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I've got my mind set on you

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In retrospect, he should have taken the truck. It takes Marcus over an hour to walk to Peter’s house. It’s raining and his socks are soaked through within the first ten minutes, water welling up out of his shoes with every step. The cold is an ache in him.

He sees the light first; a dim orange glow through the trees which resolves into a homely cottage. Peter’s car is parked out front, next to the blocky veiled shape of a motorcycle under a tarp. Marcus’ steps crunch on the gravel and then he’s on the porch, out of the rain.  He puts most of his weight on the doorbell and discovers he’s shaking violently.

Peter opens the door. He’s wearing plaid pajama bottoms and a long-sleeved black shirt which advertises that he ran the Seattle Marathon in 2015, because of course he did. Behind him is a warm-lit corridor. Somewhere in the house a dog is barking. Marcus says, “I killed Andy Kim,” voice thick and angry and a little perversely triumphant, because at least now he can prove to Peter that he is absolutely and completely unworthy of his kindness.

Peter’s braced in the doorway, one hand on the frame. He frowns, and his eyes track over Marcus, who is dripping rainwater his porch and who has just confessed to murder. “So do what you want with that,” Marcus says, quieter now, “just — do whatever .”

Peter nods slowly. “I kinda figured,” he says. And nothing else. Doesn’t move from his position in the doorway. Marcus puts his palm against the wall to steady himself, shaking his head urgently.

“Don’t say that,” he says, and realises he’s crying. Laughing, too. He wipes his face. Snot and rain and tears: he must look like a nightmare. He must look like exactly what you don’t want a man you’ve kissed twice to show up at your door looking like. He must look pathetic. “You ever going to be surprised by the things I say?”

Peter holds out his hand. Marcus stares dumbly at it and hiccups out another undignified sob. “Maybe,” Peter says. “Come in and keep trying?”

There are a few seconds where Marcus genuinely considers walking away. Instead he inches forwards, over the threshold, and Peter stands back to let him in. When the door closes behind them it mutes the wail of the rain and everything is suddenly very quiet. “Sorry,” Marcus croaks. “This is a bad second date.”

“Sure is,” Peter agrees. The silence breaks with another explosion of yapping and a sudden flurry of paws-on-hardwood, and then the dog appears. It’s black and curly-eared and tall and immediately puts its front paws on Marcus’ belly to yap at him. “Come on, Addie. Down. Addie, down. No, don’t encourage her.” Marcus is already fondling her ears. Peter tch'es and takes his sodden elbow to steer him deeper into the house. Marcus’ shoes squelch every step and Addie comes panting merrily after them both. He doesn’t look down, afraid to see the muddy prints he’s leaving on the hardwood floor or — worse — what might just be handmade rugs.

“Okay. Shower’s through here; you get in, I’m going to fetch you some dry clothes. Towels are on the rack.”

Marcus says, “I can’t believe warming me up is your priority.”

“Trust me,” Peter says, and his grip tightens on the crook of Marcus’ arm for just a second, “we’re going to have a long talk about the other thing.”

Marcus puts that off as long as he can. The bathroom is fancy and modern and clean, all things he’s not used to, and the shower stays warm for over half an hour. He huddles under the spray and uses everything he can find in there; Dr. Bronner eucalyptus soap, expensive-looking shampoo and conditioner, some kind of grainy clean-smelling face-scrub stuff he takes too much of. Eventually there’s no possible way he can string this out longer, so he he peeks out of the bathroom door, releasing a rolling cloud of steam, to snag the clothes Peter has left neatly folded outside the door. Nothing in his size, of course. Grey joggers, too big at the waist and too short at the ankle, a black t-shirt that swamps him, an old blue jumper worn soft. Everything smells of Peter. Including him, now, he supposes.

He shuffles into the living room. It’s cluttered and homely and full of the paraphernalia of normal life, the type of stuff Marcus has never been in one place long enough to collect: an over-stuffed document organiser, a DVD collection, marathon medals, pictures on the mantelpiece. Most of them are of a girl who turns into a young woman as the picture quality improves and the photos get more recent. Peter is there and so is Addie, gnawing contentedly on a toy chewed beyond recognition, and so is that promised bottle of bourbon. Marcus flops on the sofa. “So,” Peter says, nudging a glass into his hand before taking the armchair across from him, “I’m listening.”

It all tumbles out of Marcus’ mouth like the stringy black mucus which the possessed sometimes sick up. It feels good to get it out. He has to start over multiple times, realises he’s taken the existence of demons as something he doesn’t have to explain; doubles back, gets a little bit into the Rances, shirks away again to the Kims. Peter listens and says almost nothing until it’s done. And when it’s done, Marcus is shaking again. His glass is empty. Peter comes to sit down next to him, pours him another: he has to hold the glass steady for him. He doesn’t have to put his hand over Marcus’ to do that, but he does anyway.

“Peter,” Marcus says, urgent and earnest. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have come here. To ask you to listen to this, it’s...it’s not fair.”

“I told you I wanted an explanation.”

“But this explanation is fucking awful and you shouldn’t have to hear it.”

“I wanted to all the same.” Peter lets out a long, slow sigh. “Demons, huh.”

“Maybe I should have led with that,” Marcus admits. “Are you a Christian? You never said.”

“I...no. I was baptised, got married in a church, all that, but I don’t believe. That okay?”

“Of course that’s okay.”

Demons.”

“I’d offer proof,” Marcus says, “but I don’t want you to have to ever see it.”

Peter nods slowly. “Okay,” he says. “I believe you believe what you’re saying. I believe something happened in that house. I believe you didn’t have a choice to do anything but what you did.” He considers Marcus. His dark eyes are very sharp, even after the bourbon. “Way I see it, if it was a demon, if all that’s true...well, that’s your job, not mine. You know better than me what that situation demands.”

“And if it wasn’t?”

Peter holds his gaze perfectly steady. “Then Andy made his choice,” he says. Marcus swallows, unable to look away. “Those kids okay?”

“Yeah,” Marcus croaks. “Yeah, they are. Somehow.”

“That’s good,” Peter says. Marcus  very slowly folds, pushing their shoulders together and putting weight on him. Peter’s arm comes up about his shoulders. He plucks at the borrowed jumper, smooths his thumb over Marcus’ shoulder once, twice, three times. “That’s good, at least.”

They stay quiet and listen to the rain outside. Addie snuffles happily as she chews a new hole in her toy, then comes over to investigate Marcus, more calmly this time. “Hey, gorgeous,” Marcus says, patting her head. “Hey, Addie. She’s beautiful.”

“She’s a handful.”

“Addie, don’t listen to him. You’re a creation of the Lord.”

Peter leans over a bit to rub her coat. He’s smiling when he says, “A pain in the ass.”

“Yeah. The Lord loves to create those.”

 

***

 

There’s no question that Peter will make him stay the night. There is the briefest moment when his eyes slip over Marcus, and he opens his mouth to frame a different question — Marcus has had three glasses of bourbon by then, and his eyes are puffy from exhaustion and weeping, but he can see plain as day what Peter nearly asks him: will you sleep in my bed? Marcus doesn’t know the answer to that, and so he’s relieved when Peter closes his mouth and, without words, makes the decision for him. There’s a guest room and Marcus takes it. Peter explains it used to belong to his daughter, who now lives in Australia. It’s been redecorated but there are height marks scored on the doorframe still: Marcus follows them with his thumb while Peter makes the bed. His daughter is called Helen and she had a growth spurt aged thirteen.

“Is Helen the one in the pictures? Downstairs in the living room.”

“That’s my girl. She’s all grown up now. Works on movie sets.” There is so much pride in his voice. Marcus smiles. “Had her pretty early, when me and Mia were still trying to make things work.”

“Mia’s the ex, then?”

“Yeah. We got married too young. Back on speaking terms these days, though.”

“That’s good. Congratulations.”

“Thanks. Here. You alright to sleep in those clothes? I figure you just got into them, so —”

“Peter,” Marcus says, catching his elbow. “I’m fine. I promise. Thank you .” Peter leans in and kisses him. It’s warm, it’s sweet; afterwards they stay holding each other for a little while, Marcus’ face pressed tight to his shoulder, and Marcus thinks: this is going to be awkward, you’re going to do something that will make it awkward. You’re going to hold onto him too long. You’re going to say something stupid. You absolutely do not deserve to be held like this.

Peter holds the back of Marcus’ neck and his mouth comes to his ear when he says, “Goodnight,” the word a tickle of warm breath on Marcus’ neck. He has to feel how Marcus grabs him tighter, and hear his throat click as he swallows: suddenly, Marcus doesn’t want to sleep separately, doesn’t want to let Peter leave this room — but Peter’s pulling away. He looks regretful, resigned, but he’s smiling too. His bright and intense eyes haven’t dimmed.

“Too much bourbon,” he says, putting a callused palm to Marcus’ cheek; Marcus grimaces, presses his face against his hand like some unruly puppy, and makes a noise of complaint. “Too much talk about death. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe another day. Go to sleep.” And even though Marcus tries to follow his touch when he pulls back his hand, Peter doesn’t indulge him: just gives him another wry and rueful smile and leaves him to the guest room.

Marcus mutters, “Shit,” quiet so Peter won’t hear him through the walls, and drops down onto the bed.

 

***

 

Two days pass in a haze of being comfortable. It’s so alien to Marcus that it makes him anxious. He gets overwhelmed on the second day and has to leave for a walk so he can’t get snappy or angry, and even then Peter gets him to take Addie, so his plans for solitary stomping and brooding turn into letting her lead him through the forest and he ends up feeling — good. Relaxed.

He still hasn’t slept with Peter. Not in any sense of the word. But they kiss more and more often, and Marcus rejoices in how easily and casually they touch each other.

On the third day, though, Peter makes Marcus jump nearly out of his skin when he puts a hand to the back of his neck as Marcus is caught up in drawing. The sensation sends a cold shock of fear through him for reasons he doesn’t understand. He drops his pencil and doesn’t breathe out until Peter says, “Hey, hey, it’s me, it’s okay. I’m sorry. You alright?”

Marcus looks down at what he’s drawing on the back of a scrap envelope purloined from Peter’s desk. It’s Tomas, but it’s not. He has too many pupils. “Uh,” he says, “yeah. Yes. Sorry.” Peter squeezes his shoulder and doesn’t say anything.

Marcus gets up and bins the paper. “Recycling,” Peter reminds him.

“Bugger,” Marcus says, and is about to plunge elbow deep into the rubbish to reclaim the scrap when Peter pulls him away.

“The earth can put up with one mistake,” he says. “Come on. This report’s as finished as I’m going to get it today. Worst part of my job. Let’s make dinner.”

Marcus grates courgettes and parmesan while Peter chops garlic and boils water for pasta. Marcus can’t remember the last time he had such a long stretch of home-cooked meals. Maybe eight years ago he’d spent three weeks at a convent in Italy, praying over a sister who spat and screamed and called him a cocksucker in Aramaic, and the nuns there had insisted on ensuring he was constantly full. Even towards the end of the exorcism, when his sleep schedule had been reduced to snatching moments of half-dream on the soiled mattress next to the sister, when there was no chance he could leave for a full meal, they’d refused to let him live on crisps and water and come with cake and coffee and flatbread and bocconcini. And in the end, the sister had been alright. She hadn’t been well enough to stand when he left, but she held his hand and said, “You come back here, Father. You had better. When you do, I’m going to feed you ‘til you’re fat and happy.” But he hadn’t come back.

“This is incredible,” Marcus says, once the pasta is done and he’s had a few incredulous mouthfuls. His tastebuds don’t really know how to cope with this kind of attention. He doesn’t really know how to cope with this kind of attention. Peter’s looking at him across the small dining table, so warmly and with so much pleasure that Marcus almost feels afraid to look back at him. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. It’s good to cook for someone other than me. I, uh, wasn’t so good at it when I was younger. Helen used to fear my attempts at oatmeal.”

When he talks about Helen, Peter’s voice ripples with earnest pride, and the creases about his eyes deepen. It makes Marcus’ chest seize up. “What’s she like, your daughter?” 

“Fierce as anything,” Peter says immediately, “and the cleverest person I know. Funniest, too. I wasn’t a great dad to her when she was young, but after the divorce...well, I was happier. Turns out it’s easier to be a good father when you’re not guilty all the goddamn time. Addie! No. Damn. Don’t let her have any food.”

Addie has put her head on Marcus’ knee and is whining for her share in the meal. Marcus knows better, but he shoots a grin at Peter and says, “Not the tiniest bit of pasta?”

“No.”

“She’s giving me the saddest eyes.”

“Because she knows you’re soft.”

Marcus laughs and fondles Addie’s ridiculous spaniel ears, concentrating on her so he doesn’t have to look up and make eye contact. “Is it that obvious?”

“Yeah,” Peter says, and even though Marcus’ head is ducked down he knows he’s smiling. He can hear it. “It is. Something in you, Marcus, all that care you have for the world around you, it just shines through. And every time you open your mouth there’s a seventy percent chance your heart is going to fall out of it. I don’t even think you know how to stop it.”

Marcus swallows, and laughs a bit uselessly. “Yeah,” he says, fake-jovial, “that’s me. Never seen a Christmas advert I didn’t cry over.” He braves a glance at Peter’s face and immediately regrets it. The tenderness in his eyes is almost too much to bear. He starts wolfing down pasta so he’ll have an excuse not to talk. After a few minutes, he says, “Tell me more about Mia and Helen?” He doesn’t want to sit in silence. He likes Peter’s voice. He just doesn’t want Peter to tell him that he’s kind, or good, or caring, because if he does he thinks he’ll start panicking right here at the table.

Peter fills up two glasses of water and nudges one towards Marcus, who gratefully takes it. “Mia’s a good person. Really didn’t deserve to end up married to me. I knew I was gay when I proposed to her...I think, anyway. I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t. It was a tough thing to know, back then. You know, to actually think those words, I’m gay. I didn’t really work it out properly until a few years into our marriage. But I knew something.”

“Hard to blame someone for struggling with that, isn’t it?”

“Sure,” Peter says, “if I’d only hurt myself when I was struggling, sure. But I didn’t.” He smiles at Marcus. “Don’t worry. Mia and I have had this talk. Several times over. We’ve done the angry version, the sad version, the relieved version. Hell, a few years ago we did the drunk and happy version, that was when we really made up, when we started being friends again. She got remarried recently. Husband’s a nice guy. David. Rich, ten years younger than her, extremely handsome.”

