|The Bar III: Brandy
Author: Guede Mazaka
At first, Connor had been rather annoyed by Cassie's insistence on stopping the car two blocks from the church, but he quickly changed his mind once they'd actually gotten near St. Ignatius'. "Fuck me. Sounds like they're having a firecracker party in there."
She shot a glare over her shoulder, winging a scorch mark over his cheek, and then stalked off, back ramrod-rigid so she looked like a walking broom-stick.
Behind him, Murphy coughed. "I bet Dios is in there. Brilliant how you piss off women, Connor. 'specially when they've got the car keys."
"Shut up and help me with the shotguns." Keyless or not, Connor had picked up a pocketknife back at Ode's apartment, and now he put it to use. The lid to the trunk popped open without too much noise, and he started handing out guns. "How's the leg?"
"How about I stay downstairs and you go upstairs?" rejoined Murph, slapping Connor's hand away from one gun and swiping it for himself. "And-hey! Cassie! Where are you going?"
"Getting another car. Don't worry about me; I don't die here." She knelt down on the curb, checking out one car. Then she shook her head at something and moved to the next, where she began to pick its lock with a hairpin. "But…do me a favor?"
Murph and Connor looked at each other, didn't see why not, and went back to loading the guns. "Sure," Connor said. "You got us here. I hate missing a good party."
She piffed out a laugh and shoved her hair behind one ear, then leaned back as the door swung open. "God, you two have no idea. But just get Dios out of there, all right? And tell him…tell him I'm sorry I couldn't wait for the lesson."
With that for a farewell, Cassie climbed into the car. A few seconds later, its engine roared to life, and she peeled away from the curb like her ass was on fire. Connor had to admit that he was impressed. Maybe the men in Boston were bastards, but the women weren't half-bad.
"Connor?" Murph was hiding his face in his hand, and covering it up by pretending to mess with the fringe of his hair. Which they both knew was pointless, because no matter what Connor had tried grinding into it, it always stayed the same spiky rumple. "So…"
"You nervous?" Not that that was a bad thing, given how Connor's stomach had suddenly decided to whip itself into a squirming mess. They'd done stuff like this before, keeping bastards of all kinds off their property back in Ireland-property being taken to encompass interference with anywhere they happened to like a lot-but never with… "Jesus. Sounds like Armageddon in there."
The concrete made the shuffling of Murph's feet echo, and the slight howl to the breeze wasn't doing much for the mood, either. "Yeah," Murph confessed, voice quiet like when Connor had told them their Da was dead.
"Probably a good thing. That way we'll be more careful, right?" They always said the first step was the hardest, which was why Connor took two real fast ones toward the cathedral. He stared up at its wicked-looking spires, which drove like nails into the spread of the dark sky. Occasionally a brilliant burst of gunfire would light up one of the windows, or blow it out with a soft tinkling of glass.
"Or you'll whack me in the head again." Murph deftly avoided the cuff Connor sent his way. Then he shook out one of his guns and cocked it, the lines of his face falling into an almost serene somberness. "So I was thinking-and don't even say it, Connor, or I'll beat your ass-that Da probably did a good thing, sending us out of here. But you know, this place has really gone to shit."
Connor had to agree with that. "Yeah. Someone should clean it up. Like us, I guess."
And beneath their feet, the city tapped her accord in long low hums. Scared the hell out of Connor for a moment, and then he got to find out how she reassured people.
Murph squirmed uncomfortably, lifting and lowering his feet in an inadvertent tap-dance. "Hey, stop that. Feels weird."
"We need to get going, anyway." Ignoring the warmth wrapping itself around his spine, Connor grabbed his twin's elbow and dragged them the rest of the way to the cathedral. Naturally, they didn't go up the front steps where anyone could take a potshot at them. Anyway, Murph had spotted a nice, apparently unguarded side-door, and if the ones inside were going to make it that easy-well, Connor sure as hell wasn't going to turn them down.
It wasn't exactly O's first firefight, but it was hands-down the worst he'd ever been in. He didn't think he'd been above slithering since he first sneaked in, and while his back was starting to scream, the net of bullets cast above his head kept him from getting off his belly.
Also, he'd never noticed how awful the echoes were in St. Ignatius'. Shouts and screams and blasts bounced back and forth, seeming to grow only louder as they rose, and then it all came crashing off the sturdy ceiling as a paralyzing haze of noise. It was so bad that he almost didn't hear the man tripping over his leg.
O whipped around during the end of that word and automatically shot the man in the face. Then he froze as the world suddenly slowed down so he could watch every detail of the eyeball exploding out of its socket.
The corpse fell across him, finally shocking him into wriggling away as fast as he could. "Christ!"
