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Truth Is, I'm a Runaway

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"You can call me Hell's Loverboy," the kid says, getting to his feet and shoving his hand back into the mitten he had lost in the scuffle. He doesn't reach out to shake Tom's hand.

"That's a mouthful," Tom says.

The kid shrugs. Tom kicks around in the gravel a bit until he finds the cigarette he had lit when he came out here, sitting just outside the halogen glow from the spotlight above the door. He picks it up, hopeful, but it's crushed and damp, not worth re-lighting.

"This is where you'd tell me what your name is," the kid – Hell's Loverboy, or whatever, Tom's still having trouble parsing the collection of syllables as a name – points out, giving Tom a defiant stare.

"Tom," Tom says.

"Tom? That'" The kid's eyes cut away toward the dumpster in the alley and presumably the collection of bodies behind it laid out by Tom's claws and loverboy-kid's...whatever it was he did.


The kid glances back toward the dumpster, a slight furrow in his brow. "No, I meant your real name."

"Tom is my real name," Tom says, with perhaps a bit too much emphasis. Fucking kids. "Never held with this superhero alter ego shit, people thinking they could take on airs because of the way they were born."

"Oh," the kid says. He's as tall as Tom and possibly a bit broader in the shoulders, has several days of unshaven beard on his cheeks and an intense, slightly unhinged glint in his eye. He looks maybe nineteen, twenty; Tom should maybe stop calling him a kid in his head. Crazyeyes would do the trick, though he's not sure it's any more complimentary.

He's still talking, too. "I used to go by Ro – something else, when I first found out, but it didn't fit, you know? You've got to find something that really feels like home to you; I don't think you should just take what your parents give you. They don't know you, don't know about any of this." He gestures broadly, taking in himself and Tom and the dark corners of the alley.

Tom shrugs and pulls out another cigarette from the crushed pack inside his coat. "My parents are dead. You want one?" Usually he doesn't share his cigarettes, but usually he doesn't stand around in sub-zero temperatures behind bars talking to shaggy mutant kids, either.

"No thanks, I don't smoke," the kid says, looking a little surprised.

"You going back in?" Tom asks after a while.

It takes a beat for the kid to answer him, and Tom takes in the view. Probably a pretty decent-looking guy, under all that parka. He had moved well during the fight, lanky and uncoordinated but throwing his whole body into it.

"Probably not the greatest idea."

"If they had any more friends in there they'd have come looking before now," Tom says. He's been in his fair share of bar fights.

"Still. I was mostly done with this town, anyway." He's biting on his words like his teeth might start chattering if he gives them the chance. Maybe the parka isn't as warm as it looks.

"Your call."

They stand in silence for a while as Tom smokes his cigarette down to the filter. At one point the kid catches Tom's eye on him but doesn't say anything, just flashes a guarded, sideways glance. They're in a shady alley, yeah, so the setting is right, but Tom wants to explain he's not looking at him like that. It's just that he can't even tell what color the kid's hair is under that ridiculous hood. That's not important, though, and Tom doesn't think he has the words to explain it if it was, so he just smiles back and picks something else to stare at.

The kid clears his throat. "I should head out, I guess."

"Alright." Tom watches him walk off into the dark between the buildings until he can't make out which shape is him anymore, then ducks back inside the bar. He could use another beer.

Once inside, he feels unsettled though; the low ceiling and smoky air is stifling, and he imagines he can feel the eyes of all the patrons on him. Just a typical small-town bar crowd, women with long blond hair and men bigger than him but not stronger. He knows there's no way they'll find the bodies until the morning, tomorrow night, if the bar's the only one using that dumpster. The kid was right though, it's time to find another town.


The highway is empty this time of night except for the occasional tractor-trailer that barrels by, and Tom settles himself in for a long, uneventful drive. It's only a few hundred feet past the on-ramp, though, that Tom spots a familiar figure plodding along the shoulder and slows down.

It's just to see if it's Crazyeyes from the bar, he tells himself; if it's just another hitchhiker he'll speed back up. Usually Tom wouldn't pick up any hitchhiker, mutant crazy-eyed kid or not, and he doesn't want to spend a lot of time examining why this one's different.

"Hey! Loverboy kid!"

The kid's head snaps around and he looks confused until Tom slows to a halt and pops open the passenger door. "Need a lift?"

A grin splits the kid's face and he swings his backpack off. "You going as far as Weyburn?"

"Didn't have any firm plans. Figured I'd just drive until I felt like stopping." Freelance work is easier to find in large towns or small cities, but he had nebulous plans to do a winter landscape series and those pictures can be taken anywhere. Tom's trailer has everything he needs in it, and one small town out here is pretty much just like another. "What's in Weyburn?"

The kid hops into the passenger seat and closes the door. "Ramada Inn. I've got enough points to stay free until the fourth of July, if I wanted."

Tom wants to ask where he got them from, but enough of his question must have shown on his face because the kid shakes his head and laughs a little.

"People don't always bother to cancel their credit cards when you take them, sooner or later I was bound to come across one with a rewards account."

This time Tom keeps his eyes resolutely on the road. He wants to know how many people this kid has managed to lift credit cards from in his twenty years, he wants to know where this kid comes from, and how long he's been out here, but his smile had looked fragile, and Tom doesn't want to make him have to say any of it. It's not like he needs to know, anyway.

Instead he says, "There's a map in the glovebox. See if we can stay on Route 2 all the way to Weyburn or if I'll need to turn off somewhere."

The kid fumbles around with the glovebox latch, swearing under his breath at it when it refuses to cooperate, and then out loud when it gives way and dumps the entire contents of Tom's overstufffed glovebox without warning. Tom mostly keeps his eyes on the road, but watches out of the corner of his eye as the kid selects the map they'll need and then picks up everything else one-by-one and carefully packs it back in. It should be annoying, having someone rearranging all his stuff like that, but Tom just finds the kid's meticulousness oddly charming. Goddamn it. Maybe this is why he never picks up hitchhikers.

"Um, we can stay on this one until Mayberry and then cut across on back roads or something, or we could get onto Route 39 and that goes right through the middle of Weyburn," he says after he's unfolded the map across his knees and studied it for a minute.

"I don't have a map for back roads," Tom says. "We'll take Route 39."

They lapse into silence as Tom's truck barrels down the road, going faster than strictly wise or legal to pass the tractor-trailers that are the only other traffic this late. The kid is drifting off in the passenger seat, coat still on despite the fact that Tom's blasting the heat. He unzips his coat at one point, restless and half-awake, scowling with his eyes still closed as he removes his scarf and balls it up into a makeshift pillow.

Tom wants to make a good impression for whatever absurd reason, come across as not-a-creep for once, but it's difficult to drag his eyes away from the kid's flushed throat, that little dip right below his Adam's apple. His skin must be so warm. Tom tells himself there's no harm done as long as the kid keeps his eyes shut, but it feels like a risky line to tread.

The people who planned the road very helpfully put the sign for the exit to Route 39 about ten seconds before the ramp, at least at the speed Tom's going, so Tom has to swerve across several empty lanes to get to it. The smaller road they merge onto has no street lamps, and the sky seems to press in closer. Tom wishes they would drive through some woods or something. He flicks the high beams on, throwing the snowbanks on either side of the road into sharp relief, and that's a little better. When he's driving alone he never cares about how the vastness out there seems like it could seep into his very bones, but with the kid in here it feels weird, an unwelcome intruder into their little bubble of silence.

They hit the outskirts of Weyburn just as the world is starting to go gray from morning light. Tom slows down and shakes the kid awake, barely recoiling in time as his hand is violently shrugged off and the kid starts, awake in an instant.

"Hey, hey, whoa," Tom says, holding his free hand up in what he hopes is a really non-threatening gesture.

"Sorry," the kid says after a few seconds, smoothing out his scowl. "I startle easy."

"We're here," Tom says. "You know where this motel is?"

He doesn't, so they end up driving through all the neighborhoods that look like they might contain a motel until they find it. Tom's getting sleepy, but he's got nowhere to be, and it's not like he's going to dump this kid out on the side of the road after taking him this far.

When they do find the motel, clear across town, the sun has fully risen and the daylight makes the building look small, its long low shape mirrored by snowbanks nearly the same height across the badly-plowed parking lot.

"Guess this is it," the kid says, popping open the passenger door and grabbing his backpack out of the foot well.

"Well," Tom says, but then all the things he could follow that up with sound stupid in his head, so he just sort of shrugs like that's what he meant to do all along.

"Thanks for the lift," the kid says, and he's swinging the door closed already so Tom says the first thing that comes to mind, which is a slightly gruff "Stay safe," which is stupid, because Tom knows he can take care of himself and besides, he's not this kid's father. He's older, but not that much older.

The kid raises a hand in farewell and turns toward the office, and Tom makes himself start the engine and drive away. He had never even said thank you, last night when Tom had stepped in. He could have taken care of it himself, but he didn't say that, either, just let Tom go in swinging and stood with him in the shitty alley light after it was over, not thanking Tom for something he didn't need and not pointing out how he didn't need it.

Tom really shouldn't be charmed by this behavior, but it's been forever since someone's been careful of Tom, or to be more accurate, since someone did it in a way that didn't piss him the fuck off.


It's a pretty decent town, is the thing; Tom saw most of it while driving around looking for the motel and there's no real reason not to settle down there for a while. It's big enough that he can probably find work if he wants, and far enough from the last place he lived for more than a few weeks that no one will recognize him, and...well, who knows who might need a ride out when their free motel nights run out. It's not Tom's main consideration, it's just that the thought might have passed through his head.

If he's going to stay a while, Tom needs to stock up on supplies that aren't hot dogs and Wonder bread. The town isn't large enough to have multiple supermarkets so Tom really isn't being that creepy by shopping at the one within walking distance of the Ramada Inn; it's either that or the Seven-11 across the vacant lot from where he parked his truck and he's kind of sick of living off convenience store food.

So it's not that much of a coincidence when Tom runs into crazyeyes guy in the cereal aisle, though by the way the kid bugs his eyes out when he spots Tom, it's plenty of a surprise to him.

"Hell's Loverboy!" Tom calls, waving, and a young woman comparing two boxes of store-brand cheerios gives him a half-incredulous half-judgemental scowl over her shoulder.

"Not here, what is the matter with you," the kid hisses, walking alongside Tom so he can keep his voice down.

Tom grins at him. "Great to see you again, too."

"What are you doing here? I thought you'd be halfway across Canada by now."

"Figured I'd stick around a bit, it seems like a decent town."

"You mean you thought you'd hunt me down and use the opportunity to disturb innocent housewives?" Guy-who-Tom-isn't-supposed-to-call-Hell's-Loverboy raises an eyebrow.

"No, come on, I just need groceries. What's with this name then, a clever ruse to embarrass everyone out of addressing you in public?"

The guy cracks a smile. "Everyone but you, obviously."

Tom shrugs one shoulder. "I'm not too embarrassable, sorry."

"Lucky me."

"Peanut butter crackers, seriously?" Tom asks a couple of minutes later. Crazyeyes hadn't seemed to mind Tom following him out of the cereal aisle.

"What, they're good."

"They're for two-year-olds. C'mon, we'll go find the real peanut butter if you like it so much."

"You try living out of a backpack and see how much fun it is carrying a big thing of peanut butter around with you." The kid rolls his eyes, but he seems more amused than anything.

Tom actually does know a fair bit about living out of a backpack. "Aha, that changes everything. You ever try that peanut butter and jelly mixture that comes in a squeezetube? Sounds like it's right up your alley, you don't need a knife to spread it or anything."

Loverboy-kid looks at him aghast and Tom cracks up. "I'm just kidding, that stuff is disgusting. Trail mix? I used to live off trail mix and jerky, easiest fucking thing to carry around."

"I'm vegetarian," the kid says, which, huh, Tom wouldn't have expected that.

"Just trail mix, then. I think I saw the section with all that stuff next to the juice boxes," he says, and he then nearly trips when he looks around to check if the kid is following him it turns out he was so close behind their baskets collide.

"It's Sean," the kid says, as they're taking turns at one of the self-checkout lanes. "In case you ever wanted to shout at me in a crowded public space again."

"Sean," Tom says, getting used to the feel of it on his tongue. "Sean. I like the sound of that. It lends itself to being shouted across public spaces."

"Oh yeah?" Sean scans a six-pack of day old bagels.

"Yeah." Tom hands him the next item out of his basket, using the excuse to step into his space a little more. "Maybe I'll have to track you down again, make sure I get another chance to use it."

Sean looks at him sideways through his eyelashes. "Or...or you could give me a ride back to the motel, get a chance to use it right away," he says, biting at his lip as if he's not sure how this invitation might be received.

Tom hmms, pretending like he has to think about this for more than half a second. "This motel you're staying at, does it have hot showers? That's one thing my camper doesn't have. I could give you a ride and you could let me use your shower and we could call it a fair exchange."

Sean takes the box of veggie burgers Tom hands him and nods. "Smooth, inviting yourself in before we even get there."


"So is it Sean just in public, or do I have to remember that ridiculous string of syllables you came up with for when it's just us?"

Sean blushes, a rosy warmth in the apples of his cheeks, and suddenly Tom wants to crawl over the console and into Sean's lap and kiss him right there in the passenger seat like they're both teenagers, fuck the fact that he's supposed to be driving or whatever.

"I'm not sure if I'm going to keep that one, so don't get too attached," he says.

Tom laughs. "I'll do my very best."

"It sounded better in my head, you know? And after that night it seemed like the most appropriate of all the ones I had been thinking of." Sean shudders.

"That was a pretty hellish night for a while, yeah," Tom says. He's got a knack for getting into fights without meaning to, but he can count on one hand the ones that ended in death.

