Nighthawks

by Maya Manzonelli about a year ago in love

Finding Love Under Sodium Yellow Lights

All lights sans red had long since died along the streets of Desdemona. Most good folks were already bedded down, safe from the outside world behind their apartment doors. Me? I don't sleep that easy. This new case, well more of a new lead, had my gears turning. They only spun faster as my eyes tracked over the black stamped letters in his file. Silas "Cinder" Elluin, notorious ringleader that had his talons in most of Desdemona. The only bastions were the cops, which were crumbling, and Rook, my organization. I grumbled as I tried to connect the lines on Silas' trail. Finding him was almost as difficult as catching him but given we'd found him enough times to have a bookshelf devoted to him but had no arrests, maybe that spoke more for itself. As the gears in my head ground ever faster, shrieking and smoking, my door, the one marked "Amnesty" swung open. The click-clack of stilettos on my tile revealed more than my eyes. Ophelia, one of my partners.

"Got something for you." Her voice had an edge to it. I couldn't tell right off the bat but I was about to get very good news or very bad news. She slams a typewritten piece of paper on my desk. I reach to catch the crystal bottle of whiskey she knocked over. It was good stuff, an expensive gift from a grateful client, but I wasn't much of a drinker. "Silas is over in the Circuits, his club."

"You know he's got eight in the circuits?" I scan over the paper she gave me, "Says he was recently spotted in Lace. That the one with the black curtains over the windows."

"That's the one."

"You and Glaive should get some rest, I'll take it from here."

I stand and take my coat from the hook near the door. She stands in front of me, arms folded across her chest adamant. She's not moving.

"I'm coming with you."

"Ophelia," I start, a little bit of fear crystallizing in my chest. Despite her being a partner, she still scared me. "If it doesn't turn out the way it should, I'd rather I take a bullet rather than the both of us. I mean, last time you and Glaive went after him-"

"That doesn't matter. We almost had him."

"You got shot, Ophelia. You and Glaive got shot. You were in the hospital for a week because his sniper used hollowpoints. Your insides were pretty much ribbons and you're thinking of going after him just a week after you've recovered? Please, Ophelia, let me go."

Her eyes are cold steel for just a moment but she steps aside.

Desdemona is a city steeped in history, steeped in filth too. The Circuits are just a step above the slums sorta like earth is a step above hell. During the day, it's much brighter but tonight, it's lit up red. I keep my head down, burying my nose in my collar against winters knife edge chill and against the calls of the hookers on the street. It's a turn down Pont du Lac and a left on Glade. Few blocks down and I spot the telltale curtains of Lace. It's an upper-end club, requires at least a button down to get in. Thankfully, my work requires some kind of collar on my shirt. I show my ID to the bouncer outside and he opens the way for me, latching the worn velvet rope behind me. Lace is as intimate as its name. The shaded lights produce a sunset-esque glow, casting soft shadows that blend with the black fabric. There's a bar towards the back and a mahogany stage from which a pianist coaxes a silk ribbon of sound. Black swathed tables fan out, cards fanned out on some in bluffing games. I spot Silas almost immediately. He's never hard to miss, always in the thick of things, always dressed better than everyone else. Today's show of opulence? Royal blue velvet with some smart black accents and enough rings to make any bride jealous. His hair's gelled back, a brushstroke of midnight against the dim orange ambiance and the light casts gentle grays across his pale, rapier blade features. He sits in the middle of the table, exactly opposite the dealer, legs crossed, one arm over a blond in a curvy cocktail dress, the other resting on the table, a spread of cards in his dextrous, manicured fingers. He's smiling a knifepoint smile, pale lips curled up in a sly pirouette. His blue moon eyes flick to me as I push my way through the crowd and that sly smirk turns dangerous, a bared knife with a wicked serrated edge.

"Amnesty," the city is thick on his tongue, a native and that Desdemonan drawl is unmistakable.

"Silas."

“Cinder is my name. I thought I've told you this." There's a twist to his words, that serrated edge laid bare against my throat and I swallow thickly. "Why don't you take a seat, play a round with me? Try your luck." His head tips towards me and the blonde on his arm trails a scarlet lacquered finger down the column of his throat with a lingerie smile brushed across painted lips to match her nails. I go to refuse. Hell, I want to refuse but the way he smiles, the way his bright eyes seem to pull me in, I find myself settling next to him on the black velvet.

"Carvanni," he gestures to the dealer, "deal him in."

