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He’s seen the boy around for a few weeks when he finally grows a pair and puts some money in an envelope.

It used to be a quiet, dimly lit, non-descript street like any other, tucked between an old wool factory building and some rusty industrial complex. It’s a street that Pete would drive through on his way home from the grocery store, never really taking any notice, until the boys suddenly appeared. Now there are about a dozen of them every night, beautiful boys in too little clothing waiting for a car to pull up beside them and offer them a paycheck.

He’s been watching the boy everytime he drives past. He sees him sitting on a fire hydrant or leaning against a wall, watching the cars crawling past with keen interest. He must know how beautiful he is, how tempting he looks to the nervous men driving 10 miles per hour in a 40 zone just to get a look at him. He’s thin, too thin. His collarbones jut out from loose shirts and his tight jeans show off slender thighs and a round ass. His face is pale and angular, with plump pink lips that make Pete’s mouth water.

He’s withdrawn $400. He doesn’t know if that’s too much or too little.

His heart’s thudding in his chest when he pulls up to the kerb where the boy’s slouching against a wall beside a taller, dark-haired kid. They both perk up when Pete's car comes to a halt. There’s a brief exchange between them before the taller boy approaches Pete’s car, walking with what can only be deemed a swagger. He bends over to rest his forearms on the sill of Pete’s passenger side window. “Hey handsome,” he drawls, cocking his head to the side to get a better look at him. “You look like you could use some company. I’m Mikey.”

“Uh, no thanks,” Pete says quickly, barely able to maintain eye contact with him. He motions towards the boy behind him. “Um. Him.”

“Sure thing,” Mikey says with a wink, before pulling away and calling out to the blonde kid. When he fixes his attention on Pete, he’s even more beautiful than Pete had imagined. A smile blooms on his face and he comes towards the car with a confident stride. Mikey nudges his shoulder as they cross paths and they share a playful grin.

“Hey,” the boy says flirtatiously as he leans in. He looks a bit older up close, but he could still be jailbait. “What’re you looking for?”

“Uh,” Pete says stupidly, because shit, he didn’t think he’d have to actually specify what he wanted before they were even alone. He has no idea what to ask for and he feels like an idiot for not planning ahead. “Just… whatever. Blowjob. Maybe.”

“Well,” the boy starts, seemingly deliberating. “I could suck you in your car for $30, but something tells me you’re the kind of guy who likes to take his time.”

“My apartment’s five minutes from here,” Pete offers, feeling like there’s not enough space in his throat to speak and breathe at the same time.

“Nice,” the boy says coyly. “$50, you keep your hands to yourself. $70 if you want my throat. You can fuck me, with a condom, for $80.”

Pete can’t help but think that all sounds incredibly cheap. “Can I, uh. Can I just give you a few hundred for an hour and then we take it from there? Nothing kinky or anything, just… see how we go. Is that okay?”

The boy smiles, seemingly pleased. “Absolutely. $200 and I’m yours.”

Pete nods to seal the agreement and the boy gets someone’s attention with a whistle before getting into Pete’s car. He extends a hand in greeting. “I’m Patrick.”

--

It’s a bit awkward at first.

“Make yourself at home,” Pete encourages with all the grace of a flailing suburban dinner hostess, before making a beeline for the fridge to source some Dutch courage.

He opens his beer and leans back against the counter, watching the kid— Patrick— look around his place. It’s kind of a mess, dishes in the sink and file jackets from work strewn across his coffee table and all over the floor, but he supposes the kid’s not here for the decor.

It’s been so long since he had anyone else in the apartment. It’s oddly comforting.

Patrick runs his fingers across the rows of paperbacks in the bookshelf, stopping to pull out The Perks of Being a Wallflower and A Farewell to Arms. He flips through a few pages of The Bell Jar. He crouches down beside the guitar Pete keeps in the corner by the keyboard. It’s an old, beaten-up acoustic covered in stickers of bands he’s loved over the years, but beyond its sentimental value it’s not really anything special. Patrick runs his fingers reverently over the tuning pegs, the frets, down the low E string anyway.

Pete’s nerves are thrumming. He’s already downed half his beer by the time he remembers to place two crisp $100 bills next to Patrick’s bottle. He should have taken a xanax before he even left the house. “Do you play?” he asks, just to break the silence.

“Used to,” Patrick says casually, coming around the kitchen island to pocket the bills. He inspects the bottle cap discretely before twisting it off. Making sure that Pete’s not drugging him, maybe. Jesus.

Patrick takes a long sip, before leaning back on one elbow and putting himself on display. His shirt has ridden a few inches up his belly, exposing the sharp jut of a pale hipbone. There’s a fuzzy blonde trail of hair leading from his navel into the waistband of his jeans. Pete wants to drop to his knees for him already.

“So,” Patrick says playfully, bringing Pete’s attention back to his face. He looks mischievous, his full bottom lip caught between his teeth. “What would the gentleman like?”

“Um,” Pete fumbles, completely intimidated by the intensity of Patrick’s gaze. “Can I kiss you?”

Patrick’s confidence seems to falter a little before he shakes his head.

“I’ll pay you extra,” Pete offers hopefully.

“Not for sale,” Patrick says on a note of finality. He downs the rest of his beer in one swallow, hooks his fingers into Pete’s waistband and murmurs, “Come here.”

Pete lets himself be pulled forwards until he’s flush against Patrick’s lithe, warm body. He smells like cologne and beer and boy, and Pete has to close his eyes and savor it. It’s been too long since he was this close to someone. It’s intoxicating.

Patrick pulls Pete’s T-shirt off him in one swift move. His hands move across Pete’s neck and shoulders, then down to his sides and behind his lower back, as though getting acquainted with him. He dips his head to suck on a nipple and Pete startles at the ragged breath that rushes out of his own lungs. He wants to bury his fingers in the boy’s hair, feel the strands between his fingers and press him closer. The agreement, however, was that he keep his hands to himself.

Patrick moves up his chest and neck with wet, warm, delicious kisses until he’s at Pete’s ear. His teeth nip at an earlobe and a frisson of want shoots through Pete in response. Patrick presses up against his groin, lets out a breathy moan into his ear and Pete can’t help but hide his face into the kid’s neck and take it.

They’ve barely done anything and he’s already so fucking turned on it’s embarrassing. Patrick moves easily against him, hands gentle and curious and playful. Pete’s surprised by how intuitively the kid picks up on his cues, how easily he finds the things Pete likes. Pete keeps his hands to himself and his face pressed against Patrick’s collarbones, neck, temple. They stay like that for a while, grinding up against each other, mouths wet and panting against skin, until Pete’s hard and aching and desperate for more friction.

Pete's nearly pleading when Patrick finally cups his groin with a firm hand. “This for me?” Patrick murmurs against his jaw. He gives him a tentative squeeze and Pete shudders out a harsh “Yes.”

Patrick breathes out a harmless laugh and whispers, “I’m gonna make you come so hard your neighbors complain,” in a voice that’s so gruff and sultry it nearly kills Pete.

Patrick’s nimble fingers swiftly undo his belt buckle, pull the belt aside, undo his fly. His hand snakes into Pete’s boxers and Pete has to lean against him again for support at the first touch. Patrick tilts his head and bites his shoulder, looking up at him with hungry eyes. He’s not even really doing anything, just rubbing him gently to warm him up. His fingers dip lower to squeeze his balls and Pete lets out a truly embarrassing sound.

“Fuck...” Patrick looks down at where Pete’s cock is jutting out from his body, almost painfully hard. He licks his lips lewdly. “Fuck… look at you.”

He swiftly tackles Pete backwards until his back slams against the pantry door, and before he’s even gotten his bearings, Patrick’s dropped to his knees and pulled Pete’s jeans down with him.

Patrick makes a pretty picture on his knees, spit-slick pink mouth parted and eyes dark and inviting. He holds Pete carefully in one hand to cover the shaft of his cock in wet, open-mouthed kisses. He strategically avoids the head, where precome’s already glistening at the tip. When his mouth drops to suck at his balls, the back of Pete’s head slams hard against the pantry door and he winces in pleasure/pain. He’s itching to bury his hands in his hair and redirect that wicked wet mouth to the tip of his cock and as far down as he can go, but he doesn't want to be a dick.

When he finally manages to open his eyes again, the kid’s nuzzling his balls and looking up at him with wide, curious eyes. His tongue darts out to lick a stripe under the shaft, stopping just shy of the frenulum. “Please,” Pete begs before he can stop himself. He wants to be inside his mouth so badly that every second he isn’t is utter agony. “Please,” he says again, and then too much happens at once. Patrick's tongue curls deliciously around the head and his lips suck him into wet, tight heat. A firm hand slides down his shaft and then up to twist over the spit-slick head, before the sequence starts again.

Patrick has yet to break eye contact with him and Pete feels like an asshole for thinking it, but he looks so fucking pretty with his mouth full of cock. He’s a champion cocksucker, gorgeous mouth taking him with surprising enthusiasm. Pete’s embarrassingly close embarrassingly quickly and Patrick magically knows the exact moment to slow his movements down and bring him back from the edge with soft, gentle sucks. Pete groans when he does, trying to calm himself down. When Patrick’s seemingly satisfied that Pete’s not going to blow his load, he does this exquisite rotating thing that has him moving steadily and slowly down Pete’s shaft until Pete thinks he can’t possibly go any further. Patrick proves him wrong, working against the resistance at the back of his throat and then swallowing him down until his lips are flush against Pete’s pubic hair.

He stays like that for a prolonged, intense moment, eyes not wavering from Pete’s. His hands come behind his lower back, crossing at the wrists in a beautifully submissive pose. Pete’s impressed that he’s holding still and holding his breath and not panicking about having a throat full of cock. He’s beautiful.

His eyelids flutter when he can’t take anymore, and he pulls off Pete’s cock with a wet gasp before taking him in again, throat vice tight around him. His eyes look increasingly watery as he keeps swallowing him down and coming back up. Pete doesn’t want to hurt him or fuck his face without permission, but he’s so close again that it’s taking everything in him not to.

“Gonna come,” he grits out, unsure of whether he can come in Patrick’s mouth or not. Patrick pulls off immediately, not touching Pete anywhere, and the sudden lack of stimulation kills. Patrick’s chin is slick with thick spit and he wipes politely at his mouth with a coy smirk. He waits until Pete’s breathing has settled back down before he leans in to suck him again. “Wait,” Pete interrupts, and Patrick pulls off him immediately. “I need to sit down or I’m gonna pass out.”

Patrick laughs at him, a sweet little giggle that wrinkles the skin around his eyes. He helps Pete step out of his jeans and takes him to the couch. He lets him get comfortable and kneels between his spread legs, bending down to lick and suck at his balls again. His hands squeeze the insides Pete’s thighs as he holds himself up. It hurts a little, in the very best way. He nuzzles the tattoo on Pete's stomach, nips at the sensitive skin where stomach meets hip and bites gently at the inside of his thigh.

It is utter, complete, unadulterated fucking torture.

It’s harder for him to maintain eye contact from this angle, but he tilts his head to the side and looks at Pete while he sucks the head of his cock back into his mouth. Pete wants to touch his cheek, to feel where his dick is straining against the inside of it. Wants to gently stroke the back of his neck and hold his bangs out of his eyes and stroke his face as he bobs up and down on him.

More than anything, he wants to cup his face and claim his swollen, spit-slick, talented mouth in a bruising kiss.

“Fuck,” Pete breathes, mesmerized. It’s hard to tell with his mouth full of cock, but it looks like the boy smiles at him. “You’re so fucking beautiful.”

Patrick sucks him down again and Pete’s head lolls back against the couch. He feels exhausted and wrung-out and so turned on his pelvis is throbbing, but it’s so fucking good he almost doesn’t want it to end.

“You said no hands, but can I...” Pete’s hand hovers by his ear. “I won’t pull, I just want to...”

Patrick pulls off him enough to murmur “It’s fine,” before nuzzling his balls again. “Tell me when you’re close.”

Pete gently gets his fingers in and strokes the back of his head while Patrick swallows him down again. It’s so good, one of Patrick’s hand squeezing the inside of his thigh and the other massaging his balls.

It builds again for the longest time, Patrick’s calculated movements bringing him closer and closer until he can barely hold on. He realizes almost belatedly that, shit, “I’m gonna—”

Patrick pulls off of him immediately and squeezes the base of his cock to pull him back from the brink. He presses a sweet, delicate kiss to the hypersensitive head of Pete’s cock, before bending his head again to lick at his balls. Pete drops his head back against the couch to stare at the ceiling and wonder what crimes he committed in a past life to deserve such cruel and inhumane punishment.

After a few steadying breaths, he looks back down into Patrick’s eyes. They look a little hazy, a little unfocused, a little bit like Pete feels. The hand at the back of Patrick’s neck comes around to cup his jaw, thumb sweeping gently across his flushed cheek. Patrick’s eyelids flutter shut as he leans into the touch and he wantonly sucks Pete’s thumb into his mouth to lick and suck and bite it. He presses wet, open-mouthed kisses into his palm, before ducking his head back down to swallow Pete’s cock. This time he doesn’t play around, doesn’t take his time, just sucks him hard and fast, one hand jerking him in time with his mouth and the other gently rolling his balls. It's fucking exquisite.

“Patrick,” Pete says warningly, but Patrick moans and just sucks harder, one thumb slipping under Pete’s balls and against his— ohjesusfuck.

Pete’s orgasm rips through him with a blinding force and deafening noise. He feels dizzy, disoriented, overwhelmed. He doesn't think he's ever come like this in his entire life.

When he can open his eyes again, it’s to lock them with the boy still kneeling between his legs. He’s breathing hard, his slender chest rising and falling with it. He licks his reddened, swollen lips and Pete knows he can still taste Pete. He’s so fucking heartbreakingly beautiful that Pete can’t help himself anymore. He sits up in one swift move, takes Patrick’s face in his hands and forces it against his own, desperate to kiss him breathless, to whisper encouragement against his mouth and swallow his screams when he comes from Pete’s hands on him.

But Patrick twists away at the last second, making a startled whimper and pressing both forearms solidly against Pete’s chest to keep him at a distance. “Stop,” he says weakly, face bowed behind his crossed forearms.

“Sorry,” Pete whispers immediately, letting go of him and holding his hands up to show he won’t touch him again. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“It’s fine,” Patrick says, but his voice sounds brittle and unconvincing. He gets off the floor and he’s already turned on the faucet by the time Pete realizes what he’s just done, the consent he's just violated. Guilt and anxiety and horrification swell in his chest, settling tightly around his lungs.

Patrick hands him a glass of water and says, softly, “Hour’s up.”

Right. Patrick’s a hooker. Pete’s a paying customer.

“I’ll drive you back,” he offers, reaching for his pants.

“Thank you.”

--

The second time, Pete’s left work early to make sure he gets him before anyone else. He finds him sitting on a wooden crate with a kid who’s holding a cigarette between inked knuckles. Patrick laughs beautifully, head thrown back, while his friend makes elaborate hand gestures to accompany what looks like a good story.

Pete pulls up to the kerb across the street, but they seem too preoccupied with their conversation to notice. Another kid — Mikey, Pete remembers from last time — hops out of a passing Hyundai. The car disappears and he gives the tattooed boy a lingering kiss on the forehead before sitting down on the ground beside them.

The sun hasn’t set yet. They just look like three kids hanging out after school, nothing like the sultry rentboys Pete’s seen them become after dark. They're wearing parkas and beanies, not the flimsy shirts he usually sees them in. Pete wonders hysterically if they keep opening hours, and if he’s here too early. He’s about to leave altogether when Mikey swats Patrick’s arm and motions towards Pete’s car.

There’s a slight hesitation in Patrick’s steps when he comes towards him, a caution that wasn’t there last time.

