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The Lady of Highgarden

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He is so undeniably, unbelievably fucked

Albi Prifti has confronted his own death several times in the nearly thirty-seven years that he’s walked this earth, but this is different. This isn’t a gun in his face, or a vengeful boyfriend, or a double-crossed partner. 

This is a summons. This is a death note on expensive cardstock, fine hand lettering inviting him to a place that Albi knows in his very atoms that he will not be walking away from. 

The man escorting him to his death doesn’t even look at him as he opens the door and waits for Albi to get out of the black SUV. He doesn’t have a name, at least not one that Albi has been deemed worthy enough to be given, and that’s just another indication of how short his life has suddenly become. 

The mobster can’t resist leaning his head back as his gaze sweeps up the front of the building. It’s tall, white even in the darkness, and the sweeping glass windows gleam against the pink lights that illuminate the spaghetti-net base of the building; at the top, the lights of the rooms glow golden against the Brooklyn skyline. 

They call it The William Vale, but it has another name in Albi’s circles: Highgarden. He’s never given the name more than a moment’s thought, but looking at the monstrosity of a building now he can’t see a single reason for the name. There’s nothing natural or garden like about it. 

A motorcycle engine revs close to where Albi is standing. He flinches; the nameless man next to him doesn’t grin, but the suggestion of it is there behind his suddenly raised brow.

Albi sneers at him and watches the motorcycle pull right up to the front door of the hotel. It’s a sportbike, one of the sleek, mean looking ones that Albi has always wanted. The flat black paint of the body swallows the light rather than reflecting it. Made for the darkness, for slipping in and out of the shadows like a wraith. 

He stops admiring the bike long enough to realize that it’s a woman sliding off the seat. Black, heeled boots strike the ground with an audible sound as she swings one leg over the bike and stretches to her full height and reaches up to remove her helmet. Albi can’t see her face, but a cascade of dark hair tumbles out of the helmet and over the shoulders of her leather jacket. 

Albi whistles lowly. It’s not meant to get her attention, and soon enough he’ll be glad that it didn’t.

The woman disappears; Albi’s bodyguard shoves him forward. 

With nothing left to distract him, he’s once again forced to confront the inevitability of his ending. He’ll never admit it, but he’s terrified of dying. Has always been terrified of it which is ironic considering his choice to follow the footsteps of his mobster father, but … family ties, and all that. 

The thing is, he doesn’t know what he’s done wrong. He has no idea why that invitation showed up on his doorstep and there was no explanation. Just a date and a time. His “escort” had shown up five minutes early to remind Albi that attendance is mandatory, but he’d known.

He’s seen this same man tailing him since the invitation showed up. The fucker didn’t even try to hide it either, just followed him without a sound and the most disinterested expression Albi has ever seen. 

Albi only considered running for about five minutes. He knows he’ll never escape, and what will happen if he tries. 

Even if he doesn’t know why he’s here he knows that no one escapes once they’ve been summoned. 

The dining room that Albi is led to is simple and elegant. There’s a single table that stretches through the space and a bar at one end; the blue and white of it reminds Albi of something out of an old world travel magazine. Something Grecian, maybe, or old Roman.

There’s a single man standing in front of the bar. He’s pouring a glass of wine; there’s an open bottle of beer next to him on the countertop, so cold that it’s sweating condensation in the warmth of the room.

“Boss.” It’s the only word that Albi has heard his escort speak.

The other man turns. He’s tall, bald with a salt and pepper beard that’s well groomed, and even from here his neck looks as thick as a fucking tree trunk. 

The top buttons of his shirt are undone and expose a cross on a long chain. Why are the mafia kingpins always Catholic? 

Afraid of God and nothing else, apparently. 

“Hello, Albi,” the other man says. His tone is almost welcoming except that Albi can hear the acid dripping from the syllables of his name. 

“Boss,” Albi replies with a deferential dip of his head. 

The other man takes the drinks in one hand and spins on his heel, then reconsiders. “The bottle,” he says.

Albi stares at him in confusion. 

“Grab the bottle,” the don repeats with the exasperation of a father schooling his child. 

Albi lurches forward and snags the open wine bottle off the bar and then follows the mafia don without a word. 