"What're we playing?" I ask as Carvanni flicks five cards onto the table in front of me.

"Nothin fancy, just poker. I'm sure you know how to play." The coy smirk is back, except when it's directed at me, I feel my heart skip over some unknown loose cobble.

We change a few hands, and to my utter shock, the pot's at around five thousand. I'm not the best with bluffing and my poker face slowly flags. My heart is racing, stuttering and stammering against my ribcage. I look away for a split second and when my eyes flick back to my cards, I almost break my bluff completely. I had a shit hand really, pair of aces nothing special but when I look again, two other aces have wormed into my hand and the four of diamonds and nine of clubs have vanished.

"Well fellas," Cinder sighs with a knowing simpering smile, "I'm gonna have to fold."

"You've won the past four hands Cinder," gapes a lackey, "you sure you're folding?"

"Mmhm, looks like my luck ran out this round."

The others show their hands and my heart jumps into my throat. It comes to me and each set of eyes has an individual weight. In some bizarre twist, I find my eyes drifting to Cinder of all people. He flashes a quick grin to me, almost unnoticeable in the tension. His hand barely shifted to reveal his cards just enough to show the four of diamonds and nine of clubs. It’s barely a flash of the cards, but I get the message. He’s letting me win. He wants me to win. The lackeys around the table fold save a few and my heart has yet to cease its frantic tattoo against my ribs. I lock eyes with the two left holding their cards. They’re waiting. We’re waiting. Each anticipating the other to move first. The leftmost one shows his hand.

“Diamond Flush. Can you beat that?” He grins, confident.

“Ha! Full House. Top that copper,” the other one leers my way and I feel the competitive spirit bubble up within my chest, quelling my panic with the need to win.

“Four of a kind.” I practically throw the cards onto the table, the lacquered paper whipping onto the tablecloth.

“Well I’ll be damned,” Cinder says, sliding the pile of chips over to me, “five grand’s yours, detective.”

To say I was shocked would be a gross understatement. Not only did I just win five grand, but the head of The Bishops cheated that five grand for me. It was even partly his money. Why would he do that for me? The guy that wanted to put him behind bars?

“So, boss,” smirks a lackey as Carvanni collects the cards and starts shuffling them, “you in for another hand?”

“I don’t think so,” Cinder drawls, swirling the ice in his empty glass, “Think I’ll head upstairs actually.” The blonde on his arm smiles a bedroom smile and starts to walk her fingers up his chest. Something with that gesture tugs at my heart, tugs hard and makes something bubble up in the space between my lungs. I feel the burning brandy of jealousy boil and hiss around my heart. It was puzzling to say the least. Why should I feel jealous of that bleached arm-candy? Yet the thought plagues my mind, the thought of my fingers in those raven locks, the thought of tracing the tattoos barely visible on his collar all the way down to their individual endpoints. I take a slow breath, fingers curling in my thighs to shove those thoughts deep in my head. To bed him would be a direct disgrace to my duty yet, everything in my body strained towards him, towards him and his charm and his silver tongue and God above I wanted to know how the drink he had tasted off of that mercurial tongue. Desire trails cold fingernails down my spine and I shiver. Then, I notice that Cinder’s arctic eyes rest on me, coaxing mine off of his body to meet his gaze. I swallow thickly. How long have I been staring at him? How long have I had my eyes on him, thinking about how much I wanted to see him out of that suit, out of his charming demeanor and have him-no. My fingers clench on my thighs as he turns to look at the girl who is now almost insistently tugging at his tie. He brushes her off with a soft curl to his lips.

“Not tonight, sugar. Still have some business to attend to.” He trails his eyes over to me, “Definitely will have to take a rain check.”

She pouts, all rouged lips glossy and seductive. “Definitely next time.”

Cinder stands from the table and beckons me over to him with a jerk of his head. “Whaddya say to a friendly drink, detective? Just a little chat between two former street rats.”

I’m a little in shock but my body moves before my mind processes the invitation. I make my way over to him and he leads me past a lone guard to a little corner staircase. At his word, the guard steps aside just to let us through and then back to his post. We reach the top of the stairs. Cinder turns a key in a thin wooden door, held it for me to go through first. I wasn’t expecting much from the looks of the door but this night is full of surprises it would seem. Inside of the door is a decadently lit floor tiled in matte black and swathed in the same velvet black as the club beneath. In the center, a fully stocked bar with far more expensive stuff than below. Off towards the far end, another door sits open allowing me the barest glimpse of the corner of a bed.

