else, and that was all that had mattered. Joe had won.

And now Rust was gone.

Marty could think of nothing else. His head filled with horror. His dreams filled with blood. His waking was saturated with sweat and guilt, and he would jerk himself awake, knee deep in the splashing toxicity of his own fear, liver and lungs withered down to blackened prunes as he lunged for his bedside table, one hand grabbing the radio while the other groped blindly for cigarettes. Drowning. Gasping for air. The curdled lining of his throat, the shrunken malnourishment of his stomach, the strung-out tautness of his nerves like tripwires waiting to set off an explosion. He would listen as his heart raced, sprinting so fast he was certain it was impossible. Surely the human body wasn’t capable of sustaining this. Surely, he was turning himself inside-out. Like those cats that had been nailed to the door of that church, the one where Rust had slowly walked up to the altar, his head tipping upwards as he considered the wooden cross nailed up on the wall, bound with yellowed grass and old twine-

thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump

Marty was dying.

Every day he couldn’t find Rust, he was dying. His hands were healing, but they were only a testament to the time passing, and he hated his body for betraying him like that. Crushing his delusions. Embalming his hope and presenting it to him, gift-wrapped, with a manic smile.

You’ll never find him. You’ll never find him.

Marty didn’t go out to bars, and he didn’t touch himself. He didn’t do anything that wasn’t essential to his basic survival, and he felt himself becoming Rust. Transforming into him.

 

***

 

Days passed, blurring into weeks, and he couldn’t control the dreams. Nightmares, he could stand, because they had taken up residence regardless of whether he was awake or asleep– it was the dreams that hurt. The dreams of Rust.

Rust, with his nicotine-stained philosopher hands, graceful and leisurely even when he never meant to be. Rust, with his eyes shrink-wrapped in tears, curls of hair spilling over his forehead, cheeks turned cherry-red by crying and rattling bottles of poisonous pills. Rust, with his snap movements and furious glares, fronting up to the world with clenched fists like he could pretend that he wasn’t the most vulnerable man in the room. Rust, with his ability to kill. Rust, with his bullshit. With his genius and his pain.

Rust, in Marty’s spare bedroom, lifting his shirt up off his head, dimmed by the afternoon glow, painted in shades of chestnut and orange. Inclining his head slightly to the side, lips parted like he wanted Marty to come up behind him and place his hands on those bird-thin hips, press up against him just to feel him shiver, run his hands under that shirt just to feel the scars. Marty had heard the word love before, but never really understood what it meant. All those fucking years of marriage, and he finally knew what it meant to love someone. Oh, he was dead, he was dead in the ground, he was in an urn, a mausoleum, a fucking columbarium for worthless pieces of shit turned to ash, because he knew now that he could not deny what he felt, and that it was too late. He knew he should have done more. Fought harder. Not given in, no matter how much Rust tried to leave.

He needed to find Rust. It was the only thing.

The only thing.

 

 

Chapter Text

Standby. Trying to get further.

Control to Car 3, control to Car 3.

C-13 to control, responding.

Vehicle romeo-kilo-echo-1-2-7.

Sir, can you repeat?

6-1-4 go ahead.

Are you receiving?

Negative, dispatch.

Driver confirmed deceased at fifteen hundred hours.

Closest available car to attend for a 2-2-8.

Hello? Is anyone there? Central standby.

Marty felt like he was in a dream. He lit a cigarette, had a puff of it, took it out of his mouth again. Looked down at his slightly trembling hand and thought about all the philosophical bullshit Rust had spouted and how he actually understood it now. He knew what it meant to be a stranger in your own body. He knew what it meant to be dragged over hot coals and be beaten senseless by your own inner torment. He knew what it meant to live in a house greyed by smoke, breathing in air made stale and cold by tightly shut windows. He knew why Rust drank, knew the attractiveness of repellent habits and cherished every unwilling drag he took of every filthy cigarette.

He knew what it was like to hit rock bottom.

He knew what punishment was.

The radio sat on his dining table, an endless number of minor crimes being perpetrated, filling the room with noise. He hadn’t investigated any of them yet, because none of them had caught his attention as being particularly significant.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

It was only as he was tilting his head, watching the way the afternoon light turned his cigarette a warmer colour, that he emerged from his stupor and noticed the sound.

Knocking.

He rose from his seat, thighs tight and muscles coiled, silently taking up his gun from the table as he pressed the cigarette down into an overflowing ashtray. He took a slow breath in and thought about how Rust would act if he were here. How brave and fucking stoic he’d be.

But he ain’t here now, is he?

Marty’s inherited insomnia turned the volume up to full and made his thoughts sound about as real and loud as the voices from the radio. He curled his lips into a grimace, eyebrows pulling together into a pitiful frown as he tried to keep himself calm. His eyes watered, and he clutched his gun by his thigh. Leaned towards the door, half expecting a knife to slice through the wood and gut him.

“Who is it?”

He had to force his voice out. Try and keep it level, try not to let it shake. He wasn’t born for this. Didn’t have the right kind of balls for a fight he didn’t know how to win.

“It’s Maggie.”

Her voice was hard in all the usual ways, but soft too. His eyelids fluttered for a moment, relief making his posture sag. He opened the door, looked at her, and then remembered there was a gun in his hand. Her eyes flickered downwards as he tucked it into the back of his jeans.

“Is that-”

“What d’you want, Maggie?”

Her eyes widened, beautiful and green, her pillowy lips parting in shock, skin buttermilk smooth with endearing age lines– and he almost wanted to kiss her. She’d always had a grace about her, dear Maggie. An honesty that he’d never been able to keep up with. He smiled brokenly, because he was burned down to the filter, just like his cigarettes, and he knew it showed. He knew he looked bruised and breakable, his skin taking on the fragility of old fruit. Rotting. Decaying. Sagging skin and tired eyes.

“It’s visitation day, Marty. Your visitation day.” She paused like she wanted a response, and then crossed her arms. “What’s going on? We were… We had problems, Marty, but you’ve never been bad with the kids. They really want to see you-”

“Don’t think it’s good for me to be around them right now.”

He watched fury and worry spark in her face, watched the hollow of her throat tighten. And he was enraptured by her; in love with her strength, her vitality, her unending resistance to going easy. He wondered what he’d done to deserve her in the first place, and what the fuck he’d been thinking when he let her go.

He was still looking at her when the call came through. Too hypnotised by her eyes to hear the clue he’d been waiting for, humming through the radio’s speakers like the sound of damnation.

This is badge number 2-8-4-1. I’ve got a possible break-in at Red Bell Motel, evidence of a fight or a homicide.

This is central. Use proper codes, Geraci, you lazy prick.

Just fuckin’ send someone from forensics, you asshole. Manager’s up my ass ‘bout the blood on the carpet, looks like it’s been here a while. Cheap fuck might have to refurbish.

 

 

Chapter Text

He didn’t invite Maggie inside, but her presence on his doorstep did alert him to the illegality of what he was doing– he realised he’d need to cover his tracks. Sow the seeds for ignorance, so that later, no matter how this ended, he could say he didn’t know Rust had been missing.

“Can’t get Cohle on the line,” he told Quesada the next day, grumbling out Rust’s surname like it didn’t cut him up inside to be so damn cruel, “motherfucker’s taken off somewhere I reckon. Gone and left me on the job.”

“Huh.” Quesada nodded towards Marty’s steadily-healing hands. “You’re nearly better– want me to pair you up with someone else? I’d be happy to relieve you of that high n’ mighty asshole.”

Marty shrugged, like Quesada’s words didn’t bother him. Like everything was the same as before, and he was just another one of the boys.

“Don’t mind this paperwork shit, actually. The more hours I get, the easier child support is, y’know?”

Quesada smiled sympathetically as Marty left his office.

The acknowledgement of success wasn’t enough to overpower the nausea that twisted him up inside.

 

***

 

During his lunchbreak, Marty went for a drive. He didn’t know where he was going, but he kept seeing flashes of Rust– a tall, slouched man, lean and graceful, his birdlike stare watching the world as he stepped out onto the curb. At one stage, Marty slammed on his brakes, breath stuck in his throat, heart racing, Rust’s name perched on his lips–

A young man stared back at him from the roadside. He had an unshaven face and dirty brown eyes. Just some fucking kid, holding a packet of fries in his hands. Marty wanted to scream at him just for not being Rust.

“Can I help you with somethin’, mister?”

He couldn’t even work up the strength to reply.

All he could think was, I need a drink.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty sat at his kitchen table and watched the sun rise, watched it glint against the corroded metal of Rust’s apartment key. He’d found it while he was cleaning up the kitchen, and the second his mind had registered what it was, he’d just… shut down.

He was gone.

There was a buzzing in his ears and it felt like the opposite of a panic attack. There was just nothing. He couldn’t even feel his body, almost certain he no longer possessed it. He was somewhere else.

There were vague things. Sounds he didn’t process. Shapes he didn’t recognise. Sensations that belonged to someone else. The sun rose, the day began, but he just sat there.

Why, Rust, someone whispered, why’d you leave?

I could’ve saved you.

 

 

Chapter Text

Joe walked into his house slowly. Just like he did everything slowly. His front hallway– as he made his patient way through it, crocodile skin shoes clicking against the hardwood floor– was immaculately presented. No photos on the mantle. No objects that could constitute homeliness or comfort.

He removed his leather gloves, placed them on the kitchen table. He took off his Stetson, set that down as well. Then came his badge, his gun, and his handcuffs. He calmly discarded his policeman guise, like a reptile shedding skin. He smoothed back his hair with the flat of his palm, let out a quiet sigh, and crossed the room to open his fridge.

“You hungry?” He asked.

The question was addressed at Rust, who sat in the corner, hands bound behind his back and his ankles trussed together with rope.

The restraints were an extra measure, more than anything else, because Rust was doped up with enough Secobarbital Sodium and Amobarbital to keep him docile, but still conscious. It was ironic to think he’d sought this stuff out willingly when he was a free man. Barbiturates. Valium. Methaqualone. Diazepam. Cyclobenzaprine. Morphine. Codeine. Temazepam. Pills and needles, all coming with their own varieties of reality-altering, consciousness-sucking side effects. Where the fuck Joe got all the drugs from, Rust had no idea, but he was stuffed to the gills with enough medications to qualify him as a living pharmacy– and waking up with Joe’s hands on him, maliciously gentle as he eased a needle into Rust’s arm, was not an uncommon experience. Shh, shh, Joe would whisper, and Rust would struggle just for the novelty of it.

He knew he’d emerge from this with one hell of a drug dependency problem.

If he emerged from this at all.

Joe hummed to himself, took a cling-wrapped dish of tuna casserole out of the fridge. Rust watched him, the forty-watt fridge lightbulb making his eyes ache. There was silence in the kitchen, as always. Joe didn’t own a television, and he didn’t like the radio.

Joe turned on the oven. Unwrapped the dish. The domesticity of it all was fucking twisted.

“There’s no need for the silent treatment, Rustin. You really are being a child about this.”

“Fuck you.”

Rust’s starved voice sounded like it had been scraped over gravel, and Joe paused. The slightest expression of hesitation in his movements.

He placed the dish in the oven, closed it, discarded the cling wrap in the bin. He turned towards Rust with unhurried blankness, and Rust didn’t even bother fighting the inevitable.

He knew what was coming.

Joe took Rust’s jaw in one hand, backhanded him across the face with the other. Rust choked out an unwilling gasp, jaw clenched tight. He regained his composure quickly, as he had every other time. Joe gazed down at him, tilting his head to the side consideringly as he massaged his knuckles. His eyes were cold. The fucking void was contained in those icy blue irises and midnight black pupils– if it weren’t for the proof in front of him, Rust would never have believed a human being could carry within them the vast emptiness of space.

Rust glared up at him.

Joe sighed, as if Rust was being childish. As if there weren’t ropes cutting off Rust’s circulation, drugs filling his blood with chemical reactions.

“You shouldn’t act so impolite. I’m your brother. That should mean somethin’.”

Rust ground his teeth together, tasted blood.

“You put a smile on that face, dear Rustin. Or I’ll cut it off.”

 

***

 

Joe sat at his kitchen table and read the paper. The smell of his casserole filled the kitchen, and the growling of Rust’s stomach became louder. He tried not to curl in on himself, but couldn’t help drawing his knees closer to his chest as saliva flooded his mouth.

He hadn’t eaten in three days.

Joe rose from his chair when the timer went off. A quiet ding that made Rust flinch.

“Dad used to make casserole.” Joe took up the mitts, opened the oven. “D’you remember?”

Rust forced himself to swallow. “Yeah.”

It felt like an admission of something. A surrender.

Yeah, brother, I remember our shared childhood, ain’t this nice? Getting together, just like old times, we shoulda done this years ago. Maybe you could kill a dog and paint me in its fucking blood, you fucked-up fucking psychopathic fuck-

Joe got out one plate. Rust’s eyes fixed on it, and he realised with a flare of panic that he was not going to be fed tonight. He looked away from Joe a moment too late, and their eyes met.

- stockholm symdrone, kidnapped by your brother, your own fucking brother, look in his eyes and you know he wants to consume you like a feline wants to consume a rat-

The drugs made his mind groggy, filling with hallucinations perpetuated by starvation, and he felt his head tipping forward-

-mind struggling against the illusion of your current fucking situation, nightmare tumbling into a life you cannot escape cannot escape cannot escape CANNOT ESCAPE-

He struggled back into consciousness just in time to see Joe smile.