"Christ." He twisted away and brought his gun up again, but luckily, Dios caught his wrist and kept him from doing anything stupid. "Hey! What are you doing-never mind. Where's Ode?"
The other man began to speak, but then something attracted his attention. He flicked his gaze left, then violently flinched down and threw them sideways, just in time to avoid whatever took out the pew they'd been beside. "Why do you want to know? Shouldn't you be watching over your sister?"
"I got kicked out a month ago. Our sainted mother thinks we're conspiring against her. Well, we are now." O tried not to lose his temper. He needed to save that for when he finally had things out with Clytie. "Speaking of, wanted to make sure Ode knew Clytie's gunning for him. She thinks he has Il Duce's sons."
"Well, he does. Kind of." Dios bounced up for a moment to return fire, then plastered himself back against the floor. "And thanks for the warning, but you really need to get out of here."
No kidding. O didn't need a candle to tell him most of the Achaeans had to be here, battling it out with what sounded like Aeneas himself. But Ode and Dios had been two of the few guys of his father's that had treated him decently, and continued to be that way even after Clytie had made it plain she didn't want any reminders of his father around.
He and Electra had never gotten around to paying them back. For that matter, he'd never even gotten to say goodbye to Ode before the man had skipped town three years ago, and that had been right after Ode had had a screaming fight with Clytie, which had shut her up for the next week. "Going. Just let me do something first."
O made sure not to think about what he was doing as he did it: namely, standing up and screaming, "What the hell are you doing?"
Wild-eyed, Dios promptly dragged him back down. "Exactly my question," he hissed.
Not paying him any attention, O continued to yell. "Who the hell are you? Because you aren't the men who fought for my father without pay, without doctors. Because you aren't the ones who beat back the fucking Trojans to the edge of town-"
Aeneas shrilled insults at that, and bullets rattled the walls. Unperturbed, O, just ratcheted his volume up a notch. "-or the ones who told him they'd always guard his legacy. You're trying to kill Odysseus? Who saved more of your asses than-well, fuck you! I'm leaving, I'm taking my sister with me, and we're starting the family over somewhere else."
"Good riddance, you pimpled fuck!" howled Aeneas. "Shoot him! First one that brings me his head-"
"-over my dead body! He's Gam's boy!" from another corner of the church.
"O," Dios said in a very calm, very strained voice. "You are the stupidest, smartest or luckiest bastard currently in the room. Now get out, because that's supposed to be Ode's job. And…well, good luck."
O gave the other man a quick hit on the arm before starting for the nearest exit. All around, the pattern of gunfire was shifting. Toward him, but with the bullets flying outward, and God, they'd actually listened. They still remembered…not what his father had been toward the end, but what he'd been at the very beginning: a great leader, a good war tactician, and someone that fiercely guarded what was his, even if at times he'd been stubborn about what that had been.
It made O think that maybe his blood wasn't all corrupt, after all. Maybe he could do what he'd said, and clear up his family's reputation. "Thanks, Dios. And tell Uncle Ode-"
"-got it." Dio was already moving away, sniping shooters out of the upper galleries as he went. A fighter and a good man first, no matter what else he'd done.
He'd better live. Too many of the undeserving had been reaped by death in Boston, and far too many of the deserving still walked.
Which was a balance that O was just about to go change.
When he got to the door, he stood again, just long enough for his-Holy Christ, his--men to see him. Then he was outside, and leading them back to the family mansion where Clytie and that bastard Glass waited for justice.
Briseis was just closing up the bar for the night when the door suddenly burst open. A hulking glare stepped in, and Glass gave her a brutal smile. "Hello. Just off to check up on them for Ode?"
"Who-who? What the hell are you talking about?" She clutched at the bar behind her, trying to figure out if she could dive over it and grab her shotgun before he could cross the small intervening space.
"Oh, I think you know." Glass strode over and took her roughly by the shoulders, his breath fouling up her eyes till they seemed to film with rotten yellow. His fingers were crushing her bones, and she futilely tried to push him away. The grip only tightened. "We've left you alone so far because you whored yourself to the greatest fighter this city's ever seen, but that doesn't make you untouchable. Now-"
"Get off!" Stung by memories, bruising in body and spirit, Briseis lost her temper and kneed the bastard as hard as she could. It was enough to make him hunch over and swear, but he was so much taller that she couldn't get in a crippling blow. Desperate, she yanked her head around and bit into his arm where she could reach.
His hold on her slipped a little, and Briseis tore it open the rest of the way. She made a mad rush for the door, but during the last few feet, a hand came out of nowhere and seized her ankle. Briseis went crashing to the floor, still clawing as she was dragged back.
