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Chapter 1:

Alex scratched at the back of his head while he looked over the mess on his bed. He really hated when clients made food requests; not only was he getting sick of strawberries and whipped cream but he just hated the idea of food in bed overall. And the chocolate spilled on the sheets was likely going to stain. He glanced at the clock, his next session wasn't due for another 20 minutes, and he silently thanked god he had learned to schedule these breaks in between his private cam sessions. Sighing, Alex began to strip the bed. There was nothing he could do to salvage the sheets right now and he knew that some private clients didn't like the idea that a sex worker would dare to entertain other people while they weren't watching, as if he didn't have bills to pay or this was just some kind of hobby he only indulged in for them. Whatever, the fees people had to pay just to consider watching his shows were enough to cover things like this.

He carried the sheets into the small bathroom with him and dumped them in the hamper before turning on the shower and stepping immediately in. He quickly rinsed off what was left of the chocolate sauce on his body and in his hair under the cool water and stepped back out, grabbing a towel and a fresh set of sheets as he headed back to his current work station. “Okay, who's next on the docket?” he murmured, looking over the screen of his computer. T-minus 15 minutes the counter read, and he smiled as he read the name on the screen. “Ahhh, A. Ramos, we meet again.” Alex pulled up the special requests box his clients used to inform him of what they expected in their sessions, things like 'wear this kind of outfit,' 'make use of this toy,' or 'cover yourself in chocolate and bay like a donkey.' Standard stuff like that. “Looks like the usual,” Alex muttered to himself as he read over the written requests. Toy. Touching self. Hush, hush. “Well, Mr. Ramos, you are nothing if not consistent, I'll give you that.” T-minus 14 minutes, the counter now read. Alex got up, unfolded the new sheets, and went to work quickly covering his mattress with the efficiency of a hotel maid. Just something you pick up in these kinds of jobs. He crawled up onto the mattress once he was done and ran the towel over his hair once more before tossing it out of view to the side. The nice thing about this client was that one of his requests was always that Alex greet him fully nude. He was running his hands through his hair to tame it just as his computer chimed the session was about to start. Alex grinned into the camera, his computer screen displaying a black void where he should have been able to see his client from their own webcam. “Welcome back, darling,” he purred. Beside the black void a chat box pinged with a message and, as usual, Alex leaned over to correct the screen into giving him a better display of the chat rather then the webcam feed.

Hello Lin. It's nice to see you again.

He chuckled. “One day I would love to say the same to you, mon cher. But it looks like today won't be that day, will it?” Lin Garland was Alex's porn star name, a combination of his middle name and one of the many streets he'd once lived on. Not that original, he knew, but it also didn't sound all that far fetched for a name and lent him a touch of credibility, almost as if Lin were a real person.

Afraid not.

“That's okay. What is life without some mystery, right?” He trailed a hand down his chest, his other caressing his thigh.

Thank you for understanding.

“Of course, my dear,” Alex replied. He left out that it wasn't that uncommon for clients to keep their own webcams off or even just refuse to come into frame. He was an openly bisexual male doing cam shows after all, it attracted a certain kind of person. While Alex found it far easier to read people through the use of a video feed, he couldn't deny that sometimes it was just easier for him to work when that wasn't there. Just easier to put on a smile when he didn't have to see someone dead-on staring at him as they wanked it to whatever lewd sexual act they wanted to see him perform. But you learn what keeps your fan base happy and as long as you cater to that it keeps everything running smoothly. “Let me know when you'd like me to begin.”

The chat box stayed quiet for a moment, and Alex kept himself on display. This was part of this client's usual routine, a few minutes of 'appreciating' the look of Alex's body, then he usually began to instruct Alex on how to fondle himself. Stay pretty quiet, don't be loud or over the top, sometimes they asked for use of a toy, sometimes they just wanted Alex to tease them. Once they asked Alex to recite French poetry for a whole session, tho that got quickly shut down as Alex had butchered most of the words with his pronunciation; now he was only allowed to say a handful of choice words he had gotten lucky with guessing the correct sounds of. Tame, he knew, but compared to some of the requests he'd been asked to perform he could appreciate tame. Besides, Ramos was a client that always requested the last slot of Alex's personal sessions when he made an appointment, so Alex was worn out anyway. If all he had to do was lay back and touch himself a little or speak in French to appease this client then so be it. The chat box dinged and Alex peeked at what was said.

You're really beautiful, you know that, right?

Alex grinned despite himself. “I may have heard that a few times, yeah.”

Do other men tell you that?

Internally he flinched, but tried to keep his emotions off his face. Ramos never asked about other clients, and Alex never liked having to talk about the fact that he was a porn star with clients. Like c'mon, it wasn't something they weren't already aware of about him, yet more often then not whenever it came up it seemed to spark some kind of jealously. “Not often,” Alex answered. That was true enough. He wanted to ask if this client was in fact male like he suspected, but in the year or so that he'd seen the name Ramos crop up for private sessions they'd never once actually confirmed one way or the other. Still, given the acts Alex was often asked to perform for them he felt pretty confident in his assumption that they were male, and very gay. But he also knew better then to call them out on it. Ramos kept their voice and face hidden, had A. Ramos as their full name on their profile and never gave any indication about what gender pronouns to use. If they were a gay man as Alex suspected, addressing them as such might scare them off if they were in the closet; and if they weren't Alex could offend them by simply assuming. Whatever they're reason for anonymity, it wasn't Alex's job to pry, especially since they were a good client to work with.

Do you hear it from women then?

“Heh, 'beautiful' isn't exactly the word they use, but sometimes, yeah.”

Do you prefer to hear it from them?

“I prefer to hear it from people who mean it when they say it.”

I meant it. I think you're really beautiful. I like looking at you.

Alex relaxed a little. “I've noticed.” A moment later his ease was gone again.

Do you ever hate being attracted to men?

“No, I do not,” Alex said. “I'm perfectly comfortable with my sexuality, thank you.” And he meant that. Not all of his clients were comfortable with themselves, Alex understood this much at least, but he wasn't really into the whole gay shaming scene; his profile made it very clear what he would and would not do on camera and Alex himself made very few exceptions to this. Clients came and went and if Alex wouldn't perform what they wanted, well, it was better they fucked off sooner and found someone else who would so Alex could fill their slot with a client he could work with. Just business.

Do you really mean that?

“I do.”

How are you so brave?

This surprised Alex, more then the weirder requests he'd seen come up. It also set of a little alarm bell in his head. Ramos was trying to get personal. Alex hated personal. It was too easy for people to find him if he got personal. It was dangerous. He felt exposed and his mind started to race with what reply to give. This was outside of Ramos' usual routine, Alex wasn't sure exactly what to say, but he had to maintain some level of control. 'Don't ever let the client see you sweat, don't let them rattle you. Don't ever panic and never ever cry for them.' The rules he lived by repeated as a mantra in his head.

“I think I'm just being me, darling,” he cooed. “Nothing more or less.” Ramos' liked a routine, they liked consistency, so Alex banked on them just wanting to see him as an ordinary person. Tame. Non-personal. Safe.

I wish I could be more like you.

“What? A cam boy?” Alex chuckled.

No. Just....myself. I wish I could be myself.

He softened. “You can be yourself with me, mon cher That's what I'm here for.” He pointedly held himself back from adding 'within reason,' to his words, but again it was a calculated bet. Clients like Ramos appreciated the illusion of intimacy, they came to people like Alex because they weren't getting that in their real life. While a part of him hated that he was making money off of people desperate for a love and acceptance they felt they couldn't have he also wasn't so cruel as to remind them that this was a business deal and nothing more to him in a fragile moment like this. Stay positive, keep them happy, make them feel loved. That's how Alex collected his paychecks, people's personal problems were still theirs to deal with though and he couldn't get involved in that. All he could do was try to make them forget they even had problems for a bit and hope that would be enough.

Thank you for understanding, Lin. I want to see you touch yourself now.

Alex smiled a little more genuinely now that things were back on track. He ran his hands along his chest and abdomen, pointedly avoiding moving lower while still opening his legs wider then they already were. “Like this?” he purred.

Lower.

Alex ran his hands down his thighs and over his knees. “Here?”

Higher.

He brought his hands back up to his hips.

Lin....

“Tell me what you want me to do baby,” Alex said, grinning mischievously. He knew he was being a tease. Even just a half hour long session could be a long time to be thrusting and they were only a few minutes in. Alex was young but he was also human. No amount of chocolate guzzling beforehand was gunna get him up again if he was too tired. Besides, letting the clients tell him exactly what they wanted was a win-win; Alex knew exactly how to please them and they got to feel like they had some control over the situation.

Stroke your penis with your hand.

“Dry?” Alex said, his right hand already ghosting over the area he was instructed to touch.

You may use lube.

“Thank you, baby,” Alex said reaching for the pump bottle he kept on the table next to the camera. In truth it was an old jumbo bottle of hand sanitizer that he'd just cleaned out and re-purposed into it's current function, but clients always made snarky comments or seemed put off when they saw it so Alex just kept it out of sight. Figures that some people would love to see him shove a 15 inch dildo up his own ass but act surprised when he needed the amount of lube required to pull that off without hurting himself.

As his palm glistening with the slick lubricant, he squeezed it into all of his fingers coating them evenly and slid it over himself. He could already feel the faint beats of his own pulse beginning to pump blood into an erection, but he closed his eyes and stroked slowly, remembering that Ramos often told him they liked that. He moaned lowly, more like a sigh that was breathy and faint, then bit his own bottom lip. The ding of the chat box alerted him to another request and he slowly looked up to read it.

Please remember to stay quiet.

Alex nodded his acknowledgment of the order and leaned back to give himself the leverage to thrust a bit into his own hand. The tip of his penis popped in and out of sight between his fingers, and Alex would rub his thumb over the tip every few thrusts. He felt himself grow hard with each stroke and the desire to buck more forcefully grew stronger as he worked himself, but instead he forced himself to stay as even as possible. No one liked a porn star that came too soon.

Lay back on the bed and let me see how hard you are.

Alex obeyed and presented himself, slightly proud he was already hard enough to stay up without much help. The pulsing of his heartbeat became a little more clear as the cool air of the room enveloped him rather then his hand, but he kept one finger stroking up and down along the vain of his underside to keep himself running. “Is this good?” he murmured softly. “Should I keep going?”

No, that's fine. Do you have the toy I requested last time?

Sitting up Alex reached beside the camera and produced a long rubber dong, realistic in sculpting with a tip colored a slightly deeper pink. “This one?” he purred, bringing it close to his lips for a kiss. “You went awfully big this time, baby.”

Is this one too big for you?

The brunette chuckled. “No, of course not. I've taken much bigger for you, remember?”

Yes. I still can't believe you did that for me.

“I like you, that's why.”

You didn't know me then. It was our first time.

“It's not the first time someone choose a toy they weren't expecting to be as big as it was. But you were the first person who apologized for it even though I don't have anything in my collection I wouldn't feel comfortable using.”

Do you remember so much for all of your clients?

“Not many come back as regularly as you.”

I reckon it's because they can't afford to.

Alex furrowed his brow some at that. It likely wasn't untrue, but it bothered him to read it all the same.

I'm sorry, that was incredibly insensitive of me to say.

He decided to let it go, no sense in arguing the point. Sure, private sessions were expensive and very few of Alex's clients could afford one monthly but Ramos, whomever they were, paid to have Alex all to themselves at lease once a week and had been doing so for just about the last year. While Alex knew from his co-workers the name Ramos had popped up in a few other private sessions back in the day it wasn't a secret anymore that this particular client was now exclusively his. Alex could take a guess why; while his co-workers weren't really supposed to discuss what they did in their private sessions a guy named Lee had chewed Ramos out during one such session and made it loudly known that he'd been asked to do some anal stuff, which Lee said he wasn't comfortable with, though that statement earned him a few eye rolls. It wasn't that he wasn't comfortable doing anal scenes, it was that he wasn't comfortable being the one getting fucked in anal scenes; he had no problem working with Alex as long as Alex was the one with his ankles around his head. In any case, Alex had been the one called in to handle the client while their boss handled calming Lee down. Whoever Ramos was they were rich, just came off a little naive at the time.

“You seem a little off today baby, is everything okay?”

It's nothing, really. Just, school is starting up again soon.

“Oh yeah? Shouldn't that excite you?”

I dunno, how exciting do you think law school really is?

Alex chuckled. Ironically he would also be going back to school soon and was studying to get a law degree to boot, but that was far too personal a detail for him to admit to. “Hmm, maybe that does sound a little boring. But I'll still be around to help you blow off steam.”

My hero.

“I am a man of many talents.”

Haha, you say as you sit naked in your room and stroke a dildo for me.

“Just waiting for you to tell me where you'd like me to put it.”

I think you can take a guess where it's supposed to go.

He leaned forward and slowly dragged his tongue up the length of the rubber shaft in his hands, flicking it across the tip at the end. “Do I?”

You tease me, Lin.

“I want to make sure you're satisfied.”

Well, I don't want to see you make out with a fake cock. Maybe next time.

“You sure? I'm really good at it.”

I'm sure. I want you to pleasure yourself with it, Lin. Whatever feels natural to you, do that. I love your natural work best.

Alex smiled and reached for more lube. He loved when any client gave him free reign because it usually meant he'd only have to work as hard as he wanted. Not that he found what he did for a living hard to do, necessarily. He turned around and gave the camera a nice view of his ass, wiggling it as he bent over the bed some and slid his toy through his slick hands. Reaching behind himself, he rubbed a finger against his ass, building up his own desire. Of course by this late in the night he'd already prepped and fucked a few toys of various sizes, and some nights he'd even have done one or more scenes with a co-worker or two, but then he also knew half a client's fun was from the buildup, not so much the sex itself.

He began to insert his finger slowly, working it in like he needed the time to adjust. Ramos said they liked natural, and Alex smirked internally; that was exactly how they were so naive. Nothing in porn was natural, it was all for show. But hey, if the client wanted Lin Garland to act like this was his first time then Alex would act like a goddamn nervous high school freshman on homecoming night to get paid. He remembered well enough what that was like, anyway. Sliding in a second finger with a small moan, he started spreading himself as he worked. Beneath him his own cock began to twitch, reminding him that it would need it's own tending again soon. He inserted a third finger to keep himself from seeming too eager to get his work over with, and stroked himself slowly and deliberately.

Feeling that enough time had passed for his prepping, Alex straightened some and brought the toy his client had selected for him behind him. He rubbed the slick tip against himself, feeling it press against his anal cavity and trying not to lose his grip in the slip created by the lube. The dildo itself was flexible, and bent when force was applied unlike some of the more rigid toys he had. He began to insert it inside himself, one hand cupped underneath it to push while the other guided, slowly inching down the whole length of the shaft. He let out little involuntarily grunts as he did so, trying to stay as quiet as possible, as per his clients request. The ping of the chat box caused him to peek over his shoulder.

You look wonderful, Lin.

Alex smiled coyly and again wiggled his ass for the camera. He also eyed the time to make sure he would wasn't wasting it. Ramos seemed to be a forgiving client but, even though Alex liked being a tease, he rarely failed to make his shows worth while to watch. He turned to the side, affording his client a nice view of both the toy as he moved to slide it in and out of himself as well as his own cock as he brought his other hand around to resume stroking it. Alex closed his eyes and rocked back and forth between the toy and his hand, allowing himself to build to his climax at a pace that felt good for him. It took him a minute to climb up there; the dildo, while thick and deep, didn't give him the best stimulation but he'd never let a client know that.

He thrust back and forth, occasionally gyrating his hips to create some variation. He reached his edge, and spilled over it, biting down on his lip to suppress a moan that still tried to escape him. He milked himself carefully, feeling his cock twitch in his hand and keeping it angled away from the camera and equipment. His boss would throw a fit if he jizzed all over the expensive set up, and Alex honestly couldn't blame him. His bucking slowed, and the feeling of the toy inside him became a little more uncomfortable. Sighing once he was done with himself, he removed the toy and positioned himself to be more comfortable, running his hands down his chest and abdomen. He listened for any more messages coming through, but it stayed quiet on his clients end. “Is there....anything else you wanted, baby?” Alex asked. When no message came right away, he assumed, naturally, that his client just had their hands full, and moved into displaying himself the way he always dis at the start of his sessions with Ramos. Eventually a message pinged on the computer.

You do good work, Lin.

Alex smiled. “I'm glad you think that, baby. But we still have a few more minutes, was there anything else I could do for you?”

I'm satisfied for now. Honestly tho, I wish I could hold you for a bit.

He tried not to cringe and kept his composure. There was a reason he worked through cameras and with a close tight-nit group of actors, because he knew the streets could be dangerous for someone in his line of work. The law didn't care and, while Alex felt there should be no shame in seeking out so basic a human need as sex was, would not come to the aid of someone who had sex for money. He'd had to service his fair share of creeps to be sure, but sitting behind a screen where the only one who could touch him was himself or someone he trusted was the only way he felt he could do this kind of work. Certain words set him on edge, and Ramos was edging back into those waters.

“Oh, a cuddler are you?” Alex teased. He held off making empty promises now when it came to topics like these, because he never knew who would understand that that's exactly what they were and not invitations to come find him in real life.

Do you ever have sex with people off camera?

He considered the question for a moment, then shrugged noncommittally.

I'd like to imagine you do, and that it's more intimate then here. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you're here with me now, but you're not online 24/7, so you must have a life you live off screen.

“And what do you think that is like?” Alex asked, his heart beginning to race with the inklings of anxiety.

Better then mine. You seem happy, like genuinely so. I think of you as my boyfriend sometimes. You'd take my hand, walking in the park long after dark just taking in the sights of the city, and you'd smile at me and that would be enough. But I don't pretend to know you, Lin. You could be married to a beautiful woman, who's smart and strong, with two children and a dog or something. You could be writing some hip-hop musical for Broadway about love and a revolution, and spend your free time tweeting uplifting things to strangers on the internet because you just want to put a little bit more positivity in the world then there was yesterday.

Alex relaxed a bit. While it didn't sound like Ramos actually knew a damn thing about him, a part of him would always wonder if it wasn't an act to get Alex to confess his own soul. It certainly felt like that's what Ramos wanted.

