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When John's days are his own, he lives a comfortable routine. His shifts at the surgery keep him occupied, despite the mostly bland assortment of sniffles and aches; evenings are split between pub nights with mates and quiet dinners with the telly. He makes trips to the library and to the shops. He reads quite a lot. Eats less than he probably should. Sometimes he goes to the range and empties a few dozen clips into the targets.

It's not exciting, but it's comfortable. John moves through his days with persistence and good humor, qualities which have always served him well. In those rare moments of weakness, of discontent and boredom, he has only to flex his left hand—four slender rings glinting, snug at the base of each finger—and he feels fervently privileged once more.

He feeds and dresses himself, after all. He has a job he earned for himself. He keeps up with his education. He has friends of his own, a real life outside the house.

Best of all—oh, but he can't think that way, can't let a shadow of it linger on his face. He isn't pregnant. Isn't chained down with a full belly and babes clamoring at his heels. John is a carrier, a rare commodity among men, but he has never borne a child to full term. It should be a devastation to him.

Instead, he twists the rings slowly on his fingers and smiles secretly, mirthlessly. He finds it difficult to muster real hatred when his days are his own, but he never once forgets.


Be ready at 7 sharp, darling. We're going out tonight. XOXO

Ten short words of text—

P.S. Wear something sexy! XO

—thirteen words, and the day is no longer his own. John reads the message again, a third time, and numbly puts his mobile away. There's a routine for this, as well. It isn't comfortable, but it's comforting in its own way. Routine makes it a bit more bearable. Knowing what's coming is half the battle, he tells himself.

He finishes up at the surgery and hands the last of the charting to Sarah. Exchanges his farewells with the same smile as always. He doesn't tell her that his husband is in town. He definitely won't mention that she might have to find someone to cover tomorrow's shift; John can work around pain, but he doesn't dare work against Jim's wishes.

The trip home isn't nearly long enough. When he steps through the front door, John's eyes are immediately drawn to the thick, opaque garment bag hanging from the coathook. It's labeled Something Sexy! He takes it and goes up to his room—their room. It's empty, as expected. He has one hour for himself. (It isn't really his.)

John showers, cleans himself thoroughly with a briskness born of pure muscle-memory. He shaves and trims and clips. He rubs cream into his skin. No amount of preparation will beautify the scars. His scars don't protect him, anyway.

The garment bag contains several items. New trousers, new shirt, new waistcoat, all perfectly tailored to fit John's small frame. Shades of grey and black and deep, deep red. A smaller bag holds the accoutrements: silk tie, matching pocket square, onyx cufflinks. New pants, of course. Snug and silken, solid black.

John dresses quickly, fine fabrics sliding over his skin like tepid water. The fit is exquisite, of course. Every angle emphasizes his trim build and narrow hips. There is a hint of dark, forbidden delicacy about him in this getup; surely that's intentional. Aggressive colouring, diminishing cut. Clues as to how Jim wants him presented tonight.

With that in mind, John goes to the vanity and selects two eye pencils. A slender sweep of shimmering gold across the top lashline, to catch the light when he blinks; thicker black smeared along the lower rim. His lashes are soft and blond by contrast. He looks decadent. Jim will like the added touch.

The clock reads 6:46 by the time John is satisfied with his reflection. Or satisfied that Jim will be satisfied, at least. He slips his rings onto his fingers and traipses back down to the kitchen, jacket slung over his arm. He thinks he has time for a quick cuppa before Jim collects him. Tea is his permanent standby. Dear Christ, but he will have to be careful not to spill.

He's just set the kettle on to boil when an arm coils round his middle, startling him so badly he nearly jerks away. A soft chuckle unfolds next to his ear. Jim squeezes him close, all amusement. "Have you missed me, darling?" he murmurs playfully. His lips graze the side of John's neck, just above his collar. "So sorry for the last-minute invite, it all came up so suddenly—I'll have you to myself later, promise."

When the arm around his waist slackens, John pulls away to lean back against the counter. It's not an attempt to put distance between them; Jim doesn't withdraw enough for that to be a question. He's dressed just as beautifully as John is, in silver grey and eggplant that turn him sleek as a shark.

Business, then.

John reaches up to straighten Jim's tie. It doesn't need it—Jim is impeccable—but the little domestic touches always please him. He's in a good mood and John wants to keep him that way, so he tips his head up obediently for the kiss Jim drops on his mouth.

"Is there anything I should know?" John murmurs against his lips as he pulls back.

"Professional dinner. Everything nice and civilized. Come on, now." One of his hands slips round to press, warm and controlling, at the small of John's back. "It's bad manners to keep a client waiting."

A client. John can just about find an ounce or so of pity for the poor bastard. Judging by his mood, Jim's going to own the man's soul by the end of the night.