How can he like it when the whole state is his personal prison? And adding insult to injury, uncle Flavius has forbidden him from doing anything that could even vaguely relate to Liathan O’Shea, his parents’ death or revenge – he can’t even read the police report!
Or, thanks to his fucking leg, hit the clubs and dance and drink and fuck the night away – for the one time he really, truly needs to lose himself in the night, he can’t. He’d probably never get to.
He’s broken. Useless.
He might as well start working on molding the sofa cushions to his body because that’s the most exciting thing he’ll ever achieve.
In his brilliant plan, however, he forgot one tiny, vital detail: Esca MacCunoval is a stubborn bastard and absolutely fearless.
Perhaps it’s knowing that there’s nothing short of talking to law enforcement people that would make Marcus put a hit on him, and even then he’d listen to his side of the story first. A 24-hours head start is also not out of the realm of possibility.
Right now, though, Marcus could just about throttle him. Esca just won’t leave him the fuck alone: he’s always nagging and wheedling about physical therapy and food and generally being a concerned pain in the ass.
He’s not asking for much, ok? He just wants to…to disappear in his own head and not come out for a while. Physical therapy is just a torture and a waste of time. He’s not 5, he’ll eat when he wants to, he can take care of himself and Esca is not his fucking brother.
For the first weeks, there’s a lot of yelling and throwing of various objects. Unfortunately for Marcus, Esca just ducks, yells right back at him and generally makes good of most of his threats while Ms. Sasstica, Stephen and Lucius look on from the sidelines.
Eventually, slowly, the situation starts improving. Marcus gets tired of arguing – and of losing all the time – so he resigns himself to going along with whatever Esca wants, grumbling every step of the way but walking rather than being dragged kicking and screaming.
He ends up channeling his frustration in his physical therapy and his leg starts improving – slowly, but steadily.
After some time, Marcus can start taking short walks around the house and the garden, join a gym again. He finally, finally gets to seat behind the wheel of his car and drive and not even the nightmarish traffic puts a damper on his mood.
He’ll never go back to the dance floor, though. He can’t and his leg has nothing to do with it. He gets a therapist.
There are still bad days, and Esca still gets the worst of it, but it’s down to their regular fights, it’s nothing they haven’t done before.
(Years later, Marcus will look back on those first weeks and thank God that somehow he never crossed the line that would have cost him Esca’s friendship).
Weeks turn to months. He still doesn’t like California, but he’s looking into the local universities, thinking about going back for his PhD.
That’s when the argument starts.
“Have you decided what to do?” Marcus asks, looking up from his paperwork.
“College. Are you going back to Boston?”
Esca looks away. “I’m staying here, of course.”
Marcus smiles. “Great. Our schedules will probably be very different, but maybe we’ll grab lunch together.”
“That will be easier than you think,” Esca mutters.
“What?” Marcus frowns. Esca’s face is a mix between I’m-keeping-something-from-you and I-have-to-tell-you-something-but-you-won’t-l
“I’m not going back to college.”
“What?! What are talking about, of course you are!”
“No, Marcus. I’m really not.”
Marcus closes his eyes as memories come up – Esca’s stubborn face, their never-ending argument and Theresa Aquila’s calm, firm voice. “Must we go through this again, Esca? You said you’d give college a try…”
“Yeah, and look how well that turned out,” Esca snorts.
Marcus grits his teeth. “Oh, I’m sure it would have made all the difference!”
Esca turns and punches the wall.
“Hey! Don’t!” Marcus shouts, standing up as fast as his leg will let him. Once he’s on his feet, however, he hesitates, unsure of what to do or say.
Esca keeps his back to him, his breathing deep and labored as though he had run for miles. Several second tick by before he speaks. “You still don’t remember much from that night, do you?”
Marcus rolls his eyes. “Everything up until I got out of the club and then it’s all bits and pieces, you know that.”
Esca steps back from the wall and sinks down on the sofa as if his legs couldn’t support him anymore, hiding his face in his hands. “I remember everything.”
It’s just a whisper, but it hits Marcus like a punch. He knew, of course he knew – Esca on the phone, far away, safe. He just never really understood what it meant. He never really thought about what that meant for Esca.
He tries to imagine what it would have felt like, standing on the sidewalk, chattering away, and suddenly hearing Esca’s door being kicked in, guns being fired and Esca, Esca in danger, in pain, maybe dying and him on the other end of the phone, helpless to do anything but listen.
The mere thought makes him shiver – for a split second, he wants to cross the room, hold Esca in his arms and never let him go, never let him leave the house without him or at least a dozen armed guards.
It still can’t be even remotely close to what Esca went through – what he has been going through since that night.
Marcus has been a dick. That’s hardly news, but this time he doesn’t know how to fix it.
“Shut up. It’s okay, I get it. Just don’t…don’t push me on this, Marcus. College is not for me.” It’s dangerously close to begging and five years ago Marcus promised himself Esca would never have to beg him for anything that was in his power to give, even if he disagreed. Esca isn’t made to beg.
Marcus forces himself to focus on the here and now before his mind carries him down memory lane again. “Okay. No more talk about college.” He hesitates for a second, but he can’t not ask. “Do you have a plan? Something you’re going to do?”
Esca raises his head and smiles. “I always have a plan.”
Marcus really, really wants to ask – and maybe right now Esca would let him push, just a bit, mostly out of habit. But Esca always let him have his space when he really needed it – it’s time to return the favor.
Marcus would never admit it, but college is good for him. It’s a bit like going back to clubs, back to being just a body among many, all connected by music – here, they are all connected by classes and professors and schedules. He’s just Marcus Aquila, economics student.
