For new and old readers alike, if Grim's "accent" seems a bit spotty/off-and-on, no worries. It's supposed to be like that, and it's like that for a reason. ;)

(And I'm not just making up excuses for how horrible I am at this kind of stuff either. Really.)

In Harm's Way


'October 31

'I'm not going. I refuse. There is no bloody way come Hell or high water or those filthy pigs or Satan himself knocking at my door… I'm not going. I would have to put aside everything I'd planned on doing to flounce about like some prepubescent child and attempt to make nice with those corporate bastards whom I want absolutely nothing to do with. Come to think of it, I would probably end up getting myself fired. This split tongue of mine would get going and undoubtedly piss off the wrong balding wanker. Next thing you know I'll oh-so suddenly become expendable, they'll frame me, throw me in jail – or kill me – and that's that. Problem solved.

'Of course, there was some thing or other that Cervantes kept persisting that he apparently needed to tell me… And while I'm curious, I'm not that curious. If I need to hear it that badly he can call me into CS Enterprises and tell me there. I've got too much to do to dress myself up as a goddamn pumpkin and socialize at a corporate Halloween party. I mean, for god's sake! I need to finish touching up that virus I've been working on lately; not to mention hack into another computer to wreak delicious technological havoc.

'Or, even better, I could slip out and pay a nice little visit to either something very destructible that no one shall miss – or shall, and would be horribly offended if it happens to be hideously defaced by an anonymous pack of rogue miscreants. Afterwards, I might fancy myself for something a tad more wanton and swing by that quaint little nightclub on Grati street. Yes, that would be quite nice, indeed. It would do wonders for the current state of my nerves.

'Either way, Vincent King does not do Halloween parties. Vincent King does not "dress up". Vincent King does not socialize with fat balding and filthy rich money-laundering bastard-wankers. I'd sooner bite me own bloody tongue off.

'Am I bitter? You bet I am, bitch. Why? I was bloody fucking well dumped, that's why. "Too involved in [my] work," apparently. Well for Christ's sake is it my fault that everything entailed in my job requires my absolute attention and that I must always keep my eye on what I'm doing? Christ on the sodding cross I'm a fucking criminal what else was he expecting?! If he wanted my attentions on him all the time he should've cut the relationship short as soon as he figured out that I'm not really some bloody romance novelist. I mean, for– Use some common sense, now. I don't have a single romantic bone in the entirety of my sodding body! How he, of all people, could possibly expect me to be capable of writing whole books of that drivel is beyond me entirely – how anyone could bear writing novels of that tripe is beyond me entirely.

'And yet, in spite of this thought, I am bitter. Go figure. Why? Well, never mind the fact that he was keeping some free-loading frat-boy on the side, amongst several other inbred fops I'm sure, to wank off with when I wasn't around or was otherwise indisposed – he had the gall to claim that all of this, everything that went wrong between us, was my doing. That I had been intentionally, in fact, sabotaging our relationship by being a, quote-en-quote, "possessive monster, a relentless and obsessive control-freak." By belittling him and keeping him around for use only as a "jizz receptacle," when half the time he was the needy one forever dragging me into the bedroom when I should have been working! Never mind the fact that he was practically pampered beneath my roof, that I was busy rubbing his feet and listening to him bitch and moan incessantly and without end when what I really wanted was, god forbid, a few hours reserved solely for fucking him to the high heavens and back. I would have settled for necking, for christ's sake, if he'd been willing to permit me even that much without whining like a prepubescent schoolgirl about it.

'Oh yes, possessive monster and relentlessly obsessive control-freak, indeed. Vincent King, relationship saboteur extraordinaire, at your service.

'Notwithstanding the fact that I've not a single romantic bone in the entirety of my fucking body, that doesn't mean I don't have a heart – or a penis, for that matter. And at this particular interval in time they are both feeling insufferably needy. Yes, my relationship was cut off because I am purportedly too involved in my work and here I am lamenting the loss of that fine body that kept my bed warm at night. He may not have been the sharpest tack in the box but that doesn't necessarily mean I wasn't somewhat begrudgingly fond of him. Much in the same way a woman might feel towards a beautiful but astonishingly stupid miniature dog, I would imagine.

'And, pathetically enough, it would seem that without even realizing it, I've delved to a new low in regards to my methods of coping. A few years ago I would have found my solace by indulging myself in a prolonged episode of promiscuous, experimental, and utterly indiscriminate bed-hopping. Perhaps adopting a fornifriend or two. Pampering myself with excessive drinking, smoking, hacking, and fornicating. Maybe a little experimental drug-use here and there. A little while on that and I was as good as new. Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and rearing to rip the legitimate world to sunders.

'Now, I find myself holing myself up and consuming a rather disturbing quantity of absolutely horrid food. And loathe as I am to say it – because it makes me feel just so fucking prissy – ice cream is one of them.

'… And I really do hate the phone. I hate it. I do believe I'll find some way to exterminate those little bastards one day. Today just doesn't seem to be that day. Tomorrow's not looking too good, either.'

Pushing himself away from the pixilated words scrawled neatly across the screen with a vapid sigh, Vincent ran his hand back through silken strands of platinum blonde, flicking their black tips over his shoulder as he reached for the chiming contraption at the other end of his desk. Balancing it between his ear and his shoulder, he returned to the monitor, quietly grimacing as its content.

"This is Vincent King how can I help you?" His cool voice, lilting and lolling in all of the right areas with the faded vestiges of Lambeth, allowed the crisp intonation to slip away without a second thought, all too accustomed to the dry greeting to bother with the trouble of adding any sort of variation that might add a potential bit of flavor. He knew the greeting – if it could be called that – lacked the general sense of convivial informality most used when answering their home phone, but could he be bothered to care? Not particularly, no. He wasn't like most people, not by a long shot, and since the moment he'd been old enough to hack his first system, he'd known he never would be. It had never been a thought over which he'd lost any sleep. If anything, he slept better – when he slept at all – because of it.

Of course, another choice phrase his ex had used to describe him during their last turbulent moments together had been, 'misanthropic skull-fucking killjoy'… all of which he could admit he identified with save that middle bit. He'd always had a bit of a flare for being morbid, but necrophilia never had been quite his cup of tea, and as long as he was more or less mentally sound, he was certain it never would be.

Toffee-nosed Essex boy, his mind moodily grumbled in retaliation.

"Hey Vince, it's me."

As soon as the abbreviation of his name reached his ears, the caller's identity was disclosed. Ah, Xeraph – he was the only one who would dare to address him so casually without fearing the sudden appearance of an invincible virus slowly massacring their computer. He hated nicknames – just as he hated so many other things in this world. Most recently the human counterparts of beautiful but impossibly stupid miniature dogs.

His only thought? At least it hadn't been "Vinny" this time – or "Vinny-kins." Eugh. It was almost enough to merit the use of the term, "nauseating."

Giving a lackadaisical hum as his gesture of acknowledgement, Vincent returned his attention to the binary codes scrolling down one part of his screen. Still nothing new. Damn.

"Didn't catch you at a bad time, did I?"

Casting a wry, sidelong glance to the half-empty bowl of Neapolitan ice cream lingering abandoned beside the keyboard – as though daring it to rebut his words – he gave an absent-minded sigh and retracted his focus to place it elsewhere. "Not insurmountably so, no."

"Translation: Yes. Right?"

Rolling his eyes at the laid-back Aussie's joke, he settled comfortably into his chair, shrugging the receiver into his hand as he shifted ears. "What do you want, Roth?" Not a morose hacker buried up to his ears in ice cream and broken hearts, that was for sure.

"And straight to the point he goes," Xeraph Roth remorsefully sighed on the other end. "Can't you ever just take a second to get that stick out of your ass an' joke around a little?"


Well, that seemed to shut the demon up for a while. Unfortunately that while never lasted quite long enough. "Well, that aside, I come bearing a message from Ma–"

"I'm not going." Listening with a sardonic ear as the Aussie-bred fire demon eloquently groaned on the other line, he leaned back in his chair and combed a long, slender hand back through his hair, allowing his fingertips to lazily trail along the thick locks. Absent-mindedly observing the black tips as they slipped through his fingers like water, he peered down with a critical eye at their ends before he tossed them dismissively back over his shoulder.

It was a matter of fact, his statement, and he knew all too well that the smooth, biting voice he'd used clearly portrayed this to his comrade. He would refuse as many times as it took the Australian to get it through that brick wall he so fondly called a bloody head.

"Graves, c'mon mate –"

"I'm not going and you can't make me, Roth, so don't even bother trying," He coolly interrupted. It was childish, how he had so abruptly decided to handle this, and he was willing to admit this one small fact, but did he care? Not really. He wasn't going to that bloody Halloween party, end of story.

"You need to get out of your house –"

"Not for a god-forsaken Halloween party I don't. Did you know Halloween was once the single-most important evening to actually, point of fact, refrain from leaving your home?"

"Consequently the advent of wearing costumes, Graves," the Aussie corrected him with a sigh, his voice dripping with tired, monotonous impatience as though it were all an argument he'd had one too many times before. "To scare all those nasty ghoulies and ghosties away from the idea of hijacking your earthly body and taking it for a joyride. It'll be –"

"Good for me?" Vincent interrupted with a harsh, barking laugh. "I don't think so, Mr. Roth." Oh, this was truly hilarious, that Xeraph was turning so desperate as to try and convince him that dressing up, and putting up with about fifty arrogant and egocentric Mr. Moneybags' at a time would be good for him. Xeraph, perhaps, could deal with that sort of thing. But he couldn't. Besides, bogeymen and roaming spirits aside, Halloween was an identity crisis waiting to happen, and knowing his luck, he'd be left with little other choice but to chase away more than just restless ghosts from the notion of – as his esteemed colleague had so eloquently phrased it – 'hijacking' his earthly body and 'taking it for a joyride.'

A deep, throaty hum seemed to resonate through the earpiece of the receiver as he swiveled his chair towards the wide, tall and spacious windows of his loft; bracing his bare feet on the edge of the desk and leaning back, he allowed his eyes to simply stare out into the air.

Sunlight spilled through the plate glass as fluidly as golden water, splashing across the dark cherry-wood flooring and illuminating the deep red highlights etched into the grain. Shady orbs cast a quick glance at the cold silver watch on his pale, narrow wrist as the Aussie obviously plotted his next move in the silence that had settled between them. Casting dark, moody eyes out the window, Vincent idly admitted to himself that it would be getting dark soon, and the hour of the grand All Hallows' Eve ball – eugh – would creep closer. Which meant that his colleague's resolution to drag him into it – double eugh – would only grow more obstinate.

