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[Needles]

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Aiden Pearce was quite used to spending his free time at his workplace, but seeing him in the customer chair was something that happened nearly never. Not that Aiden disliked having modifications, obviously, but one could still argue that he’d much rather not be getting them.

“I hate doing this.” Echoed through the room, followed by a loud curse.

“I’m not even touching you yet, Aiden.”

Aiden looked away from his colleague and tried to relax a bit in the leather chair. He could already feel that he was sweating, and the paralyzing static sensation in his body was making him clench his jaw almost painfully so.

“Alright, screw it, just do it,” he sighed and turned his face to the side, so that he’d give the piercer access to his ear. He trusted Damien Brenks to always do a very precise job, be it on the shop’s customers or on himself, but the knowledge of his expertise wasn’t exactly enough to calm Aiden’s irrational fear of all sharp objects; needles being his number one enemy despite his career choices.

“Want me to count down, or what?” Damien snorted as he picked up the container with a new needle and put it on the table next to them, reaching out for a disinfecting cleaning wipe.

“Oh, that will make it worse,” Aiden huffed. It wasn’t a guess - he was speaking from experience. After getting his philtrum, tongue, nose, ears, and labret piercings, and eventually deciding to also stretch his earlobes to almost an inch, he was always pretty sure that the next time would be easier. In the entire twenty-four years of his life, it never once got easier.

“You’re such a wimp,” Damien laughed, putting a clamp on Aiden’s tragus. “Five, six, three-”

Do you want me to pass ou-”

Aiden hissed when Damien pressed the needle through his ear and the next few moments during which he was exchanging it for the piercing, Pearce spent trying not to start hyperventilating. It was over in a few seconds, and as much as he could clearly feel the numb pain, somehow the pain wasn’t the worst thing - everything else was even more horrible. If it wasn’t for the level of his love for the effect, he would’ve stopped after the very first time when he realized his body reacted with such an anxiety rush.

“There, wasn’t so bad,” Damien said with a raise of eyebrows and Aiden just looked at him accusingly, making him laugh more. “Don’t give me that face. If you went to someone else it would take forever, and you’d actually have to pay for it.”

“You’re saying I don’t have to pay? What about the shop rules?” Aiden asked half-jokingly.

“It’s my shop. I made up the rules, I can break them.” Damien smirked and started cleaning things off the table. Aiden just shook his head with a faint smile and leaned back against the headrest of the chair to look up to the ceiling. He had painted his flash on it and on the wall a while ago to freshen up the place a little, and he was proud of the work he did. ‘Needles’ looked quite shabby on the outside, meaning that they really had to do their best to make the inside look as professional and climatic as it could get to make customers stay after walking in through the door.

“Didn’t you mention Nicky wanted to get her nose pierced? She can get a discount,” Damien chuckled as he gathered the paper towels from the table and tossed them before wiping the glass. Aiden slowly let his head fall to the side again to look at him. His smile faded slightly as Damien passed him a fresh piece of paper to press to his ear when he noticed it bleeding more.

“That… might have to wait a little,” Aiden finally said after a few seconds of silence, only to be met with Damien’s questioning look.

“Trouble in paradise?” he asked and crossed his arms over his chest. Aiden just rolled his eyes.

“You could say so. She kicked me out, we don’t really talk now,” he murmured, getting up from the chair and heading over to the desk in the far end of the shop. He looked up to a mirror on the wall and looked at his new piercing and the paper towel that indicated that it wasn’t bleeding as much anymore.

Aiden and his sister have shared the living expenses since moving to Chicago from Belfast, splitting the money they inherited from their mother who passed away the year before, meaning that such a drastic decision wasn’t only Nicole’s to make. At least until the argument, which Aiden didn’t quite feel was necessary to bring up around Damien. They were colleagues, but during those few months that he has worked at ‘Needles’, they still haven’t spoken enough about some things for Aiden to set his mind on whether or not it was safe and worth bringing up.

“Oh,” Damien just said, freezing for a moment in his movements as he glanced up to Aiden.

“Totally ‘oh’,” Aiden sighed, not making eye contact with him.

“You had a fight?”

“You could say that. I think it’s just her initial reaction to what happened, but the last few days I’ve been crashing at a motel, and she won’t answer my calls.” Aiden shrugged and walked over to the desk to toss the piece of paper, and pick up his planner with scheduled appointments, only to browse through it mindlessly.

There was silence for a moment as neither of them was sure how to continue on the topic, or how to drop it. Aiden slowly closed the planner and just leaned against the desk with his arms crossed over his chest, turning his gaze to Damien, and then to the floor.

He didn’t have the chance to experience many positive reactions to coming out of closet, and so his hesitation wasn’t exactly unexpected or odd in any way. Besides his exes, a couple friends he didn’t keep in touch with anymore, and his late mother, no one knew about his partner preferences, and he never felt the need to share that information with anyone else either. Aiden’s father obviously wouldn’t love the idea of him being with men, and that opinion rubbed off on Nicky quite hard. Their dad had a favorite, and they both knew it wasn’t Aiden - he often thought it was for the better.

“You can’t stay in motels forever, can you?” Damien said after a longer moment of silence.

He has already cleaned up and, frankly, Aiden realized that just standing there without throwing any more light on the matter was making everything even more awkward than it already was.

“Well, I’m looking for a place, but you know Chicago isn’t kind to artists,” Aiden huffed and sent him a half-smile.

Damien looked back at him with a small frown and then nodded towards to the door to a staircase leading up to his own apartment right above the shop.

“Should I get a mattress, or is the couch fair enough?” he asked as he too crossed his arms over his chest.

Aiden blinked a couple times.

“Hey, you don’t have to-”

“Don’t ‘hey’ me. You need to figure some things out, and I don’t want to lose an artist only because he needs to do something else to pay the rent more effectively.” Damien raised his eyebrows and gestured towards the door again, this time with his hand. “Don’t look at me like that.”

Aiden couldn’t find an answer for that at first, he just turned away his head again, finding himself unable to process the sudden turn of events. That wasn’t what he had in mind when he mentioned his temporary state of homelessness, but it wasn’t bad news either.

“Are you sure that’s fine? We don’t really know each other,” he finally managed to let out, only to hear Damien huff through his nose in response. Aiden looked up again and saw him smiling wider. He didn’t want to admit that it made a strong wave of relief fill his chest.

“Couch it is, then. I don’t bring out the mattress for mere strangers ,” Damien laughed and walked over to the front door of the shop, locking it up before he turned to the second door to the staircase. “So, that bag in the hallway that I didn’t feel like moving is…?”

“...my shit that I didn’t want to keep at the motel, yes.”

“Get it upstairs, then.”