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Previous.

The sunrise found William out of bed and into Patrick’s study, sitting in front of a sleep-deprived Pete and a yawning Patrick.

“I made telephone calls all night. We’re getting some back up. The Cobras will show up and Zack has some friends that will come too.”

“So we’re in siege or something now? It’s official?” William asked.

“Yeah, they left a note on our doorstep,” Patrick said distractively. He was looking through a notebook eagerly. “You know your lifestyle is fucked up when more than half of the telephone numbers you have are crossed out because the owners are dead. That’s really depressing,” he mused.

“Gabe said he wasn’t sure his men would follow him,” Pete commented dismissively.

“I’m not either. To be honest, I’m surprised he said he would come.”

“I’m not. As long as you’re alive and on my side, so will Gabe. I understood years ago that his allegiance was to you, not to me.”

“This is terrifying.”

“Is it? I never pegged you as afraid of engagement.”

“Pete, this isn’t refusing to marry a girl; it’s being in a relationship with a man. S-Society would see it better if I decided to marry a Black woman, for heaven’s sake!”

“Who cares what they think? Who cares if this is illegal? You never blinked when I asked you to smuggle alcohol into the country and sell it but that’s so illegal it’s in the Constitution. I never saw laws stopping you from doing anything. If you love him and he loves you, just go for it. You know he would leave his friends for you; he would leave the country for you if you asked. You are afraid. The sooner you admit it, the happier you will be.”

“It isn’t this easy! Jesus, Pete! Life isn’t black or white! Maybe Patrick fell into your arms like you were fucking heaven-sent but Gabe isn’t that easy to decipher.”

“You know what I did to have Patrick? I was honest with him. I told him everything I felt and what I wanted and you know what, Bill? It worked. It was terrifying and it still is but waking up knowing that the most wonderful man in the world loves me back and that I can kiss him and hold him as much as I want compensates for all of the worries and anxiety.”

William bit his lip and stayed silent. He had nothing to reply, he knew Pete was right.

“We’ll have to check the ammunition we have and I seriously don’t think we have enough guns for everyone. The kids are my priority because that’s what they’re here for, but I’d like Jon or Ryan to have one. Spencer and Brendon cannot really look after themselves adequately, let alone protect someone else. Which one of your men is the best shooter?”

William blinked a few times to get back into the conversation before frowning at Pete.

“I’d say Chislett and Andy. I don’t want Adam to hold one. He’s too reckless; he’d go and try to act too quickly. He’s like my little brother. I want him safe in the back lines.”

Pete wrote something down while nodding and humming.

“Why are you consulting me for this?” William asked after Pete forced him into discussing the arrangement of their defenses.

“You’re the one I trust the most in this entire house. Well, apart from Patrick but he already has enough to worry about, he doesn’t need that added stress.”

He turned his head to look at Patrick, who was now asleep, his hand holding up his face and his glasses askew. Pete smiled softly as his eyes lingered on him and William felt like he was intruding on something he wasn’t allowed to see.

William was only released three hours later, when the gray light of dusk darkened the corners of his sight. He made his way through the house he knew by heart and entered the kitchen. He noticed how Hayley and Greta stopped their discussion when he appeared through the door, and how they looked like they had been standing very close to each other. He bit back his smile as he dug through the cupboards to find something to eat. He appreciated how no one ever asked questions when it came to Gabe and him – except Hayley that one time and it was legitimate – and he would be damned if he were the one to bother people with their personal lives.

He had planned on sitting in the library to have some quiet time but as he entered, he saw that Ryan and Spencer were eagerly discussing at mid-voice. From what he could hear, it was a very heartfelt conversation, the intimate and honest kind of ones you have with people you’ve known for all of your life and who know you better than you do.

Quietly, he backed out of the room and headed for the front porch. The soft spring breeze made his skin tingle and he closed his tired eyes for a moment, trying to block out the sounds of the passing cars and of the busy surrounding streets. He was bored and considered going to check on his speakeasy, but he knew that his friends would kick him out and tell him to go get some rest.