When Xeraph's suddenly soft voice filtered through the hush of the telephone line, Vincent felt himself being drawn bit by bit from the world within his mind. "You need to get your life back together, mate." There was a pause, and then, "Ever since Mikhail left you've been lockin' yourself in that loft of yours and I can't even remember the last time I've actually seen you in anything other than pixels." The demon's inherently sultry voice seemed to abrade against every residual nerve in Vincent's physical body until all that remained was his silent, broiling temper; he couldn't hear, any more, Xeraph's words. The fact that he had had the gall to even utter that name to him…


"Good-bye, Xeraph." Without saying another word, without having a second thought, Vincent stretched back over his chair to remorselessly drop the phone into its cradle. Staring for a long while with empty brown eyes at the contraption, he took a shallow breath – banishing every thought that swirled through his troubled mind – and returned his gaze to the window. Perhaps, for the moment, he would be content to simply watch the rest of the world die away. After that…

Well, after that he would just have to…

When the first pang of longing achingly flicked at his heart, Vincent pulled his legs to his flat chest, and, embracing his knees, admitted to himself just how much he wished Mikhail were still there. And that Xeraph, as much as he hated acknowledging it – as much as it chafed at his pride – was right.


The sun would be setting soon, he realized, and then the blood on his hands would suddenly seem dull in comparison to the brilliant crimson that would stain the sky. Soon everything would pass away into the gloom of twilight, and nothing would be left but the shadows that he saw all too often. The darkness of the night would sweep in upon it like Death itself to smother the last, lingering remnants of life from the sun. Just as he, he mutely acknowledged, had smothered the life from the graying man lying face-down on the desk, a pool of his own blood cooling and coagulating around him, consuming scattered paperwork that would never be finished.

And then, with the day having been usurped at last by twilight, the gates of the Otherworld would burst open, freeing the masses of restless and haunted spirits upon the world of the living like rabid dogs.

He stood at the window now, silent and grave, as he stared down over a bustling city with vibrant, cynical eyes. He almost felt sorry for the poor bastards. Most of them never even realized the danger they would be facing this night, no doubt too preoccupied by feasting and festivities, mischief and ghost stories. The Day of the Dead had been reduced to little more than another excuse for self-indulgence and vagrancy.

Running gloved fingers back through shaggy locks of black, he let a minute sigh whisper through pierced lips. It was getting late; he would have to leave soon, before lingering employees began to question the reason for the meeting between their boss and his "nephew" to take so long. Not to mention, he was going to need the time to clean himself up if he wanted to appear even remotely presentable for the gathering that night.

Gathering, he mused with a tiny, nearly invisible grin of hilarity. It sounded like he was about to visit a cult; then again, he supposed that, in a bizarre, oblique kind of way, he was going to be doing just that. After all, what better title was there to present to an organization operating from within the shadows than that of the secret society? They all had rules in the end, some kind of Code that must be upheld and adhered to at all times – and they all visited wrath upon those who willfully deviated from their doctrines.

He was the only exception to that law that he knew of, the lone defector to survive after a display of such treachery and even exact the revenge for which he'd thirsted relentlessly – but even he had been dealt punishment enough for his crimes. The only difference was that his was a burden that he would be forced to carry for the rest of his life. It was a fate crueler than death, and one that he knew was nothing less than perfect for a walking abomination such as he.

Pushing himself away from the sill, he allowed his arms to fall from the loose knot they had formed over his chest as he turned his back to the dying sky.

"I guess our time is up, Mr. Keyes." Cocking his head as he casually sauntered towards the gruesome crime scene, he idly watched his gloved fingers as they trailed along the outermost reaches of the thick, carmine fluid pooling around the victim's head. Brushing his fingertips against a dirtied ear, his touch combed through matted hair, and he ignored the tremor of excitement in his hand – the lewd blossom of warmth unfurling in his groin – as he grazed the minute, concentrated hole of shattered bone and torn tissue. Closing around the strands of peppered hair at the back of the man's ruined head with the hushed creak of skin-tight leather, he pulled the corpse's face from the pool of blood on its desk.

The stiffness that began to settle in death became acutely obvious as he intently stared into bland, glazed orbs that no longer harbored even the last, dying vestiges of terror and outrage. With a twisted smirk plucking at the corners of his mouth, he leaned in just enough to feel the cooling flesh of the corpse's lips against his own. Absorbed in the fog he had haplessly allowed himself to fall into, he didn't feel the clotting blood that had left its trail there, slipping down to the cadaver's rugged chin, drawn inherently to a cleft that had once lent this visage such a sense of dignity. He didn't notice the absolute chill of the body, or the fact that he knew there was a frozen heart that would beat no longer in the cadaver's chest.

He didn't fully acknowledge the fact that he was kissing a dead man. He'd been handsome once, before he had turned into a monster. He was kissing a man who had once been filled with life, but one who had perished long before his Judas had even thought to pull the trigger.

"It was fun while it lasted," he softly murmured, running a pink, pierced tongue over cold, bloodstained lips. He could still taste the sweetness that mouth had once held for him, tainted now with the bitter, metallic flavor of blood. Staring into those dead, murky eyes for a while longer, he stepped away and allowed the man's head to limply, heavily flop down onto the desk with a wet thud for the last time. Then, without looking back, without permitting his mind even a second to wander towards grief or regret, he tucked his gloved hands into his pockets and walked away.

Pausing in the open doorway, he allowed only the slightest of phrases to fall through his lips. "I'll see you in Hell, Alexander." Commanding his mind to return to the new task at hand as he walked away for the last time, he scrutinized the mental checklist of things he would have to do before leaving his cramped apartment for the second time that night.

After all, he couldn't arrive to a Halloween party looking like he'd just killed someone.


Well, he could already tell that this thing was going to be a complete and total waste of perfectly useful time. The only even remotely satisfactory aspect he had seen about the event thus far was the fact that all employees were entitled to free booze. With a sigh, he realized he would quite possibly end up paying the bar more than one visit throughout the duration of his stay – which, he prayed, would not last any longer than half an hour, however…

Casting a dirty, spiteful glare to the redhead halfway across the room, engaged in a lively, apparently hilarious discussion with one of the more significantly notable dignitaries – typically, a stunning, curvaceous young woman with glistening brown hair – he doubted that he would ever be that lucky. He was actually rather amazed, though, that Xeraph had let him out of arm's reach, much less nearly out of eyesight. It must be the cleavage that woman's dress was all but shoving into his face.

Of course, he would be distracted by such a shameless display. Filthy lecher.

He hated crowds, he hated people, and he hated Xeraph in spite of the remarkable freedom he was inadvertently allowing him whilst he ogled that woman's cleavage. Why? Because it wasn't enough for him to actually slip the goddamn leash Xeraph had all but tied around his neck, that's why. Therefore, all that taken into consideration, he lingered nearby the table heavily laden with dainty refreshments shoved to one side of the room to lend ample space for those who desired to socialize and dance; they were all entirely unaware, however, of the cold, critical eyes observing them.

Bashful, blushing – and some, rather pretty – young women had occasionally edged near him – "accidentally" bumping against his elbow whilst "browsing the food" – but he had made quite sure that they were off on their way just as quickly as they had arrived. If one was skilled enough, only a few words were required to completely withdraw another's interest from one's self. If he so desired, as he did right now, he could make a person despise him with little more than a sparse, clipped comment. Hell, he could make himself detestable with even less than that.

Of course, to mention that he wasn't interested in women in any way, shape or form worked rather nicely too, he supposed. It seemed to be a fool-proof strategy, and while he was nearly positive the news would have hit Xeraph's lecherous, womanizing ears by now, Vincent could protest that he was simply trying to protect them. Didn't want to dangle things in front of them that they couldn't have, and all that – as he was sure that if a young lady should suddenly latch herself onto Xeraph's arm crying about the blonde jackass in the corner that had supposedly insulted her, Xeraph would shit a brick and descend upon him like Death itself, bringing with him all the plagues of hell.

Ugh, regular ladies' man, he was – all for defending their feminine virtue whilst expending painstaking care in the efforts of tarnishing it before the night was out at the same time. He, for one, couldn't understand what those women saw in him. Or how they could miss the brilliant fluorescent sign that was all but permanently adhered to his face declaring his less-than-knightly intentions.

In short, telling women outright that he was all too entirely willing to tend towards the same sex had never failed him – not once since he had begun to use it as a defense mechanism against unwanted attention. Barring, of course, the time when one rather psychotic woman in a bar had gotten even more excited due to such a prospect. Now that was a memory he should like to forget, he mused with a carefully masked shudder.

Unfortunately, while this tactic kept most of those insufferable women away, he was left at the mercy of the round-bellied men seeking some sort of companion to partake in witty conversation, or possibly they were searching for nothing more than a breathing human body that would put up with their wheezing and coughing about the sad state of the world.

It was a funny thing, he realized, to hear someone call the stock market reprehensibly atrocious – as well as money-laundering scandals – when one was attending the Halloween party of an enterprise of thieves garbed in the disguise of a humble import/exporting company. Oh yes, exports. Had he any need to mention that there would be an auction taking place for some of their finer wares later that night in the lounge?

It was a black market cloaked beneath a legitimate name.

Hypocrites, the whole lot of them. He hated them just about as much as he did the overweight, prolifically sweating money-humper going on about how gas was becoming too expensive – feh, as if he couldn't afford it – and expressing absolutely ludicrous ideas as to why that was, when, in reality, he had absolutely no idea what was going on.

Dear bleeding Christ on the cross he wanted to hurt something and he wanted to hurt something now.

I should have shot him, Vincent acerbically mused to himself, willing all sorts of bad karma towards the tall, bronze-skinned redhead who'd shown up at his door earlier in the evening. I should have shot him the instant I saw that belligerent shit-eating grin on his face… Christ, he needed a fag, and if his current companion the chinless wonder couldn't find the decency to stop his gossiping like an old fishwife so he could go have one he swore he was going to stab him with one of the little plastic spears reserved for use on the dainties.

As though detecting his mounting animosity from a full room of people away, Xeraph slithered through the crowds to abruptly appear at his shoulder with a humble grin on fine bronze lips. "So sorry to interrupt," the Aussie politely interjected with a respectful nod of acknowledgement to the sweating porker, "but I was wondering if I might be able to steal this fine mate away from you for a bit?" Of course, lingering as near as the redhead was, no one but Vincent noticed the tight, restraining grip he'd formed around his blonde companion's elbow.