Glass reeled her in like he was hauling rope, his huge palms slapping down hand-over-hand on her leg. "You fucking bitch…"
"No, that'd be the one you're fucking."
Framed in the doorway, Cassie raised the gun and shot. And then the room was full of gray and burn, Briseis' throat searing with every heave of breath, but the grip was lax and she was scrambling free. Meant to stop by Cassie, but the other woman shoved her on, almost throwing her outside. "Keep going! Don't stop! Car--"
And Briseis did. Not because she was a coward, or because she'd gone mad with fear, but because Cassie wasn't Cassie anymore. That voice-low and scratchy and booming, less woman and more outcropping of some unfathomably great force-that voice was Cassandra's.
Leave town, Ode had said.
He'd scared her a little with that, and so she'd gotten a few things ready. Briseis stopped long enough to kick aside a few boxes in the alley next to her bar, drag out the hidden suitcase, and then she was in the car. And she didn't get out until Boston was a mere smear of light on the horizon.
Then Briseis wrenched the car to the side of the road, opened the door, and threw up. In between bouts of vomiting, she prayed.
Cassie had never shot a gun before, so she hadn't been expecting the strength of the recoil. It threw her sideways, and combined with Glass' quick roll to the side, she only hit his shoulder instead of his skull. Bone splintered, white gashing through the sudden flood of blood, but Glass still managed to bull himself to his feet and slam through the next bullet, which went in just below his ribcage.
And then the gun was crushed out of her fingers, and a hand was doing the same to her neck. "Goddamn it, why can't you just-stop? When the hell will you have enough?"
Hot blood was soaking into her blouse, turning it into a swamp between them. She tried to jerk her knee up and force him back, but one meaty hand caught it and turned it aside. Whacked it into some kind of metal fitting that jutted from the wall.
The snapping sound came first, and then the pain, like a blizzard freezing her. But it was all right. She hadn't seen beyond this, and now she wouldn't be forced to see any more. "Because-" clutched at his wrist, striving for air "-because it's not your city. Never was."
"And what fucking right do you have? What, we're slaves? Can't even try to be better than…" Glass' gaze maddened, went red with all the bulging veins in his eyes. He took a deep breath-
--and Cassie remembered Dios last night, hair falling over closed eyes. But no rest for her, never any…she dredged up one last effort and brought her fist down as hard as she could on Glass' wounded shoulder.
He screamed and dropped her right onto the gun. Cassie hissed back the fade of her vision and whipped it off the floor towards him. She wasn't looking as she pulled the trigger, and so she only heard him die.
So tired, she thought as she sank against the floor. Her head bumped into something, but her sight was too dark to tell her what it was. Hopefully, it would stay that way. She was so sick of having to watch it all, bloody present and dreadful future, and not even being able to keep it out of her dreams, and only Dios seeming to be stable…
Odysseus didn't think he was going to make it out of the church alive. For some reason, that disappointed him.
He'd spent long enough wishing for death. Praying for it while he'd continued to be stuck on a journey with no end, for what did he have to go back to, if not family and home? Boston wasn't home, for all that he'd been born and bred in it. Boston was…
A bullet cracked over his head, making him reflexively slouch lower against the side of the altar.
Boston was like that nagging fragment of song, always teasing and daring a guess, but she had claws, too. And once they were in, they never came out. Not even Penelope had managed to cloud over the strange loyalty Odysseus felt to his city.
No, it wasn't home. But it was where he was, no matter where his body happened to be at any given moment. And if he was going to die, then better here than anywhere else.
Except he wanted to live. He always wanted to live, even when the pain was overwhelming his reason and his heart, even when he wanted to tell himself that death would be better. It never worked, and now, it wasn't even an option. Though he was trying to persuade himself that it was. Figured that the one person he couldn't convince would be himself.
"Odysseus!" called Aeneas. "You're a dead man. I swear by every fucking god around that you're not leaving here alive!"
"Guess they must not be listening," replied a voice from the balcony directly above Odysseus. Connor, and goddamn it, there wasn't time for this.
An ominous click sounded. "Well, considering there's only one of them, the blasphemy must itch him something awful."
Murphy. Odysseus tried and failed to remember where Dios had gotten to. Then he finished reloading his gun and lunged up before the two idiots above him could do anything insane. They couldn't; if they died, then the city was completely lost. And Odysseus just couldn't let that happen, despite how Boston had chewed up his life.
When O had left, he'd taken the better part of the Achaeans with him, but a few had hung around and kept the three-way fight going. Now, bodies littered the cathedral, which had barely a recognizable patch left in it. Odysseus wasn't rushing past pews now, but past splintered piles of bullet-scorched lumber, some of which were slowly starting to catch fire. And of course, there were bullets coming from every side, some even getting close enough to rip gashes in his arms and legs. Nothing new, so he kept going.
