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In Love and War

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Security kicked down the door three minutes and thirty seconds after shots were fired in the Mahogany Suite. Winston checked his pocket watch as he strolled into the suite behind his team, wrinkling his nose at the smell of cordite lingering in the air. He surveyed the room with the weary eye of a man with decades of experience in the particular eccentricities of Continental guests and exhaled.

“A misunderstanding, I hope,” Winston said, eyeballing the two men frozen in a tangle on the couch.

Santino D’Antonio recovered first, straightening up over the long limbs beneath him. Flushed and slightly dishevelled, the Camorristi scion’s handsome face crumpled into an angry snarl. He swallowed his famous temper—barely—and lowered the pistol he held, smoothing a thick curl of dark hair out of his eyes. “A misunderstanding,” Santino said with a thick Italian accent.

The tall man Santino sat on brushed shells and spent bullets off his belly as though dusting himself free of crumbs. Faint burn marks on the flank of his bulletproof suit and the lack of blood indicated that Santino had fired point-blank into the jacket, expending the whole clip. The Arrangement’s most famous wetwork specialist looked more tired than resigned. At Winston’s pointed stare, John Wick nodded slowly.

At a gesture, security filed out of the room and closed the busted door the best they could behind them. “I’ll have someone come up to fix that in due course,” Winston said, when John said nothing. “I trust that they won’t also be shot to make a point?”

Santino made a dismissive gesture with the gun. John tensed, his gaze flicking to the muzzle, but he nodded again.

“Jonathan. A word, if I may.” Winston inclined his head at the door. John glanced up at Santino, and Santino bared his teeth in a soundless snarl. Santino thumbed the safety on the pistol, and it disappeared up his suit as Santino got off, pointedly kneeing John in the stomach as he went.

John followed Winston in silence to a spare suite at the end of the floor. He did not look like a man who had just been shot several times at point-blank through bulletproof fabric, even though his ribs were likely cracked. As Winston closed the door, John’s stare flicked to the doorknob, then to the windows, casing the room.

“Sorry,” John said.

“You weren’t the one who fired the gun.”

“Should’ve gone to my house.” John sounded reflective.

“Where nobody would’ve found your body?”

John stared at Winston. His eyes were unreadable as always, a dog’s eyes, warm and unsettlingly trusting. Winston had once seen John shoot a man—outside Continental grounds, of course—and retain the same warm, trusting look even as John watched his victim die. In John, there was a yawning void where finer emotions were meant to sit. He could love and he could hate; Winston had seen John do both. Yet even as John came to either with reluctance, he was conditioned to do so with a drawn gun, an ingrained discipline that he loathed. What could John do about that, though? That was the way of their world.

“Or Santino’s body,” Winston said. John shuddered, closing his eyes, his hands curling into fists: the only sign of the depth of his self-hatred. “You can’t use the Continental as a crutch. It wouldn’t work. No one here can stop you from doing anything.”

“You could,” John rasped.

“You’re a grown man.” Winston pursed his lips. “Besides, Santino might inherit the System’s seat at the High Table. He’s hardly powerless.” Winston gestured at the burnt marks on John’s jacket. “Far be it for me to judge, but a man who’d shoot his partner for daring to be half an hour late to a dinner appointment is not the sort of person I would want in my life. If I were you.”

John said nothing, gingerly probing his ribs with his fingers. He did not act as though he had heard. After a sufficient period of silence, Winston waved John away and returned to his office, where he found the Continental’s Night Manager waiting. Tisiphone smiled as Winston circled his desk and settled heavily into his chair, folding her arms across her chest. Her real name was no more Tisiphone than Winston’s was Winston, but there was something of the Erinyes she was named after as she tracked her cool stare over his face.

“Trouble with Mister Wick?” Tisiphone asked, her red mouth curling into a tight smile.

“As usual,” Winston said.

“This is what happens when you play favourites. They begin to take things for granted.”