Mr. Pig-sweat-stuff-my-ugly-face-until-I-bloody-well-explode blinked squinted, beady eyes up at the much taller Australian for a time, as though his fat-encumbered brain could not make sense of the redhead's initial statement. Then, waving about the handkerchief he had been holding pressed to the taut stomach of the tuxedo that looked nearly too small, the man blubbered, "Oh, of course! No, no, no, I wouldn't mind at all!" With a too-cheery, too-pampered smile coming to his fatty cheeks, the man bowed his head with its double chins to Vincent. "It was a grand pleasure to meet you, Mr. Blacke."

Knowing that his compatriot would sooner respond with something less cordial than the dignitary's comment merited, Xeraph slithered an arm about Vincent's slender shoulders and led him away.

"So," the demon drawled with a sly grin, "what did you think of Mr. Swine?"

"Swine," Vincent skeptically muttered, sending a dubious glance to where Xeraph strode casually at his side; he absent-mindedly observed the images dancing on the single uncovered lens of the demon's sunglasses as he continued. "How befitting."

The only brow exposed by blood red hair jumped in realization. "Oh, I'm sorry," Xeraph laughed, "I must have mispronounced his name again. It's pronounced like this: Swee-nay . It's somethin'-or-other for rich and powerful or something of the like in some language…" The demon thoughtfully trailed off with a dismissive, circular gesture of his sun-kissed hand. As his fingers suddenly curled into a fist, however, as though decisively locking the conversation away, the grin on his lips widened and what Vincent assumed to be a clever glance was shot to him from beneath the fall of crimson and black hair obscuring his left eye. "Enjoying the party yet?"

"Does it look like I'm enjoying it?"

"Oh, absolutely." Xeraph smirked, allowing his expression to melt away into a tiny frown as those shielded eyes swept up and down Vincent's body. "I can't quite figure it out, though," the redhead slowly mused, "as to what you're supposed to be."

"I'm a penguin." Abruptly – as well as uncomfortably – aware of the stark black tux fitted snugly around his body, the tail of bleached blonde hair neatly tied and spilling down his back, Vincent sent a bored, critical eye out to the cliques of people they wove through with an ethereal ease; he had to wonder, just for a moment, where they were going, and whether or not it might have been worth holding onto one of those dainty-spears. Or his cigarettes, for that matter.

Knew I was going to regret leaving them in my coat…

Before he could ask, however, his dark, keen eyes caught a glance of a single figure leaning back against one of the walls near a rather morbid painting, his posture positively screaming of boredom. He was the only one in the room wholly by himself, Vincent noticed, clad in an entirely unremarkable black suit that sharply contrasted the pale lilac of his tie. There was a glimmer of heavy silver chain around his neck, sagging at his sternum with the weight of an unusual cross-like medallion. Steel embedded in his lip and nostril caught the cheery light, coldly burning the markers into his mind just as vividly as the sight of such dark, lustrous black hair had been. For possibly the first time since his arrival, Vincent found someone that was incredibly worth the risk of ogling while not a co-worker – as Xeraph was – at the same time.

He didn't even realize Xeraph had been leading him towards a set of the elevator doors until the fire demon waved the hand that had been casually residing on his shoulder in front of his eyes. Blinking with a clipped shake of his head, Vincent was jerked from his thoughts just as he was mercilessly pulled from the trance that mysterious demigod had thrust him into.

"Hey, mate, don't go spacin' out on me now. Maxwell's still got something he wants to discuss with you."

Casting the red-haired Aussie a sharp, lethal look, Vincent made a hushed sound in his throat as his sign of acknowledgement and turned his attention back to the painting he'd seen that mystifying figure by… But when he found it again, the range of his vision narrowing rapidly between the closing steel doors, the man was gone.

Well. So much for having found the bright side of this god-awful party.


Xeraph tolerantly sighed as he rested his weight back against the steel railing running around the edges of the elevator, allowing his lids to slip shut in the feeble hopes that his eyes would cease to burn in this dark, moist haven. Vincent – Graves Necrosis, or Malachite Blacke, as his alias had him labeled – was standing silently, and stiff-spined beside him. There was no music in this elevator to banish the awkward hush, but for that he supposed he had to thank the operators of this building. As awkward as the absolute silence was compared to the constant chatter he'd become so accustomed to when Jasper was around, he didn't think that having that aggravating, happy-ass music chiming in the back of his head for the rest of the night would really help his current disposition.

If any more of Mel's "favors" were going to run along these lines, he was going to have to ask for a raise or start denying them upfront and just deal with the repercussions later. Trying to get Graves out of his goddamn apartment had been nothing short of a feat fit for a legend. He couldn't even remember how he'd gone about accomplishing it now, and with a fleeting glance at the blonde, knew he was probably asking himself the exact same thing.

You wouldn't think trying to get a person to come to a bloody Halloween party would be so goddamn hard, Xeraph's mind uttered to itself. But that whole debacle was almost enough to give me a migraine. Taking another deep breath and blowing it out through pursed lips, Xeraph reached up to remove the sunglasses that shielded his unnerving eyes from the rest of the world, dipping his head to free the red and black strands of hair from any catching hinges. Turning slit irises composed of nothing short of living flames to the side, he intently peered down at his rather icy, as well as short, companion.

Although, to be fair, he supposed everyone was short when they were placed next to him. There weren't many "average" people out there nowadays who stood at six-six. For a man of Graves' disposition and age, however – a nice ripe twenty-seven – five-seven was kind of pathetic. That was merely Xeraph's opinion, though, and one that he so loved to rub into the blonde's face, but he had a sneaking suspicion that if he chose to do so in detail now Graves would have no qualms about trying to hurt him.

Key word there… Trying.

He'd fail miserably of course, considering the fact that not only did Xeraph have nearly a whole additional foot over him, but that he had always been the more physical one when it came to their work-styles. Scenario: Fight between a short-pint English hermit-hacker in a perpetually bad mood and a giant elite always-on-the-go/mission-impossible type Australian demon thief. Who was going to win?

If nothing else he was sure Graves would manage to knock his ego down a peg or two – he'd always had a knack for that.

"So, what's up?"

Dark brown eyes that had never before seemed quite so… frigid obstinately refused to look at him, preferring instead to bore ghastly, invisible holes into the stainless steel doors. "Nothing," Graves coolly replied. Murky irises slid him a discreet, aloof glance beneath lowered lids as the blonde wryly arched his brow. "Save for perhaps the percentage of your attention span that is dominated by a fanatical predilection for cleavage and the revelation of such."

Oh-ho, aren't we feeling snappy today. Resting his shoulder blades back against the unforgiving wall, Xeraph folded long arms across his chest and fired a mildly reproachful scowl at the man standing next to him. "And you're short. What's your point?"

The icy smile Graves shot him just then was almost enough to make his balls seriously consider relocating to warmer climates as the elevator continued to ascend in silence. Okay, so perhaps that wasn't exactly the wisest retort to use given current circumstances, but Graves had neither disemboweled him nor verbally castrated him on the spot, which could only mean one thing. He was too pissed off and bored with everything to bother, which didn't exactly bode as well as one might otherwise assume. Why worry about warding off restless spirits when the world had the perpetual wrath of Vincent King to deal with?

"So what is it that Cervantes keeps bitching at me about?" The Englishman suddenly inquired, his cold, crisp voice piqued with only the slightest sense of permeating curiosity. "Assuming, of course," he elaborated, thoughtfully toying with a bleached strand of hair before tucking it dismissively behind his ear, "that that is where we're going."

"Mel's office? Yeah." Xeraph took a deep breath and held it, allowing his head to fall back and realizing just how acutely uncomfortable he still was when he felt his hair shifting away from the scars marring the left side of his face. Even in Graves' company, there was the self-conscious compulsion urging him to ensure that the worst of the scars were covered. Graves, thankfully, had since developed the habit of not only remaining scrupulously ignorant of his tendency to subtly rearrange the thick fall of hair obscuring his nearly-blind left eye, but he'd also acquired a propensity for naturally gravitating to Xeraph's good side during stationary or prolonged conversation. Not that his hearing had been compromised as extensively as his vision had, but there was no denying that it wasn't what it used to be, either – two handicaps that had always left him feeling as good as crippled the instant he set foot on the field.

"Since when were you two on a first name basis? Something you want to share, Xeraph?"

Cracking a lid open at the blonde's dry joke, Xeraph allowed himself a bit of a grin, but kept the words that could have escaped to himself as he peered at the goading smirk twisting a corner of Graves' pale lips, the satirical arch of a single dark brow. Those deep brown eyes pinned him to the spot with the same fervent intensity they always did, but Xeraph had spent far too much time in Graves' company for that withering look to bother him anymore.

He knew, though, that the hacker would be sending another look of an entirely different nature at him after this meeting was done. Or perhaps, his wishful mind concocted, he wouldn't have time. There was always that possibility, minimal though it was.

Graves scowled, acknowledged his silence with a throaty "hmph", and returned his attention to the steel door. Yup, joke fizzled and died there, mate.

Lethargically shrugging, Xeraph absent-mindedly picked something out from beneath his nail, flicking it away as he glanced up at the flashing numbers above the door. Pushing himself away from the banister, he scooped carmine hair lined with a single black streak away from his scarred flesh to replace his dark, reflective sunglasses; comfortably tapping them up onto the bridge of his nose, Xeraph settled the locks over his useless eye again, folded his hands behind his back, and waited.

"All I can tell you is that Mel wanted me to keep my mouth shut about it because it's supposed to be a surprise."

"He's firing me."

Barking out a laugh at the English hacker's sudden jest, Xeraph shook his head as a resounding 'ding' echoed throughout the box, and the elevator lurched to a halt. Shaking his head with a fond sigh, he blew the hair obscuring his left eye away from the right side of his face. "You're funny, mate."

There was nothing but more silence as the doors slid open, revealing the yawning, spacious room lying before them with marble floors that shone in the gentle light. Windows served as the expansive walls paralleling them, with plate glass that reached up to the very top of the pitched ceiling offering the room's occupants a complete view of the glowing and glittering city skyline. Every time he saw that stretch of dotted illumination, Xeraph had to pause and allow himself just the briefest of moments to marvel it. It wasn't as beautiful as home, but it sure as hell wasn't a sight to be ignored, either.

Well-accustomed to remaining as silent as possible in all aspects of his life, Xeraph didn't bother to recognize the fact that his hard-soled boots didn't make a sound on the tightly woven, wine-red carpet as he stepped out from the shaft, striding confidently down the walkway lined with pillars of white marble to stand as guards on both of their sides. Graves, however, more familiar with technological stealth than physical, followed quietly, but noticeably behind him.