“You like it? This is my personal floor.” He shuts the door behind him, locking it shut with a metallic click.

“You own this?”

“Yeah, comes with the money and prestige.” He lifts part of the counter to the bar and stands behind it, fingers ghosting over bottles of green, clear, and brown. “Can I get you something? Anything you like.”

“How about you surprise me?” I say, sitting in one of the high stools, resting my elbows on the bar.

“Sure you wanna say that to the man that you want behind bars?” He smirks and my heart skips again.

“Call it a show of trust. You invite me up to this private place and I haven’t pulled a gun on you. I’m trusting you to make me a drink without poisoning me.”

“My my, that’s awful trusting of you, detective.” He garnishes the satin red drink with a clementine before sliding it down the bar to me. “However, you did just watch me like a hawk the entire time I made that for you.”

“I did. Have to watch out for myself.”

“You know, I did slip two cards into your hand earlier.”

I choke on the sip I just took, understanding the weight of what he said. Panic rises in my chest until I notice, he’s laughing.

“Oh the look on your face!” He howls, doubling over the bar, “you thought I actually got something in your drink? After all that talk about a show of trust? You wound me, detective. Wound me deeply,” he places a hand over his heart with a twisted smirk about his features, “On my honor, the little that I have, I haven’t done anything to your drink aside from makin' it. It’s called a cranberry kiss, got amaretto, vodka, cranberry and orange juice in it. It’s one of my favorites, think you might like it. That and with that look you were giving me earlier, it seemed an awful lot like you wanted a kiss from me.”

I make a rather undignified noise—something between a strangled gasp and a muffled swear—into the drink. Composing myself in record time, I look back to Cinder and that devilish smirk curls his supple lips. Something pleasantly twists in my chest. Something hot, yet hot in a way like the burn of good liquor; that sort of hot clarifying burn.

“Well, you’re not wrong,” I say, mostly into the martini glass. Cinder’s mouth forms into a little ‘o’ shape as he mouths the letter while pouring himself a drink from the shaker.

“So I wasn’t wrong.” He purrs, skewering a cherry on a plastic sword and leaning it against the rim of his glass. “When you were looking at Lola on my arm back downstairs with such vitriol, I knew that something was up. Hell,” he leans on the bar and sips at his drink, something that was bright green and smelled like melon liqueur, “I knew something was up when you first trailed your eyes over me and… appreciated what I had going on.” He picks up his drink and circles around the bar, blistering icy gaze never leaving me. I feel my heart rate pick up and start pounding its heavy bass thuds in my ribcage. He pads closer, the wooden soles of his dress shoes clicking on the tiles. He sets his drink on the bar, the clink of glass against lacquered wood echoing in just that short space. “In fact,” he steps closer, voice like honeyed whiskey, smirk like a knife edge, “If I didn’t know any better,” he stops just in front of me, thumbs tucked in the pockets of his slacks, “I’d say you wanted me.”

If ever there was a time my heart has stopped, even for a split second, it was then. The world ceased to spin for that moment, the only thing in focus Cinder’s sly knife edge smirk. Time resumes when he picks up his drink and sips at its million dollar green hues but his eyes never leave mine. It’s like he’s trapped me there with just his simpering gaze. I can’t deny his accusation, even if he ‘knew better.’ I wanted him, terribly so.

“Yeah,” the word sticks in my throat. I try to chase the snags in my throat away with the last sip of my drink. “So what if I do? You’ve probably had easier, better lays than me.”

He sighs through an open mouth, a drawn-out syllable, twisted ‘tween white teeth in his green stained mouth. “Ya see, detective,” he pauses, pulls the cherry skewer from his drink, “that’s the thing. You think I would’ve invited you up here if I didn’t want somethin’ from you?” It’s a rhetorical question but I open my mouth anyway. He silences me with a raised hand, the one that still has the plastic sword and the cherry, “Ah, don’t answer that. We both know the answer anyway. So, I want something from you. Something that your superiors will definitely not approve of, and you want something similar from me. You must understand one thing though, detective,” another slow pause, a twirl of the cocktail sword. His next words are chosen carefully, each one slipping between his lips like poison, sweet viscous poison, “The risk is what I’m after. The danger in sleeping with you is part of the appeal. You see, the danger turns,” a little tilt of the head, “me,” a dangerously sharp look in his eyes, “on.” He hums the last word low in his chest and something in my gut twists pleasantly.

