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swear to you beneath a gibbet

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The sound of a car made Vlad stiffen. He dropped his flute and hurried to the window, pulling his gun. It was probably those brats in their fancy cars again, and if so he needed to run upstairs and grab the girl.

But no, not them. It was Marcel, alone, no Eddy in sight. Vlad frowned and put the gun away.

"Hello," Marcel greeted as he stepped through the door. Even though it was in the middle of the night he still wore his sunglasses.

"Why are you back already? Did something go wrong?"

"No, all is well. We've dumped the other car and now we just need to wait a little longer." He shrugged slightly, corner of his mouth curling up. "Eddy can wait by himself, but I thought it might be a good idea to come talk to you."

Vlad crossed his arms and remained silent.

Marcel's smile widened, baring his teeth. He took a few steps forward to stand in front of Vlad, reaching out to clap him on the shoulder. "I was surprised, before. I didn't think you were that soft."

"It was smarter to have her write a letter, that's all."

Marcel hummed softly. "Is that all, though? You've always been happy to just take orders, never the type for clever plans."

"Maybe you just don't know me." It was the wrong thing to say, of course, and he knew it the second the words escaped his mouth. He really was an idiot.

Marcel's smile vanished. "I don't know you? I know you better than anyone, Vlad. More than that, I'm the only one who cared enough to know you. Nobody else gave a damn, did they?"

Vlad didn't reply. He didn't need to; they both knew the answer.

"But I chose you," Marcel continued. "I looked at you, and I saw something no one else did. To them, you were just another nameless loser. The Romanian. One among a hundred others. But I saw more than that. I picked you up from the gutter."

Vlad swallowed and lowered his gaze. It was true. It didn't matter that he had only done it to get someone to do his dirty work or be the scapegoat, and it didn't even matter that he thought Vlad was stupid enough to not realize that was all it was, because he had chosen Vlad. Marcel was the only person in Vlad's entire life to do so, he had never been anything to anyone before. He was only being used, but that was fine. It was better than the alternative. This way, he wasn't nothing anymore.

"Fire burns," Marcel murmured. "But ice burns, too. And that's what I saw in your eyes, back then. Cold, cold hatred. So I picked you for the job. Our first job together. Remember?"

"Yeah."

"I barely knew you, and I still trusted you enough to be in charge of the loot from the jewelry store. Remember that as well?"

He did. Marcel and the others involved in the actual robbery had handed off the bag to him before skipping town. Vlad had been left with the loot, sure, but if he hadn't been able to slip past the cops he would've had to shoulder the entire responsibility. Trust had been the last thing on Marcel's mind when he'd thought up that plan.

"And afterwards..." Marcel trailed off as he moved in close, pushing Vlad back against the wall. He forced his leg in between Vlad's, smirking the whole while.

Vlad remembered afterwards, too. It'd been the first time Marcel had fucked him.

Marcel's leg moved slowly, back and forth, rubbing against his groin in a manner that left no doubt as to what the intention was.

"Don't," Vlad hissed. He didn't want to. Not now.

...Had he ever?

"Liar," Marcel replied. "Look at you, you're practically begging for it."

Vlad squeezed his eyes shut. He didn't want to look. It was bad enough that he felt it, felt his body betraying him like the whore he was.

"You still remember how to react to my touch," Marcel said, sounding smugly pleased. "You always were a quick learner." He cupped his hand over Vlad's crotch, grinding the coarse fabric of the jeans against the erection. He wasn't gentle, never had been. There was no point in that, after all — and, just mere days ago, Vlad would've agreed.

But something had changed since then, and now he yearned for things he had never known. Things he didn't fully understand, and wouldn't have been able to put into words if his life depended on it. Not even in his own head could he explain it; it was just a wordless, voiceless longing. Maybe one that had been there for longer than he realized, so deeply buried that he hadn't been aware of it at all.

He bit his tongue till he tasted blood, in an attempt to gain control over his body. "Don't," he repeated, raising his hand to put it on Marcel's chest. Just bracing, not actively pushing away, but still a clear warning that he would if Marcel didn't stop.

Marcel regarded him in silence for a while, eyes unreadable behind the sunglasses. "I did what you wanted before. I sided with you over Eddy. Don't forget that, Vlad."

"I haven't."

"Good boy." He removed his hand from Vlad's groin, only to take hold of his chin instead. The grip was hard and unyielding, a warning in return. Vlad held still as Marcel's gloved thumb moved along his bottom lip, momentarily forcing itself inside his mouth before he was suddenly released and Marcel stepped back.

Vlad fought down the urge to spit.

"You're right," Marcel said lightly, switching to jovial in the flash of an eye, "we shouldn't celebrate until this is all over. Stay close to the radio. I'll call soon and let you know when to finish the job."

With that he turned around and left, quietly shutting the door behind him. Vlad stood rooted to the spot long after he'd heard the car drive away.

Finally he walked over to the table and sat down. He felt oddly empty, like some hollow vessel that only contained the racing heart that pointlessly rattled around inside of his chest.

Footsteps. He didn't look up; didn't need to. It was Catherine, slowly coming down the stairs.

Vlad felt an almost panicked urge to put on the mask again, in a desperate attempt to protect himself. It felt like she could see straight through him. Instead he just sat where he was, taking such care to remain still that there was a fine tremor going through his body.

There was no way she didn't see it, no way she didn't see him, shaking like a cowed dog. Any moment now she'd throw it in his face, the way she'd done by playing that damn tape over and over.

But Catherine didn't speak. She just sat down, quiet and calm, before reaching out to place her hand over his.

Without even meaning to Vlad turned his hand, palm against palm, and intertwined their fingers. He squeezed, hard. Probably hard enough to hurt, but she didn't make a sound.

He wished...

He wished she would choose him. It'd be so different, if someone like her chose him. It would truly mean something, then — not just a pathetic story he told himself in an attempt to be more than he truly was.

But it would never happen. If she had the choice between him and freedom, she sure as hell wouldn't run to him. He let out a bark of laughter at the thought, but even to his own ears it sounded wrong. Just a choked, pained noise.

Catherine tightened her grip on his hand. Vlad closed his eyes and took comfort in it. It was something, at least.