Owen’s got a split lip, so Curt assumes he’s not getting kissed tonight. But all it means is that the kiss tastes like copper, and every once in a while Owen will pull back and hiss in pain and Curt will say “ah shit, baby, did I hurt you?” and Owen won’t even answer, will just pull him back in, with a hand in his hair. Owen kisses him that night like Curt’s lips can take his pain away. Like Curt could heal him just through touch.
They're not going any further that night, not with the recently stitched up stab wound on Curt’s lower abdomen.
(“Where’d you learn to sew?”
“Are you criticizing my technique, Curt? I learned from you.”)
Curt watched Owen get punched in the jaw. And worse. Tied back to back in chairs like every cliché. Watching henchmen, who will someday in his memory be nameless and faceless, circle them like vultures. He can hardly move anyway, wrists restrained against armrests for maximum vulnerability of all the sensitive bones in his fingers.
It’s like a game of Clue with the weapons they’ve laid out. The rope and the revolver and the knife and the lead pipe. And all they’re missing is a candlestick.
And anyway, speaking of that pipe, it’s when one of the men picks it up and weighs it in his hand, and walks over to Owen that Curt blurts out a “No!” without thinking. And then everything pauses. And Curt hears the sound of a light snicker, and himself muttering a swear under his breath, and then the sound of metal hitting flesh and, God, what an awful sound that is. Before this, they hadn’t been able to break Curt, had barely gotten him to react. Lord, is he reacting now.
And Curt can’t even see what they’re doing behind his back, has to surmise it all from the noises.
And Owen keeps stuttering out reassurances. “Don’t tell them anything. I’m alright, I’ll be alright. Don’t worry about me.”
And Curt tries. He really tries.
But it’s when Owen actually screams for the first time that the first tears fall.
And it’s also around that time that he gets one hand free from its cuff.
And when another henchman strolls over to him and says “Are you actually cryin’ over him? Wait, fuck, are you two--?” Curt reaches out and grabs his wrist, wrestles the weapon out of it, frees his other hand and then kills every person in that room except for him and Owen like he’s knocking down dominoes. He’ll never know what that man was going to ask, but he’s got a feeling he knows, and it wasn’t going to be very polite, and it sure as hell wasn’t any of his business.
He undoes Owen’s bindings with care and then Owen collapses, just tips forward into his arms. He falls, from the stress, from the pain in his leg making it hard to stand, from the relief, he falls. And Curt is there to catch him.
Owen mumbles something that might have been “I love you” with his head pressed up against Curt’s chest.
And Curt just holds Owen, holds him close.
As far as Owen is concerned, the only thing in the world that exists is this embrace.
As far as Curt is concerned, they’re standing in a room full of corpses.
And what follows is a very tense car ride with streetlamps and stop lights melting into fading psychedelic streaks as both men try to get their bearings. And a hotel room, and an understocked first aid kit.
And Curt wants to apologize, feels like the whole thing is his fault, but he says ‘I’m--” and his lips are still forming the “S” in “Sorry” when Owen says, “Kiss me?”
And so he does.
“Did you ever play with matches, Mega?”
This is Owen’s idea of a conversation starter.
Owen used to play with matches. Owen used to watch ants and think about magnifying glasses but never go through with it. He was more interested in just watching them anyway, how they move, how they all work together, in silent coordinated lines. An ant can lift 50 times their own body weight. They carry the whole world away with them into their anthills. Everything in single file.
Owen’s parents weren’t home a lot, and Owen got quite good at extinguishing fires.
Curt bought Owen an engraved lighter for his birthday one year, and Owen watches the flame.
He lights his cigarette, from a pack of Chesterfield brand that he bought at the airport and turns to Curt, and says, “I hate that I know these are bad for me, killing me, even. But I just can’t stop.”
And Curt replies, “I know the feeling” and he thinks he’s referring to the flask of whiskey he’s got in his jacket pocket.
