Tangible Schizophrenia



Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Semi-noncon, nasty shit, kink, etc.
Pairing: Terry Benedict/Vincent/François Toulours
Feedback: Good lines, crappy ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Ocean’s Twelve/Collateral crossover, taking place after both movies. References Integral. Supernatural undertones.
Summary: Work=force times distance.


It’s a pretty little thing, all smooth black curves and soapy-silk surface, but dense enough to have a gleam. Gleam, not glitter and not glisten and not fucking glint. It’s stone. Something rare to begin with, and then worked by a master of simplicity until it somehow encompasses an essence in its dull matter. Even the casual eye can see it would go heavy on the market, rake in a bundle.

“Any reason why you chose a fox?” Vincent queries, holding up the statuette. He shakes out a cigarette with his other hand and flicks the pack inside his coat, flicks the lighter out in the same motion. Across the way, he can see that impressed the man.

He didn’t smoke before. Too many statistical disadvantages, too many ways it could chip off at his edge, lower the levels of his abilities just enough for his opponent to reach up and get a fingerhold. Before, he couldn’t afford to have any…fallibilities. Though perfection as it turned out had been the biggest fallibility of them all, inviting a smear or a crack or a bullet.

Vincent hefts the statuette one last time, running his thumb over the slight upside-down crescent curve of its back and tail. Then he pitches it over his shoulder, out of the convertible, and listens for the crashing. Three pieces, he guesses, and brings flame to cigarette tip.

If he really wants an answer, he should probably take the gag out of Toulours’ mouth. Not to mention the other man sounds as if he’s choking on it, like his daddy never taught him to just relax and swallow like the rest of the world has to. Poor rich boy, amateur extraordinaire but still lacking that brutal finishing stroke that gives the real pros the edge that keeps them alive, the edge that only comes from having to do what they do to survive, and not because it’s merely entertaining.

Of course, what sets Vincent apart from both groups is the fact that he had to die—in the absence of a better term, he’ll use that—in order to really get it. But now he has it, internalized deep down so it growls round his gut the way the car’s engine is begging to do, and he is leaning back in the driver’s seat and watching the smoke drift, like heat shimmers off the rare stretch of paved road in Mexico.

They’re in a great wide field so he’s got the view for it; the place is still too green, fringed all around with soft pretty foliage, but its clearness roughly approximates those hellish, heaven-calling flatlands that had burned him right down to what he should be, just as the cigarette is burning down now.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got any idea who you pissed off?” This time, Vincent’s genuinely interested in the answer, so he turns to the side and stretches out an arm. Nearly laughs at how wide Toulours’ eyes go above the gag, how the man stops trying to jerk himself free and instead starts cringing against the door, but he restrains himself. Maybe he owes Sands a favor or two, but he isn’t about to start copying the man, habit for habit.

His fingers touch the gag and slip off and down, due to Toulours’ feeble efforts at evasion. The game goes on for a few moments until Vincent tastes the air, tastes the zing of nerves singing higher and faster, and decides he should catch the man’s jaw between forefinger and thumb, crushing it just enough to make his point. Then he hooks his other fingers under the cloth gag and pulls it down. Uses it as a makeshift collar to drag Toulours toward him so he can get the knot undone as well; no point in flashing a knife if he doesn’t have to. That would add too much of a flair for Vincent’s tastes, and changed man or no, he still prefers the world spare and lean.

Fortunately for Toulours, though he doesn’t yet realize it, he does fit into that category. For all the ridiculous dramatics and overwrought sense of pride, in the end he goes at theft the old-fashioned, unadorned way, which is nothing short of genius in the age of technology. Idiosyncrasy, eccentricity as well—call it a flaw and a weakness in the man’s character, and that makes it even better. Before, it would’ve been a crack into Toulours’ safeguards, but now, with his new worldview just itching to be put to the test, Vincent can see it as a crack into the man’s head as well.

“No. I…didn’t realize you are working for someone?” Toulours doesn’t like being off-balance—actually, Vincent would lay a fifty down the man detests it—and so he shrugs back as soon as he can, trying to regain that precious composure Vincent’s been watching for the past week or so. He can’t quite make it because his hands are taped behind his back, wrists to tips of fingers because Vincent’s well-acquainted with how critical hands are to a thief, but he gives it his best shot. “Then again, I don’t believe we’ve been introduced properly.”

“I’m a professional hitman,” Vincent offers, dragging on his cigarette. It’s a local border brand, cheap and harsh, but he likes it. Reminds him that his tailored suit and tailored hair aside, beneath he’s still missing that nice high gloss. Which used to eat at him, nibble away at the corners of his consciousness during those long layovers and interminable waits on strangers’ doorsteps, but now he finds it relaxing. He knows why he has those scrapes and imperfections, knows what and where they are, knows how they affect him. Saves on the polishing time, since he generally doesn’t now.

Toulours’ mouth compresses. The skin under his eye tics once, making him look just a little haggard in his disheveled evening suit, tie gone and shirt untucked and half-open at the top, shoes and socks replaced by more tape. “I see. Well, I suppose some people can’t accept defeat.”

He’s terrified. If Vincent turned Toulours around right now, the man’s fingers would be trying to yank out of their enforced straight press against each other, but not for freedom. For clasping, for inverting the prayer-hands into which Vincent’s taped them. But Toulours hides it well.

