Roman, part 5: The Whole Truth, Nothing But.
Cw: box boy universe, adult themes throughout, murder, murder trial, drowning mention, pet whump, drug and alcohol use, addiction, drugging, brief mentions of sex, death of a parent
This is a doozy. I know it is. Anyone who dives into this with me- I love you in advance. And now you know whats happening with Roman, and have a good idea of what will happen next.
The first time Roman heard the name Hal Madden, he was eight years old. It had not mattered, then. It swam in one unbothered ear and out the other, like a silver-bellied fish.
But that was too far back. He was telling this story for the first time, and he wanted to tell the important bits. He did not have a very forgiving audience. In fact, it consisted of a single sleepy, pissed-off boxboy called Zee, who was staring at him with his chin in his hand, waiting to turn him in for being a liar and for stealing his master’s cell phone.
His half-brother, Ivan Dixon-Madden. That’s where the story needed to start.
Roman worshipped Ivan. It'd always been that way. Ivan was big, strong, and kind. Every time they moved and started at a new school, his big brother managed to make a name for himself inside of the first week. This meant Roman would not have to sit alone at lunch, or worry about bullies who might make fun of him for the birthmark on his face. He was Roman, Ivan’s brother. He was accepted into the fold. It was like a title, a stand-in surname. Roman Ivansbrother.
Ivan was a good big brother. He never left Roman out, even when he was playing with his big-kid friends. At one elementary, the playground was shaped like a ship, and whether it was a pirate ship that day or a member of Her Majesty’s fleet, Ivan was unanimously elected Captain. Roman would automatically be first mate, though he often gave the title to another kid so he could just be a shark.
By highschool, Ivan was cool by virtue of not seeming to know what constituted as cool. If you brought up that his lipstick pink shirt was perhaps not cool, it would only make you look uncool for caring about something so subjective and embarrassing as what was cool.
Ivan’s easy, seemingly unselfaware popularity made it easy for Roman to continue his childhood pattern of riding Ivan’s wake. Roman Ivansbrother. He had teachers ask him if he was Ivan’s little brother when they read his name on the roster, peering over their glasses to try and spot the family resemblance first.
There wasn’t much of one. Roman and Ivan were half brothers. Their mother Irina was eighteen when she had Ivan, and twenty for Roman. Roman’s father was something of a myth to him, gone before his second birthday but always rumored to maybe one day return, like the risen Christ. Irina spoke highly but vaguely of his father, and in Roman’s child mind he grew as big and improbable as Zeus, white-bearded and cartoonish.
Where Roman was slender and small (until he hit his last growth spurt at fifteen and shot up to nearly six feet), Ivan was always huge for his age, a head taller than most of the kids in his class. He was red-headed and well spoken, where Roman was ash-blond and then ash-brown, quiet until eighth grade when he discovered sarcasm. Ivan’s father was also a mystery to Roman, and the uncovering of that old secret would be the thing that derailed his entire life.
Ivan’s father was Hal Madden, though Ivan was not given the surname. Irina, eighteen, was working in the lavish estate of the wealthy Madden family when she discovered she was pregnant with their eldest son Hal’s child.
Hal would go on to make his own fortune in the dot com boom, and segue smoothly into tech and stocks before that bubble did what bubbles inevitably do— burst. But in the hazy, hot summer of 1991, there had been no way of predicting such a thing would ever come to pass.
Hal was smitten, following Irina around his parents’ lavish North Carolina summer house like a lovesick puppy. Left to his own devices he would have married her, putting aside his well-to-do fiance Rebecca and pitching Irina into the envied class of nouveau-riche.
Hal’s mother, Arabella Madden, was positively livid when she discovered the newest member of her housekeeping staff was pregnant with her grandchild. There was to be no discussion. There was to be no compromise. A proud if somewhat deluded matriarch, Arabella told her son in no uncertain terms that he was to cut all ties with this teenaged no-name Jezebel, and the only money she would receive from him would be the two hundred and some dollars for an abortion.
If Hal chose to stay with this girl, he would be cut off entirely from any money that was not already in his name, including access to his parents’ property, wills, shares in their stocks, boats, and house in the south of France.
Maybe it was Arabella’s threats, or maybe it was simply the cool weather that broke the gauzy love-spell of the long summer afternoons. Hal remembered his promise to Rebecca, and the ring he’d put on her finger. Irina was fired, though Hal’s father found her new work with another family as an act of goodwill. Irina had the child, a boy, and received generous monthly child support from Hal, unbeknownst to Arabella. They had no further in-person contact.