Marcus laughs. “D’you tell her that?”

“Sure did. She thought it was hilarious. He’s not my type of handsome, anyway.”

Marcus drains his glass of water and puts it back on the table. “Yeah,” he says. “So what’s your type of handsome?”

Peter narrows his eyes and smiles, all wry and charming. “I think you know.”

“Thick as two planks, me. Tell me.”

“You fishing for compliments?”

“Yeah,” Marcus says, grinning, embarrassed and excited and with pleasure making his toes curl on the bare hardwood floor. Nerves make him tap his fingers on the table, but they’re the good kind of nerves. He can’t handle Peter telling him he’s good or kind, but this — this is different, this is a kind of praise he can just about bear. “Yeah, I am. Take the bait?”

“My kind of handsome has a hell of an accent,” Peter says. “And eyes like — I don’t know. Eyes like nothing much I’ve seen before. Really beautiful, intense eyes.” Marcus laughs, just a single breath, a little overwhelmed already. “And zucchini on his shirt.”

“What — oh, shit. Thanks, thanks for telling me now —”

Peter’s chair scrapes on the floor and he comes over, cups Marcus’ face in both hands. “Relax,” he says, and kisses him, deep and slow, and the courgette, zucchini, whatever on his shirt doesn’t matter after that. When Peter’s mouth leaves his, he murmurs, “You like hearing how much I like you?” against Marcus’ lips.

“Oh God,” Marcus says, a bit strangled. “Yes. So much.”

“Want to come to bed? Hear me say more?” Probably he can feel how Marcus freezes up a little, because he adds, “Anything you like. Nothing you don’t like. I just want to lay down with you, that’s all.”

“Yeah,” Marcus says, forcing his way past his nerves. “Yeah, sounds good.”

So up they go, Addie yapping happily at their heels until Peter apologises to her and closes the bedroom door on her. She whines and scratches and then gives up. Peter says, “She really likes you.”

“Hm?” says Marcus, who is already poking through Peter’s things. The room is big and airy, with a massive bed, yet another bookshelf, a guitar on the wall: on a pinboard, amidst postcards and old to do lists, there is a picture of Helen, more recent than any of the ones downstairs, holding Addie-as-a-puppy. Beside that, another photo: Peter and a dark-haired woman who must be Mia. They have their arms around each other and they’re laughing. “Oh. Well, good, it’s mutual. I’m, you know, I’m mostly here because I’m friends with your dog.”

“Damn. That’s my hopes dashed, then.” Peter comes up behind him and puts a hand on the small of his back. “You doing okay?”

“Yeah,” Marcus says, turning to him, “yeah, I am, I just…” He licks his lips, unsure how to put this. He thinks Peter knows, but if he doesn’t — well, he doesn’t want to disappoint. “I was married, too.” That’s absolutely the wrong tack to take, though, because Peter frowns, trying to work that out. “Oh, no, no, I mean —” Marcus flicks his eyes up. “Him upstairs. Sorry. But — really. That’s how I always thought of it. And I never cheated. You know, when the hubby’s omniscient and omnipresent…” He smiles, abashed. “Anyway, I didn’t want to, for the most part. I had temptations, but I resisted, repented: at the end of the day, I was satisfied with God. With my vows.”

“Okay,” Peter says. “And before you were ordained?” 

Marcus shrugs. “Not much privacy in the boys' home,” he says. “Then...I was raised in the Church, for the most part. So...no. I’ve never done this, basically.” 

“Do you want to?”

God, yes,” Marcus says. “Just...don’t expect any, you know, fancy moves.”

Peter laughs, then, and pulls him down into a kiss. “I’ll revise my usual complex routine,” he says, dry and gentle, and then he’s kissing Marcus’ neck , which Marcus knows is a thing that people do but — his brain just shorts out, goes completely white. When Peter pulls back to check on him he can tell that he’s red in the face. God, he’s probably flushing right down his neck. He hates it when that happens. He doesn’t hate it this time.

“Bed?” he manages to suggest. Peter grins, spins him around and pushes him gently down, and before he knows it he’s on his back with Peter by his side and leaning over to kiss him, and that’s good, it turns out, maybe that’s even better than kissing standing up, because Peter can spread a hand on his chest and ever-so-carefully but ever-so-thoroughly press him down into the mattress. He doesn’t know why that makes him groan quietly into Peter’s mouth.

He’s slow to undress. Peter offers to turn the lights out, but Marcus shakes his head: he wants to see Peter, and the darkness won’t quell his nerves. The opposite, probably. So Peter turns on the lamp at the bedside table and leaves Marcus for a moment to switch off the main lights. The resultant orange glow is syrupy and warm and safe-feeling. Marcus loses his breath for a moment as Peter comes back and sweeps him up in his arms, for a moment not doing anything but hugging him. Then his fingers find the buttons on Marcus’ shirt. Once that’s off Peter pushes him back again, and for a few terrifying moments he just looks. He’s sitting between Marcus’ legs, his hands on his thighs. Marcus watches his eyes track over the scars, the faded and shaky stick and poke cross on his hip. Then, his voice all dark and low and shaky, Peter says, “You’re goddamn beautiful,” and starts to kiss Marcus’ chest. Marcus closes his eyes tight and winds his fingers in Peter’s hair and just — lets him. It shouldn’t feel so frightening to let himself be cherished. It does anyway. And that is what Peter is doing, cherishing. His beard tickles Marcus’ belly as he tracks lower, exploring the ridges of scar tissue on Marcus’ ribs.

“Malaysia,” he feels compelled to say. “Kuala Lumpur. 2004, 2005, something like that. Possessed boy got a knife, I can’t remember how.” Peter hmms into his skin. He’s got a hold on Marcus’ hips, thumbs pressing in in a way that makes Marcus’ mouth go dry and his voice all choked. He moves across, kisses a different scar: faint scald marks just above Marcus’ navel. Marcus says, “Umm, Argentina. Two years ago. Not a work thing, I — was making tea shirtless.” That makes Peter laugh, more so when Marcus says, “In a convent, which I got...I got in trouble for. I got in even worse trouble when I wouldn’t run cold water over it. That’s why it scarred. The Mother Superior wasn’t pleased.”

“No shit,” Peter says, propping himself up and smiling. His eyes are creased and warm and he looks relaxed. “Marcus.”

“Yeah?”

“I mean it. You’re gorgeous. So goddamn sexy.” Marcus has to laugh, because he doesn’t know what else he can possibly respond with. He tips his head back, grins at the ceiling. “No, don’t do that, look at me.”

“No,” Marcus says, “if I look at you I’ll say something incredibly embarrassing. Just — top-tier, bury-me-now mortifying.”

Marcus just has time to gasp as Peter moves up his body, straddles his thighs and takes his chin in his hand. He makes him look back at him and, their eyes locked together, he says, “You’re really fucking sexy,” and Marcus actually whimpers. He doesn’t mean to. Peter grins, and kisses him hard, and sits up to take off his shirt.

“Shit,” Marcus says, “nice tattoo,” because it is, it’s a really nice tattoo, a prettily-shaded fish on Peter’s left shoulder, in the classic I-want-to-be-able-to-cover-this-up location — but it’s a sort of ridiculous thing to say, he knows. He sits up to chase Peter’s mouth, runs a hand up through the silver fuzz on Peter’s chest, up to his shoulder, to the back of his neck; his skin is hot to the touch and he smells clean, like sage and salt and a little bit, also, like garlic, because he was chopping it not an hour ago — Marcus likes it. He buries his nose in the crook of Peter’s neck and inhales, and feels suddenly such a swell of simultaneous desire and sadness that he doesn’t know what to do. He screws his face up and hisses out a frustrated breath.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Marcus sighs, “yeah, I’m just being — just thinking — I don’t know.”

“What are you thinking?”

“If I’d done this before. Maybe I could have done this before. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel like this was so new, I could just enjoy it like a real human being and not — not panic when I start enjoying it too much.”

“Hey,” Peter says, gentle and stern, once again taking Marcus’ face and making him look at him. “Hey. You don’t have to do this right now. And if you do want to do it, I don’t think you’re going to do anything wrong.” He runs his thumb over Marcus’ cheek. “Lie down with me?”

They end up lying face to face, legs tangled up and foreheads together, their breath mingling. “This is shit,” Marcus says, frank and annoyed. “Not this this, this is good. It’s what’s in my head that’s shit. Wanting you to—to be good to me, and then panicking when you are because I don’t deserve your kindness, that’s shit. That’s really shit.”

Peter squeezes his hip. “Yeah,” he says. “It is. For you, not me. I’m good taking my time.”

“Fuck off and stop being self-sacrificing,” Marcus says, then kisses Peter carefully to make sure it’s clear he doesn’t mean it. There’s beard burn on his chin. It’s uncomfortable and good and it makes him feel things he doesn’t know if he’s ready to feel.

In the end, they just hold each other and talk about nothing much until Peter says he needs to sleep, he has work in the morning. They throw on jumpers and take Addie out together, and hold hands in the cold. When they get back upstairs, Marcus hesitates. Peter says, “Sleep with me. I mean, literally, sleep in my bed. You don’t have to, but you can. I want you to.” Relief floods him. He goes back to Peter’s room, and flops on the bed.

“Good. It’s comfy.”

“You okay with Addie coming in here? She sometimes does. I usually leave the door open for her.”

“I actively hope she joins us. She’s a good dog.”

“Pain in the ass.”

“Me or her?”

“Both. Hey. My bed, my rules. Sleeping in jeans isn’t okay.”

Peter has shucked off his jumper. He bends over slightly to rummage through his chest of drawers, and the soft paunch of his belly bunches up. Marcus rolls over to get a better view. “Make me take them off, then,” he says, mock-sensual, and Peter catches his eye and gives him an amused kind of smile which makes Marcus’ mouth dry up and his stomach contract tight.

“Maybe soon,” he says, with terrible, wonderful calm, and then he throws a pair of sweatpants at Marcus’ face.

 

***

 

“So they’re the only places on earth that life exists without the energy from the sun being involved?”

“No, not quite. More like the only complex ecosystems that exist that way.” Peter scritches Marcus’ scalp and Marcus huffs happily, letting himself enjoy the attention. His eyes are closed, his back to Peter’s chest; they’re both stretched sideways over the sofa. Marcus is too long for it and his feet are dangling over one arm. Addie is on his legs and snoring. “There’s a theory that’s how life on earth started, in the deep sea vents...oh.” His fingers still in Marcus’ hair.

Sleepy, Marcus tilts his chin up and says, “What?” His brain clears a bit. He laughs. “Oh, Peter . Are you gonna kick me to the curb if I’m a Creationist?”

“You know, I genuinely don’t know,” Peter admits, which makes Marcus chuckle harder.

“Maybe I am,” Marcus says, pressing himself back against Peter, getting comfortable. “Seriously, would you be upset?”

“I, uh...your religious beliefs, they’re not my business.” 

“You would be,” Marcus says, grinning wide. “It’d drive you mad, and you’re too nice to admit it. You’d hate that. Well, I’m not. Not in the 6-days-and-then-He-rested sense of the word. I believe God created your hydrothermal vents, and your everything else...dinosaurs, all of that.”

“There were probably around four billion years between the first life on earth and dinosaurs. Four billion.”

“Wow,” Marcus says. He pauses. “You sure? What’s, uh...what’s the evidence?”

He’s fairly sure that it’s only by the grace of Addie being on his legs that Peter doesn’t gently and quite deservedly kick him off the sofa. Instead, he groans and drops his face to Marcus’ shoulder, which is shaking with laughter. “Fossils.”

“Oh, fossils. Well, maybe God hid them —” This time, Peter squeezes him tight about the middle to cut him off, and Marcus’ laughter wakes Addie, who sits up and manages to stick her paws into every single one of Marcus’ bruises as she jumps off the sofa. “Ow, ow — maybe —”

“I don’t wanna be insensitive,” Peter says, mouth right up on Marcus’ ear, voice all low and smoky again, “but a man has his limits.”

Marcus, suddenly short on breath and giddy, says, “Come on then darling, shut me up good and proper,” and then Peter’s teeth are on his earlobe.

They’re quicker getting out of their clothes this time, all fumbling hands and squirming around on the sofa. Down to just his boxers, Marcus drapes himself over Peter, pushing his fingers through his hair and kisses him hard. Peter hooks an ankle over his and Marcus’ toes curl in, and then he’s pushing against Peter’s hips. “Fuck,” Peter says against Marcus’ mouth, pressing up, and then Marcus whines and gasps and shoves a hand between them and —  freezes. “Hey, hey. Hey. It’s alright, it’s okay, you’re good, you don’t have to —”

“No,” Marcus says, “no, I want...I want to touch you. Can I touch you?”

“Jesus,” says Peter, a little weakly. “Yeah. Yes. Of course.”

It’s a little awkward — Marcus has to shift sideways, prop himself up — but then his fingers, careful and shy and a little reverent, are stroking up over the outline of Peter’s dick where it bulges half-hard in his boxers. He repeats the motion with his heel, curious and slow, and his eyes flick up to Peter’s face when he hears him gasp. Peter’s expression startles him. He’s smiling, relaxed, pleased, warm. Marcus swallows down a weird, dizzy spike of jealousy mixed with want. To be that comfortable like this — but it’s not fair, that kind of thinking, it’s not fair to either of them.

“Come up and kiss me while you do that, gorgeous,” Peter says, and Marcus has to exhale slow and long to steady himself before he does. His beard scrapes his chin again and Marcus slips his tongue into his mouth as he curls his fingers tight in the waistband of Peter’s boxers and yanks them down his thighs. Clumsy but wanting, he feels out the hot length of Peter’s cock, wraps his hand around it, and — there is something magical, something powerful, something delightful in how Peter’s whole body crowds up to him as he strokes, how the rhythm of their kissing changes to complement how his hand works Peter over. Long and slow and thorough. Peter’s breath is ragged and when Marcus leans back he sees a dull flush across his cheeks, his handsome mouth just slightly open and his brows furrowed as if deep in concentration. He’s beautiful, Marcus thinks giddily, he’s really beautiful, all soft and folded and farmers-markety and fucking terrifying, too: gun-metal tough under aged Northface fleece.