“Me?” he asks when he reaches Pete’s window. His hands are shoved deep into the pockets of his parka. Pete nods. “Same as last time?”

“Stay the night,” Pete asks, almost confidently. He had half a xanax before he left the house. He's thought about what he wants. He’s planned ahead.

The confused look on Patrick’s face makes Pete wonder if he’s never had to quote a price for an all-night session before, like he’s just making it up on the spot. “$600,” he says tentatively, as though Pete might scoff at whatever price he nominates. "No scat, no blood or breath play, no tying me down and no photos or video."

No kissing hangs unspoken in the air between them and Pete feels guilty all over again.

"Nothing you're not comfortable with," Pete promises. He can't help but think that those aren't a lot of limits.

“Company car?” Patrick asks conversationally on the way to the apartment. Pete frowns at him, surprised. Patrick's looking at the road still. “Safe, responsible, fuel efficient,” Patrick says by way of explanation. “Leather interior and tinted windows. European. Expensive without being flashy. I’d say you work in finance.”

“Investment banking,” Pete says, impressed. “You know cars?”

“Nah, I know men in cars,” he says offhandedly, drumming his fingers on the window sill and looking out of the window. “Just doesn’t feel like something you would’ve bought for yourself.”

Silence falls again as Pete wonders idly how many cars Patrick’s been inside of. He can't bring himself to wonder about how many men have been inside him.

--

They make it to the bedroom this time. As soon as they’re through the door and Pete’s thrown his keys in the vague direction of the bowl he keeps them in, Patrick shoves him up against a wall and pulls playfully at his tie until Pete’s ear is inches from his mouth. “What do you want?” he whispers, biting gently on his earlobe.

“I want to fuck you,” Pete says without hesitation, like he’s prepared an answer in advance. Which he has. Mostly one-handed preparation. He’s thought about how he wants to tease him until he’s shaking with need, prepare him with careful fingers and suck him slowly while he does it. How he wants to make him so desperate for Pete’s cock that he begs for it.

“How do you want to fuck me?” he asks, getting his mouth on Pete’s neck. His fingers rapidly undo Pete’s tie and the buttons of his dress shirt and then it’s coming carelessly off his shoulders. “Tell me what you want.”

“Face down on all fours,” Pete says, sucking in a breath. He can’t wait to watch the shudder that goes through his body when he pushes into him for the first time, the way Patrick's ass swallows up his cock and his hands grasp the sheets for leverage. He wants to bend down over him, wrap an arm underneath his chest and pull him roughly back onto his own cock. He wants sweat and come and noise until they’re both exhausted, sated and asleep.

“Dirty,” Patrick growls appreciatively, ridding himself of outerwear, sweater and T-shirt. He wraps his arms around Pete’s neck until their torsos are warm and flush against each other. Pete gets a hand on his side, fleetingly surprised at how bony his ribs feel before Patrick’s hands are on his fly and he can’t focus on anything but that. They stumble towards the bedroom and there’s an awkward scramble to get out of socks and jeans and underwear until Patrick’s on his back under Pete.

Patrick spreads his legs easily for him, wide and inviting and unashamed. His shoulders come off the bed as he strokes Pete with two hands, jerking him slowly while he fondles his balls and taint. His plump bottom lip is caught between his teeth. He’s already flushed, already panting a little. Gorgeous.

Pete gets a hand between Patrick’s legs, stroking his slender, smooth, cut cock until he’s fully hard. It doesn't take much. He’s trimmed short and Pete wants to get his nose in those curls and smell the sweat and sex on him. He’s about to bend down to take him into his mouth, when Patrick manhandles him onto his back and swallows his cock down instead. It’s fucking good, fast and hard like they’re both desperate for it. Patrick moans around his cock as he sucks him, all urgency and vibrations and all too much too quickly. All too soon Pete has to push him off.

“There won’t be much fucking if you keep doing that,” he warns, pulling Patrick up to straddle him. He’s relieved when he reaches down to feel that Patrick’s still mostly hard, that he’s actually into this. He gets an arm around his lower back and Patrick falls forward, bracing himself on the mattress next to Pete’s head. He makes a gorgeous face and sucks in hitching breaths in time with Pete’s strokes. “Good?” Pete asks, because he hopes it is, needs it to be.

“Yeah,” Patrick breathes, rocking gently into the loose fist curled around his cock and biting Pete’s neck. “Yeah, really good.”

Pete sucks two fingers into his mouth and reaches around to start opening him up, then startles when his fingers graze plastic instead of skin. “Is that...”

“Yeah,” Patrick says with a wince, sitting up again to pull a black plug from his ass. He gets off Pete to leave it by his jeans. He comes back with two condoms and a travel-sized bottle of lube. “I use my own stuff,” he says shortly. “Non-negotiable.”

It’s a sobering reminder of what this is. Patrick’s a hooker. Pete’s a paying client.

Patrick hands him a condom and gets on all fours, face down as instructed. Pete has to take a moment to just look at him, at his round pale ass and slender, spread thighs. He’s smooth shaven back there and Pete wants to feel that soft skin under his tongue, to lick him until he begs for more. His hole is slick and stretched; he could probably take Pete right now with barely any pain. There are bruises across his hips and ass where others have been careless with him, two pairs of hands at least, judging by the different shades of discoloration.

“C’mon,” he mutters gruffly, glancing behind himself with demanding eyes. “Give me your cock. Fill me up. Fuck me.”

He’s asking for it, like Pete wanted, but... it feels too soon, not the way Pete wants it. He’s not ready for this to be over yet. He doesn't just want him open, he wants him willing.

Pete rolls him onto his back and Patrick frowns. "I thought—"

That’s all he manages to say before his voice breaks off in a breathy, startled whimper. Pete sucks and licks and slurps on his dick, pressing a hand down on his belly as he arches carelessly off the bed and into Pete's mouth. "Fuck, yeah, oh god— your mouth—"

Pete sinks a finger into him and nudges his prostate. Patrick mewls, grinding down and then bucking up into his mouth. One hand comes to the back of Pete's head and his fingers tighten almost painfully in his hair. "Fuck yes, like that."

He’s loose, and he could take more fingers if he wants them, but Pete doesn’t want to make assumptions. He’s been slick enough to take the plug, but not enough to take an actual fucking, so Pete pulls back to lube up his fingers. "How many do you want?"

"As many as you want to give me," Patrick says, looking at the ceiling while his chest heaves with harsh breaths. It’s an infuriating answer. Pete wants to hear what it’ll take to make him feel good, not the lines he gives the people who pay for him.

"How many?" Pete repeats impatiently, massaging the rim of his hole with two fingers. He presses down to hold him open and Patrick groans deep in his chest. "Tell me."

Patrick bites his lip as he brings his legs up to give Pete better access. "Three."

Pete gives him what he wants and Patrick's eyes close again as Pete works his prostate with three fingers. He's stopped writhing, letting Pete finger him without the urgency of his earlier movements. Like he's regained the control that faltered when Pete first flipped him over to suck and finger him.

Pete smooths a hand up his belly to his bony chest. "Hey," he says softly and Patrick looks down at him with an unreadable, serious expression. It feels like something's shifted, like his earlier bravado has been replaced with something else. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah," Patrick breathes, swallowing thickly. "Yeah, it's good. Really good."

"You can move," Pete says. "You can touch me. I want you to."

He brings Patrick’s hand back to his own hair and sucks him back into his mouth. He tastes delicious. It takes a few moments before Patrick's fingers tangle in his hair and his hips start moving again. He lets out a heavy sigh as he settles back into the rhythm of their bodies moving together.

"Fuck," he mutters once he gets into it again, pulling gently at Pete's hair as he pushes himself deep into Pete's mouth. "You're so fucking good at that." He's beautifully responsive, moving in perfect time to Pete's mouth and fingers. He rides his hand smoothly, back arching in a beautiful bow as he grinds down.

He's just started making these needy, high-pitched, breathy almost-there sounds, coupled with a litany of "yes, fuck, I need, God, that's, more, fuck, faster, there, fuck," when Pete pulls off him and pulls his fingers out.

Patrick looks down at him again, eyes dark with lust. He reaches blindly for lube and condoms, hand flailing at his side as he holds Pete's gaze. “Dick. Now. Please.”

Pete rolls him onto his stomach and he goes willingly, spreading his legs as wide as they’ll go and bracing himself with one hand on the headboard. Pete takes a moment to savor the sight, before sheathing and slicking himself up. Patrick watches him do it over his own shoulder. When Pete finally pushes in, Patrick drops his face into the pillows and pushes back against Pete to get him deeper.

“Fuck,” he moans breathily, almost too softly for Pete to hear. “Finally.”

Pete wants to take his time, to ease Patrick into it, but he’s been hard for ages and he needs to move. He gives him a few moments to get his bearings, looking down at where he’s buried balls deep in Patrick’s ass. Pete smooths one hand up his back and wraps it around the dip between his neck and right shoulder. He pulls Patrick experimentally back onto his cock and Patrick makes a guttural, delicious sound deep in his chest.

"Like that," he says. "Just like that. Hard."

It's been so long since Pete's had this, a warm, wanting body yielding under his own. He didn't know he'd been starving for it until now.

Patrick reaches behind himself to get a hand on the back of Pete’s thigh. He pulls him back against himself, urging him to move. “C’mon,” he demands. “Give it to me. I can take it.”

His voice is shredded, hoarse and needy like he’s barely hanging on. Pete loves that he's made him sound like that. He leans over him, pressing his front against Patrick's back and bracing a hand beside Patrick’s bowed head. He moves again, feeling the tension that ripples through Patrick’s torso as he does.

“Yeah,” Patrick breathes, snapping his hips back to fuck himself on Pete’s cock. “Yeah, like that. C’mon.”

For all he's wanted to draw out the preamble, now that he's inside him he just wants to fuck him senseless and come deep inside him. Patrick seems similarly inclined, taking everything he gives him and still begging for more.

Pete's barely hanging on, almost dizzy with lust and exertion and pleasure, when he reaches around to find Patrick’s cock hard and leaking and still untouched. It jumps in his hand and his ass shifts and clenches hard around Pete’s cock. Pete slides his thumb over the head and it comes away slick with precome. Patrick’s breath hitches beautifully. “Are you close?” he asks.

“Don't worry about me. You don’t have to,” Patrick chokes out, shuddering all over from Pete's touch. He’s wound impossibly tight under Pete. “It’s okay.”

“I want to,” Pete says, stilling his hips. “I mean, if— only if you want to. I won’t make you.”

“I fucking want to,” Patrick says on a ragged exhale. He replaces Pete's hand on his cock with his own, jerking himself quickly. He bucks wantonly back against Pete’s cock, urging him to move. “Make me come. Fuck me so hard I can’t sit down for days. Please.”

Jesus.

Pete doesn't last long once he gets going. When he finally comes, it's deep and hard and overwhelming. He collapses forwards, barely able to hold himself upright as the last shudders wrack his body.

He registers with a start that Patrick's still jerking himself off under him, fucking himself on Pete’s softening cock and whining a little in frustration. Pete pulls out and deals with the condom before lying down beside him so they're spooning. He sneaks an arm under Patrick's neck and around his chest, holding him tight and close as he sinks three fingers into him.

Patrick breathes a sigh of relief and bucks back against him, hissing, "Almost— fuck— keep— oh my god—" before he shudders hard against Pete's body, nearly breaking Pete's fingers with the force of it. His torso jerks and shakes and shudders in Pete's arms. The moans he makes sound almost pained, like whatever he's released has been building for a while. Pete keeps his fingers still and feels the rhythmic contractions of his asshole as he comes back down. He stays still longer than that, feeling the thrum of Patrick's pulse around his fingers. His heartbeat.

He folds his arm over Patrick's chest after that, crossing it over his other forearm so he's got Patrick in a solid tight embrace. He presses a blissful smile against his neck, reveling in how bonelessly Patrick melts against him. Patrick makes a small, muted sound and covers Pete's arms on his chest with his own, intertwining their slippery hands. Pete’s fingers are slick with lube, Patrick’s with his own come. It should feel dirty, but it just feels good.

It's been so long since Pete just lay down with someone like this. Too long.

Pete’s still regaining his breath when Patrick untangles them and disappears into the bathroom. There's water running for a while and Pete starts dozing off. When the bed dips again and Patrick pulls the covers over them, Pete waits for him to settle back into his arms.

He doesn't; instead he wipes Pete’s hands clean with a warm hand towel and then snuggles up to the pillow Pete isn’t using. The distance between them feels unsettling after the way their bodies just came together. Pete wants to pull him close, feel his heated, sticky skin against his own, nuzzle him slow and lazy and fall asleep wrapped around him.

But that isn’t what this is. He’s sure Patrick would let him if he asked for it, but he can’t bring himself to ask. Paying for sex is one thing; paying for intimacy feels like another altogether.

--

Pete wakes with a start, sitting up abruptly. He's alone; the only clothes on the floor are his own. There's a torn condom wrapper and a tube of lube beside his nightly 125mg, 400mg and 75mg. He’s just swallowing his third pill when he registers faint music coming from somewhere outside his room.

He walks out into the dark apartment. Patrick’s sitting on the dimly lit balcony with his beaten up guitar, singing a melody Pete knows but can’t place. Pete watches the heavy rhythm moving his body, his bare foot tapping to the beat.

He makes two cups of tea as quietly as he can, listening to Patrick playing. He's just repeating the same picking pattern over and over again in a slow drugging rhythm, his voice surprisingly deep and soulful over the guitar. He can’t place the song, but it makes him think of summer sunsets and stifling heat and loss.

Patrick stops immediately when the French doors slide open, looking like he’s been caught doing something wrong. “I’m sorry, I—”

“It’s okay,” Pete says softly, putting two mugs of peppermint tea down on the low table between them. He takes a seat in the armchair, pulling his knees up close against his chest. It's a little cold. “I thought you'd left.”

"I do believe the gentleman asked me to stay," Patrick says with a smile. It's sometime between dusk and dawn and they're both whispering like they might disturb someone. "I couldn't sleep."

Pete wonders if it's a matter of "couldn't" or "wouldn't," but he doesn't want to ask. Doesn't want to know. Wants to maintain the illusion that the boy is here because he wants to be, however pathetic that is. He’s wearing one of Pete’s fuzzy old Sunday morning cardigans, one he’d slung over the footboard of the bed a few nights ago. Pete thinks Patrick catches him looking at it, but neither of them say anything.

"You have a really nice voice," Pete says.

"Oh. Thanks." Patrick twists the tuning pegs and plucks experimentally at the strings, brow furrowed. The guitar's not out of tune; he must be fidgeting. He gives Pete an inviting look from beneath pale lashes. "Is there anything you want to... do?"

Patrick's a hooker. Pete's a paying customer.

"No," Pete says immediately, strangely uncomfortable. "Maybe you can play me something though."

"Uh," Patrick fumbles, flushing. He takes the capo off before putting it back on at the exact same spot. "I'm not very good or—"

"I liked what you were playing earlier."

"This?" Patrick picks the opening part with nimble fingers and Pete finally places it.

You know what the sun's all about when the lights go out.

"Yeah, that."

Pete cups his tea just to have somewhere to put his hands. He watches Patrick fumble some of his picking, brow furrowed in concentration. He looks uncharacteristically bashful, like he's out of practice or nervous or like he's not used to letting people see this.

Pete holds his scalding hot cup, watching Patrick sing the blues like he means them.

--

Hours later, they’re on the floor of Pete’s study with a bottle of Glenfiddich, spinning his father’s old vinyl records on a musty old turntable. Patrick’s been voraciously going through Pete’s collection, barely letting one song finish before he’s found something else he’d rather listen to. They’ve gone through an unexpected assortment of rock, folk, funk and some of the weirder experimental psychedelic stuff Pete’s dad most likely picked out of a record store whilst tripping on acid in the 60’s.