Hal did, however, have contact with his adult son, Ivan. That was the beginning of it all, really. Roman still did not know the name Hal Madden then, and was living his life as if it were going to go on quite the same.
By twenty-five he was attending community college, tired of working night shifts at a dead end mill job and taking odd seasonal work.
He’d toned down his highschool look years ago, traded the band tees and the weirdly tied wrist and neck bandanas for more nondescript, nothing-to-see-here fashion.
Still, a girl once told him over well drinks at Chili’s that he looked a bit like a school shooter. To this day he didn’t know if that was supposed to be constructive criticism, or if it was a turn on for her. Either way, he'd ended a six-month dry spell with that girl later that night. The Texas strawberry lemonades he’d drunk sloshed sickly-sweet in his belly with every thrust.
Ivan started going on trips around this time, sometimes for days. The house they still shared with Irina felt empty during those long bouts of absence. Roman made dinner alone, watched 20/20 alone, fed the cat alone. His mother was always working, and Ivan’s trips became more frequent. He would come back tanned, wearing clothes Roman had never seen, and pay all their household bills in one go.
When Roman asked where he went, Ivan insisted he’d met new sober friends, that they were renting Air bnb’s on the Gulf Coast.
It wasn’t until one night, the night before Roman’s twenty-sixth birthday, that the truth came barreling onto center stage. Roman was dozing on the couch during a thunderstorm that had gone on for the last hour, rumbling and crashing, driving rain sideways against the windows. He was alone, feet propped on the arm of the sofa, their gray tabby happily purring on his chest.
A door off the laundry room that led to the side yard slammed, either by force or somehow caught by the wind. Roman started, sitting up with a jolt. The tabby cat leapt to the floor and ran from the room. He grabbed a fire poker and held it tight by his side as he went to investigate. The door handle to the laundry room started to turn and he held up the poker like a baseball bat, heart pounding.
he came out of the sea.
Someone distinctly Ivan-shaped came through the door. He hollered and held up his hand when he saw his brother.
“Fuck, Rome, put that thing down! Goddam.”
“Jesus, dude! Why are you using the side door?”
“I lost my key to the front door. I used the old spare one, under the frog. I need to tell you something, and I need you to listen. Something bad’s happened.”
“What is it?” Roman set the iron poker on the kitchen counter. He’d never seen Ivan so agitated. He pushed past him and squelched through the living room in his wet shoes all the way to their shared back bedroom.
He stood in the doorway as his brother yanked their closet light’s chain so hard he thought it might snap off. He began pulling clothing down from the shelf and throwing it haphazardly behind him, littering the floor with flannels and sweat-stained undershirts until he unearthed a small metal lockbox. Roman hadn’t seen it before, which was odd. He would’ve bet money on the fact that he’d seen everything in their one-floor ranch at least a million times.
“What is that? Ivan?”
Ivan’s big fingers fumbled with the combination lock, but he popped it open on the first try. Roman stepped closer to see. The lockbox was stuffed full of papers— some newer, some old and faded. Ivan rummaged through to the bottom and pulled out a manilla envelope. Roman saw the name written across it with sharpie in neat capital letters. IVAN DIXON-MADDEN.
“Madden? Who the hell’s Madden?”
“My father,” Ivan answered, dumping the contents of the envelope onto the ground and spreading them apart like playing cards. “My father’s name is Hal Madden.” There was a flatness to his tone that chilled Roman, as if he were the one soaking wet. Rainwater dripped from Ivan’s red hair, over his thick brow and into his eyes. “He’s dead.”
“Are you still with me? Do you need me to rewind? Fast-forward?”
Zee shook his head. He was a good listener, as it turned out. He’d barely blinked so far. They were sitting on the floor of his room with just his closet light on, in case Alex woke up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. He adjusted his foot, sticking it out straight where it had been tucked underneath him. It had probably started to go to sleep.
“Your half brother Ivan’s father is dead,” he said. “The rich guy that got your mom pregnant when she was like, eighteen.”
“Right,” Roman nodded. “Thanks for the succinct recap on my family tragedy. So… Okay. The next part is sort of where this whole mess starts.”
Zee raised his eyebrows expectantly.
Roman took a deep breath. He closed his eyes, and he was back in his mother’s house in Florida.