The three of them step into a private elevator. With each floor that they ascend, Albi’s heart rushes wildly in the other direction, plummeting out of his chest. He starts to fidget despite his best efforts to remain as still as the other men. 

“Where are we going?” Albi finally ventures to ask. When no one answers, he tries again, “I swear, boss, I don’t -.”

“Shut up,” his escort interrupts, and shoves him roughly out of the elevator the moment the doors slide open. 

“He has the wine,” the don reminds the nameless man, and his tone is easy. As if spilling the wine really is the only thing he’s concerned about. 

Albi rights himself - he’s managed to spill only a few drops of the red over his hand and wrist - and takes in their new surroundings. 

They’re on the roof, and oh, he thinks, this is why they call it Highgarden

It’s beautiful. A rectangle of lush green grass reaches all the way across the space and string lights are draped along the glass wall that is all that blocks the dropoff. The view is spectacular: the city lights reflect off of the now dark waters of the Hudson, and the glow of the lights from the high rises and skyscrapers in the distance is golden against the inky blackness of night.

There’s a walkway of smooth wood that runs along the edges, but the don has already started off straight across the grass, so Albi follows. 

He trips over his feet when he sees her. 

She’s tall, standing so still in front of the glass wall that Albi has somehow missed her presence, but it’s clear where the don is leading him. A breeze glides in off the water, cool and light, and pulls the dark strands of her hair up and around her face as she turns. 

It’s the woman from the motorcycle. She’s not wearing the leather jacket but the way her pants gleam in the light Albi knows that they’re leather as well, and he’s only a man, so his eyes linger on the generous curve of her ass and the thickness of her thighs. She’s no shrinking violet, this woman, no soft flower crushed easily beneath a boot. 

The woman smiles at the don as he extends the glass of wine toward her. 

“I compromised,” the don tells her, and Albi has never heard a kingpin use that tone with anyone

“Oh?” It’s practically a purr out of the woman’s throat and while Albi’s reaction would normally be very different, at this moment he breaks out in a sweat. 

“I brought the bottle,” the don explains. 

The woman turns her attention to Albi. Eyes so dark they’re colorless in the night; a jawline so sharp it could cut glass better than any diamond; full lips. Some part of Albi recognizes these things, understands that even though she’s probably close to twenty years his senior this woman is fucking stunning. 

But those are background revelations, because Albi is staring his end in the face. A beautiful, epic-poem-worthy face, but still. 

“Fuck,” Albi swears, because … fuck

This is the Lady of Highgarden. 

He is absolutely certain of it. No one has ever seen her - she’s a shadow, a legend, a name that only the brave or the protected dare whisper - but Albi knows this is her. 

The woman arches one perfect eyebrow at him.

“Lady,” Albi stutters immediately. He almost bows, because what the fuck else is he supposed to do?

How the hell do you address the matriarch of the underworld? 

The don laughs. Actually laughs, a full on belly laugh, and leaves the spot he’s taken up next to the Lady to circle Albi like a predator. 

“Tell me, boy,” the don spits, “Do you know why you’re here?”

“No, boss.”

“No,” he repeats, and it’s clear that his answer is expected. “Are you accustomed to taking what you want, Albi?”

There’s a drawn out pause as Albi tries to figure out what he’s being asked. Finally, when he’s come up with nothing: “Uh … is that a trick question, boss?”

The hand that snaps out and latches around Albi’s throat is a vice. It crushes his windpipe and cuts off his air, and the next thing he knows the only thing Albi can see is the don’s face inches from his own. His eyes are blue, vibrant and controlled despite the rage Albi can see in his expression. 

“Do I look like I’m playing tricks, boy?”

“No,” Albi manages to gasp. 

The don releases him. Steps away with the smoothest of movements, as if he hadn’t been about to strangle Albi seconds before. 

“Word on the street is that you raped someone, Albi.”

He blanches. The sweat that’s beading on his forehead is almost a waterfall down his back now, soaking through his three hundred dollar shirt, and suddenly all of the missing puzzle pieces start to fall into place. 

“I didn’t rape no one, boss, I swear! I’d never …”

“Are you lying to me, Albi? Are the rules in this family not clear? I know you know the rules, Albi, don’t you?”

“Of course, boss. Everyone knows the rules.”