Pausing just as the columns came to an end, leaving nothing but open floor space before the magnificence of the tall portals to that world of dancing lights, Xeraph turned on a heel – the long tails of his coat swirling around lengthy legs – and simply grinned at his frowning, cynical male companion.


Suddenly transforming from the laid-back womanizer to a sophisticated business aide, Xeraph stood perfectly still before the dark paintings of the windows, a lop-sided grin on his charming lips. The gentle golden illumination of the chamber did little for the reflective lenses of his sunglasses against the vast, glittering backdrop of the city, darkening the single revealed surface to an opaque black oval in the demon's handsome bronze face. Not that his eyes would have revealed much in the line of his thoughts to begin with, Vincent thought, even if he could see them; Xeraph had always been cryptic, abstruse, his actions forever portraying something that was, potentially, entirely different from what was going on inside that thick head of his. In all of the years that Vincent had known the man, he'd never, not once, considered Xeraph Roth an open book. He'd never been able to comprehend what it was, sitting in the core of his being; he'd never felt certain that he truly knew the real Xeraph.

Vincent knew a Xeraph; he knew the affable, laid-back rake, the sly, dedicated and competitive company-man. But something was always changing in Xeraph, regardless of all appearances to the contrary. The Xeraph he knew, and the Xeraph standing before him, smiling at him now… There were similarities, of course, but like a restless forest brook, they were fleeting. Like water, Xeraph was forever changing before his eyes, and yet, since the days of their partnership, he hadn't changed at all.

As though he'd read Vincent's very mind, the Aussie cleared his throat, wrenching Vincent from his thoughts, and professionally stated, "Mr. Maxwell Cervantes will be here shortly. He's just picking up his honored guest."

"Guest?" Vincent suddenly intoned; his sharp voice cleanly cut through the silence in the magnificent marble hall as though it were a white-hot knife gliding through soft butter. "What do you mean, 'guest'? I thought there was something he had to talk to me about."

"No need to get greedy, Vince. There is." The fire demon oh-so aggravatingly smiled; then, with a flippant, carefree gesticulation of his bronzed hand, added, "But part of that something had to do with this guest."

Just as Vincent's lips parted to impatiently demand an answer from the redhead – preferably without any of his usual cryptic bullshit attached – a door obscured somewhere deep within the heart of the room creaked open, and the rich voice of their employer interrupted the terse hush.

"I do believe you'll do well with our company, Mr. Reaper. After all, I've heard nothing but good things about your work."

Reaper. The man's alias was Reaper; of all the bloody things it had to be Reaper. Wonderful – that, by itself, spoke volumes, and not in a good way. It meant this mystery guest was either incredibly full of himself or obsessed with death. In either case, they were both bad. Fighting to restrain an intolerant sigh, Vincent shot a glance in the direction of the echoing footsteps as they swiftly began to approach. Xeraph, salubrious as always, brought a bright grin to his face.

"Ah, and here they come."

If he could have gotten away with smacking the redhead in his bloody face just then – at least once – he would have done so in that moment. The mere tone of his voice, so laid-back and casual and so goddamn smug, made him want nothing more than to mutilate one of the things that constantly had women fawning over him. It began to seem as though just about everyone had an idea about what the hell was going on save for him, and it was with each moment that passed becoming of an increasingly definitive likelihood that he was beginning to hate that feeling more than any other.

Keeping a steely eye on the break between the columns from which he was certain his employer would emerge, Vincent's rigid muscles involuntarily went lax with bemused astonishment when the tall figure accompanying that deep, confident voice appeared. The light of the room seemed to catch on the stainless steel stud nestled between his lower lip and chin, the ring piercing his right nostril and the numerous small hoops decorating his ears, coldly winking at all whose eyes were allowed to be distracted by it. A twisted and crudely assembled silver cross glinted against the unmitigated black of the suit that closely followed the long, athletic build it obscured. Thick, stylishly ragged raven hair accented rich caramel skin beautifully as clever fingers raked those tousled tresses back from his face.

For the most part, it seemed as though this single, haunting creature walked in a realm all his own, garbed in absolute darkness save for the abrupt burst of pale lilac that was his tie and the intense, impossibly teal blue hue of his eyes.

With a sharp thrust against his chest, knocking his breath clear from his lungs, Vincent realized that this indescribably handsome, commanding creature striding along the proud blonde president was the exact twin to the one that had been lingering so idly by the macabre portrait. Only, now, the gothic demigod was shambling confidently towards them, his head held high and his strides lengthy with purpose. His sun-kissed face was marked with a jaunty, alluring grin when Maxwell Cervantes made a comment that remained silent to Vincent's ears, as though they had been paralyzed to all else by the mere sight of this dark creature alone.

That smile, distinguishable in the way it tugged at sybaritic lips and revealed perfect white teeth was the very thing that sent a minute shiver rippling down his spine. There was something about that expression that hinted at the man's inherent self-confidence, a wicked, shark-like intelligence, something that very nearly seemed to border on arrogance, and courted the alluring shadows of a distinct sense of danger – as though warning that the man's sanity was not entirely there.

When those bold, all-seeing teal eyes trailed away from Maxwell Cervantes' face to nail him to the spot, Vincent felt everything in his body freeze. For a moment, he could have even attested to the staggering pause of his very own heart. Without drawing those vibrant irises away, the black-haired devil sporting that lilac tie tipped his head to the side, towards their mutual employer.

"That's him then, is it?"

Well, turn me over and fuck me sideways… Vincent cynically mused to himself through the haze of fascination; He's a Scot.

But European, American, Scandinavian… None of that would ever have managed to change the fact that this man looked like an absolute god to him. In mere moments he had his mind scrambling over its own two feet.

Mikhail? Mikhail who?

But when that accursedly beautiful mouth opened again, Vincent felt the first sharp twang of his dislike snap across the instantaneous fascination like a severed guitar string.

"He's a wee bit… shorter, than I'd imagined."

The fire demon, he knew, was glancing in sudden alarm between them, undoubtedly gauging the precise distance he would have to leap in order to restrain Vincent before he could manage to tear that Scottish pig's throat out with his bare hands. Instead of complying with the Aussie's thoughts, however, Vincent rather forcibly smoothed the ruffled feathers the peeve had disturbed, paying as much mind as possible to ignore the suddenly revolting, arrogant jackass. And yes, he was incredibly fickle, thank you.

Cervantes could tell this, just as easily as Xeraph. After all, their mutual employer had had a first-hand dose of Vincent's wrath when he made a similar mistake in joking about his height. And, of course, as though all three men were inherently born to rub this fact in, they all stood at least four to five inches taller than him.

"Yes, well," Vincent politely hissed, "Unfortunately I've never quite been in control of my height. It's not something I can change with a simple alteration of numbers and have it come true."

"An' English to boot," The black-haired devil enthusiastically grinned, bringing to Vincent's mind once again the Scotsman's strange, almost uncanny resemblance to a shark. It had to be the smile, Vincent brooded; the focused, unwavering look of wickedness and that chilling feral intelligence in his eyes. "Well, isn't this gonna be a fun partnership."

And it was at that very instant that the drama that was his life ground to a halt. For a long, aching moment, everything remained silent. He couldn't hear the distant noise of traffic far below them; he couldn't hear even something as simple as the other men breathing. Oh no, all he heard was that one word, over, and over, and over again…


"E-excuse me? I don't… I-I don't think I quite heard that right." With a thoughtful frown marring his face, Vincent leaned into the loose circle the four men had formed. "Can you say that again, please?"

Two dark, perfect brows slid up on the Scotsman's forehead, and lids narrowed with a roguish slyness as he inclined his head. It took a moment before a slow smile grew on his lips. "I take it they dinnae tell ye that you're gettin' a new partner."

Pausing, aimlessly blinking off into space, staring pointlessly at the innumerable dots of light sparkling outside the windows, Vincent took a breath, opened his mouth to speak, closed it, straightened, and shot a look at Xeraph and Cervantes – both of whom, he was very pleased to notice, had paled considerably.

"Mr. Cervantes, Mr. Roth… You didn't inform me that I would be receiving a partner. No, wait," he swiftly corrected himself, "I didn't ask… for a partner. Therefore I cannot receive one, yeah? Is that not the way this 'partner receiving' business works or have I misunderstood something somewhere along the lines of my employment?"

Oh… yes. He was pulling at straws and they all knew it. Bloody Hell, even he knew it – he just didn't want to admit it. Certainly not while that bloody gorgeous Scotsman was in the room, in any case. God damn him for being so sexy anyways… even if he happened to be wearing that hideously feminine lilac tie.

Smoothing an experienced hand back over thick, dark gold strands of hair, his employer's deep emerald eyes shifted about the room as a nervous grin plucked at narrow, charming lips. "Well, the thing about that is…" Maxwell Cervantes took a deep breath as though he were going to continue. The only thing that passed through his mouth, however, happened to be more dumbstruck silence; therefore, having seen that his mind was so obviously at a loss for a decent explanation, those misty green eyes flicked to Xeraph in urgent inquisition.

"Look, mate," Xeraph adeptly plucked up the threads of his employer's comment, "If Mel here warned you in advance about getting a partner, whether you wanted one or not, you and I both know you would've declined it on the spot. Or you would've issued your resignation, packed up your bags, and left town. And I don't mean to be a villain here but we both know that's not one of the options in your contract."

"That's funny. I'm nae seein' much of a difference between the former situation an' this one." The Scotsman rather sanguinely remarked, shooting a sliding, smirking glance in Vincent's direction – who, of course, bristled beneath the very bloody nearly physical strokes of his appraising gaze. That bastard – how dare he? Butting into this conversation like he had every right to make a comment on something that was absolutely none of his business!

Urging himself to keep any and all snide remarks for the Scotsman to himself for the time being, Vincent satisfied his temptations by sending the man a filthy, petulant glare before returning his attention to the Aussie and their boss. "So you decided to suddenly slap this… accessory on me without my knowing? Wonderful. That was a brilliant plan Mr. Cervantes. Please do let me know when you've come up with one to get rid of him."

"Graves, take a breather, mate," Xeraph quietly urged.

"No, no," the Scotsman interrupted, a crooked finger pressed thoughtfully to his lower lip. "Let him continue. I want to see just what he thinks this partnership'll amount out to."

"You," Vincent snapped, leveling a long, furious finger at the black-haired convict, "keep whatever sarcastic, smug little comments you might have to yourself for the time being, you sodding wanker, and mind your own business. This has nothing to do with a partnership that is never going to be agreed upon; this has everything to do with Cervantes dumping another weight on me that I neither want nor appreciate."