They lived near route one, south of St Augustine. Their house wasn’t close enough to the beach to be considered a beach house, but they got the brunt of the wind off the water, and the driveway was mostly sand, which got tracked through the whole house and lived in all the tiny cracks and crevices forever.
That night, in the driving Florida rain, Ivan had told him who his father was, and that he was dead. Roman’s own father had stopped being a mystery in 2014, when they’d met up in a diner and had an awkward father-son reunion that was always going to be a disappointment. How’s your mother? Fine. These things were more climactic in the movies, Roman decided. His Luke Skywalker moment had happened at eleven o’clock on a Monday morning over runny eggs. It had been about as life altering as watching a balloon deflate.
“They killed him,” Ivan muttered darkly, sifting through the documents on the floor. There was a frantic edge in his movements that Roman was not used to in his unshakeable big brother, cool before cool was cool.
“Who did?” The night had taken on a surreal quality. Reality had tilted sideways like the rain. His brother was not Ivan but a dream-Ivan, not quite right and raving. Roman took a step backwards towards the door, suddenly a little nauseous.
“Those fucking...Jack and Benjamin. The twins. My…” he stopped rummaging to laugh. “My other half-brothers.” He started pawing through the papers again. “They’re not, by the way. Because Rebecca Madden is a lying, scheming…”
“What are you talking about? Ive, are you… are you high?”
Ivan shot him a look. He picked up one of the papers and scanned it, top to bottom. It wasn’t the right one. He went back to the pile. “No, I'm not. D’you really think I’d just flush sixteen months down the toilet? Like that?”
If anything had ever come between them, it was the years where Ivan had been on drugs. Cocaine mostly, but any upper would do once he’d had a few shots. “Whoever says alcohol is a depressant never had good tequila,” Ivan would say, his eyes bloodshot and watery.
Roman was just out of highschool back when that started. He was deeply turned off by anything that took away his composure, or challenged his immaculate sense of self-control and order in the world. He didn’t want to act like his brother or his new friends acted, red-faced and sloppy and embarrassing. It was the first time he hadn’t followed in his brother’s footsteps.
“And this is my baby brother,” Ivan told a roomful of his friends once, all just as bombed as he was. He’d pulled Roman’s neck into a chummy headlock and gave him a noogie. “My little Rom-com, all grown up! He's a little quiet, ladies, but quiet ain't always shy!"
He’d had a sponsor for a while Roman hadn’t liked much. When he’d been working the program, “making amends” mostly just rehashed nights Roman would rather forget. But he was clean now. Sixteen months, like he’d said.
“I’m not fuckin’ high, Rome. Christ, I don’t even drink anymore.”
“I’m sorry, I just—”
“My father’s dead.” He stopped, sitting back on his heels and burying his face in his hands, mouth wide open in a spasm of grief. Roman couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his big brother cry. It was jarring, watching his broad back shake, his meaty arms thrown up to cover his face. “Ivan Dixon, strong as Babe the blue ox!” their highschool PE teacher had inexplicably exclaimed when he’d seen Roman Dixon, a five-eight freshman with legs like a flamingo.
Ivan sobbed for twenty seconds, then abruptly stopped. He coughed loudly to compose himself. He went to his nightstand and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He smelled them first, squeezing to test if the tobacco was going to be old and dried. He opened his window and lit one, and began telling the story of his father's death.
Hal Madden was fifty-two and sitting on a fortune that would put his children’s children through the Ivy league school of their choice. His wife Rebecca was fifty, which as everyone knows is the new forty, and she lived her life as a testament to that ideal. Hal and Rebecca had twin sons, Jack and Benjamin, age twenty-seven. Jack and Ben were fraternal twins, and looked alike only in the way brothers often do— in the shape of an eye or a jaw, the corners of a mouth.
That night would be the first time Roman heard the names Jack and Benjamin Madden. They’d meant nothing to him then. They’d rolled into his brain like marbles, swam like little silver fish back out again, leaving him none the worse for wear.
This last weekend, Hal was out on his beloved leisure boat, the Tyche. Hal was an accomplished sailor and an excellent swimmer. He’d taught his twin boys from the time they could walk to be the same, and though they were more inclined to hire a captain for their boozy ventures into open water, they knew their way around a boat well enough.
Here is where accounts differ. First, Roman heard the story from his grieving brother, whose hand shook as he held his cigarette aloft.