Patrick hums along and rambles about soundscapes and keeps holding records up to say, “This? I can’t believe you have this. This is so good.”

Pete sits back against the wall and watches him, captivated. He’s really good company.

Patrick falls eerily quiet when he comes across Jeff Buckley’s Grace, sitting back on his heels with a pained look on his face. He runs a finger slowly over the title of “Lover, You Should've Come Over” printed on the back of the sleeve. It seems like he stops breathing.

Pete gets an unbidden reminder of a Best Buy parking lot growing dimmer to a chorus of hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah and a last-minute slurred phone call before everything went dark.

“We can play it if you want,” Pete offers gently, but Patrick shakes his head immediately, startled, like he’s been caught doing something he shouldn't be. He tucks it back into the shelf and puts on another record with clumsy hands.

A few records after that, they’re both slouched against the wall with two near-empty glasses of whiskey beside them. Pete feels pleasantly tipsy; Patrick's cheeks are flushed with it. Penny and the Quarters croon “You and Me” and Patrick’s head lolls lazily to the side with a sweet, contented, sleepy smile. Something about it seems so earnest, so carefree and stripped of pretense. Like it’s just for Pete.

Pete reaches for his hand and Patrick lets him take it. Mere seconds pass before Patrick climbs into Pete’s lap and rests his heavy head on his shoulder. Pete runs his hand gently under Patrick’s T-shirt, tracing the knobs of his spine and bringing his shoulder to his lips for a kiss. He smells like sweat and whiskey and fucking.

“Shower,” Pete murmurs and Patrick mumbles a sleepy “sure” into his neck. They disentangle awkwardly, limbs stiff from spending the last few hours on the floor. Pete puts the records away and hears the water start in the bathroom.

Pete finds Patrick naked under the stream of hot water, head tilted back and eyes closed peacefully. He notes, with amused interest, that Patrick’s placed a tube of lube and two condoms on the bathroom counter. Pete’s probably too tired to get it up, but it’s a nice thought either way, Patrick offering him something he hasn’t asked for.

“You’re hogging the water,” Pete grumbles, but Patrick just pulls him into his arms and shares the stream. It’s hotter than Pete usually likes, but Patrick’s flush against him so he can’t complain. Patrick pumps a few dollops of shampoo into his hand and gently lathers Pete’s hair up with gentle, soothing fingers. Pete sighs happily, letting himself be cared for.

He tries to return the favor afterwards, a logistically difficult feat when it conflicts with Patrick’s concurrent attempts to soap him up. There are giggles and biting kisses to Pete’s throat and unhelpful, distracting, clever hands. They end up having to flush shampoo out Patrick’s eye, Pete holding his lids apart while he leans into the spray. His eye is red and sore when he blinks afterwards and it’s just not sexy.

Pete somehow ends up on his knees anyway, fucking Patrick with three lubed fingers while he sucks him off. Patrick’s hands are gentle in Pete's hair, encouraging but undemanding. He tells Pete how good his mouth is, how strong his fingers are, how hot he looks on his knees, how hard he’s going to make him come. Pete listens to him talk, idly jerking himself off and drawing it out, making it as good as he can for him.

“Shit,” Patrick mutters harshly when Pete suspects he’s close to coming, pushing weakly at Pete’s face. “Do you want to fuck me?”

“You sure? We can just—”

Patrick maneuvers past him and grabs a condom from the bathroom counter. He hands it over and turns his back to Pete, arching his ass up. He holds himself open with one hand and whispers, “Please.”

Pete barely has the fine motor skills and presence of mind required to roll the condom on. He brings his cock to Patrick’s entrance and Patrick’s hand immediately leads him inside. It’s an easy slide, warm and accommodating and perfect for the dopey, slow fucking Pete wants. The breathy groan Patrick lets out when Pete’s balls deep makes Pete’s stomach clench.

“Yeah,” Patrick gasps quietly, grinding back against him. “Yeah, fuck, that’s good.”

“Jerk yourself off,” Pete whispers into his ear and he watches a satisfied smile spread on Patrick’s lips when he does. Patrick’s other hand is braced on the shower wall, white-knuckled and tense. Pete presses his face into the side of Patrick’s and they move slowly against each other. Pete’s inclined to take his time, but if he thought Patrick was close to coming from Pete’s mouth and fingers earlier, now that he’s hot and tight around Pete’s cock it feels like he’s teetering on the brink of it.

"You feel so good inside me," Patrick mutters, sounding drunk with it. Pete hears the rapid wet slide of Patrick's hand fisting his own cock. Patrick’s moans go quickly from breathy and encouraging to breathless and overcome. "So big."

"You gonna come for me?" Pete whispers smugly into his ear, surprised at how easily the porny dialogue spills out of him. Somehow it doesn't feel cheesy, just earnest and intimate and encouraging. "You gonna come on my cock?"

"So hard," Patrick promises, and Pete pulls out enough that he hits Patrick’s prostate with shallow, sharp thrusts. "Yeah, fuck, right—"

When Patrick finally lets go, he slams his free hand hard against the glass and bucks back against him with a strangled moan. Pete’s so close to him he can feel every tremor of his orgasm and the relief that melts his body against his own when he comes. He fucks him deep and hard after that, crushing him against the glass, needing desperately to get off.

He’s almost there when he registers the tension that’s coiled between Patrick’s shoulder blades, his bowed head and the strangled whine he exhales on each thrust. His ass has clenched deliciously tight around his cock, but something’s off. Pete stops moving, searching his face. “Too sensitive?”

“It’s fine,” Patrick grits out, brow furrowed deeply. The hand holding him up against the wall of the shower has curled into a fist. “Keep going, it’s okay.”

Pete doesn’t want to hurt him and he wants to snap at Patrick for not speaking up, but he’s so close he can’t spare any energy on anything but pulling out, stripping the condom off and jerking himself until he comes hard with his face pressed between Patrick’s shoulder blades. He watches his own come drip obscenely down the round globes of Patrick’s ass. He wants to get on his knees to lick him clean, to spread his cheeks and eat him out until his knees buckle.

But it’s ass a.m. and he’s too tired and hot and fucked-out to do anything but rinse off and get to bed. Patrick curls up on the left side again and they pass out almost instantly. Pete’s mostly dozed off when he feels the arch of Patrick’s foot nestle warmly against the arch of his own.

--

Patrick barely looks him in the eye the next morning. He fixes them each a cup of coffee and makes Pete a sandwich for breakfast, then two to bring to work. He doesn't make anything for himself. He throws a few fridge items that are clearly past their use-by date into the garbage. He loads the dishwasher.

Patrick watches him putter around the kitchen while he eats his breakfast. Once he’s gathered his suit jacket, keys and satchel bag, he asks, “Where do you want me to drop you off?”

“Anywhere,” Patrick says, shrugging on his parka. He pulls a beanie out of the side pocket and pulls it over his shaggy hair. They went to bed with wet hair and it’s dried in messy tangles.

“Anywhere is fine.”

Pete cocks his head until Patrick meets his eyes. “Where do you live?” he asks gently.

“Just drop me off where you picked me up,” Patrick says evasively, averting his eyes again to check the time on his phone. “Or anywhere that’s on your way to work.”

“I can drop you off at your place,” Pete insists. “I don’t mind.”

“No thanks,” Patrick says, and that’s that.

--

When Pete pulls up to the street later that week, Patrick’s nowhere to be seen. He pulls up beside the tattooed boy he’s seen with him and asks if he knows where he is.

The kid arches an eyebrow, looking surprised. “He’s just out on a job,” he says. “I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

Oh. Oh. Pete takes a moment to appreciate the implications of that, of Patrick being somewhere else with someone else. He can’t help but imagine what he’s doing. If he’s letting someone fuck his throat for $70 or giving someone a quick blowjob in a parked car for $30. If some gross 60 year old man with two kids and a wife and a holiday house in Tampa is rutting into him in a dirty backseat for $80. If whoever he's with is being kind to him.

The boy watches him curiously for a while. “I could take care of you, if you’d like.” He runs his eyes down Pete’s torso and licks his lips lewdly when they reach his groin. “Body like that… I wouldn’t charge you much.”

“No thank you,” he says, embarrassed at the attention. “I’ll wait.”

He parks a bit further down the street and waits for Patrick to get back. He can see the traffic on the street from here, see the way the boys present themselves, bodies displayed like luxury goods whenever a car comes past. They pass mints and cigarettes between each other and snap discreet photos of each vehicle someone gets into.

It’s not a long wait until Patrick comes out of a beaten-up blue Dodge. The car drives past his own and Pete can’t help but look, can’t help but know who’s just had him. He swallows thickly once the car’s gone. The two men in the car were red-faced, middle-aged and grinning. He imagines Patrick lithe, young body crushed under the weight of their big, imposing ones. He wonders what two old men would want from a teenage boy. It makes his stomach churn.

“Fancy running into you here,” Patrick says cheerfully, startling him when he leans into his side window. He looks like he might be genuinely happy to see him. “Hope you haven’t been waiting long?”

Patrick says it like he’s a fucking hairdresser that’s kept Pete waiting for a buzz cut, but Pete feels sad and disgusted and surprisingly angry. “What did you just do with them?” he demands.

Patrick frowns. “What they paid me to do,” he says with a barely contained note of irritation.

Pete doesn’t know what would be worse— knowing what those guys just paid Patrick for, or letting his own imagination fill in the blanks. “And what did they pay you to do?” he asks, hoping he’s chosen the least revolting option.

“That’s not really any of your concern,” Patrick says tightly.

Headlights come past and Pete can see a red mouth-shaped bruise blooming on Patrick’s throat. “It makes me sick, the thought of those old guys touching you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Patrick says coolly, professionally, before standing back up. He gives the roof of his car a few parting taps. “Have a good night, Pete.”

Patrick walks away and Pete doesn’t stop him.

--

It takes less than a week before Pete’s turning down the street again. Patrick's already leaning against a fire hydrant, making himself available to the potential clientele driving past. His too-big shirt hangs deliciously off one of his shoulders, exposing bone and flesh that Pete wants to bury his face against. He's holding a parka in his hands. Pete wishes he would wear it instead, but he assumes it would bring down the market value of Patrick's body. He stares at Pete for a long moment when the car comes to a halt beside him. Pete forces a smile that he hopes looks like an apology.

They have a mostly quiet, mostly awkward dinner before they find their feet again. Pete grumbles about his shitty day at work to fill the dead air. Patrick chews quietly on his asparagus, listening without comment. Pete filled his plate with meat and vegetables before they sat down, but Patrick’s barely eaten a thing. Pete asks him about his own day and he hesitates for a moment before he says anything, possibly weighing up how much of himself to put into a professional interaction. Pete hates that hesitation.

He surprises Pete by telling him about his day volunteering at a rehabilitation center for low-income substance users and their families. It’s not what he expected to hear, and they have a stilted conversation about the public health system’s failure to address addiction and mental health issues in disadvantaged communities. The tremor in his voice suggests a personal experience, but Pete can't tell if it's his own or someone else's.

He thinks about the three prescription slips tucked neatly into a drawer in the bathroom, the week he spent in a private hospital last year after too much sadness and too many pills. The health insurance that footed the bill and the workplace that gave him a month off with no questions asked. He wonders how different their experiences have been.

Once they’ve stacked the dirty dishes by the sink, Patrick flirtatiously murmurs, “Let’s go fix up your shitty day,” and takes him to bed. He gives him a long, slow, exquisite massage that leaves Pete loose-limbed and hard and aching for more. Patrick still hasn’t taken his own boxers off, but he’s been half-hard since they started and there’s a wet spot on the front of his shorts that Pete can’t wait to taste. He wants Patrick’s oily fingers on him again, in him, around his throat while Patrick sinks his cock into him and fucks him into the mattress. Whatever awkwardness the night started with has vanished completely. Patrick’s all smiles and playful bites and Pete can’t get enough of him.

Patrick’s fingers are still slick with oil when he straddles Pete and pins Pete's wrists down over his head. His grip is loose, tentative, testing Pete's boundaries. Pete knows he could easily get free, but he likes this, likes being underneath Patrick and at his mercy.

“What do you want?” Patrick asks teasingly, leaning down to suck at a pebbled nipple. He shifts his hips a little, grinding his ass down onto Pete's groin. His boxers feel rough against Pete's skin; he needs them off as a matter of priority. “How do you want me?”

Pete squirms away from Patrick's mouth and strains a little against his hands. Patrick pushes down a bit harder in response. His eyes are intense, alert, gauging Pete’s reactions. Making sure he doesn't push Pete past his comfort zone.

“C’mon,” Patrick coos, running his free hand gently over Pete’s jaw. Pete leans into it and Patrick’s palm ghosts over his throat with no real pressure. Fuck, he wants more of that. “Do you want to me to ride you?”

Pete has a perverse desire to submit for him, to hand over control to this boy he barely knows but strangely trusts.

“You’ve gotta tell me what you want, or you won’t get it,” Patrick sing-songs with a coy tilt of his head, the picture of innocence.

“I want your dick,” Pete says gruffly, surprised at how shredded his voice sounds and surprised that he wants this from him, that he doesn't feel any shame about it. “I want you to fuck me."

Patrick stills a little, arching an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Pete says, looking down between them to where Patrick’s tenting his shorts, his cock inarguably interested in the proceedings. “That’s what I want.”

Patrick leans down to brush his lips against Pete's jaw, so close to his mouth it makes Pete's stomach clench in desperate anticipation. His grip on Pete's wrists is so tight that Pete can feel his own pulse pounding in his hands.

"What a coincidence," Patrick murmurs, his mouth hovering over Pete's. "That's exactly what I want, too."

There's a sudden rush of movement until Patrick's settled between Pete's legs, holding his thighs open with his own. His eyes are intent on Pete’s when he spits on his fingers and reaches down between his legs with his free hand. Pete tenses up all over, bracing himself for something that's always made him feel spectacularly vulnerable. Patrick watches his face closely and smirks when the touch makes him shudder and clench and moan.

“Fuck,” he says, looking down between Pete's legs with an awed expression. “You have no idea how much I want to fuck you.”

Patrick's just reaching for the lube when his cell phone rings from the floor. He gets up so fast that Pete startles and has the phone to his ear in seconds. “What’s wrong?”

There are a few moments of silence, before he starts hastily pulling on his clothes. He pockets the lube he left on Pete’s nightstand and refunds him $400 of the $600 Pete paid him earlier.

“Fucking hell. Did they...” Patrick makes a truly unsettling face, something furious and violent crossing his features. “I hope they fucking catch it off him.”

Pete sits up, feeling a sick anxiety wash over him. Whatever’s happened, it’s serious.

“I’ll be right there. I’m probably… I don’t know, 30 minutes away, less if I can hail a cab. I have $270 on me. See you then.” He hangs up and hastily says, “I’ve gotta go, a friend of mine’s in trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“The kind of trouble hookers get into,” Patrick says morosely and Pete doesn’t know, or want to know, what that means. He quickly pulls some clothes on and gets his car keys. He doesn’t know if they’re going to the police station, the hospital or into a fucking gang fight, but he wants to get Patrick there as soon as possible and he doesn’t want him to go alone.

Patrick opens his mouth to argue when he hears the keys, before giving him a small, grateful nod. Perhaps the concern for his friend has outweighed his pride.

--

It’s a small 24/7 walk-in clinic with a waiting room full of bodies. A young girl paces anxiously back and forth across the room, head snapping up whenever a door opens. A man beside Pete has been muttering and scratching himself compulsively, his nails dark with dried blood. A baby with fuzzy black curls screams on and off in a pregnant woman’s arms while she sings a nursery rhyme in a language Pete doesn’t understand.