I’m stunned yet again, eyes frozen on the cocktail sword he brandishes like a delicate rapier, artificially red cherry still speared on the end of it. I attempt to form some sort of comeback, but I’m cut off once again.

“However, the question is, would you risk bedding me?” With the last word, he pulls the cherry off of its skewer with his teeth, biting down sharply and placing the sword back in his drink.

“Yes,” I manage to croak out. The mere thought of the answer had my heart racing yet as feeble as the croak was, it did not tremble, did not quiver, unshaking as the knife edge smirk is pressed to my throat. “Yes,” my voice is stronger now, without the creak to it. “I want you.”

His smirk turns into a crooked grin, all white teeth and devilish intent. He downs the drink in a fluid motion and comes closer than he’d ever been. He smooths his hands down my chest, humming to himself. My heart is in my throat now, fingers in a white-knuckled grip around the neck of the martini glass. Not out of fear, but... anticipation. Cinder’s fingers wrap around my tie and he pulls me up by it, slowly, gradually walking his hands up to the knot, eyes never leaving mine. Part of me wants to pull away still. Part of me recognizes my duty and that continuing... this would be a direct affront to all that Rook stood for. However, there is also part of me, a rather large part of me, that wants to continue. So, as one does, I release the martini glass and lace my fingers behind Cinder’s neck as he pulls me up by the tie into a kiss. It’s a bit awkward given how Cinder is trying to pull me up and I’m trying to pull him down but we settle into something a bit less awkward and a bit more heated for me. He straddles me, lips tasting of melon and cherry, fingers tangled in my hair as he pulls me apart with his mouth. It’s not a gentle kiss. Cinder’s mouth is firm, insistent, fingers lacing in my hair and tugging. As the kiss grew more heated, my hands began to wander, drawing down Cinder’s back, feeling the race of his heart even behind his ribcage. My hands slide further down, needing to feel him under my fingers, feel each tense and release of the muscles underneath the well-tailored suit. We break then, simultaneously, desperately gasping in fevered breaths before we kiss again. This time, Cinder is more brazen, fingers undoing the tie about my neck and starting on the buttons on my shirt. His hands are warm when they play across my chest yet they send cold shivers across my skin. His mouth moves from mine to my throat, lips pressing open-mouthed kisses down the ridge of my trachea, stealing my breath. His teeth press into my collarbone and it pulls a sigh from me, my head lolling back to give him more access. He took it with a smirk. Hands slid down my ribs mouth and tongue dripping down my chest and all I can do is tangle my fingers in those raven locks and hold on. He takes pause, pulls away and draws himself back up in my lap. That damn smirk - damned for the fire it ignites in my gut, damned for the flicker it sparks in his chilling eyes - playing across the lips that had just played cross mine and my body.

“What say,” he breathes, almost as out of breath as I, “we take this somewhere more comfortable? There’s a bed behind the door back there, if you can keep your hands off of me long enough.”

I can’t speak, my breath still coming in ragged pants, but I manage to nod as he slides off of me, a brief kiss pressing to my jaw. He beckons me as he turns his back, it would be a brazen move if he didn’t know that I was absolutely helpless in his presence. It takes me a moment to stand, to recollect my wits from my heart and follow him, but I do. He tosses a glance over his shoulder to make sure I’m following. I flash a smirk right back to him and he tugs his tie loose then drapes it over the bar. When he starts to shrug off his jacket, I speak.

“Leave it. I want to take it off of you.” I’m shocked at the words. So is Cinder judging by the surprised smile he gives, raised eyebrows and all. The tone I said it, the languid purr as it rolled off my tongue, it was almost...uncharacteristic. I could blame it on the alcohol, though, that wouldn’t make sense. I’d only had the cranberry kiss Cinder gave me and that wasn’t enough to loosen my tongue this much. Perhaps I was intoxicated by something else. Perhaps Cinder was the liquid courage that catalyzed my mouth to form such brazen words. I watch Cinder as he pushes the cracked door the rest of the way open. He catches my eyes on him and turns back around, trails a finger up my chest and throat, eyes following shortly after.

“You look good showing a little skin, detective.” His voice is like whiskey, warm enough to burn with a sharp edge to it.

“Actually, I think it’s a little unfair.” My voice is dark, heavy with want.

“What’s unfair?”

“Well, I think it’s a little unfair,” I draw each word out, slowly backing him over to the bed, “that you’ve seen more of me than I,” his knees hit the bed and he smirks up at me, challenging. I put a hand on his chest and guide rather than push him onto the bed. I can feel his heart racing under my palm. “Of you,” I breathe those last words into his ear and I feel him shiver underneath me, knees on either side of his hips.