"Graves, ever since –"

"All due respect, sir, but don't you dare…"

But the blonde carelessly continued as though he hadn't heard a thing; rather, he continued with even more force and determination. "Ever since that particular… incident occurred, you've been losing your focus. The reports you've been sending in have become remarkably less frequent and the quality of your work has done a rather dramatic nose-dive." Before Vincent could even force so much as an indignant, defensive sputter from his tongue, the president lifted a palm to silence him. "The reason why I'm partnering you with Mr. Reaper is because I don't want to see you disintegrate into a d-grade hacker or employee. And I most certainly don't want you to be apprehended by the police. That would spell big trouble for both you and me, Graves." Inherently realizing the tension that had settled in the air, the blonde's rich voice softened into a tone meant only for their ears as those deep green eyes flitted over the outraged details of his face. "This is for your own good, Vincent. Once you've gotten back on your feet, I'll sever the attachment between you two, but until then he's going to keep you in line."

A long moment of silence fell over the chamber just then, weighing down on Vincent's insides even while he reckoned that they would be bursting into flame any second now in pure indignation. His heart felt as though it would explode within his very chest, throbbing away at a mile a second in righteous ire. Even with this in consideration, such offense inhibiting the natural, smooth functions of his thoughts, Vincent managed to cut the pause in the conversation as short as possible until his sharp, outraged voice broke through it once again.

"Keep me in line? Keep me in line!?" He spat. "Mr. Cervantes just what facet of my work has been so horrible that you need to make it sound as though I've turned into a complete turncoat? Have I ever, even once hinted that I would turn any part of this company in to the authorities!? Have I ever once indicated that I would lead the police to you!? Have I ever abused the power you've employed me for?!" Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Vincent roughly shouldered Xeraph's hand away when he suddenly found it on his shoulder to try and calm him. "Tell me Mr. Cervantes just what part of me do you need to keep in line!" Aware that his fists were shaking with rage at his sides, Vincent clenched his jaw firmly shut – enough to pull an ache from his muscles – as he glared at his employer with more vehemence than he ever could have imagined, waiting for that calming, placating answer to fall through the blonde's lips. For the longest time, however, nothing came.

Maxwell Cervantes made no sign that he was going to answer him; he merely watched him with those cool green eyes, observing the way Vincent knew his face would have paled with fury, the way his body stood so stiff with indignation and insult. Neither Xeraph nor the Scotsman spoke; they hardly moved, save for the darting motions of their eyes, flicking back and forth between himself and the other blonde. And then, after this long, terse moment, the soft husk of Maxwell's suddenly stoic, harsh voice rose itself to their ears once more.

"I'm giving you a choice, Graves. Either you accept him as a temporary partner, or you leave every vestige of your employment in this room with me when you leave." Bowing his head, the blonde's dark, calm eyes sent him a look screaming with sensibility. "I'm asking you to be reasonable about this. Don't throw everything you have away because you're too proud to accept even temporary assistance."

Sending the black-haired convict yet another contemptuous glare, Vincent tried his very best to keep his lip from curling as he shot one last dark, irate glance to his employer. A wicked smile of irony twisted only the very corners of his mouth, and, bowing low at the waist, an arm folded across his abdomen, he began to back towards the way he'd come. "As my… master commands," he quietly hissed. With but a few more steps, he straightened and furiously strode away.


"Well, that certainly went well," the Scotsman idly muttered, his intense blue eyes lingering in the very direction that Vincent had stormed away. In the silence that fell after his pert comment, the hushed clank of the elevator's doors sliding shut seemed louder than it ever should be allowed, locking the tension that Vincent had left behind in the room to smother any words that struggled to find the open air. It was as though the hacker had left every ounce of ill will behind him to burrow yet further into their thoughts, poisoning them with his rage.

Shattered by the thoughtful cluck of the Scotsman's tongue, Xeraph only barely saw the recruit's eyes turn towards them from his peripheral vision, noticing just as clearly the way he jerked a thumb towards the room's lone exit. "Tell me," he conversationally mused, "is he always this friendly?"

"Mr. Reaper, that was the brunt of it, but trust me when I say this," Maxwell shot the Scotsman a blunt, meaningful look, "it gets worse."

"So I take it that this intrinsic state of frigidity is his norm, then?"

"You've no idea just how cold he can get," Xeraph uttered, heaving a breath as he planted a hand on his hip, swiping the other anxiously back through his hair. After a while of thoughtful silence, he turned his attention to his blonde employer, watching his pale, stony face for a moment before he hesitantly spoke up. "So, eh, what exactly are we going to do with him this time, Mel?"

With an arm folded across the abdomen of his white Armani suit, Maxwell inhaled a deep, drawn-out breath, rubbing his fingertips against his forehead – an obvious sign of the stress wracking his nerves. "Loathe as I am to say it… someone's going to have to go calm him down. Otherwise I'm afraid he might be liable to burn the whole damn building down." He turned his dark eyes towards the newcomer, "He may not look it, but he's quite an accomplished knife-fighter, and I've a feeling that if we sent you in there now he would have no qualms about giving you a first-hand demonstration of his skills."

Reaper's brows arched high up onto his forehead in intrigue before a broad, devilish smirk found his lips.

"Trust me mate, it doesn't matter how talented you are – there's no way you'd be coming out of that skirmish alive." Xeraph cut into whatever thoughts the man was having, hopefully jamming a log into the gears he could almost hear turning in that blatantly scheming head. But as though in spite of his best efforts at dissuading him, the smirk remained fully intact on that mouth of his as he shot Xeraph a clever teal glance.

"I'm nae worried about the skirmish, Mr. Roth," the convict slyly purred. "I'm just thinkin' how much fun this wee collaboration's gonna be."

Sending Maxwell a baffled, if slightly incredulous look, Xeraph had to wonder if the man's sanity was wholly in one piece or not. There was no way he could have just witnessed Vincent's temper like that – as well as hearing what he was capable of doing offered the right incentive – and still have some presence of mind to be enthused about being slapped together with the man. Seeing that his gaze had been drawn once more to the elevator doors at the other end of the room, Xeraph shifted closer to Maxwell, catching his intent green eyes and withdrawing them from the Scotsman's figure.

Shielding his lips with the back of his hand, he uttered out of the corner of his mouth, "Pardon my asking, but… Are you sure he's entirely sane, Mel?"

With an understanding glance, the blonde earnestly shrugged. "Just wondering that myself, actually."


"A partner… 'Keep you in line'… pft, absolute waste o' time in my 'pinion." Snorting as he glared out at the gardens lingering just off the raised terrace, Vincent lifted his glass of champagne to his lips once more for another long, dizzying draught. "I mean, wha' is there to keep 'n line? Aren't I a 'ard enough worker as I am? I abide by those niggling little rules 'e's se' up; I do the job I'm s'posed to…" Conversationally expressing his sentiments to the night's air with circular gestures of his glass, Vincent sluggishly blinked out at the expansive, moonlit gardens and shrugged to himself as he sagged against the railing. "What th' bloody 'ell else does 'e expect me t' do?" Leaning on his elbows for a long moment, dejectedly staring down at a carefully sheared rosebush, he snorted again. "A partner. For god's sake what does 'e 'xpect me t' do with a partner? Since when was 'acking a two-person job? If anythin' 'e'll probably distract me more than 'e will 'elp."

Waving down one of the waiters carrying trays of champagne, Vincent downed the rest of his drink, slipped the glass onto the young man's silver platter, and plucked up another one – his eleventh of the evening, if he recalled correctly. He'd lost track somewhere along the way, but eleven sounded like a nice, round number. Come to think of it, the buzz that had settled over his limbs and between his ears had seemed to intensify somewhat as the night wore on, meaning he should probably stop before he wound up completely and unabashedly pissed, but…

At the thought of the Scotsman's sexy, smirking façade, Vincent's jaw tightened when he felt a familiar flush come to his face; resolutely taking another gulp to thrust the image into the back of his mind, he gasped in a breath and hung his head miserably in his hand. "Oh, 'o 'm I joking?" He moaned, "I may as well admit that everythin's been goin' down'ill since 'e left. Don't even know why bu' it 'as." Lifting drooping eyes to peer out with a longing pang of desire, Vincent felt himself slipping down into a melancholy abyss for every second that he spent watching the moonbeams play about on the leaves of the beautiful plants cluttering the building's garden. "Maybe I really did love 'im – maybe this is about more than just missin' a warm body in my bed." Scrubbing a hand back through his loose blonde hair – freed at last from that horrid ponytail – he let his glass limply dangle from his fingers as he leaned against the intricately carved marble railing. "I should 'ave tol' 'im that when I 'ad the chance… Why didn't I?" With a harsh, biting laugh, he let his forehead fall onto a scolding fist, "Right, too absorbed in m' work. Cheatin' on me, th' bloody tart. Maybe I should've let Maxwell fire me when 'e 'ad the chance. Maybe then I could go back an'… Puh, right. Like 'e'd believe me if I told 'im I wan'ed 'im back. And that damned Scotsman. Why's it that all th' s'posedly good men in the world all 'ave to be straigh' or turn out to be complete wankers if they're not? So I'm a bit shor' for my age – so what?"

"It's not that big o' a deal, really. Your reputation merely painted a taller picture o' you in me head, that's all."

"Right," Vincent snorted mordantly to himself, "my reputation. What kind of bloody reputation do I 'ave? Maybe one for getting absolutely smashed at my employer's 'alloween party and then lamentin' about –" Pausing when his intoxicated mind finally realized the voice that had spoken earlier did in no way belong to his own psyche – particularly considering it was… Oh god. Whipping around against the railing, Vincent had to clutch onto the marble banister to keep himself from drunkenly tipping off-balance; immediately he felt his insides searing with dislike at the sight of the tall, black-haired Scotsman lingering in the open doorway.

"Nae happy to see me, I take it?" Even with the shadows dancing over his face, Vincent could see that same cocky smirk on the Scotsman's lips as he shambled away from the open French doors, his hands tucked neatly in his pockets.

And suddenly, Vincent became acutely aware of his own slovenly appearance as he watched the immaculate, debonair criminal stride towards him. His hair had been falling loose around him for the last two hours, and chances were that it was horridly tangled now from having run his hands through it so much; after having become all too aggravated with his bowtie, he'd finally jerked the thing free, allowing it to hang limply around his neck; his tuxedo jacket was draping open and the collar of his shirt was unbuttoned because it had begun to feel as though it were on the verge of strangling him; his eyes were undoubtedly red and bleary, his nose pink with drink…

All this with a half-empty glass of champagne in his hand. Wonderful. Just bloody wonderful. Could there possibly be any other way to announce in an even more blatant manner "I'm positively smashed?"