All I'm saying is, there's someone in my life I wish I could hold, but I'm not allowed to. You make me feel held, that's important to me. But sometimes just feeling like you would hold me isn't enough. I really want to be held and that....will never happen between us.

He sat back, taking all this in. It wasn't the first time someone had bared their soul to him. Surprisingly, Alex had come to find that this job wasn't always just about the sex, sometimes he had to play low-key therapist to his clients as well. “I'm sure you'll find someone who will love you for who you are, baby. You're polite and kind to me, it says a lot about who you actually are as a person and I can't imagine there isn't already someone asking themselves what the heck they gotta do to be with you.”

Not someone I could reciprocate loving. Not right now, anyway.

“One day, then.”

A blinking yellow light in the top right corner of his screen reminded Alex that they were down to their last five minutes.

Looks like we're almost out of time.

“It would seem so.” He hesitated for a moment before finally asking, “will you be okay if I let you go now?”

Yes. I know I must sound like some pathetic sad sap with no life, crying to to a sex god about how I'm single and feel like I'm gunna die alone, but you really have helped keep me off an edge since we've started doing this.

Alex chuckled. “A god, huh? That's an interesting way of looking at me.” The yellow light turned orange. Three minutes left. “But if I help, then I'm glad. You deserve happiness, you know.”

Thank you, Lin. I needed to hear that.

“Of course, baby.”

But you know, once I have someone else in my life, we'll stop seeing each other like this.

He leaned in close to the camera, a look of sincerity on his face. “If you find someone tomorrow who will hold you every night for the rest of your life, then I want you to promise me you'll run off with them and never look back. Life is too short to throw away your shot at being happy.” The light began to blink red; one minute left. Alex kissed his fingers and waved them at the camera, his usual closing salutation. “I must bid you goodnight for now, my love. Till we meet again.”

Goodnight, Lin.

 


 

John sat naked on his bed, his hands buried deep in his dark curly hair as he gripped at the back of his head and tried to get a grip on his feelings. Tears tried to fight their way to the surface, but he stubbornly blinked them back and took slow deep breaths to keep himself steady. His laptop sat in front of him, the recent transmission ended.

Do you ever hate being attracted to men?

No, I do not.”

Do you really mean that?

I do.”

How are you so brave?

I'm just being my self.”

I wish I could be more like you.

No.

Just....myself.

I wish I could be myself.

He shook remembering his words, terrified at what he knew they meant. He knew what he was and everyday it hurt him to wake up and have to face that simple reality.

Gay.

Queer.

A goddamn faggot going straight to hell if you don't-”

John gritted his teeth and forced a deep breath through him, willing the memory away. He squeezed his eyes shut and felt the tears roll down his cheeks, but he would not succumb to this weakness. He wiped at his face and hugged himself, shaking as he sat exposed on his bed, the mess of what he'd done spilled in his lap, dripping over gnarled skin. He had to tell himself over and over that there was nothing wrong with him, a mantra that could be hard to believe in when you were raised in the south, with a religious, well respected and well known family for whom appearances mean everything. Compounded by the simple fact that the only way he could safely find any kind of sexual release was with a stranger on the internet in the dead of night, sometimes it just felt like maybe his parents were right about him, maybe he was a sinner damned for the fires of hell.

All I'm saying is, there's someone in my life I wish I could hold, but I'm not allowed to.

As if sensing his turmoil, a message pinged up on a different tab. John wiped at his face again, swallowed the sobs he couldn't let out, and switched to his Facebook messenger tab.

What are you doing awake still, mon ami?

John sighed and leaned forward to type on his computer, grateful for the distraction. He also looked around for the box of baby wipes he kept on hand to clean himself off with after these little midnight sessions.

'I couldn't sleep. What are you doing up?'

Thomas has a squish on a guy and I was doing some fishing for him. :)

John smiled a bit and rolled his eyes. 'Facebook stalking, really Laf?'

Oui. I found out that he works at a Starbucks close by and I went in to scope him out my self. He's cute. His name is James Madison, he was born on March 16, so he is a Pisces, and he is studying debate and speech so he is well spoken even though he speaks very softly sometimes. He likes ice cream, writing is secret codes, has a dirty sense of humor, plays chess, reads works of literature in Greek and Latin and three years ago some hooligans broke into his family house and stole their supper. I like him.

'Jesus Lafayette.'

Thomas is an Aries, I am reading up on how to make them fall in love. He will need to be very patient with this boy. Have you found a boy I can stalk for you yet? Now is a good time to tell me, I will find out many things for you, I will find all their secrets. :)

John sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. Sometimes it felt like his friend was clairvoyant; he couldn't otherwise explain how Lafayette knew when to message him or cut straight to particular points. 'No, I haven't.'

Have you even seen anyone that you'd like to...how you say, suck face? Suck other parts? Several eggplants emojis and a smiley face followed that statement.

He began to type out a response, then deleted it before he sent it. They'd been down that path before already, and it didn't work out. Lafayette had made it very clear to him that it would not work out. At a loss for words, John just stayed quiet.

I will take that as a no. I wish you would look around, John. You deserve to be loved.

'You love me, don't you, Laf?'

I know you need more then anything I could give you. He had made it very clear. You will find someone, one day. But you cannot hide away from the world forever, mon ami. I worry that you have found no one else to love since we broke up. You deserve happiness.

'It's just not the right time for me right now, Laf.'

Oh, is that what you are telling yourself now?

'It's true. I've got three years of school left. I promise I'll start looking after that, but right now I just need to focus on my studies.'

The animated ellipse notified him that his friend was typing but it seemed it was now his turn to delete a reply that would be better left unsaid. But as John was contemplating what more to add, a response came through. When will you be back in town? I miss speaking with you in person.

'My parents are driving the family up after church tomorrow, we'll be stopping around Baltimore for the night, then it's just a 6 hour shot the next day. '

We can get coffee when you get here. I will show you James. We can plot together how to make him and Thomas lovers. :) Wait, doesn't your family do the early church?

'Yep.' John sighed. 'I really should be getting to sleep, at least get a few hours in so I won't fall asleep during the services. I don't want to miss out on all that wonderful talk about hellfire and damnation I'll get to experience when I'm dead.'

You are 23 years old John, if you do not want to go to church you should be able to say that.

'I'm 22 and it doesn't matter what I want, Laf. As long as I'm living under my father's roof I'll do as he says if I know what's good for me. You know this.'

So move out. Move in with me. If you need a father to take care of you, I can do that.

John rolled his head back and blew a few strands of hair from his face. There was so much he wanted to say to his friend about that plan, how wonderful it sounded, what a nightmare it would be. They had lived together before, but things were different between them then. John had thought he could change Lafayette, make him settle down, maybe marry him one day. Lafayette would not settle for John and Lafayette did not believe in marriage. And that wasn't even touching on the fact that John wasn't ready to come out of the closet while his best friend never once saw a reason to hide away in one. Being with Lafayette had been heaven for him, and hell for both of them.

'I need to go to sleep now. I'll see you Monday, Laf.'

Very well, mon cher. Text me tomorrow when you are leaving to get here if you are not asleep in the car. I love you.

'I love you too. Goodnight.'

Goodnight John.

He closed out of the Facebook tab and pulled open his e-mail. That night's recording of his session with Lin had been sent to him and he clicked the link to start the download of it to his personal computer. As his computer worked he got up to fetched a pair of sweat pants from a dresser drawer and pulled them on. He set an alarm on his phone, not that his family would let him skip out on church even if they found him dead that morning in his own bed. Once the download was complete he closed down his laptop for the night and finally crawled under his blankets.

If you find someone tomorrow who will hold you every night for the rest of your life, then I want you to promise me you'll run off with them and never look back. Life is too short to throw away your shot at being happy.”

Lin's words were a comfort to him, more then he thought the man would ever know, but they still couldn't stop the few tears that always came just before he fell asleep each night.

 

END CHAPTER

 

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 2:

“Now are you sure that's everything, we didn't leave anything in the car did we?”

“I got all my stuff.”

“Sure you did, squirt, and I'm sure you got a few things of mine too.”

“I did not!”

“Well, if I can't find things I know I packed I'm breaking into your dorm room to look for them.”

“Which dorm room is yours again, Jr?”

“Are you sure none of this is either of yours?”

“Yes Mom, I'm sure it's all Martha's stuff that's left in the car.”

“Weld Hall, it's that one over there.”

“Right, right. It's been a few years since your old man was a young lad roaming these stomping grounds...”

“It seems like she brought so much and you boys took so little.”

“Well that's because our little Martha was smart enough to get herself an apartment, and not stay in the dorms this year.”

“One year of dorm living and I said NEVER AGAIN. I don't know how John has done it for four years already.”

“It's cuz John's a masochist!”

“Elias!! Don't say such things about your brother, it's rude!”

“Eh, it's probably true. Spending the next nine months living in a concrete shoe box builds character tho, just like summer camp.”

“The rooms aren't that tiny, John, you dingus!”

“Henry!”

“Haha, just you wait squirt. And we'll get you next year Elias, don't worry. Soon, soon all my siblings will be masochists, just like meeeee...”

“John, don't talk about things you don't know anything about.”

“A masochist is just someone who enjoys pain mother, and boy must I love pain to be coming back to Harvard for the 5th year in a row now. Only two more after this one and I'll get to be a lawyer, oh goody!”

“Don't sass your mother, John.”

“You're not our mother Martha!”

“Don't sass your sister, Elias.”

“And a masochist is NOT something you should aspire to be.”

“John, which one of the houses are you staying in again?”

“Adams house, around the corner father. I've told you 16 times on the way up here to just leave my stuff in the car and we could take it around after we got Henry settled in, but you're not listening to me, so I guess we'll just cart all my boxes up to Henry's room, then back down and around the block like savages.”

“It builds character, John.”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure it does.”

“Are you sure you won't need anything more? This is everything you need?”

“Moooooooom!”

“The rest of my stuff is in storage.”

“For Christ's sake Eleanor we're sending them away to college, not war.”

“Are you sure? It still feels like the barracks.”

“Bite your tongue boy, you should be so lucky as to never see a battlefield.”

“Yeah, tell us again about our 9th great grand uncle who died in the Battle of the Combahee River during the American Revolution, Dad.”

“I read once that he might have been gay.”

The once rambunctious chattering of the family fell suddenly dead quiet as four sets of eyes turned to it's youngest member, a girl of no more then 14. With curly brown hair tied in two long braids down either side of her head, a splattering of freckles across her face, large hazel eyes so much like her siblings and a sweater with overalls ensemble she was the picture of sweet innocence. She stood twirling a large golden oak leaf in one hand, and steadily held the gaze of her father, whose face turned dark like a storm blowing in from the sea. John looked fearfully between his youngest sister and father, tense with with a primal fear for the safety of the girl and of the man who was glaring at her. But it was their mother who intervened.

“Well, you just can't believe everything you read about these days, my dear. Your 9th great grand uncle just had a very close friendship with another man, and that was very common in those times and there's nothing wrong with it, but they both got married and had babies, so obviously they weren't gay.”

The youngest girl gave a little shrug. “If you say so, mama. But I read it from some letters that he exchanged with that friend of his.”

“They just had a different way of speaking back then. That's all.”

“Jr, why don't you take your things up to your dorm with Elias and your mother, while John, the girls and I take his things down the street to his place,” their father said at length. “Sound good?”

“Yes father,” the two younger boys said in unison and were quick to start gathering the boxes that needed to be carried. John started collecting his own boxes, beside him his sisters did the same. Their mother pulled her husband to the side to exchange quick hushed words, and John wasted no time ushering his littlest sister ahead, away from the storm that was their father.

“Jesus Christ Mary, can you please not say things like that around Dad?” John said once he was sure they were far enough out of earshot of his parents.

“No shit,” their oldest sister Martha chimed in. “I thought Dad was gunna blow for a second there. Like have a complete and total thermal nuclear meltdown.”

John chuckled nervously. “Error, Dad.exe has stopped working. Commencing countdown to nuke sequence launch, T-minus ten seconds.”

“Mom swoops in with the Jesus code override, saves the day,” Martha added.

“Why do you both do that all the time?” Mary asked. “Why do you pretend like it's okay for them to be like this? Like it's a joke? Cuz I don't think it's very funny.”

“Dad's coming,” Martha said, “we'll tell you later.”

“Hey, wait up, you're leaving your old man behind there!”

“Man, keep up pops!” John called. “You don't want your old college buddies thinking you're getting old there, do you? I'm sure some of them are around here...Oh, look I think I see one now!!”

“Oh, you do not,” his father replied with a chuckle as he caught up. John couldn't help the way he flinched when the man raised his hand and rubbed the top of his son's head, but if his father noticed he said nothing about the involuntary movement. It didn't stop Martha from shooting him a concerned look however. “You wouldn't even know who you were looking for.”

John forced himself to smile. “I just have to look for someone who looks as old as dirt, like you old man.” He gritted his teeth and kept the look of causal joy even as his father's hand dropped down to pat him on the shoulder and give it a squeeze. He wanted to brush it off. He didn't say anything about it, too scared of the rage he knew might be seething under the surface of his father's own happy facade. Everything would be fine though, as long as no one broke the illusion.

“How much father to this house of yours anyway?”

“Just a bit farther father.” If his family had anything else to add it was drowned out by the sound of someone screaming as they ran toward them. John stopped walking as soon as he heard the yell and set down the box he was carrying with a little, “oh no.” A moment later, he was tackled form the side into the grass as his family looked on in a mix of mild amusement and bewilderment. The sound of rapid-fire French filled the air.

John, John, John! Mon cher ami Américain!! Tu m'as tellement manqué pendant l'été et je suis tellement content que tu sois enfin revenu à Cambridge!! J'ai tellement d'histoires à vous raconter, nous devons prendre un café à la fois, je veux vous dire tout ce que j'ai fait pendant votre absence! Et tu dois me parler de Charleston, comment s'est passé ton été?!

Tu m'as manqué aussi Lafayette.” John said, struggling to regain his footing. “S'il te plaît, sors de moi. Les gens nous regardent.”

Laissez-les regarder, je vous aime trop pour prendre soin de leur jugement.”

“Lafayette, is that you?!” Martha said setting her own box down. Finally the man that had tackled John began to get to his feet, a wide excited grin on his face as he turned to the older sister and said, “oui.” Martha pulled him up and into her own hug, giving time for John to dust himself off and get back up. “It has been years since I've seen you!!” Martha squealed excitedly. “John didn't tell me you were back in the states!”

“You caught me, I was keeping him hidden in my storage unit this whole time. Dunno how he broke out, I thought I used the strong chains this time.”

“Lafayette....isn't that the name of you're....European friend, John?” his father asked with a raised brow.

"Oui, c'est moi, Marie-Joseph Daveed Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.” Relinquishing Martha, he turned and gave the oldest Laurens a deep and graceful bow and straightened with a flawless smile. “But I know that name is long, so just Lafayette will do.”

“Marie, right, I forgot your parents gave you the first name of a girl.”

“Marie-Joseph” Lafayette coolly replied, his smile never leaving his face as if he wasn't at all bothered that his best friend's father did not remember him well. “But you may simply call me Lafayette, Monsieur Laurens.” Before anything more could be said by the older man, the French man turned with a surprised look to the youngest sister, now half hiding behind her older brother and peeking somewhat shyly up at him. “Mademoiselle Mary Laurens, is that really you or have my eyes lied to me? Look At How Much You Have Grown!! John, you did not tell me how beautiful a young lady she has become!!” The girl smiled, her face blushing at his compliments. As Lafayette held his hand out to her she shifted the weight of the box she was carrying to one side and offered her own, thinking he meant to shake it but giggled when he bowed to kiss her fingertips instead.

“He's charming, like a fairy tale prince,” Mary said. “Just like I remember.”

“You do?” Lafayette said straightening. “Non, non, mon cheri, how could you remember me you were so little and small.” He mimed patting the air beside him, “I know I have long legs, but you did not even come up to my knees you were so very little. I had to look everwhere I step in your house or else I might have squish you before.”

Il était une fois, un jeune prince a vécu dans un château brillant...” Mary recited but had to stop at the surprised look Lafayette gave her. “I still have the story book you gave me when I turned seven.”

Apprends-tu encore à parler français?

Oui, tous les jours. J'adorerais visiter la France un jour, comme mon frère John l'a fait.”

John and Lafayette exchanged looks, for a moment both of them remembering the trip John had taken to live abroad for his senior year of high school. It had been pivotal for John, for without his friendship with the French man or a journey that put an ocean between him and the controlling grip of his father he might never have gathered the courage to open a part of himself that he had been brought up to keep buried deep inside. John remembered one night in particular, rocking on top of Lafayette's hips as he laid on a blanket, moaning with fulfillment into the moonlight as the sounds of waves rhythmically sang behind them. He recalled the loving patience Lafayette had shown for his shaking hands exploring a lover's body for the first time, all the places he had kissed him over and over that night, all the places he had been kissed....

“Well, if you study very hard, mon cheri, and you are very good to ta mère et ton père, I believe I can sponsor you for your own trip abroad, if it is your wish,” Lafayette said, smiling at the girl.

“Really?!”

Oui, but in a year or two, and if ton père says it is okay.” He looked expectantly at her father.

“We'll see what happens,” the man replied noncommittally.

“Now, John, why are you making your sisters carry all your stuff for you?” Lafayette chastised. “Hand me that box, mon cheri, I cannot stand by and let you be a beast of burden to your brother. That is hardly becoming of a lady.” He swiped the box Martha had picked back up from her hands and stacked it on top of the one John was carrying, ignoring his cries of protest, then turned to the youngest girl again, holding his hands out expectantly.

“It's okay, Lafayette, I don't mind carrying this for my brother,” Mary said.

“Well, if that is your wish, I cannot argue,” he began, then swept her whole body up into his arms as she playfully screamed and giggled. “But I shall then have to carry you altogether, will I not? Come along John, we ought to get you moved in now. I took the liberty of looking up which room you will be staying in and peeking at it already so you don't have to, just follow me.” And he marched away, still carrying the youngest sibling in his arms.

“He's as....interesting....as I recall he was back when you were in high school,” Henry Sr. said giving John a pointed look. “Have you talked to him about salvation, John?”

“He's been baptized, Dad.”

“Has he? Well, maybe he needs to be again. He's wearing women's clothing after all.”