“Well then, detective—”

“My name is Amnesty.”

“Oh,” his half-lidded eyes twinkle with amusement, “not one for the use of titles in the bedroom hm?”

“Sometimes,” I untuck the shirt from his slacks and glide my hands up the taut muscles of his abdomen, “but I want to actually hear my name from your lips.”

“Quite the charmer aren’t you?” He lets out a breathy laugh, body pressing to meet my hands. I bit my lip to keep in the hushed groan that wanted to pull from my throat at how he felt under me.

“You know you bring it out in me.”

“Oh, I’m honored.”

“You talk a lot.”

“It’s my silver tongue.”

“It’s your everything Cinder.”

“My everything?”

“You’re talking too much.”

“Am I ruining the moment?”

“Yes, you are.”

“Why don’t you change that, detective?”

“Is that a challenge?” A crooked smirk of my own twists the corners of my mouth. Cinder mimics it.

“Consider it one.”

“As you wish.” My lips crash into his and once again, I am drunk off the taste of his mouth. My hands fumble with the buttons on his shirt, trying to find them and open his shirt. He smirks against my mouth, that twisting knife edge smirk. We break, breathless.

“Need some help?”

“No,” I pant, “need to see what I’m doing,” then almost as an afterthought, “Need to see you.”

“If you’d only asked, detective—”

“Amnesty. You’ll say it.”

“Really?”

“Definitely. You’ll be moaning it if you can manage to stop talking.” I don’t mean to snarl the words through my teeth but judging by the shudder it brings from Cinder, it wasn’t taken as a threat.

“You’d better make good on that promise, detective.”

I huff, busying myself with the buttons on his shirt then suck in a breath as I slowly reveal the expanse of inked skin beneath my hands.

“These are beautiful,” I barely breathe the words, more mouthing them than actually saying them, “Just beautiful.”

Cinder’s hands take my wrists and he gently places my hands on the spread wings of a raven that spanned his chest.

“Touch them. They don’t bite. I promise they only hurt going on.”

I’m a little hesitant, but my fingers gently fan across his chest, tracing the inked black lines. He lets out a soft sigh, eyes closing halfway as my hands draw down his body, over the intricate designs on his stomach. My fingers catch in the waist of his pants. His breath catches in his throat.

“Amnesty,” there’s a pleading to his voice, barely there but I can hear it in this intimate hush over the room. I meet his eyes and for once, I’m the one with the knife edge smirk on my lips.

“I don’t know,” my hands slide back up, tracing over his ribs, “I seem to have you at my mercy,” my fingers ghost over his throat, the flutter of his pulse scarcely thudding against my fingertips. His fingers dig into my back, head tipping to expose more of his throat. It’s a very vulnerable position for him and I understand that at this moment, smothered in the twilight of his quarters with the murmur of Lace below us, I have his trust.

The night passes us by, uninterested in our lecherous tangle and I, at least, am uninterested in the night’s passing. When we finally broke apart, we’re both breathless and it is far too late into the night. I start to pull on my clothes, needing to get back to the office judging by the missed calls on my cell.

“Not going to stay the night, Amnesty?” He said my name, casually. Not ‘detective’, not a lustful sigh of my name as I dug my teeth into his bared throat—the bruises from that still there, blossoming like purple and black roses. Maybe I’d been a bit too rough. He hadn’t seemed to mind though, heels digging into my lower back, fingers clawing down my shoulders.

“Can’t. My superior is breathing down my neck to get back.”

“What’re you gonna tell her when you get back?” He pulls on a silk robe, tying it at the waist but it’s fairly open until there, revealing the inked marble scape of his skin, the skin I’d spent nearly an hour dragging fingers and lips across, relishing the taste of it. He plucks a bottle of wine from the criss cross shelf opposite his bed, pops the cork with a grin and pours himself a generous glass. He offers the bottle towards me but I wave him down. He raises the glass to his lips, takes a sip. “You gonna say instead of catching and killing me you spent an hour worshipping my body and fucking me?”

I’m thankful I didn’t accept his offer of wine because I’m fairly certain I would have choked. “I’ll simply say that the mission was a failure.”

“You’re a bad liar.”

“That’s technically not a lie.”

Cinder shrugs, takes another sip. “Alright, fair point. I guess this is farewell then. At least for tonight because I do hope we’ll do this again. It’s been,” he pauses, takes a moment to swirl the wine in his glass, “exhilarating.”

