Rome's Still Burning

DISCLAIMER: I don't own a thing, everything is with their rightful owners.

*A/N* in case you can't tell by the end of this, I'm feeling awfully guilty for sort-of typecasting here (I mean my end of the world all I get to see Mexican people act in are crime dramas [say Sicario, the Bridge and so on and so forth]), so I tried to make up for it by putting my finger on it in the text but that made it worse and argh. I don't know. I was just looking for a modern war-like backdrop and this works, so. It has nothing to do with that.

Title taken from - you guessed it - a Bon Jovi song. It is "These Days" again.
Also, find the Firefly reference!


This is what it looks like: Four men in cheap shirts made to look like they cost much more sitting around a wobbly table in a big loud bar, playing what looks to be Texas Hold 'em. They keep to themselves, talking in low voices. People know them, they come here once a month or so, and play their game. They drink, beer mostly, one of them insists on wine though he bristles with every sip he takes from it.

This is what it looks like: Four men you'd expect to wear watches made to look like they cost a fortune, forgeries to match the shirts; the sleeve of the man opposite the wine drinker is shoved up just a little to expose a fake Rolex.

This is what it looks like: Four men in a big loud bar who keep their eyes down on their cards, though the one with the wine looks sour. Maybe he has a bad hand.

This is what it looks like: Four men sitting around a wobbly table, who have the kind of dusty look in their eyes and the kind of stillness in their hand that make you think they sell the white powder that carries over the nearby border, or breathe it in, or kill for it.

This is what is true about all that: Four men in cheap shirts with cheap watches made to look expensive sit around a wobbly table in a big loud bar with cards in their hand. Two of them have had their fingers in cocaine only this week, and two of them – not the same two – have driven bullets through people's chests. Their laughs that occasionally carry a few meters through the bar sound forced because they are.

(Oh, and Cassian does have a terrible hand, and his wine is indeed disgusting.)

This is what it is: Four men sitting around a table, crawled so deep into their disguises that they've almost become their skin, four men who fight a war in a country at peace.

This is what it is: They don't talk of their wives (they don't have wives) or football (what they watch at night are recordings of their own rooms, making sure nobody's been through their apartments and listens to their breathing when they fall asleep still dressed on a shabby couch) or cars (the last car Cassian owned ended up with slit tires and he hasn't bought a new one since). They don't talk of sex (they have it, on occasion – three of them are smart about it, quench their urges with people they don't care about. One of them is stupid, in that regard. Very, very stupid).

This is what it is: Four men sitting around a table, staring at their cards and playing poker and laughing in irregular intervals to mask the fact they're not four men sitting around a table at a big loud bar playing poker.
They're four men in over their head, trying to steer a parallel worlds into a direction that will leave it vulnerable, every beat of their hearts pumping fear through their veins; and so they hide behind cards and play for government money and trade warnings and accounts of more dangerous men's movements.

This is what it is: Four men who fight for the same, seemingly hopeless cause. Four men who don't like each other, who don't have to like each other, taking an incredible risk by meeting up like this every month, each of them thinking he's a fool for trusting the other three.
Four men who take this risk because for the past three years, it has kept them alive.

.

Cassian keeps drinking his horrible wine, and listens to the other's reports and tries to pretend he cares he will lose this game, like the two before it.

In the movies that his dates in teenage years dragged him to, the life of a spy is fast and exciting and a blood rush. The life of an undercover cop, however, is sluggish and grey and tastes like stale water, and he feels it weighing heavy on his shoulders these days. Underneath the corky wine he can taste a yearning for bad jokes and curses muttered against his lips, green eyes helping the soothing haze of inebriation along.

Something tells him he will be too tired and too lonely to resist the urge to seek out a little solace before the night is done, even though it will just be another tally mark on his long lists of regrets in the morning.

In the end, he doesn't know if it even matters, because he already dreams of soft brown hair soaking in blood that's still warm, pale skin stained with red – and who is he kidding, the damage is done. Someone knows, he's sure. Someone is already carrying a bullet with her name on it, whether they know it or not, and that's on him like so much else is.

.


.

Still, three hours later he sits at a lone table and draws patterns on the stained tablecloth. He has had to be strong since the age of six, and sometimes he is not.

(He just wishes that wouldn't mean dragging this poor beautiful woman down with him.)

"Sir, the kitchen is closed –"

"Maybe you can still find me an open wine?" he asks and throws the waitress a fleeting smile. She's blond (by choice, not nature), probably taller than him if he stood up, and he guesses she's pretty in an unsophisticated sort of way, even though her dark hair is growing out at the roots and she wears shoes she can't properly walk in.

"Um –"

"Can you please send me your colleague, I'm waiting for her, actually," he adds.

The girl inspects him from head to foot and looks rather surprised. "Lyra, yeah?"

"Yeah."

She nods slowly, still looking at him, and Cassian wonders what she sees, if she doesn't see the gun or the way his eyes scan the room in a deeply paranoid sort of way. (He's not ugly, he's aware of that, he does own a mirror even if he hasn't cleaned it in a while; but he hasn't shaved in nearly a week and he sleeps four hours a night and his hair is too long and his shirt collar is wrinkled.)

Still, she seems to like what she sees, whatever it is. "Okay. Red or white?"

"Red, please. Thank you." He tries with a real smile, which usually gets him his way. She looks charmed, and he almost wishes she'd seen his jacket moving up his back and exposing a black hilt, and maybe told her colleague to sneak out the back because there's a guy waiting for her who won't give his name and who's already had a drink, if only a little. That she should leave, now, because there's a guy waiting for her who's got lost eyes and a gun.