In his hand, Peter’s dick has stiffened and filled out, and Marcus suddenly realises he can look at it. That’s allowed, that’s fine, that’s — more than reasonable. He does, and gasps at the sight: Peter’s cock, ruddy and thick and in his grip, rising from a thick patch of rough silver curls. He’s circumcised — Marcus isn’t — and the head of his dick is shiny and dark, slicked up with pre-cum. As he’s looking, Peter grips the scruff of his neck hard, enough to make him whine, and pulls him in for another kiss. A dull ache spreads through his wrist and he ignores it. And then Addie starts barking and Peter groans, “Oh, goddamn, the dog’s watching…”

For a second they both just look at each other, and then they start laughing. Marcus takes his hand away and collapses onto Peter’s chest, cackling into the thick grey thatch of his chest hair and kicking his legs against the arm of the sofa. Peter shakes with shared laughter, hugging Marcus tight. “Christ,” Marcus says, “yeah, no, that’s no good.”

“It’s time for her to eat, anyway.” Peter pinches Marcus’ side gently, makes him shiver. “You go upstairs. I’ll be up in five minutes.”

“I’m going to — I’m going to warn you, I will get the urge to do the draw me like one of your French girls pose, and I probably won’t do it, but the idea is already making me laugh —”

“Get off,” Peter says, laughing, “go on, go up. Addie, no, don’t follow him.”

In Peter’s bedroom, Marcus realises he still has one sock on. He hops on one foot to get it off and bumps his shin on a chest at the end of the bed. He pokes through the spines of the books on Peter’s shelves because he can’t sit down, because then he might start thinking and then he might start panicking. Spy thrillers, more Le Carré than Fleming; Michael Chabon; Naomi Klein; Bertrand Russell; Haruki Murakami; a single slender volume entitled Best Gay Erotica 2011. He grins, helplessly charmed.

When Peter comes in he’s flicking through it. “Research,” he says, looking up and waving it at Peter, who flushes and looks at him with raised eyebrows. He puts the book back and crosses the room. “Not as good as the real thing.”

“You get into everything. How you feeling?”

“Good,” Marcus says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He smiles, jerks his head towards the bed. “Let me finish what I started?”

Peter kisses him and pushes him backwards until the backs of his legs hit the side of the mattress, and then they tumble down together. Slower and less frantic now, Marcus rubs his hand up and down Peter’s thigh, enjoying how the hair there feels against his fingers when he pushes it the wrong way. They fit their bodies tight together and Marcus shivers, rubs against Peter: it feels lewd, rutting like this, and that makes him want to do it more, so he does. Peter says, “I can feel how hard you are,” and Marcus has to screw his eyes shut against the weird thrill of shame and pleasure which clenches tight in his stomach. “Hey, that’s okay, that’s good, I like it. Like feeling how hot you are for me.”

Jesus,” Marcus croaks, feeling half-undone.

“Can I touch you? It’s okay if I can’t.” 

“No, I want you to. Touch me. Can I…?” 

Peter tips them sideways so they’re face to face, knocks his nose against Marcus’. “God yeah,” he says, and Marcus can’t help but grin at the sheer excitement on Peter’s face. “Hey, let me do something first?” Marcus nods — and Peter grabs his hand and takes two of Marcus’ fingers into his mouth. Marcus isn’t done stammering or gasping before, after a quick flick of his tongue, Peter pulls off with an obscene noise and then licks his palm roughly.

“Fuck me,” Marcus says with a long exhale. Peter winks. “Fuck you,” Marcus amends, which makes them both laugh, and Peter pulls Marcus’ spit-wet hand down to his cock again.

“Come on,” Peter says, “that’s right, now get me nice and slick. That’s how I like it. God, that’s good.”

“Oh my God,” Marcus says, a little faint. “Oh Christ. You — you’ve really got a mouth on you.”

“And you haven’t?”

“I, how — how are you doing full sentences, am I doing something wrong?” Marcus says, half-joking but half really not, breath coming hard. Peter kisses him, a bruising, bristling kind of kiss.

“You’re doing fucking amazing,” Peter says. “You’re incredible, just — just incredible.” He hooks his fingers in Marcus’ waistband finally, finally , and frees his cock. Marcus’ hips jerk as he’s exposed to the open air, and then Peter’s fingers are wrapped around him. His grip is tight and practised, and Marcus’ brain just — fizzes, shorts out. His hand stutters on Peter’s dick. “That good?”

Marcus just buries his face in the pillow and buries the noises he’s making too, mortified and delighted and shoving hard into Peter’s hand. “Oh no you don’t,” Peter’s other hand comes up, cradles the back of his neck. “Look at me, gorgeous. Come on, look at me. Take your hand off me now. Let me take care of you.”

“Oh, Christ, oh my God, you can’t just say things like that…”

“Easy,” Peter says, letting up; “do you need me to stop?”

“Oh no don’t you sodding dare—”

So he doesn’t stop, just strokes Marcus until he’s panting and clutching and bucking, and doesn’t let him hide his face or look away, just keeps murmuring to him, gorgeous and sexy and fucking perfect. Marcus talks back, gabbling nonsense, until he cries out and squeezes his eyes shut and comes over Peter’s hand and Peter’s chest and Peter’s belly, and Peter says, “My God,” in a tone of shocky amazement. 

In the peace afterwards the world buzzes in Marcus’ ears, interrupted by a few residual bursts of white-hot pleasure as Peter strokes him twice more and then takes his hand away. Marcus opens his eyes and Peter is looking at him with a tenderness he’s surprised to find he can bear.

“You okay?” Peter asks, voice very soft, and Marcus nods, closes his eyes again. “Oh, wow. This is when you go quiet?” Marcus grins, feels Peter’s laughter flutter across his mouth. “Beautiful. Just beautiful.”

“I should...you…”

“I’m good, I’m good for now.”

“Sure?” Marcus says, groggy and half-gone.

“Completely. Hey. I’m going to get some tissues. You stay right there,” Peter adds, as if Marcus could move right now. All he’s able to do is roll onto his back and crack his eyes open to watch Peter get up and pick up a box of tissues from the top of the dresser. His breath hitches at the sight of the come striping Peter’s belly. Peter hears, looks over, smiles. “See something you like?”

“A lot,” Marcus croaks, “yeah. A lot of things I like.”

 

***

 

Received wisdom would have it that after getting off once, it’s easier to go without. Blow off some steam, then wait a bit until all that tension builds again. It makes sense. It’s wrong. For the first time in God-knows how long, Marcus wakes up so hard he aches, the head of his cock slick and wet: as the sensation filters in and he wakes up, he groans and shoves his face into the pillow and wonders what the fuck to do. He’s wrapped around Peter, his chest to Peter’s back: as Marcus breathes in slow, tries to clear his mind and get his body under control, Peter stirs and turns.

“Morning,” Peter says, voice crackly with sleep. His hand finds Marcus’ hip and he fits their bodies together. “Oh, hey.”

“This teenage bullshit is the kind of thing I became a priest to avoid.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“No, it isn’t,” Marcus mumbles, defeated.

“You embarrassed?”

“I’m fifty three! I’m in danger of dying with every erection. I’m terrified.”

Peter laughs bright and loud and shoves Marcus over onto his back, leaning over him. “Shut the hell up,” he says warmly, and kisses him. It’s morning-sour and Marcus doesn’t care. When Peter pulls back, he looks over at the clock, and says, “I have five minutes before I need to get up...unless I eat breakfast while I’m driving, I guess.” 

“Okay,” Marcus says, “okay, I shouldn’t encourage that, but I’m going to.”

Peter leans over, hits a button on the clock to stop the alarm from interrupting them, and then dives back down to kiss him, forearms framing his head. His weight on Marcus is wonderful, solid and urgent and reassuring in some primal lizard-brain way. Marcus settles under him, sinking into the relief of not having to do anything, not being able to do anything: lie back and take it, he thinks, a terrible thrill that makes him squirm against Peter’s bulk. “Gonna try something,” Peter tells him, and touches his thumb to Marcus’ lower lip. “Open up?”

After a second, Marcus does: takes Peter’s fingers onto his tongue, screws his eyes shut and hears Peter sigh and swear quietly as Marcus slicks up his hand. Peter’s skin tastes of salt and the feeling of his knuckles breaching his lips makes desire pulse even harder in his belly. “Now my palm. Same as I did last night.” Marcus makes a scratchy, useless noise as Peter pulls his fingers free of Marcus’ mouth and offers him the flat of his hand. He has to steady himself before he does as Peter asks, sticks his tongue out and licks a broad wet stripe across Peter’s hand. It feels utterly licentious, crude, wonderful, adoring: he knows he’s flushed from his brow right down to his chest. Peter kisses his forehead and says, “Thank you, perfect,” and puts his hand down between them, tugs down Marcus’ boxers and then his own — and then he’s gripping both of them together. Marcus shoves himself up and feels his dick slide against Peter’s, feels Peter squeeze, and something — probably something blasphemous — comes out of his mouth but he has no idea what.

Peter goes slow and steady but neither of them are going to last long, not staring at each other like this. “This is good,” Peter says, “I love seeing your eyes. Your damn handsome face, and everything that shows on it. Fuck.”

“Looking at me like I’m, I’m breakfast and you’ve been in the desert forty days,” Marcus says, gasping, not sure he’s making sense. “You’re so — God you’re gorgeous. God, oh my God. I—” He gets an idea, slides his hand down between them, beneath where Peter is holding their cocks together; his palm finds Peter’s balls, and he starts rubbing gently.  “Let me make you feel good,” Marcus pleads, as Peter screws up his face and rolls his hips over and over.

“Fuck,” Peter gasps, “oh yeah, oh God yeah,” and then his come hits Marcus’ belly, hot and sudden. Marcus inhales sharply and watches Peter’s face, transfixed — until after a few moments, Peter lets go, rolls over onto his back, and says, “Jesus Christ.”

Yeah,” Marcus says. “Yeah.”

“C’mere.” Peter extends an arm in Marcus’ direction. “Lemme hold onto you.”

“Sap.”

“Never claimed otherwise.” 

Marcus scoots over, puts his head on Peter’s chest. Peter wraps an arm around him. For a moment, Marcus hesitates, and then relaxes and presses close, ignoring how the come on his belly smears on Peter’s side. “Oh, thanks,” Peter says groggily.

“Welcome,” Marcus says. “Any time. Don’t go back to sleep. You’ve got work.”

“I’ve got more than work.” Peter squeezes Marcus’ shoulder and Marcus practically purrs. He’s still hard, his dick pressing up against Peter’s hip. “Just gimme a second.”

“Long as you need, darling. Long as you need.”

Long as Peter needs isn’t too long. After he gets his breath back, he kisses the top of Marcus’ head and says, “I want to blow you.” Marcus’ mind goes completely blank and Peter clearly reads his silence as a matter for concern, because he adds, “If you want that. We can do—”

“I want that, I want that,” Marcus mutters frantically, and Peter laughs all fond and still a little bit croaky from sleep. Marcus sits up so that Peter can get his arm out from under him, and says, “How — what’s the best —”

“You lie back and let me take care of you,” Peter says, calm and sly. He knows by now what that kind of talk does to him, Marcus realises: the idea gets him all ruffled and hot, makes him dig his toes into the brushed cotton sheet. He flops back and then yelps as Peter shoves back the covers, revealing Marcus’ flushed and wanting cock, the come drying on the trail of fair hair across his stomach, his boxers down about his thighs. The cold air hits him like a shock.

“Damn!”

“Quit your complaining,” Peter tells him indulgently, kissing his belly on his way down, then his hip bones, then his thighs, “I’ll have you warmed up in a moment.”

“You bastard — ah!”

Peter seals his mouth on him hot and tight, and his tongue does something , slides around the head in a way that makes sensation flick quicksilver-bright through Marcus’ whole body, and then he glides down and takes more. His mouth makes the most obscene sounds Marcus has ever heard. He’d never considered that aspect. Marcus grabs at Peter’s hair, winding his fingers in thick silver strands and holding on for dear life: “Oh shit,” he pants, “Peter, Christ, please .” Unthinkingly, he brings his knees up so that he has the leverage to thrust, but then Peter’s hands are on his hips, pushing him back down into the mattress, and Peter’s mouth pops off his cock. There’s a string of spit between the head and Peter’s swollen lower lip. Marcus’ eyes go wide. “Sorry,” he gasps, before he realises that Peter’s grinning — and that his grin is downright carnivorous.

“Oh no you don’t, gorgeous,” Peter says, gentle and tender, but still with that big wolfy smile. “You get what I give you.”

The high and needy whine that erupts from Marcus’ throat is not a sound he’s made before. He slumps back on the pillow, and Peter takes him back into his mouth. He moves his hands, flattens one on his belly to push him down, while the other cradles Marcus’ balls. Marcus twists against his hands, his mouth, and not long after he says, “Oh God Peter I’m going to — sorry —” and then he comes. It’s hard and it racks him and he can feel the hot sting of tears in his eyes.

He’s shaking when Peter moves up his body, pulls the cover back over them, rolls him over and holds him tight from behind. Neither of them say anything. Peter has to work, he thinks fuzzily, and struggles to take a few breaths without letting the lump in his throat dissolve into tears. It hurts. “Sorry,” he manages to gasp finally, “sorry, sorry.”

“Easy. Easy. Nothing to be sorry for. Just breathe.”

His head feels stuffed up, a dull ache behind his eyes like all the tears he’s keeping back are pressing on the nerves there. He finds Peter’s hand and squeezes it. Peter squeezes back. If he does start bawling, Marcus reminds himself, Peter will feel pressured to stay, and be late for work, and that’s not fair.

“Did I push too much?” Peter says. Marcus shakes his head. “When I held you down, was that too much? I’m sorry, Marcus.”

“No, no, no, no, don’t apologise. It was good. It was really good. I’m — not good at good.”

“Yeah, I noticed. Shhh. Shh shh.”

“Go to work.”

“I can call in.”

“Don’t you dare. I mean it, don’t you bloody dare,” Marcus snarls, and sniffs wetly, and swallows hard. “Get up. Go. Tell me what you’re doing at work today while you’re at it.”