“They're called yoga pants and he's a dancer, father. A bar dancer, before you ask, with enough skill and training to teach Mary far more then that teacher you have her studying under.”

“Seriously, what's wrong with woman's clothes?” Martha chimed in. “I mean, I wear them all the time and you hardly bat an eye about it.” John snickered despite himself.

“There's nothing wrong with a woman wearing women's clothing, or with Mary's ballet teacher. But I certainly don't like the way he looks at your sister. That's not a man who should be teaching children.”

Martha rolled her eyes. “Oh really, and why is that? Because he wears a pair of comfortable pants and is flippant enough not to give a crap what a close minded bigot thinks of him?” John clutched tightly to the bottom box in his arms now, a slowly creeping panic washing over him. Silently, a step behind their father, he tried to signal to Martha to stop but she was too livid on Lafayette's behalf to listen.

“Of course not Martha, don't be ridiculous,” their father calmly replied as they reached the house John would be staying in. For one single second John thought he was just going to let the matter drop. “But anyone who has a brain knows that gay men only come into being because they were molested as young boys by men claiming to be gay. It's a learned behavior darling, not a choice.”

“What an absolutely horrible thing to say about a person,” Martha shot back.

“It's just facts,” Henry Sr. stated.

“Right, I forgot that facts and utter bullshit were becoming synonyms for one another these days.”

“You can be as mad as you want about it darling, that doesn't change anything.”

“Oh, right, so what does?” John said, suddenly finding a little bit of his own voice, a little bit of strength in the rage he felt hearing his father's nonchalant way of speaking about his longest friend, a former lover. “Sending your child away to a pray away the gay conversion bible camp where they beat, abuse, and neglect him as scare tactics to turn him straight all because you caught him kissing a boy his own age when he was 10?” Their father stopped walking and turned to face his oldest children, the seething dark anger of his face from earlier returning. Martha moved closer to her shaking brother and her presence brought John a resolve he could never find on his own against the man they now faced. Years of trauma left him with mental scars that made it hard for him to justify defend himself, but John would be damned for sure if he didn't try to shield the people around him from the same abuse.

“It worked for you, didn't it, John?”

“If you think beating a child until they can't move anymore and locking them in a closet for three days with no food or water is how you're supposed to scare them straight, then yeah, I guess it worked.” John ignored the horrified look that crossed his sister's face then; there was a lot he never told the family. There was a lot he kept hidden from all of them.

“The camp counselor said you tripped and fell down some stairs, then pointedly refused to eat for three days. You were going through a dark time, John. If you're still upset by it, your mother and I of course will find you a therapist to see out here in Cambridge. In the meantime, I think you ought to take yourself to confession and see what can be done about that lying habit of yours.”

“Fuck you,” John spat and pointedly tried to push past his father in the hallway. His arm was grabbed and John was spun back first into a wall, pinned there by the iron grip of the man he most feared and hated in the world. His cry came mostly from the shock of the move, but Henry Laurens spared no mercy in squeezing as tight as he possibly could into his son's bicep.

“Goddamn it John,” he hissed in the boy's face, “I've done everything I can to keep you on the straight and narrow and have about had it up to here with this bullshit. If you want to fuck off in the slums with that AIDS ridden faggot while sucking cock for a living then just say so, but but don't think that you'll get to drag the rest of your siblings out there with you too!!”

“Dad, Stop!” Martha cried, trying to come between them as John's breathing immediately kicked into overdrive. The boxes he was carrying spilled from his hands and the resounding crash of them on the floor caused several people to look around for it's source. “Dad, people are staring, let him go. Now!”

Eventually Henry did, and stepped back. “Get your shit together, John. And if you can't do that by the end of the year, don't bother coming home for Christmas. I'd rather have a dog I could just put down then a worthless piece of trash like you for a son.” And with that his father turned again and started marching back down the hall, barking his younger sister's name and John crumpled to the floor, his panic blurring all of his senses.

“John,” Martha said, bending down to rub his back. “John are you—”

“Go make sure he doesn't hurt Mary,” John said. He wiped at his face with shaking hands, desperate to clear the tears away. “Martha, go!” And with a resolute nod his sister got up and charged down the hallway after the wake of their father, leaving John alone in the hallway with a few odd stares as he started to collect the boxes that had spilled on the ground. A second pair of hands started picking up the toiletries and office supplies that were loose and putting them back into his box next to him. “Oh,” John said, “Thank y—” He looked up into the most gorgeous pair of brown eyes he'd ever seen, but that's not what stopped his words in his throat.

“No problem,” said the face of Lin Garland. He smiled warmly and John felt his pants tighten in their usual anticipation of watching one of Lin's cam shows. “We got everything, are you good now?”

“Y-yeah,” John said, pulling the box onto his lap to hide what was sure to be a noticeable problem if this literal freaking porn star kept talking to him. “Ummmm....I'm John. John Laurens.” He offered his hand over the box.

“Alexander Hamilton.”

“A-ah-Alexander?” John stuttered.

“Heh, you can just call me Alex if it's too difficult a name for you.”

“It's, ummm....I just thought....I'm sorry, I thought you were somebody else I knew.”

Alex chuckled some and a tingle ran down John's spine. “Oh really? Heh, I must just have one of those faces. Do you need any help?”

“Oh, no, I'm okay.” John said, standing up, lifting said boxes and being very grateful they kept certain areas of himself covered. “I'm uh, just on my way to my dorm.”

“You're here in Adams house, right?” Alex asked, grabbing a rolling suitcase with it's own boxes tied to the handle that John hadn't noticed before. “So am I, can I walk you to your dorm so I know where to find you? I might need somebody I can copy notes off of or borrow a cup of sugar from, you never know.”

John tried his best to just laugh causally and not let on that he was freaking out on the inside. “Uhhh, so you're staying in Adams house too? What, uhhh, what year are you, I mean, what are you studying?”

“Are you always so eloquent with your words?” Alex grinned at him. “Well, let's see, I guess this is my fourth year here at Harvard, but my first year of law school.”

“Really? Mine too. Of-of law I mean. I'm studying law too.”

“Oh good, then I really can study notes off you, right?”

John was about to reply when his sisters came back down the hall, Martha leading a crying Mary by the hand. “I texted Mom already, she's on her way, but if Lafayette keeps egging Dad on he's likely to lose it entirely,” Martha said as soon as she pulled up. “Can you get Laf away from Dad, or do you want Mary duty?”

John set his boxes down, his earlier problem having thankfully receded some with the walking. “I'll deal with Dad, watch my things.”

“Umm, mine too,” Alex said, leaning his against the wall and following John. “What's going on?”

“Oh, you know, southern baptist father from a well-to-do family in a tiny town and a European best friend who doesn't think colors have genders. Or that genders have genders.”

“Ahh, I see.”

“Look, I don't make any excuses for my father but please just let me handle him, okay? And you don't have to come.”

“I want to help. Believe it or not, I know how to deal with a bigot.”

John rounded on him. “I don't need violence here, I need diplomacy.”

“Okay, you got it.”

John wanted to argue with him to stay back, but he knew if he did Alex would figure out he was Ramos, a client of his and the last thing John needed right now was to be outed as someone who was paying a guy to fuck himself on camera while he watched so he could get off. And that was simply overlooking the fact that Alex was not the man behind that camera that John had thought he was this whole time. But he didn't have time to bring up any of that, and so all he could say was, “just follow my lead.”

They passed the door they were looking for at first, but since John was peeking into any of the doors left open he eventually spotted the room he was looking for and they found his father having a very hushed conversation with an absolutely unimpressed looking Lafayette.

“And I for one, do not intend to—”

Lafayette perked up as his friend entered, Alex trailing behind him. “John!! What perfect timing!! Ton père was just telling me that you will accompany your sister and I to Paris after she graduates high school, doesn't that sound marvelous?!”

“I will?” John asked, looking between his fuming father and Lafayette's coy smile. As Alex peeked around from behind him the sudden realization that not only was a gay sex worker standing in the room with his close-minded father, but the man John was using to get over his best friend was now also standing in the same room as his best fucking friend. An out of body sensation started creeping up John's spine, like suddenly nothing was real anymore and maybe if he stood still for long enough he might just get to float away from everything that was happening.

“Now wait an minute, that's not what I—”

“I know what you have said, Monsieur Laurens. You have said that you do not want your daughter traveling to France by herself or staying in the company of an older man she barely knows. It is a fair concern. But surely if Mademoiselle Mary's oldest brother were to accompany her, it would put your mind at ease?"

“She's not going anywhere with you, she's just a child—”

Oui, she is a child right now. Mais les petites filles grandissent mon ami, et apprennent les manières des hommes méchants.” Henry Sr. narrowed his eyes at Lafayette, who only continued to give him a knowing smile.

“Oh, heeey!” Alex spoke up after a tense moment of silence. “John, this is your room, right? So guess what? We're roommates!”

Oh, fuck me gently with a chainsaw, John thought to himself as he forced himself to grin.

 

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 3:

John was certain he was having a nightmare. A surreal and vivid and completely fucked up kind of nightmare. His father, his southern baptist homophobic father, was standing in the same room as not only his former lover and best friend, but the gay porn star his secretly gay son was secretly following to secretly not crush on his not so secretly queer best friend. He couldn't even begin to process that the gay porn star was his roommate, let alone how in the world he was going to get through the school year living with the man. That just felt like some twisted practical joke. He'd like to wake up now.

“Alexander Lin Hamilton?” Lafayette asked with a smile.

John perked some upon hearing the middle name, but pointedly kept his mouth shut on the matter. So Lin was a name of his. Lin—No, not Lin, Alex's eyes narrowed on Lafayette for a moment but he smiled none the less. “Yeees, and who might you be?”

“Marie-Joseph Daveed Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Chris du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette,” the French man supplied with a flourish and a bow. “But I know that is a lot to remember, so just Lafayette will do.”

“Heh, well then you can just call me Alex.” He nudged John a bit, giving him a peculiar look. “I assume Lafayette is not your father...?” And he gestured to the only other male in the room.

“Leh—Alex, this is my father, Henry Laurens Senior,” John finally supplied, trying not to let on that he almost slipped up. “Father, this is...I guess my roommate, Alex.”

“Henry senior, huh?” Lin—no, Alex held out his hand for Henry to shake. “Does that mean there's a junior somewhere, sir?”

“John's younger brother is a freshman this year,” Henry replied shaking the young man's hand. “What are you in for Alex?”

“Law, same as John. He was telling me about it on our way up.” Lin—Alex smiled.

“Oh yeah, was he complaining about how I'm a terrible father for wanting him to pursue it, like he always does?”

“You know, I can honestly say he wasn't. But I mean, what parent doesn't want their child to be a lawyer or a doctor.” John's father smiled at Alex's words. For a moment John stood in dumbfounded shock as Alex charmed his father with a demeanor John still couldn't believe he was seeing. Well, he could, he'd seen it himself after all, just not with his clothes on. “It's a lot of work to complete, to be sure though. I honestly can't say I have no complaints about it all either, if I could be so frank, sir. Still, I think John is lucky to have a father that wants the best for him.”

“Where's your family from, Alex?”

“The Caribbean, non?” Lafayette interjected. Again, Alex seemed put off but smiled only after the French man added, “I found your Facebook.”

“You're checking up on my roommates now too?” John said, giving his friend a pointed look.

The French man shrugged nonchalantly. “I had three coffees and some free time. Besides, someone should care about if you are going to be rooming with a killer or non.”

John forced a smile and rounded up his French friend with a strategically placed hand to his back and a nudge toward the room's private bathroom. “I'm sorry Alex, if you'll excuse us for a moment I'll just have a word with him about how incredibly invasive that kind of behavior is. Isn't that right, Laf?”

“I found nothing that was not shared with the public internet,” the man replied with a sheepish grin. Still he headed for the bathroom anyway, sensing John's unease. “But you do not sound like a killer so I think we will get along just fine!” Alex chuckled nervously, even as John closed the door behind them, locking them in the small bathroom. John pushed Laf as far as they could go into the room, a whole whooping five feet and bemused by his friend's antics, Lafayette ventured, “what has gotten into you all of a sudden, mon ami?”

“How much did you dig up on Alex?” John asked, his voice low. “Like, what do you know about him?”

The french man shrugged. “Nothing too interesting. He does not post to social media very often. He must use it mostly to keep contact with some family members. He has two brothers, they are older them him, one of them is a half brother; I think they share the mother because Alex is not friends with his father.”

“Anything else?”

“He writes poetry.”

“And?”

His friend chuckled. “And what? There is little else to say, Alex does not seem like a bad guy. Have I worried you somehow?”

“You...” John's voice trailed as he watched his friend's face. “You really don't know anything else...?”

“Is there something else I should know?” He raised a brow at the younger male then a realization crossed his mind. The French man smiled conspiratorially. “Ahhhh, tu le trouves attractif, tu veux l'embrasser.”

John slapped at Lafayette's chest with the back of his hand, heat raising to his cheeks. “Lafayette, be serious!” he hissed lowly. “I need to tell you something and I need you to help me deal with it without freaking out or letting my family know about it and I really, really, really need your support and for you to not judge me right now, I mean it.” He froze under the weight of his friend kissing his forehead. His cheeks burned.

“You have it, mon ami. What do you need to tell me?”

John took a deep breath. Outside of the bathroom he heard his mother and siblings enter the room and he took the opportunity to hurriedly whisper, “Alex is a gay porn star.”

“WHAT?!” Lafayette nearly screamed, but John slapped a hand over his mouth.

“Marie-Joseph Daveed Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette,” he hissed into his friend's ear, using his full name to hold the man's attention. “You cannot speak of this to ANYONE, do you understand me? On your honor, on your life, you swear to me that you will take this with you to your grave! It stays between you and me.”

The other shook his head free of John's hand. “And Alex?” Lafayette asked, his own voice just as hushed.

“No!” John hissed back. “No! Not even Alex! You can't tell ANYONE that I know this, or that I told you! Not. A. Single. Soul. Do you swear to me?”

Lafayette leaned in and kissed John chastely on the lips. “Mes lèvres sont scellées par ce baiser,” he breathed against them. “But I want details. Tonight. Over dinner. After we deal with your family and get the rest of your things from storage. Do we have an accord?”

“If it buys your silence for now, then yes. Of course. I'll tell you anything you want to know. Later.”

“Wait, how did you know this about him and I did not?”

John rolled his eyes. “How the hell do you think I knew? I recognize him!”

“You....watch porn?”

John looked away, avoiding the sad eyes his friend gave him and let go of the man's shirt. He knew Lafayette had some hang ups with the medium and of course the fact that he'd kept his viewing habits under wraps for the better part of a year now probably weren't going to help that. “Yes, I do. But now is not really the time to get into that, can we talk about this later, please? Dinner remember? Help me to not freak out that my freaking father is out there talking to a guy that sucks dick for a living, okay?”

“Okay, okay,” Lafayette said, moving back toward the door. “But you have so much explaining to do.”

“I know. Dinner.”

“Dinner,” his friend repeated. He opened the bathroom door into John's dorm room, they both found Alex still working his charm, but now it had extended to the whole of John's family. “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory,” his melodic voice recited, the words of rhythmic poem flowing out to a captivated room.

“But now I see it swirling all around me

The ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed

The thunder, the lighting, the unrest

Chaos, with no beat, no rhythmic melody

I'm helpless

Now made humble, a contempt fool

Worthless

For how dare I offend the omnipotence above me

Whose nod alone would quell the sea

The wind, the rain, the utter destruction hovering over me

And with a sweep of His hand, set my spirit free

But does He work as my friend, or an enemy?

If this should be the end of me I wish it were a friend with me

I cannot out run it, none of us shall, so I surrender to be done in by it—”

Alex stopped as his eyes caught sight with John's, and he smiled. “Ahh, you're back then.” John could almost feel his knees weaken under him.

“I told you his poetry was good,” Lafayette said with a grin.

“Oh, Lafayette!!” John's mother said as she spotted the two. “I could barely believe Martha when she told me you were back in the states! How are you, my dear?” Stepping further into the room, John exchanged a look with his sister. As much as their father hated Lafayette, their mother simply adored him.

Mademoiselle Mère Eleanor!” Lafayette said excitedly. He grasped her hands in his and kissed each of her cheeks in turn and then her fingers just to be sure. “You look just as lovely as the first day I ever laid eyes on you! I still wish to run away with you, have you reconsidered at all?”

“Oh, stop Lafayette!” John's mother giggled. “You know I am a married woman. I simply couldn't.”

“Alas! My heart...it breaks!”

“Oh come now, you don't need a withered old maid like me.”

“Withered? Where? Non, non, non, I do not see it mon cheri. You could not be over 29!”

“Indeed,” Alex chimed in with a smile. “I mean, even I can see where your lovely daughters get their good looks from.”

John's mother giggled. “Oh you boys are sweet, but alas, my youth has long gone, I gave it up for five beautiful children. Speaking of, Martha is currently single.”

“Moooooooom!” Martha obligatorily whined. Her brother's each snickered.

“I call dibs on Lafayette, you can take Alex.” Mary spoke up. Again, Martha and John exchanged glances while their brothers and Alex laughed. For a moment John watched his father's heckles raise and he steeled himself to the idea of moving between the man and his siblings if it came down to it. But their mother ignored any mounting tension as if it simply weren't there.

“Did you get a chance to hear some of Alex's poem, Lafayette? Wasn't he marvelous?”

Alex himself blushed then and rubbed at the back of his neck. “It's really nothing. Just a poem I keep in my head. I think it changes every time I think about it.”

“Have you considered writing it down?” John's mother went on to ask. “You clearly have a bit of talent.”

“Once or twice,” Alex replied. “And thank you, Ma'am. That is kind of you to say. But I think it prefers to stay in a fluid state in my head. Some poems get written, some want to stay more intangible.”

“Why are you studying law when you can string words along like that?” Martha asked, following her mother's lead.

“Because being a lawyer pays better,” Alex replied with a chuckle and small smile. “And my love of words and rhythms is rivaled only by my passion for law. I can be a writer on my own time but my bills need to be paid first.”

“This is a smart man,” Henry Sr. said. John slowly let out a sigh of relief, seeing his father decide to disregard the earlier upset. He's body posture did not relax however. “John could stand to learn a thing or two from you this year. I'm glad he'll share a room with you, Alex.”