(Hell, right now he wouldn't care if she just relayed there was a guy waiting for her who isn't white and has an accent so he's probably an immigrant, or an illegal, and anyway he's bound to be bad news. Right now he wouldn't mind, and maybe he stuffed himself into that box, and he'd be lying if he said it hasn't worked like a charm.)

She doesn't see it. She smiles back and leaves.

He's so tired, and his heart and the gun in his waistband weigh very, very heavy.

Jyn comes with his wine a few minutes later, and there's a smile on her lips that bares her front teeth, and he thinks for the hundredth time that she looks far too soft for a girl with so many scars scattered across her skin, even though he and her criminal record know very well she's anything but soft.

"Hi there," she says, and he forgets his regrets (well, not quite, but close enough to make no difference) and smiles back.

"Hi."

She puts down his glass - once again he marvels at how she can work at a restaurant for so long and still manage to spill a little of every drink she carries onto her tray, spill liquid in a wine glass of all things - and sits down across him.

"Haven't seen you in a while," she says without meaning it, and he shrugs. She knows what he is; he's not sure if she figured it out or if he has spilled the secret that his life depends on into the darkness of her apartment some night, somewhere between all the other breathless whispers that escape his lips because she makes him forget about too many things.

(He can't bring himself to regret that, not really – it would only be fair if she was his downfall. He will be hers.)

The wine is only slightly better than the one at the poker table, but that doesn't really matter because he doesn't plan on enjoying it. It's pretence, an excuse, and it's down in three sips.

Her green eyes linger on his face, and even though he shouldn't be able to, he looks up to meet them, and holds her gaze. Oh hell, he wants her, and besides that, he has resorted to sleeping on the couch mostly because he feels so lonely and out of place in his bed it takes him twice as long to fall asleep there, and now his back hurts even more than it does already.

(He could just say he misses her. [He won't. He can't.])

She gives him a small knowing smile and says matter-of-factly: "That's seven dollars fifty."

He chuckles, digs in his pocket and fishes out a tenner, and she gets to her feet, and then instead of reaching for his empty glass leans over the table and kisses him. He's surprised, and for the fraction of a second a little worried someone might see them –

He can't keep the worry up for very long with her lips on his, never can. That's part of the beauty of it.

"Wait outside, we have to lock up," she mutters, eyes bearing into his and digging too deep, and he does as he's told, and gladly.

.

.

This is what it looks like:

There's a man leaning against the wall opposite the observer's house underneath the lopsided neon sign of Antonio's. A Mexican with dark, dark eyes that stare down the street, brooding and serious. The observer thinks he's up to something, he must be, what else would he be doing out this late?

Two waitresses come out of the Italian restaurant and lock the door. They say goodbye to each other, and the observer realises the Mexican stands too deep in the shadows for them to see him. The blonde pulls her jacket tighter around herself and walks away into the opposite direction, but the small brunette turns the other way, smiling, and the man runs his hands through her hair, pushes her up against the wall and kisses her in a way that doesn't belong out in the street.
Then, the observer thinks money changes hands.

This is what it looks like: a drunk guest hooks up with a pretty waitress, possibly paying her for it, a guest who's probably just as crooked as the owner of the place or the rest of the people Antonio's serves.
A drunk guest hooks up with a pretty waitress, and they will go to her apartment and her lipstick will stain his cheap shirt and maybe her nails will leave marks on his skin and maybe she will have to wear a scarf to work tomorrow. They will spend half the night kissing and fucking like it's their last night on earth, and the rest tangled up in the sheets at the opposite ends of the bed, sleeping like the dead.
And then the next morning they will wake up as strangers and he will gather his clothes off the floor and maybe get a cup of coffee and then he will leave, and probably never set foot into Antonio's again.

This is what is true about all that: She gives him money, two dollars fifty, and says "it'd be kind of gross to take a tip from you, right?", and he laughs.
Her lipstick ruins his shirt, and the tiny scratches on his back stain her bedsheet in return, and Jyn decides to wear her hair down the next day to hide the marks on her shoulder and neck. He gets a coffee the next morning, because that is all the breakfast she can offer.

(This is what is true about all that: They spend half the night kissing and fucking like it's their last night on earth, because for all he knows, it might be.)

This is what it is: They whisper all the things they don't tell each other into the pillows and each other's skin, because they have to be said before they burn their throat, they have to be heard, but it's better for them not to be remembered.

This is what it is: They lie in the darkness and stare into each other's eyes, tangled in one another, and get lost together in the unrealistic idea of a world where they could be together, no hide-and-seek, without death breathing down their neck; and they don't speak another word.

This is what it is: They fall asleep that way, and he sleeps deeply and doesn't dream of the night his little brother was shot two blocks from here or of the man he had to shoot to prove his loyalty three months ago, and just before he really wakes, a small cynical part of him thinks perhaps the greatest thing that could happen to him is just never waking up. (Talk about ending it on a high note.)

This is what it is: He gets up and makes two cups of coffee and they sit in bed, drinking in silence. He tells her to be careful, to make sure that nobody follows her home, asks if her alarm system is working, if she has a gun. Jyn rolls her eyes, tells him she grew up in this world too, kisses him. One of them spills coffee on the sheets.

This is what it is: They shouldn't be doing this. (But they will keep on playing this game, round after round, with the same dreadful hand he's been dealt the night before.) In two weeks or three, they will be at this exact point again. So he kisses her goodbye and leaves, and hates every second of it.

This is what it is: He loves her, and he shouldn't, but he does.


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