“I am a hitman. But currently, I’m moonlighting as a kidnapper.” The cigarette is half-gone, two-bit tobacco flaring fast into ash. The wind picks up a little, whisking away the gray fluff before Vincent can even tap it off. He follows the airborne ash with his eyes, letting his gaze drift till he sees the relief uncontrollably taking over Toulours’ face. “The plane should be here in a few more minutes. You aren’t prone to airsickness, are you?”

“No. Why?” Now Toulours is trying to search the sky without letting Vincent notice. He’s sliding along the door, seeing if he can reach the door handle, and the expression on his face when he realizes that there is no door handle would’ve sent Sands into helpless cackles.

Vincent merely smiles and puts out his cigarette, listening to the faint roar of approaching engines. “Because if you were, right about now I should knock you out again. I’m not paid to be a nurse.”

The word ‘paid’ strikes a loud, desperate chord with Toulours, however much he is still struggling to be nonchalant. He ceases working at the door and slumps against the seat, at first probably because that would look unconcerned but rapidly because he’s exhausted and showing it. The remnants of pain from the pistolwhipping earlier, which has left a dark smudge splayed over his temple, have to be encouraging that. “I don’t suppose you’d indulge a little curiosity of mine?” he lilts, his attempt at a half-smile going crooked. “How much am I worth?”

“Theoretically? The contents of the Bellagio’s vault. But practically speaking, you’re priceless. You should be proud of yourself.” Overhead a tiny spark segues into a silver streak that is roaring down to the runway strip, two minutes late by Vincent’s watch. He makes a note of that while he grabs his briefcase from the backseat.

He makes a note of how Toulours reacts as well: head-tilt, thoughtful absorbing, quick judgment. Slight flick of eyes towards Vincent, adding him into the equation. “You Americans are always so quick to take offense. Too serious. But really, now, I don’t remember ever having met you before, so why should anything matter to you except the size of the check? Unless, of course, you are some friend of Mr. Ocean’s, but I thought that I’d met them all—”

“You probably did. I wouldn’t know.” Vincent waits until the plane has come to a complete stop before turning on the headlights. He blinks them twice long, twice short, and then waits for the pilot to swing the plane around. “And I really shouldn’t care that you’re blaming him, either, but I like to keep things simple, and lies and assumptions aren’t. I’m Vincent. You are François Toulours, also the Nightfox, and you happened to take some very nice merchandise from Terry Benedict’s hotel about two months ago.”

“Oh. Oh, that one?” Amusingly enough, Toulours seems to be offended, as if he’s too good to be targeted by a mere innkeeper, however rich.

Benedict had insisted on a face-to-face meeting with Vincent, and from that one conversation plus some background checking, Vincent was inclined to agree with Toulours. But Vincent also knows that beggars can’t be choosers, and that Toulours is currently a man lying in a gutter that still believes he can order around the rats. “That one.”

“Then I know I can offer at least double whatever he paid you. Will be paying you.” That smug smile looks much more comfortable on Toulours’ face than the frigid blankness he’d had on before. Which is a downfall situated in a blind spot, and Vincent has no compunctions about poking eyes. “Somehow I can’t see him surrendering any money until he sees the evidence of a finished job.”

“You’re right about that,” Vincent replies, flashing a friendly smile. It sets a crawl up Toulours’ spine that makes the man stiffen, shift back from his return of confidence. “He’s not going to pay me. He hired me to kill the thief, and to do it in such a way that no thief would ever dare steal from him again. But that was plan A, and plan A got scrapped when it turned out that it was you and not Danny Ocean doing the second dip. Funny the conversations you hear when thieves get to talking. None of them, not even Ocean’s other rivals, seem to like you very much now.”

So Toulours’ back to looking as if he’s drowning and all he can do is whine that he’s too good to be allowed to drown. He’s wound up enough to let out half a gasp when Vincent pulls the knife out, to allow a string of incoherent French babble dribble from his lips when the blade flashes down. But Toulours doesn’t piss himself, thank God, and he even manages to show a bit of self-hatred when he realizes Vincent was just cutting his ankles free. “Ocean sent you?”

“Man, you aren’t listening to me.” Vincent presses his arm across Toulours’ knees and keeps them pinned in place while he strips off the tape. It rips loud and sharp in the still night air, and leaves angry red marks behind, but Toulours apparently is determined now and doesn’t even flinch. “Benedict hired me. He thought it was Ocean, but I found out it was you, and now there’s a problem. Because there’s no point in killing the wrong thief—that just makes everyone look stupid. On the other hand, the contract didn’t say anything about you.”

The laugh Toulours makes is a little frayed at the edges. “So…why do you need to bother with me?”

“Because at this point, I’m not doing it for the pay.” Done with the tape, Vincent puts away the knife. He doesn’t, however, get out by moving back to his side, since he doesn’t favor getting a kick in the face. Instead he crawls over Toulours, has a few nice moments assessing the man’s musculature while he’s at it, and goes out that side. Slings the briefcase over one shoulder and hooks his hand under Toulours’ elbow to yank out the other man.

Except Toulours is slightly faster and much more fucking desperate, now that he can actually see that he’s going to be leaving his home country for an undetermined amount of time, and he somehow swivels out to brace himself against the side of the car. His flexibility certainly is impressive.

The move also has the effect of forcing Vincent to lean into the man, since his hand is trapped between Toulours’ arm and side. Clever. Though his other hand is still free to crack a gun beneath Toulours’ jaw. The pilot thinks he’s getting paid by the hour, so there’s no point in dragging this out too long. Vincent also doesn’t get paid to deal with labor grievances, unless it’s with the business end of a Desert Eagle.