"Hah, you could say," Sean says, and then suddenly it's like the flood gates have opened and words are pouring forth. "It was just, they wouldn't shut up, like 'oh if you're not a freaky little mutant you wouldn't be afraid to take this outside, let's take this outside.' They just kept pushing, and then when we got outside they wouldn't let me walk away, kept swinging and had me surrounded, what was I supposed to do? They could have killed me, I had no choice. And then you came out and they took out knives and we had to, I guess, but..."

"You're not a killer, kid," Tom says.

Sean's vibrating with anger, his fists balled up on his thighs. "No, you're wrong, it's the only thing I can do. But I wouldn't have, and they just kept pushing and pushing – what is wrong with people?"

"Hey, hey, it's okay," Tom says, patting awkwardly at Sean's knee.

Sean flinches and Tom remembers instantly how jumpy this kid is and retracts his hand as if he's been burnt.

"Fuck, sorry, I should have asked." Asked what, he's not exactly sure – 'I'm not too good at this whole comfort thing but is it okay if I try and pat you? Are your knees off-limits?'

"No, it's okay, you can," Sean says, nodding at Tom's hand hovering above his knee.

Tom lowers his hand and squeezes Sean's kneecap in what he hopes is a reassuring manner.

Sean lets out a breath. "Sorry," he says, meeting Tom's eyes and looking genuinely contrite, but not offering up any explanation. "I...right now, this is nice, you shouldn't feel bad or whatever."

"Okay," Tom says, squeezing Sean's knee again and letting the warmth from his body soak up through the thick fabric of his jeans.

The room is freezing when Sean lets them in, so much so that Tom can see his breath when Sean flips on the light and drops his grocery bags on the chair by the window.

"Don't they have heating in this place?" Tom asks.

"Sort of?" Sean gestures toward the heat/AC unit on the wall on the opposite side of the room's single queen bed. "It works if you stay close enough to it, but it does take a while to heat up."

"Cozy," Tom says.

"There should be fresh towels in the bathroom if you were serious about showering."

"I actually really, really was serious about showering," Tom says.

"Good thing I was serious about letting you, then. You have shower stuff and everything?"

Tom pats the bag he carried in from the truck with him. "I came prepared."

The shower is tiny and its walls are covered with mildew, but Tom is less concerned with that and more concerned with how amazing the hot water feels against his skin. He's also more concerned with hurrying up fast so he can get back out to Sean, who, if he's reading the signs right – that was totally flirting they were doing at the grocery store, right? – is out there waiting for him and might not jump if Tom gives him plenty of advance warning for when and where he's going to touch him. Tom's looking forward to finding out.

Tom changes back into the clothes he had been wearing in the bathroom, cursing the lack of foresight that means he has no clean underwear and has to go commando in January. When he gets out the first thing he sees is Sean in the middle of the bed, and wow, that's kind of stupidly hot right there. He's not even naked or putting on a show or anything, just rubbing his hands together in front of the heater and looking up at Tom with these big open eyes like he's waiting. Tom's fingers itch for a camera so he can capture this perfect moment before something shifts.

"Your shower's a piece of shit," Tom says, because apparently the best response he can come up with in the face of all that raw promise is to insult the kid's stuff.

Sean smiles, amusement crinkling the corners of his eyes, and Tom was wrong before, because this, this is the perfect moment. "You asked for a hot shower, not a nice one. I could have told you as much before you even bothered to come over."

"Touché," Tom says.

"This heater is a piece of shit too," Sean says, "As long as we're going back and forth pointing out obvious things about this room."

"I kind of really want to take a picture of you like that," Tom blurts out. So much for keeping the questionably creepy internal dialogue internal.

Sean cocks his head like this is an interesting piece of information he needs to file away, but what he says is, "I was thinking I wanted to blow you before you left, if that's okay."

"That's, wow, that's. Okay," Tom says. He's going to take back every single thing he ever even thought about being the one with the smooth moves, just as soon as he remembers how words work.

"C'mon over here, then."

"Right," Tom says, and he crosses over to the bed.

I startle easy, Tom remembers, and he avoids reaching out and touching even when Sean is right there within arm's reach, all bitten lip and shy smile and gangly arms.

"Okay," Sean says, letting out a breath, and it's like he steps into this whole separate persona without even moving: he seems more commanding, more purposeful, broad hands settling on Tom's shoulders and push him down to sit on the edge of the bed, squeezing briefly and stroking down his chest. Tom shivers underneath his sweater.

"Condom," Sean says, handing Tom one from his pocket as he settles on the floor between Tom's knees, pushing at his legs so he can crawl in closer. It's strawberry flavored, according to the foil, and it strikes Tom as weird for half a second – he doesn't remember ever being asked to use protection for a blowjob, but yeah, that's what the flavored ones would be for, wouldn't it.

Sean raises an eyebrow when Tom unzips his jeans to reveal just bare skin, and Tom feels his cheeks heating up – what is he now, fifteen? "Shut up, I left all my clean underwear in the truck."

"I wasn't going to say anything," Sean says, an impish glint in his eye.

The cool air feels good against his irritated skin where he was starting to chafe on his jeans; he's already more than halfway hard just from watching Sean, and it only takes a few strokes before he can roll the condom down on his cock, shifting his pants down a bit to give them a bit more room. It's too cold in here to get completely naked unless they got under the covers, maybe, but that might be moving too fast. Tom's not sure how fast is too fast to move with the homeless mutant you pick up on the highway; it's not like...well, it's not like they're dating or anything.

"Can I?" Tom asks, hand hovering over Sean's temple. There's a piece of hair that keeps falling over his eyes, Tom is dying to tuck it behind Sean's ear and let his thumb linger over Sean's cheekbone.

"Ahaha, no you don't." Sean ducks smoothly out of reach and Tom lets his hand fall, trying not to let his face fall with it. Sean doesn't look mad, exactly. He levels a heavy gaze on Tom and Tom gulps. Okay, not mad at all, charge. Which, okay, Tom can deal with that and his dick definitely can, if the way it just twitched because of the way Sean looked at him is any indication.

"Here's how this is going to go," Sean says, fingers digging into Tom's thighs to keep some distance between them. Tom really doesn't want there to be any distance between them. "You're going to sit right there and keep as still as you can. No touching, no pulling my hair, no fucking my face. You should probably keep your hands on the bed if you think you're going to have trouble with any of this."

Tom nods dumbly, moving his hands to grip at corner of the mattress through the crinkly coverlet.

"Then I'm going to put your dick in my mouth –" Tom whines, then blushes more; that shouldn't have been remotely as hot as it was "– and I'm going to suck you until you come, and you are going to stay still. Okay?"

"Got it," Tom says, a bit breathless. It feels like he's been hard forever.

"Hang on then," Sean says with a devilish grin, and licks right over the head of Tom's cock before sucking it into his mouth.

Tom lets out a high whine and struggles really hard to keep from bucking his hips up because he's not an asshole and thinks it's kind of really hot the way Sean just laid down the law like that, he doesn't want to disappoint him now.

Then Sean does something with his tongue that makes Tom actually lose his breath. "Fuck, your fucking mouth," he gasps out, and Sean hums in appreciation without even taking his mouth off Tom's dick, and fuck, if it was ever possible to actually die from a blowjob Tom might be close.

Sean never goes all the way down but he more than makes up for it by the way he just goes for it, sucking hard and keeping up the pressure like he knows how close Tom already is. His hands stay locked on Tom's thighs, his fingers digging into the muscle hard enough that they might leave bruises. Tom's honestly looking forward the the possibility, but later on, not right now, right now he's so close, right on the edge but not quite there –

"I need," he says, making a frustrated grunt and jiggling his leg like it will maybe dislodge Sean's hand and get it on his dick where he needs it.

This only makes Sean press down harder, hot points of pain sparking straight to his dick. "Stay. Still," he says, voice a throaty growl, and oh god that is exactly what Tom needs. He slumps backward on the bed and screws his eyes shut against the onslaught of sensation when Sean lowers that mouth back down onto his cock, and he's coming within the next minute, babbling out nonsense at the motel room ceiling and clutching at the coverlet so hard his hands start to cramp up.

"Why are you so far away?" Tom asks, exerting the minimal amount of energy needed to prop himself up on one elbow. He would really rather stay flat on his back indefinitely, too wrung out for concentrated movement, but Sean's hands are gone from his legs and from the sound of it he's moving away, which exactly opposite from the direction Tom wants him to be going.

"I was just, um, going to put these away?" Sean gestures to a bag of groceries and Tom's not buying that excuse for a second.

"Bullshit. You can't just give me head like that and then think I'd let you, I don't know, slink away."

"I'm not slinking," Sean says, sounding defensive and flustered and suddenly very young.

Tom sits up slowly and deals with the condom, tying it off to throw in the bathroom wastebasket and zipping up his pants. He winces as the rough fabric chafes his now over-sensitive skin, not missing the way Sean licks his lips and then lowers his eyes like he didn't want to be caught watching. Whatever this kid's deal is it's not that he isn't interested, that much is clear.

"I'm going to go throw this out," Tom says, "And then we're going to talk."

Sean swallows and nods.

In the bathroom he briefly considers splashing water on his face before deciding it's still too cold in the room to bother. He can't help catching his face in the mirror, though, and wondering if the way he looks now is how Sean sees him too. Does he look intimidating, scary? Like a challenge to be surmounted? Maybe he should shave his beard.

"Okay so the thing is, I don't really do this a lot," Sean starts up the second Tom exits the bathroom, as if the words were just fighting to get out of his throat.

"Okay," Tom says, leaning back against the doorjamb. He doesn't do this a lot either, to be honest. He can deal with that.

"And people don't usually...stick around." Sean's pacing back and forth, hands making expansive gestures that he doesn't seem to be aware of. "So if you wanted this to be a one-time thing that's fine, you shouldn't feel bad on my account or whatever."

"Wait, whoa, slow down," Tom says. "Who said I wanted this to be a one-time thing?"

"Um," Sean pauses. "I just figured?"

"Well, figure again." Tom detaches himself from the door frame and crosses to Sean's side of the room, stepping right up to him until Sean steps back and his foot hits the wall and he just stays there, breathing hard. His mouth's still all pink and swollen from sucking Tom's dick, and his eyes are dark, huge.

"I really want to kiss you right now," Tom says, crowding a little closer, seeing how far he can push. "Is that okay?"

"I don't do that," Sean says, but something about his tone doesn't quite say stop, so Tom takes a breath and tries again.

"Can I touch you?"

"Where?" Sean asks, a little breathless. He's practically vibrating with tension, every line of his body taut as if he wants to run. He's also very obviously still hard, probably has been since he blew Tom, and Tom wants desperately to get him off, to do – whatever Sean will let him, really, he doesn't know where the lines are and doesn't want to fuck up, but he desperately wants Sean any way he can have him.

"Where do you want me to touch you?" Tom hazards, his own breath coming a bit short. They're standing so close together, he can practically feel the heat radiating off Sean's body in the cold room.

"Anywhere, fuck," Sean says, then hastily adds, "Anywhere with clothes. You can't – you can't go underneath, I just don't –"

"Hey, it's okay, I can work with anywhere over clothes," Tom says, stepping a little closer so their feet bump together and meeting Sean's eyes for a second to check in.

He looks a lot nervous, but also a lot turned on, and Tom briefly wonders if it's his mutation or something else that makes Sean so nervous about skin contact. Tom would bet all his money (which isn't a fortune, but he'd bet every last cent of what there is) that this kid is starving for it, and he's sort of floored by the sudden wave of desire that crashes into him. He wants to give him that, erase whatever shitty experiences Sean's had to make him so skittish, and it scares him how badly he wants all this when it's such a complete 180 from what Sean's asking him for. Tom can give him that, at least, so he stuffs all his wanting deep down and focuses on Sean, on calming him down and getting him off.

Sean's hips are right there, narrow and inviting, so Tom curls his hands around the points of them and lets his thumbs rub against the bones – too close to the surface, the kid needs to eat more – and then he slides his hands into Sean's back pockets, squeezing his ass and urging him forward as he shifts his leg between Sean's own.

"You let me know if I try something and it doesn't work for you, alright?" Tom asks. He's not hard again yet but he knows he could get there eventually, just from this warm press of bodies and the way Sean's breathing all brokenly so close to his ear.

"Yeah," Sean says. He snakes an arm around Tom's waist and Tom feels a little thrill spark down his spine at the contact.

This is usually where Tom would be kissing him like crazy, if it was anyone else he had in this position, and to be honest it's sort of exciting to have to break the script so much, to be forced to make this up as they go along.

"C'mon, let's," Tom says, then gives up and just pulls Sean with him, shuffling them both around until they've switched positions, Tom leaning against the wall and Sean half leaning on Tom. "Better, yeah?" he checks, and Sean nods, grinding down against Tom's thigh like he can't help it.

"There you go," Tom says, because apparently he can't shut his mouth off even if he's run out of words that make sense. He moves a hand up Sean's back, careful of the hem of his shirt, and scratches back down again, dragging his fingers hard to be felt through the layers of cotton and flannel and whatever the hell else, there could be long johns under there for all Tom knows. Long johns, which don't have pesky hems at the waist...Tom files this thought away for later use.

Sean groans and arches. "Fuck, do that again," he says, and Tom obliges, scratching another long path down Sean's back and then another.

"Do you want my hand, or just like this," he asks after a minute. From the noises Sean's making it sounds like he could come any minute now.

"Just...just hold on," Sean gasps out, resting his forehead on Tom's shoulder and grabbing at his hips, his arms. His breath is heavy and hot on Tom's neck and he's vaguely aware, somewhere in the back of his mind, that they're getting pretty close to the invisible line; one slip in this position and their faces could come crashing together. Tom really can't bring himself to care.

Tom holds on, tightening his grip on Sean and canting his hips out, letting Sean speed up as he needs to even though the friction is doing Tom's over-sensitized and determinedly half-hard dick no favors. It'll pass, he's had worse.

"C'mon, c'mon," he urges

Sean makes a high keening noise and goes to push his face into Tom's neck, catching himself at the last second and staggering back before Tom can even process that anything's wrong.