I think not. I've successfully managed to make myself look the part of a typical down-and-out British drunkard. Go me.

After his first words had been mangled with a rather humiliating hiccup, Vincent choked back the waves of curses – and nausea – scrambling to set themselves free, and directed his somewhat fuzzy attentions towards the obviously amused Scotsman. "What th' bloody 'ell d'you want?"

"Wee bit of human conversation, if that's nae too much for a lad to ask." Pulling a cigarette from a hidden pocket in his suit with a blithe shrug, for some reason Vincent couldn't quite manage to draw his eyes away from the man as he produced a silver lighter to match, cocking his head towards the dancing flame.

"Conversation," Vincent suspiciously muttered; his eyes were still entranced by the careless, at-ease way the man flicked his lighter shut, blowing a cloud of smoke out from the corner of his mouth into the wind as he cradled his cigarette between his first two fingers. "Why's it that I don't believe you?" It was amazing, how even only seconds had passed in the man's company and already he began to feel more sober due to the powers of sheer mistrust.

He shrugged, moving to the banister to casually lean back against it, lifting the smoke to his lips again pinched between forefinger and thumb. "You don't know me; I dinnae blame you for being cautious." Pausing as he thoughtfully took a drag from the slender white rod, the embers at the tip flaring with life, those teal blue eyes absent-mindedly stared off into space for a moment until he abandoned the cigarette, leaving it hanging precariously from the corner of his mouth, and genially extended his hand. "The name's Caleb Grim McGregor. Alias is Grim's Reaper. Everyone calls me Grim – well, mostly everyone."

Staring at the man in flagrant suspicion, Vincent ignored his hand. "Charming," he sarcastically drawled.

However, instead of the offended expression that he had been expecting – although as to what it would exactly look like he couldn't have been more uncertain – the Scotsman merely grinned around his cigarette, "I know, isn't it?" After a moment of glancing down at his hand – a subtle yet obvious hint – and then back up to Vincent, Grim shrugged and rested his elbows back on the railing. Taking a deep breath, he stared up at the night sky for a long while, and then shot a brief glance in Vincent's direction. "Beautiful night, isn't it?"

"You still haven't answered my question."

"Ye still haven't told me your name," the man blithely countered.

"You heard it from Xeraph and Cervantes."

"I heard Graves," Grim corrected him; he extended his cigarette behind his back to flick the spare ashes off its tip before he complacently replaced it between his lips. "Graves isn't your name, lad."

"I'd rather bite me own bloody tongue off than tell you my goddamn name you arrogant wanker." Petulantly following the man's vibrant blue-green gaze as he peered down at his glass of champagne, Vincent could feel the demand for an answer as to what he was doing forming on his lips until those intense eyes found his own. It looked as though the other man was reading something there, and Vincent could do nothing but watch as those electrifying irises flicked across his face, absorbing every detail as they pleased without a thing in the world to stop them. As Grim removed his mouth's slender burden once more, Vincent could only stumble against him when suddenly he found the Scotsman's large hand against the back of his neck, yanking him forward into his dominating lips. Only dimly did he hear the fragile clatter of his glass colliding with the marble of the banister and the splash of his champagne against the carved stone, trickling down to patter against the carefully polished floor.

The slithering, slick muscle of the criminal's tongue quickly found and penetrated the gap that had been opened in shock, filling Vincent with the taste of… god, the taste of something that could never be given a name. All he knew in that moment was the feeling of the Scotsman's tongue dancing in a sensual courtship with his own in spite of the way he desperately pushed at those broad, black shoulders – he did find out, though, that along with the ring piercing Grim's nose and the stud in his lip, there was a simple barbell skewering his tongue as well.

A transient memory flashed before his mind's eye; warm olive skin, dirty blonde locks caught between his fingers, and supple lips, moist, scorching flesh, courting his own.

With the haze of alcohol distorting his senses, Vincent had no other thought than to force that repulsive, worm-like creature out of him, and in so doing so, the first thing that came to mind was…

"D'you love me, Vince?"


"D'you love me…?"

Snapping his teeth shut on the Scotsman's lower lip, Vincent stumbled away just enough to wipe the back of his wrist across his mouth, glaring daggers at the man holding a hand to the wound he had created before slapping him across the face. Yes, he knew the arrogant Scotsman was far taller than him, and without a doubt stronger, and yet further without doubt able to absolutely pulverize him if they truly fumbled their way into a brawl, but he didn't care. The pig had dared to assault him and he was going to pay for it one way or another. It didn't matter if in the end Vincent wound up with a few bruises or a bloody nose; the bastard was going to get what he deserved for humiliating him like that.

Mere seconds after Grim had recovered from the first slap, Vincent dealt him another. "How dare you," he quietly snarled. "How fucking dare you! What the fuck do you think I am!?" Unheeding of how loud his voice had suddenly become, the abrupt throb of the rage pulsing in his veins with renewed vehemence, Vincent pushed on, feeding on the fire of his frustrations as his hands connected with the Scotsman's shoulders for an infuriated shove. "Do you think I'm some sort of whore?! Do you think that just because I happen to be a little fucking tipsy I'll just throw my legs open for you!? I don't bloody think so and how dare you assume that of me you vile, wretched, arrogant pig of a Scotsman!" Slapping him once more just for good measure, and in the feeble hopes that perhaps he would ruin one of his piercings in the process, Vincent was more tempted than he'd ever been in his life to finish manifesting his disgust by spitting on the man, but before he could – before he could even turn away to leave the man by his pitiful lonesome – he found a strong hand latched around his upper arm.

Glaring down at the fingers curled firmly around his bicep, Vincent brought vehement, poisonous brown eyes up to the Scotsman's reddened face. "Get your fucking hand off me," he snarled from between his teeth, wishing for all of the world that he'd brought a knife with him just so he could cut the man's cocky smirk from his lips.

"You're as feisty as they said ye were – violent… an' so –" Breaking off in mid-statement as a thin trail of blood slipped out from a single corner of his lips, Grim wiped it away with the back of his hand – his cigarette nowhere to be found – to peer down at it in amusement until he brought his attention back to Vincent with a smirk, "Cold. Look, you've even made me bleed. Congrats, lad. First time I've seen it in a while, I was startin' to think it'd all vanished."

"And you'll be seeing more of it if you don't get your filthy hand off me." Watching as the Scotsman's smirk widened, Vincent only briefly acknowledged the way his gut twisted with apprehension – the look in Grim's eyes was not one of amusement alone. Oh no, this was the same look that hinted at danger and the slightest lack of his human sanity. Something that told him that this predator would not be deterred so easily.

"Is that a challenge, wee Englishman?" Grim purred, pulling him closer once again even as Vincent resisted.

"It's not a challenge," he hissed, "It's a promise. Now get your fucking hand off of me!" Seizing his shoulders in desperate hands, Vincent drove his knee up into the taller man's gut, allowing only the slightest traces of satisfaction to manifest before he focused on getting away from him. However, before he could make it even half way to the other end of the balcony, he felt that vice around his bicep again, whipping him around and shoving him against the balcony with a sharp breath, pinning him against the railing with the pressure of the Scotsman's hard body.

Lethally glaring up at him, his breaths coming in hissed gasps from between his teeth, Vincent readied himself to do anything he would need to in order to get rid of the man. When one of his large hands abruptly grasped him between his legs, however, he felt himself go weak against the Scotsman's body, his fists trembling as they clenched around the lapels of his black suit jacket to keep himself on his feet.

"I think all ye need is someone to love you, little Englishman." Grim's voice was a breathy purr against Vincent's ear, a hot whisper and brush of his lips. Fingers wound themselves down through his unbound hair, stroking the bleached strands as he himself did caught in the throes of his own thoughts. Touching the exposed flesh of his throat, Grim's fingers gently caressed the curves of his neck, slipping up to press his warm palm against a pale cheek. Vincent couldn't move; he couldn't jerk his head away from the Scotsman's touch, and he certainly couldn't fight back. Not when… Oh, god.

When the hand that clutched at him first began to move, Vincent could do nothing but whimper his protest through heavy breaths, pushing feebly against the criminal's hard chest. The hand on his cheek glided away, tenderly taking his chin in warm fingers to tilt his face up; aware only of the throbbing drum of his heart pounding furiously in his ears, it became a shock to him when he abruptly felt the heat rushing into his face. His eyes had squeezed themselves shut, but in moments, it wouldn't have mattered whether he could see what the Scotsman was doing or not, because he felt those hot breaths on his lips, and soon after there was soft, moist flesh brushing against them.

"Why are you so cold to everyone you meet, hmm, my wee Englishman?" Grim whispered, returning once more to send nervous shivers racing away from his mouth as he kissed him. "Is it because ye were never taught how to love?" Arching away from the hand gently kneading his concealed manhood, Vincent couldn't prevent another pleading sound from escaping into the air. This couldn't be happening, not to him. There was no way that this could be real. He just met the man and now all of a sudden… Now he was doing this on a balcony a mere stone's throw from the room where everyone else was dancing and talking and enjoying themselves. What if someone came out? What if they saw? Would they help him? God, this was humiliating. This man was insane…

Suddenly Vincent became all too aware of the dizziness that began to set in, the heaviness of his breaths and the lightness of his head. He felt himself trembling on his own two feet, as though any second now his legs would give way beneath him. Out of sheer reflex when one of his knees buckled, he held tight to the man assaulting him with whispers and gentle touches, pressing his cheek to his chest and praying that soon this would be over, that the Scotsman would get whatever sick thrill he was looking for from a poor intoxicated man and then leave him be.

But he never left.


Vincent couldn't restrain the gasp that punched itself out of his chest when Grim shoved him up against his door. It didn't remain solely his breath for very long however, when that hot, eager mouth enfolded his own, dragging him down into an abyss he'd been denied for far too long. Desperate fingers raked the Scotsman's shoulders, dragging themselves with an unforgiving need across the back of his neck even as the black-haired convict tried to break away from his lips.

"Give me your keys," he panted, delving once more into Vincent's mouth, hefting the weight of his body as he jumped against him and wrapped his legs around the Scotsman's narrow waist. He couldn't stifle whatever it was that the Scotsman had awakened – not now. It didn't matter that the second time they'd met he'd slapped him to the high heavens and back; it didn't matter anymore that first this encounter had started out as a sexual assault.