Memory of that makes his hips loose, lets them roll right into Toulours just so the man knows he hasn’t taken over an inch of the situation. It’s almost pitiful to see Toulours’ pupils go wide to engulf comprehension, to feel the nerves start to come out in shivers.

“I can make this about payment,” Toulours whispers, low and fast and jittery. It’s hard to hear him because he doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to push in or lean back. “However much you want, in whatever method of payment you prefer.”

Vincent can smell the adrenaline soaking off the other man because Vincent himself isn’t worked up in the least. After all, there’s still not much that frightens him that much, that throws him off-balance that far, and the little that does he knows are nowhere near here. “No thanks.”

He shoves the gun a little deeper beneath Toulours’ chin and stiff-walks the man onto the plane. Whenever Toulours tries to dig in his heels, Vincent just slows a step and delivers a vicious kick to an Achilles tendon. That collapses resistance quick enough.

* * *

On the plane, Vincent decides he might give Benedict a phone call. It’s a convenient reason to stand where he can have a decent view of Toulours, since now the man’s strategy seems to be slouching with his forehead pressed to the window so his expression can’t be seen. Interestingly enough, Toulours’ arms aren’t shifting, and neither is his midsection, so he doesn’t appear to be trying to free himself anymore.


“Mr. Benedict,” Vincent says. The man sprawling over the seats in front of him reacts only with a cheek-twitch that produces half a rictus of a smile. Possibly it’s hysteria, stuffed into the pot with the lid jammed down, but now boiling through the seams that don’t quite seal. “On our way.”

There’s almost an approving sound on the other end of the line. *You’re faster than your own estimate.*

“I didn’t have as much to round up as I thought.” For a moment, Vincent considers whether or not to mention the change of plans here, but then his gut says no and he figures he’ll listen. Benedict thinks he’s nothing but a thug, and it would be a good idea to keep that impression intact for a little longer. “See you in Vegas.”

He hangs up the phone to the accompaniment of a startled exclamation from the earpiece and a short, ragged chuckle from Toulours. “I seriously doubt,” the man says, smiling like his jaw is fractured, “That Benedict’s had anyone hang up on him in the past ten years. You can’t be working for him.”

When Vincent leans over Toulours, the other man holds his ground. Doesn’t sink in, doesn’t move forward, though his breath skips several beats before it regains its rhythm and that muscle in his cheek twitches again. He’s terrified, rabbit with claws drawing blood from the back of the neck, and he doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s beginning to like it. That is the telltale for amateurs—they’re all adrenaline junkies, so badly that it starts to fuck with their survival instincts.

And that—that low tingling burn running around the back of Vincent’s throat and easing down his spine—must be what Sands feels every time he has a game starting to come together. If Vincent were an amateur, he might be stupid enough to ride that and take what he believes Toulours is about to offer.

If he were the man he used to be, he’d laugh in Toulours’ face and forget about it.

But he’s neither, and so he merely checks that it’s there, set good and firm into Toulours’ eyes, before sitting down across from the man. “I was hired by him,” Vincent repeats in a mild tone.

Toulours needs a moment to move his head so he isn’t staring at where Vincent used to be. Then he settles back, looking almost comfortable despite the strained angle of his arms, and stares at Vincent through half-closed eyes. “He doesn’t frighten me. He didn’t even frighten Danny Ocean, and that one took his girlfriend and his money.”

“Just out of curiosity, what did you take? It can’t be the money again.” Vincent stretches a bit, loosens his tie and feels at his stubble; he needs a shave in another day. “You thieves hate repeating a con.”

“It’s professional pride. Don’t assassins have the same feeling?” There’s no stewardess on the plane and Toulours isn’t going to find one just by staring hard at the front. He’s going to realize that in a second. “Might I trouble you for some water?”

When Vincent makes to get up, as if he’s actually going to leave Toulours alone for a single moment, he doesn’t do so to tease. He doesn’t do it to throw Toulours’ helplessness back in his face, either. He does it to jam the wedge that much further into the crack opening up before him. Because he isn’t doing this for pay, or for sheer malice. He’s doing it to practice.

He reaches beneath the seat and produces two bottles, pretending to read the labels while Toulours slumps. “Water or tequila. And I’m not an assassin. Assassins started out as the fanatical killers for an Arabian sultan, and ever since they’ve always had to have some mystical reason for doing what they do. Hitting the impossible shot, being the best of the worst—no, I’m not one. I’m a hitman. I just kill people.”

Toulours looks at Vincent’s carefully composed expression and the flickers across his face say that he’s hearing all the implications as well. He swallows a little, Adam’s apple bobbing like debris on water, and doesn’t blink. “On second thought, I think…tequila would be better.”

The tequila is strong enough so that just its fumes sting, make Vincent’s eyes want to water. He pours it into a glass and watches a small drop fly out from the stream, stirred into the air by some unseen disturbance in the flow, to land on the rim of the glass. For a second, he’s tempted to lick. But that would be entirely too pandering of him—too damn Sands.

That skinny bastard’s like the ghost of cigarette smoke clinging to Vincent’s clothes, all linger and no substance. He did draw out a few directions for Vincent, but it wasn’t just him making Vincent’s feet walk along them, and so it annoys Vincent to find Sands sticking around. Especially since Sands wasn’t the one…

…Vincent catches himself and shakes it off, but not before Toulours notes it. The way the man’s eyes latch onto that small show of something and sink in teeth reminds Vincent of a memory so strongly that he almost believes he’s looking into a mirror.