It’s a far cry from the peaceful, heated, tastefully decorated clinic he attends for his own medical care. He waits by the wall near the reception desk, watching a children’s show on a muted TV with a few dead pixels. He’s pretty sure Patrick won’t want to see him here when he eventually resurfaces, but he wants to be here if there’s any chance that he does.

Patrick’s friend with the tattoos leaves the room about ten minutes after Patrick’s entered it. He leans onto the reception counter and hands a number of crumpled bills to a kind-faced woman in salmon scrubs. “It’s all we’ve got for now, we’ll get you the rest tomorrow.”

“Frankie,” the nurse coos, counting the money before she reaches out to squeeze his hand. “He’s gonna be okay, you know he is.”

“Yeah,” he mutters gruffly. “Those fuckers aren’t though, if I ever see them again.”

“You’re not going out to get even, are you?”

“No,” Frank says, clenching his fists in a way that makes Pete think he’s not being entirely truthful. “I have a regular. I don’t want to fucking deal with it right now, but he pays well and we need it. Patrick’s gonna stay with Mikes.”

“Good. And hey, I meant to give Mikey this the next time he came in,” she says, handing Frank an envelope. “Viral load’s down and CD4 count's holding steady. I think we’ve found the right meds.”

“Thank fucking Christ,” he says on an loud exhale, tearing the envelope open to review the paperwork she’s just handed him. He clutches the two sheets of paper tight against his chest. “Thank you. Thank you, we needed this today.”

“You’re welcome, baby. Take care of yourself, okay?”

He nods and turns to leave before stopping abruptly at the sight of Pete. His eyes are red and puffy and hard. “You should go,” he tells Pete warningly, shaking his head before he leaves.

Pete approaches the counter, already pulling up his wallet. “How much do they owe?”

The nurse— Lady Shay, according to her name tag —arches an eyebrow at him. “Who’re you?”

“I’m Patrick’s… friend.”

“I’ll bet you are,” she says, clearly unconvinced. “Must be a real good friend to throw down money for him like this.”

Pete has no desire to disclose what kind of friend he is or exchange any other information that would complicate the situation further, so he just repeats his question instead. “How much do they owe?”

“For tonight or altogether?”

“Altogether.”

She rifles through some paperwork and pulls up a calculator. “They’re three months behind on Mikey’s medication and with the visit today, that brings it to… $1 465.”

Pete hands over his credit card.

--

Patrick emerges from the waiting room about half an hour later, supporting his friend with an arm around his waist. Pete realizes with delayed horrification that it’s Mikey, the guy who came up to his car the night he first met Patrick. He’s clearly taken a beating. His lip is split and swollen. A red, skinned bruise is blooming on the side of his right eye. He’s clutching an arm to his torso and walking with a slight limp.

His hands are barely roughed up. Pete’s been in enough fights to know that means Mikey didn’t fight back.

Patrick looks furious when he spots him. Shit.

“He needs a hot shower and a warm bed,” Pete argues calmly, before Patrick has the chance to say anything. “He can barely walk and its one in the morning.”

“We don’t need your charity,” Patrick snaps. “They told me what you did. It was not your fucking place.”

“Trick,” Mikey mutters hoarsely, leaning heavily against him. Patrick falters a little, buckling a little under the weight of him. “I can’t...”

“Come on,” Pete says, helping to prop him up. Patrick doesn’t say another word.

--

Pete’s sitting with a beer on the couch, watching a rerun of what could be Law and Order or The OC or a fucking cooking show for all he's able to concentrate, when he hears the door of the guest room click shut. He looks up to see Patrick padding silently across the floor, still in his threadbare too-big T-shirt from earlier. It seems like he’s thinner every time Pete sees him. The colors from the TV dance across his pale skin and in the dim light, he looks younger than Pete has ever seen him.

Pete wants to wrap him up in a blanket, pull him into his arms and stroke his hair until he falls asleep. He's already taken care of Pete and Mikey tonight; now Pete wants to take care of him.

“How’s he doing?” Pete asks, sitting up to mute the television.

“He finally fell asleep,” Patrick says, sighing in relief. He pushes some clutter aside on the coffee table and takes a seat in front of Pete. “Painkillers should keep him down for a few hours at least.”

“Good,” Pete says. He hands Patrick a small plastic bottle of prescription painkillers. “I had these lying around from a back injury last year. I don’t need them anymore.”

Patrick turns the bottle around in his hands, studying it before he tucks it into the pocket of his jeans. He gives Pete a sharp nod and a close-lipped smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes, before placing a warm hand over Pete’s knee. He looks bone-weary. Exhausted. So, so young.

Pete's fingers ache to touch Patrick’s. He wants to kiss him so much it hurts, to take care of him and remind him there’s still some good in the world. But he doesn’t want to touch him if it isn’t what Patrick wants. He holds his gaze for a long, charged moment, waiting for his next cue.

“You can have anything you want,” Patrick whispers in a low voice that could have been seductive if it didn't sound so hollow. His hand inches slowly up the inseam of Pete's jeans. “I won’t charge you."

He looks drained, numb, like he’s barely keeping up whatever performance he's putting on.

“Do you want me to suck your big cock?” Patrick asks, and it sounds cheap and unconvincing. “Do you want me to dance for you? You can fuck my ass or my throat or spank me or piss on me or anything you want. Anything.”

He leans in to breathe into Pete’s ear and cups one hand firmly over Pete’s groin. Pete flinches, instinctively pulling Patrick’s hand off himself. “Stop it,” he snaps harshly, gripping Patrick’s wrist like a vice. He doesn’t know what this is, but he wants it to fucking stop.

Patrick leans in, undeterred, ghosting his mouth over Pete’s. “You can kiss me,” he whispers and Pete pushes him away, harder than he intends to. Patrick topples back onto the coffee table, barely catching himself on one hand and sending something skittering across the floor.

It’s all pretend, all artificial, all for show. He’s never looked more like a whore to Pete. Pete’s never felt so much like a predator.

“Go to bed,” Pete mutters finally. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to wake up alone.”

Patrick rubs absently at his wrist, bright crimson blooming in his cheeks. Pete can’t look at him. Can’t look away. He feels a dark, sick, nameless thing twisting in his gut. He’s paid for Patrick and now Patrick’s paying him back. Like the sex between them is just that— a transaction.

"Go," Pete says again, swallowing back the bile in the back of his throat. "You don't owe me anything."

Patrick doesn't do anything for a while, just sits there, shoulders hunched and hand still holding his wrist. He gets up eventually and disappears into the guest room as quietly as he left it earlier.

--

The rotten feeling is still there when Pete wakes the next morning. It takes him a while to register the noise coming from his kitchen, to remember that there are two other bodies in his apartment. He lies there for a minute, replaying the look on Patrick’s face, his hand inching up his thigh, his lips inches from his own.

Patrick cowering on his coffee table like Pete was someone to be afraid of.

Pete crossed a line by shoving him away, he knows that, and he feels sick about it. But he also feels sick about the line that Patrick crossed, a line that Pete didn’t know was there until last night. He feels revolted by Patrick offering himself up like a lamb to the slaughter. Revolted that Patrick thought Pete would want that from him. He doesn’t want to face him, but he doesn’t want him to leave without some form of apology.

When he surfaces from his room, he has to stop and stare at the state of his apartment. The coffee table's been wiped clean, file jackets stacked neatly and books put away. The laundry he washed last week is now folded neatly on the recliner. There’s the sweet, chemical scent of cleaning products. The place is spotless.

"Morning," Pete says softly, stopping a few feet from where Patrick's running a dish towel over wet plates. Patrick flinches visibly at his voice, but he doesn’t turn around.

"We'll be out of your hair soon," he says gruffly. He continues drying dishes, opening cupboards at random to put things away. He puts a lone wineglass by the coffee cups. "He's just getting ready."

"You can stay, if you need to. I don't mind."

"I do," Patrick says shortly, letting out an irritated sigh when he can't figure out where the spaghetti strainer goes. He opens and shuts a few cupboards a little too hard.

"Look, about last night..." Pete starts, but he doesn't know what he wants to say. Doesn't know how to relate to Patrick after the messed up thing that happened. Patrick doesn't say anything. "I'm sorry if I-"

"Don't," Patrick says, waving a hand dismissively. He puts the last few plates away and picks up the dish rag, dragging it across the spotless granite counter and the sparkling clean faucet.

Pete reaches gently for him and is surprised when Patrick snatches his arm back and snaps, "Don't fucking touch me." His eyes look feral.

Pete recoils like he's been burnt, shock surging through his veins and thrumming in his ears. Patrick turns his back to him again, scrubbing at a non-existent stain on the counter. They stand there in silence for a few moments before Mikey comes out of the guest room and Patrick's demeanor immediately softens. Mikey looks worse for wear than Pete expected, hunched in on himself like he's cold. Pete doesn’t know what’s happened to his arm, but he’s still clutching it to his torso like he was last night. The bruises have darkened around his eye and around his swollen lip. Patrick places a hand on his shoulder and quietly mutters, "Let's get you home, Mikes."

Mikey nods, before turning his body towards Pete in a way that's clearly made to be suggestive, hip jutting forwards and gaze intense. "If there's something I can do to repay you..." he murmurs, words a little slurred with the limited motion of his swollen lip. He looks grotesque. The sight of it turns Pete's stomach.

"He doesn't want that," Patrick says shortly, pulling Mikey's jacket over his shoulders. "C'mon, Frankie’s waiting downstairs."

Pete watches Patrick help Mikey with his shoes. They leave without further acknowledgement, shutting the door behind themselves with a quiet click. Pete peers out of his window, where the tattooed boy is smoking a cigarette across the street. He crosses the street to meet Mikey and they stand close for a few long moments, faces pressed intimately together while Patrick looks away. Patrick smokes the end of Frank’s cigarette, hugging himself while he does. They walk slowly down the street after that, seemingly mindful of Mikey’s impaired mobility. Pete’s gaze follows them until they take a left and vanish from sight.

He surveys his spotless apartment once they’re gone, wondering how long it took Patrick to wash and fold and tidy in what must have been absolute silence. He’s surprised to see that his bathroom’s been scrubbed clean and the sheets of the guest bedroom have been changed. The sheets he and Mikey slept on are stuffed into the washing machine. The timer is set to start in 10 hours, presumably so Pete can tumble dry them when he’s back from work.

Pete realizes belatedly that maybe, however messed up it looked... maybe last night was Patrick's way of saying “thank you.”

--

It’s almost another week before he can face him again. He’s been walking up to ATMs all week to withdraw $600, hitting the cancel button at the last minute every time. He’s been lying awake at nights, listening to one stupid pair of lungs breathing and wishing there was a second beside him. He’s gotten out of bed after midnight a few times, hoping to turn down that street and find him still working.

But every time he’s reached for his car keys, all he’s seen are those vacant eyes and crass words, the way Patrick whored himself out to him on his coffee table. The shame in his cheeks when Pete pushed him away. He’s wondered if the act would have worked on anyone else, if Patrick would have bent over for someone who didn't care enough to see that he was hurting. If he already has, before, in situations like this.

He pulls up to the kerb where Patrick's standing. He's in torn jeans and a baggy long sleeve with a deep V that shows off his protruding collarbones. He looks emaciated. He looks cold.

Unsurprisingly, he ignores Pete completely. Frank, however, appears at his window in mere seconds, leaning in with a heavy exhale that smells like gum and cigarettes. "You helped Mikey. I can’t even... You can have me all night, all week, whatever fucked up shit you want, I don’t care."

"No thanks," Pete says immediately, forcing a smile that hopefully conveys politeness and not immense discomfort. "I need to talk to Patrick."

The boy glances skeptically at where Patrick's crossed the street, sucking on his silver lip ring. "I don't think he'd be into that, man. But I'd be happy to talk with you. I think you’ll find I give really good… conversation."

"No thank you. Excuse me," Pete says, driving off and rolling his window back up. He parks the car in a nearby alley. Approaching the street on foot makes him feel apprehensive and exposed in a way that driving there hasn’t, but he doesn't see any other option.

When he gets back, Patrick’s talking to the driver of a grey Subaru in hushed tones. His body language is playful, inviting, disturbingly convincing. Pete braces himself for car doors opening, money changing hands, taillights disappearing down the street.

Patrick startles when Pete calls his name, a flash of undisguised something crossing his features before he gets a hold of himself again. He mutters a few words to the Subaru, which merely rolls a few feet down the street to pick up someone else.

"This is a bit much, isn't it?” Patrick says quietly when he reaches Pete, sounding mildly irritated or harassed or maybe even embarrassed. Pete’s too anxious to trust his own reading of the situation. It feels like everyone’s watching them. “I’m working."

Pete does something stupid with his hands that could be pulling on his sleeves or maybe digging nails into his wrists or maybe just flailing. "Can we talk?"

"I sell handjobs, Pete." He glances around, possibly at their spectators, but Pete can't look away from him. "Not heart-to-hearts."

Pete flinches, which is probably the reaction Patrick wanted. "You can jerk me off while we talk." He feels dirty even saying it, but he's desperate to get Patrick alone. “I’ll pay you for your time, but I just want to talk.”

"I don't want your money," Patrick says coolly. "None of us want your money. I'm not Julia fucking Roberts and you need to leave me alone. What you did was not okay."

Pete feels even worse saying this, and he hates himself for it, but, "Mikey wants my money, doesn't he?"

"That's so fucking low," Patrick growls incredulously. "Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“I think I’m someone that cares about you.” Pete admits, hoping Patrick won’t think he’s a pathetic fuck and laugh in his face. “Someone that can’t stop thinking about you.”

Patrick's eyes scrutinize him for a few long moments, before he gives a jaded sigh. “I’m not your boyfriend,” he says, pitching his voice low so no one else will hear them. “And you’re not the first john in the world to have confused feelings for a whore. It’ll pass.”

"Then you can't be the first whore in the world to have confused feelings for a john," he counters, that word tasting foul in his mouth. He doesn’t want to think of him as that. “And I don’t want it to.”

God, he hopes he isn’t wrong about this being mutual.

“Trick!” Frank’s voice resounds from across the street, and Pete glances at where he’s very clearly been monitoring their interaction, arms crossed over his chest. He looks like he could break Pete’s teeth if given reason to. “You okay?”

Patrick turns to give him an affirmative wave, before turning back to where Pete’s extended a trembling hand. "Come home with me," he says, facing his palm upwards. He won’t grab, won’t force it, won’t touch him unless Patrick wants him to. He’s taken about all the rejection he can take. If Patrick asks him to leave, he will.

It feels like everything stops around them and everything is breath and nausea and impending humiliation.

Until Patrick’s fingers slide between his own and he asks, "Where'd you park?

--

The car ride to Pete’s apartment is dead quiet. Pete racks his brain for something non-controversial to say. Weather, sports, music, current events, anything that could deflate the smothering nervous tension between them. His hands are shaking on the steering wheel, but he can’t deal with that now.

“How’s Mikey?” he asks finally.

“Better,” Patrick says, looking out of the window. “Rattled. But better.”

That’s about all the juice they manage to squeeze from that topic of conversation, and silence swells again.

"Do you want a beer?" Pete asks once they’re inside his apartment, before realizing, "Wait— you're not actually old enough to drink, are you?"

Patrick snorts out a laugh and settles gingerly on Pete’s couch, sitting on his own hands in what Pete assumes is a nervous gesture. He's looking around the apartment. It's still spotless; it just hasn’t felt right to mess things up again. "Suddenly concerned about contributing to the delinquency of a minor, are we?"

"Fuck off,” Pete snarks, surprising himself with how easily it comes out. Like they’re familiar enough to banter. “How old are you, anyway?"

"As old as my clients want me to be," Patrick drawls, using that low voice that Pete’s now realizing is just an affectation he uses at work. It sounds nothing like his actual voice. Pete doesn’t want to hear it again.

"Are you old enough to drive?"

Patrick looks over his shoulder at him. "Yes. Don’t have a license, but yes."