"Fuck, fuck," Sean says, sounding ragged and looking wild around the eyes.

"Hey, whoa," Tom says, taking a hesitant step toward Sean. They had been so close, and then...

Sean staggers back till his knees hit the bed, then sits down heavily, holding up a hand to ward Tom off when he goes to follow. He scrubs a hand across his face and when he looks up, it's like Tom's looking at a whole new person, old and careworn. "You should go," he says.

"But –" Tom swears his ears are working properly, it's just his head is having a hard time processing the meanings of words.

"We shouldn't have done that," Sean says with a dry, humorless laugh. "There's a reason it always ends after the blowjob."

Tom's stuck somewhere between wanting to hug Sean and wanting to finish what they started, but neither option is really open to him at this point. He's not even sure if he can ask right now, and it's a horrible clawing feeling right in his chest, he can't stay here or it'll get worse.

"I'm parked out by that lumberyard by the river - come out any time, okay? Even if it's just to talk, or. Whatever. I'll be there for the next..." Tom doesn't even know how long he plans on staying, so he just shrugs.

On the bed Sean nods and seems to relax fractionally, and Tom is hit with another wave of want so hard it hurts.

"I'll just go," he says hurriedly, and grabs up his bag from the floor and lets himself out.


That night Tom tries to distract himself from thinking too long or hard about what happened back there with Sean. Whether it's accurate or not, he can't shake the feeling that he fucked up royally, can't stop himself dwelling on every single intense moment. Sean's probably going to come over as soon as he deals with whatever freaked him out so bad, and Tom beating himself up isn't going to make that happen faster. What Tom needs is some mental space, and when organizing shit in his already-neat space doesn't do the trick, he pulls out the half-full bottle of vodka that had been chilling behind the driver's seat and drinks from it methodically, downing shots until he's plastered enough to crawl under the covers and fall asleep without thinking about anything at all.

By the next day he's swung in the opposite direction; clearly Sean is never coming over and Tom is just kidding himself that they even had any kind of connection to begin with. How long have they known each other anyway, three, four days? That's hardly enough to be the basis of even a casual acquaintanceship, much less anything...else.

Tom bangs around in his camper all morning and then throws some sandwiches and a thermos of coffee into the outer pocket of his camera bag and pulls what are probably some slightly unsafe moves to get his motorcycle out of its spot in the truck bed without unhitching the camper. He rides up to the frozen reservoir whose access road he'd spotted when they'd been driving around looking for Sean's motel.

It's starting to snow when Tom gets to the reservoir and he can appreciate abstractly that yeah, it's kind of picturesque, but he's not feeling in a picturesque mood so he just crashes through the woods and scares all the birds and takes a long series of increasingly bleak photos that include no other colors than gray, brown, and white. There's plenty of bleak dead stuff to take pictures of in the middle of winter in Saskatchewan, and Tom stays out for hours, until his fingers and toes and probably face are all frostbitten. Whatever, it'll heal anyway as soon as he gets back inside. His bike is covered in a pretty thick layer of snow by the time he gets back to it and his coffee is cold, so he tosses it out on the snow and then he hasn't put his camera in its bag yet so he gets distracted taking a bunch of macro photos of the coffee spill, until it's actually becoming difficult to operate the shutter because his fingers are so numb, and then finally Tom gets on his bike and goes back to his camper.

There are no footprints leading up to the camper, Tom can't help but noticing as he pulls up, and in his dismal mood it's weirdly gratifying. So he was right that Sean wouldn't come by, and he's got proof so he doesn't have to kill himself worrying that Sean might have showed up and not found anyone there. Knowing that one thing for certain puts him oddly at peace for the rest of the night and he's actually able to relax, go over his pictures and put the best ones through Photoshop and make new coffee and fall asleep when he gets tired instead of when he's too drunk to stay awake.


The storm clears up, and the days start to blur together. Tom won't let himself call it waiting, but he falls into a kind of holding pattern, heading into town when he starts to feel cooped up but otherwise not doing anything important. He spends a ridiculously long time browsing over LPs from the 70s in the dusty record store he finds one afternoon, even though his record player is back in Toronto in the little apartment he shares with Jon and he wouldn't be able to listen to anything he buys right away.

Whenever he goes out he's sort of half keeping his eye out for Sean, just in case, but of course he doesn't run into him. He doesn't even try to pretend like it doesn't bum him out, but he tries not to beat himself up over it too much. Sometimes people don't stay; Tom's got enough experience with that species of hurt to know how not to drag it out longer than it would last on its own.


Eventually it occurs to him that Sean's not actually all that great at taking care of himself, if the way he got into trouble with those mutant-haters in the bar is any indication. Being able to extricate yourself from sticky situations isn't the same thing as never getting into them in the first place. This realization comes after Tom's been lying awake in his bed for about an hour, of course, and then he can hardly sleep for the rest of the night. Sean's absence has come to be such a constant throb that he's grown complacent, Tom can't believe that he never thought something might actually be wrong.

As soon as it's light, Tom goes over to Sean's motel and peeks through the curtains of his room, but it's very obviously empty. He would have hunted around more, looking for – clues, or something, but housekeeping starts hassling him and it's easier to just ask.

"The guy who was staying here, how long ago did he check out?"

"I just clean the rooms," the woman says, giving him a wary look.

"He told me I could find him here, though, I don't have his phone number or anything." Great, that sounds like he's trying to get her to help with his drug deal that went bad. "Tall guy, younger than me, reddish hair, you must have seen him."

"Oh, you mean Steve? He left last week, I haven't seen him since."

"Steve, yeah," Tom agrees, even as he can feel his whole face falling. Fuck, a week?

"Nice young man," she says. "Never tipped, but I'd still take him over some of the people we get here."

Tom gives her a twenty dollar bill out of guilt before backtracking to his truck and sitting down hard in the driver's seat. The logical thing to think is that Sean's free room coupons ran out, he hitchhiked out of town or found somewhere else or whatever it was he did with himself before Tom came along. More than anything Tom just really, really wants to believe that he's okay, and he hasn't seen him even once, it all matches up.

Except that he can't quite take that last step and leave. It gets to the point where Tom doesn't really know why he's staying in this town anymore – there's no good reason except for it's the last place he saw Sean, but Sean could be anywhere by now.


It's getting dark when Tom goes down to the drug store on the corner, in the vague mood for some chips or cookies or something, when he sees a familiar shaggy head of hair. It twists way down in his gut, the pang of maybe-it's-him mingled with how bad he wants the hunch to be right. He follows maybe-Sean down to the back of the store and then spies inconspicuously on him from the bladder control aisle while maybe-Sean shuffles down the cold care aisle. He turns to pick out a bottle from the shelf and fuck yes, that absolutely is Sean. Tom nearly pumps his fist in the air in excitement.

Upon second appraisal, Sean looks like he might not be doing too well, all pallid and sniffly, and he seems to be sort of indiscriminately putting painkillers in his basket. Tom rounds the corner before he even has a chance to realize he's moving, tripping to a halt next to Sean.

"Need a hand with that?"

Sean looks around slowly, like he's not used to being addressed, and then does a tiny double-take when he sees it's Tom. "Tom," he says, sounding all stuffed-up and awful.

"Hey," Tom says, something in his chest loosening up even if it does look like Sean's about to keel over and die any moment.

Sean smiles a little bit, or tries to, anyway, before he winces and sniffles. "Hey, can you cover for me?" and then before Tom can say "what?" or agree or anything, Sean's stuffing bottles of Tylenol and cough syrup into the inner pockets of his overly-bulky coat and Tom's must-not-get-caught instinct kicks in and he's keeping a lookout for employees, tapping Sean on the elbow when one looks like he's going to get too close.

They put the bottles Sean isn't taking back on the shelves and Sean follows Tom slowly to the front, pretty much just stumbling along, and Tom tries to pay for his chips as fast as possible. He would just leave them at the counter if that didn't look so suspicious.

"Where are you staying?" he asks when they get outside and it looks like Sean's going to take off.

Sean looks at him blearily for a moment like the question doesn't make sense. "The Ramada," he says.

"Bullshit," Tom says. "I went by there and your room was empty, had been empty for days."

"Well... of course I wouldn't have been there, I changed rooms." Sean looks even more befuddled and Tom would feel bad for him except for the way he's very obviously trying to fool Tom into thinking he had a decent place to stay.

"I'm taking you back to my camper with me," Tom decides, grabbing Sean's wrist to pull him along if he resists.

He doesn't resist, just sniffles and says something that sounds like "You really don't have to," before it gets lost in a fit of coughing. Tom wraps his arm around Sean's waist and supports him as they slowly traverse the three blocks back to Tom's parking lot. He unlocks the door one-handed and hoists Sean up the two fold-out steps into the camper, then takes his boots off for him and bundles him into his bed. Sean seems to wake a bit from his stupor, finally.

"Tom," he croaks, and then clears his throat and tries again once the coughing dies down. "Tom."


"If you have places to go...I mean, you don't have to." Sean coughs again and sort of curls in on himself a little, frowning and trying not to whimper.

"Luckily for you I don't have anywhere else to be," Tom says. "As if I was going to leave you to just sleep on the street or whatever."

"I haven't been sleeping in the street," Sean says, but when Tom raises a skeptical eyebrow he doesn't really have anything else to add, so Tom bets it wasn't a whole lot better than the street, wherever it was.

"First we're going to get some medicine in you, and then I'm going to get the extra blankets down and you're going to sleep for however long you need to to shake this off. We can figure out the rest later."

Sean bats away Tom's hands when Tom goes to feed him some cough syrup, though. "Wait."

Tom waits, trying not to spill cough syrup all over his sheets.

"If I'm going to stay here, then you should know – look, I kill people, okay? That's what I do."

This is entirely not the conversation Tom had been expecting to have right now. His confusion must have shown on his face because Sean makes an impatient hand gesture and goes on.

"Some mutants can fly, or read minds, or control nature or whatever. You have giant fucking claws. I kill people."

"Right, I...have no actual idea what you mean."

"I just...I touch people, and like, look." Sean plucks off his glove and grabs Tom's free hand, lacing their fingers together and fixing him in a desperate, red-rimmed gaze.

If this is what dying feels like, Tom kind of wants to do it all the time. Sean's hand is warm and clammy, and it should be uncomfortable but Tom's skin is buzzing along all points of contact, sparks of sensation singing out along every single nerve. He can almost feel it traveling up his arm, like a cool river of...static, or something, rushing down his nerves, sparking at every synapse. Sean lets go just as Tom's starting to go a little light in the head, and it's soon, too soon, he wants Sean's hand back on him right now. It feels dangerous, maybe, but like driving down the road too fast on his bike when no one's around for miles, good dangerous. He realizes his eyes have slipped shut and he blinks them open again, slammed back into the present by Sean's deadly serious gaze on him.

"That's what I do," Sean says hoarsely, utterly unaware of the effect he just had on Tom. "I touch people and soak their powers right out through their skin. I don't even have an actual power of my own, just what I can take. And if I hold on long enough it just keeps on taking, all energy or whatever, it just ebbs right out."

"You've killed people like this," Tom says. It's not a question.

"Yeah," Sean says. "Regular...non-mutants, it's faster. They don't have anything except their life, if you've got a power that acts kind of like a – like a buffer, I guess."

Tom doesn't ask if Sean's ever killed anyone by accident, even though the question is hanging in the air between them, almost palpable. He really doesn't want to know. "Does it come back?" he asks instead. "When you take someone else's power, do you just, like, keep whatever amount you take, or is it temporary?"

"Temporary," Sean says. "Whatever I took from you, I probably don't have it anymore. As soon as contact breaks it starts flowing back in the direction it belongs, far as I can tell."

They're silent for a few minutes, lost in their own thoughts, and then Tom remembers he's still holding out the spoon with the cough syrup on it. "Here," he says, handing the spoon to Sean. Sean's gloved fingers brush his when he takes the spoon and Tom sighs.

"So basically, from a practical standpoint, what you're saying is if you stay here we just have to be really careful not to touch by accident because it could be really dangerous for me." Tom has his doubts about how much actual danger he'd be in, but his priority right now is getting Sean to sleep, not picking at an obviously very sensitive subject.

"Right," Sean says, hesitantly. "If it's too much trouble –"

"Do not even say you could go."

"Fine. Just, now you know, okay? If I'm going to be passed out on cold meds it's all up to you, and like, if something happens by accident, the worse it gets the less you'll be able to stop it, so."

"I'll sleep on the floor tonight, okay?" Tom says, cutting Sean off before he can work himself up into another coughing fit.

Sean visibly relaxes at this, and Tom counts it a win. "In the morning we'll see how you're feeling and figure out what to do."

"Okay," Sean says, and sits up enough to take off his winter coat before snuggling back down under the covers.

Sean spends the night and half the morning just coming to for long enough for Tom to give him more medicine and tell him to go back to sleep. He doesn't end up waking up for good until well into the afternoon.

The sky is currently spitting a sludgy mixture of rain and snow, and Sean looks out one of the tiny windows and goes "Oh shit, my stuff."

"Is it going to get wet right away?" Tom asks, putting his book down.

"I think it'll be fine," Sean says. "But eventually it's going to soak through, I've got my laptop and everything in my backpack."

"I'll go get it," Tom says, because he can tell how important this laptop must be, and then he has to repress a million stupid protests when Sean thinks he's going to get out of bed and retrieve it himself.

"For one thing, you've got the deathflu and I'm not letting you out into that weather," Tom says.

"I've got my coat," Sean starts, but Tom cuts him off.

"You kind of like to run off, from what I've noticed, and for whatever reason, I'm a little attached to having you around. It's really just totally selfish of me that I'd leave you locked up here in my camper while I go get your stuff for you."

Tom hadn't quite meant to say all that, and from the look on his face Sean doesn't quite know what to make of it all either.