 

***

 

Eventually, when Joe was halfway through his meal and Rust was trembling hard enough to make his teeth go tick tick tick against each other in a repetitive grind of bone against bone, Joe relented.

“Now, I’ll ask again. Do you want some dinner?”

The hunger gripped Rust in violent seizes, making his vision shake and blur. He nodded, hating himself for the plea that very nearly left his lips. His daughter’s face floated in his memory like a curse, and he pleaded with her ghost, saying, please, please, I’m sorry, I need to eat, I’ll avenge you, I swear, I just need to eat first, I need to eat, I need to eat-

Tears had risen to his eyes. He blinked them away, sniffed, hating himself for this weakness but unable to fight anymore. Starvation did that to a man; even a man like Rustin Cohle.

Joe stood like a snake rising up off the ground, his body uncoiling with raw power. He held the plate in one hand, fork in the other, and approached Rust like a predator. Rust wanted to close his eyes, but didn’t.  Something moved within him, something crumbled, bringing with it a fresh bout of tears, and he knew Joe could see it.

He was giving in.

Joe knelt in front of him. Took up a forkful of food, lifted it to Rust’s mouth.

Rust wanted to throw up. He wanted to scream. He wanted to wrap his hands around Joe’s neck and squeeze until vertebra popped.

Instead, he opened his mouth. The metal teeth of the fork slid past his lips, and he had a sudden vision of Joe pushing the fork further, so far back that it pierced the back of his throat and killed him instantly.

But Joe didn’t. He withdrew the fork, and Rust chewed on the food, his eyes finally falling closed as he gave in. Fuck, it tasted so good, and he was so hungry-

The euphoria.

The relief.

He opened his eyes again, saw that a smile had softened Joe’s face, crinkling the corners of his dead eyes and tightening the edges of his mouth. The expression was so humanlike that Rust looked away immediately, terrified by what it meant. Terrified by the love that Joe wanted him to accept.

Joe made a quiet noise, a happy exhalation, and his fingers touched against Rust’s forehead. He stroked a curl of hair away from Rust’s eyes and set the plate aside, moving closer.

“Look at me, Rustin.”

Rust did. It wasn’t like he had any other fucking choice.

They stared at each other. Two reflections without a mirror, and Joe was smiling like it was his wedding day. Blissfully happy.

“I know we can move forward from all this. You and I…” He paused, voice tender and adoring, speaking to Rust like he was a beloved child. “…We can take it slow. Ain’t no need to rush. I’ll be patient with you. I’ll wait forever if you need me to.”

Rust let his face twist into a broken cry, let himself sob out a whimpering, “Okay.” He watched Joe’s smile widen, watched the way Joe’s eyes flickered downwards before he leaned forward to kiss his own brother. A beat of hysteria shuddered through Rust when he felt Joe’s breath on his cheek, but he refused to let it show. He held still as Joe's lips touched against his. He held still as Joe's hand wandered up to cup his neck, stroke his jaw. He held still until Joe let out a quiet moan, until Joe's eyes were closed and he was lost in a moment he thought he'd never be allowed.

Now.

That was when Rust pulled his arms out from behind his back, fingers bloody with the effort of sawing through rope with a shard of glass, and tackled Joe to the floor.

 

 

Chapter Text

There was barely even a scrap of Marty left the night that Rust came back.

Uncertain and concerned stares were following him everywhere he went, and he hadn’t flinched from his desk all day, no matter how many times his friends tried to entice him to come out to lunch with them. He didn’t speak anymore, would need to peel his lips apart after a few hours because they’d become chapped and dry throughout the day. A constant headache pounded at the base of his neck, the strain of slumping over a desk no longer mitigated by trips to the coffee machine or to his favourite bar.

He heaved himself out of work, that night, shuffling on aching feet, a pile of paperwork under one arm. He was a machine, a system that operated without complaint or pause until he would go home to sit in his kitchen chair and gaze blindly ahead, phasing in and out of consciousness as the hum of his radio hypnotised him into madness. Rust’s apartment key was unmoved since the day Marty had discovered it. His hair, which had once been soft as feathers and blond as a dandelion, was now knotted with neglect and limp with the sweat of a frightened man. His eyes, which had always been vibrant with one emotion or another, were now dead, numbed by a pain he felt almost constantly. The apathy of an unhealthy man, the tunnel vision of someone seized by tragedy, desiccated by the destitution of loss.

He had lost himself to memories of Rust, to the detachment of anticipation. Anger was his instinct, but he had spent so long trying to hold it in, biding his time for when his anger would be needed. For when he saw Joe again.

How strange, to hate a man who looked the same as the man you loved.

That night, as he stepped out into the muggy air and spared only a moment to shudder at the weight of humidity against his skin, a hand landed on his shoulder. He ground his teeth together, trying to quell his kneejerk rage, irritated beyond comprehension at the persistence of his colleagues. Just as he was gearing up to spin around and land a punch on the jaw of whoever the fuck it was that hadn’t gotten the fucking message yet, he heard a hollow gasp, the death rattle of a breath that couldn’t make its way down into lungs.

He still turned around because, after all this time, he had gotten so used to the waiting that he’d forgotten to expect Rust at any moment.

Then the world stopped.

Everything slowed, almost curiously, as Marty stood there, staring at Rust– who looked back at him with an equal amount of surreal disbelief.

There was blood pouring down the side of Rust’s face, sticky and warm, dripping thickly down over his left eye. His lips were parted, just as soft as Marty remembered. He looked thinner than before, and the coffee-brown of his skin had turned to chalky pale colour, sallow and waxen. His clothes– his flannelette shirt and old jeans– seemed dirty, torn and stained. The smell of him wafted over to Marty, the stench of sweat and distress. An odour Marty had become intimately accustomed to. Rust seemed to glow under the fluorescent overhead lights, floating above the concrete ground, figments of light curling around waves of brown hair and glimmering wetly against the shine of blood. Marty distantly heard the hush and thud of paper landing on the ground, and realised he was no longer holding the stack of reports under his arm.

He was in a dream. Surely.

The whites of Rust’s eyes were dotted with spots of blood, like the vessels had burst when he’d been punched. The skin under his left eye was swollen and livid, the inflammation angry, fresh and pink from the impact of someone’s fist. His face crinkled when he grinned, skin pulling tight over wounds that had yet to bruise. It was an expression entirely unlike him.

“Good t’see you.”

Reality imploded around Marty. That voice, that low drawl, cut right into the deepest parts of him– he staggered backwards, a shriek building in his throat, hysteria making him shake as he realised this is real, this is real, this is real, this is fucking real, he’s back, he’s here, he’s right in front of me-

Rust smiled. One last time, like he wouldn’t get the chance again.

Then he collapsed.

Marty was on top of him immediately, screaming for someone to call an ambulance, tearing off his jacket so that he could press it against the gaping head wound that had dented Rust’s skull–

and fuck, he had no idea, he had no idea how bad this really was, because he was out of his mind, he was fucking crazy, and Rust was here, he was here, he was right fucking here and Marty couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe-

Hands on him. Trying to pull him away. He clung on, didn’t let them separate him from Rust. Not again. Not again.

His voice, begging. In the distance, somewhere very far away. All he knew was the angles and softness of Rust’s face, the colour of blood on his skin. His closed eyes and parted lips; so tender an expression.

please, please, please, please, wake up, you can’t do this, you can’t die, please

Somewhere else, someone begged. Somewhere else, someone cried.

Marty couldn’t hear them.

 

***

 

He found himself lying on his back, enraptured by the cloudy grey sky above him, bitumen hard under his back.

“You ever seen someone so insane?”

“Fuck, thought he was gonna kill ‘em. They were just tryin’ to get Cohle in the ambulance.”

Hands were on him again, gloved fingers that pulled at his eyelids and shone a small flashlight into his eyes. He distantly realised that he should be flinching away from the light, but he couldn’t move. More than that– he didn’t know how to move.

“He’s in shock,” proclaimed an authoritative voice, “Load him into the ambulance.”

 

***

 

Marty’s hand dangled limply, the swerving of the ambulance setting off roiling queasiness in his stomach. Somewhere below the numbness, he remembered, and tried to sit up. Anxiety filling him, boiling over, his face red as he forgot to breathe, fury turning every cell in his body into white-hot rage, a furnace powered by his single driving purpose. He had to protect Rust. He had to fight-

“Calm down, sir. You need to calm down-”

Hands on him, again. He fought them, yelling obscenities that only he could understand, rationality utterly eluding him. They slid a needle into his skin, a hand braced against his arm to keep it down. He jerked and seized, a wail bubbling out from his mouth as he felt the drugs take effect.

His head tipped to the side, the ambulance officers letting him go as the drugs took hold of him. As his vision blurred, he fought to stay conscious– it was only in the final moments that his eyes focussed on the gurney beside him. Rust lay with closed eyes and an open mouth, his breaths clouding the clear plastic mask that covered most of his face. A medic was bent over him, calling his name, trying to rouse him.

The last thing Marty remembered was the curl of Rust’s eyelashes.

 

 

Chapter Text

His head was filled with sodden cotton balls, his eyelids glued shut. When he twitched his fingers, trying to fight his way back to consciousness, there was a twinge of pain at his inner elbow.

A saline drip, then.

Marty groaned, opening his eyes only after several failed attempts. The blurred scene before him was cream and pale blue, the washed-out colours of a hospital ceiling greeting him with expected blandness. A patch of mould had started to dot the paint, testament to the underfunding currently plaguing America’s healthcare system.

A movement beside his bed drew his attention, making him flinch hard.

“Hey, hey, it’s me.”

Marty’s eyes widened, the rush of panic returning to him. Maggie looked down at him with an exhausted concern, the starched stiffness of her nurse uniform interrupted by waves of brown hair.

“Is he- Is he alive? Maggie? Is Rust-”

“Yes. Yes, he is.” Her hand gently touched against his arm, holding him down. “You went into shock, they had to sedate you.”

Marty huffed out a curse, rubbed his eyes. “I need to-”

“You need to wait, Marty.”

“No, I need to see him, Maggie, goddamnit-”

“The police want to question you.” Her voice was a hushed whisper. “They want to know if you… knew anything. Rust’s injuries…” she swallowed thickly, enough pain in her eyes that Marty was certain she’d been in to see Rust herself, “…they’re pretty bad.”

He didn’t have to fake the horror in his eyes.

“Did you know? When you called me over to your house, when your wrists were broken, was that-”

“We had a fight. Okay? Me and Rust, we had it out, that’s all. He was upset about somethin’, didn’t wanna explain it to me. He took off after that, I don’t know where he went. I guess… I guess I should’ve tried harder to get him to talk, but you know how we are. You know how he is. If he doesn’t wanna talk, no one’s gonna make him.”

Maggie was a clever woman. She could read between the lines, and she heard his plea loud and clear; she knew Marty was asking her to lie for him, should anyone come asking. The worry faded from her face, turning to calculated intelligence, and he knew she was making a choice. She had her children to think of, and Marty was offering her a way out.

She stood up slowly, smoothed down the front of her uniform.

“…I hope you know what you’re doing, Marty.”

 

***

 

The interrogation was short. No one really suspected he’d done anything, and the sad fact was that Rust’s reputation spoke for itself. Quesada came personally.

“I know you’ve been… twisted up, since the shootin’ and the divorce. If you need time, Marty, you just take it. Rust’s a piece of work, but I know you two are close.”

Marty nodded, mouth set into a hard, thin line. “Can I see him?”

Quesada inclined his head towards the hospital room doorway. “Yeah. C’mon.”

Marty followed him out of the room, holding the back of his hospital gown together, bitterly cursing hospital procedure and wondering why the fuck he hadn’t just been allowed to stay in his clothes. On his way to Rust’s room, he noticed a ginger-haired nurse with wide green eyes. He remembered her from the ambulance, and offered her a hopeful smile as he passed, trying to apologise for the raging fit he’d thrown. She smiled back at him, and he thought, Well, at least something’s going right.

They finally arrived at Rust’s hospital room. Quesada stopped in his tracks, stepping aside to let Marty past first. Marty looked up at him, frightened, almost asking for help. For the briefest moment, understanding filled Quesada’s eyes, his usual blunder fading into a wisdom Marty hadn’t expected.

“Go on,” Quesada told him softly, “I’ll be outside.”

Marty swallowed hard, walked in. Quesada closed the door quietly behind him, but Marty didn’t hear it.

He wasn’t aware of anything except Rust.

 

***

 

People came through the hospital room occasionally, but Marty stayed where he was. He wasn’t a high priority patient, so nobody seemed to care what he did. It didn’t seem like Rust was going to receive any visitors, anyway. Marty kept waiting for someone to walk in, a phantom from Rust’s past, but nobody did.

The pink of before had darkened into an angry plum colour that was quickly turning black, an inky blotch blooming beneath Rust’s eye, swelling it shut. The grace of his cheekbones, the hard elegance of his jaw, the lithe strength of his body… it all looked different now. His fingers were bandaged and strapped together, deep cuts butchering his hands. His face was uneven and swollen from the beating he’d taken. A breathing tube was secured beneath his uneven nose, above the curve of his upper lip. His mouth was split by a line of congealed blood, extending down his chin, and a bandage had been wrapped tightly around the curve of his skull.