“I think John is glad he gets to room with Alex as well,” Lafayette said, with a sly nudge. “It is clear he is a man of many talents.” John smiled and nodded, then elbowed his friend when his father looked away again, turning to give the still unapologetic grinning French man his own Look.

“Well John, it looks like your brothers did you a service by bringing all your stuff up for you,” Henry Sr. said.

“Yeah, dingus,” Henry jr. spoke up. “Where the hell were you and your boyfriend making out this time?”

“Henry Elijah Laurens Junior!!”

“Well Look At Them Mom!” the young man yelled defensively as what little ease had crept into the room was suddenly gone. “They Both Look Guilty As Sin! And We All Know John Is A Faggot!!” For a moment the room went dead silent. John felt like he'd been punched in the gut. The word itself wasn't new to him, it was one of his father's favorites after all, but he'd never heard it from his brother before. The bigotry stung and John didn't even know where to begin with what to say. His face and chest burned with anger and embarrassment. He wanted to punch his brother who actually had the audacity to look at him after he'd said that with some mixture of hurt and sorrow as if trying to non-verbally communicate that he didn't really mean it. The room seemed to blot out for a minute, his only focus being on the boy in front of him and his own inner rage. A hand grabbed his wrist and that's when he realized he had raised his fist to strike. Martha had moved between him an his brother, his mother was yelling some spiel at him for even daring to think to react with violence. John came back to reality with a snap of Lafayette's fingers; he was the one gripping John's wrist.

“John Anthony Laurens! What do you have to say for yourself?” his mother was scolding. John took a deep breath, trying to break up the anger still settled inside himself. “Well?

“I'm sorry,” John recited, a response he knew was better to just spit out rather then argue any point with his parents about. The grip his friend had on his wrist served as an anchoring point for him and he silently willed the man not to let go even though he heard the disappointment in the French man's next exhale.

“Sorry for what, John?” his father prompted.

“Sorry that I tried to hit you, Henry,” John hissed, glaring at his father as he said it. “Dunno why I got so mad really. After all, you were just doing like Dad does and reminding me of what I am, after all.”

“Well, I don't know about that,” Alex interjected and John silently kicked himself as he remembered the man was still standing in the room. Alex shifted a bit as everyone's eyes fell on him. “Faggot, noun, number 1: a collection of sticks to be used as kindling; number 2: a bundle of herbs, usually bay leaf, thyme and parsley, tied to one another and used in cooking as seasoning; you can see the relation; number 3: British slag for a cigarette; number 4: A food made from a pig’s heart, liver and the stomach meat, minced and then all mixed together with breadcrumbs and herbs, it is then shaped into balls, wrapped in caul fat from the pig’s omentum, cooked by baking them in an oven, and usually served with gravy and mashed potatoes.” Alex smiled charmingly. “That last one is quite good actually, don't let the ingredients put you off from trying it if you have a chance, it's really just a meatball. But I believe we can all agree that John is obviously none of those things, so I dispute the claim that he is a faggot.”

“That's not what that word means—”

“Oh, I can assure you, all of those meanings are in fact tied to that word. I like to study words, remember? I like to know every meaning that could possibly be attached to them, and yes, I am aware of the meaning that you meant by using such a word, Henry. But with so many meanings that speak to so many other things I feel that it is you who don't understand it's meaning as well as you thought you did.”

“Yes, thank you Alex,” Eleanor said, touching his arm in an endeared way. “The phrase you were looking for was 'mentally ill,' Henry.” Alex's smiled faded some. “You know your brother has a condition but that doesn't mean you need to bring it up into every conversation. Oh and Alex dear, please don't be worried about John hurting you. We've had him in therapy for many years and with medication and prayer he is working through it every day.”

“I was not aware they had made a pill to cure gay,” Lafayette stated flatly.

“John's medication is for other symptoms he has that accompany his condition, but we have hope that one day science will find a way to cure him for good too.”

“Perhaps you should look into some of the same treatments, Laughingyet,” Henry Sr said, ignoring his wife's loud sigh. “It might do you some good too.”

“Why would I,” the French man said with a shrug. “I wake up every morning loving myself just the way I am, there is nothing wrong with that. And it is said as Lafayette.”

“Hey, mom, dad?” Martha interjected before either of her parents could respond. “I hate to have to be that person, but it's been about six hours since you fed your children this morning and we're getting a little hungry.” She nudged Elias and Mary who each started in on what sounded like clearly rehearsed pleads for food. “Also, if you want to get back on the road to drop me off and still be on the road home before dark, I think we should do lunch now and get a hustle on that yeah?”

“Oh yes, of course,” their mother said. “Alex, you said you didn't have any family in town, right?”

“That is correct, Mrs. Laurens.”

“Oh please, call me Eleanor. You should come with us to lunch then. I want to know more about the charming young man my son will get to spend the year with.”

“Do you have anywhere else you need to be, La-fay-yet?” Henry Sr asked.

Non,” the French man replied, choosing this time not to comment on the man's pronunciation of his name.

“Then I suppose you can come along too, if you're so inclined.”

Merci,” Lafayette replied coolly, a sly smirk on his face. “Truly Monsieur Laurens is very kind.”

John wanted to just crawl into a hole and die. It seemed like this day was just never going to end.

 


 

He'd been twirling piles of noodles into little spaghetti mounds for the better part of 15 minutes now, the surrealist feeling of the day having long ago lost it's shock value but now John felt like he was just floating in a cloud. He could hear the sounds around him but they felt far away, like maybe they were coming from a movie he was watching and not his own surroundings. His hands twisted the fork around and around and around on his plate, but he didn't feel like he was the one doing it. Chunks of a cut up meatball sat on his plate, Alex's words from earlier putting him off from eating them. He couldn't even remember ordering spaghetti and meatballs.

He was faintly aware that he was beginning to disassociate, but honestly he couldn't bring himself to care that much about it. After all, it was fairly common for him to just stare at a plate of food while his family collectively ignored that he had recently been upset so he couldn't fault them for doing that now. It was easier for him to just let it happen. It was safer for everyone involved if he just let that happen.

He looked over at Alex, smiling and conversing with his family as if he was the son that belonged among them. Perfect little social butterfly, he'd even managed to smooth over his little brother's hurt feelings about being chastised for his derogatory language and had him laughing at some tale Alex was telling about....about......about something he couldn't follow. John could hear his words, but his mind was having a hard time making them make sense. It was just noise. It might as well have been the innocuous ticking of a clock or the whir of a fan blowing air in the background.

A hand brushed against his thigh, and John looked over to see Lafayette giving John a worried look. John couldn't understand what would trouble him. John felt fine. Well, John didn't feel anything actually, which was as close to fine as John was ever gonna get in life. The point is that John didn't feel scared or sad or angry or hurt. John didn't feel anything. John could barely feel John. John just wanted to sit and twirl John's little piles of noodles forever and ever. At least John thought that's what John wanted. That's what John was doing anyway. That was okay.

A hand found it's way into John's other hand and John looked down at it briefly. It was Lafayette's hand. It squeezed John's hand twice under the table and his mind recalled a memory of a code he shared with the French man, a way they would tell each other they loved one another when John couldn't bring himself to say it out loud. He squeezed back and ran his thumb around in a circle, feeling the bones inside his friend's knuckles. The world seemed to come into focus a bit.

“.............” Lafayette asked him. He saw the man's lips move, but the noise all blended together. He couldn't make out words. Maybe he was speaking French and John had the oddest thought that he forgot to turn on the French speaking part of his brain. That wouldn't do, he couldn't speak to Lafayette if he didn't turn on the French in his brain; it would be like sticking a cake in the oven when it hadn't been preheated.

He nodded slowly. He wasn't ready to come back into the present completely, but he didn't want his friend to worry about him. Some distant part of himself wanted to lean in and kiss Lafayette but some muffled sound of danger contradicted the thought and he ended up just headbutting the man from the side. Laughter from the rest of the table made him look down the way to Alex again.

It wasn't fair how much his parents seemed to love Alex when they didn't know the things he'd done on camera for John. A jealous, bitter part of him wanted to out Alex right there on the spot, shove it in his parent's faces that they were so found of a sex worker, someone their own gay son paid to see fuck himself with toys and fondle himself so John could feel like he wasn't fucking broken like they made him believe...he took a deep breath and turned back to his plate of noodles. Those were unpleasant feelings to have. He didn't want to have them. They wouldn't help anything anyway and acting on them would be incredibly self-destructive.

He felt like being self-destructive.

He squeezed Lafayette's hand a little tighter.

 


 

“So Alex, what do you currently do for a living?”

He smiled charmingly at the older man. Alex knew it was a fair question to ask, but he hated, hated, that people always did. “Oh me?” he perkily said none the less. “I work a simple customer service job for a small company at a center where I handle incoming customer service needs.” That usually sounded vague enough that people thought he was trying to make a call center or secretary job sound more fancy then it was. Across the table, John dropped his silverware onto his plate and started laughing. Lafayette chuckled to himself beside him.

“Is something funny over there, boys?” Henry Sr. asked.

“I was showing John pictures of cats wearing pants on my phone,” Lafayette replied. John continued to giggle to himself, though Alex couldn't help but notice that it didn't sound like the giggles of mirth.

“Lafayette, you know we don't allow phones at the table, dear,” Eleanor reminded him. “Table time is family time.”

“Does that mean Lafayette and Alex are both part of our family now?” Mary asked.

“They can't be family until they marry someone in the family already, Mary!” Elias shot from his end.

“I am trying, but your mother keeps saying non for some reason,” Lafayette shot back with a mock look of offense. Most of the table laughed at the joke. He heaved a comically heavy sigh. “Alright, then I guess I must settle.” He reached over and stole an onion ring off Alex's plate. “Martha Rachel Laurens,” he said turning to the woman sitting beside him, “would you make me the happiest man in the wor—”

“No,” she cut in, a smirk on her face. “Especially since you said 'settle' and I am not a second place prize.”

“Inherited your mother's brains I see,” the French man countered. “They will take you far.” He turned and offered the onion ring to Mary, who nodded excitedly though he wasn't able to get a word in before the eldest Laurens man stood up from his seat, looming threateningly.

“Henry!” Eleanor chastised her husband. “Sit down, no one thinks he's being serious! It's an onion ring for Christ's sake!”

Alex glanced between the glower of the older man and the way Lafayette's own gazed matched it. “Well, since you're ou~ut,” Alex half sang as he snatched his onion ring back from Lafayette. He held it first to Martha who again declined, although this time with a scared shake of her head. Then, in an effort to drive Eleanor's point home, he held it out to John. “John Laurens, I know we just met, but will you marry me so that I may be adopted into your family?” The table went dead silent. John stared at the onion ring for an uncomfortably long moment, then reached forward and took it from Alex, crushing it in his fist. His face remanded blank the entire time and Alex felt unsettled, though whether it was due to the silence of the table or the weird way John was acting, he wasn't sure. “Hey, a simple no would have sufficed, eheh.”

“Alex dear,” Eleanor said gently, reaching a hand over to pat his. “Need I remind you of my son's condition? I must ask you not to make jokes about such things at his expense, it leads him to temptation and we want John to stay on the right path. Besides, God doesn't think those kinds of jokes are very funny.”

“With all due respect ma'am, I think it is very hubris indeed to think any mere mortal such as ourselves would know what god thinks,” Alex countered. “Especially when it comes to their humor.”

“That's why the bible makes it very clear for us.”

“I see,” he replied. “Well, at least concede that I was only trying to help.” He eyed the angry man standing next to him, trying to gauge how much more he might be willing to be pushed. “No one in their right mind would take an onion ring marriage proposal seriously. Especially from a couple of young, scrappy and hungry college kids. Besides, I think your children were raised to be smart enough to know when something being offered to them isn't real.”

“Really Henry, they were just being boys.”

“That's exactly what concerns me,” the man said as he sat back down. “I know what boys are like. You'll each keep your hands off my daughters.” Turning to Alex he added, “And my son.” Alex pointedly looked away, pretending the unspoken threat didn't phase him or that sitting next to John's father didn't suddenly gave him a deep sense of unease. He suddenly noticed the way each of the children had gone quiet and still, as if afraid to draw their father's wrath to them and for just a moment Alex was reminded of the only other time he had ever seen such a quiet and still calm when a storm was cast overhead. He caught Lafayette's eye and made note to ask him about some things when they were in private.

Beside him John sat still and expressionless, still clutching the crushed onion ring in his hand so tightly that oil dripped from between his fingers and into his plate of uneaten food.

 


 

He felt his episode clearing as his family was hugging him goodbye outside his dorm. Like waking up from a dream that left him feeling more tired then before he went to sleep and disappeared as the light of dawn crept through his bedroom window. Reality faded back into focus, people's words made sense again, and fragmented memories of however long he'd been out for tried desperately to fill in any gaps or answer the questions of where he was and how he had gotten there. Something in his mind knew it was time for him to have a better grasp on what was going on around himself and it let him drop back into his own body like a pebble in a pond. After years of snapping into and out of episodes to cope, John responded as if he wasn't internally wondering how in the world he'd gone from sitting in a restaurant to standing outside his own dorm building hugging his mother goodbye with a box of leftovers in his hand. He'd come back around in weirder situations after all.

“You call me if you need anything, alright?” his mother was saying. “I'll send you a box if you forgot anything.”

“Okay mom.” He kissed her cheek.

“Look out for your brother, alright? Make sure he doesn't get into trouble.”

John sighed some but nodded. “Of course, Mom.” He looked down as arms snaked around his waist and put on a smile for his youngest sister. “Little Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” he sang to her, the familiar lullaby as she smiled up at him.

“With silver bells and cockleshells, and pretty maids all in a row,” she replied. He bent over her and hugged back, squeezing extra hard to convey his love and worry for her. She moved her arms from his waist and around his neck and he lifted her right off her feet, grounding himself in the feeling of her weight and the smell of the shampoo their mother bought in her hair. She giggled next to his ear and kicked her feet up behind her.

“Stop, stoooop!” she gasped with a laugh. “John, you're squeezing all the farts out of me!”

“Good,” he said and kissed her cheek. “Then there will be nothing left but my sweet little sister.” He leaned forward and let her drop her feet back under her before letting her go. “It'll be four months before I come back after all.”

“You're not coming back for Thanksgiving?”

“That's four months away.”

“Noooo, silly, it's three and some change.” Mary counted off the months for him on her fingers and held them up. “See? Three.”

“Hey, you're right,” John said and patted her head. “And of course I'll be home for Thanksgiving, pipsqueak. Can't let you run wild, driving our parents up a wall, can I?”

“Promise?”

“I promise.

He smiled. “Be good. And call me or Martha if you need to talk about anything.”

“I will!” his sister called as she bound away to climb back into the family car where their brother Elias was already sitting. John knocked on the window until his brother rolled it down. John knew his baby brother was going through a tough guy phase where he didn't want to do the mushy things like hug it out after a fight or a long goodbye. He was a senior in High school now. He was too cool for that. John held out his fist. Elias bumped it. That was all they needed.

Turning back around, John pretended not to notice how much more his parents dotted on his brother then him; he told himself it was just because it was Henry's first year away from home and nothing more. While Martha was taking her time squeezing in as much catch up as she could with Lafayette, John noticed Alex standing off to the side a bit uneasily. He bore a mild pout, and his eyes lingered on John's parent's as they said goodbye to their second son. As if sensing being watched, he looked over and John froze momentarily caught in Alex's gaze. Go say something, he told himself. Like what? I don't know, just don't be weird. Don't be queer. Say something not queer, yeah, good luck with that John. Nevertheless, he approached Alex with a little nod and a, “hey.”

“Hey,” Alex said. “Uh, listen, about what I said at lunch...I didn't mean to put you on the spot like that. I was just trying to...it was stupid of me to ask that.”

John tried not to show his confusion on his face. He couldn't recall most of the last few hours, even the memory of meeting Alex seemed kind of fuzzy now. The memory contained little more then his dark chocolate eyes staring back at him and a smile that threatened to make his pants uncomfortable. “Ummm,” John stalled, thinking over his words carefully. “What, uhh, what—what did you say exactly? I—I might have forgotten.”

Alex cocked his head to the side and gave John a puzzled look. “You don't remember me asking for your hand in marriage?”

Never before had alarms gone off inside John's head with such intensity. “What?” He grabbed Alex's arm. “You what?” He glanced quickly to make sure no one was looking and lowered his voice. “In front of my whole family? In front of my father?!

“Yeah, I should have listened to you when you said he doesn't like that,” Alex relented. He carefully tried to peel John's hand off him but the man just clutched the sleeve of his sweater tighter. “Look, I meant it as a joke, to make a point that your mother made about not taking such things seriously.”

John felt nauseous, and extremely relived he hadn't been mentally present when that moment had taken place. He let go of Alex to lean back against the wall of the house and forced himself to breath for a moment, fighting the feeling of just floating away this time. Then another thought occurred to him and he looked back at Alex who was watching him curiously. “What did I say?”

“You....you really don't remember anything do you?”

He shook his head, feeling the curls of his hair catch on the rough brick texture of the house he was leaning his head against. Alex looked troubled by that, and John couldn't blame him. “I disassociate sometimes,” he explained. “It's when I....I don't....It's not...”

“You're not present in your own head,” Alex finished for him. John nodded. “I, uh, kinda got the impression that was going on.”

“You're familiar with it?”

Alex shrugged and leaned against the wall with John. “I've had a few experiences with it before. Nothing where I didn't remember what happened, but I feel like I'm watching this weird movie of my life go by where I'm not actively in control of my emotions. I misplace things sometimes in those states. Like, this one time, I put my wallet in the freezer and spent all day tearing apart my bedroom trying to find it before I got yelled at for it. I was, ya know, 15 at the time. My therapist said it's just the brains way of dealing with trauma sometimes.”

“My therapist says I do it because I'm gay and that if I just stop being gay all my problems will go away.”

“Sounds like you need a new therapist.”

“My father pays for it, so he's the one who gets the final say.”

“Sounds like you need a sugar daddy.”

John snickered at that, a small smile gracing his lips. “Does Laf count?”

“He ordered your meal for you and paid for everyone's lunch, so I would assume so.”