I can’t deny his statement. Cinder got my heart racing like nothing else. “Yeah, we’ll definitely meet again.”

“Here,” he scrawls something on a sticky note and hands it to me, “my number. Don’t be afraid to text or call if you ever want or need something.”

I take it, tucking it in my pocket before shuffling out of the room, albeit a bit awkwardly. As I left, Cinder calls behind me, “Be a doll and tip the bouncer would you? Tell him it’s from me.”

The next month was not very productive for my portion of Rook. Cinder was all that was on my mind. We’d meet in his clubs or rarely, in my office. There was one time that he slipped into my office, went down on me -mind you I’m not complaining- and then as he was leaving, all flushed from arousal as I sat blissed out, ran smack into Ophelia. Not skipping a beat, he blew a kiss to her and sauntered out, hips swaying and everything. I would have laughed had my life not been in immediate danger. So, that little stunt blew what cover we had. So, Ophelia gave me a thorough ear chewing about “consorting with the enemy” and whatnot but all I could think about while she was tearing me apart was how good Cinder’s mouth felt around me. It didn’t stop us from meeting. We would sometimes merely drink and I would talk about what Rook was, tongue loosened by alcohol, and my...well issues with it. He’d listen and sagely nod and sorta sip at his drink. At the end of the night, he’d always offer the same thing.

“Why don’t you leave them?” He’d say, usually stirring the ice in his drink with a thin straw, “Come join me in the Bishops. You’ve got a shot with us. I mean, you might need to learn how to play poker better but I can teach you.” And he’d flash a wink and laugh and in that moment I wouldn’t have a care in the world. That would change soon.

Rook had recently been working closely with the few clean cops in Desdemona to try and take down the Bishops. We were to stage a peaceful moment with them, to sign a treaty of sorts as it were. The governor himself would even issue a pardon to the lower ranking Bishops should the upper echelon come peacefully. Those in that upper echelon would serve time for what they’d done except for three, the three top seats in the Bishops. Cinder, and his right and left hands, Royale and Gamble were to be executed upon signing the treaty. I couldn’t do it. I know I couldn’t but when Ophelia came into my office, looked me dead in the eyes and asked if she had my loyalty on this, I said she did. It was a lie, and it chewed at my guts like a ravenous serpent, festering the wounds like poison.

I tell Cinder the plan that night at a bar of his, Black Days. He nods, understands and then asks.

“Why’d you tell me this?” And there is no smirk, no grin, no coy little wink. For one of the only times in my life, Cinder is being sincere. He’s... concerned? For me?

I don’t know my answer right off the bat. There’s so much twisting in me and I can’t tell what I want and why Ophelia wants and I sigh, bury my eyes in my drink. “I…” I heave a sigh. Why was this so hard? What was in me that compelled me to betray my duty to uphold the law? Then, something clicks. All of these feelings towards Cinder, they weren’t just lust, weren’t just desire for him (though, that was definitely part of it).

“Because I love you.” The words tumble from my lips. Cinder, bless his heart, is speechless. It worries me. What if he doesn’t feel the same way? What is all he wants from me was the sex? What if—

“I love you too.” He says finally, cutting off all of the thoughts running amok in my head. “God, I love you Amn.” He sighs, shakes his head, “Thanks for telling me what Ophelia’s planning.”

“Are you still going to the meeting?”

“Yeah. Kinda have to. Seems fishy if I don’t show up. Besides,” he rolls up the sleeves of his jacket to show the tattooed cards on his wrists. There’s a pair of aces on each, the hearts and diamonds on the right and the clubs and spades on the left, “You know I’ve always got an ace up my sleeve. All four in fact.”

I smile, a little laugh bubbling in my chest. “Yeah, I hope they’ll be enough at the meeting.”

“Are you going?” He asks, rolling his sleeves back up.

“Yeah. Whole duty and whatnot.”

“Stay safe. Keep your head down because things will get hairy.”

“I’m kinda bad at that Cinder.”

“Just, don’t get caught in the crossfire. I don’t want you to have to hurt a friend because of me.”

“You be safe too Cinder.”

“I’ll do my best. Though, I’m gonna be in the thick of things.”

“You’ll take precautions right?”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, body armor, something like that?”

“It’ll show the way my suits are cut. That’s not exactly a show of trust or a show of ‘I don’t know that you’re actually gonna kill me’.”

“Fair point.”