The past weeks had been filled with travels and arguments with bootleggers who thought they could fool this feminine looking guy sitting in front of him. It was always exhausting for him to bargain and act like someone he wasn’t; a cold, rude and unforgiving man. He knew that if he tried to go do some work, Michael or Andy would escort him out and force him into bed. He felt a wave of affection and recognition towards his best friends.

As he shivered, he found himself wishing Gabe was there to warm him up. He missed him deep down in his bones, his skin itching for the man’s warm fingers and his entire body yearning for his strong hold. It didn’t make it any easier to see everyone around him not so subtly being madly in love. Patrick and Pete, Brendon and Ryan, Hayley and Greta; he had even caught a suspicious glimpse of Mike and Adam the other day. Sometimes he had the feeling he had brought that on himself with his constant need to distance himself from everything and everyone.

The next morning, the rising tension could be felt in the house. They all knew that just like them, the Ways were gathering their allies and getting ready to strike. The note Pete had found on their doorstep only said “We’ll be back” and it had put everyone on the edge. They knew that they didn’t have a lot of time left. The Ways had had enough time to get back to New York and who knew if they were not about to come back.

The arrival of Pete’s allies took a lot of weight off their shoulders. It lasted until Ryan deadpanned that in his opinion, the Ways would have more people than them. Pete and Patrick glared at him until he squirmed on his chair and left the dining room with a frustrated frown.

Everything became quiet when Zack dragged the ones William and Pete had determined would be given a gun in the practice room to make sure the choices they had made were good. For his part, William was keeping his eyes on the front door. Gabe had told Pete he would be there in a day. That was now. William had barely slept from how he had thought of what he would do when the man would arrive. His decision was taken and as much as he feared the moment, he was feeling at peace with it.

A large grin appeared on his face when he heard the sounds of a car’s doors being closed. Not forgetting safety, he hurried to a window and looked outside to make sure it was their guests and not the Ways. If they survived, he was sure Pete would never forgive him if he were the one who let the Ways in accidentally.

When he saw that it was no doubt the Cobras – all of them – he stood behind the front door and waited for them to ring. Once they did, he waited a few seconds before opening to not look like he had been waiting by the door. Victoria would not let him live this down.

They greeted loudly and the noise went up when Pete, Patrick, Andy and Joe arrived, quickly followed by Santi and pretty much everyone who knew the Cobras before they left, so long ago.

The greetings were moved to the sitting room when the hall became too small for the amount of people who wanted to either hug or lecture their old friends. William took advantage of the chaotic ambiance to pull Gabe into the library and close the door behind them. He rested his back against it and stared at Gabe, his stomach knotted and his mouth dry.

“There’s something I need to tell you, Gabe.”

“Can’t we first say hi?”

“We already did. This is important and it’s not easy to say so please don’t interrupt me,” William cut him, more roughly than he had intended.

Gabe raised his eyebrows and made his way to what William remembered as his favorite armchair and sat on it, his eyes inciting William to say what he had to say.

“Gabe, I love you. I think I always have, since the first time we met, the first time I saw you walking through the door so many years ago. You looked so stunning in the afternoon light, the golden glow of your skin and the wicked spark in your eyes as you looked at me. You made me feel gorgeous from the second I felt your eyes on me. I don’t know what you thought of me the first time but for me, I would go as far as saying it was love at first sight. Of course, you annoyed the hell out of me in the stubborn way you refused to let me have Michael but I loved that part of you.”

“I immediately saw that you hadn’t been told ‘no’ a lot of times in your life before I did,” Gabe said, a soft smile playing on his lips.

“Please, let me talk. I won’t have the courage to finish if you don’t. No, you’re right; I’m not used to being challenged a lot in my life. Usually, people give me what I want. You don’t and I love it. You challenge me and you unsettle me. The thing is, I don’t know what I am for you and it’s driving me mad. I wanted to be honest with you and tell you that for me, you are probably the most important person in my life and wanted to clear things out. Be honest, get it off my chest. Say something now because I really feel vulnerable.”

Gabe reached forward and grabbed William’s hand, pulling him until he sat in his lap.

“Bilvy,” the older man said, burying his nose in William’s hair. He shivered when his breath tickled the shell of his ear.