Tisiphone had never liked John, an unshakeable dislike that Winston considered irrational. “He’s unstable,” Tisiphone liked to say whenever questioned on the issue. Winston knew better. He’d been there when John met Tisiphone for the first time, bloody and favouring an arm. As she smiled and checked him in, John mumbled his thanks in atrocious Mandarin. The smile had gone tight and flat on Tisiphone’s face.

“Nor should any Manager of any Continental succumb to anything as petty as dislike.”

Tisiphone sniffed, undaunted by the gentle reproach in Winston’s tone. “He’s dangerous.”

“He’s predictable, and predictable people are all useful. One way or the other.”

“You should bar him from the Continental. John lives in New York. He doesn’t need to visit the Continental.”

“John’s finger wasn’t on the trigger.” Winston poured himself a glass of whisky from the cabinet at his desk. “Drink?”

“Not while I’m working.” Tisiphone inclined her head stiffly and stalked out of Winston’s room, her heels clicking away on hardwood. Left alone, Winston pressed the glass to his temple, closing his eyes.

#

Santino was in a venomous mood by the time John limped back to the suite, as far as John could tell, curled on the armchair with his shoes up on the coffee table, gun tossed over the glass. John waited, but when Santino regarded him in cold silence, he walked over to the bathroom to check the damage.

John’s skin had bruised up in shades of red against his ribs. As John sifted through the bathroom cabinet for painkillers, Santino stalked into the bathroom. Santino’s gaze met John’s through the mirror before sliding down to regard the bruises. He hummed, closing the distance, nuzzling John’s shoulders and tickling his fingers over John’s belly. “What did the Manager want?” Santino asked in Italian.

“The usual,” John replied in kind.

“You’re the one who insists on the Continental for our trysts.” Santino pressed mocking kisses over the tip of the cross inked on John’s back, then the letters. John pressed against the touch anyway, scathing as it was meant to be. He swallowed the moan that tickled his throat, closing his fingers over the sink. Pain and lust twisted together uncomfortably, anticipation seething in John’s gut. John could imagine his fingers sinking into Santino’s throat just as easily as he could imagine pulling Santino into an embrace, on a sliding scale that teetered on the very edge of his control.

“John,” Santino said. He smirked over the line of John’s shoulders, his gaze knowing. Holding John’s eyes, he mouthed gentler kisses against John’s throat, until the moan shivered out over John’s tongue. “Do you ever think of killing me, John?” the Devil whispered, his laughter brushing the back of John’s neck in an intimate caress. John’s hands tightened over the sink. “I know you do.” Santino pressed his fingertips lightly into the first of John’s new bruises, that sat just under his heart. “I’ve lived with people like you my whole life.” Santino pressed himself closer with a low hum.

John sucked in a soft breath as he felt the evidence of Santino’s arousal against his ass. “People as talented as you are usually live alone. Entombing themselves in a quiet house, waiting to be loosed on a target. But sometimes… hmm… sometimes something more interesting happens.” Fingers tickled up to the second of John’s bruises, pressing harder. John’s moan tangled up against clenched teeth.

“Sometimes, people like you fall in love. You have three options. You could lie and hope for the best, but you know that turning off what you are isn’t like flicking a light switch. You cannot be one of the sheep when you are a wolf. Someday you will have to eat, and the violence of your hunger can break one way or the other.” Santino’s touch was lighter against the third bruise, the one that sat in an ugly blotch over a rib.

“You could walk away. The safest option, all things considered.” Santino dug his thumb into the next bruise, hard enough that John hissed. His cock pulsed, pushed where it was against the sink and John’s pants.

“Or you could be true to yourself. You could choose another wolf.” Santino nuzzled John’s throat, breathing slowly as he tickled down to the last bruise against John’s belly. “You could bite back your hunger. Build safeguards. Hope that the other wolf devours you first. Because that would be a relief, hmm?” Santino curled his warm fingers lightly over John’s throat, tipping up his chin as he made a strangled noise. “A release from a life you hate.”

“Santino,” John whispered, “please.”