Marty wanted to pull it off. Wanted to see the extent of damage, try and convince himself that the wound wasn’t as bad as he remembered. The past few hours, the past two months, were a hysterical blur.

He felt like he’d hit a wall. Slammed to a stop, after what felt like an eternity of panic.

He’d lost himself to this.

When nobody was in the room, when the nurses were busy attending to other patients, Marty closed the door. He returned to Rust’s bedside and, heart sprinting a hysterical beat beneath his ribs, he gently lifted up Rust’s arm, holding him so tenderly that he may as well have been made of glass. He undid the bandage that the nurses had secured around his right arm, unwinding it, revealing the barbaric row of stitches beneath, and-

-and the tattoo.

A trembling sigh escaped Marty’s lips, and he felt himself shake. He'd never been happier to see that creepy fucking bird in his life.

Thank god. It’s really him. Thank fuck, thank fuck, thank fuck-

He collapsed into the chair by Rust’s bedside, sat there vibrating with relief, anxiety, fear, and a whole spectrum of emotions.

“You bastard,” Marty breathed, wrapping up Rust’s arm again, a tear teetering on the edge of his eyelashes before sliding down his cheek, dripping from his chin as he laughed, “You bastard, how the fuck did you survive?”

Rust didn’t answer. Of course. Marty did up the bandages, secured them in place with a clip, and a thought occurred to him. One that made the smile fade from his face.

If Rust was here…

…where the hell was Joe?

 

 

Chapter Text

It was just Marty’s luck. When the doctors finally decided to bring Rust out of sedation, Marty was away from the hospital, having left for the first time since Rust had been admitted. He’d only left because the nurses had shooed him away, telling him that he needed to get some rest, and that he was disturbing their patient. Bullshit he was disturbing their patient. Rust was unconscious, for fuck’s sake. Only reason he relented was because Maggie talked him into it.

So, yeah. He was at home when he got the call.

“They woke Rust up,” Maggie said, an apology clear in her tone, “I didn’t know they would, not so soon-”

He hung up.

 

***

 

Marty’s car skidded into the hospital parking lot. He ran into the hospital, up the stairs, getting lost momentarily in the cancer ward– shit, the place was a fucking maze– before he found himself in the right wing. He stopped outside Rust’s room, trying to catch his breath, heart in his mouth. Fuck. Fuck, he was so fucking nervous.

He walked in.

Rust’s bed was empty. The sheets were drawn back, the IV was hanging loose, and the machines were unhooked.

Marty was turning to go, about to go find a nurse that he could scream at until they told him where his partner had gone, when Rust emerged from the en suite bathroom that was attached to his room. He was wearing a hospital gown with about as much contempt as a grown man could muster, his hair dripping, plastered to his forehead and the back of his neck. The sound of a draining bath followed him from the bathroom, accompanied by billows of steam. There was an unlit cigarette between Rust's wet, bruised lips– the bandages around his head and arm were also damp, but Marty wasn't shocked, because if anyone was going to laugh at the prospect of properly maintaining their stitches it would be Rustin goddamn Cohle.

Rust stood there looking at Marty, his eyes heavily lidded. The flimsy fabric of the gown stuck to his chest.

Marty grinned widely. He tried to summon the words, tried to say, I’m so glad you’re alive, but before he could speak, Rust was taking the cigarette from between his lips and saying,

“You got a light?”

Marty blinked. “Good to see you too, asshole.”

Rust shrugged, turned towards his bed. The back of his hospital gown wasn’t done up, and Marty looked away when he saw the flash of Rust’s bare back, the stripe of skin continuing uninterrupted to the balls of his bare feet. Bruises and swelling marred his brown skin.

Rust rifled through a plastic bag labelled PATIENT’S CLOTHES as Marty stood and watched, dumbfounded.

“…You feelin’ okay?”

Rust produced a lighter from the depths of the bag, lifted it to his battered face.

“I am now.” He muttered, words obstructed by the cigarette in his mouth. Marty shifted on his feet as Rust lit up, unsure what to do. Unsure what to say. Unsure how to be.

“…Trust you to have a cigarette right after you wake up from sedation, shit,” Marty laughed uneasily, “where the fuck did you get it, anyway?”

Rust dropped his lighter on the bed, reached into the bag again. He produced a handful of clothes, wrapped into a bundle, and a chill ran through Marty when he saw blood crusted on the fabric. Rust’s bare back became rigid with tension, for a moment, and he looked as if he were about to hurl the clothes across the room.

“…Rust. You… You alright, man?”

Rust didn’t respond. Didn’t even move.

Marty approached him, hesitantly reached out to touch his shoulder. “Hey, buddy-”

Rust stepped away from him. He crossed the room, dumped the clothes in the bin. His eyes were still half-lidded, heavy and expressionless, and Marty didn’t know what to make of this. He’d seen trauma before, and he knew it well. After so many years cleaning up after criminals, he was intimately acquainted with the damage that people could endure; he just didn’t know how the hell that matched up with Rust, and the complex mess that comprised his personality. He’d expected tears. He’d expected trembling unsteadiness, just like the night he’d first invited Rust over to dinner. He hadn’t expected Rust to lay his feelings out on a goddamn platter, but shit, he’d expected something.

“Rust-”

“Anythin’ else in that bag?”

Marty glanced down at it. “No.”

Rust nodded. He had a deep suck of his cigarette, exhaled smoke. “Good. Get me the fuck out of here.”

 

***

 

Rust didn’t speak. He just sat in Marty’s passenger seat, smoking his cigarette, the folds of his hospital gown hanging loose over his body, fingers bandaged and his face blotted with bruising. Ordinarily, Marty would’ve been disproportionately focussed on the fact that Rust was as good as naked next to him, but he couldn’t bring himself to look twice. Something was wrong. Rust looked empty, like he’d had his personality scooped out of him.

“You, uh,” Marty cleared his throat, “You’re gonna have to talk to the guys at work. They’ll need to interview you ‘bout what happened. I think they know you were... kidnapped.”

Rust hummed quietly.

“That bother you?” Marty hedged, trying to coax him into speaking.

Rust gazed out the windscreen.

“No,” he said after a while, his voice quiet, “It doesn’t bother me.”

“…You know you’re gonna have to lie, right?”

“Yes.”

“They can’t know that you told your brother to kill someone. If they find out-”

“I’m aware.”

Marty exhaled slowly. His forehead was tight, his eyebrows drawn together; he was trying to keep the worry from his face, for Rust's sake, but it was fucking difficult.

“You should relax, Marty.” Rust suggested, smoke leaking from his lips as he spoke, the cigarette hanging loose and precarious from his mouth. “It’s over.”

Marty frowned. “What… What does that mean?”

“It’s over means, it’s over.”

“Don’t be a fuckin’,” Marty fought to reign in his temper and his fear, keep his voice steady, “Don’t be a smartass, Rust, please. Not now. Of all times, not now.”

“I’ll try my best.”

“What the hell are you talkin’ about, it’s over? Did you… Did you kill him? Did you kill your brother?”

Rust blinked slowly, didn’t reply.

“Jesus Christ-”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Rust’s voice softened. “I don’t… I don’t know if he’s…”

Marty looked over at him. His eyes had gotten listless and unfocussed, and a fleck of ash fell from his cigarette onto his lap. He didn't move to brush it away.

“What happened to you, Rust?” Marty whispered.

Rust didn’t answer him.

 

 

Chapter Text

The next time Rust spoke was when Marty was pulling into the driveway of his house. He looked around with a confused frown, his mouth tight, a thick sopping curl of hair hanging down his forehead. Marty eyed him worriedly, glanced at the blooming wet patch on the bandage. He wasn’t looking forward to wrestling Rust into submission so that he could tend to those fucking stitches and make sure they weren’t leaking puss from the moisture.

“Why’re we here?” Rust asked, his voice heavy and rumbling, Adam’s apple moving solidly under the skin of his throat. Marty stared at him.

“…What, you wanna go back to the hospital…?”

“No.” Rust turned his head, fixed Marty with a blank look. “Why’re we here.”

Marty laughed when he realised what Rust was getting at. “What, you– You honestly thought I was gonna leave you to fend for yourself, at your shithole of an apartment? You’d be dead within a day, the way you look. Christ.”

Rust had the gall to look annoyed. His cigarette, smoked down to the filter and gently smouldering between his fingers, was resting near his thigh. “I’m a grown fuckin’ man.”

“Yeah, well. You were also kidnapped a short while ago, so just let me make the decisions, yeah?”

Rust’s mouth twisted into a strange smile, something between a grimace and a laugh, and his eyes looked pained. He chuckled.

“What, so,” Rust laughed, his voice coming out all wrong, too flat and detached, “we’re gonna play house, huh?”

Marty frowned. He wanted to ask, again, if Rust was okay, but he knew what the answer would be. He’d have to play this careful-like, keep his concerns quiet until he had at least an idea of what had gone on between Rust and Joe. It did occur to him that he could cut his losses. Take off, leave Rust to deal with his own mess.

He felt like a piece of shit just considering it.

“Yeah. You got an issue with that?”

Rust paused, like he hadn’t expected Marty to say that. Their back-and-forth routine, their banter, didn’t seem to be sticking. He seemed dazed. Like he didn’t know what to expect every time Marty opened his mouth.

“…S’pose not,” Rust murmured slowly, “Marty.”

Marty nodded, not really wondering why his throat tightened when he heard his name drip from Rust’s lips like that. He’d accepted long ago that Rust’s condescension and scorn was just as good at turning him on as naked college chicks. He got out of the car, went around to help Rust, and was left feeling useless when Rust slid smoothly out of the car by himself. The curve of Rust's thigh was revealed when his gown pulled back, caught on the car door. He tugged at the hem, pulling it free, and Marty wanted to kiss him. But he knew there were lines he couldn’t cross. Not before, and definitely not now.

Rust looked at him like he knew everything. Marty turned away, tried to tell himself he knew what he was doing.

“You need some help?”

Rust shook his head, limped towards the house.

 

***

 

It was like Rust had never even been there before. He wandered around, looking lost and confused, an almost curious look of perplexity in his eyes as he explored Marty’s home. Marty left him to it, holding himself back only by a gargantuan effort, making dinner just to have something to keep his hands busy.

He wanted to hold Rust. He wanted to wrap him up, pull him close, kiss his temples and murmur quiet words against that damn bandage that made him look like an amnesia patient. He wanted to fix everything, hold Rust’s hand against the sheets as he stroked him, listen to him gasping and cursing and demanding that Marty give him more more more-

He couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t.

But that didn’t stop him wanting it.

“You a’ight, Rust?” He called out as he swirled a spoon around in the bolognese mix he’d thrown together from salvageable ingredients in his fridge.

Silence answered him.

Then, quietly, Rust’s voice said, “Yeah, I’m good.”

He’d expected a lie. Funny, that he should be worried to hear one anyway.

 

***

 

They sat on opposite sides of Marty’s dining room table, ate dinner. Rust had gotten changed, was wearing lopsidedly-buttoned clothes over his stitches and bandages like he’d fall apart otherwise. Everything was fine until Marty remembered that night Rust had cooked meatloaf, remembered how close they'd been and how he'd felt like they were family.

Then his calm façade snapped clean in half, and he wanted to cry.

“Rust,” Marty’s voice shook, “Look at me, would you?”

Rust did. His eyes may as well have been painted on, they were so cold and empty. His mouth was slack, lips closed loosely, fork teetering in his hand.

“What…” Marty sucked in a sharp breath, smiled brokenly in an effort to seem comforting. Rust watched him without comment. Without emotion. “What happened to you? Tell me, please.”

He did not beg. He did not say please, not like this. And Rust should’ve known that. He should’ve seen how much this was killing Marty.

But he didn’t seem to know how to care.

“I’ll tell you when I want.” Rust told him flatly. “When I’m ready.”

Marty bit at his lip, lifted a hand to rub at his jaw, palm his face like the thoughtful action could play his concern off as being casual. Something was wrong. He knew trauma. He knew what trauma looked like, and this… this wasn’t it.

“Okay,” he relented, voice still unsteady, “okay, sure. I’ll be here. You just make sure you come runnin’, when the time’s right. Yeah?”

Rust nodded. “Sure.”

He looked back down at his plate, continued eating.

Marty couldn’t stomach another mouthful.

 

 

Chapter Text

For two whole days, Marty tiptoed around Rust, trying to keep his emotions in check while Rust appeared to have none at all. He seemed to encounter Rust at strange times, would walk into a room and find him just standing there, smoking his cigarette and gazing into space like he could see the future and found it far more interesting than the present. He would be tucked into one of those too-big suit shirts, the folds of fabric settling around his thinning body, sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms. One time, Marty came home to find Rust standing in the living room, only wearing underwear with his shirt. The solid thickness of his thighs sent Marty into stuttering shock.

“The fuck, Rust? Ain’t you got any clothes?”

Rust had tilted his head to the side, exhaled a plume of smoke into the air. “It’s a hot day.”

Marty had bitten at the side of his cheek, rolled his tongue around in his mouth, inhaled and exhaled slowly. Gone on into the kitchen, set down the shopping he’d been carrying.

“That bandage’s lookin’ kinda yellow,” he’d said, “think I might need’a take a look at it, yeah? Make sure you’re doin’ okay. Maggie’s givin’ me shit ‘bout takin’ you outta the hospital, don’t need you dyin’ on me too.”

Rust shrugged.

“And how’re your hands doin’? Might be easier on ‘em if you gave up smoking for a while, holding all those damn cigarettes ‘tween your fingers all day.”