"Are you old enough to serve in the army?"

He grins. "No."

“Are you old enough to consent to sexual activity in the state of Illinois?”

He bites his lip, apparently amused. “Would you care if I wasn’t?”

“Answer the question.”

“Yes. My 18th’s next month. What are you, 25?”

“23.”

“A bit young to have all this," Patrick says, waving a hand around, "and a flashy company car to boot."

"Family money," Pete admits, embarrassed at having to disclose his affiliation with the pseudo-bourgeoisie of the outer Chicagoan suburbs. "My uncle hooked me up with the job fresh out of college. I just got lucky."

In actuality, Pete knows it has little to do with luck and more to do with class and nepotism, but Patrick doesn't call him on it. "Where'd you study?"

"Nowhere special."

Patrick arches an eyebrow, likely unimpressed with Pete’s inelegant attempt at modesty. "Ivy League, huh?"

"Not quite." The fridge starts beeping, signaling that it's been for open too long. "Was that a yes on the beer?"

"Sure."

Pete hands him a bottle and Patrick doesn’t inspect the cap before opening it. Pete has a seat in the armchair to the side of the couch. He wants to be out of Patrick’s reach for this, doesn’t want any risk of this turning into sex. ”Do you enjoy fucking for money?”

Pete seems to catch both himself and Patrick by surprise with the question. It sounds harsh and confrontational. It's not how he wanted to start this, but he is chronically incapable of knowing the right things to say. Patrick takes a big gulp of beer and chews his lips for a few long moments.

Pete can't help but wonder what the hesitation is about. If he's thinking about $600 paychecks, hospital bills and groceries, or about opening doors that can’t be closed again. "Sometimes," Patrick says carefully, almost ominously.

“When?” Pete asks, pushing down the anxiety rising in his belly. He only had half a xanax before picking Patrick up. He should have had two. “When do you enjoy it?”

Another long moment of deliberation follows before Patrick looks at him dead on. “When someone bends me over and holds me down and fucks me out of my head and gets it over and done with.”

It’s not the answer Pete expected and it’s a visual he doesn't need. “Okay.”

“The worst,” Patrick continues, still staring at him with guarded eyes, “is when guys fuck me like it means something to them. Like it should mean something to me. Like they aren’t just dangling a hundred dollar bill over my head like I’m their puppy plaything.”

“Maybe it means something sometimes,” Pete counters feebly. “To some people.”

“Bullshit,” Patrick says harshly. “They don't actually give a shit about me, they just don't want to be alone.”

Pete pushes down the repulsion clenching in his gut, locks all that away to deal with later. There's accusation there, no doubt, but there's also hurt. There's the challenge for Pete to prove him wrong. “Did you ever enjoy it with me?”

Patrick frowns deeply, like the answer should be apparent either way. It isn't. “Are you serious?”

“You fake it for a living. It’s a fair question. Did you fake it with me?”

“C’mon, Pete,” Patrick says, looking away like he can’t face him for this. "You might be a good fuck, but I still did what you wanted and I told you what you wanted to hear.”

“Fuck.” He doesn’t want to think back on their interactions and analyze which ones were staged and which ones weren’t, but he knows he will. Incessantly.

"Pete," Patrick says gently. "I didn't mean..."

Pete raises a hand to quieten him, needs him to stop talking. He doesn’t want to hear any more. "It's fine."

“It doesn’t mean it didn’t end up meaning something to me,” Patrick says in a thin, strange voice. He's no longer sitting on his hands. “Dangling bills or not.”

It’s mutual. It’s fucking mutual, but Pete still feels like he’s going to be sick.

His voice sounds strange still, cautious. "What do you want from me, Pete?"

“I want you not to be a hooker,” Pete says, because it sounds less revelatory that what he actually wants to say. He can't find the words or bravery to say what he actually wants to say. “You deserve better than that.”

“It’s not really any of your business how I make a living,” Patrick says, patiently but firmly. “I have things I need to pay for.”

"Mikey’s medications?" Pete asks, but he’s sure he already knows the answer. “I overheard Frank at the reception desk that night. He's HIV positive, right?”

Patrick nods stiffly, biting the inside of his cheek. He looks at Pete like he knows what’s coming next. Pete taps the side of his arm chair a few times, dreading Patrick’s answer. "Are you?"

“It’s none of your business if I am or not,” Patrick says shortly. His jaw clenches like he’s chewing down on his tongue and he looks down at the bottle in his hands. “But I’m a hooker on a street corner, either way you get what you pay for.”

Pete pushes down the anxiety swelling in his gut, taking a few measured breaths and centering himself. He hasn’t swallowed Patrick’s come and neither of the two condoms they used broke. He’s googled this. Extensively. He has no reason to freak out and he’s not going to. “So you’re positive?”

"I don't know,” Patrick says, shrugging with a forced display of nonchalance. His lips are curled in and held between his teeth. “Might be."

Pete frowns, leaning forwards to rest his elbows on his knees. “What do you mean you don't know?”

“I can’t afford it if I am and I can’t deal with it either way,” Patrick says, shrugging again. He glances sideways at Pete and something in Pete’s chest aches for him. “I’m watching it kill my best friend. That’s about all I can handle right now.”

“Don’t you get tested?”

"I do, just not for that. Honestly, I'd be more worried about gonorrhea or chlamydia from my throat if I were you,” Patrick says flippantly, as though that's somehow a reassuring thing to follow up with. “I mean, I get tested and treated every few months, but... you know."

“I’m not asking because I’m worried about myself.” Neither of the condoms they used broke and he hasn’t swallowed Patrick’s come. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are both treatable. He is not going to freak out. "Do you ever fuck without condoms?"

“Nope,” Patrick says, almost casually but not quite. "Not if I can help it."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I'm a hundred pound twerp. If someone wants something from me, my resistance isn't going to do much." Patrick looks away again, running his eyes over the keyboard in the corner. "Sometimes it's safer to just give someone what they want or they might hurt you worse."

Pete thinks back to Mikey's unharmed hands. He wonders how much worse he might have looked if he’d fought back. He wants to check Patrick’s knuckles for scars. He wants to fucking throw up.

“No. That’s. You need to get tested,” Pete says, desperate for the conversation to move somewhere else, away from the unbearable thought of someone hurting Patrick like that. “If you catch it early—”

“You need to mind your own fucking business,” Patrick counters, voice louder than it needs to be. “I said I don’t want to know.”

Pete's chest feels tight at that, too tight. "You need help if you have it," he insists.

"And where am I gonna get that from?" Patrick snaps aggressively. "Try being young, uninsured and low-income in this fucking country, let me know how you go."

“Okay. Sorry.” Pete holds up his hands to signal defeat. He can’t deal with the sudden increase in volume of Patrick’s voice or the accompanying elevation in his own pulse. He's been too anxious for too long; his nerve endings are fried. "I didn't mean to be a dick."

“Well, you were. Check your fucking privilege before you pass judgement on someone else.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

"What the hell do you want from me, Pete?" he asks again, sounding impatient and irritated and loud. Pete doesn't know what to say or how to say it; can't make sense of things with all this emotional clutter between them. He needs 100 mg of xanax and a glass of whiskey and a time-out so he can reorganize the mess in his head.

Things are quiet for too long then, and he should say something before Patrick gets any more confrontational. “I want to kiss you,” he says pathetically and it feels like his fucking tongue is shaking with it. His throat is tighter than it should be. No, no, no. Not this. Not now.

Patrick doesn’t say anything in response, and that just makes it worse, makes the silence feel deafening and the noise in his head louder and he’s such a fucking loser for falling for a hooker and he’s a fucking useless weak pathetic piece of shit and he needs Patrick to leave before—

“Hey,” Patrick says softly, putting a hand gently on his knee. He’s sitting on Pete’s coffee table; Pete didn’t hear him move. “Calm down.”

Pete knows he’s doing that thing again, that fucked up thing where everything becomes adrenaline and white noise and the world stops making sense.

“You’re breathing too much,” Patrick says calmly, pressing a palm to the middle of his chest, right under his collarbones. He pushes down for a few seconds, then backs off. He does it again and Pete realizes he's setting a pattern for Pete's lungs to follow. “Hey. Focus on me.”

Patrick's eyes are green or blue or somewhere beautiful in between and Pete tries to focus on him through the chaos and white noise and breath and trembling and heat. Pete doesn’t know how long they sit there like that, Patrick’s hand anchoring Pete down while he tries not to die.

“You’re okay,” Patrick says quietly when the rush has mostly tapered off, bringing his hand up to pat at Pete’s disgustingly sweaty forehead. ”Do you want me to get you anything?”

Pete shakes his head, head dropping forwards onto Patrick’s shoulder. His face feels wet. His pulse is still throbbing in his ears. He releases the tension in his thighs and triceps and feet and lower back. He fills his lungs for three seconds, then empties them for another three.

“You’re okay,” Patrick says again, and he sounds so sure that Pete almost believes him. His fingers card gently through the hair at the back of Pete’s neck. “I won’t raise my voice again.”

Patrick sounds calm, unperturbed, like what just happened was an absolute non-event. Like Pete isn't something miserable and broken to be pitied or fussed over.

"Why are you so lonely?" Patrick asks against his temple. “I mean... look at you. You could have anyone you wanted.”

Pete thinks there's a compliment in there somewhere, but he just feels rubbed raw and humiliated. “I haven’t wanted anyone for a very long time."

Patrick pulls back a little, enough to look at him like maybe he gets it. "You should want someone else."

"Maybe." His heartbeat feels almost steady again, a steady loud beat keeping time in his chest and ears. He still feels a little high, but mostly just exhausted. "But I don't."

Patrick sighs, a staccato confusing thing. “I saw the meds on your nightstand," he says. "That's a lot of Lamictal for just one person. Are you getting enough help?”

“Yeah." Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. "I’m just… work’s about all I can handle most days.”

"I'm sorry it's like that for you," Patrick says earnestly, stroking Pete's back with a firm hand. Everywhere Patrick touches him feels immediately soothed. "That's rough."

"It is what it is," Pete says noncommittally, which is a stupidly dismissive way of saying absolutely nothing, but he doesn’t want to expose more of his faulty wiring than Patrick’s already seen. It feels like Patrick maybe understands anyway. He thinks back to the Jeff Buckley record on the floor of his study, to Patrick's fingers trailing shakily over "Lover, You Should've Come Over" on the back. The church organ, the somber guitars, the first line of the song. "Did you lose someone? I saw your face when—"

“Not for sale,” Patrick says immediately, cutting him off and sitting back on the coffee table, not touching Pete anywhere. His calm seems to have faltered the way it did when Pete asked if he could kiss him the night they met.

“I wasn't looking to pay for it," Pete counters with a frown. He raises a hand to touch him, but it hangs immobile in the air for a little while and then he presses it hard into his own thigh instead. "But you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to.”

There’s an unsettling moment where Pete feels like Patrick might just get up, walk out, and never see him again. Instead, he finishes his beer and sits there for what feels like several minutes but is probably much less.

"Can I have another beer?"

"Yeah.” Pete frowns, unsure of what this is. “Anything you want."

Patrick goes to the kitchen and rummages through the fridge. “All the yoghurt in your fridge is off.”

His voice doesn’t sound right.

“You can bin it, if you want,” Pete says.

Pete watches Patrick throw out a dozen tubs. "Did you want another one as well?"

"Sure." Pete polishes off his beer and takes the new one that Patrick hands him. He doesn't actually feel like another, but he doesn't want Patrick to drink alone.

“You don’t have to tell me anything,” Pete says again, feeling some sort of palpable pain in his belly for whatever Patrick isn’t saying. “We can talk about something else. Anything.”

“It’s okay,” Patrick says, except Pete feels like it’s anything but. Patrick brings his legs up against his chest and holds onto them like he’s trying not to fall apart at the seams. "Mikey's brother overdosed about a year ago. I was at their moms house a few days after. That song came on the radio and it just... you know. It. Just."

He makes some sort of vague gesture with his hand and scratches his forehead and clears his throat. An intrusive chorus of hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah swells in Pete's ears and he bites back a choking sadness as he realizes what Patrick’s saying.

“Was he...”

"Mine?" Patrick says distantly. He’s staring blankly through the French doors to where the Chicago skyline is lit up against the dark night sky. “Yeah, he was.”

“I’m—”

“Sorry?" Patrick supplies, and it sounds loud again and angry and out of place in the quiet room. "Don’t be. I don’t want to hear it.”

Pete doesn’t really know what to say after that. He's only ever good with words when he has a pen in his hand and space to think.

Pete lets him look out the window for as long as he needs. He drinks his beer. He looks at Patrick’s hands. He doesn’t say anything until Patrick turns back around, and then he says, “What do you want?”

Patrick frowns and makes a face that would have been a smile if he didn’t still look so heartbroken. He chews his lips again like he seems to do when he’s working things over in his head. "I want to stay the night. If you'll let me."

"You don't have to. If you don’t want to.”

“I just said I want to."

Patrick reaches for his hand and squeezes it. He twines their fingers loosely together, his thumb sweeping gently over the pulse point in Pete’s wrist. There's a long moment of looking at each other in absolute, heavy silence and Pete hopes it means what he thinks it means.

Patrick gets up first to put bottles away and turn the lights off in the apartment. Things are almost awkward when they get to the bedroom. Pete stands with his hands buried deep in the pockets of his jeans, fingering the $600 he put in there earlier. He wonders if he should give Patrick pajamas or offer to sleep in the guest room.

He doesn’t know what to do, so he doesn’t do anything.

Patrick comes to stand right in front of him and rests his hands on Pete's shoulders. He leans in to rub his face against the side of Pete's. He nuzzles his jaw, exhales long and soft against the side of his mouth and then he smiles in a way that wrinkles the skin around his eyes. Pete keeps both hands buried in his pockets. He doesn't want to ruin this.

"It's been a while since I did this," Patrick murmurs, pressing a soft, lingering kiss to the underside of Pete’s jaw. His eyes are closed and he’s breathing a little heavily and still smiling. His thumbs sweep gently up Pete's throat until he's cupping his face. "Might be a bit rusty."

Pete doesn't quite get what he's saying, because he and Patrick have done this before. Patrick does this for a living.

Patrick's mouth is close enough for his breath to tickle Pete's lips, but he doesn't move any closer. Instead he eases Pete’s hands out of his pockets and attempts to link their fingers together. He frowns when he feels the $600 still clutched in Pete’s left hand. There's a look on his face that might be confusion, disappointment, maybe betrayal. "You're paying me for this?"

"I'm keeping you from working," Pete says unsurely, realizing from Patrick's facial expression that this was either the wrong thing to do or the wrong time to do it. "It's only fair."

Patrick’s facial expression doesn't change. If anything, it gets worse. He lets go of Pete's hands. "You're fucking paying me for this?"

"Please don't take it the wrong way."

Patrick swallows loudly, his jaw cracking. Something changes in him then, a rehearsed change in posture. His voice does that thing again. "How do you fucking want me?"

“That’s not what I—” No, no, no. He pushes the money into Patrick's hand, needs him to take it and put it away. "Not that. I want you to stay the night. But not that."

Patrick hesitates, eyes searching and brow furrowed. He doesn't count or pocket the bills, just holds them in his hand and looks at Pete like he’s waiting for an explanation.

“That’s what I want,” Pete says again, pressing the bills into Patrick's side pocket. “Just for you to stay.”

Patrick sighs, looking crestfallen. “Damn it, Pete.”

Pete wishes he could take the $600 back and pretend this never happened, but it's too late. He's already fucked up. The smile has vanished from Patrick’s face and Pete doesn’t trust that Patrick will let him touch him again if he tries. He wants to grab his arm and kiss him, but he’s tried both of those things before with shitty results.

“I should go,” Patrick says, rubbing a hand over his face. “This isn’t...”

