Author: Guede Mazaka
Both of them, though Robbie doesn’t know. Big, bluff, handsome Robbie with his secret that shines from his open eyes, that’d be so easy to dig out if only…but it’d end up boring and commonplace. It always is with his kind, and so it’s better to let that one lie, leave it a mystery. That’s what Robert likes. That says something, if one of them was willing to do the work to decipher it.
But neither of them are. They’re preoccupied with the trick overall and currently, with other tricks than the one undoing the lock to the real Robert Angier. The fake one does them well enough.
Backstage, under-stage, out-of-stage in the filthy foggy alleys where every wispy white cloud might carry a knifer-picker team. He doesn’t seem to care much that sometimes Alfred isn’t so eager, seems to have forgotten the order of the steps, doesn’t want to try something new, and sometimes Alfred’s outdoing him in filthy shocking suggestions, wants it like a drunk wants the next pint before the first is even gone. Well, maybe it does puzzle him in private, but for all Alfred can tell, the man just accepts it like cows mind rain.
It’s mostly him that Angier fucks. Not by any spoken arrangement, but it’s just practical—they share everything, they always have since that one day the workhouse custodian nearly crippled one with a beating really meant for the other—that both get the same thing, but not always for the same length of time. They’re not all one-to-one, like-to-like, and what tires the one quick may not trouble the other for years. Sensible. They’re spelling each other when it’s needed, and no more.
And Robbie, he never seems to tire. Never loses his head. Flashes, yes, because he’s a man—sweat on his brow, his cock trembling half-stuffed up Alfred’s arse—but never the whole show. If he was the village idiot it’d make sense, but he’s not, and the truth of it skitters beneath his skin, squirms under Alfred’s hands like the half-starved giant snakes in the freak sideshow. Once in a while, when he’s really pushed, he thinks he might feel the prick of fangs at his palms. But never a real bite. No, Angier’s just so bland. Unsubstantiated.
* * *
It started with them looking for new ideas and finding an old flyer from the spirit medium craze tacked up on a pub wall: channelers bound up while instruments flew about and ectoplasm dripped over fine tables. Two drinks and then they were in the theater’s backroom, Alfred in the chair and cursing while Robbie sat on his heels and watched, laughing. Of course Robbie had offered to try it first, but the narrow-backed chair strained enough just when he sat in it, and never mind if he started tugging and twisting at its arms and legs.
The same knots that worked for the rest of the show weren’t right for this one; it was one thing to slip them when it was just wrist and wrist, both flexible, but another when it was wrist and wood, trying to flex against unforgiving solidity.
Need some help?
Freddie, we’ll be here forever.
I said no, damn it!
My lord, Freddie. Take a breath. Maybe it’s that you’re so worked up about it. It’s all right if you can’t get it now—we’ve got a couple weeks to fig--
Go to hell.
Well, that’s certainly the way to tackle it. I’ve half a mind to go home. Come back in the morning with everyone else, laugh at your bloody red face.
Bloody…Alfred’s thoughts had already been tending towards that direction, and so he told Robbie so. And then Robert asked oh-so-cleverly, crawling over the floor, putting his hands on Alfred’s knees, what would help, then. Alfred told him about that, too, frustrated and tired. Staring down at Robbie, remembering too many inconvenient intermission-time wonderings.
He slipped the ropes without thinking, without even really seeing as Robbie gripped his thighs and sucked his cock down as smooth as a good ale, lips stretched out of their usual generous fullness into tight red lines. Robbie noticed, laughed. Took Alfred deeper into his mouth and made sure there still would be no freeing of arms or rest of body to do anything.
* * *
Alfred hadn’t been able to see how he’d done it that first time. So they’d done it again, late on Saturday night after a packed house—no better night to take in weak minds, with them all dreading the holy reckoning the next day—and that time he figured it out. But that time something had gotten into Robbie, something very near true recklessness, and he’d been on Alfred almost before the last knot had been cinched, his hands playing over Alfred’s thighs while his tongue dampened Alfred’s shirt where the chest-ropes bunched it. He was stripped from waist-down and climbing onto Alfred’s lap before Alfred got the second hand free, and it had to be the devil holding the chair up after that.
Done this before, Robbie? Never would’ve figured you for it.
You’re not the only one who’s learned to play more than one game with the world.
Ah, don’t tell me you were a whore. You were, you’d make too much damn money to be sticking your nose into this alley.
And no, Robert said. No, while looking away, first time he’d let Alfred catch him at pulling that bluff grinning shade over his eyes, But there’s plenty of other nasty lessons money can teach you.
Alfred asked what he meant, but Robert wouldn’t say. Just smiled, laughed it off. He let Alfred’s increasing exasperation flow over his smooth, charming, tedious surface till it crested against something and came back to double over into something darker. He wouldn’t tell.
* * *
He wouldn’t tell and Alfred couldn’t stand for there to be other secrets that maybe were as deep and long-kept and shielded as his own. Because his was so great and all-encompassing, and so important, that for it to be diminished, to be overlapped with another one meant the end of their survival.
Robert and Alfred experimented some more with ropes, with knots, with chairs and boxes and all that. Spiritualism hadn’t been so long ago that they didn’t need a new twist to it, and Robert worked on that. Alfred worked on Robert—once he’d learned a trick, he never forgot it, and Robbie always tied the same knots.