Aeneas was kind enough to stand front-and-center, openly daring anyone to shoot him. When he saw Odysseus, and realized what was going on, he incredulously laughed.
Let him, all the way to hell, Odysseus thought. He began to drop to one knee, but bent only long enough to catch a big flat piece of wood with his foot. Kicked it up, watched it spiral into the hail of bullets as he dodged sideways, and then he leveled his gun at it and shot through it.
Aeneas stopped laughing.
Breath crammed up in the back of his throat, Odysseus waited expectantly for the board to fall. And when it did, he wanted to keen as loudly as Aeneas was doing.
"You fuck! You fuck! Your goddamned Achilles used Dei to trick Hector out into the open, and now, it's a wrinkled old bitch like you who kills him?" Furious, Aeneas started to leap for Odysseus, gun high.
Odysseus was rising to meet him when the world suddenly flexed. He wobbled, lost his balance and grabbed onto a sharp piece of wood. "Shit!"
"Hell, that's rude."
"Yeah, and we saved your ass and all. Jesus, man-what were you thinking, running out like that? And we almost didn't have time to cover you."
Puffed up with rage, Aeneas staggered up from the floor with his pistol aimed straight behind Odysseus. Snarling, he was about to-
--when the church shook again.
"Shite, Connor! Warn a guy before you do that."
"Fuck off. You know I'm still figuring this out. And besides, she's madder than a wet cats. Wants in on this." Connor stepped up beside Odysseus, looking as calm as a summer day. "By the way, she also wants you to know that you're no longer welcome here," he told Aeneas.
Forehead now profusely bleeding, Aeneas got to his feet with a mutinous expression. For once, it seemed as if he and Odysseus were on the same train of thought. "You…"
"Out." Murphy didn't sound like he was playing any more. Actually…it was uncomfortably similar to the one and only time Odysseus had seen Cassie prophesize on the spot. Usually, she held it in and then told about it later.
Aeneas' eyes still had fire circling in them, but he turned around anyway. With an odd gentleness, he picked up Dei's body and carried it out while his men covered their retreat.
As soon as they were gone, Connor collapsed into a jumble of limbs on the ground. Judging by the racket behind, Murphy was doing likewise. "Christ," Connor muttered. "'s worse than the worse hang-over in my head."
"Serves you right, you idiot." Odysseus kept his teeth together while he spoke so he wouldn't let out any of the rage eating at his insides. "I-"
For a third time, the world tilted. And something inside of him abruptly lashed up and seared down into his bones, and he saw streetshousesroofselectricitysewers--
From the look on Connor's face as he caught Odysseus, that hadn't been the twins' fault. Not that Odysseus was thinking rationally enough to really understand that; as soon as his balance came back, he shoved off Connor's hands and went for the door before anything else could happen.
"Ode!" he heard Dios yelling from behind. And he wanted to keep going until he couldn't see a single speck of Boston, but it was Dios and friendship and an entirely different kind of chain. "Ode-damn it, where are you going?"
"Nowhere." Odysseus stopped and looked up at the sky, watching the stars move freely through the sky. He felt his stomach clench, heard a dim soothing sound inside his head, and tried not to strangle anything. "I've stopped moving. I can't go back, and I can't go forward-"
Footsteps came hurrying up, and Connor punched Odysseus in the arm, expression irked. "So you just run into guns? Is that it? You ever stop to think that maybe you've arrived?"
"Where? Here? I wanted to leave this! I did leave this! And then I had to come back, and this goddamned city trapped me, and I know that this is going to be the one that I can't escape from. Do you have any idea what that's like?" Odysseus demanded, shoving the other man back.
Murphy caught his wrist and spun him away from Connor. For a moment, this twin looked as if he was going to try and gut Odysseus, but Murphy managed to hold his temper. Instead, he just shoved them both down the steps. "Later, all right? We've got to find Cassie."
"Why-oh. Oh, fuck." Connor was a sudden flurry of motion, grabbing Dios before the man could panic and hauling him towards a car. "Come on!"
"Yeah. Whatever your problem is, it can wait, all right?" Murphy's face was almost pleading.
And goddamn it, that was how it always was. Just when Odysseus was ready to give up and seek out his dead family, something came around and demanded his attention. It made him want to find God just so he could ask why the fuck he was the one, as if there weren't other people in the world. He wasn't required to be the clever one, the man who solved all problems for all things.
But…damn it, Dios deserved it, at the very least. And Cassie was better, now that she was older.