“Stay,” Pete argues. “I’m sorry, that was the wrong thing to do. I’m not good at… this. I don’t know what to do.”

Patrick looks at him like he’s a complete fucking failboat, which he absolutely deserves. Pete grabs the neck of his shirt and pulls it over his head and hopes he’s doing something that makes sense. Patrick drops his eyes to his chest, his belly, his fly when Pete reaches to undo it.

“Stay,” Pete says again, and then Patrick mercifully starts undoing his own clothes after a few moments of nothing. Pete's down to shorts before Patrick is, and he watches the way Patrick’s bones and tendons shift under his winter pale skin. His knees are red with what looks like carpet burn. Pete’s gaze lingers on a dark purple bruise across the left side of Patrick’s stomach. It looks fresh.

“It’s nothing,” Patrick says casually when he catches Pete looking, turning that side away from him as he crawls into bed. “I bruise easily.”

Pete follows him, getting comfortable across from him. Patrick surprises him by coming closer, shifting Pete backwards until they're sharing a pillow. His skin is warm and he smells like sweat and cologne. Pete still doesn't know where to put his hands.

"Stop freaking out," Patrick says kindly, stroking hair out of Pete's eyes. "Seriously."

He brings his thumb to Pete's lips, stroking the sensitive skin there with the pad of his finger. He leans in and nuzzles his mouth. Pete tentatively presses a kiss between his eyes and Patrick hums like that's exactly what he wanted. Patrick’s legs tangle with his and he rubs the cold sole of his foot against the sole of Pete’s like he’s trying to warm up.

Pete tries to do something that a person who isn’t freaking out would do, so he runs an open palm over Patrick’s skeletal ribs, fingers tracing the dips and grooves between the bones. He hopes he can get some bacon and eggs in him for breakfast.

He skates his fingers over a nipple and Patrick sucks in a gorgeous, shaky breath. He nuzzles the fold of Patrick's armpit, taking in the musky, slightly sweaty, delicious scent of him. He shifts his hips a little to rub up against Pete and cards his fingers restlessly through Pete's hair.

Pete wonders hysterically if he's wearing the butt plug again, if there's something keeping his ass open and pressing against his prostate. If Pete could roll him onto his back and sink balls deep into him without any other prep. If he could kiss his mouth and look into his eyes as he moves inside of him. Pete's only ever fucked him from behind, he doesn't actually know what Patrick's face looks like when he comes. He wants to see it, wants to watch the exact moment he lets go and comes apart in Pete's arms.

Fuck, he wants him. But not like this. Not with $600 in the room. Not with other men's sweat and bruises on him. Not with the intrusive anxiety he still feels about the things they spoke about earlier.

"You feel so good," Patrick murmurs softly, sinking his teeth into the side of Pete's neck. He slides a hand into the back of Pete’s boxers to grab his ass and grind up against him. It’s Patrick and it’s intoxicating and Pete wishes he could, but he can’t. Not like this.

"Just sleep," he whispers apologetically, stilling Patrick’s movements with a firm hand on his hip. "I just want to sleep."

Patrick opens his mouth to say something, but the words don’t come. He looks disappointed, but he nods and pulls back.

Patrick watches Pete take his nightly pills and doesn’t say anything about it. Pete’s embarrassed to know that Patrick understands how much he actually takes, but he also feels like maybe he doesn't judge him for it.

Patrick presses their foreheads together when Pete lies back down. He wraps a hand around Pete's neck and throat, no pressure but a heavy weight against his Adam's apple. As though he knows instinctively how safe and contained that makes Pete feel. He wraps his own hand around Patrick’s wrist and presses closer, so they’re sharing breath, space and a pillow.

It’s been too long since he had someone like this.

--

It’s dark in the room when Pete feels the covers move and the mattress dip. “Hey,” Pete says, immediately worried. There’s an agitated rustle of clothing. “Is something wrong?”

“Yeah,” Patrick mutters, balancing on one leg at a time as he yanks his socks back on. “You might be Richard Gere, but I’m not looking to be anyone's Julia Roberts. This is the fucking real world.”

"I’m not—" Pete fumbles on the nightstand to turn the bedside lamp on. He spares a quick glance at the alarm clock and notes that they’ve only been asleep for three hours. If Patrick’s slept at all, that is. “Come back to bed.”

"No,” Patrick says shortly. He hastily pulls his T-shirt back on. It's inside out, but he doesn't seem to notice or care. “I'm not easy or clean or good like you deserve. I've done some seriously fucked up shit to get paid.”

“Hey,” Pete says in a tone he hopes is soothing, but mostly sounds pleading. “I don’t care what you’ve done.”

“Bullshit.” Patrick turns to look at him, now out of clothing-based distractions. “Makes you sick, remember? Seeing me with those guys?”

Pete doesn’t know what’s worse, the memory of those men’s hands on Patrick that night or Patrick bringing them into this space where things were starting to feel okay mere hours ago.

When Pete doesn’t say anything, Patrick pushes on. “Do you want to know what they did to me that time? What I did to them? How I licked—”

“Stop it,” Pete snaps harshly, his fists clenching of their own accord. “Stop it, I don’t want—”

“That’s what I thought,” Patrick says mock-triumphantly, chin raised in challenge. “I gave two blowjobs and fucked a guy before you picked me up just now. You don’t want this shit in your bed, don’t fucking pretend you do.”

“You’re not who you fuck,” Pete argues weakly, feeling blind-sided by unbidden mental images of Patrick bent over in a back seat taking it hard from some asshole who doesn’t give a shit about him. “I don’t like what you do, but that doesn’t affect how I feel about you.”

“Doesn’t affect how you feel about me? There’s a reason you wouldn’t fuck me earlier. Worried I’ll give you AIDS and kill you, right?”

“Patrick—”

“If you don’t kill yourself first, that is. That’s an impressive amount of prescription medication you’ve got stockpiled under your bathroom sink. ‘Back injury last year,’ was it? ‘Cause it looks to me like you’re saving up for a rainy fucking day.”

A heavy mix of shame and anxiety flood him as soon as he understands what Patrick’s saying, what Patrick’s seen. He frowns, taken aback by the sharpness in Patrick’s voice. “You don’t know what you’re talking about."

Patrick shakes his head at that. There’s a note of absolute, raw heartbreak in Patrick’s voice when he says “I know exactly what I’m talking about.”

It's obvious from Patrick's tone that they aren't just talking about Pete anymore, and that any further discussion is unwelcome. Patrick turns to leave.

"I'm not suicidal," Pete almost-shouts, and it startles him, and it seems to startle Patrick too, because he turns around with a deer-caught-in-headlights kind of look on his face. Pete has no idea what his own face is doing, but it feels hysterical and unfamiliar.

"It's none of my business if you are," Patrick says with a strange sort of frown.

“Well I’m fucking not,” Pete says, surprised that he actually believes himself saying it. "Most days I’m not,” he adds, because he doesn’t want to lie. “And I'm not as freaked out by you maybe being positive as you think I am. It's not 1984 anymore, we can figure it out.”

Patrick wraps his arms over his chest, hands gripping his own biceps. “You can do better than me.”

“I don’t want better.”

“Do you want a refund?”

“What? Oh. Would you give me one?”

“It’s against company policy,” Patrick says hesitantly, and Pete thinks he might actually be making a fucking joke. "My boss would be pissed."

Pete frowns. "Like... your pimp?"

"I don't have a pimp. I was kidding."

“Oh. Then fuck company policy.” Pete says, relieved, feeling like they're actually getting somewhere. “Fuck everything that isn’t this.”

Patrick smiles again, a heartbreaking hopeful beautiful thing that lights up his whole face. Pete makes what he hopes is a grand romantic gesture and not a grave miscalculation and he takes two strides across the room and cups Patrick’s beautiful face and squeezes his eyes shut and opens his mouth and—

Patrick makes a truly ugly sound, his forearms jutting up in self-defense to catch Pete square in the chest. It knocks the wind out of him and he steps back immediately. Patrick’s eyes are squeezed shut and he's shaking his head. Pete doesn’t understand what’s happening, doesn’t understand how Patrick went from possibly joking to shutting down completely like this in mere seconds.

And then it dawns on him again, like it did the last time he tried to kiss him. He's just tried to force himself on Patrick for the second time, tried to take something Patrick has explicitly said he can't have. He's caused him to physically defend himself twice. He's made him look scared and small and upset. He’s no better than the assholes who bruise and hurt him and fuck him without a condom.

“Right,” Pete says, swallowing back an apology that probably wouldn’t mean anything to Patrick. An overwhelming shame and sadness tells him that this is it: the end of this misguided fantasy, the end of Pete’s rope. “You don’t kiss your clients, I get it.”

Patrick frowns, lowering his arms. His eyes look pink and watery. Fuck, Pete can’t handle being the person that’s made him look like that. “Pete—”

“I get it,” Pete says, holding up a hand to silence him. It's cowardly, but he doesn't want to hear Patrick's response to that. “You should go."

Patrick sniffles a little, wrapping his arms high across his chest with his shoulders hunched. He's fucking crying. Pete is a monster. "I don't want to go."

"You can't stay,” Pete says, shaking his head. He needs him to leave, needs this horrifying ugly thing that he’s done to go away. “Not if you don't... I'm sorry, this was a bad idea."

"Bad idea?" Patrick says wetly, his voice breaking with it.

"Really, really bad idea."

“You're a fucking asshole,” Patrick mutters under his breath. The door rattles when he leaves.

--

He’s just coming home from work one night when he spots Mikey sitting with his back against his front door. The bruise on the side of his face is a different shade to when Pete last saw it, yellow and purple. “Mikey,” Pete says, surprise. He has a sudden, absurd fear that Frank’s going to come up behind him and punch his lights out for what he did to Patrick. He casts a quick glance down the hallway, relieved to see it empty. “What are you doing here?”

“Loitering,” Mikey says with a wince, getting off the ground with some difficulty. “Jesus, you get home from work late. I’ve been here since 5.30pm.”

“I would’ve been home earlier if I knew I had company,” Pete says. He cringes immediately at his use of words. He hopes Mikey isn’t here to… settle his debt. "Uh. Come in."

Pete automatically reaches for the fridge when they’re inside, before realizing that Mikey may not drink because… “Do you want a coffee?” he asks instead.

“No, I’m good.” Mikey’s standing with his hands deep in his pockets. He doesn’t look comfortable, which makes two of them. “Do you actually want him?” he says abruptly.

Pete doesn’t want a coffee, because it’ll make him jittery and he won’t be able to sleep, but he doesn’t want to look at Mikey either. He pulls out a mug and a pink capsule, starts the machine and pours water into the container on the side. "That’s between me and him,” he says, which is an utterly cowardly cop out.

“Him and me,” Mikey corrects impatiently. "Look. I don’t know what the hell happened, but he’s all fucked up over you.”

The quiet "stop" Patrick whimpered when Pete first tried to kiss him; the tension in his body when Patrick was over sensitive and let Pete continue fucking him in the shower; the way he gripped his own wrist after Pete shoved him away on the coffee table after the clinic; the tears on his cheeks the last time he tried to kiss him.... He almost hopes Mikey’s here to punch him.

“I don’t know what to say,” Pete says thickly. “I hurt him. I don’t know how to fix that.”

“He’s under the impression that he hurt you.”

Pete has to look at him then, hands frozen on the stupid coffee machine. He didn’t have the fucking sense to reach for a decaf capsule and now he’s got a ‘Grand Cru Bukeela Ka Ethiopia’ pod in his hands and he’s a fucking idiot. “What?”

"Apparently you tried to kiss him and he freaked and you kicked him out."

"He didn't want me to kiss him."

"Don't be thick. He just needs some time."

"Time," Pete repeats, turning back to the task at hand. He pours milk into the frother. It smells like it might be off.

“Yeah,” Mikey says carefully. He leans against the kitchen counter with his arms crossed over his chest. “Fantastic communication skills between the two of you, really.”

Pete pushes a few buttons at random. The milk reeks; it’s definitely off. “He doesn’t know his HIV status, did you know that?”

“Yes, I fucking know that, I live with him.” Mikey sounds irritated. “That's beside the point. Is this some kind of Girlfriend Experience shit gone wrong or do you actually want him?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It’s— never mind.” Mikey sighs. "Look, he’s lost a lot in the last year. I’m happy to matchmake here, but I’m not doing it if you aren’t 100% sure you actually want me to.”

“Matchmake,” Pete repeats dumbly. “What?”

“I need you to be okay with three things: He’s a hooker, he doesn’t know his HIV status and he’s grieving. None of those three things are likely to change even if you… date him, or whatever. So is that something you can work with or should I just let myself out?”

Pete puts the coffee down on the counter. He has no intention of drinking it. He’s out of distractions; he has to face Mikey now.  "He deserves better than hooking."

Mikey snorts, like somehow this is funny. "What, and the rest of us don’t?”

"I need him to get tested at least."

“Tough shit. That's not your call to make."

Pete looks at Mikey's unmarred knuckles. “How can you, of all people, be okay with him not knowing?”

Excuse you,” Mikey says with a frown. “He’s my best friend and I love the crap out of him, but I’m not his boyfriend or his grief counsellor or his fucking mother. HIV offs you in a decade without treatment. He knows that and he still doesn’t want to. That’s all there is to it.”

"Why doesn't he want to?"

Mikey hesitates, likely wondering how much he can disclose without breaching Patrick’s privacy. "It’s complicated," he says eventually.

“Your brother?”

Mikey nods, uncrossing and recrossing his arms. “That’s part of it.”

Pete wants to know if it was an accident or on purpose, but he has no right to ask that of a dead boy’s brother. “I’m sorry,” he says instead. "For your loss."

“Thank you.”

“Did he share needles?”

Mikey’s nostrils flare with thinly veiled emotion. He straightens his back a little and says, very calmly, "I said it’s complicated. And it's none of your business unless you're fucking him."

“Jesus. If he’s positive…”

“...then he’s positive and life goes on,” Mikey says tensely. “If you don’t want him because of that, that makes you a fucking coward asshole, but it’s also well within your rights to not get involved with him. So let’s hear it - do you actually want him?”

Mikey’s looking at him like he wants a definitive answer, but Pete's not ready for this conversation to be over. He has questions. “Is Frank— I mean, is he—”

“What, positive? No.”

“How do you make it work?”

“Like, logistically...? We’re careful. I don’t come in his mouth if he’s just brushed his teeth or if we’ve been rough with his throat. We check condoms for tears after we’ve used them. And we’re creative; there are lots of things you can do with someone besides putting your dick in their ass. Not that we don’t… you know, do that, but just saying.”

“Is it. I mean, does he worry?”

“No, he doesn’t.” Mikey frowns. “Unless you fuck up, pos/neg relationships are pretty safe. It’s not Russian Roulette. Frank and I keep enough money in piggy bank for PEP just in case, but we haven’t had to use it yet.”

“PEP?”

“Post-exposure prophylaxis. Like a morning after pill if a condom ever breaks.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that was a thing.”

“It’s mostly used for health care professionals or victims of sexual assault, but yeah, it’s a thing.”

“So he’s okay with it?”

“He loves me,” Mikey says as though that should explain everything. “The risk is there; he knows that, I know that. But he loves me and he can live with it. The question is - could you?”

Pete doesn’t say anything. Mikey just stares at him, eyebrow arched and looking thoroughly unimpressed. "Alright,” he says eventually. Stay away from him until you know. He's been hurt enough."

Pete nods and watches Mikey scribble down some digits on the back of an envelope. “My number, if you decide you need it. Stay away from his work though. You’re stressing him the fuck out.”

--

Pete’s surprised to find a handwritten letter in his mailbox when he comes home from work a few days after that. There’s no stamp; he assumes it's been hand delivered. The envelope contains six $100 bills and a receipt from an all-night diner nearby, dated 3.47am the night before. The only thing on the bill is a cup of coffee, and there’s a scribbled note on the back of it.

