His father kept three guns in a locked cabinet in the office.
Wylan was always acutely aware of them, growing up. Their presence weighed on the back of his mind. The guns were there, the guns were loaded, and he knew how to unlock the cabinet, and he knew how to fire them.
They were for protection, his father said. They were insurance – perhaps not especially effective against anything that managed to get past the hired guards, but insurance nevertheless. In the event of an attempted burglary, they could fend off a thief, prevent him from making off with any of the Van Eck fortune. In the event of an attack – the Van Eck family hardly lacked personal enemies – they could provide defense. His father’s aim, like most other things about him, was precise, and Wylan did not doubt that he would shoot anyone or anything he perceived as a threat, without hesitation.
No one could ever say his father lacked resolve.
They were Wylan’s own personal security too, in a way. Their presence meant that, if things ever got really bad, to the point where he simply couldn’t take it anymore, he had a way out. A last resort.
It helped him, to know he had the option. To feel he had control over that, at least – if not over the way in which he lived, at least over whether he lived at all.
He’d come close to using them, several times. The day his father had first physically hit him - that evening, he’d crept downstairs to the office, fetched the key to the cabinet, laid his palm on the door, stood there for a long time. The day he’d realized what it meant, the way he felt about male bodies and the way he didn’t feel about female bodies – that night, he’d unlocked the door, stared at the inside of the cabinet, reached a trembling hand toward a pistol, drawn it back at the last second. The day his father had told him he’d be more useful dead, when at least his life insurance money would do his family some good – that was when he had come closest, had held that pistol to his head, standing amid the broken shafts of moonlight that passed through the window, waiting – for what, he didn’t know. He had felt the weight of the gun in his hand, its cold barrel against his temple; felt the emptiness inside him and known it was capable of swallowing him whole; felt its siren’s call and been desperate to answer.
In the end, he hadn’t done it, hadn’t pulled the trigger. Another way in which he’d disappoint his father, Wylan supposed. He lacked the resolve to follow through on what he’d begun. Still, though, it was a long time before he had slowly, reluctantly, lowered the gun, replaced it in the cabinet, dragged himself back up the stairs to lay wide awake in bed all night.
Since then, he had avoided guns at all costs. He couldn’t trust himself with an object like that in his hands. He couldn’t be sure what he would do in that situation, and it terrified him.
Until Jesper, anyway.
Jesper calls his guns by pet names, croons to them and caresses them, kisses them and whispers to them. He carries them at all times, relies on them, treats them more like friends than weapons. Some days Wylan wonders how he’s fallen for a boy so comfortable with the objects which he fears above all others, but he quickly dismisses any such thoughts. It isn’t Jesper he doesn’t trust, it is himself.
But as the days go by, as he lives in this house and works in this house and knows that it is his and not his father’s, he grows tired of doubting himself. As the weeks stretch on and his father does not attack him, is not around to hurt him any longer, he grows more confident. As the months pass and he and Jesper become closer and closer, begin sharing a life and a bed, he grows less lonely, less frightened, more at peace.
Tonight, Wylan cannot fall asleep. He lies awake, motionless, eyes open and fixated on the ceiling, thinking, remembering. He remembers the feeling of a logbook crashing into the side of his head, a slap across his face. He remembers the way he felt those nights, the desperation, the fear, the pain and hatred and loneliness and misery that had driven him down those stairs and into that office.
The cabinet in the office is gone now – the first thing he’d done when they moved into the house was to have it removed, its guns sold or buried or destroyed or otherwise disposed of – but there is still a pair of guns in the house.
Wylan slides out of bed slowly, carefully so as not to wake Jesper, lying next to him; he walks softly across the room to the window, gently picks up one of Jesper’s beautiful pistols from the table where they lie, tossed down haphazardly moments before bed – he keeps urging Jesper to find a proper place to put them at night, to lock them away, to keep them out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, but Jesper doesn't seem to see the point, always laughs at his request, thinking it an obsession with order.
The door is locked, and the only other person who’s in here is you, Wylan. Who exactly do you want to keep them away from?
Wylan hasn't explained, hasn't yet been ready to share that chapter of his life with others, so he has not pressed the issue, has simply steered clear of the table they lie on - until now.
He turns the gun over and over in his hands. His heart rate has sped up out of habit, warning him to put that thing down before you hurt yourself, but he ignores it.
He does not intend to hurt himself – not tonight, not with this gun. He simply wants to move on, to properly say goodbye to the days when he might have.
It’s difficult to believe that this object is of the same species as the one that nearly ended his life a few months ago. That pistol was cold, heavy, and murderous; this one feels more like a sculpture, a work of art, than a weapon. He holds it, and he knows, objectively, that it could kill him, but he also knows that it never will.
So this is what it feels like, he thinks. To know you want to be alive.
He hears a faint stirring across the room, a shifting of sheets, a faint sigh, and knows Jesper is shifting. Restless, that boy, even in his sleep. Wylan places the gun back on the table and pulls the window curtain aside a little, looks out the window at the moon over the city rooftops. Kaz is out there, somewhere, probably still awake even at this hour of night, probably plotting some nefarious scheme even now. Inej, too, is somewhere nearby, working her way into slavers’ worst nightmares one day at a time, as is Nina, doing – actually, he has no idea what Nina is doing now. He hopes that whatever it is, she can find a way to be happy again in the process. And, of course, Jesper is right behind him, asleep in the bed they share. There are so many people, now, who care about him; so many who, in some way or another, are glad he is alive.
The pain of his father’s hatred hasn’t gone away, not entirely, and he doubts that they ever will, but it’s not all he has anymore, and that is enough.
He lets the curtain fall back into place, turns around, and heads back to bed. He lies down as carefully as he can, but Jesper is a light sleeper, and Wylan’s return is enough to bring him halfway around.
“Wylan?” he mumbles, rolling over to face him. “Is it morning already?”
“Not yet,” says Wylan, “a few hours still,” and he leans forward into Jesper’s semiconscious embrace, where he knows he’ll always feel safe.