“Really? How'd he manage to sneak the payment past my father? He never accepts that kind of thing from him.”

“I caught him chatting to the host when we were being seated. Remind me to ask him what he does for a living that lets him pay for lunch for a party of nine.”

Again John snickered. “Do me a favor and make sure I'm there when you do. He tells the best bullshit stories about how he makes his money, it's great. Thomas is still thinks he's rich because he copyrighted the color blue after inventing it by mixing purple and green together.”

“What did he actually do?”

John shrugged. “He's never told me. I've known him for five years but money is something he doesn't like to discuss with anyone. I know whatever he makes, or has, it's enough that he doesn't need to be here living some ramen packet and avocado toast lifestyle. I don't know what he sees in it.”

“I do.”

He turned and gave Alex a puzzled look. “You've known him for less then a day and I'm his best friend. How could you possibly—”

“He sees you,” Alex cut in.

“Yeah, that's exactly my point,” John countered with a sigh. “You don't know him like I do.”

Silence fell between them as John watched the rest of his family wrap up their individual conversations and get ready to leave. He smiled and waved to appease his mother, and pretended not to see the Look his father gave him. And finally five of his family members packed themselves back into the family station wagon and headed off to take his oldest sister to her college town, leaving John, his little brother, best friend, new roommate and a full box of left over lunch he'd hardly touched standing on the lawn of the student house John and Alex would be living in for the next four months.

“Thomas said he will be on his way shortly with his truck,” Lafayette said, checking his phone as he walked over to where Alex and John had retreated. “We should be able to get the rest of your stuff out of storage and set up in a few hours, John.”

“Count me out,” Henry said as he turned away. “I've carried enough of John's baggage today, thank you. I'm going back to my dorm to see if my roommate has shown up yet.” And with that he walked off.

“He is staying in Weld Hall, non?”

“Yeah,” John answered his friend.

“Should we tell him he is heading in the wrong direction?”

“Nah, he'll figure it out and if he gets too lost he'll just call me later crying about it and we can pick him up then.”

Alex snickered. “Oh, I've forgotten what older brothers were like.”

“Builds character,” John said.

“Did you have anything you needed to get out of storage?” Lafayette asked Alex as they headed back inside. “I can ask Thomas if it would be okay to pick up your things too. If you promise him some of his favorite whiskey he does not complain too much about the work and will love you very much.” He grinned mischievously. “And I already have the whiskey.”

“I'm okay,” Alex replied. “I've actually gotta be at work here in a bit and I just wanted to unpack a few things before then, if that's alright? I mean, otherwise I would offer to help you move your stuff, John.”

“Oh really? Is it close by? Can we walk you?”

“Uh, not really,” Alex chuckled. “I'll be fine.”

“Would you like a ride? I can ask Thomas—”

“NO,” Alex cut in a little too sharply. He glared at Lafayette for just a moment, but then inhaled and relaxed. “No, I'll be okay. Thank you though.” Lafayette raised a brow and exchanged a look with John that did not escape Alex's notice. He sighed, realizing that now he'd probably made them even more curious about what he did, and so went on. “Look, I'm vague about my job for a reason. The company I work for is very small and very private and we handle very sensitive client information. I can talk a lot about a variety of stuff, but if I ever slip up and say anything about work that I shouldn't have, then I'll be fired on the spot. I like to keep my work separate from my personal life and I would appreciate if you respected that.”

“So much that you would not accept a ride from a friend?” Lafayette questioned.

“With all due respect,” Alex countered, “We've only just met. And if you truly mean to befriend me then you'll respect my boundaries, so long as they're within reason and there is no reason for you to know anything more about my job then what I've already told you.”

“You're right,” John said before the French man could argue further. “Just....your job is a safe one, right? Sorry just...I mean with the vagueness and all....you could... could you even answer that?”

“I can,” Alex replied. “And as long as it stays separate from my personal life, yes, it's safe.”

“And legal?” Lafayette added. Alex narrowed his eyes at him before replying, “Yes, it's legal.”

John nodded and threw Lafayette a glance meant to remind him about what they planned to discuss later. “Well, can I at least ask you when you might be back?” Lafayette asked. “Like I said, I will owe Thomas a drink for helping us and we will likely be drinking when you get back.”

“Oh, I'm fine with that. Just save me a sho—” Alex started but was interrupted when the bedroom door swung open and a tall man wearing a deep fuchsia varsity jacket entered the room with a, “There You Assholes Are!! I've been outside for the last 10 minutes, are we moving John's sorry gay ass into this shithole student house or what?”

“Fuck off, Thomas,” John shot at him.

The man smiled. “Boy don't you give me any lip. I'm the one with a truck remember? Unless you think you can just haul all your stuff all the way across town on your own?” He nodded to Alex with his chin. “You the lucky bastard that gets to room with John for the next year?”

“Yeah, my name is Alex—”

“Yeah, Lafayette told me more then I needed to know. Are you coming with us to get John's stuff or staying here?”

“.....I have work.”

“Fair enough. My truck leaves in two minutes if your ass is in it or not. Move it or lose it people, let's go.” And with that Thomas left.

“Who died and made him king?” Alex asked.

“He is not so bad once you get to know him.”

“That's just code for 'he's an asshole but you learn to put up with him,'”John replied.

“Nooo, Thomas is nice,” Laf refuted.

It was John's turn to scoff. “I spent one terrible, awkward first and only date with the guy that says otherwise, but alright Laf, if you say so.” He gestured at the beds as he made his way toward the door. “Just go ahead and claim which ever bed you want, Alex. I'll figure out where to put my stuff around whatever you choose, okay? And uh, have a good day at work.” He turned before his face got too red, thinking about what kind of work he knew Alex did. Lafayette followed him out, reaching to take hold of his hand.

“John?” He glanced back at his French friend as they walked and felt the familiar squeeze of his hand. “Are you really okay?”

“I will be.” He felt Lafayette pull him back and into a hug, letting go of his hand only to wrap it around his waist. John tried to keep walking for a moment but stopped as it was too awkward to bumble onward with Lafayette's dead weight slowing him down. The halls and campus were mostly empty still, only a few other students having shown up for the early registration, but John still felt like there were eyes on them from all around. “C'mon Laf, you can smother me later, we have work to do.” He felt the rough stubble of the French man's beard scratch against his neck and then his lips kissing him up to the patch of flesh behind his ear. A current of electricity ran up his spine and he became hyper aware of all the places their bodies were touching.

Je t'aime, John,” Lafayette murmured and he felt his face go red.

“I know,” he replied. He held still in the the man's grasp, felling warmth and love and a sensation he couldn't honestly say he wanted to stop. But he didn't feed it, didn't lean into it, not physically anyway. With some reluctance the arms holding him loosened their grip and Lafayette nudged him forward again. His hand found it's way back to his friends and just like that the embrace was over. They continued forward. He thought he should say something, but then they never said anything after moments like that now. They happened, they both let them happen, but they had stopped acting on them and just let these moments happen without following them into anything more. And John didn't want to lose them by saying something. Lafayette was his best friend. He squeezed his hand and prayed he'd never have to loose his best friend again.

“Took you long enough,” Thomas said as they climbed into the cabin of his truck. “Geeze where were you guys making out this time?”

“Fuck off Thomas,” John sighed. He leaned his head against the window suddenly feeling very tired. The day just wouldn't end.

 

END CHAPTER

 

 

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 4:

Alex looked around the mostly barren dorm room. There were two beds and two basic desks provided by the school, but that was all. No bedding, no extra lighting, not even seats for the damn desks. He often just borrowed one from work, so long as he brought it back in one piece his boss didn't mind. But there was hardly any extra space for any more furniture; he hoped whatever more John was bringing into the room wouldn't take up too much more of the already limited floor. The room was bigger then the dorms the freshman and undergraduates used, but not by much. Such as was the life of the struggling college student, but then Alex was used to having less.

He looked between the beds and desks and decided to take the set that aligned the desk to look out the window at the campus below. Alex knew he had a remarkable ability to focus, even in the face of distractions. The boxes and his suitcase that his roommate's siblings had been kind enough to bring in were stacked next to the two closets and he moved what was his over to the bed next to the desk he chose. Most of his worldly possessions were kept back at the studio, which was honestly just most of his work supplies. Everything he owned not directly related to that was packed into this suitcase, single box and a backpack. That consisted of some clothes, some toiletries, a change of bed sheets and the supplies he would need for the school year. Several years in foster care and moving from place to place had taught him it was better to travel as light as possible. Things were just things, they could always be replaced.

There was only one thing he'd managed to hold onto his whole life however, and he dug it out from the pocket in the suitcase he'd stashed it in. A single grainy, old photograph, the last remaining relic from his now distant childhood. It was the only photo he had of his family in as whole a piece as it could have been. His mother was still alive, his father hadn't left, and his siblings hadn't been taken away yet. He was only four, held in the arms of his father while his older brother's were embraced in their mother's arms, her smiling face between each of theirs. It was some sunny day at the beach that had been walking distance from his childhood home. The frame had cracked and broken long ago, and he'd always meant to get it replaced but he didn't want to break another frame with the constant moving about. He figured it would be better to just be mindful and delicate with the photograph, and one day when he owned his own home, he'd get it restored and framed again.

There was a single flat head pushpin in the same suitcase pocket and he fed it through a hole already at the top of the photograph before pushing it into the wall next to his bed. He missed his family. He'd have to write to his brother soon.

He looked over at the few boxes John had brought and wondered about his new roommate. The man hadn't said that much over lunch, at least now he knew why. He supposed John was alright, but his friend, the French man, he worried Alex. Lafayette was entirely too nosy for Alex's comfort, at least the questions John's parents had asked were standard issue polite lunch conversation level and easy enough to skirt around with his usual vaguely worded lies. But Alex could already tell that Lafayette was a digger. And that worried him. Lafayette probably wasn't going to settle for vague words and a charming, deflective smile; he could see past those things, see them for what they were, an illusion, a trick of social grace. He'd seen the way Lafayette had handled John's mother and it was clear the French man knew how to play people up to make them like him. Alex couldn't be mad about that exactly, after all he did that all the time for his work in the words he picked, the tone of voice he used, hell even the exact way he moved his body catered to what someone else found appeasing. Yet for Alex it was all an act, just a show. He did it so that people would like him, but work was a stage where he had to be someone else and that's what Lin was, a character he played that anyone could love. And while he, Alex, had learned a lot from being Lin and did use those skills in other areas of his life, they were far more subtle and meant primarily to protect himself. Alex didn't like when people wanted to get to know him better. He kept what he did for money in one box and the rest of his life in another and there were only a handful of people who moved between the boxes. People he trusted to keep the boxes separate. People who knew he had to keep them separate.

A knock came from behind him and Alex turned to see a familiar bespectacled face leaning in the open door. “Benny!” he greeted with a smile. An elder gentleman made his way into the room as Alex moved to hug him. “Ahaha, it feels weird to see you outside of work!”

“And fully clothed no less.” The man chuckled as he returned the hug. “I'm certain my students will appreciate that as well.”

“They're missing out, it's always a pleasure to watch a master work,” Alex replied.

“You tease. I saw you on my roster for this year, can I trust you won't be a distraction to your fellow students or will I need to be bringing a rack to my classroom from now on?”

“A paddle or whip would be easier to carry.”

“True, but it wouldn't have the same shock value of knowing this old bird could hog tie them and hoist them from the ceiling if they misbehave.”

“What about a simple spanking?” Alex said with a coy smile.

“You know you don't get spanked for being naughty. Although a ball gag might be a good thing to keep in my desk now, wouldn't it?” He chuckled at the almost comical way the younger man scrunched his face to show his displeasure at the idea.

“I'll try to behave in class, Benjamin. What brings you out to the student housing?”

“I wanted to see how you were doing. Make sure you were going feel comfortable staying out here over the weekend.” He eyed the boxes that belonged to John. “It seems your roommate also decided to move in today. Have you had a chance to meet him yet?”

“Yeah, he seems like a nice kid,” Alex replied. “Uhhh, what's going on this weekend?”

“The weather report says we should be getting some of the storm that's blowing up from the south.”

Alex felt a small chill run down his spine. “Oh?” he tried to feign a casual tone, like the idea that a little rain didn't make his heart skip a beat in fear. “Yeah, I was tracking it a bit the other day, but uhhh, you know how storms go. They change all the time.” Benjamin gave him a knowing look. “I'll keep your offer in mind. You know, if it looks bad.”

“You have a key to my place if you need it. I'll see you in class next week then?”

Alex smiled and nodded. “Of course. Benjamin?”

“Yes, my boy?”

“Thank you.”

The gentleman waved airily as if to say it was no trouble and made his way from the room, leaving Alex with a sense of security and warmth. Benjamin was one of the few people in Alex's life he trusted to move between his boxes without disturbing the contents inside. He had been with the Company for years, almost as long as it had been around, but he'd been doing what Alex did for far longer then that. Fifty years, actually. Alex had been endeared to him ever since he'd first told him the most ridiculous side splitting story about having to run uphill both ways in the snow while being chased by wolves and on fire to be able to put on a show.

Alex checked the time and realized that if he didn't hurry soon, he'd be the one running uphill both ways and chased by wolves to make a show. He grabbed his book bag and checked it's contents to be sure he'd have what he'd need for the night, then slung it over his shoulder and headed out the door.

 


 

“What I don't understand,” Thomas said as he kicked open the student housing door behind him. “Is why the fuck you need to lug this heavy ass table into and out of every damn dorm you live in, John!”

“Fuck off, Thomas,” John replied. “Okay, hold, on wait. You gotta turn it to the side or it won't fit around the desk.”

“It won't fit around the damn door at an angle, it won't turn like that, John!” the Virginian replied.

“Thomas, lift,” Lafayette said. Just as the other man complied he goosed John who squealed and also lifted the table higher. Lafayette wasted no time in sliding under them, ignoring John's indignant cries, to get back into the doorway, and moved the desk out of the way. “There, daddy fixed it.”

“Daddy get back here and help his sad gay ass son and best friend!” Thomas yelled at Lafayette who simply rolled his eyes and complied.

“Aww, Thomas,” John said as they moved further into the bedroom. “Cheer up. At least you're still his gay ass son.”

“Laurens, I will drop this table where I stand....”

“Annnd it is in!”

“That's what she said.”

“Great! One chair, a mini fridge, and three more boxes to go.”

“Seriously, John. Can you throw this damn thing out after this semester? I will literally buy you a new one for every semester if you do.”

“No,” John said, patting the steel and heavy wood table and wiping the sweat off his face. “I like this table. It's served me well for many years. Did I tell you how I found it?” Wispy baby hairs that usually framed his face now stuck to his skin in the wet sheen of sweat.

“Please no,” Thomas begged. “Not again.”

“I found it next to a dumpster.”

“YOUR FAMILY HAS COLLEGE FUNDS FOR FIVE CHILDREN TO GO TO IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS, THEY CAN BUY YOU NEW SHIT, JOHN.”

“And as soon as I saw it, I thought, 'Meeeeeeeee!'”

“There's rust on this corner! If someone cuts themselves they will need a shot for sure!”

“But once I called you up and heard how much you hated moving it, that's when I knew that me and this table were gunna be together, forever.”

“Laf! That's it. No more. It's me or the queer turtle.”

“Aaawkwaaard tuuurtleee,” John said as he made a weird gesture with his hands at Thomas.

“Do not be silly, Thomas. I love you both equally.” Lafayette clapped his hands and ushered Thomas back out the door. “One chair, a mini fridge, three more boxes to go! Then I will let you drink!”

“I can't, I have that nerd thing with James that I'm going to!”

“Oooooh! A daaaaate?!”

Voices faded down the hall as John finished wiping the dust off his table. It wasn't much, but the campus storage area was simply archaic and dust got on anything kept in the units for more then three days. He pushed hard and managed to scoot it back into a corner between a bed and the closets. It was someone's old couch table, taller then a coffee table and thinner, and it had three metal shelves underneath it's top which was perfect for storage. It had served him beautifully as a makeshift kitchen space for so long and, despite what he would tell Jefferson, he honestly kept it more for it's practicality then anything else. Hearing Thomas bitch about moving it every four months or so, however, that was just an added bonus.

He looked to his right and noted that his table would be at the foot of the bed Alex had chosen. He hoped that would be okay. The guy had said he didn't have anything more to move in, and John self consciously looked between the boxes he had and the small pile of things Alex had brought. Maybe Thomas was right about him needing to get rid of some things. But not the table. He was gunna make Thomas move that heavy ass chunk of wood and metal for five more semesters, at least. And when John was done with it, he'd make Thomas move it to same dumbass dumpster John had found it at just to prove a point.

John noted that Alex had made up his bed and laid out a pillow of his on it already. Crisp blue sheets and a microfiber blanket at least; it wasn't five star luxury but at least it was domestic. He was glad for that, as John's last roommate hadn't owned any sheets when they moved in together. He also thought things like doing his own laundry was optional. And that John's things were his things too. He sighed and shook the memories away.

Peeking over his shoulder at the door to make sure no one was about to come through it, John moved up the side of the bed and picked up Alex's pillow. The pillowcase was little more then the cheap cotton from a set anyone could buy out of Walmart, and for a moment that perplexed him. One of the reasons John paid for Alex's services was because the quality was a major stressing point to the 'products' they offered. The cameras were a fair amount better then a standard webcam, and the room Alex worked out of seemed nice. Nothing wildly fancy, but certainly more done up then this. He had throw pillows on his work bed and John had always imagined the sheets were something soft and cozy. He wondered for the first time what kind of things went on in Alex's life when camera's weren't trained on him, when his alter-ego Lin wasn't performing. Guess he had four months to figure it out.

John buried his nose against Alex's pillow and inhaled, smelling a musk and a peculiar scent of soap, like an Irish Springs bar. He thought back to their last session, a discussion about longing to be held. He wondered if it would smell the same, were he to bury his nose against the back of Alex's neck instead of in the man's pillow. He wondered what it might be like to hug him, or even to kiss him, to be really and genuinely close to Alex rather then just watching him on a screen.

“What are you doing?”

Whirling, John realized he'd been caught red-handed with the pillow by Lafayette. He frantically threw it back onto the bed and said. “Nothing!”

Ne mens pas,” the French man chastised. “You were smelling Alex's pillow, non?