It didn't matter that Grim still didn't know his real name. All that mattered was that one way or the other he would get something that he'd needed for longer than he would ever be likely to admit.

Clinging to the black-haired Scotsman with but a single arm as he left angry red marks on his throat, Vincent bit his lip to stifle his moan when he felt the man's hardness jostle against his own, clumsily fumbling in his pockets for the keys to his loft. Of course, it certainly didn't help when Grim would sporadically take his hand and trap it against the door by his head as he kissed him. Eventually he managed to produce them in some form other than a thought, and mere instants later, he found his head spinning as he wrestled his way to the top on the suddenly mussed sheets of his bed. All he cared to recognize was the indescribable flavor of the Scotsman's mouth, the texture of his tongue and lips as those clever hands of his unbuckled his belt, tugging it free of its loops and tossing it away. Soon enough his voracious fingers turned their attention to Vincent's jacket, the simple white buttons of his bleached dress-shirt.

Sadly, however, there was no denying – nor hiding – his drunkenness when Vincent found himself completely incapable of loosening that god-forsaken lilac tie. His fingers felt like rubber, without sensation, fumbling and graceless; it was quite the embarrassment, really, given how they usually worked when offered a keyboard and a system to crash. But soon enough – and perhaps with a bit of the Scotsman's assistance – he managed to jerk that horrid accessory free, throwing it aside irreverently as he thrust the cold, cross-like medallion out of the way and turned his rapacious attentions to his lover's raven button-down.

Given his current state, he was rather surprised, and couldn't keep from disclosing this emotion, when one of the tiny plastic fasteners popped free of its stitching altogether as he fought to rip Grim's shirt open. Maybe there was a part of him, a part that wasn't intoxicated, that wanted to get at the man's flesh more than his conscious mind had realized. It was beautiful, the caramel skin he exposed with each button that was feverishly torn free. All too quickly he became aware of his anxiously quivering muscles as he tremulously caressed the Scotsman's torso, kissing each warm copper expanse that was revealed to his aching eyes, unable to keep himself from leaving tender bite marks in his wake. He was absolutely delicious, even the alcohol couldn't prevent him from noticing that. Grim's potent, sensual cologne seemed to curl about him the closer he yearned to become to his skin, slipping up his torso once more to lock himself onto the Scotsman's impatient lips. His pendant quickly warmed between them, burning against the scarce revealed skin of Vincent's own chest.

An intoxicated laugh escaped every now and then when Grim patently thought he wasn't going fast enough, withdrawing his hands from their vigilant mission of exploring Vincent's body to assist him with the removing of his slacks. To feel the Scottish criminal wriggling beneath him, to feel his defined hips bucking as he tried to squirm out of his clothes under the weight of Vincent's body… Perhaps it was the odd, animal cravings he'd begun tugging to the surface… Vincent abandoned the idea of helping Grim at all, instead turning his focus to the Scotsman's bared throat, running his lips over the man's tendons, nipping at his larynx as it bobbed with anxious swallows.

He could feel Grim's muscles flexing under his hands as he passed his palms down the felon's fine body, so unlike that of the willowy young man that had last occupied this bed with him. He could feel the raw, carnal power that must have been pulsing through Grim's veins, the heat resonating from his smooth, fragrant skin. Every second that Vincent allowed himself to take notice of these things, he felt the yearning in him swell until he thought it would swallow him whole.

It didn't matter that his entire world was spinning, revolving around this exotic treasure that had seduced him into his own bed. It didn't matter that Grim was nearly naked beneath him while Vincent's pants still clung to one leg and his starched white shirt drooped around his shoulders. It didn't matter that he knew how unprofessional it was of him to sleep with his new partner – feh, bugger it. Bugger it to hell and back. He hadn't been the one to instigate this, and he most certainly didn't care stop it, either, considering the feelings that Grim was spurring in him. He hadn't truly felt like this in… oh god, he hadn't felt like this even when Mikhail was still around.

Every vein, every stretch of muscle, every millimeter of tissue and every bone was on fire with need.

Straightening with Grim cradled in his arms, fiercely feasting on his throat with volatile bites and kisses, Vincent arched against him, winding his hands back through strands of platinum blonde to bring them away from his shoulders, his face, before he combed the Scotsman's dark locks back from his forehead. Taking his sharp, darkly seductive face in his hands, Vincent bent to his mouth once more; penetrating Grim's lusting lips of his own volition to revel in the glorious, wet warmth that lay beyond as he pressed himself against the Scotsman's hard, hot body.

He couldn't take his eyes off of him, not now. Those intense eyes, burning with teal flames that mirrored every bit of lust he was feeling as they bore into his very soul; they screamed to him of the pleasures he could promise, the cries he would pull free. Needless to say, that was a good enough offer for him – he had no qualms with what he was seeing and somehow Vincent didn't doubt that that Scotsman would make good of these silent vows as he lay back down.

Vincent could hardly tell one thing from the other through the haze fogging his eyes for what seemed like the longest time, but he found that he was perfectly aware of his surroundings when he felt the Scotsman's member finally break into him. His dry throat was run through with aching shivers as he gasped in a harsh breath, biting his lip and arching against that sun-kissed form bent on dominating him. Every muscle in his body contracted against this invader as it withdrew and forcefully came again, jerking a keening whimper from his lungs as Grim's blunt nails raked down his half-exposed chest, seizing his hips beneath the trailing ends of his shirttails with unforgiving hands to guide him forward, back, rocking him against his erection as he buried himself into him over and over. The entirety of the world he knew was embodied by the strength of those sure movements, the touch of the criminal's hands and the swell of his sex as it penetrated him time and time again. He could only feel the beat of Grim's heart against his palms, the hungry, bruising kisses his lips doled out across his collarbone, the heat of that twisted silver medallion – the fire that began to hastily consume every fiber of his being.

He could only feel euphoria as he helplessly tumbled away into the darkness, and his mind abandoned his rocking body to its carnal desires. Everything else faded into a black void where there was... nothing.


Everything hurt. Everything ached when he moved to stretch the morning lethargy from his muscles. His head felt as though someone had decided to slap an entire heavy metal concert within its confines and turn the volume up to its loudest possible decibel; the rest of his body… He didn't even want to think about that. His ass, though… fuck… What in the bloody hell had happened last night? Jesus bleedin' Christ… He couldn't remember being in this much pain since… since the time he'd been experimenting in junior high school and didn't know at the time that lubricant was going to be his best friend later on in life. Come to think of it, the sensation that he'd had to suffer through back then and the one haunting his poor arse now were virtually identical. Only this… Only this time he couldn't remember why it hurt so badly.

Inching his sore body to the edge of his mussed bed, Vincent bit back a vehement curse as he tenderly pushed himself to his feet, straightening with a hand braced against his lower spine. Having deemed that a relative success in spite of the agony running up and down from his arse like a goddamn mob of giddy school children, he ran his fingers back through the tangled strands of his bleached hair. Yes, there was most definitely something that had to have happened last night, he realized. His hair was never this much of a mess when he woke up from a normal night's sleep. Not ever.

Maybe he and Xeraph had gotten absolutely smashed and fucked the hell out of each other. That was… not as amusing as he would have originally thought it to be. More disturbing and a concept that made him desperately yearn for a shower. Yes, Xeraph was plenty attractive and all, but… knowing how much he got around Vincent would be more worried about getting an STD than anything else. Goddamn lecher. Womanizing pervert.

He couldn't understand what he'd ever seen in the man.

Taking easy, tender steps towards the robe hanging on the back of his bedroom door, Vincent eased himself into the plush fabric and, after deliberating that he could wait a moment longer to find out if the rest of his apartment was empty to take a much-needed piss, hobbled out into the hall. The smell of cooking eggs, bacon and toast assaulted his senses with more force than the initial pain had, immediately urging saliva to explode in a welcome rush into his dry mouth. Okay, so, the loft wasn't empty after all. So who in the fuck had he wound up in bed with last night? So long as it wasn't Cervantes himself or that bloody fat-ass wanker that he'd been trying to get rid of during the party, he was sure he would be able to cope.

Of course, as hard as he tried to piece together the prior evening's events, he couldn't. He remembered standing on a veranda fuming about being slapped with a partner, getting a glass of champagne, chugging it, and then going back for more. This was a cycle that seemed to repeat itself ad infinitum until everything became hazy and eventually ebbed into nothingness. But almost as soon as he stumbled into his kitchen, the head of black, disheveled hair that greeted him explained everything.

And, needless to say, it was not a very pleasant sensation. Had it not been for the absolute aridity of his throat, or the ache tormenting his poor muscles, he would have gone ballistic. He would have seized that arrogant pig by the scruff of his rumpled shirt and thrown him right out of his bloody apartment. (Wait a minute… that wasn't the shirt Grim had been wearing the night before… Wasn't that – it was… That bastard ! He was stealing his clothes!) Instead, however, all he could do was stand in the doorway of his kitchen, gawking himself stupid. Oh yes, the fury pumping through his veins was doing a number on his poor, hung over brain, but even this didn't keep it from deliberating over the best way to viciously murder the wanker that had somehow wound up in his bed.

"What," Vincent slowly growled through his clenched teeth, "in the hell are you doing in my apartment?" Oh, yes, he knew what the man's answer would be – the pain in his backside was testimony to that – but what he really wanted to know now was why the hell the asshole hadn't just picked up his clothes and left when he'd woken up. It seemed that most one-night lovers found that exit to be of the best kind. It avoided all of that clingy romantic drivel that most would think would spring up after having just given one's self completely over to another for the night.

What in the fuck had kept Grim from doing the same?

Turning as though just realizing he was there, Grim actually had the nerve to smile at him, winking one of those intense blue eyes at him over his shoulder before he turned back to the stove. "I'm makin' breakfast. Thought ye might be hungry." And in spite of it all, part of Vincent still had the gall to take note of the simple plaid boxers the Scotsman wore and admit, quietly and to himself, that Grim really did have quite a nice ass. He could almost, almost remember clawing his fingers into it only to find firm muscle beneath that blasted caramel skin.

"To hell with breakfast; I asked you a question and I expect it to be answered."

"I did answer it," the Scotsman simply replied, his voice carrying nothing but the most serene form of complete, uncomplicated contentment.

With his hands opening and closing in the same slow, trembling fists as a madman's, looming dangerously close to the idea of strangling that rotten pig, Vincent forced himself to take a deep breath, combing his fingers back through his tousled hair to smooth out another imaginary knot as he reconstructed his composure. Just calm down, old boy, He told himself. Just take a breath, get some answers, and then boot his sorry, naked ass out.

