**Andre’s POV from The Other Side of the Window and The Other Side of the Table. CW: Contains a morally reprehensible character who is possessive and obsessive but loves his man.
Our world often reflects who we are. Bobbles and trinkets echo our personalities. Clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, even our homes, and our pets define us as people. Our likes and dislikes. Often it’s what others first see and judge you by.
I surround myself with the finest things. Not to be judged by, but so others know who I am. What I am. So they always remember who holds the key to the kingdom. I give, and I take away.
My world reflects power.
I weaved the leather belt through the loop of my wool slacks and adjusted the cuff of my shirt around my wrist. A glint of gold reflected in the mirror. The cufflinks, a gift from Daniel for my birthday, were a gentle reminder of the man I loved, his sweet soul a balm in my otherwise dark and depraved existence.
Shards of memories flooded my mind, bent on cutting at what little humanity I had left. The silk tie around my neck tightened like a hangman’s noose. I loosened the knot. The man reflected in the mirror wasn’t the same man from a year ago. No. That man hadn’t met Daniel yet. That man was the king in a den of hungry pit vipers, ready to strike out with their deadly venom. I tried to shield him from it all, but Daniel paid the price of their bite. Now I was the one who poked at his wounds until the poison released. But I’d brought him into the nest. Me. And I had to live with that for the rest of my life. Before Daniel, I wouldn’t have cared what cannon fodder I left lying around, and I still don’t. Except for him.
I studied my reflection. New stress lines shone around my eyes, and Daniel wasn’t the only one to lose weight. My shirt hung a little too loose across my shoulders, and the belt notched in one hole closer. Though I encouraged him to eat, the same food in my mouth tasted like ash. But I forced it down, hoping to prod him along.
Some would say the man staring back at me was immoral. Wicked. Dishonorable. Daniel once said I was a lie. He said I was not the man he fell in love with. But wasn’t I? How did I make him understand the same man who flew him around the world, bought him expensive things, made love to him on silk sheets, who encouraged him to finish art school and arranged his first showing, was the same man who would burn down the city to get him back? Who left a path of blood and bodies to relieve the world of the men who harmed what was mine.
And he was mine whether or not he could accept my life.
A soft knock wrested me from my possessive thoughts. “Enter.”
“Sir, the car has arrived.”
“Thank you, William. I’ll be right down.”
I stared at the mirror one more time. Could I make Daniel remember the man he fell in love with and not see the monster underneath? Could I convince him to stay of his own free will? I didn’t want to force him, but I wouldn’t let him go. Couldn’t let him go.
As I reached the bottom of the stairs, Daniel stood in the doorway, surveying the room. He cataloged each item, from his many paintings hung on the walls to the photos of the two of us placed along the mantel. His eyes lingered on one in particular. The one taken the day before his kidnapping, our smiling faces filled with love and warmth as we stared at each other. The day I’d asked him to marry me.
His eyes found mine as I strode across the room to his side. “How was the ride?”
“Fine.” I didn’t miss the tremble in his soft voice. He had every right to fear me—I expected it—but I hoped, in time, he’d remember who we were to each other. Remember our love, and it would help him heal. It wouldn’t erase what happened, but at least we could move forward.
We walked to the dining room, my hand in the small of his back, guiding him, and I pulled out his chair to the right of mine, as was his place.
The staff had prepared everything in anticipation of Daniel’s return. He’d won their hearts as easily as he’d won mine. His warm personality radiated kindness to all, and everyone gravitated to him, myself included. Dark to light. Evil to Good. Corrupt to pure. But now, I’d left a stain that any amount of cleaner or scrubbing could never remove. I could only hope to lessen the darkened edges.
I watched Daniel as I always did, memorizing his movements and mood. Little telltale signs of stress plagued him: dark circles under his eyes hid beneath a pattering of makeup, a slight tremor of his hand grasping his napkin, pushing his food around on his plate. And every one of them caused by me.
He donned a fake smile when he spoke to Chef Tioto. No one else would have noticed. I knew every line and curve of his body, every emotion, every smile, and every frown. You didn’t get where I was without learning how to read people, and I’d read Daniel from cover to cover.
I willed him to look at me, to see the man who loved him and not the monster.
I told him I didn’t regret my life choices. I regretted nothing that led to him becoming mine. I would have done everything in my power to protect him and keep him from harm. And I failed. It wouldn’t happen again.
“Amore Mio, finish your dinner.” I feared his words. Me. A man who feared nothing and no one before now. A God in my own kingdom, and I feared his rejection.
He ran his bite of cake through the raspberry drizzle. His filthy moan caused heat to blaze through my body. I’d wanted him from the moment I saw him. His cherub features and light curls were a striking contrast to my dark countenance. The devil and his angel.
I stood and went to his side. “Would you like to dance?”
He took my outstretched hand. We danced around the room, slow and methodical, swaying to the music. When the chorus hit and the words turned into professions of love, he laid his head on my chest. Could he feel that my heart beat only for him? That everything I did for him was out of love? That I would incinerate every body and turn it all to ash for him?
I crooned the words in his ear, willing him to believe every one.
When the world falls apart and burns to the ground, my love for you lives on.
When the heavens open and time stands still, my love for you lives on.
When hell’s gates split wide, and the devil takes his due, my love for you lives on.
When there’s nothing left but me, and you, my love for you lives on.
When the song ended, I placed a soft kiss on his lips and pulled him behind me up the stairs. He’d agreed to come home. I knew it wouldn’t be easy to regain his trust or his love—I may never have it again—but he was here, where he belonged.
He froze as we passed by the mirror. I stepped up behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist. At this angle, I towered over him. “What do you see?”
“What?” His eyes darted to mine in the mirror.
I wrapped my hand around his neck, not hard enough to cut off his breathing, just enough to feel his fluttering pulse. “What do you see in the mirror when you look at us? When you look at me? Do you see a monster? Or do you see the man you fell in love with, the man who’d give up everything for you?”
My heart hammered in my chest, waiting for his reply. I told myself it didn’t matter his answer. I’d never let him go, but as I stared at the two of us together, I knew I’d give him the world, even if it meant letting him go.
“What do you see?” I whispered.
He traced our reflection with his eyes. “Love.”