"Fine, fine, you're right, I don't want my flu to get worse," Sean says after a minute. "You do understand that the longer I stay in here the more germs I'll be spewing all over your stuff though, right?"

"I think my immune system can handle it," Tom says, and gets Sean to give him directions to his hideout.


It's a shithole, the place Sean had been staying, a glassed-in office space on the abandoned machine floor of an old factory. It's only moderately more protected from the elements than the factory itself, which is in turn only a little bit more sheltered than outside, since half the windows are blown out and there's dead grass and weeds poking up through cracks in the concrete floor. Most of the glass in the office is gone, too, and the roof has a leak and it's absolutely not heated at all. Tom finds the corner where all the glass and debris was swept away, and digs Sean's backpack and couple other plastic shopping bags of assorted stuff out from the desk they were stowed under. He leaves the thin, miserable looking bedroll where it is, not only because it makes him sad to think about Sean sleeping there, but because he's pretty sure he saw a couple rats scurrying away from there when he came in. Deathflu germs he can handle, but Tom's got to draw the line at rat germs.

Back at the camper Sean is intensely grateful when Tom shows up with his stuff, which makes Tom feels all awkward and wrong-footed in ways he can't quite place – what was Sean expecting, that he'd have gone through it? Forgotten that's what he'd gone after?

Tom makes some soup for both of them on his tiny little hotplate and then Sean spends some time on his laptop doing who even knows what, and apologizes for monopolizing Tom's bed but Tom reassures him it's okay, he was fully aware how much space a grown person takes up when he brought Sean back to his place. Sean seems like he might be getting better, but they go to bed early anyway, only a couple hours after it gets dark.

"I'm going to sleep in my own bed tonight, if that's okay with you," Tom says very carefully before he even does as much as put his pajamas on.

Sean's face shutters for a split second but then he takes a steadying breath and says "Okay, but. We've just got to be really careful, I don't usually..."

"It's okay, we'll – I'm pretty sure we can work something out."

They both have long sleeves and long pants and socks on, and Sean pulls a hoodie out of his backpack to sleep in, so when Tom crawls in and Sean inevitably tenses and then laughs at himself like he can't believe how on-edge he's letting himself get, Tom just points out that the only bare parts of them are hands and faces.

"I don't know about you, but the last time I woke up with my face accidentally pressed up against someone else's was approximately never," Tom says. Purposely, plenty of times, but that's a whole different story.

"I..." Sean's looks like he might agree but also like he might try and keep himself up all night just to make sure.

"Would it help if we bunched up the sleeping bag in between us, or something?" Tom asks. That would leave precious little space in the bed for actual sleeping, but more than anything Tom just wants Sean to be comfortable.

"No, I want to, actually, just no one's really offered before. Once they knew."

"You want to know what my actual mutation is, aside from the claws?" Sean looks mildly interested, so Tom plunges forward. "It's like speed healing. I can recover from basically everything, more or less right away. Gunshot wounds, falling four stories, you name it."

"Have people actually shot at you?" Sean asks.

"I used to live in maybe not the nicest neighborhood ever," Tom says. "Once was enough, it still hurts like a motherfucker. Anyway, my point is that we don't even know if you're able to hurt me like you think you can."

"What're you saying?" Sean says, eyes suddenly flashing. He presses against the wall, putting as much distance as possible between himself and Tom.

"Whoa," Tom says. This is the exact opposite from what he meant to happen. "I'm not saying we should test it out or anything, I'm not going to go touching your face in your sleep just for kicks or anything –" even if Tom actually maybe does want to do this, he doesn't have to "– just that, in the worst case might not be quite as bad as you think."

Sean looks only slightly appeased and Tom's about to offer to sleep on the floor again, but then Sean says, "No, you're right, I'd notice it too if I started draining you. It's cool."

"Thank goodness; the floor's fucking hard," Tom says.

Sean puts on his gloves before they go to sleep, apologizing even as Tom waves it off – "Whatever makes you sleep easier, seriously" – and then Tom shuts off the lights.

"Goodnight," Sean says, all groggy and hoarse.

"Night," Tom says, smiling into the darkness.

Around 2 am, something wakes Tom up. He's got an arm slung over Sean's chest, he realizes, and he wonders if that's what woke him, either the movement itself or Sean's reaction to it.

"You awake?" Tom whispers.


"Everything okay?"

"You're stealing the covers."

"Am not," Tom says, on autopilot, but then he weighs the covers hanging off the side of the bed and realizes it's true. "You pushed them all over here when you stole my spot," he says, because that's also true, Sean's been snuggling closer in his sleep and Tom's right at the edge of the mattress.

"Shit," Sean says, and rolls away.

"Hey, it's okay," Tom says. "Look, we can just –" he shifts over until he can spoon up behind Sean, pulling the blankets up over them both and wrapping an arm around his waist.

"I'll get you sick," Sean says.

"You can't get me sick." Tom tucks his head into the hoodie-clad crook of Sean's neck and tangles their feet together. "Go back to sleep."

For a minute Tom can feel Sean holding himself tense, then he relaxes, snuggling back into Tom's embrace. Tom just clings harder. He's never going to let go if he has the choice.


In the morning Sean actually wakes up before noon – long after Tom had disentangled himself and gotten dressed and made some tea, but improvement is improvement. Tom feels like they should probably hit the road now that Sean's been, like, stealing stuff from the CVS and squatting in abandoned buildings and all that stuff that cops don't tend to like.

"Do you feel like you're good to go, or do you need another day in bed? I was thinking we should maybe get going today."

Sean's eyes widen. "With you?"

"I was thinking, yeah." For an idea which made perfect sense in Tom's head it's surprisingly hard to articulate out loud. "Unless you had somewhere else to be?"

"Nowhere important," Sean says, before a fit of coughing overtakes him.

"Guessing that means you're not good to drive yet, huh."

"I'm actually feeling like I might need to nap again in half an hour?" Sean says. "And your passenger seat is comfortable, but not really napping comfortable."

"Nah, that's okay, we can totally stay here another day if that's what you need," Tom says, and mentally tries to track back to yesterday and whether anyone saw him leaving the abandoned factory on his motorcycle. Probably someone did, it was kind of right off the center of town.

"Couldn't I stay here while you drive?" Sean asks, and oh, that hadn't even occurred to Tom. He's spent so long just driving himself that the thought of being on the road and being curled up in bed are two utterly incompatible ideas.

"That would work, yeah," Tom says, and then spends a lot of time making sure Sean has meds and soup and tea and Gatorade and everything he could possibly need handy, since Tom isn't going to be in there with him.

Sean rolls his eyes and tells Tom to stop worrying, then steals his phone and programs his number in so he can call him if he needs them to stop for a bathroom break or anything. This is just genius and exceedingly logical, and Tom feels stupid and slow for the second time in as many minutes.

"Go drive," Sean says, probably sensing Tom's discomfort, and then impulsively he reaches over and pulls Tom into a hug, quick but tight.

It's probably stupid how happy this makes Tom. Just some stupid loneliness thing, because it's only the two of them on the open road, nothing serious or... Yeah. Nothing big.

Tom drives for a scant five hours that day, taking one break to pick up gas station snack food around lunch time and another because he thought he heard Sean coughing over the sound of the wind on the cab, and had to pull over in case Sean was choking to death on phlegm and unable to call for help. (He had been fine.) In the last hour, when the shadows of the other cars on the highway start to get longer and Tom's brain won't stop going a mile a minute, he untangles his hands-free headset from the pile of things in the cubby between the seats, and calls Jon.

"Tom! I wasn't expecting you back for another month at least." Jon's voice sounds all tinny and far away.

"I'm still on the road," Tom says. "How are you? How's Cassie?"

"We're fine," Jon says. "Why're you calling, did something happen?"


"Is your truck okay? Did your trailer get broken into again? Do you need me to come bail you out?"

"Jesus, Jon, it's nothing like that."

Jon's silent on the other end, waiting Tom out.

"I met a guy," Tom says finally.


Tom sighs. "I don't know, Jon, he's probably just sticking around because I'm the best option he's got right now, or something."

"But you really like him," Jon predicts, half-psychic as always. "Wait, you said you're on the road but he's sticking around – did you take him with you?"

Tom just sighs. "He was hitch hiking, and – I shouldn't have called, never mind."

"No, no, don't hang up, now you've got me on the line I want to hear all about this guy."

"You're not going to tell me to watch out for the scary hitch hiker?"

"If you think he's great, he's probably pretty great."


"I know how you get when you've been out on your own for so long, okay? You come back home and you soak us all up like a sponge and would probably try to follow me to work if you didn't hate everyone at the office. If you let yourself start doing that out in the middle of nowhere with just this one guy it could be...I dunno. Just be careful."

"Yeah," Tom says, wincing. It's too accurate a description for comfort.

"Call me anytime you need, okay?" Jon says.

"Yeah, of course," Tom says, even though he knows he probably won't. If he let himself call anytime he'd never be able to leave home in the first place.


Over the next few days Sean makes a full recovery, which Tom is glad of because he's not actually that comfortable with taking care of a sick person; he knows what motions to go through but doesn't really know what he'd do if that all didn't work. They've stopped even pretending to fall asleep on separate sides of the bed by now; as soon as Tom turns off the light one of them will roll over and clutch at the other, intertwining limbs and sharing body heat until they both fall asleep. Tom starts wearing hoodies to bed, too, once he realizes how crucial neck-nuzzling is to the whole process.

"You don't have to," Sean says, the first time Tom gets into bed like that.

"What if I get tired of always being the big spoon? I'm just trying to be prepared."

"You shouldn't have to prepare," Sean mumbles into the pillow. "It's not fair."

"The hell it isn't," Tom says. "Not like there's much of an option though."

"But none of this can ever go anywhere, and you, you should be able to just –" Sean says, with a strangled groan.

Tom is absolutely no good at these kinds of conversations; he's spent a long time cultivating a lifestyle where they never have to come up at all, where no one ever gets close enough to want to have one. He's not even quite sure what Sean is trying to get at, what he wants to hear Tom say that he hasn't already said.

"It's –" Tom starts, but then Sean rolls into him a little more, draping his leg over Tom's own, and Tom can suddenly feel that he's hard as a rock, dick pressing into Tom's thigh. "Oh," Tom says.


"That – what we did in the motel that time, did that work for you? Like, could we do it again without you freaking out?"

"Maybe," Sean says. "I think so."

And yeah, this is something Tom knows, something he can do. "C'mon, turn over," Tom says, "Like this," and he rolls them both over till he's spooned tight against Sean's back, hips pressing against his ass so there can be no doubt he's into this just as much as Sean is.

Sean groans, his hips jerking up as Tom palms his cock through his sweatpants. It's easier like this, the soft fabric giving less resistance as Tom falls into a rhythm, trying not to let Sean's soft grunts of encouragement or the way he keeps pushing back into Tom's hips distract him too much.

"Fuck, Tom, so good," Sean groans, and Tom has to bite at his shoulder to keep himself from making an undignified noise in response.

"Come for me, I've got you," he says when he's got ahold of himself, and Sean lets out a strangled gasp, hips rolling faster as he rubs himself off against Tom's hand.

"I need – I'm going to come in my pants," Sean says.

"Yes, yeah, c'mon," Tom says, squeezing him a little tighter.

"No, I mean," Sean gasps as Tom bites his shoulder again, harder than last time. "It'll make a mess, and laundry –"

Tom cannot believe Sean is thinking about fucking laundry right now. "Like hell I'm letting you run away without getting off again."

"We should finish ourselves off," Sean says. "I can't, I mean if you keep doing that –"

"Okay, okay," Tom says, and forces himself to let go and roll onto his back, shifting closer when Sean does the same so that they're pressed together from shoulder to toes and he can still feel the tension and release when Sean pulls his his pants down and gets his hand around his cock.

Sean hisses in a breath, and Tom can't see under the blankets, but he imagines he's squeezing at the base of his dick, trying to stop from coming right away. "Hey, you too," he says.

"Yeah," Tom agrees, and shoves his hand down his pants, jerking himself off fast and hard. He's got nothing against dirty laundry.

Neither of them last long, already so close from rubbing against each other. Tom can feel Sean's whole body go stiff and arch up off the bed a bit when he comes, and Tom follows soon after, not bothering to be quiet.

Sean shuffles around for a second, putting his clothes back together, and then pulls Tom close, wrapping his arm around him and burying his face in Tom's chest. Tom pets at the back of Sean's neck and rubs his shoulders, smiling when the contented noise Sean makes rumbles against his chest.

"Remind me why we haven't been doing this every night?"

"Because we're stupid, probably." Sean yawns. "Go to sleep, tomorrow will come faster like that."

"Yeah, okay," Tom says.


It becomes a thing that they do. Not every night, but when the mood strikes, which is nearly every night, and sometimes in the morning too, when they both wake up with morning wood and the air outside their little nest of blankets seems too cold to risk right away. Times like those, Sean gets too impatient to bother with any lead-up, just gets his hand on his cock and urges Tom to do the same with foolproof lines like "C'mon, Tom, it's better when we both do it," and "Fuck, I want to hear you."

Tom doesn't even know the last time getting himself off was this exciting.

"I don't actually have a firm destination in mind," Tom admits one morning as they're getting ready to go. "Other than generally east."

He's used to taking his time in the morning but ever since Sean's been feeling well enough to ride along up front it's seemed pointless to linger around in back longer than it takes get dressed and tidy up. Plus Sean looks all...sleep rumpled and warm in the morning, more irresistible than usual, and Tom knows he can't have that so it's better to just get out, go sit up front where he has the excuse of having to keep his eyes on the road.

"Okay," Sean says, pausing to sniff a shirt he pulls out of his bag. "I was under the impression I was along for the ride, anyway, not the destination."

Tom feels something his chest go all tight and possessive, because – well. "But I mean, if you had some place in mind. We could maybe go there."