“Maybe,” John admitted.

“How much do you like him?”

John shrugged. “Enough.......A lot....”

Lafayette stepped forward and embraced John. “You should not be sniffing his pillow,” he said.

“I know,” John replied. “I'm sorry...It's weird right? I'm weird...I'm sorry...”

“You are not!” Lafayette said, stepping back and squeezing John's cheeks between his hands. “You should not be sniffing his pillow without first getting him to invite you into his bed, that is all.”

“You dislike watching porn and yet you would let me sleep with a porn star?” John's reply came out squished between his lips.

“Porn stars are people too,” the French man replied. He kissed the tip of his friend's nose and let him go. “But if I find out you are doing porn to make money I will have words for you. Lots of them.” He narrowed his eyes at John. “You are not doing porn, are you you John?”

This time John squished Lafayette's face in his hands, but neglected to tell him it was because he did not like the look he was receiving from the man. It was far too reminiscent of some of the looks his father could give him. “Noooooo, I most certainly am not. It'll please you to know that you are the only man I've ever had sex with.”

“It does not, but I respect your choices. We will find you another man to couple with, one who is not like me, and that you will like better then Thomas.”

John huffed and let Lafayette go. “Anyone is better then Thomas,” he stated, moving toward the door again as his friend followed along behind. “The only way I could possibly have a worse date then the one Thomas took me on would be if they shot themselves in the middle of dinner and made me pick up the tab.”

“John, what you lack in flamboyant expression you more then make up for in your over dramatic thoughts.”

“You take care of the flamboyant expression for me, Laf. I'll just be the dramatic one. That's how this works, right? Whenever I panic and start crying about how gay I am, you swoop in with a jazzy song and dance number from broadway that's all about loving yourself and not changing for anyone.”

Lafayette laughed. “Speaking of, which show would you like me to take you to this year? Thomas says there is one about founding fathers that stars his uber great grandfather. He has talked almost as much about it as his crush.”

“I've heard of that one. I had actually wanted to see it, but not with Thomas.”

“What? I heard it is very good. Why would you throw away a chance to see it with your best friends?”

“Because you're my best friend Laf, and he's......not. Just go see it with Thomas, we can catch a different show that he'd hate. Like the Nutcracker or something.”

“Go see what with Thomas?” Thomas asked as they approached the truck again. John stepped up and took one of the last boxes out of the truck bed. “What show are you dragging me to this time? Please tell me it's not another furry show.”

“That production was called Cats, Thomas.”

“I know what I saw, and what I saw was two hours of some goddamn furries dancing around on a stage, that's what you took me to see. I would have had a far better time if they had just let loose some feral cats on stage and made us watch that for two hours.”

“Awww, you do not like Broadway shows?”

Thomas heaved a box over the side of his truck on top of the other box in John's arms. “Not in particular, no.”

“Not even a certain rap musical about your great grandfather that I happen to have tickets for a viewing next week?”

“SHUT UP YOU DID NOT GET TICKETS TO JEFFERSON: THE MUSICAL, TO NOT PLAY WITH MY HEART LIKE THAT YOU GLOURIOUS FRENCH BASTARD!!” Thomas jumped from the truck bed and picked Lafayette up to spin him around while John just rolled his eyes. Of course it was just like Thomas to only be interested in something because it pertained to him, and not because it stood on it's own merits or anything.

“Not only do I have tickets, I have four of them. You, me, John if he wants to come....”

“Fine. I'll think about it...”

“Wait,” Thomas said putting Lafayette down. “It's always been just you, me and John. Who is the fourth ticket for?”

“Oh, just a certain boy my friend may have a crush on named James—”

“SHUT UP!!”

“Okieriete—”

SHUT UP!!

“Madison.”

SHUT UUUUP!!! LAFAYETTE, I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU!! YOU'RE AMAZING!!”

John flinched as Thomas screamed some, picking up their mutual friend and whirling him around again. As he set the laughing Lafayette down, he kissed each cheek in turn several times and John had to remind himself to check his own jealousy. Lafayette was allowed to have other friends. Lafayette was allowed to dote on them too. Lafayette wasn't his; he never was.

“There is a catch,” the French man continued. “You will have to ask him to come see it, as a date. As a date-date.”

“Like, a first date?”

Oui. A double date-date.”

BY NEXT WEEK?!

“You can do it mon ami, I see how you talk to people all the time.”

“You see how I talk to people, not James!!”

“James is people!”

Still, John had to walk away. Lafayette had assured him they weren't sleeping together, but sometimes John's brain couldn't see anything but the two of them grinding on one another. The idea make him sick. He loved Lafayette and he wanted him to be happy, with literally anyone else but Thomas. Thomas was cocky and full of himself. Thomas didn't do sensitive or empathy, at all let alone well. Thomas didn't like hearing the word no when it pertained to something he wanted...Thomas was a tool. And John couldn't see why Lafayette hung around him.

Actually, that was a lie. He knew exactly what Thomas was to Lafayette and maybe that's why John hated him so much.

Thomas was Lafayette's Alex.

No, Thomas wasn't a sex worker, and overall John trusted the word of his friend even if he had invasive thoughts that told him otherwise. Lafayette didn't do sneaking around; even when he was with John he had demanded a level of visibility in their relationship, something they had fought over constantly as John was a far cry away from ready to come out of his metaphorical closet, even now. If he said he wasn't dating Thomas then that was the truth. But Thomas was the person Lafayette had used to get over John, and maybe what hurt John the most was knowing that his friend was able to go out and meet a real person, develop a real relationship, and have a genuine connection with another human being.

And John hadn't.

He paid someone to pretend to love him. And he'd been sneaking around to do it.

He dropped the boxes at the foot of the small pile of them now occupying the room. As much as Thomas was an asshole, he was at least real. Lin was a sham, an illusion that had been shattered this morning and John still didn't know what that meant for him, which in turn made him nervous. He glanced at Alex's bed again, seeing the pillow thrown against the wall where he'd left it. Was it too much to hope for that he'd get a chance to do what Lafayette had? To develop at least a friendship with another male that was somehow emotionally fulfilling? He picked the pillow up and put it back where Alex had first had it, before he'd tossed it aside.

The sounds of Thomas' excited voice running a mile a minute about the prestige passed down his family line for generations alerted him that the two other males were approaching. John signed, and mentally prepared himself for a lot of nodding along and tuning out Thomas' self absorbed speech. By now of course, he was pretty good at that sort of thing.

 


 

Alex tapped the key card he'd gotten from the guard downstairs and, hearing the drawn out beep that told him it was unlocked, pulled the heavy metal door open and walked right in. A circular and marble counter-top receptionist desk took up a chunk of the open floor to the left and to his right was a sitting area not unlike any one might find in an upscale hotel. A leather couch sat along one wall with matching sitting chairs, one of them occupied, and glass tables. The floors were polished hardwood that reflected the delicate lights above. Floor to ceiling frosted windows let in sunlight without sacrificing privacy. Overall, if it wasn't where he'd worked for the last two years of his life, Alex would have felt very out of place in his beat up old converse sneakers, tattered, baggy jeans and over-sized hoodie by comparison.

“Ah, Alexander!” a voice greeted him and he smiled, looking over to the desk.

“Mr. Burr, sir,” he replied, walking over to the desk as the man behind it took his feet off the counter he'd propped them against.

“Are you ever going to tire of greeting me like that?” Burr asked a casual smile laid out on his face.

“Probably not.” Alex told him.

“How did the move go? Have you met your roommate for the semester yet?”

Alex dropped his bag at his feet and hopped onto the counter. “I did, he seems like a sweetheart. Cute too.”

“You've said that about all your roommates.” Alex smiled as the woman approached from across the room. With her dark hair and eyes, the red color of her lips stood out like a beacon of beauty. “One would think you'd run away with them if you could.”

“Nah, James wasn't that into me last semester. I think I speak my mind too much for him.” He opened his arms and welcomed her into a hug. “Besides, I'd miss my favorite Maria far too much if I did.” He heard her sigh contently against him and he buried his face in her dark hair.

“Alright children, save it for the cameras,” Aaron minded them. “And while I'll let you do it almost wherever you damn please in this building, you know better then to do it on your boss's desk. I'm glad housing is doing a good job matching you with people you find pleasing, Alex, but don't let it distract you from your studies.”

“As before BAEs,” Alex chuckled. “I know, I know. So! Aaron...”

“Yes, Alex?”

He sat up a little straighter and turned inward more to face that man while Maria kept her head laid on his chest. “So listen, we all know I don't like that you can just do this, buuuuuut could you maybe look into someone for me?”

“Name?”

“I can't remember the whole thing, he rattled it off in this French accent, but I think he goes by—”

“Marie-Joseph Daveed Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette,” Aaron said, already typing away at his computer and pulling up a file. “What would you like to know about him?”

“How the hell you can do that,” Alex replied. Aaron didn't answer him, just gave him a smile. “Right, I don't want to know how you can do that. What can you tell me about him?”

“I can tell you everything from the day he was born to what he doing right now this very second, including the color of his underwear. What would you like to know, Alex?”

Alex sighed and rolled his eyes. “Okay, so, he said he checked up on me, on my Facebook, or whatever. Is he like you? Can he do what you do?”

“Negative. He's a very public person. My kind don't do that, it's dangerous. I'll spare you the details of why, of course, and while his perusal of your Facebook dinged a flag at first, nothing else came up in his systems that points to him having any knowledge of who you are or the work you do with The Company. He's a rich French socialite who is currently visiting the states on a B2-visa that will be up in June. He spends his free time traveling, dancing, or engaging in whichever activities have caught his fancy that week and he's quite colorful actually; I thought once you met him you would have liked him.”

“Oh I do,” Alex admitted. “It's just that he strikes me as someone who knows how to put on a facade, like us. Like, he knows more about situations then he lets on sometimes. That kind of thing.”

“Ahh, I see,” Aaron said. “I can have his visa revoked and get him deported by 10pm at the very latest if he makes you that nervous.”

“What? No!” Alex cried, looking for a moment horrified. “Burr, don't even joke about that shit, it's not funny.”

“Okay, well, it's on the table as an action I can make happen, if need be. But we'll shelve it for now. I'll keep an eye on his internet browsing in the meantime, fair?” Alex seemed reluctant to agree at first and sensing that, Aaron added, “Alex, listen. I know you don't like that I have that kind of power, but trust me when I say I only use these skills to keep you, my employee, safe. We don't want another stalker situation, now do we?”

The memory of a trashed apartment, of words like SLUT and WHORE spray painted on his bed sheets, of missing personal items and stacks of so called love letters left in every room along with the personal gift of the whack-job's various body fluids smeared over walls and into his civilian clothes made Alex shudder. He recalled the e-mails, the calls at all hours of the day and night, the text messages of pictures of him throughout the day as he was followed being sent one after another once he was home. He remembered the figure he'd seen standing outside his bedroom window when he rolled over to see what the tapping sound was. No, he never wanted to experience that again, it was violating. It made him scared to think about it. If Aaron had shown up when he had....

“No,” Alex replied, dejectedly. Maria hugged him tighter. “We don't.”

“Everything I do, it's only in your best interests, understand?”

“Of course.”

“So then we are in agreement, I will be monitoring the Marquis de Lafayette, and at the first hint of trouble I will neutralize him from posing a threat to you.”

“Just....please check in with me before you do anything drastic like that, Burr.”

“Of course, baby. You can trust me.” His smile eased Alex a little. He did trust Burr after all. “Now, if there's nothing else to keep you on my desk, would you two kindly make your way to Maria's studio? Your session is about to start and you wouldn't want to be late, would you? The audience would be very disappointed if you were.”

Alex slid off the desk with a little self nudge. He picked up his backpack and offered Maria his arm like a gentleman. Watching them retreat, Burr pulled up a file on Alex and quickly typed in a few notes, eyeing a few cameras that monitored the studios currently in use and looking back to his computer screen exactly as a red notification popped up. He clicked on it to see what it was about and was surprised to see the name JOHN ANTHONY LAURENS at the top. The report was simple. It detailed a correlation between a reoccurring charge in John's bank statements to an A. Ramos for $680 exactly every month. Once a week, The Company would then receive payment from the same A. Ramos account, an hour before Alex took personal shows on Saturday. No other money coming in, no other money going out. Payments reaching as far back as ten months, when an account with The Company was made by someone using the same A. Ramos handle. It was a cleaver attempt at deceiving where the money was going, a cute little way to keep charges off a bank statement, but Burr had seen the same simple set up far too often. There was no A. Ramos, there was only John Anthony Laurens. The same John Anthony Laurens that was currently Alex's new college roommate.

And that alone posed a very.

 

Big.

 

Problem.

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 5:

“Are you okay?”

Alex tilted his head and smiled at Maria as he opened the door to her studio for her. “Have I given you the impression that I'm not, love?” he asked in response.

“Alex, you know you don't need to pretend with me. I heard what you were discussing with Burr. You sounded really worried.”

“Oh, that,” he waved a little dismissively. “You know sometimes my brain can be....a little irrational, I guess. I just wanted some reassurance that I was being silly.” Stepping in behind her he closed the door and pulled her into a hug. “I like Aaron and all but, between you and me, I appreciated you being there too.”

“Does he worry you at all?”

“No, I think Lafayette is just a bit too nosy and I got nervous because of it.”

She sighed. “I wasn't talking about that Lafayette guy.”

“Who were you talking about then?”

“Burr.”

Alex let her go some and stepped back to give her a puzzled look. “Why would Aaron worry me?”

“He almost deported a man for asking you a question that made you uncomfortable for, what? A minute or two, maybe?”

Shaking his head, Alex smiled knowingly. “No, see, he wouldn't have actually done it. I'm an immigrant too, he knows I wouldn't be pleased with that sort of thing. He was just flexing his metaphorical muscles for me, reassuring me that he could take care of us, no matter what we needed.”

“I don't need to ruin someone else's life to feel secure in my own.”

“I don't either Maria. And I told him as such and he listened.” He frowned some at the way she still looked unsure. “Would you like me to talk to him again? I'll make sure he knows that was really out of line.”

“No, you already did that. Besides, Burr would just tell you what you want to hear and say that's the end of it.”

“I disagree. He's been good to us over the years. I mean, c'mon Maria you know what it's like for most sex workers, right? We get our own rooms, complete control of the content we want to create, we keep 90% of what we earn, set our own hours, plus medical, dental, and a boss who looks out for us beyond supplying all of that. Working here has been better then the streets, hasn't it?”

“I don't need you to remind me of what it was like on the street's, Alex. But, I mean, how does Burr pay for all of this if we only give him a fraction of what we earn? Why does he know so much about us and our lives outside of here? Do you ever think about these things?”

Alex shrugged. “He has the nightclub and I a few other projects he's mentioned to me in passing. He says he has a system where everything balances out. And he's just trying to protect us. Frankly, I'm glad he looks into the backgrounds of everyone I interact with. It feels good to know I have someone else willing to double check things I might not otherwise know and make sure I'm safe from people who could be a threat.”

“Like your stalker.”

“Yeah.”

“Is he still in prison?”

He nodded and tucked a strand of hair behind his ear. “For another 50 years. I'll be older then Benny when he gets out, so here's to hoping he won't want to kidnap me and lock me in his basement anymore when that day comes. Sick fuck only wanted me cuz I was 16 anyway.”

Maria sighed and patted his chest. “You really shouldn't have been doing porn that early, Alexander.”

Chuckling, Alex replied, “spoken like a true mother.” He kissed her cheek. “But you're absolutely right, I was stupid and reckless. That's why I'm so grateful to Aaron tho, he got my dumb ass out of trouble and has kept me safe ever since.”

“You don't feel like the walls meant to keep you safe also keep you locked up?” she asked.

“No,” Alex replied honestly. “Because I don't want to leave. Do you?”

She considered his words for a moment, leaning her forehead against his chest. “No,” Maria's reply eventually came. “Not yet.”

Alex hugged her again, sensing still some kind of unease in her he couldn't place. “Well, when you do, just let me know. I want to say goodbye and help you in anyway that I can. I mean that.”

“Thank you Alex,” she said. Pulling back again she stepped from his embrace and he let her go with ease. “I laid out the clothes I wanted you to wear for this scene. I'm going to get changed now, you should do the same.”

“Right,” he said. “Our somewhat usual set up then?”

“Yeah,” she replied then looked up. “Actually, can we go bareback this time? I need to talk to my doctor, but I think I'm developing a latex allergy and I don't have anything else to use.”

“You're on the pill, right? Took it this morning?”

“Of course.”

“Sure,” he said with a nod. “Would you like me to pull out too? Or should we just use toys and oral?”

“You know the viewers don't always just settle for that. You should be good for penetration though. My husband and I haven't had any problems with my birth control yet and we haven't been using condoms for the last three months. I just need to limit my contact with latex for a minute.” For the first time since he'd come in that day Alex saw her smile deviously at him. “Besides, you give him some really good ideas.” He grinned at her as she slipped past him and into her own adjacent bathroom. A chime sounded and reminded him he only had a few minutes before they went live. He pulled his hair from it's loose ponytail and started unbuckling his pants.

 


 

“Thomas, did you not say you had something to do with James around four?”

The Virginian stopped his spiel to check his phone. “Shit! I gotta go! I'm gunna be late!” he cried and leaped off of Alex's bed where he'd been sitting. He spun in the doorway. “How do I look? Is my hair okay? Is there anything you can do to fix it so I don't look like I've been moving heavy ass boxes and shit all day?”

“You helped us for one hour!” John cried but Lafayette waved dismissively as he got up and approached Thomas.

He scrunched his hair, brushed his shoulders, picked a bit of lint off his shirt and looked Thomas up and down. “Turn,” he said and Thomas obeyed. Again he brushed the man's shoulders, and said, “Turn.” Lafayette licked his finger and pretended to wipe a smudge of dirt off Thomas' cheek. “You are good,” he finally said and Thomas beamed at him, leaning in to give him a peck on the cheek before flying out the door.

“You changed nothing about his appearance,” John said.

“Sometimes it's less about how he looks and more about how he feels,” Lafayette replied as he went to close the door.

John scoffed. “It's actually always about how he looks or how he feels, but okay.”

“Speaking of lo~oking and fe~eling,” Lafayette said in a tone that made John stop fishing clothes out of a box to put onto hangers and turn to look at him. “You have some explaining to do about Alex.”