“I love you too, you know. I thought I had made it clear several times in the past.”

“Yeah, like disappearing in the middle of the night. I thought you left because you didn’t care about me anymore,” William said, realizing his grudge was still there.

“I told you why I left, it had nothing to do with you, you know that,” Gabe said softly.

“I thought you left because you never cared about me,” William said again in a whisper after a while. He felt Gabe laughing under him.

“Bilvy, you’ll never change. Do you really think someone could stop caring about you? And for the record, I don’t only care about you. I love you. I loved you the moment you put up that little nose of yours and acted like a brat with me. That was it for me, you know. When you took that frustrated face and tried to overpower me. It was the moment you hooked me up. I love your smile and your eyes and how soft your hair is when you washed all the products out of it. I love how you cuddle me when you’re sleepy. I love your voice and your hips and you’re insecurity and how your worries are always too big for you.”

William grinned before leaning in to kiss Gabe quickly.

“There’s one last thing I wanted to say. It’s a stupid idea I had and you’re allowed to laugh at my expense and say I’m insane.”

“You can’t say anything more stupid than how you thought I didn’t care about you, so go ahead,” Gabe teased.

“I thought that we could - we’re lovers? I thought we could, you know, consider each other as engaged. Or something.”

“Are you asking me to marry you?” Gabe said with his teasing smirk still on.

“Well no, not anything official like this – it’s the first word I thought of – but I thought we could maybe make it official? Stop fooling around and not be a thing anymore.”

“I would love that, William. I would love to call you mine.”

After saying that, Gabe frowned and brought his hand down.

“What are you doing?” William asked, trying to see what he was doing.

“Checking where my balls went. I can’t believe I’m being such a girl.”

“What, you don’t like talking about your feelings?” William teased with a smirk.

“Oh yes, of course! And later we can do each other’s hair, okay?” Gabe chuckled before turning serious again. “It doesn’t change that what I said was all true.”

As Gabe pulled him closer and wrapped his arms tightly around him, William begrudgingly had to admit that Pete was right.

William would not be able to give immense details on what happened in the days before the Ways showed up. He spent his time between Patrick’s study and his bedroom, all the time with Gabe. It suddenly felt like they were attached to the hip and he was not one to complain about that.

The entire house had a new dynamic. Close friends were spending more time together. An air of ultimatum was hanging around the place, like they all knew that every second could be the last together. There was no desperation or fear, though. They were ready to face whatever would happen.

The night before everything came to an end, Pete took him aside and the look on his face woke up worries William thought had disappeared.

“What is it, Pete?”

“I told Ryan and Jon the same thing, and I’ll tell Gabe later. If you see that we’re losing, that it’s becoming too dangerous, run away. I am asking you to run away. Take your men and get the fuck out of town. They don’t have anything against you specifically so they’ll let you go. I don’t want any of you to die for me. If shit goes bad, go away. Promise me.”

“I’m not a coward, Pete. You know I’ll fight by your side until the end.”

“William, this is not a suggestion, it’s an order. If you refuse, I am putting you in a train heading for Mexico in two hours and you won’t be there by the time they arrive. Understood?”

William shrugged and rolled his eyes, deciding that it was better not to argue with Pete when he was in such a mood.

It was very early in the morning when he heard the unusual noises. He was trying to convince himself to get out of bed but when he noticed that Gabe wasn’t there he decided to ask him what was wrong when he would be back.

Minutes later, Gabe walked into the room and asked him to get dressed. He looked worried.

“What’s wrong?”

“They left a note. It’s Greta who saw them leaving. It tells us to meet them somewhere or they’ll break into the house and get rid of us, for good. Pete is angrier than I ever saw him.”

He didn’t have the time to finish buttoning up his shirt before Gabe dragged him out of the room. He pulled up his suspenders as they ran down the stairs. He tried to smooth down his hair, his long locks that were usually pulled down falling into his face and driving him crazy. Gabe caught his wrist and stopped him, using his other hand to stick them behind William’s ears and smiling at him. He handed him his jacket and they left the house, Gabe apparently knowing where to go. The streets were empty, their footsteps echoing unreassuringly.