"Where?" Odysseus tersely asked, clattering down the rest of the steps to the car. He shoved Connor out of the driver's seat. "Don't give me that look. You don't know the roads."
"What happened?" demanded Dios from the backseat.
Something like a smile flitted from Connor's to Murphy's face, but it was gone so quickly that Odysseus doubted his eyes. "Bri's bar," the two of them chorused.
"Don't worry about the others," Connor added, eyes shining in the fractured street-light beams that spilled through the window. He looked almost alien. And then he shifted out of the angle, and he was once again just a lean, smallish Irish man with a dangerous lift to his upper lip. "They're being taken care of."
Eerie, and fascinating, and almost enough to make Odysseus forgot things. But the anger was an excellent goad to his memory. Bri's bar it was, then. God, he hoped she was all right. As for himself, that didn't matter too much.
Lavinia cocked her head, listening for the almost-hum. She could make out the words, but it took effort and she wasn't very strong. His fault. He picked lazy servants, who offered up poor food when it wasn't poisoned. And he thought she didn't know about that time.
"Poor darling," she cooed to the head in her lap. "Bet he wasn't any nicer to you, though it might have been different. But we love him. And so it's better this way-you wouldn't have understood, whereas I do, now. Better I broke you than him."
At the soft thuds on the floor below, she pricked up and strained her hearing. It didn't take long to recognize the footstep, because she'd taken the time to learn everything about him. Everything except why.
"Why? Why did he break me? It wasn't like I didn't try," she murmured. "I did. Yes, I was a little bent, but I tried to straighten up for him. And our son-" the sobs were muffled in long hair so they wouldn't escape to the outside and give warning "-he was mine, too, and my loss. Not his alone. God, he's such a greedy bastard."
The door hinges started to whine, telling her quiet, quiet, and so she was.
"God, Dido, you wouldn't believe-" Aeneas stopped there, his silhouette beautifully captured by the doorway. "My God. What did you do? What did you do to her, you goddamn bitch?!"
And Lavinia was told how to stop up the acid pouring from his mouth, how to quiet him and keep him away from pain, and she obeyed.
The gun really wasn't that hard to use; once again, she wondered why he'd never wanted her around them. "I used to listen to you," she whispered to his lips as she lit the match and flicked it over a shoulder. "I still want to. But you stopped talking to me. She doesn't."
Steel on her tongue, she hoped he would be different now, and then she pulled the trigger again.
Connor tried to flinch away from his own mind, appalled at just the small glimpse he'd gotten. "Shite. That was nasty."
"Not any better in here." Murphy emerged first, helping a jangle-nerved Dios carry out Cassie's unconscious body on Dio's coat. They carefully maneuvered her into the backseat, and then Dios got in, cradling her head. "Bri's skipped town."
"Good." Ode had gone from demonstrative anger to fierce sullenness. As they got back into the car, he shot Connor a virulent glare, as if blaming him and Murphy for everything. "What? Boston scaring you?"
Well, fuck that. Maybe Connor and Murph were planning to give Ode a reason for sticking around, but that didn't mean that he was going to lie down under the man's feet and take it. Hell, he wouldn't even do that for Murph, and he loved his twin like nothing else in the world. "Nah. We're just getting used to each other."
Ode stared at him for a long second, flipping the key so the engine roared to life. Then the man turned his attention to the road. "You really don't mind this. Very quick adaptation."
"Am I supposed to mind? Why do you, anyway? I mean, you were saying how this place has gone to shit, and now you can help fix that." Connor twisted around to check on Cassie-she looked bad, but not deathbed-worthy-and by the time he'd turned back to the front, he still hadn't gotten an answer. Ode's jaw had gotten tighter, though.
When O arrived at what he was already thinking of as his former home, the candle was blazing away at Electra's window.
Some of the men had peeled off soon after they'd left the cathedral, saying they were too tired, and he'd let them go. If-when-he and his sister were going to start over, he intended to make it as different from Boston as possible, and so he honestly didn't want to take anything away from the city when they left except for themselves.
But for the moment, he needed these men. So he stopped them on the curb and waved them round. "Okay, first I want to say that I'm grateful for what you did back there. Incredibly so…but I need you to do two more things for me: go in there and keep anyone from disturbing me, and keep my father's and brothers' graves clean. Then you're free to go, free to be your own men…though I'd suggest you steer clear of Ode."
It startled him to see the tears in some of their eyes, and that must have showed, because one grizzled hulk stepped forward and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Spittin' image of your Da, back when he was young and-and alive like you are now. Be proud to stand by you, but I've a feelin' you won't need that."
"No," O said, and he was surprised to hear that his voice was a little choked. "No, but thank you. Now, I'm going to get my sister and make sure that Clytie won't ever come after us. Because she will."
