The Duke and the Gang Lord

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    "Your mother is a lovely woman." Duke Charleston rambled. As he sat in the cramped, cluttered and oddly stained back seat of Tanner's car, his wrists rubbing together uncomfortable between the bonds, all he could think about was how sore his wrists would be tomorrow, how much this kidnapping going to cost him, and Tanner's sweet, elderly mother.
    "Please, shut up." Tanner replied exasperatedly, so tired of Charleston's complaints that he didn't even remove his eyes from the road as he spoke.
   "No I'm serious. I am not just rambling back here. Your mother is a delightful woman, I am just confused as how she managed to raise such a screw up as you."
    "Gee, I've never heard that one before, Charles." Tanner responded, growing more and more exasperated by the moment.
    "Do not call me Charles, Tanner. We are not children anymore. I am your duke and you will treat me with respect."
   "Yeah yeah, whatever Charles. You still look like a child." Tanner said under his breath.
    "Excuse me?" Charles chirped, his voice rising higher and higher in pitch as he grew more irritated. "I do not look like a child. I am a dignified and quite literally noble young man."   
    This time, tanner turned around in his seat, keeping one hand on the wheel and staring Duke Charleston right in the eye. Charles squeaked.
    "You don't look so dignified right  now do ya Charles?"
    "The only reason I don't look dignified right now is because you forced me into your smelly peasant clothes and shoved me into the backseat of your questionable vehicle."
    "Would you have preferred I had allowed you to remain in your royal tighty whities your majesty?" Tanner scoffed, returning his gaze to the road.
     Charleston choked at the thought.
    "O-obviously not! That would be most undignified!"  He paused to recompose himself. "I would prefer if next time you choose a more appropriate time to kidnap me."
      "How was I to know that you still sleep in your underwear?" Tanner yelled, throwing his hands up impatiently. "Like you said, we're not children anymore. A duke shouldn't be sleeping in his little boy panties! What if next time it's not me kidnapping you but an enemy of the state?"
     "Are you not an enemy of the state? This is your third attempt at kidnapping the Duke of the Olsen Providence, is it not?"
     "Doesn't count," tanner huffed defensively, "I'm an old friend to you, not an enemy." 
    "Do you really still count as a friend if you're stealing me from my lavishly comfortable bed at two in the morning?" Charleston said bitingly, already knowing the answer.
     "Of course." Came the answer they both knew to be true.
    Charleston sighed, rubbing his tires eyes with his bound hands.  "You're the worst, you know that?"
     "You love me." Tanner stated in response.
    "Yes, but I still firmly believe that your mother screwed you up somewhere along the path to your adulthood."   
     "It wasn't my mother." Tanner replied, his voice darkening. They both knew the real reason Tanner was so skilled at kidnapping,  why he was really so screwed up, and where it all went wrong. They both knew the real reason why Tanner had been excommunicated from the royal court, actually the whole country knew. Three years ago it had been a very public event. "Grand Duke's nephew: GANG MEMBER. Is Duke-To-Be-Tanner Olsen a Threat To The Throne?"  Had been the headline blasted across every news paper and magazine from the Olsen Providence all the way to the Cedric Cities. 
    Three days after the headline hit the front pages of the Olsen Paper, it became apparent that Tanner Olsen was indeed considered a threat to the throne, and he was publicly exiled and thrown out of the royal court. It was the worst time in both Tanner and Charleston's lives. In the month following Tanner's exile, Charleston celebrated his nineteenth birthday alone, still mourning the loss of his closest friend. On the other hand, Tanner was too busy adverting the royal police and fleeing from his old gang, who had turned against him as soon as they realized he was no longer useful inside the courts, and he had no time for mourning. Later, when he finally settled in with another gang who would protect him in exchange for information regarding the Palace's design, Tanner would realize that he hadn't even realized that Charleston's birthday had passed. In fact, it wasn't until a full year in exile had passed, when Charleston's father passed away and little Charles became the Grand-Duke-To-Be- Duke Charleston, that Tanner took the time to mourn. And mourn he did. He would spend his days  with his colleagues scheming up ways to cause chaos inside the palace, but his nights were filled with languish. Never once did he cry, but oh his heart would break nightly. The sobs would catch in his throat, burning painfully behind his eyes and choking him as they seared his throat, when he remembered how his stupid, teenage decisions had cost him his future, his friends and his sweet mother. For months every night was the same for Tanner: the darkness would consume him and the excruciating memories would cloud over his brain, caging him in a painfully prolonged state of silent mourning. He would hurt and hurt, his heart straining and shattering in his chest nightly, until one night... it just stopped. Everything stopped. Tanner didn't know why everything stopped. He couldn't explain it other than by saying life became numb.
   No, not numb. Life was beyond numb. Day and night Tanner felt nothing. At first it was a blessing, he would no longer hurt at night, he would  merely sleep, soundly, but after a month of the numbness, Tanner longed to feel again. He began to pull risky and riskier stunts on a day to day basis. It started out small, like robbing carriages on their way to a royal banquet, but eventually, the only way he could feel an adrenaline rush, the only way he could feel at all, was when he was pulling the riskiest stunts possible. Soon he was kidnapping officials, planning for months with his fellow gang members as to how they could break into the royal vaults. Before he knew it, Tanner wasn't just a member of a gang, he was leading a gang. In less than two years, Tanner was no longer known as the Grand Duke's nephew, but instead he was known country wide for his terrifying and unstoppable actions against the royal family and palace.