“Where are the others?” William whispered as though talking loudly would have disturbed something or someone.

“On their way,” Gabe said quickly, his fingers lacing with William’s cold ones.

Pete, Patrick and Zack were already there when they arrived to their destination. It was a large wasteland and as they crossed it, the gravel wasscreeching under their feet. He looked around him to see that there were people at the extremities of the land. He was too far away to see if they were the “kids”, as Pete called them but he was quite sure they were. They were the back up. William truly hoped they wouldn’t have to use the guns he could see in their hands, shining in the moonlight.

“Oh, you’ll need this,” Gabe whispered, handing him a gun of his own as they approached their boss.

William took it, the contact of the cold metal making him shiver. He had never had to use one outside of the practice room before. As he was studying it, more footsteps and then familiar voices talking in whispers told him that the rest of the house had arrived.

“Bill, give me that.” Michael’s thick accent made him look up. “You don’t know how to use it and you’ll just harm yourself.”

“I’d prefer it if he had one,” Gabe chimed in, standing close to William’s side. He could feel his warmth.

“He’ll stand behind us. He’ll be safe. Don’t worry, Gabe,” Michael addressed to his old boss. “Go with your Cobras, they need their boss more than William needs his lover.”

William was expecting to hear Gabe protest but he kept quiet as he took William by the shoulders and spun him to face him.

“Be careful. I’ll see you when this is over. Don’t go and get yourself killed, yeah?”

William smiled and kissed him before sending him away.

“Alright, guys, we need to -" he began but stopped when Michael cocked his eyebrow. “What?”

“We know what to do. Don’t worry for us. You’re not a field guy, Bill, just step back and try to stay alive.”

He nodded and grabbed Adam’s arm, stepping away from them and pulling him with him.

“You stay with me.”

Adam looked like he was about to complain so William added a small ‘please’ and he must have sounded more miserable than planned because the younger man fell quiet.

A tensed silence settled over the field as they waited for the Ways to show up. William was convinced they were taking their time to drive them insane. Pete, Patrick and Zack were standing ahead of Santi, the Cobras and Panic, who were all lined up. Behind that second line were Pete’s kids. William and Adam were standing somewhere in between the two lines.

He knew the Ways were there before he saw them. The tension rose and the few whispers died down. They arrived from the side, walking along their second line before moving back to adopt a formation similar to theirs.

The only person they acknowledged was Ryan. Mikey stopped in front of him and stared silently for a long time. Ryan held his gaze the whole time and William now knew him enough to know there was defiance in his stance. Mikey finally looked away and a smile stretched on his face when he saw how he was holding Brendon’s hand.

“At least you were good in bed,” he said with a smirk, patting Ryan’s cheek before walking away.

William looked away but didn’t miss how Brendon’s face fell and how he let go of Ryan’s hand.

Mikey and Pete started talking but William was too far away to understand what they were saying. He knew, though, what it was about. They were accusing each other of killing the other’s wife, they were being mad for sending spies, they were arguing and fighting like William always saw them fighting when they were still sleeping together.

He never saw who shot first but the second the first shot went off, several others detonated from both sides of the field. He ducked and pulled Adam with him as he tried to get away from the center of the action. There were people running everywhere, dodging or dropping their guns to try to physically fight.

He was still protectively holding onto Adam when he tripped over a body and fell to the ground, bringing his friend down with him. He cursed loudly and winced at the sight of his bloody hands. He felt two strong arms hauling him up and he reached down for Adam, who was also helped to his feet.

“You really can’t take care of yourself,” Gabe said coldly, brushing the dust off William’s clothes.

“W-who did I trip over?”

“He’s one of them. Keep moving.”

Gabe kept his hand on the small of his back and pushed him forward. William quickly took a hold of Siska’s arm and pulled him along. A bullet whistled inches from William’s ear and he froze mid-step, staring in horror at the men in front of him. There were three of them, two rather short ones and a tall one. The blond one was smirking at him, looking rather pleased with himself.

“You fucking Brits,” Gabe yelled, leaving William to go towards them.

He was about to follow him when he saw that the Cobras were going after their leader.