“Someone on your mind?” As light and casual as Toulours’ tone is, the difficulty he has in leaning forward and putting his lips to the glass tells Vincent the slip wasn’t too bad. And there’s no way Toulours could possibly guess what’s going through Vincent’s head, so there’ll be no follow-through. After all, the man’s a thief, spending hours and hours practicing how to not leave marks. He’s no mariachi, reading people the same way he reads music out of the air with his guitar, and he’s no longtime cab-driver, reading people because that’s all he can read without wrecking the fucking car.

“I guess you could say that. A man on the metro sits down and dies. You know how long it is before anyone notices?” Tequila will work as well as a wad of cloth when it comes to stopping words; Vincent keeps tilting the glass so Toulours has to take it all straight. The other man isn’t expecting that and chokes, coughs a bit out so it trickles from the corners of his mouth, eyes going wide again and breath nonexistent. His lower lip is pressing against Vincent’s thumb, trembling around some noise, and Vincent presses back. “Well, if it happens at night in L. A., about three hours. The trains only stop running for about two hours, and that’s when they get cleaned.”

The last drop disappears into Toulours’ mouth. He has his chance to say something when Vincent puts away the glass and, deciding to act nice, swipes off the spilled tequila with a thumb, but what he does is just look blankly at Vincent. He doesn’t seem like the kind of man who’d had a low tolerance for alcohol, but he’s already a little flushed. Cheek, underside of jaw are warm against Vincent’s fingers when he tips up Toulours’ face. “But if it happens just after they’ve started running again? Takes all--day--for someone to notice.”

Some judgment snaps through Toulours’ eyes. He tries to lift his chin off of Vincent’s hand, winces when Vincent merely takes the opportunity to push his head further back. “No, we don’t like repeating jobs. It gets boring, taking advantage of the same human stupidity over and over again…and I suppose you could say we are arrogant, always going after the one big job instead of taking many smaller, easier ones. But you don’t become a thief just to be careful.”

“No, you don’t.” Turning the nail, sliding its sharp edge a little along Toulours’ throat, and there’s that sudden hungry flare behind the fear and anger. Something Vincent has never had is that desire to be caught, that contrary impulse that makes people do things they have to hide away and then want badly to be known for them, that urge to stand on the mountaintop and gaze longingly at the next, unconquered one. It’s Sands, not him or El.

On the other hand, what is him and El is the liking for catching. For slipping into the closet and tearing it open for the world to see, for knocking people off their pedestals. Vincent likes chaos, as it turns out. Confused him a little when he first was told that, because he has and always will prefer to be orderly; it’s other people he likes keeping off-balance, under his thumb. And that was why he didn’t shoot Max when he should have—he thought he had the man under control.

He’s a little more careful and much more watchful now. It’s why this kind of thing has stopped being just a job to him. Because he knows he likes it and adjusts accordingly.

Vincent flips his thumb over and ghosts it down the vein working in Toulours’ throat, waiting till the man thinks he gets it. “Why Benedict? He’d been done already.”

“Oh, because I thought I could do it better. True, the vault had been beaten—and yes, very beautifully, I’ll give Ocean that—but Benedict didn’t stop being Benedict because of that.” Toulours is trying too hard to be calm, a little sardonic. He’s leaning back as Vincent leans forward, but pushing out his legs around Vincent. As a precaution, Vincent puts a hand on one of Toulours’ thighs and pins it in place so he won’t be suddenly knocked over, and Toulours’ reaction is to smile faintly and shift his leg just a little, rubbing it up against Vincent’s palm. “If it’s really a good theft, it should mean something, shouldn’t it? Benedict didn’t care about the money—what he cared about was having it under his eye.”

For a bored aristocrat with no morals, Toulours isn’t doing too badly with the psychological analysis. It’s simple stuff, but Vincent is never surprised at how many people fail to be capable of working even the simplest equations. “So not the money, not the girl…what’s left?”

It was an excellent idea to invite Toulours to ramble, because obviously, the man takes great delight in lecturing. “His sense of self. It’s all wound up in being the one who knows all, sees all…Ocean gave him a taste of it, but then made it all about the money, which is how Benedict thinks anyway. What I did was give him a little more. Followed his day and then ruined it—if he was expecting to bring tea to a Japanese gentleman in an antique iron pot, I stole it and made him bring it in a porcelain one. If he was handed codes, I stole them first and made sure he had the wrong ones. If he walked into the vault looking for the heirloom emeralds he’d stored there for a European noble staying at his hotel, he didn’t find them.”

The smile on Toulours’ face is self-indulgent and smug, lighting up his eyes in a way Vincent would bet they never do at some endless dinner party or on the obligatory yacht all rich bastards have to keep. And since it is a pretty damn good story, Vincent allows himself an appreciative grin. “You gave him the worst day of his life.”

“Worst week. He didn’t take it well,” Toulours corrects.

“I can imagine. But why the golf club?” Which Vincent had retrieved from Toulours’ gallery and which is now securely stowed in the overhead compartment. Benedict had been very specific about that, and that had been the only time he’d shown any wavering in coolness to Vincent.

Toulours shrugs and tries to sit up, but Vincent digs fingers into jaw and thigh and clips that in the bud. “It was a…crutch of…are you sure we can’t reach a…private accommodation? Because I’m certain I can offer you more than an unimaginative, soulless businessman like him.”

“Probably,” Vincent agrees, and then he takes Toulours by the neck and sinks his teeth into Toulours’ lower lip. When the other man tries to say something, he moves so his mouth is fully occupying Toulours’ and then he takes his time ripping the taste from it.