He’d said it just to get a reaction out of Rust. Just to hear him laugh off the suggestion with a quiet, Fuck you, Marty.

No such reaction came.

He didn’t know what had happened, over those two months. He didn’t know how Rust had been injured, didn’t know whether he’d won the fight by snapping Joe’s neck or by… getting rid of him some other way. Needless to say, Marty wasn’t sleeping. Not even a little. Weirdly, Rust was sleeping­– for as long as Marty had known him, Rust hadn’t slept. He would stay awake reading murder manuals, drinking heavily, or popping pills like it was his life’s mission to dose himself into oblivion. But now he was actually passing out like a normal human being. Which was… weird.

The first night, when Marty peeked into his room and saw him sleeping soundly, curled up on his side like a child, a strange sense of unease had crept into his stomach. Rust… he didn’t sleep on his side. He slept on his back, or on his stomach. What the fuck?

Probably just his injuries, making him sleep differently to avoid the pain. Or– Or maybe you’re just fucking paranoid, you idiot.

It seemed like everything had changed. But he couldn’t trust himself to know that the things he was seeing were even real. He’d fallen down into his own pit of despair, and emerging from it took some major adjustments to his perspective. He didn’t know if this suspicion was just a hangover from the misery, or if his perception was actually accurate.

He was content to shut up about it, though.

Until the third night.

He heard the tyres from his bedroom, jerked awake thinking that Joe had come to slaughter them both in their sleep. He went over to Rust’s room, found him gone, and then ran outside.

He got there just in time to see Rust’s truck disappearing down the road.

 

***

 

He got in his car, tried to follow Rust, but the delay in getting onto the road meant Rust was already gone. He slapped his hands on the steering wheel, cursed into the night, went inside and punched a hole in his wall, and then settled down to wait with a glass of hard whiskey. He told himself it was nothing. That Rust was a fucking nomad anyway, and it had probably only been a matter of time before he was going to take off.

The night crept on, bled into sunrise, and Marty was so terrified that he didn’t even get drowsy. He paced around his house, hitting things and yelling, his police scanner clipped to his belt and blaring at full volume.

Rust came back around seven o’clock in the morning.

Marty ran out to greet him, furious and worried.

“Where the fuck did you go? You asshole, you just fuckin' disappeared for two months, then you decide to take off in the middle of the night, without telling me? You fuckin' prick!”

Rust got out of the car, looked at him evenly, and Marty was torn between slapping the apathy off his face or pulling him into a hug.

“Answer me! Where did you go!”

Rust considered the question, eyes narrowing in thought, and it was then Marty noticed the new bruise darkening the corner of Rust’s mouth.

“The fuck-” his hand shot up to touch Rust’s neck, yanking him forward as Marty’s eyes widened, “What the fuck? Who did this?”

Rust didn’t pull away. He licked at his lips, let his eyelashes dip down, a quiet breath sighing from his mouth before he felt any urgency to respond.

“Went to a bar, thought drinkin’ might help. Guess I pissed someone off. Got into a fight.”

Marty didn’t let him go. “There’s no fucking alcohol on your breath, you lying piece of shit. Jesus, Rust, listen,” desperation crept into his voice, “something’s wrong. Just tell me. Quit sneakin’ around like you gotta carry this all on your own.”

Rust brushed Marty’s arm away, started walking towards the house. Marty watched him go, confused and angry.

 

***

 

Marty expected the atmosphere after that to change, maybe be awkward or stilted since their fight, but it didn’t. Rust carried on like before, not even holding a grudge. Marty got more and more worried– and, consequentially, more and more furious.

It boiled up inside him, until he found himself bursting into Rust’s room, intent on provoking some kind of emotion in Rust’s face.

“We need to talk.” He was barely able to form words, he was so distraught. “Rust, look at me."

Rust did, closing the book he’d been reading. His expression was empty.

“I’m– I’m worried about you. This has gone far enough. I need to know what the fuck happened while you were gone, and I need to know why you’re so different.”

Rust looked at him for a moment longer, then started to get up from the bed.

“I-” Marty’s voice got all twisted up in his throat, fraught with emotion, and he thought, Shit, I told myself I wouldn’t let him see me cry, “I wanna help you.”

Rust stood before him, weight settled evenly between both legs, hips canted forward slightly, eyes half-lidded. He looked bored.

“Why?”

Marty frowned. “…What?”

“Why do you wanna help me?” Rust took a step towards him, and Marty stepped back.

“Because,” Marty laughed incredulously, “you’re my friend, you asshole-”

“No.” Rust stepped toward him again, his voice lower now, his eyes steady and suddenly­– suddenly there was a spark of life in his face, more than there had been since he’d returned. But it was frightening. He looked…

hungry.

“What the hell does that mean-”

“That’s not why you want to help me. Christ, you’re not that selfless.” Rust moved closer to him, and Marty felt the wall against his back. His posture was tight with fear, the unconscious response to every sense screaming danger danger danger-

“Rust, what the fuck are you talking about-”

“I think it’s time…” Rust breathed as he slid closer, planting a hand on the wall beside Marty’s head, “…we admit what this is really about.”

Marty froze still, confusion pounding through him like a second heartbeat. Rust kissed the rabid beat of his pulse, pressed the heat of his tongue against Marty’s skin like a brand.

“What are you…”

That was all he managed to get out, his voice broken and whispered, before Rust was kissing him, smooth and hard and real, and better than Marty had ever imagined- and that was when Marty’s brain short-circuited, the realisation that this was actually happening sending him into a numb stupor.

“The fuck…” He breathed, making a half-hearted effort to get away, to stop this.

“Don’t,” Rust murmured, holding him still with the weight of his chest and his legs, leaning into Marty like his body was a weapon, “Don’t. Shh, Marty. Shh, just let me…”

He trailed his hand down Marty’s side, ground his hips forward slowly.

“…Just let me touch you, like this… Just like this, Marty…”

His voice was still flat, still cold and wrong, and Marty knew he should be afraid. But he was barely holding onto his sanity, let alone standing upright with any kind of stability, and all he could do was try not to collapse as Rust thrust lazily against him.

“This- This ain’t you, Rust-”

Rust kissed him.

“You ain’t ever wanted this before-”

Rust undid Marty’s pants. Dipped his hand inside.

“This isn’t right- oh, oh god, Rust-”

He moaned, let his head tip forward onto Rust’s shoulder, arms coming up to wrap Rust in a trembling grip. Rust laughed, like Marty was pathetic and predictable, and just for that Marty kissed him back, gave as good as he got, grabbing at him in an attempt to keep up-

He moved his hands under Rust’s shirt, trying to make him take it off, searching for the ridges of bullet scars over Rust's ribs-

His palm met smooth, unblemished skin.

That was when he realised.

That was when everything stopped, and his mind whited out with the weight of the epiphany that hit him. It all made sense now. The emptiness, the uncharacteristic apathy, even the different fucking sleeping position.

Rust had never come back at all. He’d disappeared two months ago, and Marty had not seen him since that morning when the letter arrived. This had all been a trick.

He wasn’t kissing Rust.

He was kissing Joe.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust panted hard, the ache in his shoulders and arms so burning so severely that he could no longer feel it. His fingers were covered in dried blood, the black crust peeling over deep wounds and tugging at his skin as he tried to escape. He could feel the ropes around his wrists loosening, giving him some leeway to struggle. Pinpricks of pain, dulled by swollen infection and the disassociation of exhaustion that had overtaken him about a month ago, shot through his hands and made him whimper. But the ropes were still loosening, still slipping, and his whimpers were turning to growls. The primal determination of a trapped animal.

He glared around the kitchen as he writhed, wondering why the fuck Joe had chosen to keep him here. If he was being honest, he knew exactly why. His stomach was cannibalising itself with hunger.

Keep a starving man next to a feast and he will go mad in seconds.

Sunlight shone cruelly through Joe’s immaculately clean windows, and the sick irony of the glorious day outside made Rust– with his torn clothes, bloodied skin and bruised face– seem even more pitiful. He was on the precipice of death, probably, starved and beaten beyond anything a normal man could endure. Hair fell over his face, and he closed his eyes, trying to breathe. He’d fallen on his side in his attempts to escape. His face was gaunt and sunken like that of a strangled bird, and viciously vibrant hallucination swum before him. Feathers soggy with blood. Small beaks, wrenched open with pliers. Bones twisted and crushed by a sadistic child.

He pulled at the ropes. Felt his hands bleeding more.

The ghost of his brother stood by the fridge with dirt on his knees. He had the dispassionate apathy of a corpse where there should’ve been a child’s face.

No. This isn’t real. This isn’t fucking real.

The boy moved closer, and Rust yanked his arms in painful, ineffective directions. His shoulders protested, and the pain was starting to get worse.

I need to get out. The drugs– this is just the drugs, I can make it, I was an undercover fucking narco, I can do this-

Rust grit his teeth, eyes fixed with spellbound horror on the soft leather school shoes padding towards him.

He’s not real- he’s not, he’s-

The boy bent down. Set a bird down next to Rust’s face, blood dribbling from its exposed ribcage.

Rust couldn’t look away. The vision blurred and shuddered.

But then-

I’m real.

She looked down at him, her small lips forming words that he could not hear, but felt in the deepest parts of his chest. Her hair was chestnut brown, just like his, and her dress white with pink flowers on it. The dress she'd been wearing that day.

The sunlight passed through her, touching upon her soft cheeks, and Joe was gone. She was so small, her arms round and innocent with puppy fat. Just a tiny little girl. His tiny little baby daughter.

I’m real, she told him, papa, I’m real.

He felt the ropes give. A broken sound fell from his mouth, and then he was surging upwards, pushing himself up off the ground with freed hands, trying to find her, pull her against him where she would be safe-

But she was gone.

Loss ripped through him, crushing him back down onto the floor.

He cried.

 

***

 

He cried until he remembered.

Marty.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty should’ve played along.

He should’ve continued kissing Joe, should’ve arched against him and groaned like he believed the man touching him was actually Rust. He should’ve been smart about it, should’ve deceived Joe into a position of weakness so that he’d have the opportunity to do something permanent, like bite off Joe’s dick or use his thumbs to push Joe’s eyeballs into the back of their sockets.

But he didn’t.

The second that he realised, he froze. The instinct to protect himself, ancient and written into the genetics of every warm-blooded animal, seized him in a moment of sheer, unadulterated terror. His mouth opened against Joe’s in a hollow gasp, his hand stiffening where it sat, pressed against the skin of Joe’s chest. He telegraphed his realisation like a fucking idiot, and only realised what he’d done when Joe went still too.

Neither of them moved.

Then, fast as he could, Marty jerked up his arm in a sharp jab, smashed his elbow into Joe’s jaw. Joe staggered back, and Marty ran. Through the hall, down to his room, to his bedside table. He grabbed his gun out of the draw, pointed it at the doorway, squared his stance like it would help him have control over this situation. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe. Rust was still gone, and he couldn’t fucking breathe-

His hysterical panting was the only sound aside from slow, approaching footsteps. Joe was coming down the hallway.

“Come on!” Marty yelled, the gun shaking in his hands, “Come on, you motherfucker!”

I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him. I’ll-

Rust

I need-

Where’s Rust? Where the fuck-

Joe appeared in the doorway. His shirt was crinkled, his lips reddened, his hair mussed– and a pulse of something hot and abhorrent shot through Marty, just knowing he’d been the one to make Joe look like that. Knowing that, seconds ago, Joe had pressed him up against the wall and moved against him like he wanted to fuck Marty into next century. Marty’s thoughts were running around in his head, a whirlwind of panic, and all he could do was try and keep breathing. The gun, he told himself, I have the gun, I’m in control, I’m in fucking control-

“Hands up,” he hissed, “hands up, now.”

Joe slowly raised his arms, hands hovering around his waist in a lazy, bored expression of surrender. “If you kill me, you’ll never find him.”

Marty’s brain wasn’t working. Wasn’t functioning. Those words couldn’t be true. Couldn’t be real. A high-pitched buzzing was sounding somewhere close to his ears, and he felt dizzy.

I just- I just got Rust back, I-

No, it-

It wasn’t him-

“You- You sick fuck, what did you do to him? Where is he?” Marty’s voice sounded frail and frightened, and he thought, no, no that’s not right, I can’t sound weak.

“Where is he?” He repeated, yelling now. “Where the fuck is Rust?!”

Joe considered him blankly. He did not reply. A full-body flinch shuddered through Marty when Joe’s hands moved.

He started undoing the buttons of his shirt.

“What-” Marty pushed the gun towards him, emphasising its presence, as if it meant he had any control over what was happening. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Joe continued. The shirt fell open around his sternum, revealed smooth, brown skin.

“Stop it.”

Joe didn’t listen.

“I said stop it-”

“There’s an opportunity here, Marty.”

Marty felt like he was about to pass out. The buzzing was getting louder. “Shut- Shut the fuck-”

“He’ll never want you. Not the way you want him.”

The words hit Marty so hard he almost fell over. A sound, a tiny blip of helplessness, escaped his throat, and he saw victory tighten the edges of Joe’s eyes. Not a smile. Something more vicious. Marty stumbled backwards, the gun wavering in its aim as he trembled.

Joe took off his shirt. Slid it from his shoulders, real slow.

“You can have me instead.”

Marty took another step back. Felt the edge of a mattress against the backs of his knees.

