And I never wanted anything from you
Except everything you had and
what was left after that too, oh
The halls of the Vanetti mansion are quiet, this time of night. Avilio thinks he ought to feel wary, walking through them alone, but he doesn't. There’s a brutal simplicity in being this close to his enemy’s heart: as long as Nero trusts him, he’s untouchable; otherwise he’s dead. No point in worrying which it’s going to be.
Nero’s office door is unlocked, and when he opens it he finds it’s unguarded, too. It’s just Nero, sitting with his feet up on his desk and a glass of whiskey in his hand.
“Hey,” he says, and looks up with a smile. “There you are.”
He was more worried than he thought, he realizes, when he feels the muscles in his back relax. If Nero called him here to kill him, he’d look more upset about it—he’s too easy to read. Avilio closes the door behind him and takes a few steps inside.
“Tigre said you wanted to see me.”
“Yeah.” Nero takes his feet down off the desk and picks up another glass. He fills it generously and slides it over. “Wanted to tell you we got eyes on Delphy meeting with the press. Rumor is he’s calling off the investigations.”
Avilio nods. “Good,” he says, and crosses the room, reaches for the drink.
Nero stops him with a fingertip on its rim. “They saw his wife and kid, too,” he says. “Guess they weren’t in the car when it blew up.”
Avilio raises his eyes to meet Nero’s, then takes the glass. “Lucky for them,” he says, and takes a sip.
“Yeah,” Nero says. His eyes are still trained on Avilio’s face, but Avilio doesn’t look away. Finally Nero lets out a soft laugh. “You’re not as heartless as you act, are you?”
Avilio’s pretty sure he’s more heartless—soulless, at least. But Nero’s got him on the family; something kept him from going that far. Nero knows by now he’s too thorough for mistakes.
“You think it was too big a risk?”
“I dunno,” Nero says, and puts an elbow on the table. “I thought so, didn’t I? I’m not saying I liked it.” He shakes his head. “Guess I have you to thank for keeping that off my conscience.” He smiles ruefully and raises his glass.
Avilio lifts his own in Nero’s direction and swallows the rest of it down, exhales as the burn of it spreads into his chest.
“Anyhow, looks like it worked.” Nero holds out his hand for Avilio’s glass, and Avilio gives it to him. “Cause for celebration,” he says, and empties the last of the whiskey bottle into it.
“There’s still people who want you dead,” Avilio says, but Nero is pushing up out of his chair, pressing the drink into Avilio’s chest.
“Yeah, yeah.” He picks up his own glass and goes around his desk to walk to the liquor cabinet across the room. “There’s always people who want me dead. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy being alive.” He secures a fresh bottle of Lawless Heaven under his arm and smirks as he unscrews the top. “You know anything about that?”
Avilio turns to lean against the edge of the desk. “What,” he says, “being alive?”
Nero rolls his eyes. “Enjoying it.”
There’s no honest answer he can give, so he just lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “I enjoy this,” he says, and lifts his glass. “And cigarettes.”
Nero fishes something out of his pocket, then, and throws it across the room. Avilio catches it automatically and looks down—it’s Nero’s lighter, warm in his palm. He’s got his own, but he takes the hint and pulls a cigarette from his pocket, lights it up.
It was a lie, he thought, but maybe he does enjoy the first drag of smoke chasing the alcohol into his gut. It’s pleasurable, at least; it eases something in him.
He sighs out a breath of smoke, and Nero smiles. “See? Better already.” He takes a swig from the bottle before he screws it shut. “Just wish I had some sugar cubes in here. You ever have something called an old fashioned?”
Avilio frowns and shakes his head.
“My mom used to drink them, back before she got sick. You take a glass like this, put a sugar cube in there with some water and bitters, mix it up nice and good. Then you put in an ice cube, fill it with whiskey, finish it off with an orange peel.” He grins. “Maybe a whole slice of orange for you. And some extra sugar cubes, too.”
Avilio snorts softly, but he can’t deny it sounds good. He’s never thought to ask for whiskey any way but straight.
“I’ll get Barbero to make you one sometime,” Nero says. “Might have to bribe him to mess with the recipe, though, he gets real pissy about it.”
