The crowds streamed past, elbows and shoulders butting up against some invisible wall. People swerved around the three of them as if they stood as a bend in the river of the street. The voices nailed into his skull, laughter the hammer beating them in. Casper’s eye gave a nice little twitch on his next drag, and he could hardly part his gritted teeth to take it.
Jack stared at Cain, ugly twist to his pretty lips. Cain stared back with teeth ruining a smile. Casper drowned.
“Alright—” Jack tore his eyes from Cain and grabbed Casper’s shoulder, and only habit kept Casper from shrieking and throwing it off.
Jack led Casper right up to the window of Best One where racks of lighters and tacky signs hustling the offers of the day loomed over them behind the flimsy glass. At the first step away, the tether yanked Casper’s arm out, a little reminder echoed in the smirk curling Cain’s lips before he let Casper go. Sorry, sorry – permitted him a length on his leash.
Watching. Always watching.
He could whisper it to Jack right now low enough that Cain wouldn’t hear.
The window wobbled as Jack smacked his hand against it, up above Casper’s head as Jack ducked his closer. The alcohol still came acrid off his breath, but something warm lit his eyes now. It was the tenderness that went with the finger he brushed over Casper’s hollow cheek.
“I’m sorry I ain’t been by sooner, alright? Just like … It’s been a hard few weeks, y’know, and I did drop by but I guess you weren’t home and I guess I didn’t come enough, and that’s my fault. I know that, baby.”
Hard few fucking weeks. If Jack knew—
Casper bared his teeth. “Maybe I was just still mad about the other week.”
The touch flinched away, a flash of hurt in Jack’s eyes like that had any fucking right being there. “Are you serious? You—”
Someone stepped out of the shop, shouting loudly back inside in a language Casper didn’t know, and Jack stopped, a sneer gathering through his lips as he tapped his foot, waiting for the customer to leave.
“Cassie?” Smooth, idle, Cain’s voice floated over to them from where he stood, looking all tall and delicious with his coat pushed back behind the hand planted on his hip. The display showed off the lines of his body in those expensive clothes.
Okay, maybe this boner was still drowning sense from his brain.
Funny though, how Casper had forgotten how stupid gorgeous he was, seeing as Cain had kidnapped him and all. Really took the thrill out of those kinds of things, but hey, maybe Casper should at least try some aesthetic and erotic appreciation if he was gonna be jammed up there for eternity.
Look at you, Roach. You’ve already fucking given up. Find that fucking backbone.
As soon as Casper met his eyes, Cain continued, boredom a blanket across his voice. “Could you get this over with? I have a meeting at twelve.”
All casual like he wasn’t clearly doing that on purpose to provoke exactly that snarled, snag-toothed reaction from Jack. This was going to turn into a fucking mess.
Hand still pressed against the shop window, a tightness going through his fingers that drew them to white-tipped crocodile teeth, Jack pinned an ugly glare on Cain.
Yeah, ugly – the one that tasted sour to see – but still ... something about the cast of Jack’s face winched an ache through Casper’s chest, high and keen digging a pit through his lungs and his throat. The dull grey light that filtered through the clouds was still miserable, but in Jack’s eyes, it shone with breathtaking lambency amongst the pearl river rays. Dreams of laughter overlaid the vicious set of his jaw, and amongst the chaos around them, Casper could almost hear it.
Jack’s laughter was part of the city, and it was the only part that still made Casper’s heart swell.
Casper started as Jack’s hand settled on his hip, and for a moment as that warmth pressed through his jeans, Casper felt a flush of gratitude through his chest. No right being there with Jack just being a jealous, possessive prick, but … he was Casper’s jealous, possessive prick, and if he knew—
Well, Jack had a track record of doing violent things to keep Casper safe.
Shame it wouldn’t do any good this time.
“How about you fuck off anyway, jackass?” Jack spat at Cain. “Dunno if he’s told you, but this is my fucking boyfriend so I’m gonna stand right here and have a nice lil’ chat with him, and you can fuck off to your yuppie cunt meeting without him. Got that, wanker?”
With an arch lift of his eyebrow, Cain tapped his foot. The leash at Casper’s wrist gave a tug, and a slow nausea wrapped through his gut. “Cassie?”
And that wasn’t a question. That was a prompt. Casper swallowed hard, pressing his lips tight against his rising gorge, and took a purposeful step back from Jack. The rasp of his voice hardly rose above the roar of the street. “Ex-boyfriend.”
Jack’s eyes snapped back to him, and he straightened abruptly. “What?”
“Last thing you said to me was we’re over. So, ex-boyfriend, Jack.”
And Casper hated the way Jack’s face crumbled, the way it made his lungs knot and his throat spasm like all the breath in him fled. Like it went to wrap Jack up in warmth and comfort just the way Casper ached to. He hated it, but he hated more the way the anger was always oh, so quick to follow. The searing heat ever made the salve to the wound ripping apart your chest, and Jack, as he slapped his hand against the shop window, burned.
Jack’s mouth worked, anger growing in the show of his teeth while he searched for something to say, and in the brief silence, Cain’s shoes tapped against the floor, edging closer.
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding?” Jack raked his fingers back through the sides of his hair, eyes pressing closed and a snarl around his lips. His hand shook. “Nah, Cas, you just—So you’ve gone right out and hooked up with fucking Eton over here? You little fucking—”
“Careful.” Cain’s dark murmur cut easily past all of Jack’s thunder. His tall lithe bulk settled behind Casper, arm up against the window. Iron. This bladed edge Casper had never heard before put a chill racing down his spine. “As it goes, he’s a friend. Nothing more.”
And he’d thought Cain had sounded like the devil before.
A blaze went through Jack’s eyes, the grey little more than a skein of ash across a fire, and he took two steps closer to square up to Cain like Casper was just a fucking road bollard or something other inanimate fucking object that Jack could leap over when he went for Cain’s throat.
Animal heat on one side and Cain’s cold pressure at his back. Casper couldn’t move. All the words that just weren’t right choked up in his throat and flooded his lungs. The roar of the street screamed through his skull, and maybe it’d only ever, ever, ever stop when his brain was a smear on the road.
What did he say? He couldn’t think.
Same as fucking always. There was a reason he kept falling back together with Jack, and that was because he never knew what to say to push him away.
“A friend, huh?” Jack’s sneer wasn’t like Cain’s. Jack’s sneer was a thing of fraying restraint and loathing flayed against his own back. “Didn’t he ever fucking tell you he doesn’t do friends?”
“Mm…” Cain’s slender fingers brushed behind Casper’s ear, fiddling with the short hair there, a kiss of chill. “And yet … here we are.” A pause, in which Casper caught the white edge of Cain’s grin in the murky shop window. “Friends. You know—”
Jack’s fist slammed into the window, an inch from where Cain rested his head against his arm. Not even a flinch, and Cain’s grin only widened as Jack leant in to snarl in his face. “How about you take your fucking hand off him, huh? How about that before I smash your fucking face in?”
Rich laughter twisted through the droning noise. One by one, long spider legs of translucent white, Cain’s fingers closed around Casper’s throat. Cold; Casper gagged at the touch. “I’d like to see you try, worm.” Little more than a hiss, but that black venom cut clean through the screaming traffic. “And once you have, I’m going to peel the skin from—”
That was enough.