"Whatever you want," vowed the man before him, and in the others' faces, O saw no disagreement.
Clytie was nervous, and worried, and she was pacing in the damn library, a habit she'd always detested but could never quite rid herself of.
Glass should've phoned by now. Honestly, it couldn't take that long to break that worthless bitch Briseis. God, it made Clytie sick how everyone on both sides was so deferential to that stupid mud-haired cunt. And what had Briseis really done, anyway? Nothing more than be born with famous relations, and fuck with the best fighter Boston had ever seen. She hadn't held a sprawling family together after the flower of it had been cut out, she hadn't watched her husband degenerate into an old grinning lush, and she damn well hadn't done anything like rule a city rife with back-stabbing and careless violence.
People called Clytie a heartless hell-whore, but what the hell did they know? She hadn't had any great protectors left, and Gam had sometimes been too far gone in war and wild debauchery to even remember he had a wife. So she'd found her own way to preservation, and if she'd had to act like a butcher to do it-well, no one ever seemed to remember that she was living in a fucking meatshop, and everyone else had their own knives.
Behind her, the door finally creaked open. Clytie whipped around, relief fast segueing to anger. "Damn it, Glass, what kept-"
Instead of him, however, she was met by a face so young and bright and hard, like a diamond glittering in shit, that the memories slammed Clytie to the ground. She clutched at her chest, feeling her breath shorten and her body grow so cold, so quickly. "Gam? Oh, my God…Gam. You're you again…"
"Mother," hissed, dim and shaking, to her ears as the light faded. "God-you couldn't even make this easy for us."
"O…O…come on. We've-damn it, we have to go!" Girl by him. There'd always been one, except the moment he'd di-di-
*** Dios walked slowly out of the double doors, eyes blank with a darkness that worried Murphy. Fortunately, there'd been a giggling nurse nearby, and Murphy had taken full advantage of that fact for purposes of coffee. He shoved both brimming cups at Dios, thus ensuring that the man didn't have the hands for wrecking mayhem, and then sat Dios down in the nearest chair. "How's it?"
"Doctors say she's fine. Physically. They aren't sure why she's unconscious, so they keep mumbling and-but anyway, they don't know if she'll wake up." Dios balefully glared into the coffee, then slurped at it like he was trying to maim the stuff. Admittedly, Murphy had had a sip and it wasn't very good, but still, Dios didn't seem very rational at the moment. "Where's Ode?"
"Uh…" A quick check with Connor proved that that situation hadn't changed. "Still in the car. You wouldn't happen to know what's wrong with him, would you?"
For the first time since coming in, Dios looked directly at Murphy, eyes bloodshot with irony and a little pity. He finished off the rest of the coffee and rattled them onto a nearby small table, then sprawled in his seat and rested his head on the back of the chair so he could keep watching Murphy. "You know much about Ode?"
"Only what you and Cassie told me: dead wife and son, left town after the war, sure as hell didn't want to come back." Murphy shrugged and hooked his thumbs into his waistband. "Which would upset him, yeah, but I thought he'd be happy to see things finally going right."
"He is, somewhere in there. It's just that on top is him…" Dios sighed, sitting up and spreading his hands on his knees in a gesture of frustration. "Okay, this is complicated. But Ode's always been one for family. It's…it's where the road ends for him, all right? And when they died-he kind of lost where he was going."
A quick slice of Dio's hand cut off Murphy, and the other man snorted in black amusement. "Yeah, I know. The war. Us-me and Ach and Pat and a few others, we gave him something like a replacement for a while. But everyone kept dying, and then he couldn't take it and he left to go…well, try to find something else, I guess. Didn't happen. But…I think he got used to being alone, and how it hurt. And now he's scared to go back."
Well, that made sense in a way. It wasn't helpful, but it did make sense. And since it did that, between him and Connor, they might be able to shift it into a way that was a little more cooperative.
In his head, both Connor and Boston acknowledged. That threw Murphy for a long moment, unused as he was to just…feeling so damn close. He'd thought that he'd known everything that there was to know about the ties that bound and knotted, but apparently not. And…he was really liking the feeling. Seemed that coming here hadn't been such a bad idea, after all.
He paused a second to squeeze reassurance into Dios' shoulder. "Hey, what the hell do the white-coats know? I'd bet they couldn't explain half the shit that happened tonight. So, you know, it'll work out."
On his way out, he passed a pale, thin woman carrying a young boy with oddly lucid eyes. Murphy matched gazes, and the air stretched.
And then the woman turned around, face showing no surprise. "Take care of this place. My…my husband loved it. He fought for it, no matter what the rest of his family did."