Peter kisses the back of his neck, and Marcus screws his eyes up tight, rolls onto his belly so his face is hidden. Then he feels the mattress shift as Peter stands up. “Meeting a marine specialist down by the coastline site to consult on the site’s future, local biodiversity impact, that kind of thing. That’s my morning. In the afternoon I’m going over to the field station, going to talk to the site manager there about interns. We usually have one over the summer, I wanna see if we can get the funding for another. It’s good hands-on conservation experience for students, and we always need more hands. Then I’m heading out to see how work is going on the newest experimentation site, gonna lend a hand laying quadrants and doing species counts. Easy stuff. Gonna bring Addie with me.”

“Mmn. Sounds good.”

“I’ll be back around six.” Peter steps closer, puts a hand on Marcus’ shoulder. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Yes. Go.”

Peter goes. He must take his clothes with him to the shower because he doesn’t come back into the bedroom. Marcus hears him clatter in the kitchen downstairs, then hears Addie bark, the door slam and the car engine start.

Marcus curls into himself and breathes in the clean, woody smell of Peter and prepares to weep, but he’s held back tears too long and now he just feels snotty and stuffed up and no matter how he blinks the relief of crying won’t come.

 

***

 

Eventually the tackiness of come drying on his belly is too much to bear, and Marcus gets up and showers. The house feels big and empty without either Peter or Addie there. He wanders downstairs in just a borrowed pair of sweatpants and makes a fry-up with everything in the kitchen that’ll sizzle in oil. Puts on the kettle. Peter only has Earl Grey, and then a whole cupboard full of herbal nonsense with no caffeine in it. For a moment, Marcus gets really, genuinely angry about that, and then he catches how unreasonable he’s being. He swallows. He’s hungry, and he feels off-kilter and miserable. Fine. But he doesn’t want to take it out on Peter, not even in the privacy of his own head.

That spike of anger keeps coming up, though. Like a bruise he forgets about until he knocks it again. It scares him. He spends the day trying to ignore it, flitting from activity to activity: he half-cleans the bathroom, half-sketches a tree outside, picks up three different books and then fitfully discards them. He raids Peter’s kitchen for snacks and drinks too much Earl Grey: it makes him feel sick. Eventually he resorts to prayer, annoyed with himself for having thought of it so late. Some ex-priest. No wonder God ignores him, when he ignores God.

Maybe he times his Rosary with Peter’s homecoming. Marcus really isn’t sure. What he is sure about is that it’s a Tuesday and that means it’s time for the Sorrowful Mysteries. He kneels on the hardwood floor by the bed in the guestroom, beads looped in his hands, and he prays as hard as he can. One decade. Two decades.

He couldn’t cry earlier today. Well, the Sorrowful Mysteries might help with that. His hands shake as he announces the third Mystery, the Crowning With Thorns. He breathes in deep and plunges himself into the meditation, making himself see the pricking of the blood, the twisting of the face, the cruel indignity of the awful garland. “...sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen. Hail Mary, full of grace…” It feels good, those familiar perfect words coming in that familiar perfect order.

The Glory Be is in his mouth when the car comes up outside, when Addie and Peter come home with much crashing and clattering and yelping downstairs. Peter yells, “Marcus?” first thing, and Marcus squeezes his eyes shut tight.

The fourth Sorrowful Mystery is the Carrying of the Cross, when Jesus Christ fell three times on his slow and bloodied walk to Calvary. When Mary met her son and saw him red and beaten. Marcus thinks of splinters and mothers, and that makes him think of Harper’s mother in particular — he shudders, breathes deep, lets the Virgin take that memory from his mind. “Hallowed be thy name,” he says, “thy kingdom come…”

“Marcus?”

“...as it is in Heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”

Footsteps on the stairs: Addie yapping and scrambling along, her collar clinking, Peter shushing her. He goes toward his own bedroom first and then he must hear Marcus murmuring in the guestroom.  His footsteps come outside the door.

“...deliver us from evil, amen.” He takes a breath, moves to the next bead and rolls it between his fingers. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” Peter opens the door a crack. Marcus screws his eyes closed even tighter, tenses up — and Addie bursts through. Peter shouts at her and she ignores it, throwing herself merrily at Marcus, delighted to find he’s kneeling and therefore his face is close enough to lick. Marcus hisses and pulls away, and Peter steps in, grabbing Addie’s collar and hauling her back. Raising his voice, turning his head away and gripping his beads, Marcus snarls, “Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus —”

Peter drags Addie away, closes the door, and stomps downstairs.

Marcus, breath catching, says, “The fruit...of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is...the Lord is…”

He falls silent, hangs his head. The beads fall through his hands onto the floor. “I know,” he says, to the silence. “I know, I know. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do.” But that’s a lie. He knows exactly what he’s being told to do in this moment. He takes a shaky breath, picks up the beads, does the Sign of the Cross and stands. He wipes his nose and his eyes with the cuff of the thick grey Arran-knit jumper he’s borrowed off Peter. He goes downstairs, beads still in hand.

Peter is rattling dishes in the kitchen. With a wince, Marcus remembers that he hadn’t cleaned up after his fry-up. Sure enough, Peter’s standing at the sink, scrubbing the frying-pan like it’s done him a mortal wrong, his shirt rolled up to his elbows and his shoulders hunched.

“Hey,” Marcus says, over the sound of the running water. “Hi. I’m...I’m sorry.” Peter turns off the tap, and looks around at him. “Let me do that, yeah? You’ve been at work all day, it’s my mess, I...go sit down.”

Peter sighs, then picks up a tea-towel from the rack and tosses it to him. “How about you dry?”

“Sure, fine.”

Marcus puts his beads in his pocket and they work in silence for a few minutes. As well as the frying pan and plate from Marcus’ brunch, there’s a parade of mugs from cups of tea, a snack plate covered in crumbs, cutlery, a sticky chopping board. Marcus keeps his head down and dries what Peter hands him. Working on one of the mugs, he says, “So. The Rosary is...it’s one of the most beautiful prayers I know. It’s to the Virgin Mary.” He leans over, putting the mug on the tree-stand Peter keeps on the counter. “She revealed it in a vision to St Dominic. It’s a prayer of...deliberate devotion, love, adoration, cleansing. Gentleness. Making time, taking care, meditating.” He licks his lips, picks up the chopping board. It’s the last thing to dry, and Peter is draining the sink, looking down — not at Marcus. “And it was wrong, really wrong, on a spiritual and personal level, what I just did. Shouting it at you. Acting like — like God wants me to pray well, instead of live well. The Rosary is interruptible, that’s the nature of it. It can be picked back up. It can be, should be, put aside in the service of needful actions. I am...I am so sorry that I decided, in that moment, that I knew better than that.”

Peter looks at him, takes the tea towel off him to dry his hands, and smiles. “Thanks. Thank you for apologising. It’s alright. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I barged in. I was...worried about you.”

“Can we sit down?” Marcus says, and Peter nods. Addie meets them on their way out of the kitchen, bounds up on Marcus, who crouches down and says, “Hey, beautiful girl, hey Addie, I am so sorry I was rude earlier. Can you forgive me? Yeah? Yeah, you’d forgive anything for an ear-scritch. Let’s hope that works on your da, huh?”

Ahead of him, he hears Peter chuckle. Addie licks his face, which Marcus takes as a benediction, and comes trotting with him when he goes over to the sofa. She puts her head on his knee when he sits down with Peter.

“You weren’t alright this morning,” Peter says. Marcus kisses his teeth and glances away, and feels Peter’s fingers on the back of his hand. “I reckon you’re not alright this evening, either.”

Marcus turns his hand so that their fingers can twine together. “This morning was my fault. You needed to go to work. And I think I got...I don’t know. My head was a mess. I wanted you to go and I was angry with you for going.”

“Some of that was my fault. Sometimes stuff like that...you know, it can have more of an impact than expected. I should have been more careful. Not done that when we had a limited amount of time.”

“Stuff like…?”

“Like me holding you down,” Peter says, running his thumb over Marcus’ knuckles. Marcus flushes, looks back at him.

“I liked that,” he says, his face burning. “I really liked that. It was...that was the problem, I guess.”

“Talk to me,” Peter invites, squeezing his hand. “Tell me about it.”

Marcus breathes in to try to steady himself. “Okay,” he says. “So, it’s...it’s not the sex that I’m guilty about. Maybe, a little bit, in the back of my head, sure, but that’s — I am pretty comfortable saying that’s not something God put there. I think the Catholic Church can claim responsibility for that one. Celibacy, chastity, all those things...I always understood them as tools. Reminders. Duties. To me, they’re like the beads of a rosary: they’re not inherently sacred, they just help you focus on what is. Celibacy was important when I was a priest. It brought me closer to God, made me love Him better. Now, I’m...I’m not a priest anymore. They took my collar. That was the Church’s doing, sure, a corrupt and misled Church, but I have to believe that God made this happen to show me a new path. A new way of loving Him. And I’m getting there, even though I’m...I’m angry, and I’m so bloody lost sometimes without that fucking uncomfortable strip of white plastic.” His breath is hitching. He’s always been such a crier. Like a slap to the face, a memory surfaces: Father Sean, saying dry your eyes, Marcus, or are you gonna bawl at the demons ‘til they go back to the furnace? He shudders, shakes the memory away. His hand twitches in Peter’s grasp. Firmly, reminding himself of it, he says, “I know God sent me this way for a reason, no matter how hard it is to see sometimes.”

Peter rubs up his arm with the hand not holding his. “That’s good,” he murmurs. On the floor, Addie whines, apparently confused. “Shhh, Addie, it’s okay. It’s good you know that.”

“S’alright for you to say,” Marcus mutters. “You don’t believe in it.”

“I don’t have to be a Christian to know you have a purpose, Marcus. To see that you’re...compelled to something.”

“That’s the problem,” Marcus says, and finally the tears which have been waiting all day come in earnest, in a sudden rush of sobs. Peter leans over and holds him. Jesus wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, Marcus thinks dizzily. Jesus wept for the sins of mankind, but he also wept because he was afraid. Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me. Marcus holds onto Peter and cries into his shoulder until he can’t any longer. Addie whimpers on the floor and he feels Peter take one hand off his back, he guesses to reassure her via fondling her ears. That makes him chuckle, just once, through his tears — Peter soothing two miserable beasts.

Eventually Marcus’ breathing slow a bit. Peter rubs his back and says, “I don’t understand, still,” very gently. “I don’t know what you mean when you say that’s the problem. Help me out, huh?”

“What I did, Peter...what I did to Andy Kim...I blotted my soul in a way I never have before. I wasn’t thinking of God when I pulled that trigger. I was thinking of Tomas, of—of how afraid I was to lose Tomas.”

“I’m no expert, Marcus,” Peter says, “but that doesn’t sound like a sin.”

Marcus pulls his head from Peter’s shoulder, puts their foreheads together. He knows he must look a wreck, blotchy and tear-stained and his face all screwed up with grief. Peter touches his cheek anyway. “In that moment, I decided that I valued Tomas’ life over Andy’s. And that’s not a decision an exorcist gets to make. The possessed aren’t to be punished or hurt. They’re to be loved, forgiven. And never forsaken, never . Not while there’s still a chance. And maybe beyond that. God works miracles, Peter, if we let Him. If we have faith.”

Peter’s thumb soothes a few tears from Marcus’ cheek. Marcus sniffs damply. “You think you robbed God of the chance to perform a miracle?”

“I think I took it into my hands to decide who lives and who dies,” Marcus says darkly, “in a way I have never done before. Not the fear and the fury of shooting my father, not...not what I did to protect the Holy Father...” He sees Peter’s eyebrows shoot up and gives a grim, damp laugh. “Long story. I can’t tell it now. Maybe another time.”

“You saved a man’s life, Marcus. You saved the lives of those children. And...Jesus, I am not the person to have this kind of theological discussion with, I’m sorry. But I’m fairly sure there’s some pretty important stuff in the Bible about forgiveness of sins.”

“Yeah,” Marcus says, weakly, with a humourless twist to his mouth, “yeah, there’s a few lines about that somewhere. Oh, Peter...I know God will forgive me. Tomas gave me absolution. I don’t know if it took, officially, because — excommunication, you know, he’s not actually authorised to officially restore me to a state where I can receive the sacraments, it’s all — it’s, uh, complex spiritual bureaucracy, that. But yeah, God forgives all. My problem isn’t God. It’s me. When do I learn that? How do I forgive myself that? I can’t be an exorcist anymore, Peter. Not with this gnawing at me. It’s a liability. If I walk into a room with a possessed person they will die , and maybe so will I, because the demon will taunt me with this and I’ll be broken. Useless. So there’s my calling, still there. There’s God’s hand, outstretched. And there’s mine, too filthied with blood to take it.”

Peter’s eyes flash with some emotion Marcus can’t pinpoint. “You are not filthy,” he says, and the anger in his voice startles Marcus a little; it must show on his face, because Peter looks apologetic. He says again, softer this time, “Marcus, you are not filthy.”

“Fuck,” Marcus says, squeezing his eyes together.

“What?”

“I’m going to cry again.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Yeah, well, I do. My head hurts. I’m going to die of dehydration from blubbing too much.”

“Sit back and let me get you a glass of water, then.”

Marcus fills his lungs to calm himself and nods. He wipes his eyes. Peter leaves and returns with tissues and water. Addie has jumped up on Marcus and is licking his face clean, apparently deeply enthusiastic about the salt clinging to his cheeks. Peter says, “You really don’t want to let her do that.”

“Yes, I do. Come on, Addie, let’s have a cuddle.” He takes the water from Peter. “Thanks.”

“I’m serious, she’s been out in the forest and she has a cunning knack for finding the most disgusting thing to chew. You’re going to smell like dog breath.”

“She smells minty-fresh,” Marcus sniffles indignantly, “don’t you, you beautiful creature—ugh.” Addie’s nose, wet and cold, pokes him in the eye. She does not smell minty-fresh in the slightest. “Alright, alright, thank you, Nurse Addie, I feel much better now.”

Peter distracts her by grabbing one of her toys and squeaking it at her, and she lunges merrily for it — managing, of course, to really dig one of her back paws into Marcus’ crotch as she jumps, making him screw up his face. “Ow,” he says, “ow . Undeserved.”