Later, he would hear it from Jack Madden, and then Benjamin. He would hear the prosecution’s story and the defense’s. Rebecca’s. In his own way, even Hal would tell the story of his final night on earth.
At first, his death was investigated as an accidental drowning. But as the circumstances surrounding Hal’s final hours began to take shape, police were forced to change the nature of the investigation. Even so, it took nearly two weeks for enough doubt to stir, for enough evidence to be collected to make the arrest.
When Roman first heard the story, the twins had not even been arrested yet.
Once Ivan stubbed out his smoke and went to the bathroom, Roman googled the name Hal Madden on his phone. Sure enough, the headlines queued up. He had a Wikipedia page, and a website. He was featured in an article in Forbes. Most jarring were the recent headlines, news articles reporting his death this past weekend. ‘Tragic Accident’, they said. ‘Drowning Death’. ‘Inclement Weather’. There was nothing about foul play, or a murder investigation. Not yet.
The fact that this man was his half brother’s father was bizarre. It was lumpy, difficult to swallow. But it made sense. It accounted for Ivan’s newfound extra cash, his long vacations. It accounted for the money his mother used to wait for when they were kids, the way they would be dirt poor one week and then it would all be better for a while, name brand cereal and new shoes, ice cream cones on the boardwalk.
He looked at the mess of papers strewn about the floor. One was close enough to his foot he could reach down and pick it up. It was a bank statement, dated three months ago. There was a long list of deposits and withdrawals, none totalling more than one hundred dollars. Except, at the bottom, was a deposit of nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine dollars on May seventh, from a bank in Clearwater. Had Ivan been keeping a paper trail of his father’s interactions with him? All their financial transactions?
Ivan came back into the room and changed into a dry shirt.
“Jack and Benjamin did it,” he said, his mouth a perfect line. “The twins killed my father.”
“His kids?” Roman breathed. He hurried to amend that statement. “His other kids, I mean? Jesus, why?”
“Money.” Ivan made a face. “It’s always fucking money, isn’t it? That and their mother is batshit insane. I mean…” he swirled his forefinger beside his temple. “Coo coo, no cocoa puffs. Whatever Oedipal shit is going on there, I… It doesn’t matter. They’re going to get it all, and I’m going to get nothing.”
“You were… going to get something?”
“Something? I was going to be set for life. So was mom. So were you! As soon as that old bitch kicked the bucket? Oh, jackpot.”
“What old bitch?”
“My grandmother. Arabella.” He enunciated each syllable, dripping with contempt. Hers was the original sin of turning away their mother.
Zee interrupted him. “I think I saw them on the news. The twins.”
“Yeah, hard not to. In the southeast, at least.”
“How do I know you’re not still lying?”
Roman sighed. “You don’t. You got a polygraph machine kickin’ around? Hook me up.”
“Those aren’t even admissible in court.”
“Well ain’t you sharp as a tack. I’m telling you what happened, the best way I can.”
Ivan was distraught the next two weeks. He contacted lawyers, he tried news outlets. That wasn’t the way to go. Their mother confirmed that yes, Ivan had it right. His father was Hal Madden. She did not seem very saddened by Hal’s death. Nor did she seem terribly surprised. All she had to say was that nothing good would ever come of meddling with that family. She told Ivan to stay out of it, and would say nothing more on the subject.
But Ivan was positively possessed with the idea that at twenty-nine he was the eldest Madden, two full years the twins’ senior. He believed the twins were not even Hal’s true sons, but the lovechildren of Rebecca and an English professor she’d been rumored to have had an affair with around that time.
He was obsessed with them. He knew their blood types, their exact eye colors on a chart. He knew Jack had a math tutor in ninth grade and that Benjamin had broken his arm in tenth.
He thought he could prove that Jack and Benjamin were not Hal Madden’s, though there was no indication Hal had believed that, or that a paternity test had even so much as been requested.
After the Madden boys were arrested, Ivan was bloodthirsty. He knew his only hope at truth, at reclaiming a birthright so cruelly taken from him rested in the twins' conviction. Nothing else would bring his father to justice, or his snubbed mother.
He wanted Rebecca to be marched through the streets, her head shaved and her body covered in tar like the épuration sauvage. Rebecca was the collaborator, the adulteress, the usurper of what should've been his mother’s throne. In the place of Jack and Benjamin, he said, it should have been them. Ivan and Roman.