“Is it dinner time already? I hadn't realized it had gotten so late, I wasn't feeling that hungry, heheh...”

“Funny, since you didn't eat at lunch,” Lafayette said, gesturing to the mini fridge that now housed John's leftovers. “But that is beside the point.”

The empty box got moved off the bed and John swept the unused hangers into it. “Okay, sooooo, where should we begin?” he asked, as he started collecting the hangers with clothing already draped on them to busy his hands, anything to avoid having to turn around and face Lafayette.

“We should start with why you feel it is necessary to watch porn, mon ami.”

“Lots of people watch porn, Laf. I don't really feel that it's something that needs to be discussed.”

“I do.”

“Fine. I suppose I do it because I'm lonely.”

“So call me.”

“And I have certain needs.”

“Then go out and talk to a few guys.”

“And I'm too sad and pathetic to talk to guys for real and you can't, and won't, sleep with me anymore soooo...” He turned around after putting the last of his clothes away and shrugged in an over-exaggerated way. “I guess that just leaves me with porn and prostitutes.”

“You're sleeping with prostitutes too, John?”

“I literally told you earlier that you were still the only man I've ever slept with, Laf. That hasn't changed in the two hours since I said it.”

The French man rubbed at his temple and propped a hand on his hip, looking like a mother exasperated with a child. “Then please do not use sarcasm right now. I do not like when you use it in a disagreeing tone with me. Please say what you mean so that I can understand you.”

“I did,” John said.

“Then please do not be so defensive with me. I am worried about you, John. I just want to help.”

John looked down at his feet, hands on his hips and shaking his head. “Okay, look, the honest truth is that when we started talking again a year ago, you made it very clear it wasn't so we could get back together. And I agreed with that, and I still agree with that.” He gestured vaguely between them. “Obviously we aren't right for each other here. I want you in my life, you're my best friend. But sometimes....being around you....stirs up feelings I wish I didn't have...”

Lafayette reached for his friend and put his hands on the other male's shoulders. “You do not wish to have these feelings for me or you do not wish to have them at all?

“Laf...”

“John, please answer my question.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, feeling tears well in his eyes. “You know I would give anything to be normal—”

“You are normal!

“Straight Then!” he snapped. “God, sometimes it just SUCKS being me, okay? Do you have any idea how utterly awesome it would be if I really could just not like guys? If I could just get a girlfriend and be happy about it so my parents weren't on my case about this shit like, ALL the time?”

“John...”

“I'm sorry, but if you want my honest feelings, those are them Lafayette. Don't pretend like this is news to you either, we've both been through this fight countless times. I hate who I am. I hate the hand I've been dealt in life. I'm doing the best I can with it, and I don't need to be lectured about all the ways I'm not good enough for you because I certainly get enough of that at home.”

“You are good enough! I just do not like seeing you miserable, you could be so much happier if you would just listen to me once in a while.”

“Yeah, just like I listened to you in France and then see where that got us, right?”

“It got us here. We are okay.” Lafayette paused for a moment, taking in the raised brow look to his friend's face and for a moment his own overconfident demeanor faltered. “We are okay, are we not?”

John took a deep breath and stared at the collar of Lafayette's shirt. “Yes,” he said at last, “we're okay. I mean, you're my best friend, of course I love you. I'm just.....I'm gay too and it's confusing. You're confusing. I don't want you to leave and I can't have you stay.”

Heads thunked gently together and John felt tingles run up and down his back as Lafayette squeezed his shoulders. “I am not going to leave again. I just want to help.”

“This doesn't help.” John patted his friend's chest with his hand and picked at the collar he was focusing on. He wished he could embrace him without the feelings he knew would come with such a gesture. Even being this close to Lafayette drummed up feelings he still wished he didn't have. The hands holding his shoulders dropped down to his arms and the French man took a single step back, pulling his head back to look at John who almost couldn't help the way his fingers held the fabric of his shirt before minding himself that he just told him they couldn't be that close. He let him go and looked up with his sad hazel eyes. “Thank you,” he breathed. Lafayette squeezed his arms gently, then let his hands drop, pulling them behind him and taking another step back. John felt a heaviness in his chest from the withdrawal, but said nothing more.

“Can we start over?” Lafayette asked. “I am still concerned about the fact that you are watching porn, mon ami.”

“It's literally not that bad, Laf.”

Lafayette shook his head and stepped back, moving to pace a slow circle around the room. “Do you have any idea what porn does to you, John?”

“You told me only several times before, but go ahead and refresh my memory because I know I can't stop you.”

“It is all about instant gratification with no connection to real people because it objectifies them into something meant only for your pleasure,” the French man ranted. “For that matter it more often then not does not treat woman well and a lot of the situations depicted in porn are not things a man should do unless he has spoken to her in length about it beforehand, and not everyone has the consent talk before they get into it with a partner. Extended viewing of it also leads one to seek out more deviant material because it desensitizes you to what is real and what you should realistically expect. It trains your brain to constantly seek out new material because every time you do you get a boost of serotonin and that is why it makes you feel good, but over time that means you will have a harder time maintaining arousal for the same partner. This can lead to sexual dysfunction, depression, not to mention the constant comparing to impossible perfection that porn depicts can leave you doubting your own skills and hating your own natural body, utterly destroying your confidence, John. It is an unproductive waste of time, a distraction from things that you could better spend your time with, lacks creativity or imagination, it—”

“Okay Laf, I get it!” John snapped. “I'm a weird, shut in, sex addict who can't talk to real boys and is going to die alone!! Awesome! Woooow!”

The Fench man stopped his pacing and pivoted sharply on the balls of his feet. “I never said that, do not twist my words.”

“It feels like you are! It feels like...” He rubbed at his forehead, thinking carefully over his words. “....like I'm starting to regret ever telling you any of this. I hate that I feel like I can't tell you things.”

“Well, how long have to you kept this from me?”

John took a deep breath. “Almost a year.”

Silence filled the room and John diverted his eyes to the floor, avoiding the the hurt expression he saw beginning to wash over Lafayette's face. He didn't know what else to say, so he just muttered into the growing silence, “I'm sorry, Laf...”

“How often do you watch?” Lafayette finally said.

“I have regularly scheduled sessions with Alex once a week. Private....viewings....he can interact with me through a video stream or a chat log. I don't show my face, you know how I feel about anyone knowing I'm gay, so I don't show my face. But I tell him what to do through a chat and he performs on camera for me.”

“And? Do you watch any others? Anything else?”

“No,” John replied. He cleared his throat and finally found the courage to look up again. “Sometimes I actually do listen to what you have to say and take your advice, you know. Besides, I think Alex has been really good for me....He's good at what he does...”

Lafayette took his own deep breath. “Okay then. Show me.”

“What?” John's eyes widened.

“Alex is at work right now, is he not? Show me what he does for you.”

“I—I don't—that's not how—What?!”

“Either you show me or I will find him myself, John. You have told me enough now, I think I can do it.”

John chewed on his bottom lip and hugged himself tighter. Despite his deer in the headlights look, his friend did not relent or change his own level gaze and John eventually nodded. “Okay, I just need...” he looked at the boxes left on the floor. “Just gimme a minute to find my laptop...”

“Can I look it up on my phone?”

“I don't think so,” John replied. “They have to send you an invite. There's this whole process to sign up. Like confidentiality agreements, legal stuff, background checks...It actually takes a few days and would be easier to just sign in from my account.”

“So sign in to your account from my phone. And what is all this about legal stuff?” Lafayette asked. “What kind of legal stuff?”

“Stuff that says you can't re-post any of the work on other porn sites, that all the content found on The Company, that's the business name, The Company's website belongs to them. Like if you post a bootleg somewhere they have the right to sue your ass off and then a lot of thinly veiled threats to do exactly that and what means they can take to hunt you down to do so. Also you have to sign a waiver saying you understand that all your activity on the site and interactions with the performers is recorded and certain behaviors can get you banned. I may not have understood everything, but I understood enough from my father's teachings to get the gist of it.” John finally found the box he was looking for and he pulled from it his laptop then moved to sit on his bed. Lafayette plopped down next to him hard enough that John bounced in place a bit as he opened the computer and booted it up. “Basically, they cater to a lot of people like me; people who do not want to be out and they take keeping that secret very serious.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Umm...” John ventured, peeking at his friend. “Alex might not be doing a live show right now. I literally only use the service to do one-on-one sessions, and he usually does three or four of those every other night or so. He might be engaged in that with someone else.”

Whatever Lafayette may have been feeling, he was being very careful not to show any emotion about it now. John couldn't tell if that was a good thing or not. “Well, then show me what else he has done. I imagine there must be other videos of his you can see after he has recorded them?” John nodded as he typed in the website name into his URL box. It always took a minute longer to load while he was at school, but eventually The Company website came up, it's dark gray background and the motto scripted out in bold fuchsia font, Talk Less, Smile More, greeted him like an old friend. John clicked a drop down menu button and found the name Lin Garland, clicking on it to bring up the personal section of his new roommate.

“Lin...Garland?” Lafayette questioned.

“Apparently he uses an alias. And having met him as a person now, I think I see why.”

A flashing yellow button with the words LIVE NOW! blinked just under a picture of Alex's smiling face, though John ignored it and Lafayette's attempt to point it out to him by scrolling down to check the page first. Alex's last live show was ready and waiting to be viewed, but John crinkled his nose upon scanning the description; that particular broadcast featured an actor who had chewed him out once and the absolute last person John wanted Lafayette to see what that asshole. Sighing, he scrolled back up and clicked the flashing button, hoping Alex would be with someone else. They were relocated to a stream, but this one was different then the one used it the private sessions; it offered only chat as a means for anyone on John's end to communicate and of course they were taken right to the middle of the stream.

A woman braced her hands against a table, leaning forward just enough that her breasts bounced as she was thrust into from behind. Her short and tight red dress did little more then hug her abdomen, pulled down to expose her nipples and pushed up behind her to give access to the man's cock. She rocked and moaned with each thrust, a melodious voice framed by full red lips that chanted a mantra of, “Yes, Yes, Yes!” Behind her, unmistakably, was Alex, thrusting himself deep and moaning his own fulfillment. John squirmed, uncomfortable not only with the sight and the fact that Lafayette was watching over his shoulder, but also in a sudden twang of jealousy he couldn't place. Alex hooked a hand under her, pulled her up to a standing position and fondled a breast. His other hand snaked around and rubbed her clit, slicking his fingers with the lubrication her body produced. His hands switch roles, and slippery fingers rolled over pert nipples as he messaged her with his other hand, burying his face in the thick locks of her dark hair. John felt his face burn.

“This looks to me like regular porn,” Lafayette said at length. “I still do not see what you enjoy in this.”

“This isn't what I watch,” John replied. “I...I don't come here to watch him do women.”

“He is different with men?”

“Well....kinda....” He clicked away from the live stream, grateful to get away from what he was seeing. He knew “Lin” worked with other people, he knew some of those other people were women, but he'd never thought to look any of those videos up after he started seeing “Lin” privately. He backtracked to the page set up for Lin Garland and scrolled down, intending to find something else to show Lafayette, when the French man brushed his hand aside and clicked on the one video John didn't want him to see. “Hey!”

“Shh!” Lafayette replied. “We are watching this one.”

“Heeeey, welcome back!” Alex greeted, wearing a white tank top and some bright orange pants as he sat backwards in a chair. He rested his arms on the back of it and waved a hand with a smile. “It's so nice to se—“ he flinched drastically as a gun was put to his head and trigger was pulled, though nothing more then a loud POP! sound was made. Laughter followed as a man came into view wearing the most ridiculous looking cop outfit John had ever seen. He already knew it was the man he hated, even before his face came into view, but what John was more concerned about was the mildly alarmed and upset look on Alex's face.

“What?” the other male said once he noticed the look Alex was giving him. “It's fake, Lin,” he waved the toy gun first to the camera, then right in front of Alex's face, who pulled away again. “All it shoots are blanks, unlike me. Don't be so uptight.”

Alex got up from his seat and right in the man's face, but his voice was almost too low to hear. “If you're going to be here, you are not going to behave like that. I will walk out that door and take this right up with management, do you understand?”

The other male scoffed. “Uhhh, I thought we negotiated that you weren't gunna top from the bottom? So why don't you sit down in your seat and let me take it from here?”

“Put that or any other gun in my face one more time and I'll shove it right up your ass, Jon.”

“That's gunna be 'Officer Jon, sir' to you, bitch. Sit down.”

Lafayette stopped the video just as Alex was resuming a his original sitting position, though he stared down the man named Jon as he did it. The French man gave his friend a Look of his own and asked, “he is not honestly going to trust that man enough to sleep with him after that, is he?”

“I honestly don't like that guy either,” John said, also glaring at the other man in the video. “And I don't know, I don't watch these kinds of videos.”

Lafayette clicked a point in the middle of the track and hit play again. The video buffered for a minute as it caught up to where it was meant to pick up from, and then an image of Alex with his hands cuffed behind him and his pants around his ankles while “Officer Jon” fingered him started to play. Alex didn't look that much happier. “Ahh!” he cried in discomfort. “You could use more lube, damnit!”

“Naughty prisoners aren't entitled to such privileges, maggot.”

Alex growled through clenched teeth. “How. Do. I. Earn. That. Privilege. Officer.

Lafayette skipped ahead again, to Alex on his knees his head being held against the other male's crotch by a fistful of his hair, then he skipped again to Alex finally on a cot getting rammed hard and heavy in the ass. “Really, John?”

“I don't watch these!” John cried. “I swear!”

Lafayette scrolled down the page, ignoring the sounds of Alex getting fucked as he looked at what other videos were available. John blushed as he waited for Lafayette to choose a different video; at least now Alex sounded like he was getting some kind of pleasure out of the arrangement he was in. His friend clicked a new link, and they were taken to a new page.

“Do you understand how long thirty-five minutes is to wait on someone?” an elderly gentleman in tight leather pants asked as Alex sat tied in a chair, ball gag in his mouth, sweat causing strains of his dark brown hair to stick to his face. John thought for a moment he recognized the other man in the video, or perhaps heard his voice before, but he wasn't sure. Alex bobbed his head to answer yes, and grunted against the restraint that prevented him from talking. “Are you going to make me wait on you like that again?” He looked up playfully up at the man, smirking as best as he could around the ball. But he shook his head and his eyes fluttered closed with a content sigh as he was kissed on the forehead. “Good boy. Now, what else should we do with you?” There was a loud booming noise and the video stopped, though not before both John and Lafayette had nearly screamed.

“What was that?” Lafayette asked in the silence that followed. “A freaking Halloween special?!”

“Nooo,” John said. “I don't know what that was. Maybe a glitch.”

“John, I am not seeing anything here that I am okay with.”

He sighed dejectedly. “I know, I'm sorry,” he whined.

“This is what you watch? This is what you enjoy?”

“No! I told you, I don't watch the video's Alex does with other people.”

“Well I don't see anything that he does with himself, John.”

“That's because, ugh,” he grunted and took the computer back. “Here, just let me show you.” He closed out the website and opened up his personal computer files, momentarily kicking himself for not just showing these videos to Lafayette from the beginning. He picked one of his favorites and hit play then turned the screen toward Lafayette. “Here. This is what I pay him for. Now you won't be able to hear or see my response, but I'll—”

“Hello my darling,” the sound of Alex's voice came though the speaker, and John was all at once relived to feel that the familiar little tingle he always got when starting a session hadn't left him. “How are you feeling this evening?”

“I have a request,” John said as if speaking to Alex. That had been his response. He waved at Lafayette's confused look to silence the almost asked question and went on, “I forgot to add it for this session, can I just tell you what it is?”

“Oh? Well, you have my curiosity.” Even without seeing the screen John knew Alex was smiling. He knew every detail of the video by heart, this one was his favorite as he'd watched it many times in between his usual sessions. Not because he needed Alex's sexual services more often then he could afford, but because it was one of the first times he'd really spoken to Alex, one of the first times he'd felt like they'd connected.

“Do you know how to speak French?” John asked. He closed his eyes, avoiding the look his friend gave him and focused only on the sounds of the video, the memory of the mannerisms he'd watched hundred's of times playing out in his head for him.

“Ahhh,” the video replied. “I'm afraid I don't. Well no, I can say omelette au fromage, but that's because of this old cartoon I once saw as a kid. But somehow I doubt that's what you had in mind. Do you speak French?”

“I do. I speak it pretty well. My friend says so anyway. He's from France, so I trust his opinion on it.” There was only silence from Lafayette then, but John knew too well the look the man must be giving him then. He put it from his mind and stayed focused on what his responses to Alex had been instead.

“I've always wanted to learn. Could you teach me a phrase?” the recording asked.

“You're always saying 'my darling,' to me, would you like to know the French translation?”

“Please?”

Mon chéri. If you would like to say, 'my dear' you say mon cher.”

“Mun cherry,” Alex's voice said and John cringed slightly as he recalled how proud he looked of himself; Lafayette scoffed some but choose not to make any comment. “Mun cherry. And mun chair. Is that right, mun chair?”

“Noooooo,” John replied. “It's more of a shh sound, not a hard c but a soft one. Think of the singer, Cher.”

“Cheri? Chéri? And then, just like cher? Mun cher.

“Less of a vowel noise in mon.”

“Moon?”

“Less. Less vowel sound.”

“Mn? Mon cher?”

“Yes!” John smiled, even at the memory. “Yes that's it!”

“I see, would you like me to call you mun cher from now on?”

“You might need to practice.”

“Maybe it would help if I could hear you say it.”

Even now John shook his head. “I'm not comfortable with that. I'm sorry.”

“Well, then I guess I'll have to practice for next time, won't I moon cheri?”

“You might just.”

“Shall I make that my homework then?”

“Please?”

“Then for you I—” Alex's voice cut out and John opened his eyes with a little flutter. Lafayette's expression was contemplative for a moment and beside him John tried not to fidget too much as he waited for his friend to gather his thoughts and address the elephant in the room. The exact conversation he'd wanted to avoid having with his best friend loomed ahead. He realized for the first time in a year that he'd never put any thought into what he would say once it came up and now that it was here staring him in the face he felt the panic creeping up.