While Addie happily gnaws her squeaky ball into submission, Peter sits down with him and patiently wipes tears and dog-spit off his face. “This isn’t actually the worst thing I’ve been covered with in the last week or so,” Marcus tells him.

“Mm-hmm. It’s still not great.”

“Thanks for...for doing this. Looking after me.”

“I like looking after you.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s not hard work.”

“Yeah, you’re a bit of a handful,” Peter says. “I like it.” He goes to kiss Marcus’ forehead, then grimaces. “Okay, no. Go wash your face and come back.”

Marcus laughs, and Peter laughs too, and then he’s pushing him gently away. Marcus gets up and goes to the bathroom. Steals more of the grainy face-stuff. He’d been right about how he looks: puffy and red and snotty. But washing his face helps, makes him feel a little cleaner and calmer and, yes, does something about the dog smell. When he comes back out, Peter’s playing the world’s laziest game of fetch with Addie — tossing the ball across the room from the sofa, and getting her to trot back to him with it in her mouth. The ball’s squeaks are sounding more and more tortured.

“I’m clean,” Marcus announces, flopping back down. “My head hurts and I'm so snotty I sound like if Donald Duck grew up in the bloody Midlands, but I’m not in immediate danger of bawling me eyes out.”

Peter smiles, squeezes his knee. “Good. Can I — can I ask one question? And you don’t have to answer. If you’re feeling better, I don’t want to plunge you back down.”

“Ask away,” Marcus says, bracing himself.

But all Peter says is, “If the way you feel now, if that’s not to do with sex, or not much anyway — why does it seem to come up around sex? Or am I misreading that?”

Marcus blinks, and says, “Oh. No, that — I thought that was obvious.”

“Go on.”

“I don’t…” He puffs his cheeks out and sighs. “Wow, alright, time to say it. Usually it’s just subtext. I don’t...I don’t deserve to feel good, Peter. That’s the long and short of it. I’ve made myself incapable of doing what God demands of me. So I don’t deserve a single moment of happiness or pleasure, and you — you bring me a lot of both. And the guilt from that is...it’s like a weight on my chest — oof .” The air is knocked out of him by how suddenly and how fiercely Peter wraps his arms around him.

“You deserve to feel good,” he says, almost snaps. “You deserve this and more.”

Marcus says, “Well, we’ll agree to disagree,” light as he can, because he really doesn’t want to delve back into the dark bit of him and start weeping again. He holds onto Peter’s arms, though. He doesn’t want him to let him go.

“I’m not going to stop telling you.” He feels Peter hesitate. “Unless that makes it worse?”

“No,” Marcus admits. “It hurts, sometimes. But it doesn’t make it worse. Just...harder to ignore. I’ll let you know if it’s too much.”

“Okay. Good. You do that. Marcus?”

“Yeah?”

“How was it obvious?”

“What?”

“How was the idea that you don’t feel like you deserve any glimmer of happiness — how was that meant to be obvious?”

“Have you met me? Have you — have you heard of Catholicism?”

“Jesus. Alright, simmer down.”

“It’s our defining feature!”

“Shhh.”

“Being fundamentally sinful is the whole bloody point!”

“Marcus, shut up.”

Marcus clicks his jaw shut sullenly and drops his head onto Peter’s shoulder. Peter rubs his back with one big, broad hand. Marcus says, “So, I — not unrelatedly — I like it when you tell me what to do.” Peter’s hand goes still. “Not in a weird way. Nope, actually, that’s a lie, sorry. In very much a weird way.”

“Right after you’re done crying seems like maybe not a great time for this conversation,” Peter says, careful and guarded.

“You started it off asking me if I was upset because you held me down to the mattress. I just wanted to be clear. I’m not.”

“But you said ‘not unrelatedly’...”

“Remember that bit in my brain, the Church bit? The bit that actually does care about you know, Leviticus 18:22 and the Sixth Commandment and all of that stuff, not to mention growing up in the arse-end of fucking Chester in the 70s?” Marcus takes a breath and says, “It’s just...it’s good to pretend that responsibility isn’t mine. I s’pose. Or maybe it’s not that, I don’t know, maybe I just like how it feels.”

Peter’s back to stroking his back. “Okay,” he says, and Marcus can hear the smile in his voice. “Okay. That’s...we can work with that.”

Suddenly alarmed, Marcus pulls back and amends, “Don’t do it because I’m spinning out some complex psychological drama here. Don’t — don’t do it for — it’s only if you want to do it. Only if it’ll get you off, only —”

Peter interrupts him, and says, “Trust me, Marcus. I want to do it.”

Marcus swallows hard. “Okay,” he says, “well then. Okay.” He takes a breath and flops back. Addie is squeaking the ball at them insistently. He reaches for it and tosses it, and she goes scrambling merrily across the slippery floor to retrieve it. “God. We’ve covered quite a bit this evening, haven’t we.”

“Sure have. You hungry?”

“Starving.”

“Come make dinner with me then,” Peter says. “Or if you need a rest — if you want to finish praying —”

“No,” Marcus says, and squeezes Peter’s hand as they both get to their feet. “No. Needful actions and all that. I’ll finish it tonight, when the day is done. They say — it’s saccharine. They say if you fall asleep before finishing it, it’s not a sin. The angels finish it for you.”

“That is — am I allowed to say that’s saccharine?”

“No. You have to respect it because it’s my religion. I, however, can mock it to hell and back. Hey, this Italian nun once gave me a recipe for pasta sauce — I think it’s in the back of my Bible somewhere. It had...I can’t remember. A lot of cheese. It was incredible. Want to try it out?”

“Sounds good. You go get your creepy defaced Bible, I’ll start chopping?”

“You don’t know what’s in it yet.”

“Italian pasta sauce? I’m guessing it starts with garlic, and if it doesn’t, I’m guessing garlic would improve it. Go on.”

As it turns out, Sr Eugenia Crocifissa — “You had to use her full name every time,” Marcus enthuses to a laughing Peter, “she was incredible, scared the living shit out of me,” — recommends more garlic than even Peter is sure about adding, but Marcus insists they follow the recipe as close as they can. They have to substitute some of the more obscure cheeses, and they use rigatoni instead of tagliatelle. Sr Eugenia Crocifissa has warned in no uncertain terms, and very aggravated handwriting, that substituting the tagliatelle will ruin the entire dish. It doesn’t. Peter pours them wine, then when they’re done eating he picks up his laptop and tries very patiently to explain Netflix’ business model to Marcus, who still isn’t quite sure he gets it, but is happy enough to watch some Planet Earth II with Peter’s head on his shoulder and Addie snoring beside them.

They go to sleep together in Peter’s massive bed, both too wrung out and exhausted for sex to be an option. In the dark, Peter holds Marcus from behind. Addie lies across their legs, atop the duvet. And Marcus doesn’t forget his unfinished Rosary. “Do you mind if I pray out loud?” He has his beads in his hands.

“No. Go ahead.”

He starts again from the Carrying of the Cross. It’s easier now, gentler: he’s no longer spitting the words at himself. His breathing settles. His meditations don’t lead him to shudder at the gore of Christ’s wounds, nor weep at the pain: instead he sees the fruits of suffering, sees patience, sees calm, sees nobility and humility. He finishes the decade and moves to the last: the Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord. Faith; doubt. Perseverance through suffering. In Mark, Jesus is human and weeping and he cries out father, why have you forsaken me — but in Luke, he lifts his face to God to beg forgiveness for his murderers. Both can be true.

The saccharine angels don’t have to finish his Rosary for him. He gets there, to the end of the Hail Holy Queen, breathes out slowly and makes the Sign of the Cross. Peter shifts behind him. Everything is quiet. Marcus falls asleep with his beads twisted in his fingers.

 

***

 

It’s been a long time since Marcus had this much time off. Not travelling, not performing exorcisms, not doing anything. At first it’s terrifying, then it’s peaceful, then it’s frustrating. He tries not to be ungrateful, but Peter has a full time job and when Marcus is alone in the house time stretches out across inconceivable expanses. Four pm, in particular, takes years to pass, and Marcus gets so antsy he can’t sit still. He can ward it off, sometimes — he plays his tapes, he pokes through Peter’s CDs, he reads, he goes on walks with Addie and he draws. He’s started a sketch of Peter shirtless that he’s embarrassed to finish but too proud of to abandon.

Four pm still happens, though.

So on the weekend, Marcus makes a suggestion, and Peter laughs, and then says, “What, really?”

“Yeah! Come on, please. You don’t keep it for show, do you? It’s been ages.”

“You’ve ridden one before?”

“Oh yeah. Back in the nineties, I knew a Sr Bernard who let me ride pillion on her Harley. That was before she left the Church, moved to San Francisco and opened a lesbian pub called The Coven and Convent. Glorious woman.”

“Sounds it. I guess I’ve got some spare leathers and a helmet.” Peter gives Marcus a thoughtful once-over. “I’m not letting you get on until I’m satisfied they fit you well enough to actually protect you, though.”

Victorious, Marcus wraps an arm around him and squeezes his shoulders tight, throwing a hand out in a picture-it motion: “We can ride somewhere scenic, take a picnic, take — oh my God, can we take Addie? Peter, can we take Addie? Does she have a sidecar? Does she have her own little leathers and a helmet and the stupidest little goggles? Peter, look me in the eyes and tell me she has goggles.”

Addie doesn’t have goggles. Addie has to stay home. Marcus plays heartbroken. While Peter stands in the doorway, he crouches down and takes Addie’s paw and very solemnly says goodbye. She licks his face. “I love you too, my canine angel,” he says.

“Come on,” says Peter from the door. Marcus can hear him grinning. “Stop trying to oust me from my top spot in Addie’s good graces.”

“Maybe if you got her a sidecar and stupid goggles, she’d love you more,” Marcus suggests, swanning by him with head held high, his fingernails scraping ever so lightly against Peter’s leather jacket. He’s borrowing one of Peter’s: his own had been judged insufficiently protective. ‘It’s survived demons’ had not been considered a valid argument. Peter had let him off with his jeans and his boots, but furnished him with a helmet and gloves. Back in the day, Sr. Bernard had told him to ‘dress tough’ and nothing more. Things have moved on, evidently. Peter has full leather everything — trousers, jacket, boots, gloves. Marcus hasn’t paid much attention to motorcycle gear before, but apparently it has padding and ridges and it all smells of sweat and tough leather, and it’s — it’s all pretty fucking sexy, actually. Which would be a lot easier to deal with if Peter weren’t so serious and conscientious about it all.

“Helmet on,” Peter tells him, handing him one and then pausing. “Please tell me you wore a helmet the last time you did this?”

“Jesus took the handlebars.”

“You’re killing me. Gloves.”

“This helmet smells terrible.”

“Yep,” Peter says, “that’s what happens. It’s been washed, don’t worry, but the sweat smell doesn’t come out easily. It’s Helen’s.”

“You go on father-daughter motorbike rides?”

“We do.”

“That’s adorable.”

“Okay, come on up,” Peter says, his audible talking-about-Helen smile hidden because his head is ducked down as he positions himself on the bike. Marcus hauls his leg over and scoots forwards, gluing himself to Peter’s back. “Good thing you’re skinny or she’d be sluggish as hell. Okay, so a few things. Don’t put your feet down if I stop, don’t get off until I tell you even if we’re at a full stop and about to dismount. When we’re cornering, you want to lean in, but don’t try any action-movie knee-to-the-ground stuff — I mean, we won’t be going fast or sharp enough for that, but don’t try it anyway. Just hold onto me, stay relaxed and move with the bike. If you want me to stop at any time, you hit me on the shoulder; slow down, hit me on the leg. I’ll give you a knock on the left knee before I accelerate, so you know what’s coming. No fidgeting, no taking your feet off the footrests, no twisting around.”

“Wow,” Marcus says, half a purr, tightening his grip around Peter’s waist. “You really did take that tell me what to do thing to heart.” He’s joking but his heart speeds up as he says it, anxiety twisting uncomfortably in his gut; beyond Peter doing his usual stern-and-gentle thing while he gets Marcus off, they haven’t really explored that any further.

Peter says, “I’m serious. Did you never get told this stuff?”

“Bits of it. Mostly Sr Bernard just told me to hang on and not scream because it distracted her.”

“I hate her.”

“Shut up, you’d love her.”

“Are you going to scream?”

“I’ll try not to.”

Peter squeezes his thigh. “Okay. Anything you need?”

Marcus knocks his helmet against Peter’s, meaning it to be a chiding gesture. The bump echoes unpleasantly. “Oh. That’s not good. Sorry.”

“Yeah, don’t do that.”

“I’m ready to go,” Marcus says, shifting antsily in his seat.

“You’re fidgeting. That’s exactly what I just told you not to do.”

“Sorry, sorry. I’m excited.”

Peter laughs. “Okay,” he says, turning the key in the ignition. The bike roars to life, vibrating through Marcus’ whole skeleton. He clutches eagerly at Peter’s waist and forces himself to stay relaxed.  “Here we go. Just hold onto me.”

“I am really not going to let you go,” Marcus says, a half-whisper probably lost amid the bike’s thunder. Peter shifts his weight and then — it feels like the bike jumps forwards, although Marcus knows it doesn’t. He yelps and then starts laughing uproariously and with delighted terror, flattening himself to Peter’s back as they roar out into the road.

Not too fast, Peter had insisted, and Marcus knows from his earlier experiences that they’re probably not going that quickly at all — but exposed to the elements despite his borrowed jacket and massive helmet, everything feels eye-wateringly, viciously, terrifyingly fast. Marcus clamps his knees around Peter’s thighs and holds onto him for dear life as he tries to stop the adrenaline-shock laughter. He almost manages. Then Peter taps his knee, and Marcus tries to remember what that hand signal was for. He remembers just as Peter accelerates. Wild and raucous laughter bubbles out of him again, echoing in his  helmet.

Peter takes them on a winding route through the forest and up. The road is shady and green and dappled and Marcus calms down but doesn’t stop grinning, can’t quite quell the occasional ridiculous shocky cackle when they crunch over leaves in the road or take a sharper corner than expected. They’re heading for a spot Peter knows, a viewing point somewhere halfway up a hill, and it only takes them about an hour before Peter stops the bike, cuts the engine, puts his feet down and tells Marcus to get off. He does and immediately falls over his own feet and has to grab onto a tree for balance. His legs are like jelly. Peter laughs and comes to join him, tucking an arm around his waist. “You okay?”