The first thing he does is build himself a social life. It’s not that hard, if you’re not shy, and Marcus has always been able to walk the friendly line without crossing into obnoxious territory. Soon he manages to cultivate a wide and varied circle of people he calls friends. If they actually took time to think about it, they’d realize they know very little about him, but he’s good at keeping them from noticing. It’s all a careful dance – great practice for the future, too.
Between keeping up with his web of acquaintances, classes, actual studying and the occasional party, Marcus has his hands full. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t got time for Esca, or so he tells himself.
Truth is, if they didn’t live in the same house, they wouldn’t see each other at all: Esca is always up for a round of Mario Kart or a lazy night on the sofa with pizza and a movie, but whenever Marcus invites him out with his classmates, he turns him down. Sometimes Marcus wonders if he’s jealous, but that’s ridiculous: they are just people he knows, Esca is his friend.
Perhaps he’s just busy – he started taking dance classes in a studio somewhere, but that obviously can’t be all he does. Marcus never asks, though. He promised to give him space and well… Esca is happy.
That’s why it’s such a shock when, one Saturday night, Marcus catches him stumbling in through the backdoor, bruised and bleeding.
It all happens because of professor Harris and his ten sources minimum requirement on his papers. By the time Marcus realizes he has been stuck on the same sentence for the last 5 minutes, it’s ten to one AM, he’s tired and thirsty.
He hesitates a moment before making his way to the kitchen, without turning on the light because Miss Sasstica sleeps downstairs and she is damn scary when somebody bothers her.
He’s helping himself to a couple of cookies when somebody opens the backdoor and flips the switch.
Even with the light flooding the kitchen, it takes him a second to realize what he’s seeing: Esca stands in the doorway, blinking owlishly. His clothes are rumpled, stained, even torn in a couple of places. Faint traces of blood on his face, red marks on his cheeks and arms that will soon turn into bruises.
Esca stares at him, swaying back and forth, and says: “Oh, fuck.”
That’s a good way of putting it.
Before he can say anything else, Marcus crosses the kitchen, drags him inside and pushes him down on a chair. Crouching next to him sends spikes of pain through his leg and he’ll pay dearly for this in the morning, but he doesn’t care: he’s too busy trying to inspect every inch of Esca.
“What the fuck happened?” he practically growls. “Who did this? Who?”
“Marcus…Marcus, calm down, it’s nothing…” Esca tries to fight his hands off, but he’ll have none of it.
“Nothing my ass!” Marcus catches a glimpse of more red marks on older, almost-faded ones before Esca manages to push him off and pull his shirt down. The last time he felt so furious he was 17 and finding shoe-shaped bruises on Esca’s chest and back. “I want their names.”
“Damn it, Marcus, will calm the fuck down? You’ve got your killing voice on.”
“I’m not fucking joking here, Esca!”
“Don’t shout, do you want to wake Sasstica?”
Marcus glares at him but lowers his voice. “Their names. Now.”
Esca has the nerve to sigh and roll his eyes. “Look, I don’t know them, okay? I was in a bar fight.”
“A bar fight?! You’re nineteen!”
“And you gave me a fake ID when I turned seventeen. Your point?”
Marcus closes his eyes and counts to ten as he slowly, carefully pushes himself to his feet. “I can’t fucking believe it. What the fuck where you thinking?” No answer. “I should have set some guardian angels on you years ago!”
His face turns red, eyes sparkling with wounded pride. “Don’t you dare bring that up, Marcus! I’m older, I can take care of myself!”
“Oh, yeah, sure! I can see what a great job you’ve done!” He’s almost shouting again. “I don’t care if your ego can’t take it, you’re getting bodyguards, on my dime, and that’s final!”
Esca clenches his fists. “Mind your own fucking business, Marcus. I’m not a kid anymore, you don’t have to protect me!”
“I want to!”
“I don’t need it!”
“I DON’T CARE!”
They both still, waiting for footsteps and angry questions, but Miss Sasstica miraculously fails to show up at all.
It’s Esca who breaks the silence. “You can’t keep me under a glass.”
“I’m not! I mean…I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
“Well, giving me bodyguards is not the way to go.” He sighs with frustration and runs a hand through his hair. “Listen, I know you…care about me. I swear I’m not trying to get back at you or anything, but the only reason I’ve flown under the radar for all these years is that outside your immediate family everybody sees me as an empty suit.”
“You’re not – ”
“I know,” Esca interrupts him. “But you putting bodyguards on me? It’s pretty fucking noticeable.”
Marcus’ mouth goes dry. “It would make you a target.”
“It could,” Esca corrects him, both kindly and implacably. “I need to learn to take care of myself, too.”
“Low profile. Got it.” He can see Esca’s point, he can agree with him, but that still doesn’t mean he has to like it. “Are you ever going to tell me what this mysterious plan of yours?”
Esca deliberately meets his gaze and holds it. “Trust me, Marcus. I know what I’m doing, even if it doesn’t look so.”
Marcus sighs. “Those dance classes of yours…Are they actually real?”
Esca half-smiles and half-grimaces, unconsciously rubbing his leg. “Oh yes. Very real.” He doesn’t add anything else.
“Okay. Fine. Just be careful, okay? Let’s go upstairs, I’ll patch you up.” He expects Esca to try and refuse again, but he proves smarter than that.
Marcus helps him up the stairs and into the bathroom – luckily, his “war wounds” are easily treated with a few cold compresses. Helping Esca makes him feel both more grounded and more unsettled – last time it was his mother who took care of him, not Marcus. He can’t help but feel he’s a poor substitute.
When they finally make it to their respective rooms, it’s almost half past one. Marcus forgot to get the water, but it’s not thirst that keeps him wide awake, tossing and turning. His mind is too full of memories.