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i saw a star beneath the stairs

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It only takes a minute. Macau is at school and Pete has ducked out to buy some groceries so he can make more barely passable meals for them by following Vegas’s mostly coherent instructions. The sun is slanting through the windows of the small apartment Pete got for them, painting the room in gentle golden light. Vegas is lying on a comfortable bed, reveling in that sweet spot of enough meds that he doesn’t hurt but also doesn’t feel fuzzy. 

 

Vegas feels alright. He feels good. Maybe not good enough to fuck Pete the way he wants to, the way it feels like he’ll never stop wanting, but he’s getting there, the wound on his stomach slowly mending into just another scar. 

 

It only takes a minute. The window shatters. The door bursts open. He only catches a glimpse of a black mask before something hits his head hard. After that, there’s only darkness.



*



Vegas wakes up. He’s chained to a pipe, the zip ties digging harshly into the soft skin of his wrists. The pain medication is gone from his system, and his stomach wound is throbbing with pain, sharp flashes of agony slashing across his abdomen. His head hurts, and he tastes blood when he licks his lips.

 

The room he’s in is empty. There’s a door on the far wall, and a single light bulb but those are about its only features if you don’t count the exposed water pipes. One of them is leaking, a steady echo in the almost total silence. 

 

Vegas has a lot of enemies. Until someone enters the room, he’s got no idea who captured him and how to manipulate them. He rotates his wrists, and tries to free his hands but has to stop when he’s rubbed the skin raw. Still, no one comes. After a few hours, he begins to wonder if anyone will. His bladder is uncomfortably full, an added annoyance alongside the mind-numbing agony. The water keeps dripping, maddening.

 

No one could endure it forever. Hot liquid soaks through the thin pajama pants he’s wearing. He thinks, half-deliriously, of how a month ago when he’d finally felt strong enough to stand shakily on his feet, Pete had escorted him to the bathroom. His hands had been strong and sure on his body, so gentle and comforting. If it were anyone else holding him steady while he took the first non-catheter piss in weeks, Vegas would have found a way to have them discreetly offed after they’d outlived their usefulness. With Pete, it just felt normal to lean into the strong line of his body and breathe him in under the smell of disinfectant. 

 

Vegas fades in and out of consciousness with no way of knowing how much time he loses. In his waking moments, his mind races, running through scenarios that turn increasingly impossible as the hours tick by. There’s little hope of a rescue mission. His cousin won’t send one, probably relieved to have Porsche’s position cemented with the minor family. His father is dust, not that Vegas would have expected any help from that direction.

 

Macau will be fine. Vegas knows Pete will see to that, will protect him and feed him watery ramen and convince him to finish music school. And Pete -

 

Pete will live for Macau. Pete will live because he knows Vegas would want him to. Vegas is conceited enough to believe he won’t move on, and won’t fall in love again. The thought doesn’t bring him happiness. He’s caused Pete so much pain already, it hurts to think he’ll cause him more after what should have amounted to their happily ever after. The oblivion of his body shutting down from the pain is almost a welcome respite. 

 

Vegas had only been wearing pajamas when he got taken, and they’re ripped in several places, exposing his skin, purpling with deep tissue bruises, and covered with grime. Vegas supposes he’s lucky, because it’s hot in the room, the air humid and sweltering. It’s how he knows he’s got a fever - he starts feeling cold.

 

That’s why he convinces himself he’s hallucinating the first time he hears the noise.

 

It’s distant, tinny over the roaring of his blood in his ears. But it comes again. And again. Screaming, frightened and furious. Delirious, Vegas wonders if he’s the one making that noise, but his mouth feels too dry for that. 

 

The screaming comes closer, along with loud thuds and running footsteps. Maybe it’s some sort of intimidation tactic? He readies himself and gathers whatever meager strength he’s got left to fight, coiling the painful muscles in his legs.

 

Abruptly, the noise is cut off. It’s almost perfectly quiet, except for the infernal leaking pipe. Vegas lets out a breath that comes out as a sob. He’d rather die tortured, gutted like a fish than endure one more second in this perfectly silent fucking room.

 

A key scraps in the lock. The door slowly swings open. 

 

Pete, a silhouette in the square of the doorway. 

 

Convinced that he’s hallucinating, all Vegas can do is drink in the sight of him, straining to hear the sound of his heavy breathing in the silence.

 

Pete is still in the clothes he’s worn this morning - a yellow T-shirt, big enough to slip off his shoulder; white shorts that fall loosely around his knees; pink flip-flops - but Vegas wouldn’t have known that if he hadn’t admired him in them. Every single centimeter of them is soaked through with blood, turning them a uniform red. Pete is holding the Santoku knife from their kitchen that Vegas had to convince him to dip into their savings because he refuses to cook with dull knives. There’s a gun tucked into the sagging waistline of his pants.

 

Pete’s face is painted red too, patches darker where flecks of someone’s brain matter had fallen over his cheek. His eyes gleam liquid dark in the single light of a lightbulb, all-pupil, as black and fathomless as the night sky.

 

Days later, when Vegas would fully recover the use of his hands, if not the rest of his body, he’ll press his fingers into the lingering bruises and scratches across Pete’s body, making him writhe against his restraints. He’ll tell him he looked like an angel. The most beautiful, the most sacred thing he’s ever owned.

 

“Vegas,” Pete says now, “Vegas!” and how his mouth shapes the vowels of his name with the fervor most people reserve for prayer finally convinces Vegas that he’s real.