Santino had an ugly smile, ugly when he bared his teeth. The imperfection wasn’t from his plush lips or the even white line of teeth. It came from the hardness in his eyes, the malevolent humour that sat so close to the surface. The Devil smiled as John begged, rubbing himself against John’s ass in a leisurely rhythm. “You were right to choose me,” Santino said, sliding his fingertips down John’s chest to his belly and lower yet, to his belt. “Even if you kill me someday, I’ll make sure that you do it in a way that destroys you. Is that what you want?”

John stiffened as Santino squeezed him roughly through his pants. He panted Santino’s name as Santino navigated his belt, tossing it aside and unzipping him roughly, shoving his pants down to his knees. Santino grasped him dry and smiled as John winced. “Are you sorry you were late?” Santino asked, though the malicious humour was back in his eyes.

“Not particularly,” John said, thrusting into the grip anyway. “Wasn’t my fault. Job got complicated.”

“Always with the same excuse. You should work for me,” Santino said. His hand withdrew, choking John as he pressed his fingers into John’s mouth. John sucked, getting the digits as wet as he could. He knew he didn’t have time for more. Santino’s hand curled back over his cock, squeezing tight.

“Talk to the Tarasovs,” John said, hissing as Santino stroked him slowly, making a fist at the root and tightening up to the tip. This was Santino teasing them both. Santino grumbled in Neapolitan, slowing down as John bucked pointedly into his grip.

“They’re more afraid of you than they are of me.” Santino sounded petulant, grazing his blunt nails against the root of John’s cock, chuckling darkly as John bit out a whine. “Do you think that’s fair?”

John didn’t answer. It took effort not to come as Santino gave his cock a few teasing squeezes, as his clever fingers tickled further down to roll and fondle John’s balls in his hot, slick palm. He counted the flares of pain from his bruised ribs in uneven sequences, gasping as Santino stroked him in sharp tugs, chuckling against the back of his neck. “When you think of killing me,” Santino panted against John’s shaking shoulders, “do you ever think of doing it with just your hands?”

Release punched out of John with a snarl, drawing wet streaks against the sink. Santino laughed, rubbing his cheek over John’s ink, going still. His soiled hand drew a smear of filth over John’s belly to his rips, staining the bruises. “Carry me to the bed,” Santino said, and smirked as John growled and hauled him around for a kiss.

#

“Mister Wick,” Charon said as John stalked up to the concierge desk.

“Is he here?” John asked, ignoring the open interest from the other guests in the foyer. “Santino.”

“The Continental has a strict confidentiality policy,” Charon said with an insincere smile. John had to know that his question was rude, even given the circumstances. “I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any guest.”

John went still, taking a slow breath. “Right. Sorry.” He turned to regard the other guests, all of whom pointedly pretended not to notice him.

“Harassing our other guests might be construed as the conduction of business on the premises,” Charon reminded John gently. Given their history, he was fond of John—as fond as he could be of anyone in his line of work. Charon was not particularly sentimental. That was why he was good at what he did.

“I’d like to speak to the Manager,” John said, fishing in his pockets for a coin.

Charon didn’t touch the coin. “You could. Or you could wait in the foyer. Do the crossword, perhaps.”

John took the hint with grace. He left the coin, taking a seat in the corner of the foyer and picking up a copy of the New York Times. He did not do the password. A circle of silence grew outward around John, rippling through seated guests. Most got up and left, pretending to have sudden business. A brave few lingered in the corners, close to the exits. The news spread. Fame generated a strange form of gravity, especially where John was concerned. The world liked to rearrange itself in John’s favour. Charon had seen this effect firsthand, a long time ago.

Ares emerged from the lift in quick, sharp strides, her bottle-blonde hair cut into a sharp bullet over her head, dressed in a new black suit. Santino’s consigliere swept the foyer with a glance and walked briskly over to John, who got to his feet. She gestured toward the Continental’s exit and started walking before John could speak. As John followed Ares out, Charon pocketed the coin John had left on the counter.