They slowed Alfred down, but less and less, and soon he was the one doing the ambushing. Then Robbie changed the game, caught Alfred coming off-stage and backed him into the curtain ropes, looped them around his hands and fucked him raw as a scraped wound. They nearly missed the end of the show, with the stagehand’s heavy tread echoing Alfred’s uneven rasping breath while they waited beneath the stage, trapdoor still settling into place above their heads.
Chair in the dressing room, Robbie leaving halfway through and then Alfred having to dive behind a screen, one wrist bleeding from where he’d yanked it with brute force from his bindings as the manager and Cutter wandered in. Then the creaky cot in Robbie’s lodgings, Alfred slipping free while Robbie’s back was turned and fucking the other man off his knees. Sometimes they didn’t even have time for the rope.
Most of the time they did, though. Alfred made sure of it; he’d noticed the way Robert’s eyes flickered when the last loop cinched tight, when the red flush rose up in Alfred’s skin under the pressure of the rope. He pushed and pushed for it, till even dear old Robbie was looking askance at him, but still nothing more than a look. No cracks. No change. Not even the turn yet.
* * *
It wasn’t anything Alfred did, or at least anything that he could tell he did. Robbie was the same that night, having the same arguments with Alfred where the good nature was all one-sided before the show and using the same bad lope to walk onto the stage and then offering up the same old jokes afterwards when they were breaking down the set.
Maybe Robbie saw somebody. Maybe he had a visitor. He was out of their sight, somehow, for a few minutes that night, and since then Alfred has gone over and over every detail, deconstructed them and fashioned them back into the whole, and he cannot find a cause in those. So it had to have come from the outside. Had to. He thinks. He hates thinking. He wants to know.
Robert changed the knot.
His room again. Either his room or the theater, and never Alfred’s rooms. The chair. He tied Alfred to it and then sank to his knees, and Alfred crooked his wrists and pulled at the loop and it didn’t give an inch so he looked down and saw. Robbie had his cock swallowed by then, and he didn’t look up when Alfred asked him what the hell was going on. He didn’t look up at all till he’d ripped one climax from Alfred, bound and raging and clueless, and then it was to bring his mouth to Alfred’s for the first time.
Alfred turned his head, and Robbie jerked it back and took his mouth, hard and merciless, nothing nice and friendly about it, pulling out the demand from some strange, untapped well in him. Somewhere where he wouldn’t put up with Alfred’s sharp words, where he’d simply take his big careful hands, hands that had turned down two extra engagements a week rather than smash canaries, and grind the heels of them into Alfred’s thighs till the flesh beneath them was bruised and limp and aching. And move his hands and do it again, and so by wear down Alfred till he was slumped beneath the other man, wrists raw beneath the tight cords and shoulders half-popped from the strain on them.
His body had given in, but he hadn’t quite—he couldn’t quite. He couldn’t—he swore at Robert and condemned him to hell even as his flesh gave in a second time, as he was already arching for Robert’s hands before the fresh splatters of white on his thighs had even dried. He threw words and Robert bit his lip and tongue for it, and pulled at his stiff swollen nipples and teased his prick in taunting reply. He snarled and spat when he ran out of words, and then chanted in his head when he ran out of breath. But the knots held. And Robert kissed him again, pressing close and deep while sliding palms between his legs.
I’m not what you think, his lips shaped.
Robert took him out of the chair, but left the ropes on. Though it wouldn’t have mattered now, cracked as he was, so wide that he couldn’t hold himself from falling open before the other man.
I’ve got a brother. A twin, he confessed soundlessly. We—we do—
He told Robert everything, gave it all up, as the other man buried himself in Alfred. Stripped himself bare, cut through the guarding knots and let it all flutter into the open, surrounding them as he broke. Betrayed it all, handed them on a silver platter to Robert.
* * *
Alfred couldn’t make it home afterwards. He couldn’t much do a walk, but that wasn’t really it; he just couldn’t take it by himself. Knowing it all…and so he bought a room above pub so thick with smoke it’d colored everything the same shade. Didn’t sleep, but instead huddled on the bed for the remainder of the night and well into the morning, thinking and fearing and wondering, just a little. Like he hadn’t in years.
But his brother tracked him down in the afternoon, angry and fearful himself, and then he had to tell some of it because it was all over him, bruises and bites, but he kept back—because he thought maybe--
The next time he saw Robert, the other man casually said it wasn’t going to work, the medium thing. They’d have to stop working on that and think of something else, and did he mind? Open, guileless mask firmly in place, so seamless that Alfred almost believed it. Almost.
He was so angry that moment, so angry that he wanted to say—but then Cutter ushered in a girl, the woman who had to be the possible new assistant, and he couldn’t. And by the time he and Robert could speak about it again, he’d remembered all the reasons why he shouldn’t and besides he wasn’t the only one making the decision. He couldn’t do it by himself.
* * *
His brother never has found out. Robbie long since gave up his say in it—when he proposed to that girl, to Julia, and married her when she would’ve counted herself the luckiest girl in the neighborhood if they’d just taken out their rooms together. But no, Robbie had said, he was trying to rid himself of his worse habits so he could keep up with things.
It’s not Julia’s fault. Alfred likes her, honestly, and can’t blame her any more than he can ever explain things to his twin. For all that they share…once in a while they know each other less than anyone. Anyway, he thinks, neither of them really need to know. It’s Robert he wants to scream at, Robert he wishes his cool words would slash through till the blood runs over the battered floorboards. Robert who’s why his vision blurs sometimes when they’re prepping Julia for the water-box trick and makes him confused as to when he is. It’s all Robert Angier.
I don’t know.
And that’s the truth for both of them.