“Everyone knows the rules,” the don repeats. “So, let me ask you again. Did you rape that girl, Albi? Don’t lie to me now, boy.”

The nameless man is standing just behind Albi. He can feel the threat of him there, a silent reminder that there’s nowhere to go. The expertly tailored silk shirt that the don is wearing only accentuates the ropes and cords of muscle that hide beneath it, and somewhere behind the don the Lady of Highgarden waits, wordless and haunting. 

Albi is trembling when he answers. “I … I guess. I … I don’t remember, boss, I … I swear, I don’t …”

His words are cut off by the strike of the don’s iron fist against his cheekbone. Albi gasps and drops to his knees with the force and surprise of it. For long seconds he can’t see anything and then he turns his head toward his attacker, sees the fist that’s about to descend on him a second time and debates on whether or not to attempt to block it.

“Baby.” 

Just like that the don drops his fist. A single word and the predator is still once more. Albi clambers to his feet, but the don doesn’t reach for him again. 

It’s funny in a way, that he’s being granted such insight into the criminal underworld now, moments before he dies. 

Because he watches her approach, this woman that no one has seen but everyone knows, watches her glide across the grass as though her feet don’t touch the ground and understands that she is the secret. 

The mafia is full of secrets, but this is the penultimate one: it’s not a godfather that they answer to, but a godmother

They all think it’s him, the don, the blue-eyed predator that prowls the streets and sits at the head of the table. So convinced that he’s the threat that they don’t know to look for her, don’t see her coming until it’s too late.

Until she’s right in front of them, a Medusa in the grass, the last reckoning. 

“You don’t remember,” the Lady growls, and even her voice is a cardinal fucking sin it’s so sultry. “But she’ll never forget. Deja is ten years old,” and she’s right in his face now, looming impossibly large despite the several inches in height that Albi has on her, “and you didn’t just rape her, Albi. You burned her with your cigarettes, didn’t you?”

He backs up instinctively. He only gets two steps in before he’s pressed against the concrete wall of the nameless man’s chest; the Lady follows him, unperturbed by his attempted retreat. 

The don is a predator, but the Lady is ethereal. Preternatural in the darkness, terrifying; Albi is more afraid of her than he is of his impending doom. 

“I did,” Albi cries, and he is actually crying now. 

“So you do remember,” the Lady purrs. Her shirt is low cut and gives him a fantastic view of her cleavage, but Albi only notices this because she motions to herself with one hand. “Look at me.” 

Albi closes his eyes. He doesn’t know why. It’s the fear in his chest, he tells himself, the absolutely feral rage in the Lady’s face. She grabs his chin painfully in one hand and her fingers are warm despite the harsh way they dig into his skin.

“Open your eyes,” she commands, and he does. Her other hand pulls her shirt farther away from her chest as she shoves his chin down so that he has to look at her. “What do you see?”

Albi gulps. He’s going to piss himself, he just knows it. 

The Lady of Highgarden is scarred. There are old scars on her chest - cigarette burns, just visible in the light of the rooftop garden. 

“Burns,” Albi chokes out.

And then another puzzle piece falls into place, one that Albi hasn’t even been looking for - one that never would have occurred to him in a million years.

“You’re her,” he says, and damn if that doesn’t sound like a little bit of awe in his voice. Awe, and hatred, because how the fuck has this bitch managed to take over an entire fucking empire?

A strange look flickers over her beautiful, sharp face, but it’s gone too quickly. “I’m no one.”

“You’re her,” Albi starts again, gaining confidence as his brain supplies little bits of memory. “That fucking cop that was kidnapped! You’re her! That was, what, six, seven years ago?”

“I’m certainly not a cop,” the Lady sneers darkly.

“But you were!” he crows. “They said you were dead, and then the family practically tore the city to pieces with those turf wars. No one knows what started it, and anyone who does know is dead or won’t talk about it, but it was you, wasn’t it?” 

Albi has always been a little smarter than the average joe. Not enough to matter in any of the important ways, but he’s always been proud of himself anyway. 

The way he’s proud of himself now as the Lady stalks away from him and the don steps into her place. Albi just knows he’s right and he can’t help it: he laughs, right in the don’s face. He’s just answered a riddle that most of the city has stopped trying to answer, hasn’t tried to answer in years. 