After fifteen minutes of wrestling with the day’s logs, Charon glanced up as a shadow fell across the side of the concierge desk. It was Tisiphone. The role of the Night Manager in the Continental was usually given to the person whom the Manager was grooming as a successor, someone terrifyingly competent at the very least. Charon liked Tisiphone well enough, but he would miss Winston. “Everything all right?” Tisiphone asked.

“Nothing of particular note.”

“Lucky for you.” Tisiphone looked sour. “I got assigned to keep an eye on a certain spoiled brat. You’d think he was dying, the way he was bitching about a small scratch on his face and blood on his fancy clothes.”

Tisiphone’s tone was carefully casual. Having seen the state that Santino was in when Ares had supported him into the Continental, Charon rather doubted that Santino had only suffered that one cut to his cheek. The last few hangers-on in the foyer melted away, though. Tisiphone sniffed, relaxing and leaning her elbows and back against the concierge desk.

“We’re expecting an attack?” Charon asked, doing a mental tally of the weapons within reach.

“Winston’s paranoid,” Tisiphone said. “I wouldn’t mind a fight to clear the air, though. John showed up?”

“Not so long ago. Left with Ares.”

“Those two.” Tisiphone shook her head. Charon made no comment. The staff of the Continental had come to refer to John and Santino as ’those two’—usually with awed resignation, sometimes with horror, and in Winston’s case, with wry amusement. “They met in the Continental, didn’t they?”

“Indeed.” John had bought Santino a drink at the bar and they'd ended up in bed for a week. Tisiphone had been away at the time, sent to Morocco as the New York Continental’s representative to witness the coronation of the new Elder. By the time she returned, as she put it, the ‘damage had been fucking done’.

“This can’t be good for business,” Tisiphone began. She turned at the soft ping of the lifts, her hand angling into her coat. Santino stepped out; a blood-spotted bandage bound rakishly over his forehead, his arm in a sling, coat hanging off his shoulders. Tisiphone smiled, transforming instantly into the very image of an elegant Night Manager. “Signore,” she said, her accent impeccable.

“Where’s my consigliere?” Santino asked, agitated enough that he was speaking in the Neapolitan dialect, one that Charon understood but did not speak.

Tisiphone answered in kind, again impeccable. “She left the Continental with John Wick.”

“John was here?” Santino scowled. “And he didn’t call up?”

“Guest confidentiality,” Tisiphone said smoothly. “We could not confirm or deny your presence without existing dispensation.”

“Right,” Santino said, irritated. He started to limp toward the exit.

“Checking out, sir?” Tisiphone asked, her bland voice hiding any surprise she might have felt.

“No. But I’m aware of the Continental’s rules. I need to make a call.”

Tisiphone and Charon exchanged glances. “That may not be wise,” Charon said.

“I’ve had contracts placed on my head before. I know the drill.” Santino bristled. “I’m hardly new to the game.”

“Your untimely demise on our doorstep will be most unfortunate,” Tisiphone said with a slight frown. “Your paramour might have a particularly… explosive reaction.”

“Even the notorious Night Manager is afraid of John?” Santino sneered. “You broke Corello’s arm last week for a minor breach of the rules.”

“And he was most remorseful. A breach is a breach. Just as a mess is a mess. Come,” Tisiphone said. Santino cocked his head but followed as Tisiphone walked deeper into the Continental. Charon glanced over to the main doors as they opened, admitting someone from the local triad. Putting on his usual faint smile, Charon waited for the new guest to approach.

#

John leaned against the door to the suite and forced his heart rate to slow down, rubbing a hand over his face. He’d forgotten the blood—it left a coppery smear over his nose and cheek. Santino tracked it with a sharp smile. “You were very rude to Tisiphone,” Santino said. “Breaking down the door to her office, brandishing a gun around… No wonder she dislikes you. We were only having tea.”

“You were meant to be here,” John said. When he and Ares had returned to the suite to find it empty—

“And I was. Here. In the Continental.” Santino tried pulling off his coat, wincing as it caught on his injured arm. John walked over and reached for the coat, but Santino jerked out of range. “Take a shower first. You’re filthy.”