Roman pointed out that he wouldn't actually exist in this bit of revisionist fantasy. He was two years younger than Ivan and his own father was a car salesman in Daytona, not a slain businessman from a wealthy line.
Ivan brushed him off. Nothing could undermine his vision. Roman didn’t understand, Ivan said, the sort of money that rightfully was his. His father had wanted him to have it. They’d spent a lot of time together in the last year and a half of his life. They’d gotten to know one another. Hal had always loved their mother. He’d always loved him. He’d sent money, secret from Rebecca and Arabella. He wanted to make things right. And those twins, those bastard changelings had ultimately killed him to keep their millions.
By the end of it Roman pictured the twins as a two headed dragon, sitting atop a pile of untold riches like Smaug. Or maybe they were like the Slithery-dee.
Ivan had everything figured out, down to a timeline. He had everything but proof.
Eventually, he devised a plan for that proof. The beautiful Rebecca was playing the part of grieving widow. Of course she was, Ivan said. She was in on Hals’ death. She had plenty of time to plan it. Her boys were out of jail, both on a cool 2.5 million dollar bond. They had lawyered up from their palatial twenty-room digs on the Gulf Coast, hiring the services of Jose Garica and Christian Abbot, two defense attorneys infamous in legal circles and hungry to make themselves household names.
Ivan followed all of this from their rickety kitchen table. He printed things out. He shredded them. He made pots of coffee at eleven PM. The news was playing constantly on their TV screen like it was election night, even if they only circled back to the Madden twin case every hour or so, covering it for thirty seconds before moving on.
Rebecca must have conferred with her stylist, because her usually jet black hair was left alone so the grey streaks showed at her temples. Whenever she was photographed or appeared on the news she wore modest black and kept her nails blunt and natural. She wore her wedding ring. As the ultra-wealthy sometimes did, she ordered a boxboy from WRU, to be a consolation to her in her time of agonizing grief.
This boxboy was to be Ivan’s Trojan Horse.
Ivan’s second greatest feat, in Roman’s estimation, was figuring out exactly the order Rebecca Madden had placed and tracking it. He couldn’t hack into a system that big or that well maintained, but he did manage to trick an intern into giving him a case number, and pretended to be a trainee’s boss successfully enough to get a copy of the Madden boxie file.
And to think, all without a single bump of coke. You didn’t need the feather to fly, Dumbo.
Rebecca had not specified any sexual preferences or training. Of course not. That would reflect quite badly on a grieving widow.
She had specified the ability to perform domestic duties instead (don’t you have like fifteen fucking maids, lady? grumbled Ivan), and she had checked all the grief companionship boxes. Essentially, she had ordered an expensive shoulder to cry on.
Ivan doubted there would be much crying. Every eye in that place will be dry, he said. They just needed to get to that boxie before the Maddens did. They needed to get him to spy for them, to listen in on the Madden’s conversations— with each other, their lawyers, their closest friends. Everything. It would be easy, boxies were treated like lap dogs. No one would think twice of saying something in earshot of their personal slave.
The fly in the ointment: some of the espionage would inevitably need to be carried out through reading. Notes, discarded mail, appointment books, diaries, emails, texts. And boxies cannot read.
A second fly in the ointment: boxies are heavily conditioned to be loyal. One quick interception, even with grand promises and reassurances, would not turn a boxie against their intended owners. They might even recount the experience to the owner, effectively letting the Maddens know they needed to up their security.
It was a beautiful plan, but it could not be executed. The flaws were fatal.
Then came the gleaming alternative. The deus ex machina, flying at them like shrapnel.
They would swap the boxie while in transit to the Madden’s. They would swap him for a doppelganger. A fake.
Later, subjected to Jack Madden, Roman would wonder if there had been another way. He wondered if we are truly our brothers keepers. He wondered, if the roles were reversed, if he would have asked Ivan to do something like that for him.
“How did you do it?” Zee breathed.
He had a red mark on his chin where his palm had propped it up so long. Roman could see why his masters seemed to like him so much. There was something painfully genuine about him. He was cute, with those honey eyes and that dished nose. Cameron had apologized for eating waffles with syrup on the sofa when Zee reprimanded him. He’d gotten up and eaten them at the table.
“You know how they do it,” Roman said. “They drug you, then load you up. It’s not the handlers that do it, it’s just the guys who work at the loading docks. There’s overseers, of course. But only one overseer per ten workers out there, and they’ve only got two eyeballs. I could figure the cameras blind spots from the mill I worked in. I helped install ours.”