“Think that’s funny, do you?” The don doesn’t look at all entertained. 

“That was you,” Albi tells the don. “You burned the whole city down to find her, and then you started the rumor that she died and hid her in plain sight.”

The don grabs him by the shirt collar with both hands and drags him to the wall. Every emotion that Albi has ever felt bubbles to the surface in a confusing surge of humanity: triumph, terror, joy, grief, defeat … all of it overwhelms him all at once. 

He will never see his thirty-seventh birthday. Life’s a bitch, his dad used to say, and in his last moments Albi thinks that death is a bitch, too. A beautiful one, but still. 

“You’re half right,” the don growls in Albi’s ear as he bends him over the glass wall. He can see it all waiting beneath him: the lights of the cars passing on the road, the accent lights that highlight the distant sign for the hotel. “Bye, Albi.”

And then he’s freefalling through the cold Brooklyn night, and Elliot is turning his back on the glass wall and cutting through the grass once more.

“El,” Olivia huffs out when he’s wrapping his arms around her waist. 

“He pissed me off,” Elliot answers with a little shrug. “Would you have preferred I do something else with him?”

Pissed him off and got a little too close to the truth, they both know. 

“What about the body?”

“Already being taken care of.”

Olivia lays her hands on his biceps and then runs them up over his shoulders to clasp behind his neck. Elliot angles his head down as she leans in and up, and their lips meet in the middle. 

“C’mon,” he tells her when they pull apart. “It’s been a long day.”

“I need a shower,” Olivia agrees. 

Elliot snags her glass and the bottle of wine as they make their way off the roof. They make their way into their penthouse hand in hand, but Elliot sends her straight to the bathroom with her wine while he goes to the kitchen. There’s a cheese and fruit tray chilling in the fridge that he grabs and a bottle of Ibuprofen, because he knows that her ankle will be bothering her soon. Too many hours on her feet in those damn heels she insists on wearing.

Olivia is in the shower already. Elliot puts his wares down on the bedside table to wait and then makes his way into the bathroom, stripping as he goes. 

She hums when he steps into the shower and pulls her back against his chest. The water is hot as fuck - he’ll never understand how she can enjoy being boiled like a goddamn lobster - but for once he doesn’t mind. 

His attention is on other things: the skin of her shoulder as he closes his teeth around it, and the lush weight of her breast as he fills his hand with it; the quiet moan of encouragement that slips from her throat as she lets her head fall back to rest on his shoulder. 

Olivia reaches an arm behind his head to rest her hand at the nape of his neck, but her other hand snakes between them to take his length in her hand. He’s already hard and he rolls his hips lazily in response to her strokes, pushing himself further into her hand and bumping her forward slightly. 

Elliot only removes his mouth from her shoulder when he’s certain he’s left a mark. It’s the only one he’ll leave, the same one he leaves so often that it may as well be a tattoo. 

It’s a reminder to both of them that not all marks are born of nightmares; that there can be love and joy in the claiming. 

“I love you, Olivia.” 

His voice is a rumble against her back and he’s spoken the words into her ear, but the acoustics of the shower take them up and double them back on her.

Elliot tells her this often, and he especially loves to tell her in moments like this. She doesn’t reply, but he doesn’t care, just lets go of her breast and drags his hand slowly down her stomach until he’s slipping a finger between her folds. 

Olivia gasps, a small intake of air, and spreads her legs wider for him. The arm that’s still around her waist tightens in a wordless promise: I’ve got you

He plunges a finger into her arousal and pumps once, twice, in sync with the way she’s tugging his dick, and then pulls his finger out to circle her clit. 

“El,” she whines. 

She doesn’t care if it sounds needy, because she is, has always been this way. She needs him. There’s never been a day that she hasn’t, no matter how often she’s tried to pretend otherwise. 

But they know each other too well to draw it out tonight. They’re both tired, and Elliot knows by the way that Olivia keeps taking weight off of her previously broken ankle that it’s starting to bother her, so he turns her toward the glass window that takes up one side of the shower. 

Olivia anticipates what he’s doing and releases her hold on his cock. Instead, she bends forward at the waist and braces both hands against the window as she pushes her ass into him. Elliot groans and grabs her with both hands, kneading the muscles beneath his fingers even as he spreads her apart. 