Sean hesitates for a second, like he's afraid Tom might not like what he's about to say, and Tom has a wild flare of fear – what if Sean was just waiting for Tom to ask so he could be like "actually drop me off at the next greyhound station, I've got to go to Missouri," and just walk out of Tom's life forever.

"There's – shit, Tom, calm down, I haven't even answered your question yet," Sean says, nothing but amusement and affection in his voice, and Tom is forced to acknowledge that perhaps Sean has been watching him as closely as he's been watching Sean.

"Sorry," Tom says.

Sean just rolls his eyes, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "There's this place I heard about, an, I guess, just for mutants."

A million alarm bells are going off in Tom's head, along with a million questions. "Where is it?" he settles on.

"Not too far, relatively speaking – it's somewhere outside of Albany, Ryan said he could meet me there and bring me in if I wanted to visit."

"Ryan?" There is suddenly way too much information for Tom to process.

"A guy from the academy who I know. Look, it's not urgent or anything, I just thought if we were going in that direction we might swing by so I can check it out. It sounds interesting."

"We're going to be headed in the general direction of Albany no matter what until we hit the junction for route 11 tomorrow, anyway," Tom says. He knows it's a cop-out but just, fuck, he's going to need a while for this all to filter through. In his experience a bunch of mutants all in one place is never a good idea, and that's right where Sean's asking him to go.

"Just think about it," Sean says. "Like I said, it's just an idea."

"Right," Tom says. "Let's hit the road."


The ride is a little bit tense for the first hour, but then Sean finishes his coffee and breaks out his laptop, typing furiously for a few minutes before slowing down and scowling at the screen. He picks out a few more words, tugs at his hair, makes a face at the screen, types for another minute, then repeats the whole process.

It's something Tom's seen him doing out of the corner of his eye maybe a million times by now; he doesn't know what makes him more curious now. "What're you working on?"

Sean detaches his attention from the screen sluggishly, like he's surprised to be interrupted. "It's...I don't know what it wants to be yet, that's the problem."

He's told Tom he writes stories before, but that's as far as the conversation has gone. "Huh. Same one you were working on yesterday?"

"Nah, I deleted that," Sean says. "It was stupid."

"Mm," Tom says, and they lapse into silence for another little while as Sean goes through several more cycles of typing and scowling and hair pulling.

"Hey, can you – can I read you some of this?" Sean asks.

"Sure," Tom says, surprised.

"Just to hear what it sounds like aloud, mostly," Sean clarifies, glancing over at Tom.

"Go for it," Tom says.

"Okay," Sean says, and wipes his palms on his jeans before scrolling up several pages in his document and starting. It's about two sailors on a ship run aground just off a mysterious island, as far as Tom can tell, facing dwindling supplies and a tangle of messy feelings toward each other.

"This isn't about us, is it?" Tom asks at one point when Sean pauses for breath.

"No interrupting!" Sean admonishes. "You'll break the flow, shh."

"Sorry," Tom whispers.

Sean rolls his eyes. "It's maybe inspired by us, okay? But that's not what it's about, making stuff into stories is just what I do."

"Got it," Tom says, and Sean finds his place and picks up from where he left off. Tom can't help but notice how Sean keeps giving him sidelong glances like he can't forget he has an audience, but he doesn't interrupt again, just keeps half an eye on the road and lets Sean's voice take up the rest of his attention. It's good, as far as Tom can tell without having heard the beginning, despite some awkward turns of phrase that make Sean grunt in frustration when his tongue trips over them. That's the whole point of reading this aloud, Tom guesses.

"It's nothing important or anything," Sean says when he finishes. "We used to do this in my creative writing courses though, just read our work out loud to each other, sometimes you can hear stuff you wouldn't have seen otherwise."

"You went to school?" Tom asks, surprised. He hadn't really thought about Sean's past before, assuming he lived in the same constant state of transience that Tom did.

"Until last year," Sean says.

"You graduated?"

"Got kicked out for violating the academic honor code," Sean says, his face twisting bitterly. "Being a mutant gives you unfair advantages, apparently."

"Fuck," Tom says.

"Technically you can appeal it, but that's like just sending out an engraved invitation for the feds to come after you. It was easier to just pack my stuff and go."

"How'd they even find out?" Tom's having a hard time picturing someone more inconspicuous than Sean.

Sean shrugs. "Someone must have told them. I wasn't exactly...I figured that once I got away from home, things must get better. Went to the most liberal city I could think of, didn't think I had to be that careful making new friends."

Tom squeezes Sean's shoulder. There's not really much he can say to that.

"What about you?" Sean asks after a while.

"There's not..."

"Sorry," Sean says, before Tom can finish. "I shouldn't have asked."

"There's not that much to tell," Tom says. "Let a man finish. You told me yours, it's only fair you get to hear mine."

"Yeah, okay," Sean says softly.

"One of my friends back home knows," Tom starts, once he figures out how to pick up the threads. "We grew up together. He's not a mutant, but he's cool. He'd never tell anyone else."

"What about your family?" Sean asks. "Mine offered to 'find help' when they found out. That was almost worse than them kicking me out."

"Hah," Tom says. It's not the kind of laugh you do when something's funny. "I don't even think my parents knew. We were hardly talking by then; I spent more time at friends' houses than I did at my own."

"And now?"

"Never really got past that point before they died. Car accident back in Chicago, only heard about it when their lawyer tried to track me down. I grew up in Chicago," he explains, and Sean nods. "Moved to Toronto once I was old enough to rent my own place; better to start fresh somewhere no one knows you."

"Yeah," Sean says with a rueful half-smile. "Glad that worked out for someone."

"Hey, no," Tom says. "You're what, twenty? You've still got plenty of time."

Sean smiles for real at that, before going back to his computer.

Tom pokes his leg. "How can you even write like that? I would get carsick in two minutes."

"I dunno." Sean shrugs. "Just something I happen to be good at."

"Read me a little more once you've gotten a little farther, okay? I want to see what happens next."

"Can't guarantee it'll make any sense," Sean says.

"I'll deal."

That afternoon, Tom pulls off the highway well before it gets dark out, citing a powerful need for Thai food which he doubts fools Sean for a second. They'd have hit the junction if they had kept going much longer, and, well, no point dealing with something today if you can put it off till tomorrow.

"Is there actually a Thai place here or are you just driving around hoping you'll run into one?" Sean asks, face pressed against the side window.

"It was on the sign before the exit," Tom says. "Look for a place called King Garden."

Sean spots it first, a low building in a weedy parking lot just off of the main street. "Reputable looking place."

"We could probably park here for the night," Tom says, looking around.

"You don't think they'll notice you're not leaving after a while?"

"I mean we could ask them," Tom says. "Spending the night in rest stops gets old after a while."

"Ah," Sean says. "Getting permission, how weird is that."

Tom laughs.

The place is less disreputable on the inside than on the outside, and the sparse early-dinner crowd means they get fast service.

"That's all you're getting?" Tom asks when Sean orders a bowl of soup and a side of white rice. "Isn't there anything that you can eat here? I thought I saw a whole half-page of vegetarian stuff." He's always forgetting that Sean doesn't eat half the stuff Tom does, and that certain places are easier for him to find food than others, but the few times they've stopped at restaurants Sean's been good at pointing this out to him before they sit down and order.

Sean won't meet his eyes. "Yeah, I saw, I'm just not too hungry."

Tom waves the hovering waiter away with a hasty excuse about just needing a few more minutes. "What do you mean? We hardly even ate lunch today."

Sean shrugs. "The dinner prices are a bit expensive, okay? This'll hold me over."

"Fuck, Sean, you should have said if you were running low on cash." Sean had always paid for his own stuff when they stopped for sandwiches or snacks; to be honest, Tom had never really considered what his financial situation might be like. He's not too good at thinking about practicalities, sometimes.

"It's okay," Sean says. "Don't worry about it."

"No, come on, what do you want? Pick something out, I'll get it." Tom reaches across the table and flips Sean's menu open to the page with the vegetarian stuff on it.

"Look, I don't even help out with gas, okay? I can't just let you..." Sean makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat.

"It's just logical," Tom says, wanting Sean to see the reason in this, to stop looking so awkward and put-upon. "If you're running low on cash and I've got plenty, there's no point to paying for stuff equally. I can afford two dinners no problem."

"It's just," Sean says, making an aborted hand gesture. "I don't know, okay?"

"What if we're on a date?" Tom asks, trying to keep his voice low. They've attracted the attention of the older couple on the other side of their row of booths a couple times already.


"What if we say we're on a date, does that make you feel better about me buying you dinner? We can walk down the street and you can get us coffee after, and then we can go back to the camper and I'll blow you or something."

Sean's eyes go dark at that, just at the same moment as the waiter chooses to come back.

"Um, okay," he says, blushing and staring very avidly at the menu. "If you put it like that, maybe just this once."

The meal hits the spot – Tom actually had developed a slight Thai food craving after he brought it up – and they secure the owner's permission to use the parking lot overnight before they go.

"Might be a little cold to walk around looking for coffee," Sean says when they step outside, voice muffled by the scarf he's pulled up over his face. "Wanna take a rain check?"

"Yeah, no, let's get inside," Tom says, grabbing Sean's gloved hand and hauling him toward the truck. They can worry about coffee some other time.

"Fucking freezing my balls off here, fucking turn on the heat," Sean whines as soon as they get inside.

"You're wearing like four parkas, give me a second here," Tom says. It's so cold in the camper he can see his breath. The time before the warmth from Tom's little space heater has a chance to fill up the area is the worst part of every day.

"I was promised a blow job, forgive me if I'm a bit impatient," Sean says.

"Oh," says Tom. He quickly strips off his boots and jacket and lifts up the quilt on the bed. "In that case, I think we should warm up as quickly as possible. Care to join me?"

Sean grins and crawls in, yelping in surprise when Tom smacks his ass as he follows him. Sitting in bed with the blanket covering their heads is like being in a fort, Tom thinks, or a cave. The light that filters through is soft and indistinct, dulling the details on everything it illuminates. Sean spreads his legs and pulls Tom back till he's sitting in the V of his legs, head resting against Sean's chest, and starts carding his gloved hand through Tom's hair.

"Mmm," Tom says, snuggling closer.

"You're right, it's marginally warmer like this," Sean says.

"No, that was a 'keep doing that, it feels fucking awesome' mmm."

"Freakish freak of nature who doesn't feel the cold," Sean complains, but he keeps scratching Tom's scalp.

"I wish we could be kissing right now," Tom sighs. "Just so you know, in my head, that's totally what we're doing."

Sean's hand stops, and when Tom looks up, he's scowling slightly.

"Shit, that was a dick move, wasn't it."

"Kinda, yeah," Sean says.

"Does this mean you're not going to let me go down on you now?"

"Nope, it means now I demand a blow job in apology."

"What, a second blow job?"

"No, the same one. But now it's an apology blow job."

"Ahh. I see." Tom does not see. "Do you still have those flavored condoms anywhere?"

"In my bag, yeah – we're doing this right now?"

"Well, yeah," Tom says. He sort of wants to jump Sean and tickle him until they're both red in the face, just to break this ridiculous mood, but he's starting to learn what the lines are, the boundaries of where Sean feels safe. Nothing that makes him feel out of control, nothing he can't see coming. Tom's got a fucking ton of impulses that he's pretty sure cross that line; he does his best to rein them in but it's a process.

"This is okay, right?" Tom says once they manage to find the condom and get themselves untangled from the blanket. "I mean, if I do it just like you did that time."

"It's kind of tricky to get the hang of, but yeah, it should work both ways," Sean says. He looks like he's not sure what Tom's asking, and Tom's not sure he can ask what he really means.

"Do you have any long underwear?" he asks instead.


"I've got an idea," Tom says, "but we need long underwear to try it out."

"What sort of idea?" Sean sounds skeptical.

"An idea that involves fucking," Tom says. "It'll be easier to explain if we had the underwear though."

"I, um, don't actually have any here with me," Sean says, going all stammery all of a sudden. "Not too much room in the bag for that. And I've never actually, um. Ever before."

"You've never been fucked," Tom clarifies.

"Nope," Sean says. His skin looks like it might be hot to the touch, he's blushing so hard.

"We should – fix that, as soon as possible," Tom says. "If you wanted."

"Fuck, yes, you have no idea," Sean says. His eyes are dark, hungry. Tom has never wanted so badly just to kiss him.

"Are you absolutely sure you don't have any long underwear?"

"I think I'd remember if I owned something like that. You should at least explain how this works, so I know what to look forward to."

"You know how they have buttons up the back? It should be possible to arrange things so there's no...unnecessary skin contact."

"Here I was hoping you'd have an elegant solution," Sean says, attempting to hold in his laughter. "That's the weirdest thing I've ever tried to picture."

"Well, that's why I wanted to try it first – of course it sounds weird when you try to explain it."

"We should start a bingo card," Sean says.

"A bingo card?"

"For anytime one of us comes up with a crazy weird sex idea. Then –"

"Then once we try them out and they turn out to be awesome we can cross them off, right? Who wins?"

"I think you automatically win for even bringing up sex-through-long-underwear," Sean says, laughing.

"We're finding a place that sells long underwear as soon as we get back on the highway – or, or better, we'll find somewhere with wifi and look it up. You won't be saying I'm the one who wins after you see what an awesome idea this actually is." Tom feels absurdly responsible, like it all has to be perfect for Sean and it's all up to him.

"Believe me, I'm so behind this idea," Sean says. "Absurd mental image or not."

"I'll shut up about it now," Tom says. "Wouldn't want to spoil the mood."

Sean laughs. "I was starting to wonder if you'd forgotten."

"This isn't the first time you've ever done this too, is it?" Tom asks once they're situated, a sudden flare of – anxiety, worry, arousal, something – shooting through him.

"Hah, no," Sean says. "I had a boyfriend back home, ages ago. This was the one thing we figured out that worked."

He's got his pants halfway down and his legs spread, sprawled out on the bed, and his cock is right there in front of Tom's face, the only suitable response seems to be to lick a stripe up the shaft and suck the head into his mouth.