“I’m amazing!”

“Adrenaline junky, huh?”

“You can’t talk! You own the bloody thing!”

“Guess that’s true. Guess I shouldn’t cast the first stone.”

“Oh God yeah,” Marcus says, feeling lightheaded and giddy, “quote Scripture to me, love, please.”

Peter puts a hand on his elbow and guides him to what he’s claimed is the best picnic spot on an island which seems to be mostly composed of magnificent views, albeit slightly marred by the poisonous demonic energy which had until recently hung over it. They’re standing halfway up a sweeping slope Marcus has seen from the West-facing windows in Peter’s house. It looked relatively low then: it looks anything but now. The forest spreads out below and so does the sea, a great silver stretch out to the horizon. They take off their helmets and Marcus gets a lungful of what feels like the freshest, coldest air he’s ever breathed. He leans against Peter, and Peter leans against him, and for a good few minutes they just look and look.

“Thanks,” Marcus says, finally. “Thank you. This is beautiful.”

Peter nudges him, smiles. “It was your idea. Thank you. Hungry?”

“I’m always hungry.”

They sit down on the wild grass and tug their gloves off and eat squashed sandwiches and crisps and homemade hummus. Peter, a man Marcus sometimes suspects of being made entirely of granola, takes real pride in his homemade hummus. This batch is flavoured with sundried tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Marcus tells him he’s a blessing and beautiful and that it is the best thing he’s ever eaten. Peter reminds Marcus that the bar is low: just yesterday, Marcus told an anecdote involving scavenging from the bins behind McDonalds.

When they’re done eating, Peter stretches out in the grass and pulls Marcus down on top of him and they kiss, leather jackets squeaking together. Marcus laughs and says, “This is so Tom of Finland,” trying to make light of it so it’s not obvious how much he likes it, but Peter doesn’t fall for it.

“You’re blushing,” he says, and grins, and bites Marcus’ lower lip. Marcus growls and kisses him hard, fumbling with the zip on Peter’s jacket instead of trying to formulate a response to that; it’s true, after all. His face is prickly and hot, and it’s spreading right down his neck, and the fact that he knows Peter likes it when he blushes doesn’t go any way towards stopping it from happening. He gets Peter’s jacket undone and beneath he’s wearing a T-shirt that’s damp with sweat. Marcus groans deep in his throat and hooks two fingers at the collar, tugging it down to that he can lap at the little dip at the base of Peter’s throat. He feels Peter swallow and gasp.

“You taste incredible,” Marcus says, nipping at Peter’s neck, “and I love the — the smell of you.”

“I smell like sweat and exhaust fumes right now.”

Yeah,” Marcus says, dizzy and delighted. “That’s what I meant,” and Peter laughs, sits up so he can shuck his jacket them pulls Marcus back down for more bristling, rough kisses. Marcus rolls them in the grass, just because he can. Peter nips him for it, which is no deterrent at all.

“God,” says Marcus, between kisses, “I really want — I really, really want to go down on you.”

“Sounds like you’re...you’re building up to a but.”

“It’s bloody cold. I’m fine, but you’ve taken your jacket off already, and I don’t know how you’ll deal with me taking your dick out. Also.” He pulls back, and gives Peter a grin, all teeth: “Is it against your environmental principles to despoil nature like this?”

“Hey, Marcus? Sex isn’t inherently dirty.”

“Someone call the Pope.”

“Please do not call the Pope. Better things for you to be doing.” Peter reaches out for his discarded jacket and pulls it back on, then rolls them over again so he’s got Marcus on top of him. He pushes his fingertips along Marcus’ scalp, makes him preen and settle his weight on Peter’s hips. “I can take it. You’ll keep me warm. I want your mouth on me.” Marcus shivers. “Oh, you like me talking about that?”

“Shut it,” Marcus says, in what has to be the weakest attempt at token denial in human history, especially because immediately after he says it he flicks his tongue over his lips, then bites down on the lower. Peter hisses his breath in through in teeth.

“Want me to tell you how pretty you’ll look with my cock stuffed between your lips?”

Marcus starts moving down Peter’s body, in part so he has an excuse not to respond. Peter hasn’t done up his jacket, so Marcus can nuzzle his belly through his sweat-damp shirt, hike it up a little to kiss the trail of hair down to Peter’s armoured trousers. Peter hums low and says, “I like that. You’re so gentle, Marcus. Reverent. Sweet.” His warm, broad hand comes to Marcus’ cheek. Marcus closes his eyes and presses against the touch. “Beautiful. Come on. Take my cock out and kiss it.” Marcus inhales sharply, and he feels Peter tense up ever so slightly — he doesn’t think he can talk to reassure him, though, so he just nods, a tight and fervent gesture, and Peter relaxes.

Marcus opens his eyes to figure out the flies and buttons on the leather armoured trousers. Beneath, Peter’s wearing leggings or something like that — he pulls them and his underwear down, just enough to free his cock. He’s only half hard, and that’s good. Marcus has sucked him off just once before, but he’d worked him up with his mouth then and discovered that he likes, he really likes feeling Peter stiffen against his tongue. Marcus wraps a hand around him and starts with teasing little licks to his head, tongue flickering up underneath. Peter breathes in sharp staccato and struggles to grip at Marcus’ too-short hair, nails scrabbling on his scalp. “Fucking tease,” Peter complains, and for a moment Marcus gets the wicked idea that he could teach him not to be rude to a man sucking his cock, could string it out and make him beg for more, better, harder. But it’s cold out and they’re both probably going to end up with sore knees and backs from doing this outside at their age. He tucks the idea away for when they have time and a bed available and plunges down on Peter’s cock instead, taking his hand away so he can get more in his mouth.

It’s messy and it’s clumsy and he would be embarrassed if Peter weren’t so clearly enjoying himself, and if Marcus didn’t love this, all of it, right down to the shameless wet noises of his throat clicking as Peter fucks up into his mouth. He can’t swallow him down, they’ve worked that out already, and Peter’s careful, doesn’t push too far or make him gag, but once Marcus has sucked him until he’s hard he takes charge of the motions anyway. His hips roll and stutter and his cock stretches Marcus’ mouth out. Marcus groans and sucks and coaxes him on, and spit drips down his chin, and when Peter says, “Fuck, fuck, I’m going to come, Marcus, babe, I’m gonna,” he doesn’t move. Peter floods his mouth with come. He chokes a little, has to pull off to cough, and the last spurt hits him across the lips. Peter gasps for breath and swears. Marcus spits out come onto the grass and collapses atop him.

They stay quiet until their breathing settles, both of them. Peter squeezes Marcus tight to him, and Marcus pushes his face into the crook of Peter’s neck. “You okay?” Peter asks.

Yeah,” Marcus says, and means it. They kiss lazily for a few more minutes. Peter licking his own taste out of Marcus’ mouth makes Marcus squirm and pant for him, but he shakes his head when Peter’s hand slides down to his crotch: too cold, too uncomfortable now. Peter nips him on the chin.

“I’ll get you off later, if you want it then,” he promises, smiling crookedly.

“Tell me how.”

“With my mouth. Swallow you down, get you all...” He stops. “I want to suggest something? Maybe you won’t be okay with it.”

“I’ll tell you if I’m not.”

“I want to eat you out. Your hole, I mean.”

Marcus' brain fuzzes staticky for a second. When he can, he swallows, feeling his face burn, and says, “You can’t be serious.”

“Hey. Just a suggestion. No pressure either way.” Peter winks. “Think about it.” Marcus swallows. He’s not sure he can, not without getting overwhelmed. “But uh...cool off before you get on the bike. Trust me, that won’t be comfortable.”

“Shut up,” Marcus tells him, and rolls off him to start packing up the detritus of their picnic.

“Hey, Marcus?”

“What?”

“You have come in your moustache.”

The clean-up effort is disrupted by their immature cackling, and Peter grabs Marcus’ waist to bring him back down once more to a suitable, kissable level.

 

***

 

The next day is a Sunday. Marcus borrows Peter’s car to go to the mainland for Mass. He doesn’t take communion, for reasons of complicated spiritual bureaucracy, even though he wants to. That and he doesn’t want to make eye contact with anyone. Otherwise, everything is fine: the priest is gentle and a good speaker, and his homily is about service. It’s safe and friendly. Marcus sits in the back, his hat pulled down low. After all, lots of people think he tried to assassinate the Pope. Attending Mass isn’t something he should really be doing.

He comes back to Peter’s half-satisfied, feeling sort of spiritually better but with a knot of murky, difficult feelings tangled in his chest. When he gets out of Peter’s car and locks it, he stops in the driveway: from here, he can see through the big windows into the living room. Peter is stretched out on the sofa with his headphones on and his laptop on his knees, smiling at the screen and saying something Marcus can’t hear. He’s in mismatched socks and marathon shirt and sweatpants, and Addie is snoozing on the rug. He looks soft and creased and warm and homely, and for a moment Marcus is dizzy with how too good Peter is for him. It stabs him right in the gut. It’s just a fact: it is not fair to subject Peter to his presence right now. Maybe not ever. That dark feeling in his chest starts to constrict his breathing. He puts the carkeys in the stupid quaint American mailbox and turns on his heel to march out into the forest.

It’s only about five minutes before Peter finds him, of course. “Hey! Marcus! Hey!” Marcus groans and stops walking, but doesn’t turn around. “Marcus.” Closer now, Peter puts a hand on Marcus’ arm, but Marcus twitches it away. “What are you doing out here? I saw you pull up into the driveway, the next thing I knew you’d gone. Did something happen?”

Marcus shudders, and turns, and says, “I can’t keep doing this to you.”

Peter says, “Doing what?”

“Acting like I can fit into your normal life.”

Peter’s mouth thins. “Come inside,” he says.

“How did you even find me?”

“You walked in a straight line and you kicked just about everything you could find on the way. Come inside.”

Marcus comes inside. He can tell Peter’s angry and he doesn’t blame him. When they get in, Peter kicks off his muddied trainers and sighs loudly, and Marcus says, “Sorry. I’m sorry.”

“Are you apologising for what you just did, or are you apologising because you think you’re a bad person?”

“I — both?” Peter looks at him. “Mainly the latter,” Marcus admits. Peter nods.

“That’s the problem,” he says. “I don’t...Marcus. I care about you. I want to take care of you. What I can’t do is constantly drag you back in out of the rain, especially not when all you want to do is stand out there and say you deserve to get soaked.”

“It’s not raining,” Marcus says. Peter looks at him flatly. “Sorry. Sorry, I’m not — I’m not trying to be flippant.”

“You sure?” Marcus doesn’t know how to answer that, just shrugs helplessly. Peter pinches the bridge of his nose, then looks up at him. Clearly and carefully, he says, “I’m angry because I care about you, and I’m exhausted. I’m angry because this week and a half or however long it’s been — Marcus, you being here, it’s been amazing. It’s also been the most intense my life has been in years. Demons, sex, bike rides, theology...Marcus, you are wonderful and I guess if God’s real, well, when it came to creating you he cranked up the volume on your emotions and accidentally broke the knob off. This is not a break-up speech, by the way. This is a...this is a ‘please go and sit in a different room for forty-five minutes’ speech.” Peter waves a hand vaguely in the direction of the living room. “I was Skyping my daughter. I told her I had an emergency. She’s worried about me, I need to call her back.”

“Peter, love, I’m so —”

“If the next word out of your mouth is sorry , Marcus…” Marcus winces. Peter sighs, and takes his hand. Squeezes. “It’s okay. Look, I just need to sort my head out a little bit. I think maybe so do you. Go get yourself a cup of tea. I picked up some English breakfast the other day, they had a box going spare in the field station kitchen. I’ll come find you when I’m ready.”

He drops Marcus’ hand and goes into the living room, shuts the door. Marcus droops miserably in the corridor, and fights down the useless, manipulative, guilty urge to run after him and say no, you don’t understand, I feel fucking terrible . He breathes in as deep as he can, resisting the tightness in his chest and makes his legs move towards the kitchen. English breakfast. That’s good. His hands are shaking and he can’t seem to get the steps right: fills the kettle, and grabs a mug, then remembers he has to put the kettle on , and then he goes for milk but he hasn’t put the teabag in the mug yet and — he ends up in the middle of the kitchen, stock still, unable to work out what needs to happen. He swallows hard and shakes his head and after a few more missteps he’s successfully made a cup of over-sweet over-brewed tea, just how he likes it. He leans against the counter and drinks it standing up, slow and careful. It helps a lot. It annoys him that it helps so much.

He washes up the mug. No need to add dirty dishes to his list of sins. He drums his fingers. Checks the time. Forty five minutes, Peter had said. It would be eminently unreasonable, though, to consider that a solid deadline. Peter’s talking to his daughter. He’s sorting out his head. He deserves the time and space to do that. Marcus leaves the kitchen and stomps upstairs to Peter’s bedroom, picks up the book of Bertrand Russell’s essays and flicks to ‘Why I Am Not A Christian’, hoping to redirect his frustration.

 

***

 

Peter comes in about an hour and a half later. Marcus knew he was going to hate Bertrand Russell, but is surprised to find how much he enjoys hating him. When Peter opens the door, Marcus has made it through half of the essays in the book. He closes it, waggles it at Peter. “He’s a smug bastard,” he says. “I like how wrong he is about everything.”

Peter smiles. “Yeah,” he says. “It was a present from Mia, a few Christmases ago. I think she panicked, didn’t know what to get me. I’ve read a few of them, though.”

That gives Marcus pause. He’s been trying to work out why Peter keeps certain books here in his bedroom and others downstairs. Peter’s DVD collection is alphabetised and his books downstairs are sorted into genre, but Marcus hasn’t been able to work out what binds together all the books on his bedroom shelves. He wonders if a lot of them are gifts. If Peter keeps them here because they’re precious beyond the words they contain. That idea makes something in his chest hurt very sweetly indeed. He swallows down the urge to ask about it, and says, instead, “She should have picked up Best Gay Erotica 2012 , obviously.”

“Nowadays, she would do that without a second thought. And she wouldn’t think to warn me before I opened it in public. I’m...I am really hoping she doesn’t somehow discover that’s an option.”

“She sounds great. Is Helen okay?”

Peter nods. “Yeah. I told her a bit about you.”