“He’s-” Marty began, barely able to whisper. His lips felt numb, his words thickened by panic. “He’s your brother.”

Joe stepped closer, close enough that Marty could feel the warmth of his breath, and he didn’t know what to do next. He didn’t know how to win this.

Joe reached down, as if to take the gun. But he didn’t. He grabbed Marty’s wrist, lifted it so that Marty was pointing the gun up into the underside of his jaw. Joe looked at him with empty eyes, and Marty couldn’t believe it– he couldn’t comprehend the lack of a person in front of him. Joe leaned forward, arching his throat into the barrel of the gun. Marty felt skin against his palm, and when he looked down, his hand was against Joe’s chest. He didn’t know when that had happened.

“I can pretend for you.” Joe told him softly. “Would you like that?”

“I- I’ll shoot you.”

Joe moved closer, the gun sliding around to press against his ear. Marty’s grip was loose.

“Do you want me to be him? To tell you that I love you?” Joe’s eyes slid closed as he pressed himself close, murmuring a quiet words into the softness of Marty’s cheek. His lips were warm, and Marty felt himself getting hard. He didn’t know why. He didn’t know what was happening. He’d never kissed a man before.

“I- I don’t-”

“Do you want me like this?” Joe breathed, tilting his head, licking a kiss into Marty’s open mouth, “Up against you?”

“Stop it. Tell me where-”

“I love you, Marty,” Joe moaned, “God, you taste so good…”

Marty felt his breath hitch, felt himself shake, and he realised his eyes were closed. He didn’t know when that had happened, either, and it was only when he felt a hand massage the front of his pants that alarm bells, deafening and all-encompassing, started ringing in his mind.

He dug the gun into Joe’s neck, pushed him away.

“Get. The fuck. Off. Me.”

Joe paused, then slowly backed away. He looked annoyed at the most, irritated that his ploy had failed. Marty was panting, furious now, his face turning red with anger.

He levelled the gun between Joe’s eyes. Pushed it against his forehead.

“Tell me where he is. Now.”

Joe didn’t even blink. “No.”

Marty snarled, pressed the gun hard enough to leave an imprint in Joe’s skin. He was back on track. Fixated on finding Rust. He was in control now. He was in fucking control.

 “Feel that? Huh? D’you wanna die? I’ll fuckin’ shoot you, right here, right fuckin’ now-”

“So do it.” Joe suggested.

“You- You psycho, you think I won’t?”

Joe didn’t bother replying. He just swung his arm in an arc, grabbing the gun and pushing Marty’s arm away in one smooth movement. Marty didn’t even realise what had happened until it was too late, and by the time he worked it out, Joe had kicked his feet out from under him and sent him sprawling onto the floor. Immediately, he started to get up, but found the cold hardness of metal keeping him down.

He looked up at the gun. Joe smiled down at him.

Marty wanted to spit fire. He wanted to scream and yell and fight, but he couldn’t move. He didn’t even attempt to flinch from where he was kneeling, because there was a gun pointed at his head, and he’d never even fired a shot before he met Rust. He wasn’t accustomed to violence. Not like this.

“Now, you be quiet,” Joe murmured with sickening gentleness, “or I’ll cut off your face and wear it over my own. Do you understand?”

Marty swallowed. He felt like he was going to vomit, but instead he just nodded. Joe nodded back, with what could only be construed a twisted kind of approval. Marty wondered if he’d survive this. Wondered what he’d have to do to survive.

Joe moved the gun downwards. Put it against Marty’s lips.

“Open your mouth.”

Marty glared up at him. Joe sighed.

“While most bullets are designed to hit their target without exiting, what you have here, Marty, is a Smith and Wesson Model 629 gun, that carries hollowpoint rounds. This kind of round– especially at this distance– will not only penetrate skin and shatter bone, it will also create a rather large mess due to expansion after entry. The front of your skull will cone inward, away from the barrel of the gun, and your chances of survival will be significantly lessened. As I do not particularly want to spend my evening scraping your brains and teeth fragments off the wall, and then dumping your body in the bayou, I would strongly suggest you do what I say.”

Marty wanted to cry. He felt a chill of terror run through him, but there was nothing he could do.

He opened his mouth.

Joe eased the gun past Marty’s lips. He exhaled slowly as he did it, and it was only then that Marty realised what this was. What Joe was making him do. His mouth filled with the bitter tang of gun oil, metal clacking against his teeth, and his lips stretched to accommodate the barrel.

“Mm…” Joe hummed. “Good boy.”

Tears sprung up in Marty’s eyes, and fury filled his face.

“It’s a small gun…” Joe murmured, pushing the barrel further into Marty’s throat, “...but it’ll do for now.”

Marty closed his eyes, prayed that he could be somewhere else. Anywhere else. The floor was hard under his knees, and he knew what was coming next. He’d been on the receiving end enough times to know how it was done. He darted his tongue out, running it over cold steel, sucking the gun like he actually wanted this. He heard Joe inhale sharply.

“Open your eyes. Open them. Look at me.”

Marty did. Joe’s stare was bright and piercing, and it was all Marty could do not to choke on the gun, not to jerk his head away.

“I don’t know why Rustin puts up with you.” Joe licked at his lips, like he was hungry, like he was a reptile, a cold-blooded thing that wanted to fuck and kill without even the slightest modicum of regret. “You’re disgusting.”

Marty would’ve laughed if he could. Like an insult could affect him now.

“Still,” Joe’s breath quickened, “I will admit the sight of you like this is… compelling. I like the idea of you being fucked. Maybe that’s why Rustin kept you around, hm? Would you like me to fuck you?”

Marty made a noise, a helpless whimper, and Joe laughed. He was moving the gun now, pushing it past Marty’s lips rhythmically.

“Put some effort into it.”

Marty did. His cheeks hollowed around the cylinder, and he’d have been trying to find a way to escape, but he couldn’t even begin to imagine a way out of this. His head had emptied of anything coherent, anything intelligible. Do what you’re told, was his only thought, and he’ll let you live.

“That’s right,” Joe breathed, “yeah, yeah. That’s it. Bet you wish this was him, huh? Bet you wish Rustin was the one fucking your face.”

Marty whined when Joe grabbed his hair, thrust the gun forward. His hands came up to flounder against Joe’s thighs, instinctively trying to push him away.

“Suck it. Come on.”

Marty trembled where he knelt. His shoulders were shaking, and the back of his throat was aching from harsh metal edges. Joe’s knuckles were up against his mouth now, pressing the gun in as far as it could go.

That was when he heard it. A door, opening. Closing.

His front door.

He kept his eyes on Joe, pretended he hadn’t noticed anything.

In his peripheral vision, a movement hovered around the edge of the doorway. He chanced a glimpse when Joe’s eyes were closed in a moment of blissful arousal– and then froze still, tears streaming down his face. Relief filled him, but shame was right behind.

Rust was in the hallway.

Marty looked back at Joe when his hair was yanked, hard enough to make him whimper again. Knowing that Rust could hear him, that Rust was watching, made him want to die.

“That’s it, that’s it,”

Marty didn’t dare look away again, but he sensed a movement. Sensed Rust walking closer. He thought he saw the glint of a blade, a knife ready to plunge into Joe’s back, or sever his throat. Hope, for the first time since this had begun, lightened Marty’s chest.

Then-

No, no, no-

Then he saw Joe’s finger tightening on the trigger.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty closed his eyes and prepared to die.

On his knees, a gun in his mouth. Not the way he wanted to go, but then again, he’d never really thought all that much about death. That had always been Rust’s game.

He wanted to open his eyes one last time, just to see Rust’s face. But he didn’t want to see the gun again, didn’t want to look up at Joe and understand that, in this moment, he was nothing. He was going to die in his own home, in love with his partner, fighting with his ex-wife, and estranged from his children. His teeth chattered against metal, and time slowed to a halt. He heard a noise, a sound that didn’t register as being anything in particular, and he thought, a gunshot, I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead, I’m dead-

He floated, for the longest time. Unattached, unbound by anything the world could offer him. He was wrapped up in the tight cocoon of his own mind, driven to complete isolation by fear.

Madness.

 

 

Chapter Text

When he woke up, nothing had changed. The light was still the same, and no time appeared to have passed. But his cheek was against the floor, his body limp and collapsed, and someone was touching his face. It felt like years since he’d last been conscious, but he realised– on some level– that he’d just experienced a mental break. A psychological fucking meltdown. In a manner of seconds, his entire grip on reality had slid to the side, fragmented, and now it was reforming wrong. A puzzle that just wouldn’t fit.

Hands on his face. Someone calling his name.

“No-” He tried to fight them off, hands weak, eyes closed, “No, stop-”

“Marty, look at me-”

“Don’t fucking touch me,” he growled, “don’t touch me-”

“It’s me. It’s me, Marty. Please, just open your goddamn eyes.”

They had the same voice. They had the same fucking voice, and Marty had been tricked once before. He kept his eyes closed, like he could make reality disappear if he just… let himself go. Let himself separate.

“No. No, Marty, don’t- Stay with me, okay? Look at me. Jesus fuckin’ Christ, will you just-”

Desperation crept into the voice that was calling him.

“We- We’re partners. You and I. When you first invited me out to dinner, you said, can’t put Maggie off anymore, so you just gotta. You remember that? And that day when I returned your mower, you were so mad you almost beat me up in front of your kids. You remember that, huh? Marty? Your goddamn stellar parenting skills?”

It was just like Rust to tempt him out of fear with an insult. Good to see you commit to somethin’, he’d said once, as if the strength of commitment absolved Marty of murdering another human being.

Cautiously hopeful, and afraid beyond comprehension, Marty opened his eyes. The face looking down at him was sunken, sallow, with lips that were split and bleeding. The same curls of hair, the same handsome face that Marty had spent so many nights fantasising about– but he couldn’t tell. He couldn’t tell the fucking difference-

“Your scars. If it’s you,” he coughed, voice scraping the back of his throat as he whispered, peering up from where he lay on the floor, “if it’s you, show me. Show me the scars,”

He reached up, seeking what he needed with shaking hands, and Rust saw what he meant. He lifted up his shirt, the bloody material threadbare between his fingers, and then he was grabbing Marty’s wrist, pressing his palm against scarred flesh. Marty panted, hyperventilating, turning his forehead into the floor as he tried to wake up from wherever he had just gone. Rust’s ribs moved under his hand, and it was as if every breath he took was flowing into Marty.

They sat there, just breathing, for what felt like eternity.

“It’s okay. It’s me. Fuck,” Rust sighed, sounding just as traumatised as Marty, “We need to move. Now. I need you to get out of here, so I can deal with this before his blood sets.”

…His? What blood…?

It was then Marty realised what the sound had been. He lifted himself up off the floor with shaking arms, and looked over at where Joe lay. His throat was slit across the jugular, blood pumping steadily, gushing hot and wet over Marty’s carpet. He remembered now. Where he had been expecting a gunshot, there had instead been a gurgling choke, the last gasp of a man as he died.

Marty stared at the body. Somewhere very distant, Rust’s hands held him when he swayed.

The concept of someone dead in front of him didn’t make sense. Didn’t work in his head.

Nothing was working in his head.

“You killed him. You killed your own brother-”

“He was going to kill you.”

“Jesus. Jesus, Rust-”

Marty retched. Vomited on the floor, narrowly missing his own lap. He heard Rust curse.

“I’ll take care of it. Okay? Just stay here-”

“No. No, you’re-” Marty rose to his feet, the world pivoting unsteadily, sending him staggering, “You’ve been- You’ve been kidnapped. No. No, I’m going to help you. I’m going to do this.”

Rust was looking at him then, his face tight and worried, blue eyes dulled by exhaustion and skin made sickly pale by imprisonment. Marty blinked, stunned by the realisation that Rust was right in front of him, and a boiling hysteria was bubbling up in his throat, making it hard to breathe. He realised, properly, that Rust was alive-

He pulled Rust into a hug.

Held him tight, so tight, like he could keep everything together if he just didn’t let go.

He was crying, then, and he knew he must have gone insane, because Rust was crying too. He was stiff in Marty’s arms, sobs racking his rawboned frame, his gaunt hands rising to grip Marty’s back.

A mouth against Marty’s temple. A chin against his cheekbone, tight as Rust grimaced with the effort of trying to keep his sobs quiet.

They disintegrated, with only each other to hold onto.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty watched his hands as if from a distance.

Everything moved slower, fuzzier at the edges, and though he knew he was conversing with Rust– replying to him in short, clipped tones– he could not understand the noises that came from his mouth. His jaw was moving, up and down, but his voice came from a great distance. His lips moved to a silent, detached rhythm.

They wrapped Joe up in a rug, rolling him over and over and over, Joe’s head lolling limply, attached to his shoulders by a severed neck. His blood left a patch on the carpet, blooming, and Marty was already thinking about soap and homemade cleaning remedies. He yearned for Maggie, in her sunflower dress, on her knees as she scrubbed at the floor. She’d been so good at housework, had known all the things Marty was too impatient to remember.

He missed simpler days, wished he could immerse himself in the warmth of memories that were fading fast in the face of everything he was experiencing. Hold his head, Rust was telling him, hold his head so I can cover it.

Joe’s face was warm, tanned, and slack. He was not yet rigid with rigor mortis, or blue at the lips– and maybe that made it harder. The fact that he was still so… alive-looking. Marty stared into his lifeless blue eyes and tried to figure out what was happening.