Sean lets out an unintelligible string of consonants that might end in Tom's name. The tricky part isn't getting used to the taste, or even remembering not to use his hands, Tom thinks, but remembering to come up for air. Sean's dick is hot and hard in his mouth, and he feels so alive, and Tom gets to be right there. He doesn't try anything fancy, just sucks long and hard, going down as far as he can before pulling back up. Sean's thighs quiver on either side of Tom's head, and Tom – he just wants to press his cheek to the soft skin there, let that cool electricity he knows is hiding under Sean's skin reach out and grab him in for a few moments, just a taste. He doesn't, though; he might not be able to make this perfect for Sean but he can avoid fucking up that badly.

"Next time we do this you should come on my face," Tom says, a sudden wave of inspiration hitting him. "That would totally work."

Sean's breath is shaky as he exhales. "Probably, yeah. Fuck, Tom, you look..."

Tom's got some idea of how he must look from Sean's perspective, so he makes a point of looking up at him through his eyelashes as he sucks him down again. Sean doesn't last long after that, giving a choked-off warning before he comes, all soft gasps and shuddering hips.

"I think I need a moment," Sean says.

"Take however many you need," Tom says, flopping down on the bed next to him. "Maybe I can enjoy your post-orgasmic haze vicariously through you."

Sean laughs. "You'll get your own haze, be patient."

Tom props himself up on an elbow to look at Sean. "Does this mean you're ready to go again?" He feels all flighty and on edge, and he's hard as a rock inside his jeans.

"Maybe if you just want to rub off against my leg, something that doesn't involve actual movement on my part." Sean's voice is all sleepy-thick, and the sound of it goes straight to Tom's cock.

"Seriously, if you want me to be patient you might want to stop talking," Tom says.

"That's no fun," Sean says. His eyes are half shut and he's smiling up at Tom, looking like the very picture of shagged-out contentment. He rallies fast, though, pulling himself together and rolling half on top of Tom. "Do you think you could get off like this?" he asks, palming Tom through his jeans.

"Yeah," Tom says, because elaborate schemes aside, he's so fucking easy for this kid.


They don't end up taking the turnoff for Route 11 when they pass the signs for it, and when Sean notices he catches Tom's eye and grins bright and wide.

"This doesn't mean I think this is a good idea," Tom says gruffly.

"You don't have to," Sean says. "Hell, I don't know if this is a good idea."

Somehow that calms some of the apprehension in the pit of Tom's stomach, and he feels less like he's making a giant mistake by not taking Sean as far away from this mutant school as physically possible. Who knows, it's probably run by the government to pick out the mutants to be involuntarily conscripted into special combat forces. That would just kill Sean. Still, just checking the place out can't hurt, and if it looks like a secret government front Tom will better be able to get Sean out if he's there.

"Tell me about this Ryan guy," Tom says when they stop at a pizza place in a strip mall for supper.

Sean's expression closes off a little bit, and Tom wonders if this is one more line he didn't know he wasn't supposed to cross. It makes sense that Sean would have friends, know other people out there besides Tom, but it's not something Tom's ever had to think about, just the two of them for miles and miles and miles of frozen highway.

"Ryan's a good guy," Sean starts, and Tom nods, unable to shake the uneasy feeling but not wanting to fuck up. "We've been talking for...a year now, I think? Close to it."

"Just talking?" Tom asks, and instantly hates how much of an asshole he sounds like. "I mean, just, did you meet him on the road or at school, or."

Sean smiles wryly. "You're going to laugh at me, but I met him on a dating site."

"A dating site," Tom double-checks, momentarily forgetting to chew his chicken parm.

"He's about ten thousand times more active on it than I am. Usually I don't even remember to check my profile, but the one time I did he was one of the least sketchy people who had left me a message, so I clicked through to his profile and we ended up hitting it off. We emailed back and forth for a little while, just pictures and stuff, and even when we got bored of that we kept talking. He's a great guy, you'd probably like him."

"Hmm," Tom says. "Pictures?" He's still caught back on the part where apparently they're not...cybersexing or whatever it was, anymore.

"Do you want to see one? He sent me a million, I still have them," Sean says. He's having way too much fun with this.

"Are you really sure he'd want you sharing those?" To be perfectly honest Tom would rather see one of Sean's pictures, but this is some chapter of Sean's past that didn't include Tom, and he feels off-balance, wanting to know all about Sean of a year ago, but also not wanting to intrude on what has nothing to do with him.

"Ryan? Sometimes I think he sends pictures to anyone who expresses a modicum of interest, he'd probably only be bummed if you didn't let him know what you thought," Sean says. "You're probably just his type."

"And you're...not?" Damn it, Tom just can't keep himself away.

"More like he's not mine, I guess," Sean says. "I don't know. You know how sometimes things just don't work out? We had fun, but it fizzled out and that was fine, so." Sean shrugs. "Like I said, I don't even do that whole online dating thing, he does."

Tom clears his throat, trying to get the idea of Sean taking pictures to send to his online boyfriend out of his mind. "So he goes to this academy?"

"He works at it," Sean says. "There's probably a couple hundred students who go there, all ages, and then if you went there and graduated, or know someone who did, or whatever, they'll give you housing and find work for you. It sounds sort of really nice, from the way he talks about it. He's got tons of friends there."

"Hmm," Tom says again. He can't shake the feeling that this is probably some kind of secret government training camp, but he can't bring himself to burst Sean's bubble. They'll have to see when they get there.

"Are you going to finish that?" Sean asks, making grabby-hands at Tom's garlic bread, and Tom pushes it over toward him.

"Knock yourself out. I'm pretty sure no chicken juice or anything touched it."

"Ew," Sean says, but devours the bread like he hadn't just eaten an entire plate of cheese ravioli anyway.

"I'm going to go run some errands," Tom says when they settle their bill at the restaurant and go back to the parking lot. "You good to hang out for a while?"

"I'll hold down the fort, make sure no hoodlums break in," Sean says, winking.

"I hope you're taking this task seriously, it's not just anyone I trust to protect my life's possessions from wandering teenagers," Tom says.

"Nah, it's cool, I've got some writing to do anyway, go do your errands."

Tom's no expert on short stories but pretty much everything Sean reads him sounds pretty good, which is apparently an unhelpful opinion, if the way Sean just sort of brushes him off whenever he says so is any indication. Tom's working on being better at helpful opinions, the kind that make Sean light up and go "Oh hey! Yeah!" in agreement and disappear into his work because Tom made a joke about the section ending on a cliffhanger that somehow proved useful.

So Sean will be absorbed in that for the next couple hours at least, and Tom doesn't actually have any errands to run. He lights a cigarette and strolls down the row of shops, looking idly into the windows, but when he rounds the corner out of sight of the truck he pulls out his phone and pulls up Jon's contact. He doesn't know why he feels the need to be so circumspect about it; if Sean can admit to having friends he talks to than so can Tom.

"Hey," Jon says when he picks up.

Tom slouches against a pillar and squints up into the sky. It's inky black beyond the orange glow of the parking lot lights, starless except for one or two pinpricks of light that are probably planets.


"Yeah, hey, sorry," Tom says, reeling himself back in. "Hi."

"What's up?" Jon asks. He doesn't ask if Tom's home yet again, which Tom's glad for. The explanation hasn't changed since last time.

"Just wanted to hear a familiar voice, I guess," Tom says. "Tell me about stupid home shit or something."

Jon indulges him, and Tom just stays quiet, letting the news from familiar names and places lull him a little bit. Before he met Sean he would never have thought someone new could make him feel lonely for home, and it's stupid, really, how the closer they get to each other the more Tom wants of everything.

"And Cassie's pregnant," Jon says, at the tail end of some story about a seafood restaurant that had just opened up on their block.

"What? No way, you can't – really?" Tom splutters.

Jon laughs. "Just checking to see if you were still with me. We, um, we did get engaged though."

Tom can hear the pride evident in Jon's voice, and nearly trips over his tongue giving congratulations. "When was this? How long have you two..."

"Day before yesterday," Jon says. "I'm still getting used to it myself, that this is actually happening, you know?"

"Yeah," Tom says. He thinks he might know the feeling a little bit. "That's so great for you though, fuck, I always knew you two were the marrying type."

Jon laughs again. "Yeah, well, now it's official."

"Does this mean you're going to kick me out of the apartment?" Tom asks as the thought suddenly occurs to him. Jon had always lived half at Cassie's place anyway, but Tom figures now that they're getting married they'll want their own space.

"Nothing's set in stone," Jon says. "We haven't even picked a date yet, actually. Don't worry about it for now, but yeah, eventually we're going to have to figure out what to do about the apartment. Cassie wants to look for a new place together, something closer to her work, maybe."

"Mm," Tom says.

"Look, it's not even an issue right now though, we can talk about it when you come back."

"Yeah, okay."

"Don't feel like you need to hurry back or anything," Jon says.

"Uh-huh, because you haven't put anyone's stuff out on the curb in a good what, ten years?"

Jon splutters. "I've never!"


"That was high school! She left all her crap in my locker, what was I supposed to do?"

Tom just laughs into the phone, not even caring when he snorts a little. He should call Jon just to hang out more often, maybe.

"So what's up with you, still sleeping with this hobo?" Jon asks when Tom has enough control over himself to stop making involuntary hyena noises.

"Sean is not a hobo, he's a starving artist. It's an important distinction."

"Ah, suddenly I can see why you like him so much."

"People actually buy my prints, Jon, I'm not starving," Tom says.

"Yeah, details, whatever."

"People with taste. Rich people."

"Mm-hm," Jon says, and now he's just doing the waiting game. Experience has proven that there's no real limit to how patient Jon can be when he thinks Tom's keeping something important bottled up.

"He wants to go check out this school place for people like us," Tom says, letting out a heavy breath.

Jon whistles low under his breath; Tom can practically see his eyebrows raising into his hairline.

"I'm going with him," he adds.

"Be careful," Jon says, after a pause.

"I know. It...just, what if this is for real? If it's like he says, we could – stop hiding, just..." Tom shrugs, kicks at some clumps of ice until they scatter.

"Has he been there?"

"He knows someone who lives there," Tom says.

"Guess you never know," Jon says. "I've never even heard of a place like that though."

Tom sighs. If Jon, who works at social services and stays on top of all the news on mutants, government sanctioned and otherwise, has never heard of it, that means this place is either really good at keeping a low profile, or not what they say at all.

"Do you know what it's called, or where it is, or anything like that? I can try and poke around."

"Probably better if you don't," Tom says. "If this is for real, it's probably better not to draw any extra attention to them."

"I can be subtle, you know," Jon says. "There's a reason I can take on nearly all the cases involving mutants and no one ever notices."

"Keep an ear out, I guess," Tom says. "And give Cassie a hug from me, tell her congratulations too."

"Okay, fine, do your whole one-man army thing," Jon says.

"My phone battery's dying," Tom says, which is probably true; it's an old phone with a shit battery and he's been out here for a while.

"Let me know if you need any emergency string-pulling," Jon says, and Tom agrees to it, but somehow Jon's sense of foreboding has chased some of his own reservations away. He won't let himself feel actually hopeful about it, but – if this is for real, it could be pretty great. There's a lot of ifs.


Of course, now that they actually have a destination in mind, they get held up nearly immediately, as if fate was just waiting for the perfect moment to throw a wrench in their plans. The day starts off like any other, but by mid-afternoon a huge blizzard rolls down from the northwest and leaves cars crawling along on the highway, visibility nearly at zero.

"What's the radio say, is this thing stopping anytime soon?" Tom asks, squinting through the windshield.

The radio in Tom's truck has been broken for the past two years and it never seemed important to get it fixed, so they've largely gone without music on the trip, making do with what Sean has on his laptop (a lot), or just talking. There's a little battery-powered CD player that Tom keeps in the glovebox that has a radio, though, and Sean's listening to it through beat-up headphones now.

"Doesn't sound like it," Sean says, "They're saying accumulation could be as much as thirty inches overnight, and there might be more storms coming in tomorrow."

"Keep your eyes peeled for a rest stop, we're pulling over."

It's hard to see road signs until they're right on top of them in this weather, but after a few tense miles Sean sees one and Tom makes it to the turnoff without flipping the trailer, so that counts as a win. It's not a real rest stop, really, just one of those pull-offs with a few parking spaces and no bathrooms, just a shed with an empty brochure rack and a couple of ancient vending machines.

"This is cozy," Tom says, lighting up a cigarette in the shed.

"Mm," Sean agrees. "Looks like all the soda's frozen." He holds up a bloated, solid can, and Tom laughs.

"We could probably defrost that if you really want it."

It's too windy even in the shelter of the shed to stay out stretching their legs for long, so Tom finishes his cigarette quickly and they head back to the camper and crank the heat up all the way. It's well-insulated and no drafts get through even in this weather, which Tom considers one of his more shining accomplishments. The thing had been a piece of shit when he bought it, and still kind of looks that way from the outside.

Sean huddles in front of the heater while Tom checks over their supplies; they've got enough soup and crackers and random shit to hold them over even if this thing doesn't blow over by tomorrow.

By evening, boredom sets in hard. Tom has already taken a nap, consumed enough tea that he's had to go piss in the snow twice, made soup, and read half his book. Sean, on the other hand, has had his headphones on since before Tom lay down, entirely absorbed in his computer.

"You don't get wifi out here, right?" Tom asks.

"What? Oh, no," Sean says, lifting one of his headphones off his ear.

"Any chance you could pause that anytime soon?"

Sean takes both headphones off and stretches, something in his back popping audibly. "Right here is a good place, actually."

"Really?" Tom had just been asking, it hadn't looked like Sean was anywhere close to a stopping point.

"Really," Sean laughs. "I could do this all night and forget to eat if I didn't have someone to pull me out of it occasionally. You should have seen me in school. The professors all thought I was crazy."