“Okay.” John grit his teeth. “Yeah, okay.”

It took an effort to walk over to the large bathroom, to shed his guns and knives in the sink, to pull off his clothes. Santino followed him in, though he left his coat outside, sitting on the edge of the sink. He watched John undress with malevolent possessiveness, tracking every fresh scrape and bruise with something like pride. John didn’t feel any titillation stripping down naked. Everyone—no exceptions—used to strip down in the Company, washing together in communal showers, tracking the marks of their lessons over their skin. It wasn’t until Santino that John had thought of baths as anything but utilitarian. He turned his back on Santino and turned on the shower.

Dirt and blood sloughed uneven furrows down John’s skin. John started to scrub himself down and hesitated as a palm stroked lazy circles down his back. Santino stood in the spray, oblivious to the way the water plastered his expensive shirt to his skin. “Your bandages,” John protested, halfhearted.

“You can change them after. Lazio?”

“Dead.”

“Good.” Santino leaned against John’s back, humming a tune John didn’t recognise. It soothed the acidic feeling in John’s gut, the tension under his skin. Together like this, they were almost normal.

#

“My father was a man like John Wick,” Tisiphone said as Santino sat down for lunch with her at the Terrace. His arm was out of the sling, and he was back in his impeccable clothes, smiling charmingly as he poured tea for them both.

The Italians within the Arrangement tended to be clannish to the extreme, but Tisiphone tended to dislike Italian men in particular. Many of the ones she met were old and set in their ways, scions of organisations that had until recently always favoured only men. They treated their women like possessions and treated women who weren’t theirs as potential commodities. Santino was the only exception Tisiphone knew. He and his sister were the modern face of their clan, willing to look beyond blood and gender. It made him worth talking to, even if he was a snake.

Tisiphone sipped her tea as Santino considered her words with a curl to his mouth and poison on his tongue. “No one is quite like John,” Santino said.

“He wasn’t as talented as Mister Wick, yes. That isn’t what I meant. My father was a triad hitman, a violent man, a cold man with a compulsion for violence. When the triad was willing to cover for him, he would kill for them. When they weren’t, he would beat my mother and me.”

“When you were fourteen, you took his gun and shot him eight times in the chest,” Santino said. He toasted her with his teacup. “Then you abandoned your mother and came to the Continental to seek asylum. The triad had her shot, I believe, but the Manager chose to protect you.”

“There’s little room for sentiment in our world,” Tisiphone said. She had understood this when she was twelve, when her father had hit her for the first time. She had looked across the living room to her mother for help, and had seen only relief on her mother’s face. Relief, that the monster in the room had finally chosen another victim.

“Are you trying to warn me about John?” Santino set his cup down and selected an opera cake from the spread. “Don’t bother. I grew up with monsters; I’m one of them myself. My father had my mother shot when I was ten. He suspected her of adultery.” Santino let out a dry laugh. “He had several mistresses, but his rules didn’t apply to himself.”

“Your sister works closely with him, I hear. She’s likely to be named to his seat.”

“Our revenge,” Santino said, cutting through the cake with a fork, hard enough that the tips of the fork sang against the porcelain plate. “My father’s successor: a woman. His son taking up with another man: the only man in the world that he fears.”

“You don’t sound pleased about your happy ending.”

“Happy endings are for boring people.” Santino ate the portion cake skewered on his fork, smiling. “Neither of us are boring.”

“You want the seat? You could take it. John is yours.”

Santino made a show of looking around. “Doesn’t this count as talking business?”

“It counts as gossip, which the Manager encourages.” Tisiphone didn’t touch the food. She drank tea, black, sugarless.

“I’ve thought about it,” Santino said, spearing another portion of cake, slicing through chocolate and cream and sponge. “Using John. Getting rid of Gianna, taking control of it all.”

“You think John might say ‘no’.”

“He works for the Tarasovs, who aren’t keen on starting a war with a System clan. And he’s friends with Gianna.”

“He might still do it for love,” Tisiphone said, with an ironic curl to her mouth.