He stares at Owen when the cigarette makes its tiny journey from in and out of the space between his lips, and he watches the exhalation of smoke dissipate into the air. And so with it go his own thoughts. Nothing refined remains. Just the fixation on Owen’s fingers and lips and the way he closes his eyes to savor the taste and the way he opens his eyes and catches Curt staring and smirks. Curt thinks he’d like to wipe that smirk off his face, but there’s no more malice in the thought than there is desire. If he wants to quit so bad, then Curt can pin his wrists so he can’t reach for another and occupy his mouth so he can’t smoke the one he’s got. He wonders if he can get secondhand smoke from a kiss. He decides it would be worth it.
Owen hasn’t flicked his lighter off yet, hasn’t dimmed the life out of it. He watches Curt through the flame and thinks it means something. Thinks it makes a very pretty visual: the light, and the way flame dances in the wind, and Curt, rock solid, firmly in place, the weight of gravity incarnate. He wonders if he could be the force to move him.
A few years later, it will be a cold night in Russia, and it will be Curt moving, and Owen laying perfectly still, save for the twitching. And the building will rumble and then blow. And Owen will think a lot of things. The word “coward” will drift through his mind a lot. He will feel heat, and then the burst of flame and light will enter his vision from the peripheral moving inwards. And the visual will feel almost familiar.
And Owen will think “It’s beautiful.”
“Good morning, sunshine.”
The greeting slips out from Curt’s mouth as if on reflex, as he blinks awake to the feeling of Owen pressing light and gentle kisses to his cheek and along his jawline. He reaches up a hand to pet Owen’s hair and Owen smiles against his skin and nuzzles into the crook of his neck. Curt’s warm, runs warm by nature, and Owen just wants to hold on right now. Hold on forever, maybe.
Eventually the mission, and more pressingly, the need for caffeine in their bloodstream, will force them both out of bed. But for now, Owen is content to lay partially on top of Curt, and Curt is content to hit the snooze button once, maybe twice, maybe three times if Owen will kiss him like that again.
And of course, Owen will. Owen will kiss him a thousand times more it meant they could only be like this forever. Exactly in this moment. In a hotel room paid for with government money, in each other’s arms, sunlight streaming in through cream-colored curtains. It resembles a very vague idea of what heaven looks like. And that makes Curt his angel.
Owen wonders if maybe they could blow off this day of the mission.
He’ll blame it on divine intervention.
Curt Mega hustles at pool.
Curt Mega hustles at pool so that Owen Carvour will come up behind him and “teach” him the right way to hold a cue stick. Owen’s hand finds its way to Curt’s arm to shift it just a little forward. And the other settles on hip almost teasingly, almost like Owen knew he’d want it there. He’s subtle. They’re in public. And they’re not even together yet. But that hand is on his hip plain as day. He’s pressed up against Curt from behind, impossibly close. The expression might be “too close for comfort” but despite himself, Curt feels very comforted. Because Owen’s voice is in his ear and he whispers “See? You’re a natural.” and that accent does something to him, and he tries not to visibly shiver.
And then Owen, with that hand on his hip, tips Curt forward, just slightly, just so that he’s a little lower, a little more level, adjusts his stance. And Curt would be lying if he said his thoughts in that moment were entirely clean and innocent.
“So, this is how it feels.” he thinks, despite himself, “To be bent over a table by Owen Carvour.”
Curt eyes the six ball from across the emerald surface of the table. Looms over it like a lion over a savanna, surveying the domain spread before him. Not quite sprawling, much less than infinite. Curt feels lucky.
This moment, this exact second, with the two of them existing in the same space is almost perfect. But time doesn’t stop. And Curt knows that this is the exact second that the facade has to crumble.
And suddenly, as if on the snap of fingers, Curt is calling pockets and sinking shots. One by one. Skill, strategy, and as Owen would put it, “spot on aim”. The clicks of billiard balls against each other echo over the bar chatter. And Owen says “You cheat. You knew how to play pool.” Curt flashes a mischievous grin.