"There's some soup I warmed up," Tom says, and Sean makes happy noises when Tom puts some in a bowl and hands it to them.

"How deep is it out there?" Sean asks as he eats.

"Last time I went out it was at my knees and coming down faster than earlier – hard to tell now that it's dark though."

"Ooo fun, we'll have to dig ourselves out," Sean says, and the crazy thing is he looks like the idea actually excites him.

"Too bad I didn't bring my plow rig; we could have busted right out."

Sean laughs, delighted. "You have a plow rig?"

"Back home in storage, yeah. I used to plow driveways for extra cash before the whole photography thing really took off."

This is met by another giggle.

"What? Plowing driveways is a perfectly respectable occupation, you know."

"I'm just having a hard time picturing it," Sean says, his face crinkling up in amusement. "How soon do you think is too soon to get cabin fever? Is it possible after only five hours?"

It's Tom's turn to laugh. "Maybe, who knows? Probably depends on the size of the cabin."

Sean reaches out and demonstrates how he can nearly touch both walls at the same time before he lets his arms fall. "I think the limit on this place is probably less than five hours, actually."

Tom looks at the way Sean's all easy and loose in his body, smiling and a little bit pink in the cheeks, and Tom wishes he had a shutter button under his finger right now, it's just too much. Without giving himself time to really think about it, he rummages under the bed and pulls his SLR out of the bin where he keeps all his equipment when he's not using it, lifting it to his face and framing Sean in the viewfinder.

"Can I?" he asks, and when Sean looks up at him and nods, he snaps the picture.

"I keep thinking about those pictures you took for Ryan," Tom says, swallowing past the thick lump of want that rises up in his throat.


"It's been kind of hard not to think about it, since you mentioned them. I was thinking we could take some new ones, if you wanted. For us."

"'ll take pictures of me, for both of us to jack off over?" Sean's tone is lightly mocking, but he's got his head tilted to the side like he might actually be a tiny bit interested.

"Well, no, I thought it would be more about the experience than the final product, something to pass the time. And because the pictures would be really hot," he adds.

"I really can't joke around you at all, can I?" Sean says, shaking his head. "Of course I knew what you meant – that sounds like a really hot idea, actually."


"Yeah. Really, really hot, and I am totally on board," Sean says. He puts his empty soup bowl aside and Tom can see now that it's not skepticism in his expression, it's anticipation. "How do you want me?"

Tom has to swallow past another wave of desire, but then he makes himself get off the bed and put the empty soup bowl in the tiny sink. "I want to see you without any clothes," he says. "On the bed. You could be doing anything, we could make it look like candid shots, yeah?"

"Yeah," Sean says, enthusiastically, and he's already stripping off his sweater.

"Is it warm enough in here for you?" Tom asks.

Sean's kneeling up to undo his jeans. "I'll be fine."

"Can you slow down? I want to –" Tom says, motioning toward the camera around his neck.

"Yeah, yeah, fucking of course," Sean says, sliding his jeans down past his hips slowly, then huffing out a laugh when they get around his knees and he has to sit down to get his legs untangled. "Not gonna guarantee I'm any good at this though."

Tom snaps a picture of his nervous little smile and then another of the way his hands are bunching up the denim. "They're supposed to look candid, it's cool."

"Right, okay," Sean says. He still puts on a little show taking his clothes off, though, and Tom suspects it's because he can't help it, he looks like he's getting off on the exposure as much as Tom is from seeing each new piece of skin laid bare. Tom snaps picture after picture, trying to catch the whole evolution as it unfolds.

"You could be – I don't know, reading, or something," Tom says once Sean's all the way undressed, nothing interrupting the pale, clean lines of his body.

Sean reaches up to the little cubby above the bed for a book (Tom snaps the shutter four times in quick succession, capturing the stretch, the long line from arm to shoulder to back) and rolls onto his side, flipping through the pages to find his spot. Tom gets a couple shots of him absorbed in the reading, but soon he glances up and doesn't look back down and then the rest are just his face, open and wanting and staring right at Tom, studying him as carefully as Tom's studying Sean. It takes his breath away a little bit.

After a few more, Tom adjusts the light so Sean's hair is backlit, all the red highlights showing, and tugs at the blanket. "Can you just – yeah," he says, when Sean gets the idea and pushes the blanket down to the foot of the bed, leaving just the dark blue sheet underneath. When he lies back down it's on his back with his head cradled in his hands, all pretense of reading abandoned.

"You should see how you look," Tom says.

"Maybe you should tell me."

"You're..." Tom's not really too strong on the telling front; he's more of a shower, a doer. "Beautiful," he settles on, hiding behind his camera and snapping another picture before Sean has time to reply.

Sean just smiles, though, languid and fond, and doesn't demand more explanation. It gets so quiet that Tom can hear the snow beating against the side of the camper, a tiny white noise.

"You should tell me what to do, if you have ideas," Sean says. "Me just lying here, that can't be very interesting."

Tom's not used to working with models; he deals almost exclusively in still-lifes and the occasional candid shot, but he does know how he wants to see Sean, how he would want to be able to look back and remember him, if he were ever not here.

"Let's take some with you on your stomach," he says, and Sean complies immediately. He warns Sean before he drapes the blanket over him, tugging it down so half his back is visible and the rest is just an outline.

"Go up on one elbow and look back at me," Tom says, tugging the blanket down a couple inches. He can see in his mind now where the series of pictures could go, feels all buzzy and excited for it.

Sean makes a noise of assent and looks over his shoulder at Tom, and the way he's getting turned on by this is so evident in his eyes that Tom can't hit the shutter fast enough. He had wanted a long shot, he thought, but now he swoops in close, kneeling right next to the bed to capture this in as much detail as he can.

"You like it," Tom says, letting his camera dangle from its strap when he thinks maybe he has enough.

Sean's voice is all gravely and thick. "Well, yeah."

"I had thought you liked the other side of it, thought you liked telling people what to do," Tom says. "That time back in the hotel room – you were so good at it, I never guessed."

"I can do it if I have to," Sean says. "But this is really, really working for me right now."

"Yeah," Tom says. "Me too."

They finish out the series the way Tom had planned, Tom growing bolder with his directions now that he knows what it does for Sean. By the time they're done and Sean's on his back again, Sean's hard and flushed, looking up at Tom expectantly for his next cue.

"You should get yourself off," Tom says. Out of all the times they've done that together, it's always been under cover of darkness, only sounds to go on. Tom wants to see what those sounds are connected to, wants to see Sean's face and hands and cock and all that beautiful, naked skin.

Sean groans a little and his hand is on his dick like lightning, squeezing the base even as his hips buck up into the air. It takes an almost embarrassingly short time before Sean comes, but Tom crouches by the side of the bed as Sean strokes himself, eyes tracking up and down his body, absorbing every little detail. He urges him on, the words as much for himself as they are for Sean, until Sean's just panting and babbling broken phrases.

"Can I, can I please, Tom, please –"

It takes a second for Tom to process what Sean's asking for, but when it hits him that Sean is asking his permission to come, actually holding himself back until Tom says it's okay, Tom can hardly speak fast enough. "Yes," he manages to get out, then "Yes, yeah, come on, Sean, I want to watch you."

Sean lets out a wordless noise and his hand flies faster on his cock, and then he's coming in white spurts over his hand and stomach, breathing heavy and quaking through the aftershocks. It's as if some outside force takes over Tom's body because he feels like he can't help it, he sets his camera down on the floor and crawls up into bed with Sean, wrapping him up in the sheet and folding him into his arms.

"I've got you," he says, pressing a kiss to Sean's shoulder and letting his lips linger, feeling the heat from his skin bleed through the thin cotton.

Sean shivers and Tom kisses him again, holding him tighter.

"What about you?" he asks, and Tom shakes his head against Sean's back.

"Not important right now," he says.

Sean makes a questioning noise and shifts his ass against Tom's obviously hard dick.

"Maybe later," Tom says. He can't really explain how he feels right now, like taking something for himself would bleed the colors out of the fresh memories and make this just one more time they fooled around.

"I just wanna stay like this for a while," he says, and that must be enough for Sean because he nods and lets it go. They end up falling asleep that way, Sean naked under the sheet and Tom still mostly in his day clothes, pressed tight together and gradually breathing in the same rhythm.


It seems like almost no time at all passes before they're within less than a day's drive of Albany. For the first time Tom doesn't even feel like driving; he almost offers to let Sean take over the wheel for the last leg. It's not like he doesn't want to do this, exactly, he just doesn't want to be the one to make it happen.

"We're going to hit Albany later today, aren't we?" Sean asks.

"If we keep going, yeah," Tom says.

"Let's find a Starbucks, I should email Ryan and let him know."

They drive around until they find a Starbucks in the next town over. Tom gets them both plain coffees – Sean still balks if he thinks Tom's buying him anything too expensive, and Tom balks at the idea of putting steamed milk and syrup in coffee – and they settle in at a table by the window, Sean humming to himself as he logs in to the wireless.

"Do you want me to tell him we'll be there today, or...?" Sean asks, fingers pausing above the keyboard.

It's tempting, so tempting, to just give in and hide out here in this faceless little town, put it off for at least another day – it's stupid, but Tom feels like Sean might evaporate the second he comes into contact with other people, like he won't need Tom to keep him from getting lost in his own head anymore, won't need to be held in the night, will find someone better to tell his stories to.

"We'd just be putting it off," Tom says, fighting to ignore the heavy knot in his stomach. "They're expecting us now, aren't they?"

"It doesn't have to be today," Sean says.

"No, but..." Tom gives Sean his best What Is Your Deal face. Seriously, if Sean chickens out now and expects Tom to be the one to carry through on this, he might fuck this whole thing up for both of them.

Sean shrugs. "Nerves, I guess. If you don't want to, though –"

"We're just going to go and look around," Tom reminds him.

"This'll be the first time I've been around that many people since I got kicked out of school," Sean says, jiggling his leg under the table. "I don't know if I remember how to socialize."

"You'll socialize fine. Does Ryan know about your...?" Tom leaves it in the air, mindful of the other coffee drinkers within earshot.

"He knows a little," Sean says. "It's not something that was ever much of an issue, honestly. It's having to tell so many new people, they'll need to know if I stay."

"Just send the email," Tom says. "Worry about all that later."

"'Kay," Sean says, and taps out a quick message, hitting send with a decisive "There."

They sip their coffee mostly in silence, waiting for the reply, and before Tom's ready it comes and Sean's leaning forward, reading off the screen. "He says he's got stuff going on all afternoon and won't be able to give a tour then, so we shouldn't hurry, but here's his number so we can call when we get in because he knows some great dinner spots. Says he can't wait."


Following Ryan's suggestion to the letter, they very deliberately do not hurry, but they still pull in to Albany with plenty of time to spare.

"There's an indoor mall, we could go walk around," Sean says.

Tom agrees because it's something to do, and he's right, pretty much anything beats just waiting around for Ryan to call.

It's oddly domestic, strolling up and down past the shops together, and Tom reminds himself once again that you can't just keep people. If Sean looks around this place and likes it and it's not a secret government institute, then Tom should let him stay.

"There's a Sears up at the other end of the mall," Sean says, pausing to study a directory.

"Okay," Tom says.

"I was thinking we could go over there," Sean says, waggling his eyebrows. "Do some shopping."

"Um," Tom says, at a loss.

"Long underwear?"

"Oh! Ohhhhh," Tom says, and Sean's basically leering at him. "There are children here," he admonishes.

"All I said was 'long underwear,'" Sean says, laughing.

"We should definitely make our way up that direction, yes," Tom says.

Sean's phone rings while they're trying to find where the sporting good section is, though, and it's Ryan, saying he's about five minutes away from this restaurant he wants to take them to and asking where they are so he can give them directions.


Dinner with Ryan isn't quite so bad as Tom had been picturing it in his head. Ryan's favorite restaurant in Albany turns out to be a 24-hour diner decorated in chrome and teal pleather, and he has a friend with him, a quiet, curly-haired guy he introduces as Max in the same breath that he tells them he doesn't know how he'd live without the guy. Tom warms up to him immediately.

"Your favorite restaurant is a diner?" Sean asks, once they're all seated in a booth by the window. "The way you were talking had me picturing some one of a kind, unparalleled dining experience."

"Best fucking pancakes in the universe, I kid you not," Ryan says. "Not worth driving the forty minutes just for them, but if you're in the city you can't not come here."

"I'm getting a burger," Max says.

Ryan shoots him a wounded look. "Traitor."

"So don't feel obligated to follow the lead of the pancake fetishist here," Max says, bumping Ryan with his elbow.

They talk about the academy in veiled terms, mindful of the other diners around them, and both Ryan and Max agree that the easiest thing to do would just be to show them around and introduce them to Professor Xavier. Ryan seems to assume without asking that Tom's coming along too, and it makes Tom wonder what Sean told him, how he framed his request to come check the place out.

"You could come down tonight, follow us back. It's kind of out of the way," Ryan says, cheerful and open.

Sean looks at him questioningly, and Tom shrugs. It's hard to come up with a decent excuse to make Ryan and Max make the trip twice.

Tom begs out of the late-night tour Ryan offers once they arrive, though, citing exhaustion from too long on the road, and Sean sides with him. They're way up in the mountains, here, and hidden in the small gravel lot off the access road Ryan had led them down, it sort of feels like they're the only people in the world. It's a familiar feeling, after so long on the road together, but jarring after spending the evening with company.

They get into bed before the heater has a chance to fully warm up and spoon together for warmth, Sean draping himself all over Tom and sticking his hands in the pocket of his hoodie.

"Tickles," Tom complains, but Sean just nuzzles into his neck.

"You can deal," he says, his voice coming out muffled.

"We never did get that long underwear," Tom muses. He's kind of fixated on that stuff now, he's not ashamed to admit. So many things would be easier with the addition of an all-encompassing garment like that, even just snuggling like they're doing now.