“I’ll be fine, Amn. Try not to worry too much.”

“You know I will.”

He leans forward, presses a kiss that tastes like his margarita to my lips. Extra lime with a sugar rim, not salt. “Try not to. It’s bad for your heart.”

“And alcohol’s bad for your liver.”

“Only if you’re an alcoholic. Besides,” he cracks a crooked smile, “my kiss makes you drunker than anything this bar can pour. I’ll see you tomorrow Amn. Best of luck.”

“Yeah,” I watch him leave the bar, paying the bartender and tipping generously. He doesn’t have to, but he insists. “You too.”

The next day comes quickly, too quickly. The meeting is at noon in a townhouse owned by the governor. Ophelia drags Glaive and me out at eleven and we meet the governor inside along with a handful of the DPD. We exchange a few words before the governor leaves us be. He’s too important to be caught in anything that’ll go down. We each stand behind the table, facing the door, awaiting the arrival of the Bishops with each painstaking second that passes by. The clock strikes twelve, then a minute passes. Two.

“Not the punctual sort are they?” Snarls Ophelia.

Glaive shrugs. I remain silent.

Three minutes.

As I check my watch for what feels like the hundredth time, the door to the townhouse squeaks open. In walks a familiar pair. Cinder is dressed in a black suit, no tie, the collar of his shirt mostly open showing the tattoo on his collarbones. The other Bishop with him is Royale, all dark skin and jet hair braided down his back. He’s dressed in a red and gold ensemble. It would be garish on anyone else but Royale makes it work.

“There’s supposed to be a third.” Ophelia’s words have bite to them, justified bite as Gamble is supposed to be there but bite nonetheless.

“Oh, Gamble couldn’t make it.” Royale smirks. It’s warmer than Cinder’s, “Caught a bug. All bedridden and whatnot. We didn’t think it fair to drag him out.”

“Alright. Fine. We only really need Cinder’s signature anyway.” She clears her throat and stares down the two Bishops. “By signing this, you agree to all the terms listed above and therein.”

“I know how a contract works, sweetheart, signed plenty before. You know, how do you think I got these devilishly good looks?” He picks up the pen and his eyes flick over the contract. The tension in the air is so thick you could cut it with a knife. All eyes are on Cinder but for once, mine are on Royale. He’s standing in a comfortable position, rocking onto his toes and then his heels, dark brown near black eyes flitting about the room. It takes me a moment to realize what he’s doing. He’s counting, thinking. His eyes land on each of the pillars in the governor’s townhouse, each doorway, each raised platform, he’s looking for cover for a gunfight. Then they land on each of the DPD and each of us, counting. They meet mine, and he grins, showing off almost too white teeth.

“Alright,” Cinder straightens up, pen still in hand, “So, say I don’t agree to these terms.”

“You will.” Ophelia snaps through gritted teeth.

“Now now,” he smiles a crooked smile and winks at me, “Who’s to say I will?”

“If you don’t sign it,” Ophelia yanks her pistol out of its holster and levels it with Cinder, “I get to kill you and Royale and go hunt down Gamble myself. This just ensures that most everyone in your festering cesspool gets out unscathed.”

“I don’t think you’ll need to hunt down Gamble,” Cinder drawls, slowly raising his hands, “But, you might. He’s awful good at hiding.” As the last syllable left his mouth, a bullet cracks into the table, right in the middle of the treaty. At once, all guns are on Cinder and Royale but their hands are raised, not a weapon between them.

“Who was that!?” Demands Ophelia, striding towards the two of them.

“C’mon dollface, use that head of yours. Who do you know that’s an ex-military sniper and is currently missing from this room?”

“Gamble.” I say, breaking the silence.

“He figured it out,” Cinder jerks his head towards me, “Now, this can go down a handful of ways, but I suggest it go down an easier one than what you’re thinking. My vote’s that you let us leave, we don’t sign a treaty and no one dies. Simple, right?”

I can practically hear the gears grinding in Ophelia’s head. I slowly lower my weapon and watch Glaive do the same. Despite the numbers, he’s still at an advantage. The treaty is only valid with his signature and if he dies now, nothing that the treaty covered would go through. Ophelia, however, doesn’t back down.

“You will sign this treaty.”

“Or what?”

Her teeth grit together and she fires off two shots into Cinder’s bicep and shoulder respectively. Panic surges in my chest and I watch as another sniper shot pierces into Ophelia’s shin. The officers about us quickly snap their aim to Ophelia and it dawns on me. Cinder planted his own men as members of the DPD.