He couldn’t quite get there. Couldn’t equate what he knew with the truth.

He knew they had killed someone. He knew that Rust had killed someone. But the distinction between before, (with Joe’s gun shoved down his throat, Joe panting above him like a dog in heat, his face lit by a vile excitement) and now was… odd. Wrong. He couldn’t get his head around it. Joe looked like he was about to jerk back into life at any moment. Marty couldn’t look at his empty eyes any longer, so he didn’t.

He figured he’d work all this out eventually.

All he knew for certain was that Rust was back. Rust was here, and that was the only thing that mattered. Marty had spent two months functioning like a machine, and that– that was what he would do now. Until he knew how to be human again, he would reduce himself to systematic, robotic logic. His body would tick onwards, and his mind would eventually follow.

So, he watched his hands. He did what was needed, and did not question it. He backed his car up to the house, and Rust hefted his brother’s body into the trunk. Marty got out of the car to help him, and it was only then that he noticed the way Rust was limping, his body angled to one side, his wrists bleeding, his pant legs rucked up to reveal raw ankles. Rust slammed the trunk closed, walked over to the driver’s side door.

“What are you doing?”

Rust opened the car door. “Drivin’.”

Marty reached past him, his palm colliding with the door. A sharp slap reached his ears before the crash of metal, the door closing under the force of his arm. Rust flinched hard, eyes widening.

“The fuck you are.”

Rust huffed out a weak laugh, his eyelids flickering up and down exhaustedly. “Don’t be such a goddamn-”

Marty slammed him up against the car. Braced his forearm across Rust’s collarbone, fury coursing through him like poison. Rust went rigid, his battered body giving way under Marty’s grip, shoulders curling inwards.

“You listen to me, and you listen good, Rust,” Marty snarled, “You’re practically fallin’ over ‘cause of your injuries, and I ain’t lettin’ you act like this is nothin’, so you can take your fuckin’ martyrdom and shove it up your ass.”

“Marty-”

“Here’s what’s gonna happen. You’re gonna go the fuck back inside, and I’m gonna take Joe’s body up to the bayou. Do you understand?”

Rust closed his eyes. Marty felt him shudder, so he pushed him harder up against the car. He wanted an answer.

“Do you fuckin’ understand?”

Rust nodded. Marty let him go, and Rust sagged against the car, his shoulders drooping forward, head bowing downwards. His hair hung, limp and untidy, over his face, but he still looked beautiful. Marty was beginning to understand that Rust would always be beautiful. No matter how much the world hurt him.

“M’sorry Marty.” He mumbled, words just as slurred and broken as they had been the night he’d first come out to dinner with Marty’s family. Marty clenched and unclenched his fists, shook his head.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“You didn’t… You didn’t ask for this. What he was doin’ to you-”

Marty punched him.

Rust staggered to the side, holding his cheek. A tear burst free from his watering eyes, and a part of Marty recoiled, knowing he was the reason for those tears. His arms were moving again, without his control, and he watched as his hands grabbed Rust’s face, fingers spread, a cruel parody of a lover’s embrace. A person walking past might assume he was cupping Rust’s face, about to kiss him.

“Shut up.” Marty told him, his voice deadly calm. He sounded so toneless and empty that he didn’t even recognise he was the one speaking those words. “You ain’t ever gonna talk about that again, you hear me?”

Rust sniffed, nodded as much as he was able. It was only when Marty saw blooming whiteness on Rust’s face, from the pressure of fingers, that he realised he’d let Rust go. He blinked, tentatively touched Rust’s neck. He didn’t…

He didn’t want to hurt Rust.

What… what am I doing?

He couldn’t understand what was going on. Didn’t know why he’d just done the things that he’d done. The world was blurred, real and unreal all at once, converging and diverging into a messy surreality, and Rust's trembling lips were spinning his mind out of control.

“You…” He heard his own voice, listless and confused, saying, “You go back inside. I’ll… I’ll take care of it. Of this.”

He turned away, got in the car, and didn’t see Rust watching as he pulled out of the driveway. He was too busy trying to figure out what was happening.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty’s car moved over the road silently. His eyes were fixed on the two orbs of light that shone before him, his only awareness of the world illuminated by the glow of his headlights. He’d heard blaring horns and shouts, and he knew his wheels were swerving on the asphalt as he zoned in and out of concentration. He’d felt like he was floating when he was standing in front of Rust, his feet on solid ground, and now that he was driving– well. He felt like he was flying.

The night passed in dabs of colour, flashing gauzily in the darkness, and he didn’t know when it had gotten so late. He didn’t even know where he was, not until the car was stopped, his feet where moving, and then he was standing out in the open air. Tepid water was sitting before him like some inky, cavernous mystery, no impression of depth or distance given by its black surface. He inhaled, tasted the sickly-sweet rotting stench of a stagnant bayou, and knew he had arrived.

When did that happen?

Marty couldn’t summon an answer to the question, so he walked around the back of his car, noting that he was alone for miles. Shit, he really must’ve gotten lost on the backroads. Getting back home was going to be tricky.

He opened the boot, stared at the lumpy rug that greeted him. He knew what was beneath that rug– and suddenly, could not bring himself to touch it.

A body. A dead body.

 Joe–

he’s dead, he’s dead, he can’t-

Can’t do what? Can’t do what? What did he do to you? What did he do to you?

The question taunted him, making Marty lightheaded. An abrupt feeling of urgency, of panic and rage, overtook him. He pulled at the rug, tearing at fibres with impatient hands.

“Show me,” he said aloud, unaware that he was speaking at all, “show me your goddam face-”

At long last, he got his fingers to cooperate enough that he could get a proper grip on the thick fabric of the rug. He pulled it aside. Joe’s head was inclined unconsciously against his shoulder, his eyes glassy and unfocussed. Marty watched him, terrified he was about to move, and thought-

He looks like Rust.

The curls of hair, the sloping shape of his diamond eyes, the angle of his jaw, his mouth, his lips-

“No,” Marty protested, “No, no, no-”

He remembered hitting Rust. He remembered pulling back his arm, his knuckles connecting with Rust’s cheek, the way Rust had staggered away from him. He remembered blood. He remembered a knife, cutting through flesh, veins and arteries and muscle and sinew–

He remembered holding the knife.

“No,”

No, that wasn’t-

it wasn’t Rust, it wasn’t him, it was never him, it was Joe all along, come on Marty, come the FUCK on, wake up, WAKE UP-

He moved fast. He grabbed Joe’s ankles, dragged him from the car. Joe’s body hit the ground hard, his arm splaying out from the rug’s confines, and Marty couldn’t stop, he couldn’t look at that hand, he couldn’t, or he would be certain that the person dead before him was Rust. He dragged the body towards the water, gripping him by the feet. He swung him around, jerked back to avoid the splash.

He thought he saw eyes. Glinting, hungry eyes.

Alligators.

You killed him, they said, and now we’re going to EAT HIM

 

The next thing he knew, Marty was crashing through his front door, breaths caught somewhere in his throat, the space behind his eyes filled with boiling pressure as he tried to find him, find Rust, find him, find him- and he didn’t know how he’d gotten here so fast, didn’t know where his car was, didn’t remember coming back from the bayou at all-

find him, find him, find him, FIND HIM-

He burst into his bedroom.

Rust was looking up at him from the floor, where he was kneeling, one hand braced against the carpet as he scrubbed at the bloodstain. His fingers were pink and there was a bucket of discoloured water sitting near his hip. He had a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and side of his face was swollen from the punch Marty had landed on his cheekbone.

Seeing him wasn’t enough.

Marty fell to his knees, grabbed Rust’s body, trying to manhandle him how he needed. Rust made quiet, confused sounds, but didn’t resist– and maybe that was the most frightening part of it all, the fact that Rust wasn’t even fighting back. Marty knew he was acting like an insane man. He knew that Rust should’ve been scared of him.

“I just,” he tried to say as he turned Rust to face him, “I just need,”

I need proof, I need-

I need to know you’re not him

He pushed up Rust’s shirt, insistent and too rough for the injuries that Rust was carrying, blue and black and infected red against his skin– and he found himself staring at the scars. The bullet wounds, circular and raised.

He exhaled. Felt parts of himself falling back into place. The puzzle pieces, the mess that his mind had become– it was all reforming. Coalescing.

Yes. Yes. I went to the bayou. I put Joe’s body in the water. I- I’m safe. Rust-

Rust is-

“You’re safe,” Marty whispered, “You’re safe.”

He held Rust close, gently this time, arms around him. Rust held him back with one arm, taking his cigarette in the other hand and holding it off to the side. He could've been shaking, but Marty wasn't sure. His entire world was unsteady with aftershocks, and distinguishing reality from his hallucinations was nearly impossible. It was all he could do to cling onto Rust, to find solace in the undeniable truth of his existence.

“I think,” Rust murmured against Marty’s shoulder, “I think you’re in shock, Marty.”

Marty laughed helplessly. “Of course I’m in shock, you asshole.”

Rust gave an answering chuckle, settling against him, leaning into Marty’s body heat– something he'd have never done in the past, not like this. It felt nice. Really nice. Marty closed his eyes, buried his face in the curve of Rust’s neck.

“I gotta patch you up,” he said, words muffled, “I gotta take a look at you, make sure you’re okay-”

“In a minute.” Rust whispered.

Marty knew that the straining ache in Rust’s voice was as much of an admission of weakness as he would ever give.

Stay here, Rust was saying, stay with me. Touch me. Hold me, like this. Keep me safe.

“Yeah,” he agreed softly, “in a minute, Rust.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust practically melted into the bed, his body aching and broken. A quiet sound of relief poured from his lips as Marty lowered him down onto the mattress. Marty then propped Rust up in his bed, stacked pillows behind him as if this were some kind of shrine. An act of holy worship. And, on the floor by Marty's feet, the shadow of blood, like the ghost of a sacrifice.

“Didn’t think you’d go easy,” Marty muttered, “thought you’d tell me things like, ‘I can take care of myself.’ Try and work yourself into an early grave or some shit.”

Rust swallowed, the lines of his throat moving with the action. Sweat beaded on his skin, moist and feverish, and now that Marty was calm he could properly see how damaged Rust really was. It didn’t look good. He toyed with the lid of the first aid kit, chewing on his lip, trying to remember the things Maggie had taught him over the years.

First thing’s first, he thought, and reached into his pocket. He produced a packet of cigarettes, shook two loose. The moment Rust heard the unmistakeable click and snap of the lighter’s spark, his eyes opened, and a tired smile touched his lips. He looked exhausted, but happy.

 “You remembered.”

Marty snorted. He took the lit cigarette, put it to Rust’s mouth. Rust inclined his head up off the pillow, lips closing around fragile paper. He inhaled, eyes fluttering as he tasted the familiarity of nicotine. Marty liked that expression on his face. He liked seeing Rust smoking again, the intimacy of it. He wanted to curl around Rust like smoke, wanted to fold himself around Rust’s body and never leave.

“’Course I remembered,” Marty put a cigarette between his own lips, “it’s only been two months.”

Rust watched him light up. “You smoke now, too?”

Marty nodded.

“Why?”

They reminded me of you, after you were gone, Marty didn’t say.

“…It’s been two months,” he replied flatly, “things changed.”

Rust didn’t offer a reply to that.

Marty put down the lighter, breathed in deep. He sat back in his chair, regarded Rust, tried to be subtle about it. But he failed. Utterly and completely. He felt like he was sitting at the bedside of a dying Jesus, a man bound and tortured on the cross. Rust’s hair spilled down over his face, curled and brown, and the rags he wore spoke to the timeliness of suffering. The light in the room was dim, painting Rust in dabs of warm colour, turning the skin over his ribs pale. His clothes were ripped.

Fuck. Marty had never, ever been a religious man, but...

He’d found a religion in Rustin Cohle.

“You gonna sit there,” Rust murmured, “or are you gonna get this over with?”

Marty sat forward, reached out a hand, tentatively as he dared. Rust closed his eyes.

“…Can I…?”

“Yes.” Rust answered him softly.

He peeled back Rust’s shirt, gently as he could. Every inch of skin revealed to his horrified eyes was swollen and rainbow with bruises; honey-coloured sickly yellow, dark green, violent purple, and terrible black. His skin sloped down beneath his ribs, his stomach hollow and starved. Marty let out a hushed breath, trying to stay composed.

“Fuck, Rust…”

Rust smiled tiredly around his cigarette. Marty noticed it needed to be ashed, so he took it from Rust’s lips, tapped it out in the bedside ashtray, and then put it back in Rust’s mouth. Rust didn’t question his touch, didn’t flinch away from him, and Marty was glad.

That would make this easier.

He went and got a sponge, returned, and began washing Rust. Started up around Rust’s shoulders, curling the sponge over the rises and falls of Rust’s body. The battered, war-torn landscape of his skin. Overused bones and abused muscles, blisters and weeping sores seared into his flesh where rope had rubbed hard enough to make him bleed. The smoke from their cigarettes settled into a haze between them, embers burning gently in the dim atmosphere of the room.

“I ain’t even asked,” Marty began, “what did he-”

“Not that.” Rust replied, almost too quickly. “Not what you’re thinkin’.”

Marty rolled his tongue around in his mouth, tried to forget what it had been like to be forced to his knees by Joe. He tried to not to imagine Rust in the same position. Or worse.