“Maybe I’m too young
To keep good love from going wrong
But tonight you’re on my mind
So you never know.

-P”

He takes the receipt into the study and picks Jeff Buckley’s Grace from the shelf.

He carefully puts the record onto the turntable and moves the cartridge until the needle connects scratchily with the vinyl. The first bars of “Mojo Pin” swell slowly, hauntingly, painfully. He reaches for the bottle of Glenfiddich he and Patrick left there weeks ago and sits back against the wall, closing his eyes and trying to breathe through it.

It’s been almost a year since he blacked out in a parking lot. Almost a year since he came home from college and sat in his car on the way to buy an HDMI cable and realized he probably couldn't do this adulthood thing after all. Almost a year since he almost gave up and almost let all the sadness, suffering and self-loathing swallow him up.

It's been almost a year since he woke up in a hospital bed with his mother by his bedside and his father snoring in a chair in the corner. Almost a year since they gave him enough medication to dull the pain and keep him alive. Almost a year since he was convinced he would never mean anything to anyone.

He’s halfway through the record and mostly through the bottle when he finally texts Mikey. “I want to see him.” His fingers slip on the screen so autocorrect has to save the day.

“Frnk will literally KILL YOU if you fuck this up & I will help him bury the body.”

He takes another swig of the bottle.

"I won't fuck this up."

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

--

Pete deliberates over the wine for a ridiculous amount of time. The first part of the dilemma centers around color - red, white, rose? Then the grapes, the region and the vintage. He doesn't want to get something so cheap it's insulting, but he also doesn't want to bring a bottle that's too flashy. He stands in the aisle of the fine wine store and wonders what message he wants to convey with the bottle. Is it a thanks-for-having-me-I-love-what-you’ve-done-with-the-place bottle or a let’s-get-drunk-and-talk-about-our-feelings bottle, or a there-are-things-happening-in-my-chest-for-you-and-I-can’t-stop-them, or a I-stayed-up-all-night-googling-HIV-and-maybe-I'm-not-so-scared-anymore or maybe a I-want-to-kiss-you-if-you'll-let-me—

In the end, he closes his eyes and grabs a bottle of red at random, a bottle that hopefully doesn’t convey that he’s run out of time and panicked and grabbed something in a hurry. He’s surprised when he pulls up at the address in Mikey’s text message. It’s a quaint, old two-story villa with ornate windows and a spacious front porch. The garden’s a bit overgrown, but the property looks cozy and lived-in.

Mikey smiles warmly at him when he opens the door. He's wearing glasses and sweat pants and his hair is wet like he's just showered. "I wasn't sure you were gonna show," he says pleasantly. "Come on in."

"I brought wine," Pete says stiffly. He should have prepared something to say. "Thanks for having me."

"Awesome, dude. Come in."

Mikey leads him into a spacious living room with hardwood flooring and plush floral-patterned couches. It’s not what he expected their house to look like. It’s nice.

“Stop putting more salt in everything!” Frank’s voice comes shrilly from the kitchen. Pete follows Mikey on unsteady legs. “There are other spices than salt!”

“Fine,” Patrick snaps harshly, but he’s grinning as he says it. “But don’t come crying to me when your risotto tastes like baby food.”

He’s just dodging an elbow to the ribs when he spots Pete standing in the doorway with a random bottle of red wine held between two shaking hands. Patrick turns a loaded glare at Frank and Mikey, looking utterly betrayed. Frank holds up his hands in self-defense before pointing to Mikey.

“Talk,” Mikey says simply, shutting the kitchen door behind himself as he and Frank leave. “And don’t fuck on any of the food.”

Patrick glares at the door after it closes and wipes his hands on a dish towel. He leans a hip against the counter and stares expectantly at Pete.

“I brought wine,” he says again, in a voice that sounds significantly calmer than he feels. “From New Zealand.”

“No one asked you to bring anything,” Patrick says tightly. “And there’s a French flag on it.”

Pete puts the stupid bottle down on the counter and regrets it immediately because now he has two anxious hands with nowhere to go. "Mikey invited me to dinner," he says by way of explanation.

"I gathered as much," Patrick says, bunching the dish towel in his fists. "I didn't think you'd want to see me."

“I did.” Pete takes a deep, steadying breath. "Look, last time I didn’t— I didn’t mean to make you feel unsafe or… force myself on you. That’s not what I wanted to do.”

"You didn't," Patrick mutters bashfully, toeing a stray quartered mushroom on the floor. “I just haven’t kissed anyone since...”

"I get it," Pete says around something thick in his throat. "That’s okay, because I'm not gonna kiss you again. I thought you should know that. I'm not gonna do anything unless you want me to. You can have whatever time or space that you need.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“But if you want to,” Pete continues, hauling in a fortifying breath. “Then I'm available for kissing. Anytime. And I'm not terrible at it, so you know. Have a think about it.”

Patrick smiles a little and the relief of it hits Pete straight in the chest. He’s not saying the wrong things. He’s not fucking this up.

“I don’t like what you do,” Pete says, almost confident that he can get through this without fucking up at all. “But that’s your life and that’s up to you. I don’t like the decisions you’re making about your health, but they’re yours to make and I understand that you don’t feel ready to make different ones.” And I know you’re still in love with someone who isn’t here anymore, and that makes me really sad for you, but it doesn’t hurt me.”

“Thank you," Patrick says. "But I’m not exactly the kind of guy you bring home to your mother.” He looks shame-faced and he looks away. Pete doesn’t understand why he’s not getting this, why he’s not understanding that Pete’s here to make a big fucking romantic gesture and not to dwell on all the reasons Patrick thinks he’s not good enough for Pete.

Pete suppresses the instinct to reach for him, to wrap him up in his arms and comfort him. He digs his nails into his palms and keeps his distance. “You’re gorgeous and charming and you make me feel like the world might not be such a shitty place after all - you’re exactly the kind of guy I want to bring home to my mother.”

It feels like something shifts then, like Patrick actually finally fucking gets it, like this is actually going to be okay. And then the door suddenly flies open and Frank comes barreling into the room, shouting “I’m not here!” with his hands over his head like that might somehow conceal him.

He pulls a tray of slightly singed garlic bread out of the oven and turns off the dial. He looks apologetically at Patrick. “Sorry. Fire hazard. Please resume being gross.”

A truly uncomfortable, heavy, smothering silence stretches in the aftermath of the interruption. The oven’s gone quiet, save for a few crackling sounds. The garlic bread smells delicious. Neither of them seem to be moving. Pete has no idea where to go from here, so he falls back on the social niceties he was raised on. “I love what you've done with the place.”

“Thank you,” Patrick says, exhaling like maybe he’s relieved that Pete’s said something, anything. He glances around the kitchen. “It was Mikey and Gerard’s grandma’s.”

"That explains the lace curtains and the pictures of Jesus."

"She had old lady taste."

"Shabby chic."

"Pretty much."

“Cool. Well. I’ll let you get to it,” Pete says, moving to leave. “Mikey has my number if you need it.”

Pete’s hand is on the doorknob and his heart’s already sinking when Patrick calls, “Wait,” with what sounds like a small smile in his voice. “Stay.”

--

Pete was completely prepared for this being awkward. All three of them have sidled up to his passenger seat window at various times since he’s met them, offering themselves up for his consumption. But they couldn’t be more different here, sitting around their dining table in sweatpants and laughing through mouthfuls of over-salted risotto. They're surprisingly funny. They don’t look at him like he’s a zoo animal whenever he fumbles his words or loses his train of thought. None of them talk about hooking or cars or Patrick on his back for Pete's money, as though none of that exists in here.

More than anything though, they’re welcoming to him; asking questions, explaining inside jokes as they go along, shoveling more food onto his plate regardless of protests. Making him feel like maybe he could be part of this. He hasn't been part of anything for a very long time.

Mikey’s just gone off on a tangent about tractor pulling when Patrick reaches for Pete’s hand under the table. Their fingers tangle clumsily together in a clammy embrace. Pete misses the last part of Mikey's story because skin and heat and Patrick. The next thing he registers is the look Frank gives Patrick. It looks meaningful somehow but Pete can't decipher what it means.

"So when are we coming over to check out your vinyl?" Frank asks next, turning to fork more salad onto Pete's plate. "I hear you've got a wicked collection."

"Um," Pete says, surprised at how Frank's just invited them over like they've already decided to keep him around. He wonders what Patrick's told them to inspire this sudden trust. "Anytime."

"Saturday morning it is," he says. "I'll make pancakes. We'll bring Monopoly."

"Are you fucking kidding me—" Patrick starts, and then they're off on what must be a familiar argument about Mikey's improper business practices, Patrick failing seventh grade calculus and Frank being a sore loser.

Pete hadn’t realized how lonely he's actually been until there were people around him again.

Mikey and Patrick have just started on dessert in the kitchen when Pete gets a closer look at the photos on the mantel of the fireplace. He picks up a framed selfie that looks like it's been captured halfway through a fit of giggles. Patrick’s grinning face is crushed against the side of what must be Mikey's brother's, eyes squeezed shut and dimples showing. His face looks fuller, fatter, different. Happy, carefree. In love, maybe, if that sort of inference can be drawn from a single photo.

The other boy's mouth is open on a laugh, bright red hair messy around his joyous face. The only thing that unsettles Pete about the photo is the darkness in his eyes where they’ve met the lens, where they’re now staring lifelessly back at Pete. He’s— he was truly beautiful.

Pete feels a void where he expected jealousy to be. He catches Frank looking at him from the couch, where he's stuffing tobacco into a tiny sheet of rolling paper. He wonders how it feels for them, having him here instead of Mikey’s brother.

"Best friend I've ever had," Frank says with a thin-lipped smile. He licks the paper and rolls the cigarette into shape. "He would have liked you."

Frank pats his back on his way out to the front porch and Pete doesn't know what to say in return.

--

After a dessert of canned peaches and yogurt, Pete and Patrick sit on the back porch, watching the sun dip under the horizon. “I’m so full,” Patrick laments, leaning his head onto Pete’s shoulder. They’re holding hands again, their fingers playing together, thumbs sweeping over palms and tips of fingers sweeping over wrists. Letting go and holding tight.

“It’s nice to see you eat,” Pete says with a smile against his temple. “You need some meat on those bones.”

“My meat/bone ratio is fine. I’m just never hungry.”

Pete remembers the photo of him with Mikey's brother, how well-fed and chubby he looked beside him and how he’s felt thinner and thinner since Pete first met him. He thinks about how sadness changes a person, takes them apart in ways that don't come back together the same.

He wants to fatten him up, fill out his belly and thicken his thighs. Make him ravenous again. But he knows it won’t be that easy or that straight-forward.

“Stay the night?”

“I have a packed bag in my car.”

They both grin at each other. “Good,” Patrick says, nudging him with his shoulder. “I hope you brought a tooth brush.”

Pete doesn’t know if that’s a reference to Pete having bad breath or an invitation to leave it in Patrick’s cup or if he just really cares about dental hygiene, but he’s happy he brought one either way.

Pete nudges him back. "I can come with you to get tested. If you need me to."

Patrick sighs and sits up, wrapping his arms around his knees and turning away from him. "Knock it off," he says firmly. "It's not up to you."

"I know it's not, that's not what I meant. I get that you're not ready now, but when you are."

"Pete—"

"I can live with you being positive. I’m a little freaked out, but I seriously can. But Mikey and Frank and I need you to get treatment for it if you are. If you’re not, that’s awesome, but you and I still need to have a conversation about risk and safety and your job either way. I need you to be healthy no matter what your status is, because I want to be with you and I might want to be with you for a while.”

Patrick doesn't say anything, but it feels like maybe he relaxes a little. Pete puts his hand gently on Patrick's back and Patrick leans back against his chest. “Okay.”

“I can wait if that’s what you need," Pete murmurs, kissing his temple. "You can have whatever you need.”

The kiss catches him by surprise. It’s chaste and motionless and dry, barely a kiss, but Pete closes his eyes and breathes into it and feels it everywhere. Patrick’s lips part and he makes a small thin sound and Pete holds still and lets Patrick's lips move against his own. His tongue slips wetly over Pete’s bottom lip and Pete has to squeeze his eyes shut and haul in a breath and force himself to keep still.

Patrick murmurs a soft, broken “please,” and then their bodies spring into motion, hands grabbing and knees knocking and teeth clashing. The harsh pants and desperate moans between them sound deafening in the deep suburban silence. Patrick’s mouth is wet, open, eager, hungry. Pete can’t remember the last time he kissed anyone like this. If he ever has.

Lips become tongues and tongues become teeth, and soon they’re grinding against each other on the wooden deck, hands on jaws and shoulders and throats and sides and nowhere else.

When Patrick's hand reaches down to the zipper of Pete's jeans, Pete grabs his wrist to still it. He doesn't want this to be just another fuck, something that Patrick gives and Pete takes. "We don't have to," he murmurs, linking their fingers together. “I want to spend the night with you either way.”

“Don't be a dick, I want to.” He kisses him again, and it’s so good Pete can’t help but give in to him. “I want to so much.”

“Fuck, me too,” Pete mutters into his mouth, letting Patrick press him onto his back. Patrick undoes his fly and reaches a hand inside of his jeans and it’s good, until Patrick pulls back like he’s been burnt and Pete startles, sitting up. “What—”

Patrick’s looking past him to where Mikey and Frank are pressed against the French doors, making lewd gestures. Frank thrusts a lone finger into a circle made with his thumb and index finger. Mikey pistons his hips and pumps his fists back and forth. Frank is grinning. Mikey’s making porn faces. Pete is legitimately horrified.

“I’m pretty sure that’s international sign language for 'you can’t fuck on our back porch,'” Patrick says with a sweet, embarrassed laugh. Pete hides a blush against his neck and Patrick reaches down to zip Pete’s jeans back up. “Um. Do you want to go upstairs? Or?”

“Yeah, about that... ” Pete starts, but he doesn’t know how to finish. He doesn’t want to fuck this up, but he can’t lie either. “I’m gonna need some time to… wrap my head around this. I don’t really know what kind of sex I’m gonna be okay with yet.”

“Oh,” Patrick says, sounding disappointed as he sits back on his heels. He folds his hands over his groin like he’s embarrassed that he’s hard. “I didn’t mean to— we don’t have to do anything if you’re not comfortable.”

"Hands are okay," Pete says hopefully, kind of embarrassed that he has to negotiate this in advance. "For now. I think. Until I... get comfortable. Just. Just for now."

“Yeah,” Patrick breathes, nodding. “Yeah, okay. Gloves, condoms, toys. Whatever you want.”

“Maybe more later, but just. Just that. For now.”

“C’mon,” Patrick says, taking his hand. Frank and Mikey wave smugly at them from the couch when they walk past and Pete is still mostly horrified. Patrick kisses him again as soon as they hit the landing at the top of the stairs, tackling Pete back against the wall and kissing him like he can’t stop. They somehow make it to the room at the very back of the corridor, walking backwards and stumbling over sneakers and themselves and something that feels furry and soft and gives a disgruntled meow.

Once they’re inside the bedroom, Patrick slams his hand clumsily against the wall a few times before a row of fairy lights over the bed bloom into a dim, warm glow. He’s already pulling Pete’s shirt off his chest while Pete undoes Patrick’s fly. He can’t fucking wait to feel him naked and willing and warm against himself, to know that he can kiss him and touch him and kiss him and kiss him and kiss him.

They fall heavily into the bed with a strange crackling sound that interrupts them both. They separate slightly to look at the truly impressive amount of condoms that have been strewn across the bed like rose petals. "Fucking assholes," Patrick sighs with an amused expression. He kisses Pete again, hot and decadent and promising. "I believe we have their blessing."

