Truths & Chains – Chapter Five

NOT EDITED

Vito let Elias win the first game they played together. Just like the night before, Elias smiled when the eight ball dropped into the corner pocket of the table. That wasn’t something Vito got out of most of his nightly endeavors. They smiled–of course they did–but it wasn’t like Elias’s. Elias wasn’t smiling to flirt with him or to force a little laugh at one of Vito’s jokes. He wasn’t smiling while scanning Vito over with dark, hungry eyes.

He was smiling because he’d won a damn game of pool. It wasn’t often Vito related to much of anything with his endeavors–aside from a relative closeness on attractiveness, maybe a love of football. That little victory smile was a change of pace.

Elias stepped up behind Vito and laid his hands on either side of the table, pool cue still in one hand. He dragged two fingers across the letters tattooed on the base of each finger of his left hand. “You’re missing a letter on the ring finger.”

Vito chuckled. “Yeah, I am.”

“Why?”

“In case I decide to settle down, let someone make an honest man outta me. I don’t want a ring permanently covering up one of my tats, so… no tat.”

“Huh.” A pause. “Do the others count as one tattoo? Or three?”

Vito clicked his tongue. “Well, I got ‘em done in one session, so I’ll do you a favor and count ‘em as one.”

“Appreciated.” Elias wrapped an arm around him, hand resting just above Vito’s waistband. He closed his eyes for a moment, a small part of him praying Elias would dip his hand just a little lower, even if they were still in the damn bar. “What do they mean?”

“P M P. Puckett, Minetti, Pitman.”

“Pitman? Like… Jamal Pitman?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Why?”

Vito chuckled, hooking three fingers around Elias’s hand, beneath his fingers. “Sorry, babe. The name of the game is tattoo meaning. You didn’t ask for the story behind that meaning.” He pulled Elias’s hand back and turned around. Elias’s hand still in his, he searched the other man’s eyes. “I’d like to kiss you.”

Elias snorted. “What, are you asking permission?”

“I am.”

“Oh,” Elias whispered. “Umm…” He cleared his throat, taking a step back. “Another game?”

Christ, talk about a blow to the ego. Vito nodded. “Yeah. You rack it up. I’m gonna take a piss and get another beer.”

“Okay.”

Vito leaned his pool stick against the table and made his way back to the bathroom. He barely managed to turn the water on before his phone rang. With a sigh, he pulled it from his pocket. Tito’s name stared at him from the screen. He glanced up at the mirror, a frown tugging at one corner of his mouth. Tito had a habit of only calling him late at night to talk about Lillian. Sure, he had promised not to talk about her anymore, but Vito knew he wouldn’t stick to it for long. The dumbass was too in love with the woman he’d screwed only once to ever shut the hell up about her.

Vito declined the call and shoved his phone back into his pocket. He splashed his face with cold water as Tito called him a second time. The third time, he answered. “Busy, Ti. I don’t wanna hear about your non-relationship problems.” Vito waited a moment. “Ti?”

“I’m in a hospital in Philly. I wanted you to hear that from me before you heard it from Carmine or Venetia.”

Vito’s heart clenched. “Wh-why are you in the hospital?”

“I got shot.”

“You were in New York. With Lillian. Y-you were supposed to come home tonight.”

“I was on the plane, Vi,” Tito said, his voice soft and quiet. Weak. “I don’t know the details yet. I just know I was shot by an air marshall, and I know I’m cuffed to a hospital bed. Bo’s already on his way, trying to figure out what’s… going on. He got a nurse to sneak me my phone.” He coughed. “Just wanted you to hear it from me. I’m okay. It’s gonna be okay.”

Vito wrinkled his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. “I’m gonna come out there. Philly, right? That’s what you said?”

“Yeah, Philly. Bo’s flying out to Kansas first. That driver I set you up with will pick you up and take you to the airport. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“I’ll see you soon, Vi.”

Vito nodded, his eyes still closed. “Okay. See you soon.” He shoved his phone into his pocket, scrubbed both hands over his face, and walked out of the bathroom. He made his way back to the pool table and laid a hand on Elias’s upper back. “I gotta head out.”