Nero’s face is relaxed in an easy smile, and for a moment Avilio wonders what it would feel like to actually be his friend. He doesn’t like Nero, of course, but he understands why people do. One con artist to another, he can respect the handiwork of Nero’s charm.
What makes it so effective is that it’s not even an act; Nero probably doesn’t even know he’s doing it. It only takes lies to manipulate your enemies, but manipulating your friends to kill for you, to risk their lives for you, runs deeper. It’s a lifetime of bringing people into your confidence, making them feel recognized, making them believe you can laugh all their problems away.
Or at least, that’s what it is for Nero. That’s just the kind of guy Nero is, born with something that draws people in.
Once, when Avilio was a kid, he went skating with friends too early in the winter, and at the middle of the pond the ice around him cracked at all once, plunging him feet-first into the icy water. When they pulled him out and rushed him home, he thought his mother would be furious, but she didn’t say anything—just sat him down still drenched in front of the fire while she ran to fill the bath.
His body was so stiff and numb with cold that he couldn’t feel any heat, and he remembers wondering for a wild moment if he was dead. He reached out until he was almost touching the flames, and finally there was something—not warmth, but a jagged prickle of raw sensation in his palms.
What Nero has, he thinks, most people must experience as warmth.
“You never feel it, do you?”
Avilio’s head snaps up. Then Nero nods at his glass of whiskey, and Avilio lets out a breath. He shakes his head. “Alcohol helps me focus.”
Nero lets out a soft huff. “You know, a lot of guys say that, and they’re all full of shit,” he says. “But you…” He smiles wryly. “Is it crazy to say I can believe it?”
Avilio tilts his head back to swallow the rest of the liquor. “It’s their subconscious desires coming out when they drink,” he says. He sets the glass on the desk behind him. “I don’t have that.”
“Don’t have what? Desires?”
Nero snorts. “Okay, now you’re full of shit.”
“I’m an open book.” The corner of his mouth is raised, he realizes, and he wonders if Nero knows that he’s joking.
Joking. Is he joking? When he says it, it almost feels like the truth. The buried forces that drive other people are all on the surface, for him: one memory, one goal. Beneath that, there isn’t anything.
“Guess this’ll be easy, then.”
Avilio lifts his eyebrows, confused, but Nero just smiles.
“Hey,” he says, “I’ve been meaning to ask you. How’d you do that magic trick, back when we were at that camp?”
“You mean stealing your wallet?”
“And my belt. Seems like something that could come in handy.”
Avilio lifts his cigarette to his lips. “There’s no trick to it. I practiced.”
“Bullshit.” Nero smiles. “Thought you were an open book.”
He inhales through the cigarette and narrows his eyes. When Nero’s smile doesn’t let up, he takes it from his mouth and sighs. “You distract them,” he says. “Force their attention somewhere else and they don’t feel a thing.”
“Hmm.” Nero is frowning, thinking it through—such an open expression, Avilio thinks. How can someone like him afford to be so open? “Sounds easy when you say it like that.”
Avilio shrugs. “So does juggling. It’s the timing.”
“Got it.” Nero drains his glass and sets it on the cabinet shelf, then pushes his hands into his pockets. “Well, no other way to learn, right?”
Avilio watches, curious, as Nero crosses the room. He walks between the couches, right up to where Avilio is leaning against the desk. He’s strangely close, and his face is caught in something Avilio can’t read.
Avilio takes another drag from his cigarette. It could be suspicion on Nero’s face, and he thinks he ought to care. He’s not sure if it’s arrogance or apathy that leaves him relaxed. Smoke rises between them, clouding Nero’s face, and when it dissipates the expression is gone.
“Alright, then,” Nero says. Then he reaches up, takes the cigarette from Avilio’s mouth, and replaces it with his lips.
Avilio startles, shock coursing through his body far too late. Nero pulls back, and what Avilo thinks first is that he’s full of shit—of course the alcohol gets to him. Nero’s face is so close, and his senses are slowed; he can’t make himself move. He should have thought of this. He should know what to do.
He doesn’t. Nero is watching him, and now Avilio recognizes his expression as uncertain. He draws in a painful breath.