The first reaction Toulours has is actually a combination of several—he freezes, he fights, he tries to pursue it as if they were making some kind of mutually acceptable deal. But then the point that he is not touching bottom, that he in fact is barely treading water, sinks in and from his throat comes a tiny suffocating whine. He starts to twist in Vincent’s grip, knees banging against Vincent’s legs and teeth making half-attempts at biting. Only half, because Vincent tightens his hand a fraction around Toulours’ throat and Toulours gasps, lips going slack around Vincent’s ruthlessly probing tongue, body slumping the way a hare exhausted by the chase will when the coyote finally snaps down on it.

Then Vincent lets go and draws back, observing the bright shock in the other man’s eyes. He dusts off his hands and returns to his side, where he takes out his notebook to check a few details. In the seat across from him, Toulours slowly recalls breathing and does so.

“Incidentally, that’s all I plan to do.” Arrival time should be well after dark. By the time they reach the rendezvous with Benedict, it should be very, very early in the morning. Long past Benedict’s usual turn-in time, so Vincent will have the advantage of not having to feel custom dragging on him. Order is one thing, but letting a schedule overtake everything else is another, and Vincent has never liked the feeling of being caged.

Toulours, on the other hand, is absently running a tongue over the fine crease of blood in his lip and gazing at Vincent as if he doesn’t know whether to be relieved or to be disappointed. He’d do better to think about everything he’d just told Vincent about Benedict, but of course he isn’t doing that. “So what was the point?”

“The point is, this is not a business transaction. Anyway, you wouldn’t be enjoying it if it were.” The notebook’s softly glowing screen scrolls through various shots of Benedict’s hotel, giving Vincent breath-taking views of the house the man has built to cater to everyone but himself. The life the man has built around everyone but himself, because Toulours is right, after all. Benedict is nothing but control, and when that’s stripped away…

…it’d be interesting to find out. Toulours started to, but a week isn’t quite long enough. When Vincent saw Benedict, the man seemed still intact to him.

And Toulours is still whole as well, though the cracks are now fractures and they go deep enough to cut the uncertainty and reveal the hunger. Toulours wants to ask Vincent what the hell he meant by that, wants to tell Vincent to go to hell, and wants to know just where that would’ve gone. Because usually Toulours is the one—the only one—that knows that, and not being in that position now is driving him crazy.

Just about everyone Vincent’s spoken to has said that Toulours deserved a good dose of reality, and now he’s getting it after spending a lifetime in the cloud-palaces of the wealthy. His mouth moves and nothing comes out, and finally he simply turns around. Eventually, his head droops and his shoulders shake once.

Vincent goes back to reading. Nothing more to see for the moment.

* * *

They’re crossing continental America when Toulours rouses again. His face has an air of gauntness and he can’t seem to look directly at Vincent. “What happened to the dead man on the metro?”

That was quicker than Vincent had expected. He turns off the notebook and, while he’s at it, pulls off his tie. “Which one?”

“Which one did you know?” Toulours straightens awkwardly, hampered by his bound hands. “No one ever tells a story like that without a personal reason behind it.”

Very good. So good, in fact, that Vincent gets up and crosses over to sit in the seat beside Toulours, who doesn’t flinch. Who doesn’t move except to turn till he can face Vincent, gaze still flicking everywhere to avoid looking anywhere. “The one that took only two hours. Turns out he wasn’t really dead, either. Just went on a little trip to Mexico.”

“Mexico?” Disbelief is thick and crackling in Toulours’ voice, making his head lift so finally Vincent can get a straight look into his face. He’s about to figure out something. “What? Is that supposed to be some kind of American saying?”

“Not really.” Now Vincent is almost praying, if he could remember how to pray, because if Toulours has finished with the stupid questions and is starting to move on to the good ones, it could get very interesting very fast. And Vincent does get bored. That was the whole problem last time—he got bored and forget how to get interested, and survival demands engagement of attention. No one can coast through life for very long.

Something dark and raw is struggling beneath Toulours’ face, fighting itself, fighting him. It makes him gnaw on his lip, shake his foot, dart faster and faster glances at Vincent. He’s trying to figure out how much it would kill him to admit that—

“Tell me something, François.” Vincent gets out the name with a fair accent. El would have butchered it, but El isn’t here and Vincent can smile inside at that thought all he wants, but all he’ll be smiling at is a thought. “You didn’t have to sic Benedict on Ocean to one-up him. You could’ve just pulled a flashier job—say, the one that put him in jail, which he never finished. So what was the point? Revenge? He didn’t even know you existed, from what I hear.”

Toulours’ lips thin out.

“And you made it hell on him, which rules out you wanting a fair comparison. You just really wanted to screw this guy, didn’t you?” From El Vincent goes to borrowing a page from Sands’ book, and that upsets him just a little. But there’s nothing he can do about that reaction except incorporate it, ride it, invoke I Ching for real like he didn’t do with Max. No, this isn’t objective for Vincent, either, but then he never pretended that it was. He’s out and on his feet, but he still doesn’t yet know if he can walk it all the way and he needs to. He’s rerunning the job before this one, only this time he’s going to make sure it stays in his hands. “Or maybe you wanted him to screw you?”

In the dim light, Toulours’ eyes glitter. He blinks, deliberate slow like a rattlesnake, but Vincent has stared at those before and he knows there are blind spots he can step into whenever he pleases.

“All your life, you’ve just been begging for someone to knock you down and beat the shit out of you. To make you stop and prove that there is a limit. But no one’s been able to measure up, have they? Not by playing fair.” Vincent is ticking off the seconds in his head by listening to the changes in Toulours’ breathing. He thinks for a moment, then leans forward, elbows on the chair-arm dividing them, to offer one last comment. “Well, let me make this very clear. There is nothing you can do or say to convince me to change my mind.”