"Yeah," Sean says, tone laced with regret. "Sometime else."

"The Sears will still be there," Tom agrees, so that he doesn't accidentally interrogate Sean about what he means by 'sometime else'.

"In the meantime..." Sean says, and then he's grinding against Tom's ass, making a pleased little noise when Tom pushes back. After a minute he reaches around and gropes Tom's half-hard cock through his sweatpants, and Tom whines softly. He's a bit overwhelmed by the sweetness of it all, pressed back against Sean's warmth and surrounded by his arms.

"Hang on a second," Tom says, and slips the arm that isn't trapped under him into his pants, layering his hand under Sean's on his dick so they're jerking him off together.

Sean hums in approval and tightens his hand over Tom's through the cotton, guiding him in the rhythm of his hips against Tom's ass. Tom lets his mind go blank, floating on the slow tide of pleasure. After some undetermined amount of time he comes, bucking into their hands, letting his own go slack as Sean gives the last few squeezes to carry him through his orgasm.

"I could give you a hand," Tom says, making to roll over, but Sean nudges him back.

"It's good like this, I'm close," Sean says. He hangs onto Tom's hip and ruts against his ass, breath heavy next to Tom's ear, and comes soon after.

"My pants are so gross," he mumbles, making no move to get up.

"This wouldn't happen if we had long underwear," Tom points out, even though he's pretty sure that's not true. Logic can wait for when they own actual long johns.


Max comes driving down the gravel road mid-morning to collect both of them, and Tom suddenly finds he can't do it. He had thought, up to this point, that seeing this academy with his own eyes was what he was after, but now that it's come down to it he just can't picture walking alongside Sean, looking at the rooms and talking to the people and knowing there was nothing he could do (nothing he'd want to do) to stop Sean from wanting it.

Sean wavers at the door to Max's car reluctantly. "You sure?"

"I'm good, I don't need to see," Tom says.

A fleeting look of disappointment crosses Sean's face, quickly replaced by resignation. "But - alright," he says.

"Nothing like that," Tom says, hoping Sean doesn't ask him again. If he asks Tom doesn't know if he'll be able to say no. "I've got some stuff to do here, you guys go on without me."

Sean opens his mouth to speak, but closes it again and gets in the car. "I'll be back in a few hours, okay?"

"Yeah," says Tom. "See you then."

Max makes some joke about having to tell Professor Xavier about the unattended civilian on the property, but Tom's not really paying attention.

Staying alone in the camper while Sean went and mapped out the next chapter of his life is a big mistake, Tom realizes about half an hour into the experience. Just sitting and waiting is miserable.

It's a sunny day, not actually that cold out, so he takes his camera and pokes around in the woods for a while, not straying far from the immediate vicinity of the camper. Ryan had said something about the academy's top-notch security measures, and the last thing he needs is to accidentally trip something.

The light is too stark, though, and there's nothing interesting to photograph in the dense woods around the gravel lot. He gets a few lichen covered rocks, but that's about it.

When Sean comes back and finds him hunched on the rickety bottom step of the camper, smoking the second-to-last cigarette in his pack, it seems like several hundred hours have passed since he saw him last. Tom jumps on him a bit too eagerly, asking how it went and eating up the details of the story that Sean gives.

"I thought you – I don't know, I thought you were against this place," Sean says.

"It was just...I don't know, stupid stuff."

"Stupid stuff like what," Sean says, not meeting Tom's eyes. He leans against the back of the camper.

"Stupid stuff that probably doesn't even matter anymore," Tom says. "Seems like you really like it there."

"Well, yeah," Sean says, face relaxing into almost a smile. It's obvious he feels comfortable here, and it makes Tom ache.

"Can I see?" he asks, all in a rush. "If we go back now, do you think they'll let us back in?"

Sean lets out a surprised laugh. "There's security, yeah, but Ryan can check us in if I ask. He really does like you, you know."

"Are you sure this isn't all an elaborate setup?" Sean asks when Tom gets his bike down from the truck.


"To get me on the back of your bike," Sean says.

"How else did you think we were going to get there?" Tom asks. He doesn't really feel like dealing with parking and then re-parking the truck and trailer when they're only going a couple miles up the road.

"Never mind," Sean says, and Tom gets the sinking feeling that he's fucked something up again and doesn't quite know what. He's had it all day, really; going back with Sean before he loses his nerve is his one bid to put things right.

Having Sean's arms tight around his waist the whole way up the road is grounding, though, and Sean drifts back into Tom's orbit after he hangs up his phone.

"He says give him five minutes and he'll be down," Sean says, and when Tom lifts his arm Sean ducks tucks himself into his side with a sigh.

"What'll we do in the summer?" Tom ponders, curling his fingers into Sean's jacket.

"Year-round hoodies isn't an option?"

"Not really cold enough for that here, I don't think."

"You're really not going to leave me for someone easier as soon as you get the chance, are you?" Sean says, glancing over at Tom out of the corner of his eye.

"What? Are you – are you serious?"

Sean shrugs. "What would you think, if you were me?"

"You can't honestly believe that, though," Tom says, chest constricting.

Sean just shrugs again. "Not really. I don't know."

"If anything you'd have a hard time getting rid of me once you get sick of having me around," Tom says. His tone falls flat of joking but Sean laughs anyway, a little relieved thing.

"There's Ryan," Sean says, and Tom peers through the gate and sees Ryan jogging across the lawn on the other side toward them. Tom's glad for the interruption; he can feel the next words on the tip of his tongue, but he can't say them, can't make Sean tell him which is more important, Tom or this place.

"Knew you'd cave in eventually!" Ryan says, punching a code in on the keypad on the other side. "Professor X is tied up in a meeting but he said to show you all the main areas and if you're still around he can give you the official introduction later. We don't get tons of visitors, there's not like an official tour or anything."

"Did you meet the Professor earlier?" Tom asks Sean as they walk up the path to the main building. Nice safe questions for while they're not alone; they can work out the scary stuff later. Or maybe it will work itself out somehow and they won't even have to go there.

"Yeah," Sean says. "He's a decent guy, seems kind of..."

Ryan laughs. "Intense?"

Sean nods. "I was going to say 'invested' but that works too."

"This place is his baby," Ryan says, holding a door open for them. "He came and invited me here personally when my mutant powers first started showing, and he teaches a bunch of classes and stuff."

"That was how you found out, right?" Sean asks.

"About being a mutant? Yeah, I hadn't actually figured it out before he explained it, I got kind of freaked out when my house burned down and this guy just shows up out of nowhere like that. Was there anything in particular you wanted to see?" he asks, turning toward Tom.

Tom doesn't know what, in particular, he wants to see, so Ryan leads them through the halls seemingly at random, pointing out highlights like the cafeteria ("It's great, you never have to cook if you don't want to") the doorway to the lab ("We've got shit tons of equipment, William will probably yell at us if we go in, though") and the vehicles hangar ("The kids aren't allowed down here but it's probably cool if I bring you in, you have to see the jet.")

Apparently Sean only saw half of this when he was in the last time, because he chimes in occasionally but mostly stares at everything with the same awe-struck expression Tom is pretty sure is on his own face.

"Pretty classy place, huh?" he leans over and whispers while Ryan's keying in a code for some door they're probably not technically supposed to be going through.

"It's insane," Sean whispers back.

Ryan gets paged on his freaky little communicator thing while they're still wandering around looking at the vehicles, and he makes his excuses regretfully. "I've got to go, it could take a while. You know how to get back to the entrance when you're done, right?"

"Yeah," Sean says. "Should we just leave now?"

"It's fine," Ryan says with a dismissive handwave. "Take your time."

They don't spend much longer in the hangar after Ryan leaves, and wander up toward what turns out to be the residential wing.

"So, um," Sean says.

Tom looks over at him and raises an eyebrow.

"When I was talking to Professor Xavier earlier, I might have mentioned that I was interested in staying. Possibly interested," Sean amends. "But, you know, just to feel things out. Nothing final."

"And?" Tom prompts. His chest feels tight again, anticipation building up, but he can't push, has to just hear Sean out.

"And he says they've got a spot open for me if I wanted to move in," Sean says. "It's right around the corner, if you wanted to see."

"Sure, yeah," Tom says, and lets Sean lead the way.

"This one," Sean says, pulling on Tom's sleeve when he's about to walk past it.

"You would have a room just like this?" Tom asks, looking around as Sean opens the door and shows him inside.

"This exact room, actually," Sean says, sounding a tiny bit embarrassed.

"Hmm," Tom says.

Sean twists his hands together and just looks at him, expectant, and Tom realizes that maybe he's not the only one who's scared of pushing too far.

"You know, I'm getting kicked out of my apartment back home," he says.

"Kicked out?" Sean repeats.

"My friend's getting married," Tom says. "Sooner or later I'll be homeless."

"That sucks," Sean says. It looks like he's trying very hard to look concerned but would rather be smiling.

"Mmm," Tom says. "Do you think they'd notice if a squatter tried to live out of his truck in their woods?"

Sean's face loses its battle against the grin that's been trying to break through. "Or we could just talk to the Professor about it."

"Or we could do that," Tom agrees. "I kind of like the idea of being a lurking outlaw though."

"So what do you think?" Sean asks, turning around in a circle to take in the whole room.

"Not too bad," Tom says, following his gaze. "Kind of dorm-room-ish, but what can you do. You'll need to change those curtains if you stay, they do terrible things to the light."

Sean laughs then, an unrestrained sound that echoes in the bare room. "Anything else I'll need to change?"

"Give me some time, I'm sure I'll be able to think of something," Tom says. "Like that bed, it's probably way too small. What's this academy's policy on overnight guests?"

Sean tackle-hugs Tom from behind, digging his nose in between Tom's shoulder blades and causing him to stagger a little.

"Motherfucker," Tom exclaims, grabbing onto Sean's arms around his waist. The bed is suddenly looking very tempting, but Tom's got something he's been wanting to try, and he feels high in this moment, full of bravado, like any stupid idea he could come up with is bound to work.

"I want to try something," he says. "Can we?"

"Can we what?" Sean lets Tom untangle his arms from around his waist and circles round to face him.

"You have to promise you won't freak out, okay, because I have a plan," Tom says.

"And this plan, is it a surprise?"

Tom takes a breath, and this is it, he can't back out now and he's sort of really glad about that. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to kiss you for," he says, all in a rush before Sean can stop him or freak out or leave the room. "And that's the plan, I'm going to kiss you and it's going to be alright and no one's going to get hurt because it will be awesome."

"You've really spent a lot of time thinking about this, haven't you?" Sean's eyes are going a little dark.

"You have no fucking idea," Tom says.

Sean's gaze drops down to Tom's mouth, then back to his eyes. "Okay," he says.


"Okay, let's hear your plan. I get veto power if it sounds too stupid," Sean adds.

Tom can't even bring himself to feel pissed off about that, because that's the thing, it's too brilliant of a plan to have any stupid parts. "Total veto power," he reassures him.

Sean just looks all turned on and fidgety and Tom figures a bunch of that is from nerves, because he certainly feels nervous, because if this works it's going to probably be the best thing ever and if it doesn't...if it doesn't it won't be a tragedy, Tom tells himself, they won't have lost anything; they'll still have all the things they already do now.

"We need to go over to the wall," Tom says, and they make it over to the wall without tripping over each other's feet too much.

"You'll tell me before you actually do it?" Sean asks.

"Yes," Tom says, emphatically. "You'll need to –" and he steps in and picks Sean up off the ground, urging him to put a leg up until he gets the idea, wrapping half his limbs around Tom while Tom holds the rest of his weight up against the wall. They're really close together, pressed tight from hips to chest, breaths mixing as they stare at each other.

"Now I'm going to just," Tom says, planting one hand firmly on the wall and the other under Sean's ass so he's holding up even more of his weight. "Now – I'm holding you up here, okay? So if anything happens you'll notice if I start to lose it, no matter how distracted we are." Tom's counting on being pretty fucking distracted, and he doesn't want Sean to have to pick up his slack on paying-attention-to-things-that-aren't-kissing front, so the fail-safes are important.

"So your plan is to drop me on my ass if it turns out you can't handle as much of this as you think you can," Sean says.

"I plan on being able to handle a whole lot," Tom says. He doesn't know when they both started talking in these hushed, reverent tones.

"Maybe you should find out," Sean breathes.

"Okay, I'm going to kiss you now," Tom says, "On the mouth. And then if that goes okay I want to do it again, and then maybe kiss you on the neck, right under your ear. And on your throat. And –"

"Please," Sean gasps, and Tom just goes for it, closing the distance between them and sealing his mouth over Sean's parted lips.

As far as kisses go it's brief, very nearly chaste, but Tom's head is spinning when he pulls away and he feels like he's probably wearing an expression at least as stupid and dazed as the one Sean's got on.

"Good?" he asks. "Can we do that again?"

Sean nods and this time they meet each other halfway, noses colliding when they both shoot for the same angle. Tom gasps into Sean's mouth; he can't help it when even something like that sends little sparks of sensation pinging across his skin. Sean nips at his lower lip experimentally and when Tom darts out his tongue to soothe the spot they both gasp.

"I think I just had an epiphany," Tom says, catching his breath.


"I think I never want to do anything that's not licking you," Tom says, and then hoists Sean a little higher so he can pay attention to his neck. Sean makes a guttural groan at the first swipe of Tom's tongue against his skin, and Tom only stops when his knees start to feel more than the regular amount of weak.

"We should take a break," he says, breathing heavily, and Sean nods, prodding at him till Tom lets him go and he can slip back to the ground.

"That was..." Sean starts, and then can't finish because they're suddenly both smiling hard enough to nearly split their faces in two, just staring at each other like words aren't enough. Tom feels like he's just run a marathon and like he could run another right now if Sean asked him.

"We did it," Sean says, at the same time as Tom says "It worked." and then Tom has to kiss Sean again right there, fast and deep, just because they can.