“Obviously, Carvour.” he teases, with a roll of his eyes.
“I knew it.” Owen squints at him. Curt wonders if he’s seeing more of his motives than just a cheap trick to win a quick game.
“If you knew it, then why’d you bet?”
That shuts Owen up.
Curt wins. Owen pays for the next round of drinks.
Curt wishes he could pull the same hustle more than once, but now Owen is wise to the game. What he doesn’t know is that Owen would let him pull that hustle. Again. And again. And again.
“God, don’t cry.” Curt blurts out. It’s less than comforting. It’s far from delicate. He wasn’t thinking.
A sound escapes Owen’s throat that sounds like a strangled sob that he has no control over.
Curt feels guilt settle in his stomach like an anchor, pulling him lower and lower into the depths. Until he’s on the sea floor looking up.
But it’s Owen struggling to breathe, between streaks on salty tears that run down his face. And Curt feels guilty for having the audacity to feel guilty.
It’s just that he’s never seen Owen break down like this. His mask of composure, suave demeanor, shattered in pieces on the floor.
“You could have died.” he chokes out.
He did not say “we”. It would be accurate to say “we”. They were both in danger. But he does not say “we.”
“I’m sorry.” he says next. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve-- I should’ve paid better attention.”
Curt almost wants to laugh. He was usually the one losing focus, getting distracted, picking up little things and fidgeting with them. And Owen was usually so collected, so understanding. The quiet, almost gentle, beeping of a timer can fade so easily into the background, like a distant lullaby.
“Hey, come on now. It wasn’t so bad. We made it out.” he gives a shaky smile. “We’re both alive.”
Owen tips his head up to look at him, eyes still watery. Full body shuddering. The expression on his face, God, Curt would never say “pathetic”, “pitiful”, or even “desperate”. But he doesn’t have a word for it otherwise. He just knows that it breaks his heart.
“Look, I’m right here.” he holds out a hand, and Owen takes it. Squeezes like he needs the physical confirmation that he’s still alive.
Curt turns their hands over and presses a light kiss to Owen’s knuckles. “You don’t have anything to apologize for, baby. But if you need to hear it, I forgive you.”
Owen lets out one more tear before wiping it away with the back of his free hand. “Thank you.”
Curt grins easily and is relieved when Owen manages to return it. “Don’t mention it. Besides,” He brings his hand up so that he can rest his cheek on the back of Owen’s hand. “We set a record today.”
“Yeah?” Owen asks. Curt can tell that he’s calming down, his breathing becomes steadier.
“Mhmm.” Curt confirms. “We’ve never gotten out of a place so fast.”
“Only six minutes.”
Curt has a still-healing bruise on his left ribs when Owen takes him out on their first date. A real date. God, Curt could swoon. In the shadowy back corner of an expensive restaurant.
“Where no one will even look at us.” Owen had said, “It’ll be like we’re invisible.”
Owen made the reservations. Owen, classy and suave and looks good in a tux, has the kind of connections that let him do that. The kind of connections that mean no one asks questions. Owen subtly slides a flower across the table, a violet rose, and when Curt accepts it, their fingers brush against each other, and maybe Curt is just a little more drunk on wine than he intended to be, but suddenly he feels like he believes in magic.
Owen keeps staring into his eyes, so he stares back, becomes well-acquainted with the void of his pupils. He has stars in his eyes, truly, and Curt watches the cosmos swirl in his irises like he’s falling under a spell. Slipping into a trance.
Maybe it’s the lighting of the place, accentuating the shadows. Or the indigo night sky outside. But Owen looks like a work of art.
“Beautiful.” he mumbles distractedly, interrupting Owen’s monologue that he managed to zone out during and miss a lot of, too caught up in the majesty of the visual.
“What was that?” Owen stirs, leaving his previous train of thought in the dust.