“Right,” Zee said thoughtfully. “And they do the final checklist in those little med tents before you go in the box.”
“Bingo. There’s Ivan and me, dressed as loading dock workers. Just before the med tent, we do the swap. I strip, he grabs the boxie, puts my clothes on him. I go in the med tent. I drink the pink potion, I’m drunk as a skunk. I get loaded in the box. Ivan planned it down to the milisecond.”
“Wow,” Zee muttered. His eyes were somewhere in the middle distance as he pictured the loading docks. “What did you do with the real one?”
“Ivan took him to a shelter. Dropped him off. At least that’s what the plan was. I dunno, because I was locked in a fucking box. Why do they do that, by the way?”
Zee shrugged. “For show?”
“Yeah,” Roman shuddered at the woozy memory. He’d been too drugged to even chant about the Slithery-dee. “Three cheers for fuckin’ pageantry, I guess. Anyway, after that whole miserable ass day where I nearly suffocated in the back of a truck, I got there. They dropped me off at the Madden’s front door.”
“Why did you do it?”
Roman hesitated. What part hadn’t been clear?
“To gather information for the case. Maybe to help the trial, if I could collect physical evidence and send it back to Ivan. I was spying, to prove they’d killed their father, that they were all in on it.”
“But why you?”
“Who else would do it? Ivan couldn’t. He exceeded Rebecca’s height and weight specifications. I’m five years older than the real one she ordered, but you can’t tell that by looking. Besides, there’s a good chance they know Ivan’s face. Especially Rebecca.”
“But it’s so dangerous.”
Of course it had been. Just how dangerous, he hadn't realized at the time. But for the first time in his life, his big brother had been the one who needed him, and not the other way around. Roman shrugged.
“He’s my brother.”
He had no other answer.
Roman’s taglist: @briars7 @whump-only @boxboysandotherwhump @onyxeverett, @albino-whumpee @cupcakes-and-pain @orchidscript @asummerwithclara @finder-of-rings
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[Image Description: A collage containing dark-colored photos, one of Charlie Barber, one of Matt the radar technician, one of knives stuck in a wall, a hand holding a wire pulled taught, an abandoned and run-down theater, television static, and the skyline of New York City. In red lettering, the title of the fic reads: Beasts in the Boroughs. End of Image Description.]
Beasts in the Boroughs
Chapter Nine: Surrender
Charlie Barber x Matt x Reader
read on AO3 subscribers get early access to new chapters!| Chapter List
Word Count: 2100+
Co-Author: @direnightshade Make sure you’re following her, as we alternate chapter updates every other Friday!
Author's Note: We're changing up our posting schedule! Since Charlie and Matt's story took us all by surprise and we decided we wanted to continue writing it, we will now be posting bi-weekly, rather than weekly. So posts will now be every other Friday. Thanks for reading!
18+ | CW: brief implication of future murder plans, fire, mutual pining, idiots to lovers, slow burn
Heavy boots echo through the small, hollow apartment as Matt paces back and forth, ripping at his blonde curls and smacking his forehead repeatedly, in frustration with himself.
Fucking, stupid! Stupid! Stupid! What the fuck was he thinking showing up at Charlie’s apartment like that? He doesn’t even remember the walk there, his brain only clicking the location into place once he was staring into the slightly pulled back curtains.
He could clearly see the silhouette of Charlie’s form standing at the window-- could almost make out his face, if only Matt could just get a little closer. Without thinking, he moved forward, momentarily forgetting to stick to the shadows, and stepping directly into the dull light of the streetlamp. Charlie looked deep in thought; eyebrows furrowed in concentration while his hands rested on his hips.
Suddenly, Charlie turns his head in Matt’s direction and he does a double-take, causing Matt to back away quickly before turning and sprinting off into a full run. He pumps his legs, muscles burning, for several blocks before he dips into an alley to lean against the brick of whatever building he was taking cover under.
He was a fucking idiot!
Why did he even go back? What was he expecting to come out of that little field trip?
Matt yanks on his hair some more as he lets out a loud roar of frustration. Stomping over to the closet, he rips the trunk from the shelf with a loud thud as it falls to the dresser top underneath. He pries open the lock and quickly pulls out the pair of black and emerald silk that had been fueling his fantasies since he left Charlie’s apartment.