“Bill, let’s go,” Adam whispered in his ear and pushed him forward. William followed, keeping his eyes on the eight people rounding each other, not attacking but not backing up either.

“Hello there, sweethearts,” a cold voice said, making William’s insides churn.

Three men were standing in front of them, the one who had spoken being obviously their leader. He was shorter than William and even in thealmost complete darkness he could feel his piercing gaze paralyzing him on the spot. Panic was rising into him as the three of them closed in on them. He was trying to think of an escape but couldn’t find any. He didn’t know how he would get out of that one. There was no way he could physically take someone down.

He had gotten so used to the sounds of gunshots that when they stopped, the silence felt heavy and out of place. It was out of place, he realized, because no one was making any sound anymore.

Until Pete cried out Patrick’s name, in a way that caused William to shudder. He used the distraction to get away from the three men, staggering forward, still holding onto Adam, his eyes never leaving the form of Pete holding someone close to his chest. The next thing that broke the silence was another cry, one that came from Pete’s guts and that finished breaking William’s heart.

After hearing it, he ran. He turned on his heels and ran, pushing through the Cobras and the three other men still fighting. He gripped Gabe’s arm and pulled him after him, running through the field and down the streets. He didn’t even make sure that his friends followed him; he only needed to get away from Pete’s immense sorrow. He was not able to handle it, he couldn’t. It was only when Gabe stopped him that he slowed down, his racing heart thumping into his ears.

“I’m such a coward,” he said elaborately. “I can’t believe I ran away.”

“Everyone was doing it. Pete asked us to do so. He -” Adam stopped and it’s only then that William noticed that his friends as well as the Cobras had followed. “He didn’t want any of us to die for him. It’s okay, Bill. Everyone was doing it. I saw Panic running in the other direction, and Hayley and Greta too. We all fled. That’s what he wanted.”

“It won’t change the fact that I’ll hate myself forever,” William breathed out, staying stiff in Gabe’s arms.

“We all will. We let that happen in the first place, William. We knew who was behind the murders of their wives and we kept it quiet,” Andy said darkly.

“You would have been able to betray Tom? To send him to his death? That’s what they would have done to him if they had known. They would have killed him,” Mike snapped harshly.

“And now Patrick’s dead because of our lies,” William snapped back. “And Tom’s been shell-shocked and useless for the past two years.”

He glanced quickly at the Cobras, flinching under their incredulous stares.

“You know how Ryland has some - some problems sometimes? Well Tom was the same, sort of. People don’t realize how much of a good thing it was that he stopped talking and was rendered useless two years ago. It saved so many lives. Pete knew about that, that’s why he accepted that we work with him. He helped me keep an eye on Tom. One night he disappeared and the next day Pete and Mikey found their wives dead. You do the math. He had wanted to make it easier for Pete to be with him. He was well-intentioned.”

No one said anything. William knew there was nothing more to say. He felt disgusting and to blame in all this. There was a time they wanted to tell Pete but he had convinced them otherwise. He was the one who had wanted to shut the entire thing and he was the only one who could take responsibility of this. Tom was his responsibility and he let him kill two innocent women. And Tom was still his responsibility when he was used as a pretext for Travis to spy on them.

He stopped walking and watched the others gain distance. He didn’t belong with them. He didn’t deserve to leave the city for safety with them. He deserved to go back there and defend Pete, fight for him and die for him to amend himself.

“William.”

It was Gabe, who had noticed he was not following and had sent the others ahead.

“Bill, I can hear you thinking. I know what you’re telling yourself. You don’t deserve to be saved, you should go back to die for Pete because it was your fault that Tom did what he did. That’s where you’re wrong. We all did horrible things. You can’t even begin to imagine the things I’ve done.”

“But -”

“William. Don’t interrupt me. No one of us has a clear conscience. We are murderers, drug dealers, you smuggle alcohol. People come to some of us when they want to get rid of someone. We don’t ask questions, we just do what we have to do. We’ll always be the bad guys and no matter how much you worry yourself with it, it won’t change anything. What happened is horrible but we can’t change it. We need to get away to stay safe.”

“We’ll never be safe.”

Next.

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