Everything passes by in a blur after that. Somehow I end up next to Cinder. He’s fine, still standing and everything if leaning against a wall can qualify as standing. His hands are pressed to the wound in his shoulder and Royale busies himself with putting pressure on the one in his bicep.

“Are you okay?” I ask, stupid question I know.

“I got shot Amn. I mean,” he winces, “Been shot before, worse than this too. Just, damn.”

“Thought I told you to be careful.”

“And I was. Got shot, but both are nonlethal and probably nothing to worry about.”

“We should get that taken care of,” Urges Royale, starting to nudge Cinder out.

“You really should. Gunshot wounds always carry a risk of shock.”

“Been there done that, sweetie,” he calls over his shoulder as Royale ushers him out with a sheepish smile, “You should check on Ophelia. Gamble didn’t kill her but you should still get her some medical attention.” I watch as they leave, the false DPD members following.

That night, I get a text from Cinder saying to meet him in Lace on the top floor. I pull on my coat and bid Glaive goodbye. Ophelia is still in the hospital, though I don’t think she’ll be in there long.

The walk to Lace is as familiar as ever. It is after all one of Cinder’s favorites. I nod politely to the bouncer with a little “Evening, Bruno,” and make my way upstairs. There, Cinder sits Royale on one side, Gamble on the other. Gamble, to be honest, intimidates me a little. He’s got a good six inches on me and is built. He has really intense eyes too, burning orange but at the moment he’s smiling.

“Amn! Sweetheart! So good to see you,” Cinder stands and pulls me into a chaste kiss. “I’ve got a proposition for you.”

“How’s your arm?”

“Hurts. But that’s what happens. I’ve got painkillers but I can’t take them for another hour. Anyway, have a seat. Can I get you a drink?”

“How about an Amaretto Sour?”

“Not a Cranberry Kiss?”

I chuckle a little at the insinuation, “Not today.”

“So,” Cinder begins, lifting up the part of the bar to step behind it. “After all that’s happened in the few days, I’ve decided to offer you a position in the Bishops. You’ll have power and you’ll be able to enact change as you see fit. You’ll have to go through one of us for a while because, well, we know the state of things, but after that, you’ve got free reign. Now,” he measures out the amaretto and orange juice, “I know it’s gonna be a little tough to leave Rook, so I’ll let you take all the time you need to think it over.” He slides the drink over to me and I stir it absentmindedly with the thin straw.

“Yeah, was actually kinda thinking about this the other day. I wanna you know, do some good in the world and everything I heard was that you just, well, terrorized everything but I think that’s wrong. You open up these clubs and bars and employ the less fortunate off the streets and keep the governor’s money-grubbing hands off parts of Desdemona. So,” I take a sip of the sour, “yeah. I’m in.”

Suddenly, I’m surrounded by grins and Royale and Gamble pull me into a toast.

“To Amnesty Septum!” Declares Cinder, “Our newest Bishop!”

When Royale and Gamble retire, I find myself following Cinder to his bed on his floor. I face away as he undresses, chivalrous I know, but immediately turn back around as he hisses in pain, shirt half off his shoulder.

“Are you okay? Do you want some help?” I put a hand on his shoulder, meeting his eyes concerned.

“Some help would be nice,” he smiles a little through the pain. I sigh softly, gently pulling his shirt from him and folding it. “You didn’t need to fold it.”

“Call it meticulous.” I gently rest my hands on his biceps, mindful of the bandages on the wounded one and lean my forehead against his. “That could have gone much worse today.”

“I know,” he sighs, wrapping his arms around me, “But I’m still alive. That’s what matters.” We stand there a moment, just enjoying each other’s presence before Cinder hums against my chest. “I’m exhausted,” he murmurs, “we should go to bed.”

“Yeah, we should.”

“Kinda don’t wanna let you go.”

“You want me to carry you?”

“Well…”

“Cinder the bed’s right there.”

“But Amn,” he whines, “I’m wounded.”

I let out an only slightly disgruntled groan and hook my arm under his legs then set him on the bed. His eyes are closed but he still has a gentle hold on the front of my shirt. “Cinder, I haven’t even changed.”

“Doesn’t matter. Stay.” He nuzzles his way into my neck. “Please.”

I laugh, a little soft huff into the night air but gently lay back on the bed, Cinder gently holding onto me, breathing slow and even.

love
Maya Manzonelli
Maya Manzonelli
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