That startles Marcus, in a good and frightening way. He smiles, puts down the book and pats the bed beside him. There’s a nervous lump in his throat but he’s trying not to let it show. “Sit down?” Peter comes over and settles by his side. Marcus swallows, his mouth all dry with nerves. “I want to — sorry. Can I just check, just quickly. It’s okay if the answer to this question is yes, I promise it is. But rationally I think the answer is no, and that’s why I’m asking, you know, because my less-rational side thinks the answer has to be yes. Does that make sense?”

“Was that the question?”

“No.”

“Then no.” Peter pats Marcus’ knee. “You want to check something with me. Go ahead. Ask the question.”

“Do you want to never talk to me again?”

“Of course I don’t want that.”

Marcus sags in relief. “Okay,” he says. “I didn’t think so. Sorry. I’m not — I promise that wasn’t an attempt at a guilt trip. I’m...I can guilt trip better than that, when I want to. But I’m trying not to.”

“Hey. I know. Like I said, Marcus, I’m not giving you the break-up speech.”

“Can I just — it makes me really, really happy, Peter, that you saying that means that we have something which could potentially break up.” He winces. “No, that’s not how that’s meant to sound. I mean I’m glad that we’re, I don’t know. Dating? Is that what we’re doing?”

“I think that’s probably something we have to talk about,” Peter says carefully, “because usually I date people for more than a week before I let them move in. This is not a normal case, but it’s still strange.”

Marcus nods slowly. “You kissed me twice, then I turned up on your doorstep soaking wet and yelling about murder. Then a few days after that you, I suppose, technically, took my virginity. Yeah. When you put it like that.”

“Not the easiest thing to deal with,” Peter admits. Marcus lets out a fretful sigh and takes Peter’s hand, rubs the knuckles with his thumb. “And then — when you complain about my normal life not fitting you, well — yeah, no, I guess it doesn’t. I guess my life doesn’t look like yours does. But that’s not something that — that’s something we’ll both adapt to. We’re going to work it out. We’re not going to go walking off into the woods without a damn word about it.”

The future tense makes Marcus’ mouth run dry again and he leans over to get a glass of water from the bedside table. “Don’t,” Peter says, “that’s been there since last night.”

“It’s water. It doesn’t go off.” He puts the glass down empty and sags back against Peter. “I don’t know what my life looks like,” he says. “I was a priest. Then I was an exorcist. Now I’m nothing.”

“You’re not nothing.”

“Okay. I’m...I feel formless. What?”

“Nothing. Sorry.”

“No, tell me.”

“No prompting and you’re already on ‘I feel’ statements. You might get to be okay at this, you know.”

Marcus laughs, genuine: it takes him by surprise. More future tense. His heart is beating hard in his chest. “Well, what was it you said? I have loud emotions?”

“Everything’s at a hundred and ten decibels for you, yeah.” Peter’s voice is tender. He reaches up and strokes Marcus’ hair. “Tell me about the formless feeling.”

“I’ve always had...had shape. Poured myself into these shapes. Being a priest. Being an exorcist. Doing a job, being a job, what’s the difference? When I was younger, I...I revelled in this feeling of being a weapon. Being a thing. Like a little wind-up toy, letting the Church just...turn my key and point me in the right direction.”

“It gave you purpose.”

“It gave me life. I wasn’t a person without it. I wasn’t a person at all, maybe.”

“You were a person. Maybe people treated you like you weren’t. But you were a person. You didn’t deserve to feel otherwise.” Marcus swallows hard. He can’t investigate that thought now, has to shake his head. He’ll think about it later, maybe. Peter understands, he can tell; he drops it, and prompts Marcus, “What about now?”

“Now…” Marcus shrugs. “Now I’ve got no other choice but to go in the opposite direction to the one that I’ve gone all my life. Since I was twelve, Peter. I’ve got no boss to answer to, no Mother Church. God’s got his phone on silent and I have faith, I do, I love Him so much — but I think right now that means I have to get used to not having a direct line. I think that faith, right now, means waiting. I hate that, but I think it’s right.”

“Waiting for what?”

“I don’t know,” Marcus says, looking Peter in the eye. “I wish I could tell you. But I don’t know. And I don’t know what my life is supposed to look like while I wait, either. Or whether there’s something I need to be doing.” He licks his lips. “Except.”

“Except?”

“Except I like this...this future tense thing.”

“What?”

“You. I want to be with you, Peter. And I don’t mean I want to crash at your house indefinitely until God rolls out of bed and realises he’s hit snooze on me about a million times. I don’t mean I want you to, to drag me kicking and screaming away from death’s door until, I don’t know, some miracle happens and I get reinstated and suddenly I’m off to cast out demons again. I mean I want to — to go and get some crappy little flat on the mainland. Get a job, with all the...all the myriad of employable skills that forty-one years of being a professional exorcist have bestowed upon me.” Peter is staring at him, dark eyes just a little bit wide. Marcus’ voice is shaking. “Come by and see you every weekend. Save up on paychecks to take you out to dinner. Get you drunk on bad beer, make you listen to all of my tapes three times over, watch your favourite films with you, make you awkwardly introduce me to your daughter over Scape —”

“Skype —”

“— that, and — and I —” Peter leans up and kisses him. It’s an act of mercy, because Marcus doesn’t know what comes after and I. He sags against Peter and kisses back. When they pry themselves apart, he swears and rubs at his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Oh.” He knows what he can add. “You can watch me cry about even stupider things than this. I was nearly about to lose it at that documentary we watched. The baby iguana. I didn't think it would make it.”

“I know. I was there. I didn’t want to embarrass you.”

“I’ll embarrass you,” Marcus promises, a bit blearily. “I’ll take you to the pictures and bawl all the way through. Even the happy bits. Especially the happy bits.”

“Marcus.”

“Yeah.”

“Shhhh.”

Marcus drops his forehead against Peter’s and lets himself be hushed. Peter strokes his hair again. “I don’t want you to promise anything unreasonable to me, Marcus.”

“None of that is unreasonable.”

“I’m not going to kick you out unless I know you have somewhere decent to go. Don’t...don’t move out in a grandiose gesture, alright?”

Marcus can’t help a soppy grin. “Yeah, alright. Peter?”

“Mm?”

“Tell me how you feel.”

Peter gives a low chuckle, looks down. “You got me,” he admits.

“You like my loud emotions because they give you an excuse to be quiet about yours. Well, sod that.”

“Yeah, alright. Uh…” Peter’s fingers flex at the nape of Marcus’ neck. “I guess I — one thing, about you calling my life normal? Saying I’m too good for you, all that? I’ve put so much damn effort into being who I am now. I used to be a wreck, Marcus. I screwed up my life, Mia’s life, Helen’s life. You know I was so terrified to be gay, back then. I thought it meant being weak. I over-compensated, really bought into the military and its culture. Got fixated on being a proper gun-loving gay-hating real man who didn’t give a shit about anything else. So now…” He trails off.

Marcus says, “So now, you’ve fixed up this beautiful house. You have a beautiful rescue dog, and you don’t own any guns, and you love your daughter more than anything in the world and your full-time job is looking after living things.”

“How’d you know Addie was a rescue?”

“Went through your desk, saw her adoption certificate.”

“Dammit, Marcus,” Peter says, with no sting at all, smiling. “Well. Yeah. So when you say it’s normal, or it’s too good, I feel like you’re saying it came easy. And it didn’t. Being a decent person, after you’ve been a fucked-up person for a long time...getting brave enough to be gentle...none of that was easy.”

“But you are so brave,” Marcus says, “and you are so gentle.” He kisses him very lightly on the forehead. “I’m sorry. I understand.”

They settle together in comfortable quiet, shuffling back against the headboard and stretching out their legs. Marcus rubs his bare toes against Peter’s ankle. Addie comes scratching and whining at the door. “I’ll get her,” Marcus says, sitting up.

“She’s not a baby,” Peter tells him, smiling. “She can entertain herself.”

“Maybe I want to see her.”

“I think that’s probably a more honest evaluation.”

Marcus lets her in and she bounds happily up onto the bed, onto Peter, who huffs and grins and gives her a cuddle, then winces. Frowning, Marcus say, “You okay, love?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Peter mutters, rubbing his knee and grimacing. “I, uh. I think some of the rolling around on the ground yesterday might have been over-enthusiastic for a man my age.”

“Oh thank God.”

“What?”

“My back’s killing me,” Marcus admits, returning to the bed. He doesn’t sit down again, just leans over to rumple Addie’s coat. “I didn’t want to say. Hey…”

“Hm?”

“Want a bath?”

“I showered this morning.”

“Bath’s not about getting clean. ‘S about relaxing. Might help our geriatric aches and pains.”

“Oh, you’re in this bath with me?”

“If you want.”

Peter scrunches his fingers in Addie’s scruff and smiles. “Yeah, alright,” he says. “I’d like that.”

“Great,” say Marcus. “Grand. I’m going to run it. You stay here, or — whatever you like. I want to do this for you. Lie back, Peter. Let me look after you.”

 

***

 

Peter has bubblebath, of course, and Epsom salts. As the bath runs, Marcus gets candles. He has some in his bag. They’re tall and there’s wax drippings down them and they’re technically votive candles, not romantic-bath candles. They’ll do. He goes down to the recycling and finds old wine bottles to stick them in. After a moment of consideration, he gets a full bottle of white wine out of the fridge, and two glasses. Then he finds his cassette player and puts on James Ray.

Peter ignores his instructions and comes to the door of the bathroom when he hears the music start. His eyebrows go up. For a few seconds — an eternity — he stays quiet. Then: “Okay, yeah, I could get used to this,” he says, and his voice is a little croaky. Marcus laughs and grabs him by the shirt to kiss him. “Mm. Is that — Marcus, it’s two in the afternoon, why did you get wine?”

“It’s the weekend,” Marcus answers. “We don’t have to, I just thought — chilled wine, hot bath, what’s better?” He plucks at Peter’s shirt, then slides his hands up under, squeezing his sides. “C’mon. I’ve been doing poverty, obedience, chastity for ages. Let me drink wine at two in the afternoon in the bath with a handsome man, this once.

Peter grins. “Guess we’ll risk it, then,” he says, and pulls his shirt off over his head.

Marcus strips off first and gets in first, sinking down with a long groan. “Oh my God. That’s so much better than I expected.” He wriggles his toes happily, beckons Peter over. “Get in, right now.”

Peter pads over and joins him. They slop water and foam onto the floor as they get comfortable: Peter between Marcus’ legs, his back to Marcus’s chest, Marcus’ arms looped loosely around him. James Ray sings about patience and time. Marcus runs his foot up and down Peter’s left shin and nuzzles his ear, peppers his neck with little kisses. “Just so you know,” he tells him, “I’m not doing this to buy my way back into your affections. I’m just...”

Peter rubs his thigh and says, “You can’t buy my affection, Marcus. And you wouldn't need to.”

“Just want to be good to you today.”

“I know. Thank you. Shut up now?”

“Yeah, okay,” Marcus hums happily, squeezing Peter about the middle before reaching over to the little chair he’s pulled close to the tub, where he’s put the glasses of wine out. He manages to get a truly amazing amount of water on the floor as he does it. “Here.” He puts on a bad approximation of a posh accent: “Chin-chin, darling.” Peter rolls his eyes and humours him, clinking glasses. Then Marcus just closes his eyes and lets the heat and the wine and the music, and the sound of Peter’s breathing underneath it all, make him drowsy and soft.

He’s not sure how long it’s been when Peter grabs his hand — the hand holding his wineglass. His eyes shoot open and he says, “What? What?”

“You were falling asleep. Nearly dropped your glass.”

“I had it. I was resting my eyes.”

Peter plucks the glass from him and sets it safely down, then cranes his neck to kiss him. Marcus sighs happily and squeezes him tight between his knees, his hands wandering over his chest. Exposed above the water the water, Peter’s nipples are tight-peaked under his hands; Marcus pinches and strokes and rolls them between his finger and thumb, grinning at how Peter shudders and twists when he does so. He spreads his fingers out in Peter’s thick grey chest hair and hums happy satisfaction into his ear. “Hey, love?” he says. “A thought came to me in a dream.”

“Thought you said you were resting your eyes.”

“A daydream. It’s a great thought, are you ready to hear it? We have a combined age of over a hundred.”

“God. Fuck you.”

“Maybe someday, yeah,” Marcus says, and starts nibbling Peter’s ear before he can respond. His heart is stuttering in his chest and he’s worried that if Peter picks up on that idea and starts talking about it he’ll actually expire right there and then. In fairness, he’d always imagined that he’d die a much more gruesome death.

Maybe that’s still on the cards, though; either Peter picks up on Marcus’extreme reticence to be pushed on the subject, or he’s distracted enough by Marcus’ teeth at his ear that he forgets all about it. Either way, he just grins and makes a low, throaty, rumbling sound of pleasure that vibrates through him and through Marcus too. Marcus smiles and shivers and goes back to toying with his nipples, lazy and playful. James Ray is singing ‘Itty Bitty Pieces’, and the not-votive-anymore candles burn down slowly.

They get out when Peter points out the water’s getting cold. Marcus is in a daze and it takes him a moment to parse what Peter’s saying. “Oh,” he says finally — suddenly he’s aware of the chill. “Oh, yeah, damn. Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” Peter says, getting up and out and offering Marcus a hand. Marcus takes it, hauling himself up inelegantly, splashing water everywhere. Peter shakes his head and grins.

“It’s cold,” Marcus complains, diving for the towels. “It’s freezing .”

“Throw me one. Thanks. Hey.” Peter catches him around his waist, “Let me warm you up?”

“I remember in the early days of our relationship, when I thought that line was charming. You know. Three days ago.”

“That a yes?”

“Yeah, God yeah,” Marcus laughs, and drags him down to the bedroom, tracking wet footprints and leaving his towel abandoned on the bedroom floor. He flops onto the bed, stretching out, and Peter follows him with an eyebrow raised and his towel still hitched about his waist. “What?”

“Hm,” Peter says. He leans down to kiss him, gentle and quick, but doesn’t lie down with him. He thumbs the side of Marcus’ face. “Go pick up that towel.”