Elias scoffed. “I turn you down and–Oh, my God, are you okay?”

“I’m good.” Vito forced a smile onto his face and lightly punched Elias’s shoulder. “See you around, Payne.”

Elias grabbed his arm. “Vito, I’m serious. Are you okay? You look like you were crying.”

Vito snorted. “Me? Monstrous murderer crying? No, never. I’m fine.” Gently, he pulled his arm from Elias’s grip. “Sorry to ditch on you. Maybe I’ll see you again, huh?”

“Give me your number. Make it a guarantee.”

“I still don’t do that, Elias.” Vito took a step back as Elias reached for him again. “Goodnight.”

Elias’s brow furrowed further. “Night.”

***

When Jamal had finally retired as the police chief of the LAPD, a soldier of the Lucchese family, and the leader of his own moderately-sized army, Bo Austen-Taylor had been his choice of replacement. The five-foot-eight intellectual had done a pretty good job balancing the life with his own personal life over the years, and he was the one person in the world–aside from Vito’s flings–that he had come out to. Bisexual. It was still a thought that made him uncomfortable around certain people, but with Bo, thinking about who he really was only resulted in reaffirming feelings.

It was why Vito was happy to be on a plane with him. It wasn’t just the two of them, but their bodyguards and the extra two soldiers Bo had brought along sat in the far back of the private plane. They were nearly alone, and being away from the phone calls Bo’s soldiers were making was a hell of a lot better than being forced to listen as they tried to figure out why the hell an air marshall had shot his brother, why they had handcuffed Tito instead of the trigger-happy fucker upon landing.

“Do you know what injuries he sustained?” Vito asked.

“I know he took a bullet to the lung. I don’t know the extent of that damage or if it collapsed his lung,” Bo said, never lifting his head from his laptop screen.

“Do you think it did?”

“From personal experience, I would say it’s rather likely. This man, whoever he may be, shot your brother twice in the chest, Vito. He’s what one would call lucky to be alive.”

“You survived a collapsed lung or whatever, right?”

“Yes. Tito will, as well. Your brother is a very strong man, Vi. You know that.”

“Yeah,” Vito whispered. “He called me twice before I answered him. What if he hadn’t made it to a third call?”

That one made the blonde lift his head. “Why didn’t you answer his calls?”

“Figured he was calling to talk about Lillian and how much he liked her but can’t be with her. Blah blah blah. Weekly ritual, basically. I was…”

“Trying to get laid?” Bo asked.

Vito pulled his bottom lip into his mouth as he nodded. “Yeah. I’m not a fucking relationship expert. I couldn’t care less about who is or isn’t screwing who. I don’t care if you ‘can’t’ sleep with someone or date them. I don’t care, so I-I ignored him. I only answered the third time to tell him I wasn’t interested in hearing it because I was busy. But he didn’t answer me, so I stayed on the line.”

“You staying on the line and waiting for a response is the important part, Vito. Yes, you ignored the first two calls, but on the third, you didn’t hang up after you’d said your piece. You waited. That’s what matters.”

“But what if—”

“I’ve learned in my life that concerning yourself with every ‘what if’ leads you down a very dangerous road in regards to your mental health. It’s okay to be worried and stressed, and it’s human to wonder about what might have happened if you had done something differently, but in this case, wondering is you picturing your brother’s death, even though he’s alive. You’re trying to blame yourself for something that didn’t happen, something that isn’t going to happen. Your brother is alive, and you waited for his response. That’s all that matters.”

“Thank you,” Vito said quietly.

“You’re welcome.”

Vito managed to sit silently for all of two minutes before clearing his throat. “You made it sound like it wasn’t an air marshall.”

“I’m rather doubtful that it was.”

“You calling my brother a liar?”

“No, I’m calling the ‘air marshall’ a man in a false uniform. A costume. I know your brother saw what he saw, and I’ve already seen the report that was filed of the incident. But an air marshall doesn’t discharge his weapon on a flight filled with passengers without very good reason, and I know for certain that–out of the two of you–your brother would not have provided that reason.”

“Fair,” Vito said after a moment. “So you think…?”

Bo let out a breath. “We’re approaching another war, is what I think. Now we just need to find out with whom.”


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