    By the time he turned 23 Tanner was leading a full fledged attack on the throne. Weekly he would kidnap an official and deliver them to another enemy of the state. Rarely would they ever be heard from again. He wasn't simply running a petty gang anymore or a kidnapping agency, no, Tanner was personally responsible for the murders of over 46 royal officials of the state, and he didn't show any signs of stopping anytime soon. All but two people in the royal courts lived in daily fear of Tanner Olsen. Only two people in the entire court held no fear of Tanner, but only feared for Tanner if he were to ever get caught. Those two people, of course, were Tanner's sweet mother and his cousin: Duke Charleston, a young man who was now nearly 24 years of age and busy running most of the government.
   And so it arose that it fell upon Tanner and his organization to kidnap and dispose of Duke Charleston. Charleston had grown too powerful and prominent in the royal courts. Of course Tanner accepted the job, any opportunity to harm the royals was a good opportunity.  In fact, it wasn't until the night of the kidnapping that Tanner realized with a wave of shock that Duke Charleston Olsen was in fact his childhood best friend and cousin Charles.
    Nevertheless, he has already left to personally carry out the mission so he was obliged to at least pay Charles a visit. He couldn't kill Charles, not his Charles, but he could at least quietly hide Charles somewhere far far away so that no one would ever discover the deception.
   A couple hours later, Tanner realized just how much both himself and Charles had changed as he sat behind the wheel with Charles bound and gagged in the back of his vehicle.
   Charles was no longer a boy any more, he was nearly 24, a leader and a nobleman among noblemen. He loved his country, he loved his court, and with a pang of guilt, Tanner realized that Charles was going to make a great Duke one day.
   Upon realizing that Charles was  going to one day be a great Duke, Tanner made quite possibly the second dumbest decision of his life: he removed Charleston's gag. For a full day afterwards, the two young men caught up. Charles told Tanner about the state of the kingdom, he told Tanner about how worried he had been for his cousin and how scared everyone was of Tanner. On the other hand Tanner confessed his deepest secrets, he told Charles about how many men he had killed, how numb he always felt, about his dark and bloody adrenaline  rushes, and to his surprise, Charles didn't hate him even after learning about his newfound dark livelihood.
    And so began the weirdest royal-gang relationship known the man. Tanner would insure that Charles was unharmed by any gang member at any time, and when and as long as Tanner didn't kill any more officials, only kidnaped and created minor chaos, Charles would stop sending out police parties to catch Tanner. It was quite possible the least ethical and moral deal ever made between a noble and a gang leader, but then again, relationships between cousins are rarely moral or ethical.
    True to their words, both the young men upheld their promises. The kingdom found a very odd balance between chaos and peace. The months ticked by, Tanner caused chaos for the kingdom, Charleston lead well and brought peace to the kingdom. Kidnappings were a weekly occurrence, occasionally a nobleman came back rather beaten and bloodied or missing a limb or two, but no nobleman would ever be harmed fatally by Tanner and his gang. As far as kidnappings regarding Duke- soon to be Grand Duke- Charleston, no one besides Tanner ever dared to interfere.
    Once or twice, when Tanner had something urgent to discuss, he would kidnap Charleston, but for the most part the men found ways to exist in harmony without ever being spotted together. Which is why it was so odd that Charleston was currently, for the third time in his life, tied up in the back of Tanner's vehicle. 
    "So," Charleston ventured now that the atmosphere in the vehicle was a little less bitter, "why am I here this time?"
    "Oh," Tanner mentioned ever so casually, "you're my best man."
     "Pardon?" Charleston asked, confused. 
    "I'm getting married, and I... want to be my best man."
       Charleston exploded. "You're getting married? To whom?! When?? How exciting! Finally! Is she from the gang? Is she pretty?" Tanner held up a finger and Charleston instantly quieted.
   "Yes. Her name is Del, short for Delilah. You'll find out when the next time I kidnap you. Not technically, but I have worked with her regarding... professional business before. And yes, she is pretty." Tanner responded rather embarrassed.
   "Wow." Came the breathy reply. "How exciting."
    "So... will you be my best man?" Tanner asked, choking on the question. He hated asking for things.
    "Of course!" Charleston exclaimed.
    "T-thank you." Tanner forced out between clenched teeth. He was embarrassed and rather flustered, but he didn't want to show weakness, so, turning to his friend he decided to wrap up their meeting quickly. "I think we're done here then?"
    "I'm not done here!" Charleston chided, excitement bursting from him. "I want to know more about her."
    "Unfortunately, old friend, that's all the information I have to give tonight. Until next time." And with that, tanner handed Charleston a rag soaked in what Charleston knew was chlorophyll.
    With a heavy sigh, knowing the drill, Charleston muttered "You're the worst Tanner." before holding the rag up to nostrils and inhaling deeply. Instantly he slumped over, snoring ever so slightly.
    "You know you love me, Charles." Came the quiet response. Checking to make sure Charleston was asleep and seeing that he was, Tanner spoke once more; "and, I love you too my old friend. You will make a fine Grand-Duke one day soon." 
  With that said, Tanner silently turned back around and piloted his vehicle back towards the palace in order to drop Charleston off, confident that his compliment had gone unheard, yet there was a small, quiet smile flitting lightly across the Duke's lips that said otherwise.
     "I do love you Tanner. You make a fine cousin." Charleston said so quietly and sleepily that no one but the passing stars could have heard him.

The End

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