With determination, he tramples toward his mattress, quickly dumping the few items out of the small steel trash can, and tossing the panties inside. He reaches for the matchbox resting on his nightstand, ready to finally fucking force himself to part with these unrealistic thoughts and the material possession keeping him tethered to them. Striking the match, he watches the fire glow for a moment, mesmerized by the dancing flame.
The sound has Matt snapping his head toward his front door. The burn of the flame on his already calloused fingers draws his attention back to the match, the small flame extinguishing itself midair as it falls to the hardwood floor. Pocketing the matchbox, he makes his way through the threshold of his bedroom and heads to the front door, unclicking the locks.
If one of those sluts showed up at his door without him calling first, he was going to fucking strangle their pimp.
With the unclicking of the final lock, Matt swings the door open, ready to chew out whoever was on the other side. He halts in surprise as a very familiar face greets him with one of those smug fucking smirks and Matt’s chest constricts at the sight of the man in front of him.
“Hello, Matthew,” Charlie greets him.
Silence follows Charlie’s cordial greeting, and he watches as Matt’s wide eyes narrow to tiny slits almost as if he is rather suspicious by the brunette’s appearance on his doorstep. Charlie slips his hands into the front pockets of his slacks and rocks back on the heels of his feet briefly.
“You know, it’s customary when a friend shows up on your doorstep to invite them in.”
“We’re not friends,” Matt spits out almost immediately, the retort only seeming to elicit an even broader smirk from the man on the other side of the threshold.
“No, I suppose that line was crossed when I let you fuck my partner. Perhaps, then, I should refer to you as something else entirely.”
Another beat of silence follows, and then…
Matt grumbles incoherently to himself and with an obvious reluctance, steps back from the entrance, swinging open the door just wide enough to allow Charlie to step through. Once inside, the door closes behind Charlie with a soft click and his eyes roam about the sparsely furnished space. In fact, he’d argue that it really isn’t furnished at all. There is a modestly sized television and a dingy mattress and that seems to be all. It certainly is a far cry from his own apartment, that much is apparent.
"Sorry, there's nowhere to sit," Matt says, awkwardly scratching the back of his head, ruffling the golden curls, "If you're here about the other night, you don't have anything to worry about. I won't come around your building again. Don’t know what I was thinking, showing up there in the first place."
“I’m here,” Charlie starts, his focus returning to the blonde standing before him, “for another reason entirely.” When he is met with nothing but a blank stare, he opts to elaborate. “Did you happen to take something that doesn’t belong to you, Matthew? Perhaps a little souvenir, hmm?”
Matt’s mind immediately drifts to the wadded-up panties currently sitting in the bottom of a steel trash can by his mattress.
So he’s not here to see me after all, Matt thinks, the slightest bit of disappointment seeping in.
The look of recognition is so slight that any other individual off the street would have missed it. But Charlie is not just someone off of the street, and he has clocked the barely noticeable shift in Matt’s expression.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Matt denies, spine stiffening.
“Oh, but I think you do…” Charlie counters, head tilting to the side as he studies every subtle change in the blonde at his accusation. Of course, this was all just a ruse on Charlie’s part, merely a reason to check in on his young apprentice-- a way to get his foot in the door, so to speak, “perhaps a little black and emerald number?”
“Are you insinuating that I’m a fucking thief?” Matt snarls, the nostrils of his nose flaring.
“Now I never said that Matth--,” the older man began before he was cut off.
“You know what, fuck you, Charlie!”
Charlie’s face falls into an ominous glare as ice shoots through his veins at the words Matt had hurled at him. Taking one, slow measured step after another, he finds himself standing chest to chest with the young man in front of him. Anyone else would have cowered, perhaps backed away in fear at the sight of Charlie dropping his friendly facade, but of course, Matt would not back down from the challenge so easily-- like a real man, he stands his ground against the beast approaching him.
Charlie isn’t sure which emotion is more prominent; anger or pride.
“Now, now, Matthew...there is no need to hurl insults at one another,” Charlie says, the low rumble of his mildly-threatening tone barely above a whisper, “Surely after everything we have been through thus far, we can remain cordial.”
Matt stares into the bestial orbs of Charlie’s eyes, studying the way his pupils had instantly swallowed the irises whole, gobbling up any trace of hazel. His teeth grind together as the two of them continue their showdown, eyes locked and silence ricocheting around them as they each wait for the other to back down.