“He tried.” Rust clarified quietly, not looking at Marty. “But…”

Marty nodded. He didn’t ask for more details. He just moved the sponge, slowly and gently, over Rust’s chest. The water dripped brown and lukewarm onto the bed, tainted by sweat. When Rust was finally clean, Marty wiped him down with a soft cloth, took ointment out of the kit.

“You’ll have to take a bath later, but this’ll do for now. I’m gonna put this on your… on your wrists, okay? And your ankles. And it… it ain’t gonna just tickle.”

Rust breathed out, his face creasing with pain. “Okay.”

“We could… get somethin’ for you. Somethin’ to knock you out, make this easier-”

“No.”

Marty frowned, startled by the abruptness of Rust’s answer.

“Are you sure? You ain’t ever been shy ‘bout takin’ drugs before. Christ, you used to use them like they were sweets-”

“I said no.” Rust closed his eyes again, but this time it felt like avoidance. Something was wrong. Marty glanced down at the fresh, newly swollen track marks that were seared into the fragile flesh of Rust’s inner elbows. He wanted to ask. He wanted to know what had happened, what Joe had forced him to take.

But he didn’t want to push this.

So he lifted the ointment to Rust’s wrist. Gently started to rub it in, and ignored the way Rust grit his teeth, the muscles of his jaw pulling tight.

It felt like sadism. It felt like torture. He did not want to touch Rust, not like this.

But he had no choice.

 

***

 

Rust lay back, dissolving into the tenderness of Marty’s hands. He kept his eyes closed, no matter how much he wanted to wrap himself in the warmth of Marty’s gaze, the gold of his hair as it caught the lamplight, the wheat-blond softness of his lashes. The stars in his blue irises.

He wanted it all. He wanted Marty.

But, behind Marty’s shoulder, Joe was watching.

I’m coming, he said.

I'm coming for you, Rustin.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty immersed himself in touching Rust. Every part of him; every inch of skin, every slide and jut of his underweight body, every blemish and every imperfection. Rust’s skin was pallid and unhealthy, his cheekbones more prominent than they should’ve been, but he was still Rust– and every breath he took, every sound he made, was a symphony Marty would never tire of. He cleaned Rust’s body with the adoration of a husband, the mournful love of a brother. Rust’s birdlike face, so sharp and intelligent, was soft now. His anger and his resentment, bitterness towards a world that had never treated him fairly, was gone. He was too tired to hate.

They were left, now, with only their honesty. And all Marty wanted to do was bathe himself in it. Prove that his nightmarish memories were just that– nightmares. He had not held a knife in his hands. He had not gone mad. He had not dumped Rust's body in the bayou, but instead Joe's; he was afforded the privilege of drawing his thumb over the bullet scars on Rust's chest, just to prove that to himself.

Rust was right in front of him. That was the only thing that mattered.

So maybe Marty was distracted.

Maybe he was looking so closely, focussed on his own trauma, that he missed it.

He missed the way Rust’s expression pulled into slackened horror. He missed the way Rust looked over his shoulder, locked into immobility by an invisible terror. A monster only he could see. The withdrawal was taking hold of him, and he could not fight it.

“S’pose you oughta stay here for a while, huh,” Marty said, “if you think I’m gonna let you stay by yourself, you’re dead fuckin’ wrong.”

Rust didn’t answer. Marty took that to mean that Rust was listening to him, coming around, and felt a chuffed sense of pride. He stood to go squeeze the sponge out in the sink, turning his back on Rust.

"I'll just be a sec',” he said.

Rust, once again, did not answer.

He couldn't.

 

Chapter Text

Whatever tentative grip Rust had held on his sanity, he quickly lost.

He’d entertained grandiose delusions around hiding his withdrawal symptoms from Marty, and– gifted with the dementedly optimistic resolve of a seasoned junkie– he thought he was doing brilliantly until he woke up, dizzy and delirious, to the sensation of lumpy stickiness against his face. Marty had burst into the room, found Rust lying on the floor where he’d fallen.

Yeah. Vomiting in his sleep kind of nailed the coffin shut on that mission.

Marty had dragged him to the bathroom, washed him clean, grumbling all the while just to provide a comforting normalcy to the background of Rust’s fever-hot paranoia. Rust could feel his body, limp and unresponsive under Marty’s hands; he knew should’ve been more concerned about his pride, but fuck, Marty was handling him like he was fine china and it felt so good to be taken care of like this…

He couldn’t have even tried to resist.

So Rust drifted. Disappeared into the depths of the withdrawal, trapped within his own screaming mind, voices humming in the back of his head (really, it was only one voice, only one drawling accent, the only voice Rust had always known). Every day he got hotter, sicker, and sweater. He could hear himself talking, arguing aloud with the voice that wouldn’t shut up, shut up, shut up Joey, STOP IT-

But Marty’s hands were always there to hold him steady. Always there to feed him and clothe him.

Soothe him.

The corners of Marty’s bedroom blurred into the walls, and Rust distantly realised that he should be protesting. Offering Marty his bedroom back. The blood on the carpet was faded, a pink tinge, yet he could still smell it. (The copper, the sweetness, the strawberry-ripe toxicity.) He wondered if filaments of his brother’s neck, skin and artery, had stuck to the knife. Whether it had stuck to the carpet too.

He knew Marty could feel the heat coming off him. The disease, the sickness, the drugs dripping from his system in the potent saltiness of his sweat. Which was funny because- despite the vivid torture that comprised every waking moment- he was gaining weight. His body was healing, even if it didn’t feel that way.

Marty’s fingers gripping his jaw. A spoon at Rust’s lips, gently easing soup into his mouth. Marty’s arms circling him, gathering him close, holding Rust tight when the shivers punched through him hard enough to make his teeth chatter. Marty’s voice, humming quiet reassurances in direct defiance of the whole pretending not to care thing that had previously characterised their relationship.

There was a demon inside him. Poisonous and vile.

But all he could feel was Marty.

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust woke up one morning- morning? Night? What time was it? Where the fuck was he? Shit, he didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. Didn’t know how to emerge from what little sensation he could stand to feel.

Marty’s chest was against his, Marty’s face opposite him on the pillow. Rust was dressed in warm, freshly dried clothes, all of which were slightly too small for him. Marty’s clothes. Rust was overcome by a spreading sensation of gratitude, and he wanted to open his eyes. Wanted to see Marty with warm colour rising in his cheeks, blond hair edged with gold, blue eyes like oceans. He wanted to taste Marty’s mouth, decorate his body with kisses, and eat up every quiet whimper Marty would give him.

“M’rty,” he mumbled.

“Shh,” Marty answered him, “I got you, Rust.”

Marty’s thumb was moving in soothing, slow circles over his shoulder. Rust could’ve melted with how good it felt.

He wanted to open his eyes. He wanted to see-

“Marty-”

“It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Marty was shuffling closer then, his body embracing Rust, pulling him close.

Rust fell asleep again.

 

 

Chapter Text

Dreaming.

Sleeping.

Waking.

Hallucinating.

Rust couldn’t tell one from the other anymore, not like he could before. Not like when he was speeding down the highway, the sky blurring into fiery noise, his hands tight on the steering wheel as he navigated the disintegrating world around him. He’d always prided himself on having control, on being colossally fucked up but handling it. A martyr in his own resilience. A survivor, chewed-up and spat out, that just wouldn’t stop kicking. Bouncing back after every collapse. His high tolerance and long history of HIDTA involvement had saved him from Joe, but-

But he wasn’t saved.

It was inside him, a madness, an insanity that he couldn’t shake. He had no grip on himself, no concrete hold on anything anymore.

Marty was always there. Always close. But Rust opened his eyes, one memorable day, and found himself staring into the blank smoothness of pale skin, stretching uninterrupted from the hard line of Marty’s jaw to the curve where his forehead met his hairline.

Marty had no face.

Rust started screaming. Trying to get away, hands clutching his head, scalp burning as he pulled at his hair.

“No, no, no, Marty, Marty no-”

I’ll cut off your face and wear it.

“He did it, he did it, he took your face-”

I’m your brother. Do you know what that means?

Someone was grabbing at his hands. Touching him.

“No, no-”

It means we’ll always be together.

He lashed out. Hit something, felt bone give under the force of his knuckles. It was only when a bitten-off cry reached his ears that Rust realised who he’d struck. He opened his eyes, nausea settling into his stomach; Marty was sitting with one hand against his bleeding nose. He was wearing a loose white shirt and shorts, bare legs folded against the mattress. On any other morning Rust would’ve given anything just to wake up next to him.

“Marty,” Rust breathed, “I’m-”

“S’okay,” Marty laughed unconvincingly, voice muffled by his hand, “you’re still comin’ down off the drugs, it’s no big deal.”

Marty started to get up, and Rust clambered off the bed too.

“No, Rust, stay there-”

“I just punched you in the face, let me help-”

“It’s just a bloody fuckin’ nose, you moron, I can deal with it.”

Rust ignored Marty (now that was something that was unchanged in their relationship) and followed him to the bathroom. He switched on the light and took Marty’s chin in his hand.

Marty went to jerk his face away. “C’mon-”

“Let me look. Just let me look.”

Marty sighed. Rust took up a tissue from the cabinet and held it against Marty’s bleeding nose, dampened a cloth and cleaned up the small amount of blood that had smeared over Marty’s face. He blinked hard to straighten out his vision (his eyes weren’t working properly these days) and inspected the bridge of Marty’s nose. It was swelling, but didn’t seem to have been badly broken.

“You’re gonna need to put ice on it. Seems I… didn’t do too much damage. Christ, I’m sorry, Marty.”

He waited for a response, but Marty didn’t speak.

Marty was looking to the side. His lips were pressed together into a hard, thin line, and he was clenching his fists by his thighs. Rust had only seen that expression on Marty’s face once before, and he was overwhelmed by the memory of Marty on his knees, a gun in his mouth, tears streaming hot down his cheeks. Joe’s hands on his face.

Rust let go of Marty immediately, feeling sick.

They stood there. Watching each other crumble.

“Marty-”

 “Forget it.” Marty grabbed the tissue from Rust's hand, turned towards the mirror. His voice was shaky and uneven. “Go back to bed, you look like shit.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust tried to keep a hold on himself after that (for Marty’s sake, not for his own, he didn’t give a shit about himself as long as Marty was okay), but that was easier said than done. Sure, he had a lot of practice handling himself when it came to hallucinating, but this was a whole new level of fucked-up because, genuinely, he could not tell what was real. He was having conversations with his reflection, the mouth in the mirror unmoving even as he spoke, emotionless eyes looking back as he stared. He felt like one of the helpless insects Joe had collected when they were children. The memory of his brother closely inspecting the velvet-smooth texture of butterfly wings (still fluttering in a convulsive panic) before he took a pair of scissors to them… that was one of the many garish recollections Rust had the pleasure of being reunited with.

He’d been running from this monster his whole life. Now that he’d been driven to kill, spill Joe’s blood over his own hands, it seemed he’d never escape.

The best he could do was remain tight-lipped in Marty’s company, ignoring the hovering shadow in the corner of his eye, the ghost that accompanied him everywhere he went. He saw the worried looks Marty shot him (almost constantly now) but he ignored that too. He needed to keep moving forward. And addressing the complexity of Marty’s concern wouldn’t do either of them any good. Rust was cursed by his own face, by his own body– the same body, in appearance, that had forced Marty to his knees and made him do things he hadn't wanted to. Because of this, he was certain there was nothing he could do to help Marty now, no matter how much he wanted to try. His hands were weapons, and even gentle touches would do untold damage to Marty's soul.

If he wasn’t so selfish, he’d leave Marty for good. Take off, disappear into the depths of Alaska.

But he needed this.

He needed Marty.

 

***

 

Occasionally, Joe would leave him alone.

This morning was one such blessed occasion.

Rust swirled a brush over the plate he was cleaning, dishwashing liquid making his hands feel soapy and slick. His concentration was stretched thin after days upon days of pretending to be okay, his reactions delayed. Marty, for example, had muttered something about Rust needing to wear gloves when he washed up to protect his skin from chemicals. It was only now, a good few minutes since Marty had left the room, that Rust replied,

“Don’t fuckin’ mother me.”

His words hit the air loudly, landing heavy in the silence. He flinched. Yeah, he was not okay. Fuck.

He continued washing up, relishing the quiet, wondering what Marty was doing now. He wasn’t sure whether he’d heard the front door close or not, whether Marty was even still in the house. Rust cleared his throat, brushed a wave of hair out of his eyes. He needed a haircut. Held together by stitches and determination. What a fucking joke.

The sound of shoes scuffling sounded behind him and he decided that Marty had not left the house after all. Good to know.

“We need more milk,” Rust told him quietly, gazing down into the murky depths of the sink, thinking about bayou water and alligators.

There was no reply. The footsteps advanced, and Rust felt his heartbeat start to jump in his neck.

A hand landed on his waist, smooth and heavy. Rust stiffened.

“Marty,” he breathed, closing his eyes, “don’t. You ain’t ready, not so soon after…”

The hand slid around to hold his hip, fingers curling, a body pressing up against his back. Rust felt himself start to grow hard in his jeans.

“No, Marty, c’mon-”

He turned around.

There was nobody there.

 

***

 

For a long while, he stared ahead into empty space, confused. There had been a hand on him. There had been someone standing behind him.

The water in the sink cooled. The brush in his hand dripped suds and bubbles, landing on his shoes.