“The flower.” Curt quickly justifies. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”
Owen clears his throat and averts his eyes, like maybe he was hoping for a different response, one that Curt didn’t have the guts to say.
Still, he persists, even blushing slightly now with newfound nervousness.
“Anyway, as I was saying…”
And then he turns his head both ways, checking that the coast is clear.
“Agent Curt Mega, I think I may be in love with you.”
Curt wears his nicest suit to Owen’s first funeral. He tells himself that it’s what Owen would’ve wanted. When he looks in the mirror, he straightens his tie and tries not to think about how Owen would’ve just done it for him. How his hands were always so clumsy, and Owen’s hands were always so graceful. He tries not to think about how Owen would’ve talked him out of drinking last night too. Might’ve intervened physically if he had to, taken him carefully by the wrist and set the glass down. And then he wouldn’t be hungover for his own partner’s funeral. He’s asked to speak, because he knew Owen best, and he tries to stutter out some kind words before he spirals into complete self-loathing, or worse, reveals how well he actually knew him. There isn’t a coffin, because there isn’t a body. But there is a headstone, and there is a polite bouquet that gets crumpled in Curt’s fist from how hard he’s clenched it to keep himself from crying. And when the crowd departs, there is just Curt, alone, in front of an empty grave, wishing it hadn’t gone like this.
No one gathers the second time, but they do bury Owen, because that’s just what you do with dead bodies. And Curt wears a nice suit, despite everything, because it’s a funeral, at least in his eyes. He’s sober, through and through, and all too aware of everything that happens around him. The air is still, and foggy, dark clouds pull into the sky. It might rain. Curt didn’t bring an umbrella. His mind wanders. He thinks about guns. Guns pointed at each other. Guns, and their barrels. He’d never seen the business end up close like that before. It’s hard for him to assume anything other than the fact that Owen thought Curt would be the one in a grave by now. Owen thought he was going to win. He let Curt have the low ground, let him look so helpless, sobbing and turning away. Took the time to gloat, to give him his advice. And then Curt used that same advice against him. Won. The hustle. Curt lets out a sob into the emptiness, the no one gathered here today, the non-existent procession. This doesn’t feel like a victory. It feels like Curt, alone, in front of a grave, wishing it hadn’t gone like this.
There are things left behind. There always are. Curt still has all the scars, littered across his skin like lightning festering in a cloud. And the dental implant, paid for with agency money, before he was let go. A calla lily that he lifted from a floral arrangement, one of the many he finds himself leaving at Owen’s grave, even still, sitting by itself in a little vase on an end table in his apartment. Grainy photographs from files. Blurry candids that he wasn't allowed to keep, but kept anyway, and keeps even still. And now neither of their careers would be in jeopardy anyway. Diary pages that make Curt curse himself for not being better at reading cursive. Postcards from European cities with names he can’t pronounce. Nails bit shorter than he’d like from nervousness. Unkissed lips that get chapped in the winter. Hazy dreams, half-forgotten memories. Cold trauma-induced sweats and somber silences. One heartbeat. Empty sheets. Extra roll of gauze in his first aid kit. Unsent letters that make too-big confessions. Stolen hotel towels. Recovered trinkets from a now unused desk. A vague sense of longing that drifts into the room like a ghost and hangs in his heart long past its welcome like an uninvited guest. A little less sugar in his morning coffee. A little earlier wake-up each day. A wish on a star that can’t hear him. A mumbled misremembered prayer. A slight guilty trembling in his hands. An echo in his mind that calls him a “hero”. An emotion he has no better word for than “hope”. A sense of victory, despite everything.
When Curt looks in the mirror, he stares until his vision blurs, until he swears he can practically see his own soul.
He tries to promise himself that he is still the same man.
And if he keeps looking long enough, he can see the colors split, like light through a prism.
It is brighter than he expected.
Despite everything, it is beautiful.