And there is the lunge that Vincent catches square on the mouth, snatching the hot wet air from Toulours’ lips, and bends right back. He shoves his hand in Toulours’ hair, pulls and twists so he can bruise where he didn’t before, and flips up the chair-arm. That out of the way, he can drop a hand down and hook it beneath Toulours’ knees, yank those up as he’s crawling on top of the other man.

Maybe Toulours thought he was going to turn the tables for the first half-second, but by now he should know that that’s not what will happen, is happening. But he’s moaning anyway, pressing up into Vincent’s hands and opening his mouth wider, bending so it’s almost impossible to peel the clothes from him. So Vincent rips instead, works his mouth down over throat to cover newly-bared skin while his fingers scrape and stroke and press. He shifts weight to one hip, pins down Toulours and yanks at his own clothes till their pricks are rubbing heat into each other.

The other man occasionally lets loose with fragmented French, Italian, which Vincent doesn’t understand and which Vincent doesn’t really want to hear. So he slides back up, biting at rib and collarbone and jaw on the way, and shuts up Toulours. Feels the man’s tongue beat frantically against his, then relents to allow the man to breathe. Though he feels no compunction about shoving slicked fingers into Toulours in the same motion.

Vincent brings his mouth down again in time to feel the hurt, surprised, pleading whine vibrate against his teeth. He keeps it there while he plays his fingers inside Toulours, working the man till he’s figured out the notes to this instrument. His other hand is running up and down Toulours’ chest, dipping to test the straining muscles in the other man’s arms, dipping further to rake down the man’s buttock just as Vincent stabs in a finger. Then he curves it round to draw light teasing fingers over Toulour’s cock and listens to how the whine drops an octave, stutters and soars back up.

And once Toulours’ voice has gotten there, his knees spread open and he stops trying to react to Vincent and just does, without thinking or planning for effect. That was what Vincent was waiting for, and that is when he moves his fingers to Toulours’ shoulders and fucks the man. Toulours knocks his head against the far seat-arm but doesn’t seem to notice, and Vincent knows he’s got a seat-belt buckle digging into his knee somewhere but he doesn’t feel it—at least not over the sweet hot clench he’s letting himself drown in for the moment—and so he doesn’t do anything about it. He just braces his feet against the wall and turns Toulours inside-out, watching the man fly to pieces beneath him before he finally lets himself break as well.

* * *

Forty minutes to landing, according to the glowing screen of the notebook, which Vincent has sitting open on his seat. He’s on the floor, peeling the last strip of black tape from Toulours’ wrist, and Toulours is lying quietly in a semi-circle around him. If Vincent were into that kind of thing, he’d have plenty of bruises and bite-marks and scrapes to categorize, but frankly, all he gets out of that is the other man’s reaction.

Though Toulours stretching and hissing and occasionally rising up on his elbows to lick at the white smears on Vincent’s belly is a very welcome reaction. “Is this included in your standard service?” he purrs, sucking at the furious red stripes around his wrists.

“No. By the way, we’re still going to see Benedict.” Vincent wads up the tape and stuffs it into an icebucket while Toulours goes from cautious chuckling to disbelief to near-horror. When the other man reaches that one, Vincent casually takes out his gun—which has been sitting under his arm for the whole time—and cracks the butt against Toulours’ temple.

Then he gets up and finds some handtowels, which he uses to clean them both off. The towels also go into the ice-bucket. Vincent dresses himself, dresses Toulours as best he can, given the man’s clothing is half-shredded, and cuffs Toulours’ hands together in front of him. He won’t be in them long enough for Vincent to have to worry about his fingers.

After a thorough check of the seats for any other traces, which also go into the bucket, Vincent gets out a match and a cigarette. The cigarette is lit and slid between his lips, and the match goes in the bucket. He ties his shoes while the bucket’s contents burn to ash, and is pleasantly surprised to find that he doesn’t have to deactivate any smoke alarms—Benedict was at least considerate enough to follow Vincent’s requests to the letter.

When Toulours comes to, he is lively only until he remembers what had preceded his descent into unconsciousness. Then he moves mechanically as Vincent urges him to his feet and watches the world with dull, pained eyes as they walk out, followed by the pilot.

There’s a car and a driver waiting for them. Vincent gets Toulours into the front passenger seat, his bags in the backseat, and turns around as if he’s going to thank the pilot, who has been keeping his sweaty hand on his gun all this time. He might as well have been singing and tapdancing, for all the good it does him; Vincent snaps out his arm and whips the side of his hand into the man’s neck, then punches him back so the blood spray won’t catch Vincent in it. He taps the pilot once in the head, twice in the chest and spins to do the same to the driver, who’s just lunged out the door and is getting ready to shoot Vincent over the top of the car.

Toulours curses in French. “Wha-what the hell are you doing?”

“My job. I told you, I’m a killer.” Vincent puts away his gun and carefully drags the two bodies to the back of the car, where he pops the trunk and heaves them in. Then he walks around to the front and gets in the driver’s seat, where the keys are already conveniently in the ignition. “You know, something very useful I picked up while chasing you is the phone numbers of some interesting businessmen,” he says.

While he’s dialing one of those numbers, he entertains himself by watching Toulours try to process everything. The other man could probably get out of those cuffs, but he’s apparently realized that he couldn’t possibly do it faster than Vincent could shoot him. “What do you want?”