“What?” Marcus says, and then sees the expression on Peter’s face. His throat constricts and blood rushes to his face. “Oh,” he says. “Like —” Peter nods, a tiny movement, watching him carefully. Marcus starts to grin, slow and euphoric. “Yeah,” he says. His voice is croaky and suddenly he’s tingling and fidgety with anticipation. “Okay.”

“Marcus,” Peter says, sweet but stern, and Marcus wriggles away to stand up and grab the discarded towel. He pauses and turns to look at Peter.

“Can I take yours?” he asks, not sure whether he’s trying to be flirtatious or servile. It comes out as a weird mix of the two. He tries not to be embarrassed by it, or by the mottled scarlet flush which he knows has spread right across his chest. Peter smiles, tosses him his towel and sits down on the bed. Marcus feels like it takes an hour for him to cross the room and get to the laundry basket. He can feel Peter’s eyes on him — on his shoulders, his back, his arse, his legs, roving everywhere.

“C’mere,” Peter says, warm and dark and smoky, beckoning him back. Marcus clambers onto him, straddling his lap and kissing him hard with his face between his hands. Peter spreads his fingers out on Marcus’ back and brings their bodies tight together. When they pull apart, Peter’s looking tender and pleased. “Hey. So, stop me if I do anything you don’t like?”

“Always.”

“Great. Okay.”

“I,” Marcus starts, then licks his lips. “Mm. So. You...what you said yesterday.”

Peter blinks at him, and then his eyes narrow and he smiles, sly and encouraging. “I think I know what you mean,” he says carefully, running his hand up and down Marcus’ back. “But I wanna hear you say it.”

“Oh God,” Marcus says, screwing up his face and bumping his forehead into Peter’s. “Uh. Yeah, okay. You said — eat me out.”

That’s got to be enough, because Peter exhales hard and rough and says, “Yeah. You want that?”

“I — with a barrier?”

“Whatever you need. Latex okay?”

Marcus exhales in relief and embarrassment and delight and says, “Yeah. Yes. So...yes please,” and Peter growls. The sound vibrates through Marcus’ sternum. Then they’re moving, rolling, and Peter gets Marcus on his front, his legs splayed.

“I’m going to take my time with you,” Peter says. Marcus doesn’t know if that’s a threat or reassurance. He squirms against the mattress, half-hard cock throbbing where it’s trapped between his body and the sheets. Peter leans over him, covering his body with his for a moment, and snags a pillow. Marcus doesn’t know why until Peter taps him on the hip. “Up.”

He has to take a moment, steady himself with a deep breath, and then — tentative — he raises his hips up. It makes him feel exposed and lewd and hot. Peter’s quiet sound of approval makes his cock twitch. “Good. Here.” Peter tucks the pillow beneath his hips, lets him settle down. “Fuck into that if you need to, hmm?” Marcus brings his own hand to his mouth and bites down on one of his knuckles to stop himself moaning. His hips shudder and sensation snaps all the way up his spine. “Gonna say thank you?”

“Shit,” Marcus says, pulling his knuckle from between his teeth, “shit shit shit—”

“Hey, hey…”

“No — it’s good — thank you,” Marcus manages. He has to force it out. It feels so incredibly wrong, and he wants to say it so badly, and when it’s out he breathes a sigh of relief and finds he can keep saying it. “Thank you, thank you.”

He hears Peter laugh — gentle and good-hearted and open. The kind of laugh that sets Marcus’ stomach fluttering and twisting. “You’re welcome, beautiful,” he says. “You’re so welcome. I want to make you feel good.”

Marcus has put his hand back to his mouth. He makes a positive, acknowledging sound around the crooked second knuckle of his index finger, not sure he can do anything else. His toes curl in the sheets, and Peter’s hands come to the cheeks of his arse and squeeze. He kisses the small of Marcus’ back, his beard tickling and rasping across sensitive skin. Marcus hmms, inquisitive and pleading, rocking his hips a little, and he feels more than hears Peter chuckle. “Said I’d take my time. You just let me enjoy you, okay?”

Marcus’ breath catches. Peter plants kisses over the curve of his arse, squeezes and rubs and even bites — gentle at first and then a little rougher, making Marcus gasp and curse. He bites him right at the top of his thigh, where Marcus hadn’t known he could possibly so sensitive. It’s enough to make him grind fervently down into the pillow beneath him, to choke out Peter’s name. Then Peter pulls his cheeks apart and says, “Gorgeous,” and Marcus still wants to tell him you can’t be serious but he know Peter is. His face is burning and his mouth is wet — he’s close to drooling already.

“Come the fuck on,” Marcus rasps, and Peter tch’es, pinches him in the spot he just bit, makes him squirm and whine and kick. “Shit shit, sorry, I’m sorry, but please…”

“Easy. What did I tell you, the first time I held you down?”

Marcus doesn’t answer.

“Marcus. What did I tell you?” His silence is long enough, difficult enough, that Peter shifts a little, takes his hands from Marcus’ arse and put them, instead, on his back. “Hey. Marcus. Still with me?”

“I get what you give me,” Marcus says, all in a rush. Again, he has to make himself say it, but it comes out in a euphoric rush and once he’s said it he feels weightless, floaty, pliable. “That’s what you said. You said I — I get what you give me.” He feels Peter relax, and lean down, and then he’s kissing Marcus between the shoulderblades, stroking up his sides.

“Right. Good. You’re so good for me. You’ll get yours. Just trust me.”

“I do,” Marcus mumbles into the pillow, “I do, I do.”

Peter smiles into Marcus’ shoulder and slides down his body again, kissing and nipping as he goes. “I’m going to touch you. Going to stroke your hole, just to get you used to being touched there. I’m not going to put my fingers inside you. That okay?”

Marcus nods fervently. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s okay.” And then Peter’s fingertips are on him, stroking, pressing behind his balls — he hisses and pushes urgently into the pillow beneath him — and then finding his entrance. Peter must have licked his fingers — they’re damp and gentle and insistent and Marcus melts under their ministrations. It’s a complicated, intimate, fraught kind of pleasure which sends totally unexpected shocks through him. He shudders and whimpers and pushes back just a little.

“God, you’re incredible,” Peter’s saying, his voice thick and rough. “You’re so sensitive, so good. Relax, gorgeous. I want you relaxed for me.”

If he relaxes any further, Marcus thinks giddily, he’s going to be a puddle. It’s a stupid thought and it makes him bark an awkward laugh that’s interrupted by a gasp. Peter chuckles and leans over him, and for a good long time he just plants hot, open-mouthed kisses over Marcus’ neck and shoulders and back while he teases his hole. Marcus screws up his face and gives into it with wilful abandon, grunting and gasping and wriggling for more, pushing his hips up a little to better offer himself to Peter’s attention.

When Peter pulls his fingers away he snarls wordlessly into the pillow, and Peter laughs again, sweet and cherishing. “Oh, mad at me?”

Marcus turns his head to the side. His mouth and chin are wet from drool, and his voice thick and desperate when he says, “Don’t stop.”

“Thought you wanted me to lick your hole,” Peter murmurs, mouth right next to Marcus’ ear. Marcus gasps. “Yeah? Still okay with that?” Insistent, tight nods. Peter kisses the top of Marcus’ ear, then his cheek, then finds his mouth: the kiss is clumsy and hungry and biting. “Mm. Okay. Give me five to sort out what we need.”

Marcus takes the opportunity to stretch out and resettle, while Peter leaves the bed and walks around to the chest at the end of it. The pillow beneath his head is sticky and damp with spit: Marcus turns it over, wipes his mouth, knowing he’s only going to drool more once Peter gets his tongue where he wants it. Then, with a sigh, he slumps down and rocks his hips, just testing; the pillow doesn’t give him quite the friction he needs, but fucking against it is good all the same, dull and warm and tantalisingly dirty, though Peter would probably tell him off for the word — lewd, then.

Peter closes the chest, throws something on the bed and says, “I’m going to leave the room for thirty seconds, then I’ll be back. Is that okay? If it’s not, you can tell me.” He touches the back of Marcus’ ankle and Marcus shivers.

“It’s fine,” he says, turning his head so he can see Peter, to impress upon him that he’s being genuine. He smiles. He can do thirty seconds. Peter grins back at him, pats his thigh, and leaves. Marcus takes the chance to peek at what Peter’s tossed onto the bed. A foil-wrapped dental dam and a bottle of aloe vera lube. That makes him grin. He should have looked in that chest before. He wonders what else is in there.

When Peter comes back it’s with two glasses of water, of all things. “Up,” he says, and Marcus protests. “No, I said up.” So he struggles up on his elbows and gives Peter a wrathful look as Peter hands him the glass of water and tells him to drink some. “Good,” Peter say, stroking his hair and taking the glass away from him. “Alright. You can relax again, okay?”

The break, the water, Peter’s brief absence — all of these things have restored a tiny bit of composure. Marcus grabs Peter’s hand, the one in his hair, and brings it to his lips; he kisses his palm, his knuckles, bites the very tip of his index finger. Peter chuckles, and leans down to kiss him again, just once, before he rejoins him on the bed.

Marcus tries to be patient, tries not to track the sound of the lube’s cap coming off or the gurgle it makes as Peter squeezes — but he can’t help himself. He wriggles eagerly, and is rewarded with Peter’s fingers again, much slicker this time — still just touching him, still not pushing in. The lube is cold and he hisses in a mix of pleasure and discomfort which quickly tips its balance towards pleasure as Peter’s fingers warm it up and he starts enjoying the feeling of being wet. “Do you like that?” Peter says, amused and tender. Marcus gives an affirmative groan.

Then there’s the noise of the dam being bitten open, the crinkle of its wrapping. Marcus holds his breath and Peter spreads the dam over him and then — kisses him through it, that’s the only way Marcus can think of it. He kisses Marcus’ hole just as gently and tenderly and hungrily as he’s ever kissed his mouth.

“Breathe,” Peter reminds him, pulling away, and the reminder helps; he lets out the breath he’s been holding and closes his eyes and gives himself up to the sensation. Peter starts licking him with long, cherishing swipes of his tongue, buries his face between Marcus’ cheeks and makes love to him with his mouth. His hands are bruising-tight on Marcus’ arse and his beard burns Marcus’ thighs.

“God, you taste good,” Peter rumbles, which doesn’t make any sense because if Marcus read the dam wrapper right, all he should be able to taste right now is Blueberry Blast, but that doesn’t matter — that’s not the point, obviously, the point is how Peter’s telling him he tastes good. If that’s a fantasy that’s fine. It’s a fantasy which lets Marcus grind needily down onto Peter’s tongue, wanting to give him more of what he wants.

“Up,” says Peter, after a few more hungry licks. “Up, up. Come on.” Marcus doesn’t know what he means. He holds Marcus’ hips and pulls, and then Marcus gets it; pushes his hips back and up, so he’s on his knees with his head down, so his arse is in the air, so his cock is bobbing and dripping, so Peter can kneel behind him and get a better angle. Marcus gasps his approval and his hand flies to his cock, grabbing and tugging. Everything’s coming slow and then fast and then slow and Marcus feels totally disconnected from anything except Peter’s devouring mouth and the ache in his balls and how his hand feels wrapped around his cock. He’s drooling into the pillow again, he’s choking for air, he’s fucking up into his own grip and back against Peter’s tongue, and then he’s coming. The sensation rips through him and wrecks him, long and slow and absolutely overpowering. His hips snap forwards and he’s vaguely aware that there’s come all over the sheets below him. Then he crashes down again, an ungainly pile of limbs, panting and shaking and blinking away tears.

Peter’s all over him in an instant, gentle and lovely, peeling away the dam and covering Marcus’ body with his and murmuring to him. Marcus can’t work out what he’s saying at first, it doesn’t make it through the buzzing in his ears, but the sound of his voice makes silly, needy pleasure flutter in his stomach and he practically purrs to hear it. Peter’s hand rubs up and down his back, slow and steadying, and he falls quiet, and that’s good too.

It might be seconds or whole minutes later, Marcus doesn’t know, doesn’t really care — after some unspecified amount of time, Peter very gently rolls him onto his back. Marcus opens his eyes and grins hazily up at him. Peter looks at him with relief and adoration, and leans down for a beardy kiss. He tastes of Blueberry Blast, which tastes mostly of latex. Marcus screws up his nose, not best pleased, and Peter laughs. “How are you feeling?” he asks.

“Top of my head’s come off.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Sounds serious.”

“It’s alright.”

“I’m going to assume you’re okay.”

Marcus hums and nods and closes his eyes again. The world pours through him. Everything’s tingling and floaty and warm. After a second or so, Peter stops fussing and settles down with him, locking his arms tight around him, and then everything’s even better.

He comes back slowly, extremities first — curls his toes, fidgets his fingers. Peter noses his ear, and Marcus turns his head for a fuzzy, bleary sort of kiss. “Hey,” Peter says.

“Hi.”

“Still okay?”

“Coming back to earth a bit. Still good. Still...really good,” he says, a bit disbelieving. Peter laughs and squeezes him.

“You were incredible,” he says. “That was incredible.”

“Yeah,” Marcus says. “Yeah. I take everything I said back. About the flat and the job and stuff. I’m going to stay here, literally here on this bed, forever, and you’re going to — we’re going to — that’s happening nightly.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. And twice on my birthday.” Peter huffs out a laugh, starts tracing patterns on Marcus’ chest. He brushes over a nipple and Marcus hisses. Then he does it again. “Nn — bastard.”

“Yeah. When’s your birthday?”

“November. November 13th. It was a Friday.”

“It — really?”

“Mm-hmm. Unlucky stars. When’s yours?”

“4th of August.”

“I’m not going to remember that,” Marcus admits, catching Peter’s hand.

“I’m surprised you remember your own name right now.”

“Tell me again later.” Marcus rolls onto his side, dragging Peter’s arm over him. Peter shifts, spooning up close behind him and squeezing his hand. The clock on the bedside table says that it’s nearly five in the afternoon. They can’t fall asleep. That’s fine, Marcus doesn’t want to. He wants to lie here with Peter, and then he wants to go and take Addie on an evening walk, and then eat dinner — there’s the makings of a sag aloo in the kitchen — and watch nature documentaries on the sofa. “Tell me again and I’ll write it down. Put it in my Bible.”

“Next to the pasta recipes and the bird drawings and the word of God?”

“Yeah,” says Marcus, smiling. “Yeah. Next to all that.”