He couldn’t move.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty watched Rust over the kitchen table, clenching his teeth between mouthfuls of dinner. Rust had a thousand-yard stare, his eyes listless and unfocussed. His movements were mechanical, piling food into his mouth and chewing like it was flavourless mush.

“You alright, Rust?”

Rust nodded. “Sure.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Rust was eating dinner.

He was doing this because he knew he should be, because Marty was sitting opposite him and there was a fork in his hand. He did not remember arriving here, moving from the kitchen and into the dining area– his world was melting around him, sizzling away in hot flashes of delirium and imagined conversations. Verbal hallucinations, slipping through his fingers like water.

How many days had it been?

He went to lift the fork to his mouth yet again, but found his hand empty. He stared down at his palm, confused.

Where are you? Rust? Shit, where the fuck are you right now, look at me, just fuckin’ look at me-

Marty’s voice came from somewhere far away, echoing across a great cavernous space. Rust tilted his head up anyway, his guts melting out through his skin and dissolving on the floor. Where was he indeed? There was something soft under him, and he recognised it as a mattress only after a great amount of concentration.

Fuck. Fuck, his head hurt. He’d been in the kitchen, he was sure, he’d been in the kitchen and then he’d been seated at the dining table and now-

The mattress disappeared.

He was flying.

 

***

 

When he opened his eyes, he was still in the room, but he was somewhere else now. In the corner, by the doorway, watching the scene unfold. A fucking out of body experience. Jesus, he hadn’t had one of these since he was a full-time junkie.

Rust felt calm. He could see himself, see his body. He was slumped on the edge of the bed, legs dangling limply where they hung, feet unsteadily rocking against the floor as Marty shook him. Ankles with marionette joints. His head was rolled backwards, mouth open, hair plastered to his forehead by sweat. Oh, and, it was dark outside. His eyes were closed. Was he sleeping? Had he been sleeping, before Marty had come in to check on him, and found him not breathing? Marty shook him hard, voice high-pitched with desperation, begging Rust to wake up. Rust didn’t, couldn’t, move. He watched from this place, from this bizarre otherworldly vantage point, and meditated on the strangeness of it all.

His body jerked and shuddered, vaulting backwards and forwards as Marty shook him.

 

***

 

He returned to himself, too fast and too slow all at once. The planet spun. He was no longer watching. Marty’s face looked down at him, pleading with invisible words.

Interesting, Rust thought.

Then he was unconscious.

 

 

Chapter Text

The next time Rust awoke, he felt solid. He felt real.

He rolled his tongue around in his mouth, tasted vomit. When he sat up, Marty’s arms slipped off him, and it was only then that Rust realised Marty was there at all. Curled against him. Like a lover, like a cat warmed by the sun, content to finally rest after all the pain he had endured. It ought to have been a welcome sight, but Rust's cognitive abilities seemed to have abandoned him. He could barely even figure out what was happening, where he was.

Blearily, realising he might not be as stable as he had initially assumed, Rust gazed down at Marty’s sleeping face. The gears of his mind had stuttered to a halt, his brain a giant hollow space inside his skull. He could feel shivers pummelling through him hard enough to make his teeth chatter, so he tried to manoeuvre himself out from the tangle of Marty’s legs. It took a while.

Eventually, his feet found purchase on the floor, hands grabbing at the wall as he teetered to the side. Somewhere inside him, it registered. He was sick. He was really sick. The withdrawal had made him susceptible to a fever, maybe. Bacteria and viruses, all those tiny little diseases. He must have hit a new low the night before.

Clean. Need to get clean.

The idea took hold in his muddled head. He found the bathroom after a long journey through the blurred landscape that comprised Marty’s bedroom. The bridge of his nose ached, red and swollen, from colliding with the doorframe into Marty’s bathroom. He couldn’t feel it.

When he found the sink, he fell towards it, hands fluttering around. Trying to find the taps. Fuck, why was everything so fucking hard?

It’s because you’re dying, a snide voice told him.

“Shut the fuck up,” he replied, surprised when his voice formed, actually taking shape in his muddied ears. The shock nearly sent him reeling, but he fought to stay upright. A blanket of refracted light was falling across everything, the entire world shimmering and pulsating. A tinkling noise accompanied a great crash, and Rust knew he had accidentally dislodged the glass Marty kept by his toothbrush. He trembled as blood splashed from the side of his hand, the cut deep and raw.

“Oh no,” a voice told him, “that’s no good. You’re going to wake him up.”

“I said shut up,” Rust repeated, trying to stem the bleeding with a towel. He grit his teeth and shook his head, trying to make the voice go away-

“You can’t make me go away. I’ve always been with you.”

“You fuckin’,” Rust panted, doubled over the sink, trying to turn on the tap, “Fuck off, Joey, you’re dead-”

“Calm down. You’ll never get anything done like that.”

A hand reached down, right near Rust’s face. Long fingers wrapped around the tap. They were grey and pitted with decay, fingernails turned yellow from bayou water. Terror, pure and unadulterated, filled Rust. He slumped over the sink, wet hair dripping in his eyes as water began to pour from the tap.

“You’re dead.” He whispered again, as if it would help. “You’re dead-”

The hand slid down from the tap, moved out of Rust’s line of sight. It landed on his hip, holding him almost tenderly, before yanking him up off the bathroom bench. He was turned around, pushed against the sink, the porcelain curve jutting into the small of his back.

Joe stood in front of him.

His face looked cadaverous, skin clinging to the bones beneath, eyes rounder and wider than before. His hair was blackened by swamp water, leaves clinging to his scalp, clothes sodden and hanging off him. He was framed by the calm, peaceful scene of Marty’s bedroom, the door to the bedroom wide open behind him. His wet footprints were trekked over the carpet, leaving muddy marks.

“You’re-”

“Shh,” Joe told him, moving closer.

“No, no-”

“Quiet. I’m only here to take care of you, don’t you understand?”

“This is a hallucination, this isn’t real,” Rust squeezed his eyes shut, “this isn’t fucking real-”

Fingers grabbed his face. His eyes snapped open immediately. Joe leaned towards him, grotesque mouth pulled into a fierce snarl.

“I am alive. And this is real.”

He knelt then, letting go of Rust’s face harshly. Rust clung to the sink, eyes fixed on where Marty lay, still sleeping, in his bed. Blood dripped from his hand, glass crunching under the heels of his bare feet.

He wanted to scream.

He wanted to run.

He couldn’t look down. He couldn’t move.

Joe peeled up the hem of Rust's shirt, crooned at the scabs that marred Rust's abdomen. Joe's own handiwork. He’d played doctor after Rust’s escape attempt, just like when they were kids. Fixing the damage he had caused in the first place. Small cuts from the shard of glass that Rust had used to cut through the rope, sustained on Joe’s kitchen floor as they wrestled. They were scabbing over badly, yellow at the edges, infected from neglect. Swollen, leaking puss and weeping blood.

“Oh, Rustin. You’ve not been properly treating these wounds. The ones on your hands have been healing well, however… is that because they're where your friend can see them? You wouldn’t want him to worry, would you. You really ought to take care of the things he can’t see, too.”

Rust couldn’t look away from Marty. “Don’t-”

Joe put his lips against the wounds. He sucked at the weeping puss and blood, like a giant maggot, a resurrected corpse kneeling before Rust and eating him alive-

“Stop,”

Joe’s tongue rocked against the scabs, flattening over skin and bared flesh. When he leaned back, grinning up at Rust like a waxy skeleton, his teeth were streaked with red. But Rust didn’t see him. He didn’t look. He kept his eyes fixed on where Marty lay. He refused to look down.

After a while, Joe stopped touching him. His mouth disappeared, his hands vanished. Rust trembled where he stood, jaw clenched so tight that the bones of his skull were surely cracked through with fissures.

It took him a great deal of time to find the courage to look down.

When he finally did, he stared at the floor, not processing what he was seeing. Tiles. A splatter of blood, from his own hand. Splinters and chunks of glass. The scene was surreal in its stillness, in its silence. He was standing alone in a bathroom, with glass embedded in his feet. The tap was still running.

He’s gone.

Rust exhaled shakily, collapsing back against the sink.

Then he started to cry.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marty woke up to the sound of his name.

He realised he was alone in bed the moment his eyes were open, and then he was gripped by panic, surging up off the mattress.

“Marty,” Rust was calling him, his voice weak and faint, “Marty,”

Marty stumbled out of bed, almost tripping over his own feet. He skidded to a halt before the threshold of the bathroom, horrified by what he was seeing. Rust was precariously leaning against the bench, his lean frame tilted unsteadily to the side. There was blood. On the floor, on his feet, on his hand-

“I had an accident,” Rust whispered, smiling, “it’s okay, Marty. Shit, just… Just get me out of here, would you?”

Marty blinked hard, nodded as he recognised broken glass as the source of Rust’s injuries. Relief made him dizzy. “Yeah. Yeah, okay, Rust.”

He went and got some shoes, tentatively stepped over and around the shards. Before Rust could argue or bitch about it, he leaned down, hooking his arm behind Rust’s knees. He straightened up, taking Rust’s legs with him, guiding Rust's shoulders down into his other arm.

“S’this our wedding night, huh?” Rust murmured, mouth tilted up into a loose grin as he gazed up at Marty.

“For starters,” Marty grunted, carrying him out of the bathroom like some kind of blushing bride, “it’s the middle of the day, you psycho.”

A quiet laugh rumbled in Rust’s throat. Marty eased him through the doorway, trying not to whack Rust’s head on the frame. He was disconcerted by how little Rust weighed, how easy he was to carry, but he didn’t want to talk about that now. Not when Rust was finally lucid, finally talking sense.

He set Rust down onto the bed, as tenderly as he dared. Rust’s body seemed to curl into the softness of the mattress, his eyes falling closed with an exhaustion Marty knew all too well.

“You okay?”

Rust nodded, and this time he seemed to mean it. Marty placed a hand on his forehead, felt a pulse of warmth when Rust turned his face into the touch.

“Seems your fever’s broken. Christ, Rust, I didn’t know you were gettin’ sick, I just thought it was part of the withdrawal, I’m so sorry I let it get this far-”

Rust hushed him, shook his head limply on the pillow. “No, no. Don’t do that, Marty. Ain’t your fuckin’ fault, no mistake. A’right?”

Marty laughed. He couldn’t help it. Rust was back. He was okay.

Rust’s eyes opened, half-lidded and heavy. He smiled dully, the expression weighed down by tiredness, but there was a sparkle in his eyes that Marty had been dreaming of for so fucking long-

Without thinking, Marty leaned down. He pressed a soft kiss to Rust’s lips.

“Marty…” Rust cautioned him, words breathy and hoarse.

“Shh, Rust,” Marty felt tears in his eyes, so he ducked his head down, pressing his face against the softness of Rust’s neck. “I’ll be okay, I- I am okay, Rust, I’m… I’ll be…”

He tried to speak, tried to explain that he was fine now. But whenever he tried, the lump in his throat would grow, and tears would surge down his cheeks. Every breath he took was hitched and fast, rushing down into his lungs and making him lightheaded, and he could feel his shoulders shaking but he couldn’t stop it. His chest was tight, like someone’s fist was closing around his heart, and he wondered if this was what a panic attack felt like. His knees buckled, legs falling out from under him, and then he was on his knees by the bed. Like he was praying. Begging for his salvation. Rust’s undamaged hand landed in his hair, pulling him close.

It felt like he was saved.

 

 

Chapter Text

This time, when Marty woke up, Rust was haloed by morning sunlight. He’d never seen a thing as beautiful.

He didn’t even remember falling asleep, or know much time had passed- really, he couldn't recall anything past the feeling of Rust’s hands cupping his neck and pulling him close, the words please don’t make me go through this fucking life without you unsaid between them. They had been teetering on the edge, crumbling in the face of everything that had happened, barely coping, disintegrating-

But not now. Now, they were still.

Rust was lying before him, warm and breathing and alive, streaks of salty moisture on his cheeks. Marty didn’t like that, so he reached over and dragged his thumb over sensitive skin, watching the bruised-grey wrinkles beneath Rust’s closed eyes folding with his touch. Tears brushed away as if they'd never been there. Rust’s lips parted, automatic like clockwork, and Marty almost felt regret for waking him.

Rust opened his eyes, the fog of sleep weighing down his heavy eyelids even more than usual. Their gazes met, profound and silent all at once. This meant something. Marty could feel it.

He didn’t want to be the first one to speak. He didn’t want to put a name to this. Not after everything.

So he didn’t.

Their mouths met softly, carefully, Marty’s neck arching on the pillow towards where Rust lay, his body war-torn and far too battered to function just yet. Later, they would say they weren’t sure who made the first move. Later, they would trade touches like old lovers, like husbands, like they’d always been heading towards this.

But, for now, they just stayed still. Felt each other’s touch, feather-light, the kiss resting between them like a precarious truth. The truth of what they meant to each other. Rust shifted minutely where he lay, a pained groan humming from his throat as the glass they’d been unable to remove from his feet made its presence known. He needed a doctor. A pull of worry, of nausea and unease, flashed through Marty like a flare. He swallowed it down, told himself they'd deal with it soon. Told himself that there was no emergency. That Rust was safe now.

He tilted his head, slotted their mouths tighter, closer. Felt the scratch of morning whiskers against his skin. Felt Rust’s long fingers bunching in his shirt, holding him tight.

Everything was quiet.