Santino laughed, eating his forkful of cake. “Love? There’s no such thing in the Arrangement. You’ve said so yourself. There’s little room for sentiment, let alone something like love. Love is for the sheep, who don’t know any better. Love is for boring people.”

“You think he doesn’t love you,” Tisiphone said. She chuckled, finishing her tea and pouring herself another cup. “If only that were the case. Life at the Continental would be so much quieter for the rest of the staff and me.”

“A man like John doesn’t know what love is.”

“Him? Or you?” Tisiphone twirled her fork at Santino. “Neither of you would understand sentiment, by your logic.”

“What is love but a form of drama?” Santino cut himself another slice of cake and spearing it on his fork. “Italians are the world’s foremost experts on drama. Haven’t you ever watched one of our operas?”

“Aren’t they all about tragically unnecessary deaths?”

“That’s what life is. Sometimes tragic, often unnecessary, and it always ends in death: one way or the other. The sheep accept that. They love, live, and die boring little lives. The rest of us often choose to sweeten the deal we’re dealt with a handful of cardinal sins, the more the better. Greed, perhaps. Wrath. Pride.” Santino looked over Tisiphone’s shoulder, beckoning. “Lust.”

Tisiphone didn’t react as John walked soundlessly past her to Santino’s side, but it took all of her spite to do so. She hadn’t noticed his presence in the Terrace, but never again would people like John be given leave to affect her in any way. She inclined her head politely, but John ignored her, his gaze fixed on Santino. A wolf coming to heel. Santino raised his fork, smiling his serpentine smile as John bent and opened his mouth.

#

“I see why you never invited me to your house,” Santino said, sweeping the living room of John’s house with a disdainful stare. “This place is depressing. Why is everything white and grey?”

John rubbed his eyes, lowering his gun. “What are you doing here?”

He’d woken up at a faint noise from the living room and had crept over to check, gun drawn. Almost shot Santino. John’s grip on the gun trembled, and he tried to hide it by setting the pistol on the dining table. Santino noticed—he missed little. Only perceptive people could be as cruel as he was. “My sister and I learned the ropes when we were young. Guns. Finances. Negotiations. Lockpicking. You have a very basic home security system.”

“No one’s tried to break in before,” John said, bemused. Had Santino come alone? His usual retinue of cars should’ve made enough noise coming up the gravel driveway to wake John. “I’ll… Coffee? I’ll get changed.”

“No need for that.” Santino stalked over, one hand tucked in a pocket, his impeccable clothes in stark contrast to John’s rumpled shirt and boxers. Santino stroked John’s cheek with gentle fingers, a gentleness he feigned—his eyes were as malicious as ever. “I hear you tried to retire.”

“Tried.” The Tarasovs had been polite, understanding, and ruthless.

“What did your employers ask of you in return?”

“They want me to kill Giovanni Agresta, Yang Mo, and Joe Winter within a single night.”

“The leaders of the ‘Ndrangheta, the Triads, and the Irish Mob in this side of the world.” Santino’s fingers tucked under John’s chin. “Within a single night? Impossible. You’d need a week, at the very least. Agresta doesn’t even live near New York.”

“It’s not impossible with a little help.” John pulled Santino close, ignoring the fingers tightening over his throat. “You have as much of a stake in New York as they do. If you bid for peace, call them over—”

“Killing them will upset the balance, a balance that I like. The Tarasov bratva will become the strongest player in this side of the world, strong enough that they can afford to retire you. Assuming that you survive.” Santino eased his grip. “If you’re doing this for me—”

“I’m not. Not exactly. I need to do this for myself.” John looked pointedly around his empty house. “I’m tired of feeding the beast. Killing.”

“And then what? You’d live quietly, like one of the sheep? Take up flower arranging in your spare time?” Santino sneered. “Please. How boring would that be?”

“And then I’d be a free agent,” John said, stroking Santino’s back. “How interesting would you need me to be?”