"Anne? Sammy? You got my phone call?" Dios was rising up to greet them, so Murphy let them and their words be, and went on to where his brother was waiting.
Odysseus wanted to get into the car, spin the key and just drive until he fell asleep or the car ran out of gas, whichever came first. The reason he couldn't was Connor, who had ambushed him in the parking lot and promptly planted himself on Odysseus' lap so the steering wheel was out of reach.
"What the hell are you doing?" Connor grabbed Odysseus' shoulders and shook them, as if starting a wrestling match with his brother. "Leaving? But we just won!"
"You won. I did what I was asked to do, and now that it's done, I-"
He was cut off by another sharp shake. "-will do what? Go back and hide? Shoot yourself in the head, seeing as we kept all those bastards in the church from doing it for you?"
"And you didn't even say thank you," added Murphy, who was just walking up. "Or go talk to Dios. You know, he's really in a bad place right now."
It was surprisingly hard to do, given how twisty and tenacious Connor had become, but Odysseus managed to shove him off. "Dios can take care of himself."
"Yeah, but should he have to?" Connor cocked his head, annoyance transmuting to a startling understanding. He jumped right back on Odysseus' leg, while Murphy ducked his head inside and blocked the doorway. "Look, you can't leave. She's in you."
"Never wanted her to be, goddamn it," Odysseus snarled. His exhaustion was swiftly overtaking him, however, and so he could do little more than glare impotently and sit stiff-backed in the car.
Murphy seemed amused. "Liar. You used to love this place."
"She's talking to you, is she? Well, tell her to fuck with someone else," Odysseus retorted.
Connor rubbed a finger alongside his bottom lip, faintly uncomfortable. "Well, that'd be the problem. She likes you-actually, more to the point is that she trusts you. And you know her."
"Whereas we're getting along grandly, but we're still a bit lacking in familiarity," Murphy said, leaning forward. It took a moment too long for Odysseus to figure out the man's intent, and by then, they were already kissing.
Surprise, that. He would've expected the first gesture to come from Connor, who…was doing his own part by sliding his hands up and down Odysseus' thighs. And it was like warmth tickling around his bones, lazy and light, and it'd been so long since he had known something like that…so he was all the more disgusted when he finally caught himself.
He twined his fingers in Murphy's hair and yanked the man away.
A gun was immediately at his throat, and over it, Connor's face was smoothly hard around two glittering eyes. "Hey," he softly said. "All of this doesn't equal a free pass."
"So I've noticed," Odysseus drawled as he released Murphy. The gun went from his throat to the glove compartment, and a few more soon joined it. Odysseus made a half-hearted grab for the last one that Connor dug out of his clothing. "What the hell do you think you're doing? This city isn't close to quiet yet."
"Well, no." Murphy casually elbowed him over, forcing Odysseus back into Connor's lap. "Shite, Connor. Front seat's not big enough for this. But anyway, you've gone looking everywhere else. You ever think that whatever it is might be here?"
Odysseus raised an eyebrow. "After everything that's happened? After what's happened to Boston?"
Connor made a face as he helped tug his brother inside. It was a tight fit, and knees and elbows and ribs made jostling connections, but somehow, they still managed to give it a kind of grace. "You ever stop to think that it's a city? You know, changes with time, and maybe that's why you don't recognize anything."
"And you want me to start over. Like it was that easy." What with the final, final burial of wife and son and friends, with the confronting of terrible memories under every streetlight, Odysseus wanted to add. But he didn't, because a horribly tempting urge to agree with the twins was rising up inside of himself.
He was tired in every part of himself, and he was sick. But he wasn't dead, and by now it was clear that the deepest part of himself didn't want to be dead. It took two to tango, he now reluctantly recognized, and Boston wouldn't have laid claim to him if he hadn't opened a crack through which it could do so.
"You could at least stay around for a while. Help us get settled. Hell, we only got into town this week; we'll probably fuck up by tomorrow morning." Connor's tone was light with confidence, but the hands he and Murphy were laying on Odysseus' chest were ever-so-slightly hesitant. And then it was his turn to kiss Odysseus, and Murphy's to nuzzle into suddenly jumpy skin, and city song swirling all around them.
Odysseus didn't do it the instant they touched, but eventually, his hands did reach out.
From there, it was a confusing, heady mix of dream and reality, of being larger than he was and then too small for the gasps that threatened to swallow him. Fingers pulled and tore at clothing-Murphy got trapped in his own shirt, and Odysseus laid his cheek against Connor's belly to feel the laughter-breath went out one mouth and into another, and skin rasped itself hot.