“Fine,” Matt concedes through clenched teeth, ready to just get Charlie the fuck out of his apartment so he can move on with his damn life. What did he fucking see in him in the first place? Charlie was still a pompous demanding motherfucker, just as Matt had originally pinned him to be. “You can have the fucking underwear back.” Stepping away from the older man, Matt storms off into the bedroom, not even glancing back once to see if Charlie was following.
But follow he does. Quiet footfalls trail behind the louder steps of the blonde, stopping only once Charlie reaches the threshold of the door leading to Matt’s bedroom. His eyes roam, never once focusing on Matt as he digs down into the depths of the trashcan, but rather at the state of the room itself. Like the remainder of the apartment it, too, is sparsely furnished. The wooden floor is warped and split into points, the wallpaper in one corner of the wall has begun to peel, revealing beneath it the wooden slats that hide beneath it. A dark bedsheet covers the window, acting as a makeshift curtain. If Charlie hadn’t been pained to see the state of Matt’s living situations upon his initial entry to the apartment, he sure is now.
His attention is redirected back to Matt as he stomps back across the room to where Charlie stands, thrusting the piece of black and emerald lace into his chest. “Here,” he bites out venomously, “fucking take it.”
The smugness, the smirks, any and all traces of superiority have vanished now as Charlie’s hand lifts to take the scrap of fabric that has been all but pushed into his grasp. They are on the tip of his tongue, the words that he longs to say, and he is growing closer to uttering them with each second that passes. Matt sneers in disgust, recoiling back and removing his hand entirely from Charlie once the offered material is now in the possession of its owner.
“If that’s everything,” Matt starts, nose crinkled with the sneer he now sports, “you can get the fuck out.”
“It’s not,” Charlie replies almost immediately.
Matt blinks, almost as if in disbelief at the suddenness in which Charlie speaks.
“I didn’t come here for the panties. I came here for you.”
A beat of silence passes before Matt can manage to respond.
“You came here...for me?” Matt questions, blonde eyebrows furrowing in confusion.
Charlie clears his throat as he tries to find his words, wanting to breach this subject delicately. His hands find his way to rest on his hips where the first two fingers dip slightly into the leather belt-- something Matt is beginning to notice the older man does when he’s deep in thought.
“I uh-- we... would love for you to come and stay with us.”
“Come stay with you?” Matt responds, his eyebrows now shooting straight up his forehead in surprise.
He shuffles ever-so-slightly, trying to wrap his brain around Charlie’s invitation, still not quite believing what he was hearing. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his worn jeans, he pinches the skin of his thigh to make sure he’s not lost in another one of his fantasies. Fuck! He cringes at the slight bit of pain. Nope, definitely not zoning out.
“F-for, for hunting purposes, of course. Surely you have also realized that it’s much easier to do when you’re not alone. Well, I think I-- we, could really all help one another. Safety in numbers, right?”
Silence once again settles uncomfortably through the apartment, the only sounds being the muffled surroundings of the neighbors through the thin walls. Both men seem to have a sudden keen interest in the warped wood flooring as their eyes settle at their feet. Charlie holds his breath, hoping that he worded it in a way that would be enticing to Matthew, and that he would indeed choose to come with him. Hoping that the young man would choose him, too.
Matt runs his fingers over the unruly blonde curls and scratches the back of his head-- something Charlie notices the young man does when he was deep in thought.
“And your...whatever...is okay with this?” Matt asks. Charlie gives a single nod of affirmation and Matt releases a puff of air as he glances around his sparse apartment, thinking about how desperate he had been for either Charlie or you to reach out to him all week. How, even after he had resigned, once again, for probably the hundredth time in the last couple of days to forget you both and move on with his life, he was still desperate to be around the two of you; and Charlie was offering him just that.
“Yeah, okay,” Matt finally says, pushing his golden wireframes up the bridge of his nose, “this place is a fucking dump anyway.”
He is the first of the two men to move, choosing to leave the awkward moment behind, opting to go straight for the closest to grab his kill bag, pack up his clothes into the single duffle bag he owns, and grabs for the trunk. Within minutes, he had everything he cared about or needed ready to go, not giving a shit about anything else left in the apartment. He didn’t even plan to let the landlord know. The lease was under a fake name anyway, and he didn’t really care to give that asshole a head’s up after the crazy fucking amount of money he asked for this shithole.
“I’m ready when you are,” Matt says, turning to Charlie.
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