A voice answers and Vincent mutters a few words, whereupon both sides hang up. By morning, the bloodstains will be gone and Benedict’s private plane will either be so much scrap or so well-disguised that its own designers wouldn’t be able to recognize it. And Vincent’s bank account will be well-padded even without Benedict’s fee, if he cared much about that. “Some company.”

He had decided on saying that just a moment before, and it blindsides Toulours into an honest reaction—the man abruptly moves toward Vincent. But then he catches himself, wary and confused. “So why are we going to see Benedict? Why not…drive off?”

The reason Vincent had admitted that is he has no intention of ever sitting down in a metro seat again, taking the train to the limbo of the unadaptable, the fossilized, the out-done. And the way he’d gotten off the train was by having company to give him a destination. Only that company happens to be in Mexico, self-involved in a symbiosis of blood and laughing hell that had inexplicably opened up to Vincent for a while and had equally inexplicably dumped him back out. So he’s got to mark out his own arrival stations.

“Because I have a few words to say to him. And he still thinks Danny Ocean hit him twice. You wouldn’t want him to keep attributing your work to someone else, would you?”

While François’ pride fights with his sense of self-preservation, Vincent starts the car and drives toward Vegas.

* * *

Benedict shows first through the smoke swirl, like somebody else’s worst nightmare. But Vincent’s already been through his worst and come out still walking, so all he does is take a last drag and pitch the cigarette aside.

They’re meeting in a parking lot. Vincent insisted. And in Vegas, his city, Benedict feels secure enough to actually come without anyone to back him up. Then again, there are very, very few people that could outpay him, and he would know that none of them are involved in this.

“I want to get this over with—who the hell is that?” First Benedict looks grim and then he takes a peek at the man leaning against the car beside Vincent, and he looks furious. He probably assumes Vincent couldn’t get the job done and is trying some elaborate con to cover up for that. “I told you Danny Ocean—”

“And I saw Mr. Ocean. We did lunch and he gave me a little stone figure of a fox, plus a name.” The corner of Vincent’s sight gives him a good view of Toulours’ slight tremble and constant looks toward him, as if expecting that Vincent would provide any kind of reassurance. But then, François can’t run without missing one, finding out whether Benedict’s on his tail, and two, whether his new addiction is going to leave him to a withdrawal that would eat him alive. “This is the Nightfox. I think you’ve talked before?”

In contrast to François’ lighthearted attempt at it, Benedict is a true cold bastard, who treats people’s lives like chips on the table and who knows why he placed every chip just so because he’s calculated the exact worth of each. His blank expression accordingly has a seething quality to it, which Vincent can feel trying to chill his skin. “Yes. He’s the one?”

“The contract specified Mr. Ocean.” Who is alive, thanks to his ability to pull up useful information and Vincent’s dislike for gratuitous corpses. The ones in the trunk are going to be difficult enough to get rid of. “I like to do business by the book, so I wanted to consult with you before going further.”

Something’s clinking: Toulours is winding his fingers in the handcuff chain. That makes both Benedict and Vincent briefly smile, but Vincent’s smiling because he sees that François is watching him and not Benedict. Intelligent man.

“I’ll change the name, but you’ll be paid the same,” Benedict promptly says. “You have my word.”

“Good.” And then Vincent swings his arm around and up so that the golf club, which he’d been hiding behind him, smashes into the side of Benedict’s head.

By now Toulours has had time to get used to that, and so he doesn’t jump or gasp. What he does do is press urgently forward and whimper when Vincent curls a hand over his cheek, kissing Vincent as if he’s famished and Vincent is the only thing he can eat.

* * *

François breaking into Benedict’s private rooms was silk grace and clever fire, so it’s no surprise that when Benedict finally comes to, Vincent happens to be just finishing up fucking François over his bed.

“No, you’re not going to pay me.” Vincent digs the heel of his hand deeper between François’ shoulderblades, stifling the other man’s keening in the mattress. He watches the fury twist Benedict’s face around the gag, watches him jerk uselessly at the handcuffs chaining him to the chair. “No, I’m not going to kill him for you. I am, however, returning the golf club since your name is engraved on it. I would have gotten the other items for you, if you’d bothered to tell me what they were.”

The man beneath Vincent is bucking and shoving back onto his prick, squeezing it till white spots begin to dance in his vision. However, this is no place to pass out and so Vincent makes himself come seeing. It hurts his head, pressurizes it till he has to grit his teeth and taste blood, but then the release is a thing to savor, and the way François wraps in and snaps straight is even better.

“What I do is kill people. Put bullets in their bodies in places that are lethal to humans. I don’t deliver revenge.” The sweat collecting on the back of François’ neck is the sweetest salt Vincent’s ever tasted. He rolls it around his mouth as he pulls out, does up his trousers, and lets Toulours crawl further onto the bed to collapse there. “I do business. And that’s not what you wanted done, so you can consider our contract annulled.”

Benedict doesn’t flinch away from Vincent when the gag’s pulled out of his mouth, or do anything except look murderous. Which is possibly the least frightening expression Vincent’s either seen on him, since it’s so predictable. “A hitman with morals. How very…”

“…wrong? If you come after me, I’ll happily fly back here and put a bullet in your head. And I’m sure you know by now that I’ve got no family and nothing else you can threaten,” Vincent calmly replies, retrieving the golf club. He hefts it, flips it over and runs a finger over the club end. A dressed-up version of a mini-golf putter; Benedict can’t even manage to leave his hotel long enough to hit a full-size green. No wonder he looks like a vampire. “Actually, I was planning to walk out about five minutes into our first conversation.”