 

There’s movement in the fuzzy black behind Pete that draws Vegas’s attention. He opens his mouth, halfway through a shout as Pete turns in one rough jerking movement, and slashes the knife across the attacking man’s neck. The knife is sharp because Vegas insisted on the best, and it parts the flesh as easily as it cuts through fish bone, the throat blooming open, exposing the innards until it hits the upper ribcage and hits cartilage. Pete wrenches it out with a casual motion. The man is dead before he hits the ground, the resulting arterial spray soaking Pete’s feet. 

 

Pete straightens up and regards the corpse for a second before rolling it away with his flip-flop so he can enter the room. Vegas blinks and Pete’s right next to him, struggling with his restraints. His hands keep slipping because of the blood, and Vegas isn’t helping with the way he laboriously presses as close as he can get so he can soak up his warmth, the way his body shivers with his indrawn breaths. 

 

He wants to be closer, impossibly closer, wants to burrow through the sensitive spot on Pete’s belly, gnawing a path underneath Pete’s ribcage until he reaches his heart, and lives there, wet and safe and warm, surrounded by Pete’s heartbeat.

 

“The fever has you talking nonsense,” Pete says softly, finally sawing through Vegas’s restraints, gently bringing his hands up to the front, steadying him when he sways with the pain of it.

 

“You came,” Vegas rasps through a ruined throat, and the last vestiges of the blank monster leave Pete’s expression, leaving nothing behind but perfect tenderness. He cups Vegas’s cheek, wiping away the stray tear that’s somehow survived in his dehydrated body. He smells like blood, heavy and metallic. 

 

“Did you doubt it?” Pete says simply like it’s a fact of life that he would come. The sun rises in the east, Vegas has a lot of enemies, and Pete will always come to rescue him. 

 

“I was scared,” Vegas says, and it’s almost the worst thing he’s ever confessed to. Pete just smiles and leans in to lick at Vegas’s cracked lips until he opens his mouth. His tongue strokes across Vegas’s teeth, his tongue. He tastes like the blood of the dozens of men he’s had to murder to touch Vegas like this again.

 

Pete pulls back, and Vegas almost whines at the loss. Pete makes a soft sound under his breath, soothing as he brings his hands around Vegas’s back, the other carefully gathering his knees.

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispers against Vegas’s ear, “this is really going to hurt.”

 

Pete stands up, Vegas held in his arms like a blushing bride on her wedding night. There’s a moment's respite, and then Vegas’s world crashes into screaming agony. 

Mercifully, he passes out quickly.



*



Vegas wakes up in a hospital bed. He’s getting really sick of that.

 

There are fingers tracing a slow meandering path along his hairline, Pete’s breath ruffling the short hairs. Vegas opens his eyes to look at his beloved face, and finds it twisted somewhere between fondness and lingering fear. It clears off his expression under Vegas’s gaze, leaving behind a softness that he’s finally brave enough to look at directly.

 

“That feels nice,” Vegas whispers, his voice reduced to gravel. Pete visibly winces, reaching over to the side table, and helping him drink. Vegas is floating on a cloud of good pain medication, so he’s mostly numb, but Pete touching him feels good. It always does. Once he lays back down, Pete resumes stroking his face, touch soft like the flutter of butterfly wings. “How long was I out?”

 

“Almost two days,” Pete says. Vegas frowns.

 

“It felt longer,” he says because it feels impossible that the torture of the empty room and its dripping pipe was hours instead of days.

 

Pete’s expression twists into something like grief. “I should have gotten to you earlier,” he says, and Vegas makes a soothing noise under his breath instinctively. “I shouldn’t have left you. I should have made the apartment more secure. I’ll get us another one. I’m sorry, I-I’ll do better next time.”

 

The uncertain stutter in his voice and the grief in his expression somehow penetrate through the numbness weighing down Vegas’s body. He reaches out and traces Pete’s cheekbone with his thumb. “I like the apartment,” he says softly, “I like how it already feels like home.”

 

Pete sucks in a breath but doesn’t reply except to lean into Vegas’s touch, pressing into it with such force it almost knocks his hand away. 

 

“I’m always going to have enemies, you know that,” Vegas continues, “I’m safer with you than with anyone else.”

 

And that’s the core of it. Pete’s face cracks open, a few tears catching on Vegas’s thumb. “I left you,” Pete sobs, his fingers clenching in Vegas’s sheets.

 

“You came to get me though,” Vegas says, and lifts his other hand to capture one of Pete’s. “How many people did you kill to get to me?”

 

Pete lets out a little hiccup, almost a laugh. “I lost count,” he confesses. Vegas traces his fingers, knife cuts and torn-up skin. Pete had washed his hands, but there’s blood still stuck underneath his fingertips. Vegas wants to put them in his mouth and suck it out, wants to lick Pete all over until all he is is sticky clean skin and the barely contained monster underneath.

 

“I’ll tell the nurse that you’re speaking nonsense again,” Pete says, but the grief is gone from his face, replaced by a pink flush that betrays how pleased he actually is. 

 

Vegas tugs on him weakly until Pete lies down, curled up protectively against Vegas’s body, his face tucked against Vegas’s neck, his breath raising goosebumps. “Good boy,” Vegas says softly. “You’re such a good boy, Pete. You did such a good job. I love you so much, my sweet boy.”

 

He feels the words hit in how Pete’s whole body shudders against him, breathing out wetly, tears soaking Vegas’s neck and the collar of his hospital gown. “I love you,” Pete says, and Vegas knows it means he’ll walk over the cooling corpses of his enemies and paint the world in their blood. Every time. 

 

“I don’t suppose anyone wants to hear about my homework assignment,” Macau says dryly from the couch where he’s presumably been watching the whole interaction. Pete groans out loud. Vegas laughs so hard that he pulls a stitch and has to be sedated again.