“Fuck, Liv.”

In all the years they’ve had together he’s never grown tired of this. The ways that they belong to each other transcend everything else, defy explanation, exist in dimensions that no one else can find. 

Olivia makes a sound that’s half sigh, half moan as Elliot drives into her. She pushes back to meet him, rocking on her feet, and he silently vows to massage her feet later. 

Elliot keeps one hand on her waist to steady her and leans forward to lick a trail up her spine, collecting the water droplets on his tongue as he goes; he reaches around her and cups her breast again, pinching one taut nipple tightly before rolling it between his thumb and forefinger. Olivia mewls in pleasure and snaps her hips back into him, and Elliot retaliates by driving into her harder. 

Out the window, the lights of Brooklyn twinkle in shades of yellow and white and red; in the shower Olivia’s skin is red from the heat of the water and the slight irritation of his beard from where he’s dragged it along her back. 

“Beautiful,” Elliot groans. “You’re beautiful, Liv.”

“God, El.” 

He can hear her orgasm building in the way she says his name, breathy and deep, and he increases his tempo, drives into her harder until he’s buried to the hilt with every thrust. 

Nothing compares to this.

Nothing is better than knowing that after a lifetime of pain, after years and years of loneliness and horror, Elliot is the one that gets to give her pleasure. He’s the one who gets to touch her, hear her, drive her over the edge just to catch her before the impact. 

Elliot is the one she’s chosen despite all of his mistakes and shortcomings, and he’ll spend the rest of his days doing whatever it takes to be worthy of such a privilege. 

“I’m so close, El.”

He can feel her walls clenching around him, and he drops her breast to rub circles against her clit instead. Olivia is rocking against him, meeting him thrust for thrust as they chase each other into oblivion.

“Come on, come with me,” he coaxes, because he’s been so intent on her that he only just realizes that he’s going to come first. 

“El … baby …”

He groans at the suddenness of his orgasm. The novelty of hearing Olivia - his Olivia - call him baby still does something to him. Never in all of his life would he have expected her to use a pet name, and even if he had he’s not sure he would have known to expect baby. 

But goddamn he loves it when she calls him that, especially during sex.

She’s right there with him, thankfully, and it’s only seconds later that Olivia begins to shake and arch against him as her orgasm sweeps her away. 

Elliot holds her through it, waiting until the shaking gives way to gentle tremors and she starts to shift on her feet. He pulls out slowly; when Olivia turns to face him there’s a sated smile on her face, and he can’t resist kissing her. 

They step back under the water to rinse themselves off. Olivia dumps a generous blob of his body wash into her hands and rubs him down, pressing kisses to different spots as she goes. The hollow of his throat, the spot behind his ear that she has to tiptoe to reach, the very center of his chest; each one gets a kiss before she smears it with soap and washes it away. 

By the time they’re done, Olivia’s gait is off. Elliot takes the towel from her and dries her off as she wraps her hair in a different towel and then helps her to their bed, where he hands her two Ibuprofen and the glass of wine.

“Really?” She teases when he hands it to her.

“Just drink it,” he retorts.

She’s waiting for him when he returns from his nightly walkaround. The doors are locked, the lights are off, the world is safely sealed away. Elliot slides under the sheet and blanket and holds out his arm so that Olivia can tuck into his side. 

She kisses his chest again, just over his heart. “I love you, too.”

He smiles into the darkness of their bedroom and holds her tighter. 

A minute or an hour or a year later, she says, “El -.”

“I’ll have the girl’s address in the morning,” he anticipates. 

Olivia buries her face in his neck. She doesn’t have to say the words to tell him how thankful she is, just like Elliot doesn’t have to ask to know that she’ll go find that girl first thing tomorrow. Olivia will find her and get her help, coax her into telling her what happened and then move heaven and earth to make sure she feels safe again. 

That little girl doesn’t know it yet, but she’s gained a guardian angel tonight. 

They’re not who they used to be but they’re doing what they can, and they have each other, and that’s always been enough to make sense of all the rest. 

The Lady of Highgarden is still just a ghost, a name whispered in the night to frighten the demons, and their secret is safe for another day.