When Vincent tips the club towards him, slides it beneath his chin to just touch his Adam’s apple—that’s when Benedict starts to sense that it isn’t quite his world anymore. For the first time, he shifts back. Only a fraction, but it’s enough to tell Vincent that Benedict’s done this to many, many people and that he’s only now met someone who managed to do it back to him.

“It’s funny how you seem to think that knowing everything about everyone else makes up for not having anything to yourself. If I tap—” Vincent jabs very lightly, listens for the faint choke, then hooks the golf club into Benedict’s collar and yanks “—should I hear a hollow sound?”

“If I needed a therapist, I keep a Harvard-trained one in-house,” Benedict grates, eyes alternating between glaring at Vincent and watching the club slide further to press between his legs, trace around the outline of his cock. There’s a peculiar twitch whenever his gaze goes to the club; Vincent experimentally rocks the club and finds that that increases the frequency of the twitching. “Why didn’t you walk out?”

Vincent bares a little teeth. “You’d be used to that. Money keeps finding its way out of your vault, women keep running off with—”

That gets a reaction split two ways: Benedict rises in a silent snarl and Toulours muffles a prayer that doesn’t sound as if it’s asking for salvation. Ignoring both, Vincent shoves down with the club and forces Benedict sit, then keeps the pressure on till the man can’t help squirming. It starts as a slight shift of Benedict’s hips and then he tries to stop it, but that involves moving his shoulders, and when he tries to stop that his legs move again. And then he’s struggling and his self-hatred for being so weak as that is showing clear as if it’s written on his face. Something beneath the club is starting to move, flesh swelling against Benedict’s trousers, and his cheeks are going so red that even in the dark, Vincent can see it.

“Because you dropped my last name into the conversation. I wonder how deep you had to dig to find that out.” It had startled Vincent, and Benedict had looked so damn pleased with himself, same as how Max had sounded reeling off his knowledge of L. A.’s roads. “All most people care about when they hire a hitman is whether or not they can kill. It’s easier on them when they don’t know names, if they’ve got consciences. If not, it’s still easier, because they don’t give a shit and don’t want to waste time when they don’t give a shit. You, though…man, you really are one for the details.”

“My mistake. I didn’t know you were so sensitive about it.” Now Benedict is starting to fold in on himself, fighting his body’s reaction because he thinks he can control himself down to that last iota.

“No, your mistake because you need to know something like that about someone like me.” Then Vincent bends down and yanks up Benedict’s chin, holding it so he can see while the golf club rubs those last few times. He passes his thumb over Benedict’s mouth to see what sparks in the man’s face, and it’s outrage and mystification and fear of that and fear of fear, which has to be practically unknown to Benedict. “That’s why you’re so easy to fuck with. You don’t think people can feel that?”

And Vincent pushes hard with the club, grips Benedict’s chin even harder, and stands still while Benedict spasms as much as he’s allowed. The man’s breathing stutters, his eyelids flutter and almost go down, but he won’t let that and so he wills that small victory. But the rest of him just breaks and collapses, until the only reason he’s still up is because Vincent is holding him that way.

“I stayed because you said that and I knew. Man, you and your vault—Freud would have a field day with that.” Vincent uncurls his fingers from the golf club and lets it fall to the floor. He bends down and gets within an inch of Benedict’s face but has to jerk back because the man tries to bite him. So far gone, all the cool stripped away down to the animal. But there is still a little to go.

Which Benedict realizes and fears more than anything else, which drives the words so fast from his mouth that they rasp and crack low. “You’re going to be dead before sunset, so I suggest you choose your last words carefully.”

“No, I don’t think so. You’re a lonely starving bastard sitting on a pile of gold, too afraid to spend any of it to feed yourself, but you’re not so stupid as to kill the only one who bothered coming for you and not for something you had.” It’s such a different world, seen through clear eyes, and as much as Vincent hates to admit it, he did need a blind man to learn that trick. But Mexico is thousands of miles away, and Terry Benedict is sitting right in front of him, looking as if Vincent has just crammed hot coals down his throat. Which Vincent has, and Benedict is so meticulous that he can’t help digesting them.

And there’s also François Toulours frozen on the bed, fucked twice over and Vincent knows if he glanced at the man now, he’d see him begging for another. It’s an interesting world, and it’s being seen through Vincent’s own eyes. He no longer needs to borrow Sands’, or to use El as a translator. He’s…beginning to work it out on his own.

So’s Benedict, because when Vincent leans over again, Benedict doesn’t move. And when Vincent pries open Benedict’s lips with his tongue, Benedict thaws out enough to wisp eyelashes against Vincent’s face and press back with his own tongue.

Vincent stands up and walks over to the bed, where François is staring at Benedict with a new speculative look in his eyes. But his gaze quickly switches to Vincent and he starts to sit up so Vincent has to push him down and eat the words from him. “I think you know the way out,” he tells François as he’s leaning back.


Since Toulours isn’t in cuffs now and Benedict is, the thief should have plenty of time to make his escape. And it isn’t in Toulours’ nature to be directly confrontational when he can work someone from afar, so there’s no worry that he’d be stupid enough to do something to a handcuffed Benedict. Therefore Vincent feels perfectly secure in not looking back. After all, the point isn’t to reinforce their self-confidence; both of them started out with plenty of that, and it’ll still be a while before they get used to having it broken back. “I’ll be around in a month, to see if you two haven’t killed each other.”

The day’s already marked on Vincent’s calendar.