It’s an utterly ridiculous intermission, Patrick nearly falling off the bed as he sweeps little plastic packets to the floor and Pete sitting up to find three condoms stuck to his back. They grin at each other once they’ve cleared enough space to lie down and then hands are finding faces and teeth are finding lips and they’re kissing all over again.

Patrick straddles one of Pete’s thighs, pressing a thigh gently between his legs. "I want to fuck you," he says gruffly, and Pete has to close his eyes and rub up against him at the very thought of it. "I want to bend you in half and fuck you until you come all over yourself."

Pete knows he's just talking, that he understands that Pete needs time to process things like safety and boundaries and risk before he'd be ready to do anything like that. But just the thought of Patrick taking his legs over his shoulders and burying himself deep inside him makes a dark want clench in his gut.

"Would you let me?" He asks with a wet kiss to Pete's jaw. The way he's grinding down onto Pete's cock is pure torture - Pete needs to be out of these fucking jeans and up against Patrick's bare skin right now. "With fingers and a toy?"

"Yes," Pete says, reaching down to undo their pants. He gets his hand into Patrick’s briefs and cups his balls, strokes his taint. "Anything." He realizes as he says it that he'd probably do a lot of things for Patrick that he hasn't let anyone do to him before.

Their pants hit the floor within seconds. Patrick pulls condoms and lube and a stupidly purple dildo out of his nightstand drawer. Pete can't help but notice the lube and condoms are a different brand to what he uses when he's working, and it reminds him again that this is something different. That they're doing something new, something honest and raw and theirs.

Patrick pulls a pair of black latex gloves from the drawer, but Pete takes them out of his hands with an incredulous, amused laugh. “This isn’t open heart surgery, let’s not completely freak out.”

“Shut up,” Patrick mutters bashfully, adorably, clearly embarrassed. Pete cups his face and presses a smiling kiss against his mouth. Patrick reaches for Pete’s cock and gives him a few slow, luxurious, firm strokes. He licks his lips obscenely as he watches his hand. Pete is going to need a fucking pamphlet to map out different levels of risk, because he cannot live without having Patrick’s mouth wrapped tight around his own cock again sometime soon.

Patrick gives him two slick, clever fingers at once and Pete grabs his bicep hard while he processes the shock to his system. He knows two fingers aren't much, but there’s that slight pain that always comes with penetration and the complete headfuck of letting someone else inside of himself. Patrick’s eyes are rapt with want and Pete can't look away. He takes a few steadying breaths and spreads his legs a little wider, feeling so fucking vulnerable and so completely gone for him.

He lets go of Patrick's bicep and cups the back of his neck to pull him closer. Patrick leans over him, crushing his thigh back against his chest. He fucks him like that, slow and steady, his cock hard against Pete’s thigh and mouth open against his own. Somehow it feels more intimate than most of the actual fucks Pete's ever had.

His fingers are slender and strong and precise, and his thumb grazes deliciously against his balls and Pete can't help the desperate sounds he's making or the way his entire body seems to be shaking with it.

“I thought so much about this,” Patrick whispers, twisting his fingers a little and making Pete gasp with it. “You have no idea how much I wanted to fuck you that time at your place.”

"Wanted that too." Pete bites Patrick's tongue and swallows the resulting moan. "So much."

Once the initial ache has subsided and Pete's taking his fingers easily, Patrick pulls out to sheath and lube the toy up. Pete watches him do it, imagining Patrick using it on himself, fucking himself with it while he jerks off. He pictures his heels dug into the mattress and his eyes squeezed shut and his lips bitten to not make any sound. He wants to see that in person one day.

Patrick's staring intently at him as he pushes the toy inside his ass. Pete’s back arches and he grabs Patrick’s bicep again to still him. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just… a lot. Almost too much.

“You okay?” Patrick asks cautiously and Pete kisses him hard and moans a wordless affirmation into his mouth. He feels overwhelmed, desperate, reckless.

Patrick seems to understand, smiling at him like this is making him happy. He drops his damp forehead to Pete’s and doesn’t start moving until Pete lets go of his arm again. When he does move, it’s to angle the toy gently upwards until Pete shudders and whimpers and gives himself over to it. Patrick starts a slow rhythm and Pete reaches down to stroke Patrick in perfect time with it.

It’s not the first time he’s bottomed and it's never quite been his thing, but this is possibly the most intense fucks of his life. All he can think of is that Patrick is fucking him, that he's inside of Pete in ways that Pete has never felt anyone inside of himself before.

It's not big enough to be a cock and it's too hard to feel like one, but Patrick is so close and it's so fucking good that he can barely take it. Pete gets a hand on his own cock and strokes it firmly, already so close. He could speed his hand up and come in moments, but he wants to stay with Patrick in this space they’ve made for as long as he can hold on. “Good,” Pete groans, because he feels like he should say something.

Patrick smiles and says, "I know."

It feels like it’s the first time they’ve ever truly fucked, the first time there’s been no pretense, no performance, no meter running. The way Patrick’s fucking him rocks them rhythmically back and forth and Pete has to hold on the back of his neck to keep his mouth against his own. Everything is breath and sweat and sensation and Pete needs to let go, needs to give in and let it swallow him whole. He feels the pressure building in his pelvis, his muscles tensing, breath hitching and face contorting and he'll need to be quiet but he doesn't know if he can.

“Let me lick your fingers when you come,” Patrick whispers into his panting mouth and that’s all it takes. He comes noisily for what feels like ages, jerking hard against Patrick’s body as he keeps fucking him. Patrick's grinning this beautiful self-satisfied grin and murmuring "fucking gorgeous" against his chin.

He doesn’t stop until Pete’s twitching and mewling and hiding his face against his neck, and when he does it’s to throw the toy away and give his balls a soft squeeze. Pete runs a hand over his own torso, scooping up as much come as he can. Patrick sucks his fingers greedily into his mouth, tongue swirling and lips tight like he’s sucking on Pete’s cock. His eyes are closed and his brow furrowed, like he's doing it because he genuinely loves it and not for Pete’s viewing pleasure.

Pete watches him, mesmerized. He pushes his fingers in until he’s at the third knuckle and can’t get any further, amazed at how easily Patrick takes him. He fucks his throat and Patrick moans like he can’t get enough, grinding his hard cock faster against Pete’s hip. He gags and coughs a little when Pete accidentally jabs a tonsil and when Pete pulls his fingers away, they’re slick with thick saliva.

"Spit," he orders, and Patrick complies without question. Pete's dripping wet fingers grip Patrick's cock in a wet, tight slide. He moans out a litany of “yeah, yeah, yeah, fuck, Pete,” before he keens and ruts hard into Pete’s grip and comes utterly undone. Pete presses his face against his and claims his mouth to drink in his moans and curses and harsh breaths.

It’s quiet after that. Neither of them break eye contact and neither of them move. They should clean up, wipe Patrick’s come off of Pete’s belly and wipe off the lube between his legs. They should deal with the dildo and condom and the tube of slick that’s lying somewhere on the bed. They should apologize to Frank and Mikey and everyone in a ten mile radius for all the noise they’ve made. They should brush their teeth and find something to sleep in and turn the lights off. They should deal with the hundred condoms strewn across the bed and floor, but...

But.

Patrick kisses him again and Pete still feels it everywhere.

--

Pete considers it a fucking feat when he reaches the far corner of Patrick’s room without waking him and/or dying. He moves acrobatically around the condom-covered floor, careful not to step or slip on any of them. He doesn’t want to wake Patrick, who’s having a rare night off from work and needs the sleep. But he’s wide awake and curious about the twenty or so canvases tucked away in the corner of the room.

At first he thinks they’re Patrick’s, until he sees the signature at the bottom right of each piece.

It’s an eclectic assortment of work: bloodied wedding photos, undead ballerinas, zombie armies, funeral processions, futuristic superheroes, neon ray guns and trans am cars. The paintings are either dark as pitch or in bright technicolor, with nothing in between. Pete considers what that says about the person that painted them, what that might say about highs and lows and other things Pete understands very, very well. There’s a particularly haunting portrait of a boy with platinum white hair and gaunt, dark features. He looks like a ghost, or a junkie, or both.

There’s an elegant old lady with a weathered, kind face. A painting of Frank as Frankenstein and Mikey as a unicorn, holding hands. The backs of two heads under a rain-soaked umbrella, one bright blonde and the other bright red. The symbolism of the blonde boy’s hand on the umbrella isn’t lost on Pete.

The Patrick that Gerard knew had unkempt, long hair that fell into his eyes and ridiculous sideburns that made him look like a grizzly fisherman. He held balloons in one hand and reindeer antlers in the other. He had a round belly and an easy smile. Gerard knew him in vivid, blinding technicolor.

There’s a painting of Patrick sleeping that looks like it’s been painted from the armchair in the other corner. He brings the canvas over and takes a seat, comparing the scene in front of him with the scene on the painting. The bedroom hasn’t changed much. Patrick’s half the size he used to be.

He crawls back into bed and a sharp intake of breath signals that he's woken Patrick. "Sorry,” Pete whispers, kissing his cheek and sneaking under the covers. “I didn't mean to wake you. I couldn't sleep."

"S’cool," Patrick mutters sleepily, eyes blinking in the dim light. “Everything okay?”

“I was just looking at Gerard's work. He was really talented."

"Mmm, he was," Patrick says, with a small, sad smile in his voice. "Kind of a big deal, too. Gallery shows and commissions and murals and that sort of thing. Each one of those is worth somewhere upwards of $2K, maybe more now that he’s gone."

Pete doesn't think it's the right time or place to ask, but he wants to understand so he asks anyway. “Was it an accident?”

"Fuck, Pete."

"You don't have to say."

"Frank and Mikey think it was,” Patrick says thickly, closing his eyes again. Pete gets it, gets that he doesn’t want to look at him for this. That he needs a bit of space. “I'm not so sure.”

“Why not?”

"I’ve never seen anyone hurt so much and for so long. It was excruciating to watch." Patrick brings his covers closer and moves his legs so he isn't touching Pete anymore. "He used to say I was the only good thing he could remember when things got bad. I never doubted that he would stay alive for me no matter how bad things got.”

Pete wants to reach for him, to wrap him up and carry him through the sadness, but this isn’t something that he can fix.

“But then—” he says in a strangled, staccato exhale before he shifts around and waits until he's breathing normally again. He looks like he’s barely keeping it together. Everything in Pete hurts for him, a deep, hollow, bottomless ache he doesn’t think he’s ever felt for anyone before. “We looked everywhere for a note. But I don’t know.”

Pete almost reaches for him.

"I don't know what's worse. If he was so desperate to stop hurting that he would leave me behind,” Patrick says. “Or if he accidentally took too much and was taken from me when he didn’t want to go.”

Pete wants to say something supportive or encouraging or affirming, but all he can do is lie there and swallow his sadness and say nothing. Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.

“I don’t think anyone would have wanted to leave you,” Pete whispers when he regains his words. “Not if they could help it.”

“I don’t know. Maybe he couldn’t help it anymore.”

“You should sell some of those canvases,” Pete says, and he realizes belatedly how abrupt and cold the turn in conversation sounds. “Tie that money up in bonds, stocks and securities, add whatever money you can spare, set yourselves up.”

“No.” Patrick immediately shakes his head. “I can’t lose more of him than I’ve already lost. I can’t fucking look at them, none of us can, but we’re not getting rid of them.”

“Think of it as him taking care of you, all three of you.”

“We’re fine.”

Pete considers the crumpled bills Frank put down on the reception desk that night at the clinic. How far behind they already were on payments. How surprised Patrick looked when Pete asked him for a full night, like no one had ever offered him that much money before. The $30 price tag on a parked car blowjob. They’re barely scraping by, they must know they are.

“Mikey’s going to need health insurance,” Pete says gently, but he doesn’t think he’s saying anything Patrick hasn’t thought of before. He suspects it’s a conversation they’ve all been actively trying not to have. “He’s fine now, but he’s going to need a long-term plan down the track. There are going to be side-effects and drug resistance and complications. You don’t know what’s coming.”

“No,” Patrick says. “But we could sell all of that and it would cover his bills for about two years and then we'd be right where we started, with nothing to remember Gee by.”

Pete wants to say that memories live in hearts, not artifacts, or something like that, but it doesn't feel like that would be especially helpful. Instead, he says "You know what I do for a living, yeah?"

"What are you saying?"

“I’m saying I could help turn his work into a better life for you. If you’ll be patient with the investment and if you’ll give me whatever extra money you can rake in after expenses, I can help you.”

“I don’t want—”

“I’m not trying to Pretty Woman you,” Pete sighs. “I’m offering you basic financial planning and investment management, because you’re someone I care about and that’s just a nice, human, friendly thing to do.”

Patrick presses the heels of his palms into his eye sockets. “Are you sure that would work?” he asks, voice muffled by his forearms. “I can’t give those up unless you’re sure.”

“I wouldn’t fuck this up.”

“Come here,” Patrick pleads, and Pete presses his mouth against Patrick's to swallow an exhale that tastes like relief, maybe trust, maybe hope. Pete needs it to be hope. "I'm working tomorrow night."

Pete's gut clenches at the sudden turn in conversation and the unwelcome reminder that Patrick's body will go from his own arms into someone else's. He doesn't want to think about it. He doesn't want to, but he knows he will. Incessantly.

"Okay."

"I can't give you an easy happy ending like you deserve. I'm working tomorrow because I have to work."

Pete wants to talk about mouthwash and scalding hot showers and scrubbing himself clean of their hands before he sees Pete. About shutting off that part of himself when they're together. About how they're going to see each other when Pete works days and Patrick works nights. About finding a financial assistance program or a scholarship or getting Mikey a job with insurance. But those are all conversations for another time.

"Can you handle that?"

Pete leans in to kiss him, slow and gentle, savoring his mouth. Nameless, faceless others will get parts of him and it’s going to hurt when he sees marks and bruises and evidence of it, but this is sacred. This is just for them.

"I can handle that," he says, and he fucking hopes he's right.

--

Pete wakes up with Patrick half on top of him, stale morning breath against the nape of his neck and limbs wrapped everywhere around him. The black out curtains have been left wide open and the morning sun is punishingly bright. He moves a little and Patrick sucks in a breath and pulls him closer.

“Am I a little spoon?” Pete asks sleepily, rolling over to nuzzle Patrick's throat.

“Looks like,” Patrick murmurs, sounding equally sleep-drunk, pulling away a little as Pete’s unshaven chin tickles him. Pete gets a hand under Patrick’s T-shirt, feeling his soft nipples, bony ribs, taut stomach, soft fuzzy pubes and, mmm, half-hard cock.

“Call in sick,” Patrick murmurs, pressing his face into Pete’s neck and his cock into Pete’s hand. “I’ll make sandwiches to bring to Dawes Park. Just a fifteen minute walk from here.”

“Mmmm… sandwiches,” Pete says idly, getting his mouth on a nipple while he jerks him off. He can’t really think about much else beyond making Patrick come and kissing his mouth when he does. “Walking.”

He’s pretty much already given up on whatever Patrick’s saying, grinding his own morning wood against Patrick’s hip to the same slow, drugging rhythm he’s jerking Patrick off to.

“There’s a clinic that does free HIV testing not far from there.”

Pete pulls back, eyes squinting open, hand stilling on Patrick’s cock. “Yeah?”

Patrick nods, rubbing his own eyes before he opens them. “You’re gonna have to make a lot of bad jokes to calm me down.”

“I tell the worst jokes,” Pete promises. “I have a great one about a melon and a cantaloupe lined up.”

Patrick gives a sweet snorting giggle. “I can get into cantaloupes."

Pete's heart feels almost unbearably full, like its humming in his chest. "Yeah?"

"Yeah,” he says, pressing a wet, smiling kiss to Pete’s mouth. “But orgasms first, then sandwiches. I’m starving.”