There was some kind of lotion that Connor had swiped from the hospital, and Murphy wriggling an erection into Odysseus' side as his brother's fingers played out of sight, and then there was Murphy cursing and swearing because he had to half-hang out the door for it to work. Connor ended up on the floor, helping to keep his brother from sliding completely away from Odysseus' thrusts, his warning to be careful implicit in the way his teeth grazed over Odysseus' ribs and chest and nipples.
And turnabout, which with the twins was a glorious, hilarious thing to watch. Connor moaning with his head lolling on Odysseus' shoulder, hands kneading the legs that cradled him while in front, Murphy's head industriously bobbed up and down on Connor's flushing cock.
The thought that it was technically a sin never even crossed Odysseus' mind, because all around, the air was vibrating through them, whispering things that needed to be done and places that needed visiting and joys that still awaited. Cunning and manipulative, the city was, and damn it all, but he did love her after all. Loved her and hated her for what she was and what she would always be, no matter what else changed. His goddess, in a pagan, earthy way that had nothing to do with worship and everything to do with the give-take cycle of life.
Very slowly, he began to let go of the grief that had dragged at him for so long. Just a little now, and it hurt so much that he could hardly believe that he could stand to lose any more. But he knew he would. Inevitable progression, once the first chip fell.
"Fuck. Good thing this car's not ours," Connor muttered, a little while later. "'s filthy."
"Arse. You ripped my shirt," Murphy responded. "And we still don't have anywhere to stay."
Odysseus sighed, and said goodbye to the Carolinas. A nice, serene place, but it wasn't where he had to be. Needed to be. "You did relock my apartment before you left, right? I suppose I could share it a little longer."
"Well, that's something we can work with." Connor speaking, but the smiles were paired. Not the same, but matched nonetheless.
"Dios," Odysseus suddenly remembered. He owed some to that corner of his life, and he fully intended to repay it.
Murphy shoved him back down. "'s fine. We told you, stop worrying."
Cassie's first thought was that he looked terrible. Her second was that this wasn't what she had seen.
Not really. Actually, she had only seen an endless darkness, and nothing after that, which she had taken to mean her death. It never occurred to her that maybe the vision might have been missing a part.
Dios' head went up. "Cassie?" he hoarsely asked.
"The right ones are dead. Finally." Her voice wasn't much better, and her throat felt as if it'd been wrapped round with a steel band. She tried to raise her head, but it was far too heavy, and in the end she had to settle for the pathetic lift of a single finger. Dios noticed anyway, and took up her cold hand in his warm one.
He cracked a smile that was ragged around the edges. "Don't you ever get tired of talking about that kind of shit?"
"All the time, believe me." She worked on her own smile, but it kept coming out lopsided. "Should've made you teach me to shoot earlier. It had a bigger kick than I'd expected."
"Yeah, you should've." Dios got up and laid down on the bed, face nestled by her ear. "I don't sleep with doormats."
A little irked, she pinched the inside of his wrist. "And I don't cook for bastards."
But he was already asleep, and only grunted a bit. Snorting, Cassie summoned up the rest of her strength and rolled over to face him before her eyelids began to close again. Something caught her eye, and she looked at the door to see her cousin Hector's widow, Anne, and their son Sammy. She started to struggle up, but Anne silently waved her back down, smiling. It was the last thing Cassie saw before letting the drowsiness catch hold of her.
Briseis tugged at the phone cord until it would stretch to the porch, where she sat on the swing and shelled peas while she talked. "So Ode's all right?"
*More or less. He acts like he's still going to leave soon, but I think the twins are growing on him.* Dios sounded guardedly amused, so she figured that one of the three must have been nearby. *By the way, he wanted me to ask if you'd found the cache under the floorboards yet.*
"Mmm-hmmm." She accidentally popped a pea into the yard, where a squirrel promptly raced out and snapped it up. "Anything about Orestes and Electra?"
The other line crackled, then became clear again. *Not much. They were in Chicago for a while, but as far as we know, they're still moving. Haven't heard of any deaths, though, and Ode is keeping his ears open. There's not many left from either side; most of them have finally retired or left town, so it's been kind of hard, finding people.*
"But Cassie's okay, right? Did she ever have any more visions?" The squirrel was still hanging around, its bright eyes winking hopefully at her, and Briseis at last flipped it another pea.
*Yeah, actually. But it's…better now. Don't know what happened there, but she's good.* A tinge of satiation had crept into Dios' tone, which made Briseis grin. *And you? You all right?*
"I'm…working on it. I think I'll always be working on it. But still, as long as I don't stop trying…" She looked out at the sky, watching how it altered subtly with every second.
Dios laughed. *Yeah. That's what Ode said, once…but yeah. Yeah.*