Later, he’ll decide he figured out quickly what to do; he’ll tell himself he took these upended pieces and fit them back onto the board.
The truth is that he doesn’t think at all. He lifts his face and touches his mouth to Nero’s again, and apparently that's enough. Nero makes a low sound, takes his face in one palm, and then is kissing him.
Avilio’s mind goes blank. He was stabbed once, caught picking an unwise pocket, and the experience wasn’t dissimilar to this—like his body is something far away. He’s clinging to Nero’s shoulder like a boulder in a rushing river, the only thing keeping him alive. When he surfaces, Nero’s arm is caging him in, Nero’s mouth is pressed to his and it’s… it’s… he doesn’t know what it is. He should hate it. He’s not sure if he does.
Nero releases him, and he gasps for breath. He’s still clutching Nero’s shoulder, and he can't make himself let go.
Nero observes him for a moment, then smiles. “You’re right,” he says, and lifts his hand to reveal Avilio’s suspenders. “All in the timing.”
He winks, and suddenly Avilio feels his throat convulse into a hoarse sound. It’s laughter, or something close. It’s ridiculous. It shouldn’t make him want to laugh.
Nero smiles. “Alright, maybe that’s cheating.” He puts the suspenders down and lays his hand on Avilio’s hip, pins him gently against the desk. His other hand is resting on Avilio’s collarbone, fingers brushing his neck. “I know other tricks, though.”
Dryness catches Avilio’s throat, and he swallows it down. He feels like all his skin is too tight, and he wonders if that’s normal, if it’s part of this. He wonders if Nero will believe that he wants it. He lifts his chin. “Show me,” he says.
“Yeah,” Nero murmurs, and presses a warm hand to his stomach as he leans in.
Avilio is ready, now, or thinks he is. He holds himself like he’s preparing for a blow, but this time Nero is gentle—kissing the corner of his mouth, his lower lip, pressing a thumb to his chin. Avilio lets his eyes close, lets Nero ease his mouth open, lets Nero kiss him—
His throat seizes, and what leaves it this time is a strange, helpless sound.
“God,” Nero mutters, and sighs harsh again his lips, kisses him again.
He can’t breathe, can’t move. He can’t feel anything but the heat of Nero’s body sinking into his skin. He gasps a little, tilts his head, and when Nero’s tongue slides into his mouth it’s like paper touching a flame. Heat curls up from his stomach in waves, and it shouldn’t feel like this—God, as if he knows. As if he’s ever let himself wonder what his body might want. Nero’s hand is solid, holding him in place, and he doesn’t want to be let go.
He moans, unthinking, and Nero growls against his mouth. Then Nero’s hand is at the waist of his trousers, ripping until the first button pops free, and Avilio freezes again as Nero yanks him away from the desk and tosses him onto the nearest couch. He’s on his back, defenseless; if this were a fight he’d be dead. But the fire in Nero’s eyes tempers, and when he puts a knee down to hover over him, his hand goes only lightly to Avilio’s chest.
“You haven’t done this before, have you?”
He can’t even think to lie—he shakes his head tightly.
“God,” Nero murmurs, and Avilio wonders if it was the right answer, after all. Then Nero’s hand slips downward and he forgets to care. He didn’t even realize he was aroused; it’s never felt like this. Nero’s knuckles bump roughly over his erection, and it’s never felt anything like this. He gasps, his body curling forward.
“It’s alright.” Nero catches his shoulder, breathes close to his ear. “Relax.”
“I’m fine,” Avilio gets out. He’s not sure where that comes from; pride, or the awful thought that Nero might stop.
“Good,” Nero says, and undoes his trousers fully.
It’s nothing different, Avilio thinks, lifting his face as Nero leans to kiss him. He meant to do whatever it took to get Nero close—if he’d known it could be this easy, he would have done it from the start. Let Nero think what he wants, let him do what he wants—
Nero catches his lip between his teeth, and he barely holds back a cry. Nero’s hand is deftly freeing the buttons of his underwear, and then it’s firm around his cock, and he’s full of shit, of course he feels Nero’s warmth—he’s burning with it; he can’t think of anything else. Nero’s other hand is cradling his back, holding him close, and it feels— it feels like nothing he’s felt before. It feels like being wanted. Sensation tears through him violently, and he can’t do anything but grasp at the starched fabric of Nero’s shirt, stifle a choked noise in his shoulder.