"Fine," He finally snarled, with a rather forced sense of civility. "You're making breakfast. Then answer me this: Why are you still here?" Keenly watching as the Scotsman's long, limber limbs paused in their actions, he couldn't ignore the dreading ball that had settled in the pit of his stomach when Grim glanced back at him over his shoulder again with a curious frown.

"Ye dunnae remember?" He innocently inquired, cocking his head just the slightest to the side, enough so mussed strands of his dark hair fell into one of his eyes, meshing with the black ink of his lashes.

"Remember what, pray tell?" Vincent saccharinely hissed, his voice dripping with a sweet, potent venom. Yes, so he happened to be a complete and total bitch when he woke up sometimes, but he wasn't exactly used to having a total stranger standing at his stove, in the kitchen of his loft in one of his comfortably over-sized shirts, making breakfast. He wasn't the one at fault this time if he was indeed being a bitch. Any and all fault in this situation could be aimed and fired at that goddamn drop-dead-sexy Scotsman.

Oh bloody hell; he didn't actually just think that, did he?

Flicking off the stove, Grim crossed his bared arms – being as he'd rolled up the sleeves on the shirt that were never meant to be rolled up, Vincent petulantly noticed – and leaned back against the kitchen counter. "So ye dunnae remember our deal, then," he mumbled softly to himself. Then, after his dark brows jumped up on his forehead, a low whistle escaped his pierced lips and he rubbed a hand against the back of his neck. "Well, this could get mighty interesting."

As though just noticing the lethal, "do not fuck around with me right now" glare that had narrowed Vincent's dark eyes, Grim jumped back to attention, an anxious grin adorning the mouth – the same one that he could remember kissing him so well – as those large hands warded his temper away.

"Now you've got to promise not to get mad, 'cause you're the one who suggested it in the first place…"

"Cut the goddamn bullshit already and tell me why you're still in my house!" Vincent impatiently snapped; he could bet, and be fairly precise while he was at it, that most of the temper striking his words and making them so volatile was coming from the simpering, nauseating ball of sour dread curdling in his stomach.

If it wasn't for the fact that Grim was not only taller, but threaded through with more muscle than him – quite a lot of it, actually, he was starting to remember that much from last night – he probably already would have had the man in a headlock by now, threatening him with strangulation if he didn't spill everything he knew. It was coming to the point already where the notion began to appear more appealing with every silent second that passed them by.

"Take it easy, love –"

"Don't you dare fucking call me that!" Vincent roared, "I don't even know you! Now tell me why you're still in my goddamn house before I call the fucking police!"

Ahh, yes – the irony of that statement. A criminal calling the cops because his newly gained partner – who was also a criminal – seduced him and stuck around to say hello and goodbye in the morning. With barely even so much as a cursory glance, Vincent could see traces of evidence lying about his loft that the cops would quickly recognize and take into custody, which would, inevitably, lead to his one-way trip to prison. Yes, if he called the police because of something this miniscule and insignificant, he would, in the end, royally fuck himself over.

Perhaps Cervantes was right, after all. He never used to leave incriminating evidence lying about his apartment so carelessly. Christ, what the hell had he been thinking?

"Jesus, Mary 'n Joseph you make it sound like I raped you!" Grim incredulously blurted, his eyes mirroring the perfect pang of affronted distress. But before Vincent had a chance to become any more incensed, Grim lifted his palms again, "Ease up now, lad, before you give yourself a hernia or do more damage to yourself."

"More… More?!" Vincent harshly scoffed, "Well this is a fine thing, coming from you. Saying that I'll do more damage to myself when, if I recall at all, you were the one being the savage brute!"

"Well I'm sorry that ye were so fuckin' sexy an' wasted that I forgot about the lube, okay?!"

"And let me guess you forgot about a goddamn condom too!?" Vincent yelled, fighting with every ounce of will he had to keep from shrieking when the Scotsman made to vocalize his retort, only to speechlessly frown to himself with a finger lifted in the air. And slowly, ever so slowly, that single finger began to wag as he perched a hand on his hip and cradled his chin in thought.

"Come to think of it…" Grim quietly mused.

Throwing his hands up into the air, Vincent pointedly ignored the pain wracking his body when he spun away from the man in disbelief; his hands soon found a new home, however, pressed in absolute and utter misery to his face as he stumbled to a nearby wall, dropping his already throbbing forehead heavily against it. "Dear god I'm going to get a disease!" He wailed.

If the mere sound of Grim's sputtering would ease his wounds, that would have been enough, but the indignantly heated response that soon followed shattered whatever peace of mind he had left. "Now ye wait just one minute –"

"I'm going to get an STD because of you!" Vincent hysterically cried again, whipping around with a finger stabbed in the wide-eyed Scotsman's direction. "Who knows what kind of things you do in your spare time?! For all I know you could be crawling with viruses and I just had fucking sex with you!" Even as an offended flush came to Grim's copper cheeks, his mouth opening to protest, Vincent hurried forward, wasting no time in hastily pushing him out of the kitchen. "That's it!" He snapped. "I don't care why you're still here or what this deal was that we made when I was pissed and randy but you are leaving! Right now!" Wrenching open the door with a stuttering, scrambling Scotsman drowning out all else, Vincent was too preoccupied with trying to shove the man out of his loft to notice how the neck of his robe began to slip open from his struggles.

When Grim latched onto the frame for dear life, sprawling himself in the entrance like a cat refusing to go for a bath, Vincent huffed out a stubborn breath and slammed into the Scotsman's back with his shoulder – but still, he held on. His feet were jammed against the bottom of the doorframe, just as his fingers were hooked around the sides.

"Just wait one minute here! Ye cannae–"

"How dare you presume to tell me what to do in my own home! Get out already!"

Vincent was sure the tenants of any and every other loft on his floor would be able to hear them; honestly, he was quite frankly surprised that none of his nosy neighbors had poked their heads out of their doors in curiosity yet. Buggering snoops, he irately thought. They'd better stay where they bloody well belong. That's the last fucking thing I need right now – arrogant American wankers making noise complaints when all I'm trying to do is –

"Get out!" Jamming his shoulder yet more furiously against Grim's back, Vincent felt everything in him broiling when the man braced his foot higher on the doorframe, straining to push back against him.

"Ye already agreed, dammit!" The Scotsman obstinately roared. "Ye cannae bloody well kick me out 'cause I fuckin' live here too, now!"

Freezing, Vincent jerked away from the man in horror, stumbling back against a wall when the sudden drain of the heat that had filled his face left him reeling with dizziness. "Oh you must be joking…" He uttered, painfully aware of his labored breaths, the ache of his poor, abused muscles and the clammy sweat beading his face from his struggle with the resolute Scotsman… Who was still – he pointedly noticed – bracing himself against the frame as though expecting another, renewed attack once the shock had finished setting in.

Watching him with wide blue eyes over a broad shoulder, Grim swallowed back his laden breaths to elaborate his statement. "We were talkin' about this partnership after we had sex," he laboriously swallowed again, "an' ye suggested that I stay with ye throughout its duration."

"And why the bloody hell would I ever do something like that?" Vincent bit back, impatiently waiting for the man's silent answer as his eyes began to wander; noticing much too late how loose his robe had become about him, Vincent jerked it shut once again, his face beaming red with embarrassment.

Grim, however, seemed to be completely unaffected by this, save for the fact that his eyes flitted once more to Vincent's face instead of his bare, love-bitten torso. "Well, honestly, ye were absolutely pissed. Ye were suggestin' all kinds of things – nae the half o' which were 't'all decent, neither."

Just as Vincent jerked up right against the wall once more, the Scotsman hurriedly blustered after the rest of his statement, "Well I-I dunnae mean that's entirely why or why I even got ye wine afterwards 'cause ye asked for that yourself but I mean…" Demonstrably taking notice that his words had trailed off into absolute nonsense, Grim took a long breath, noticeably collecting the fragments of his composure before he began again. "You thought it would be more convenient," he calmly, factually explained, this time as though the conversation had passed but mere moments beforehand, "and less suspicious than constantly commuting to each other's places of residence, okay? That's all."

Pausing for a long moment while Vincent fought to sift through his shadowed memories for the thread that hinted at his ever saying such a thing, Grim's dark, intense blue irises skimmed down his body one last time; a smug, lascivious grin curled at the corners of his mouth as his body seemed to relax in the light of his train of thought.

"But I've gotta say," he purred, "that was one hell of a welcoming present."

Indignantly gawking at the Scotsman's lewdly implicative comment, Vincent wasted not even another thought in moving away from the wall just enough to plant a powerful kick into the small of the Scotsman's back. With a loud, shocked yelp, he was finally sent hurtling into the hall, colliding with the opposite surface with a sound that would have made Vincent smirk with a hard-earned satisfaction had it not been for the foul mood gripping him in a very nearly suffocating stranglehold.

Before Grim could be granted with a chance to fleetingly put together what had just happened and return for a renewed attempt to re-lodge himself in the doorway, Vincent slammed the door shut in his face, flicking every lock he'd ever seen fit to install into place before he collapsed against it with a heavy breath, deaf to the sounds of Grim's fists pounding relentlessly against the wood.

Slipping down the smooth surface, he remained immune to the ache that blossomed in his muscles as he slid to the floor, tilting his head numbly back onto the door's jolting body and staring blindly ahead. Grim's persistent voice was nothing but a dull roar in the shadows of his mind, mingling with the headache that finally began to lift its ugly visage, stabbing at his temples and jabbing with red-hot pokers at the backs of his eyes as realization, coupled with its sadistic partner – reality – finally sunk in.

Had he really suggested such a ludicrous agreement?

Quietly moaning to himself, he pulled his knees up to his chest, holding tremulous hands to his head as he buried his face into his legs and wished with more longing than he'd ever known existed that he'd never woken up. What kind of cruel parody of Hell have I just thrown myself into?


To Be Continued…


So, like it? Hate it? Wish it would spontaneously combust? C'mon, leave me a review and tell me all about it! -maniacal laughter-

Here we are again, with a story I haven't updated in… what? Two years now? Three? Well, anyways, it's been a while. I'm kind of hoping that with some refurbishing of this baby I might actually get back into the swing of things and pick this idea up again. I'm rather fond of these two, and I don't think I'd ever forgive myself if I didn't tell at least a little bit more of their story.

Oh, yes, and I apologize for the absolute and utter butchery that is my attempt to capture even a fragment of a Scottish accent in writing. I know, I fail. -sulks in corner-