That made the Devil laugh. John was getting better at gauging what to say for such a thing. Santino pulled him into a hungry kiss, plucking at his shirt and chuckling as John picked him up with a grunt, tucking an arm under Santino’s knees and the other against his back. If he were ten years younger, John would’ve carried Santino to bed. Now, he managed the couch before his back began to ache. Santino didn’t appear to care, kicking off shoes, shrugging out of his jacket and coat, grinning as he was pushed down over the leather.

“My sister thinks you’re a liability,” Santino said as he unbuttoned his shirt. John kissed the growing triangle of skin revealed, soft and unmarred.

“She thinks everyone’s a liability. Including you,” John said, following Santino’s deft fingers as they opened a trail of flesh down to his belly.

“Would you kill her if I asked you to?” Santino asked, his eyes full of cruel humour. He didn’t wait for John’s answer. “Would you give me a crown? Pave my way to the High Table with the blood of my enemies?”

“You Italians,” John said, swallowing the real answer on his tongue.

Santino snorted but allowed John to unbutton his pants, to draw out his pretty, flushed cock, to lick it wet from root to tip. As John tucked the weight of the thickened cockhead over his tongue, Santino made a fist of his hand in John’s hair, a makeshift harness and leash. John shivered at the sting, drinking Santino down, concentrating on relaxing his throat as the welcome thickness wedged deeper. It was worth the discomfort and the bitter taste to feel Santino buck and shake under his hands, to hear Santino moan his name.

The grip Santino had on John’s hair tightened warningly as John tried to draw out his cock. John took the hint, letting Santino drive. Santino rocked lazily into John’s mouth, each thrust marked with gasps. “You never told me how you’d thought of killing me,” Santino said, breathless. John could feel the weight of Santino’s gaze raking over them both. He sucked, loud and sloppy in the empty house, his fingertips twitching against Santino’s hips. The wolf was restless. “You could kill me like this. You’ve thought of it, haven’t you?” Santino’s hips jerked, making John gag. He pulled back, coughing, but bent back down as Santino pulled his hair.

“Think about it now,” Santino whispered, petting John’s scalp. “Show me; go on. John.” He hissed as John rasped his teeth lightly against Santino’s cock. “You’d bite? Hardly creative.”

John pulled off with a curse, struggling with his pants, freeing himself. Santino groaned as John caught their cocks together with his fingers, panting as he thrust, lining up his mouth to Santino’s ear. “Hands,” John gasped, struggling against the bloodlust that crawled under his skin, that made him hyper-aware of the shape of the land, of the weapons close by, of the monster that he was.

The monster tangled beneath him laughed in his ear. “Hands?” Santino repeated mockingly. “You’d strangle me? Not bad. I’d be buried with your bruises around my throat, a necklace of your design. I’ve thought about that. It isn’t creative either, but—” Santino tugged up John’s hand, pressing the fingers down over his neck and pulse, “—at least it’s exciting.”

“Santino,” John said, his eyes widening as Santino pushed into John’s grip. The impulse to squeeze down and twist hard broke so viscerally in his mind that for an ugly glorious moment John was convinced that he’d done it, that he’d given in, that he’d even felt the body beneath jerk and go slack. He swallowed the bile in his throat, a raw, violent noise tearing out from within him as his cock spat come against Santino’s belly.

The Devil laughed. Santino knew, of course he knew. “Squeeze down,” Santino said, grinning his ugly toothy smile. “Do it. Harder. Harder.” He thrust into John’s soiled grip, hands clawing down John’s back as John squeezed, choking venom into gasps, bearing down on Santino as he bucked and arched. Death was the only craft that John had ever been good at. He could see the way it was stealing closer, in the way Santino’s writhing grew desperate. Only when John could feel the shadow of the reaper between them did he let go, stroking Santino roughly as he did so. Santino took in a hungry gulp of air and convulsed, spilling into John’s tightening grip.

John kissed the reddened bruise left by his thumb, breathing hard. “I’ll give you a crown,” he rasped, “if that’s what you want.”

“Hmm,” said the Devil to the wolf, pulling him up for a kiss. “I wonder.”