“Hell,” Nero mutters, a wild look coming over him as he pulls away. “I… fuck,” he says, and then tugs at Avilio’s pants, moves back and bends down.
The heat of his breath alone is almost too much; when he licks at the head of Avilio’s cock, whatever pride Avilio had left falls into ash. He’s crying out openly, his head jerking back against the couch as Nero takes him into his mouth. He claws at Nero’s shoulders, pushes up his hips, feels like he’s going to die—
He’s pretty sure the whole mansion can hear him wail as he comes, his throat unbound and his body trembling. He throws an arm over his eyes and moans again as a final shock goes up his spine. He can’t figure out if he should be horrified or glad if they hear; can hardly remember why it matters.
He moves his arm to see Nero staring down at him, cheeks flushed. He watches as Nero licks the corner of his mouth clean.
“Should’ve guessed,” Nero says, and starts to grin, lopsided, as he moves up Avilio’s body, looms over his face. “Sweet as candy.”
It must just be the high of it, but Avilio really does laugh, this time, and when Nero’s grin widens, he doesn’t feel like he can stop.
“Shit,” Nero hisses. His fingers are fumbling with the fly of his own trousers, and Avilio reaches up to help. He pulls the last button free, and Nero exhales, his head dropping limply as he pushes his hand inside. With a few quick movements, his breaths lose their rhythm, and without thinking Avilio tugs him down, crushes their mouths together again.
Nero’s groan hits like an explosion reverberating through his body. Nero holds him down with one forearm and kisses him, then groans again as he shudders in release.
He collapses heavily against the back of the couch. “God, Avilio,” he sighs, and for the first time in years the name sounds wrong.
“Nero,” Avilio says, to keep himself from saying Angelo.
Nero shifts in his seat, tips his head back toward the ceiling. “I didn’t… I wasn’t—sure,” he says. “If that…” He lets out a long sigh and closes his eyes, seems to abandon the thought.
If it was what he wanted? He doesn’t know what he could have done to make Nero believe it was. It doesn’t matter, though—he did want this: a surefire way to solidify Nero’s trust. All he needs is to learn to play the part of a lover, and next time he won’t be so incompetent at it. Next time he’ll be ready, he’ll take control—
“Next time I wanna fuck you,” Nero murmurs sleepily, and Avilio chokes on a gasp. Nero blinks an eye open at him. “No?”
He should say yes, but his throat won’t move.
“Mmm.” Nero opens his other eye, smiles. “No pressure.”
“Maybe,” he manages.
Nero laughs softly and sighs under his breath: “God, you’re sweet.”
Avilio can’t think of a word that describes him less, but of course it’s not like Nero would know. He doesn’t have what Nero has; all he can do is lie.
He sits up and pulls his pants back on, makes the most of his disheveled clothes. His shirt is missing a button that he can’t be bothered to search for, and his suspenders are still on Nero’s desk. He goes to put them on, but his fingers feel heavy and uncoordinated; he can’t manage to get the clasp open for the last one on his back.
“C’mere,” Nero says, behind him.
He frowns and keeps trying, and after a moment he hears Nero heave himself off the couch.
“Here.” Nero does it for him, then lets his hands linger, knuckles warm against Avilio’s back. Sparks rise under Avilio’s skin, and he thinks again about his frozen palms, how they tingled and burned. The pain was worse than numbness, but at least it meant he was alive. “You alright?”
“Of course,” Avilio lies, and turns around. “Just tired.” That part is true; he feels like his legs might give out.
Nero reaches up and touches his face, and for a moment his brows are furrowed. Then his face relaxes. “Get some sleep,” he says, and before Avilio can react, leans in and kisses him again.
It doesn't feel like pain, but it has to be, this feeling burning through his chest.
“Yeah,” he says. He touches Nero’s arm, then starts to walk away. Nero can’t see him, but he smiles anyhow; he needs to play the role. “Next time,” he says, and feels his smile widen when Nero chuckles behind him.
“Next time,” Nero echoes. “Can't wait.”