“Are all of your session's like this?” Lafayette asked. “You talk to him so comfortably?”

Slowly John nodded. “I mean, I ask him to...ummm....” He waved vaguely with his hand, his cheeks turning red. “You know...” As he'd done before, Lafayette clicked a point later in the video and hit play. Alex had a hand trailing over himself, lightly teasing his own cock. John's face got hotter as his friend turned the laptop to face him and Alex gave a little moan. “Yeah..” John replied, trying not to stare. “That....”

Turning the computer back toward himself Lafayette studied Alex's movements for a moment. “He is very convincing,” he said. “But he is faking his enjoyment.”

“You don't need to tell me that,” John snapped. “I'm not stupid, I know it's...”

“Faked,” Lafayette finished for him. John glared. “Why do you settle for it then?”

John shrugged. “It's safer then going out. And easier. I just pay and I get what I need for a little bit.”

“You think it is right to pay someone who can't say no to this? And that is another thing, how are you paying for this, John? I do not imagine daddy dearest would be so happy to pay for gay porn.”

“Okay, first of all, the actors have a list of things on their pages that go over what they will and will not do, to avoid that exact problem, so don't bitch to me that they have no control. Furthermore, I can attest personally that they will tell you to fuck right off if you ask for anything they aren't comfortable with, so believe me they can say no.” He heaved a sigh and crossed his arms over his chest, looking away for a moment as if he could find the courage to say the next string of words in his head somewhere on the dark wood floor of his dorm room. “Secondly, I picked up a part time job, okay? I got it two years ago because...because....”

“Because you needed a way to pay for your porn habit.”

“No! Laf—” John sighed and covered his face. He took slow breaths to steady the tumultuous emotions churning inside him. Anger and guilt and shame and fear all fighting and clawing to spill out of him and he felt like he had no control. He wanted to break down and cry. He wanted to shove Lafayette away. He just wanted his best friend to understand what he couldn't possibly bring himself to say.

A hand found it's way onto his back, moving in slow circular motions. “I appreciate that you are telling me this,” Lafayette said, his voice low and soothing. “I know it means that you trust me, and if I appear upset it is because I am worried that you did not tell me sooner. I love you no matter what, John.”

He nodded his understanding of his friends words and wiped away the tears that had collected on his face. “I was gunna tell them, before you came back into my life I was...I was gunna tell them...”

“Tell who?”

“My parents,” John said, his voice shaking. He looked at his hand and found it trembling as well.

“About the porn?” Lafayette asked, his voice confused.

John shook his head. “About me. I had everything planned out. I was gunna get a job, save up enough to get me through a summer, tell them as soon as I got my bachelors that I wasn't coming home. And—and when they would ask me why I wasn't coming home, I was going—going to tell them that I was gay and I was sick—sick of pretending I wasn't. And then...and then...I don't know what my father would do, I don't know what was going to happen...”

“What changed?”

“I got your letter... And we started talking again...and I didn't want to be re—reckless....I thought if I came out my father would kill me and you'd never hear about it, and—and I couldn't tell you because if I chickened out then you would—you would give me such shit and I just—just felt like everything—” Lafayette pulled him into a hug and John welcomed the embrace, burying his face against him, seeking the safety to cry freely. He breathed deep the scent of the lavender and ylang ylang perfume his friend used as they rocked slowly. Soft shushing noises met his sobs and accompanied the hand on his back as the other one petted his head. He didn't know how long they stayed like that, but as his emotions bled out and he felt himself gaining more control again John shifted slightly and felt Lafayette loosen his grip so he could put back the distance he needed between them. “Are you mad at me?”

“Why should I be mad at you?”

“For keeping secrets, for lying to you about things I'm doing.”

“John, look at me.” Lafayette tilted his friend's face upward with a gentle push of his hand. “I am not your father. I am not mad at you for any of this. Worried, yes. Angry, no. I do not want you to be watching porn, but I will not force you to stop. I am happy that you are thinking of what your needs are and trying to have them met. That is a very good thing, because you would not do that so much before, remember?”

“Are you still worried I am a sad, sex addicted shut in who will never get a boyfriend and die alone only to be eaten by the six cats I'll accumulate over years of loneliness?” he asked, trying to crack a weak smile.

Non, because I will move you into my home in France before I let that happen. And we will only have one cat.”

“Three, and I'll let you name one.”

“Fine, but you will clean the litter boxes.”

“Deal.”

Silence fell over them then. John leaned over and bumped his head on his best friend's shoulder. A familiar hand reached up and petted the side of it, and Lafayette nuzzled him with his own tilted head. “What am I going to do about living with Alex?” John finally asked. “Do I tell him who I am, will that make it awkward? Should I just play dumb?”

“Do you like him?”

“I've paid him a lot of money over the last year, I'd better like him.”

“I mean, do you like like him?”

“Well, he's handsome.”

“And he knows it.”

John let out a single laugh. “You noticed that too, huh? Think I would ever have a chance with someone like that?”

Oui, as long as you pretend to be the angel I know is in there somewhere and do not go gnawing on the bones at dinner and give yourself away.”

John punched Lafayette on the arm playfully as his friend chuckled. “Okay, be serious here, Laf. I'm now living with a guy that I pay to do sexual things for me, what do I do about that?”

Mon ami, you stress too much sometimes, you know? You cannot treat him like the person he is on the computer, okay? That person is not real, even if your little man thinks differently it is not true.” He waved his hand in a circular motion that John had come to associate with Lafayette thinking of the words he wanted to use. “It is like that movie, the one with the girl and the dog, who goes to see that wizard...?”

“Wizard of Oz?”

Oui, that one. This Lin is the wizard and Alex is the man he really is behind the curtain. But, unlike in that movie, you are finding that surprise out first, and now you think you need to decide if you should go down the road of learning more about him as a person and risk losing the wizard's power to help you entirely, is that correct?” John nodded at his friends words. “Well, mon ami, I think the question really isn't what should you do but rather what can you do? Can you draw the curtain closed again and pretend the wizard is still all powerful even when you know he is not? Can you separate the two in your head and treat them both according only to what you have said and done with that faucet of this dual person in the past without bleeding over into one or the other?”

“I don't know,” John said. “That's what I'm so worried about.”

“Then ask yourself if you want to.”

John sighed. “I just want things to stay the same with Alex.”

“But they have already changed, mon cher. Twelve hours ago he was still only Lin to you, now you see that was only a charade. You already so easily call him Alex, I can not help but wonder if you made that switch so easily because you secretly wanted to know him better.”

“So what? I just can't have things stay the same? I should ask him out on a date, tell him the truth about how I know him? 'Hey, so, funny story, I know you're a porn star because I watch your stuff, do you wanna go get some drinks, and maybe bang for real?' Yeah, I'm sure he'd just love hearing that.”

“Or you could take the time to be his friend first. I remember that you are nervous on dates, but you do not have to make him your boyfriend to get to know him.”

“So go down the metaphorical yellow brick road and get to know him better.”

Oui.”

“What if the road goes somewhere I don't like? What if I can't go back to seeing him as Lin?”

“Well, you have me,” Lafayette grinned. “I will face the lions and tigers and bears with you.”

“Oh my.”

Lafayette handed the laptop back to John and quickly kissed his cheek. “You will be fine, mon amour. He is a just a person, nothing more. Treat him kindly and let everything else work itself out. But I would not bring up knowing he is a porn star; he has made it quite clear he wants that part of himself to be a secret and even if you cannot help that you already know I think it would be best to let him decide when he wants to tell you about that.”

“You mean if he wants to tell me about that,” John sighed. “I guess it's only one semester. And it's law school, I guess we'll be busy most of the time with studies...work...And if I keep my usual scheduled sessions with him it's not like I'll have to worry about a roommate walking in on me...”

“You will just have to worry about if he snores too loud and if him leaving his socks on the floor bothers you,” Lafayette said with a grin.

“Oh no,” John replied with a deadpan voice, “I really hope he doesn't do that. It would be awfuuuul...” Feeling better he smiled, even as Lafayette took his hand and kissed the back of it before he got up. For a moment John squeezed his friend's hand and drew the man's attention back to him. “Are we....we're okay, right? You're really not mad at me?”

A brief look of pain crossed Lafayette's face but it was gone before John could fully process the look. He smiled and leaned in to kiss John's forehead. “Je t'aime,” he repeated for the second time that day. “I could never stay mad at you.”

“I love you too,” John replied, softer. “Thank you for listening to me.”

“Of course, whenever you need me too I will listen.” Lafayette squeezed his hand back then let it go. John watched him turn to one of the few boxes that still held his worldly college possessions and pick them out one by one to put away. He loved the man, he loved that he matched John's negative mindset with a positive outlook even if he had a hard time believing it. John watched him as he stretched to reach a shelf above the bed, shelving the books John wanted to keep with him, his eyes wandering right down to the peek of Lafayette's abdomen from under the rise of the light pink shirt he wore as he did so, and John brushed away the thought of pressing his lips to that pop of skin and pulling his friend back onto the bed with him. He loved Lafayette so much but after nearly a year of working with Alex, or Lin, John was miffed to realize his desires hadn't changed at all. He wondered why that was, why he held on to the idea of Lafayette being his boyfriend again when he clearly knew it could never happen. He also wondered why Lafayette hadn't brought up the obvious issue on the table.

Where exactly did their relationship stand now?

Somewhere in the boxes he kept at school and away from his family were the letters Lafayette had written to him just over a year ago. The first one had been a surprise, as John hadn't expected to ever hear from the French man again after he'd ignored three months of desperate phone calls and texts, blocking John on all the social media they shared. While he wouldn't call them love letters per se, they did speak very candidly of missing the relationship the two had built with each other and a longing to re-establish at least the friendship aspect of it. While John hadn't jumped at the thought of welcoming Lafayette back into his life so easily, he also couldn't deny that he wanted the same things. The trouble was, he didn't want Lafayette to hurt him again. It seemed simple enough, as long as they stayed just friends, everything would be okay. But the first time he opened his door and saw the French man standing on his family's front porch at the end of a long July summer day he knew there was going to be some problems.

Because he still loved Lafayette.

Letters and Facebook and phone calls and texts could only protect him as long as the man wasn't standing right in front of him. And every time they were together he wanted to just pretend the breakup wasn't real. It would be so easy, to just kiss Lafayette and ask him to be his lover again. He couldn't imagine the French man saying no, not after all the ways he showed John he still had feelings too. They could go back to holding each other and sharing murmured whispers in the dark before bed, cooking dinner for one another and slow dancing in the kitchen, going out dancing and drinking together...

Only in John's perfect little version Lafayette would stop bringing home other lovers whenever he felt like and leaving him to sleep somewhere else for the night. The messy reality was, Lafayette wasn't willing to do that. He'd told John long before they started sleeping together that he only did open relationships and one night stands. Poly-pan, he'd told John; that's what he identified as, poly-pan. John was gay and wanted a partner, one person to settle down with and start his own kind of family. Lafayette told him he didn't even believe in marriage, or the concept of loving simply one person for the rest of your life. He told John humans weren't wired that way and it was something John never understood. He wanted to spend forever with Lafayette and the man told him forever was a lie in one breath, but that he'd always love him in the next, then kiss him goodnight and sometimes John would be lucky to fall asleep next to him and other times he'd sit outside the bedroom door and try not to be jealous of the fact that Lafayette had taken a girl or another guy to bed that night instead of him.

And as he stood on his front porch, burying his face against Lafayette's shoulder and crying silently while squeezing him tightly to make sure he was real, he'd thought of all these facts. He thought of how much he loved his best friend, how how ill equipped the French man was to reciprocate those feelings, of all the fights they'd had, of all the nights they'd spent together, and John knew he would have to find a solution fast the the new problem of having this man back in his life or else he was going to be completely fucked over again.

And that's when he found Lin.

Lin was supposed to help him get over his best friend, give him someone else to think about, someone safe to come back to as he tried to branch out into dating again; but now he was realizing that never really happened. He'd just hunkered down and told himself he'd sort through these issues later. He'd figure out where he really stood with Lafayette later, he'd get a boyfriend later, everything good he meant to do in his life would just come later, later, later. Lafayette had once called him out for that, telling him it was a survival mentality a person develops when in hostile environments but it wasn't good to keep practicing once a person was removed from such an environment. John sighed and, not for the first time in his life, silently cursed his father for the way he treated his oldest son because how was John supposed to thrive as his most genuine self in the environment this parents raised him in?

“Earth to John,” Lafayette said, waving a hand about foot or so in front of his face. “Come in to earth, John.”

“Huh?” He looked up at his friend. “Yes?”

“I asked you where you wanted me to put this?” Lafayette held up the shoe box of full of the letters he had sent John. Well, his little sister Mary's were in there too, but all the same John reached for the box with a slight blush.

“Oh, that can go here, in the drawer of the desk next to my bed.”

Lafayette smiled conspiratorially and handed him the box. “Love letters from your boyfriend?”

“Letters from an ex-lover, yes,” John replied. If Lafayette had peeked inside John hardly cared. Everything was kept in it's original envelope and the French man would have recognized his own handwriting anyway; nothing else of importance was in there. “And my baby sister.”

“Scandalous. What do you want for dinner? Are you going to eat your leftovers or do you want to go out?”

“I dunno, we can order pizza or something. I have money in my account, I can cover you since you got my whole family lunch.”

Lafayette blew a raspberry at him. “But that is your porn fund, how could I ask you to feed me from it?”

“Uh-huh,” John said putting the shoe box away and smirking at the joking tone in his friend's voice. “It's also my run-away-from-my-family fund and my pay-for-my-own-place-once-I-get-kicked-out fund. I think it can cover a pizza.”

“I thought I was your run-away-from-your-family fund?”

“You're my run-away-to-France-so-my-father-doesn't-kill-me backup plan. But that's, ya know, an absolute worst case scenario plan.”

The mirth from Lafayette's face disappeared then and he hid it under the guise of digging his phone out of his pocket, but John knew him far to well to miss what the sudden absence in jokes meant after a comment like that. He was just grateful the man didn't make a threat against his father like he had when John had first started opening up to him about the reality of his family life. “So, pizza then?” the French man asked.

John nodded. “Pizza is fine.”

 


 

A hushed quiet filled the room as Alex laid out on the bed, Maria on top of him. Softly his fingers trailed up and down her back, tracing swirling patterns of comfort. He felt warm and safe and calm, watching the last legs of late August sunlight slowly fade out to darkness in the frosted window. A part of him, a very small part of him, lamented that he couldn't actually see the sky right then but he really didn't want to get up and move just yet. Dark curls of hair spilled out over one shoulder and he was careful not to disturb them. If there was such a thing as heaven, he wasn't sure how in the world it would be better then this.

Their scene had ended an hour ago and they'd closed it out with their usual salutations, but Alex had kept Maria close and laid back down with her once the cameras were off to cuddle. He liked Maria, she was one of his favorite co-workers. She worked as hard as he did to please her audience and even though he was going to be collaborating more with co-workers in their studios over the next four months so he wouldn't have to worry about coming up with content himself, he enjoyed how she let him lead when he wanted too. He actually really enjoyed giving her pleasure. Her fanbase was a grab bag of diversity, and Alex appreciated that she tried to cater to as many different tastes as possible. Sometimes she wanted him to be rough with her and she needed him to go hard and deep. Other times she asked him to tease her slowly. But his favorite was always when he got to lay her back, carefully spread her legs, and rub his tongue over and around her clit until she almost couldn't remember what name to scream for him.

Maria shifted then and began to sit up, the fading light obscured what little bit of her face he could see even as he brushed a hand through her hair to push it from her face. “Morning sleepy head,” he said with a grin. “Did you have a good nap?”

“Nap? How long was I out for?”

“An hour or so. I can't see the clock from here.”

She rubbed her eye and looked up over his head, then swore and quickly got up off the bed. Alex sat up just as she was shutting the bathroom door behind her. “Everything okay?” he called. A moment later she reappeared wearing the street clothes she'd had on before their scene.

“I told the sitter I'd be back 30 minutes ago! I should have told you not to let me sleep this time, I gotta run.” She leaned in and kissed him on the forehead.

“I thought Mr. Reynolds watched the lil'un while you were at work?” Alex asked.

“He's been looking for work too,” Maria replied. “This job pays well, but it doesn't pay 'feed a family of three AND put my child through college' well.”

Alex frowned at this. “Really? I thought it did. Do you want me to take a look at your budget, see if I can't improve it for you?”

“You're an accountant now too?”

He laughed. “Well, no. But it's not that hard to create a budget. It just takes discipline to stick to it, that's all.”

“That's something you'll need to discuss with my husband.” She plopped on the bed and started pulling her socks back on, then slipped each foot into a comfortably well worn sneaker. Alex couldn't help but notice they were almost a little too well worn. He pointedly kept his mouth shut on the matter but decided he would find a way to surprise her with a new pair.

“Want me to stay and clean up here for you then?” he offered. “I mean, if you gotta run and pick up your kid from the sitter's I don't mind changing the sheets and all.”

“Oh my god, could you? Really?” She kissed him several times over his face and mouth as he nodded. “I love you, you're the absolute best. AUGH!! If I wasn't married--!!”

Alex chuckled nervously. “Hey now, don't let Mr. Reynolds hear you say that. It would probably hurt his feelings.” Whatever else he might have said to tease her was drowned out when she leaned in and kissed him again, parting his lips with her tongue and he welcomed her momentarily dance. When they pulled away he could see even less of her in the twilight. “Thank you, Alexander,” her voice low. “I have to run. I'll see you in a day or two?”

He nodded and hummed his approval. In the now nearly dark room he felt more then saw her rise up from the bed and hurry to the door, her frame temporarily back-lit from the hallway as she exited. He sighed contently and groped around in the dark to his left, looking for the lamp she kept on the bedside table in her room. A soft pink glow emanated from the lamp once he turned it on and he looked around at what he had to do. A change of sheets for sure, straightening the things they knocked over, collecting the discarded clothes they had worn, and maybe a dusting of the areas out of site of the cameras. Hardly anyone ever took the time to care for the areas out of view of the cameras since the studios were meant to act as sets and not actual living spaces, but Alex sometimes got fixated on making sure little details such as those were given the same care as everything else. So what if no one but him was going to see them? It was still bad form to neglect it. Overall the space wouldn't need much work. Maria wasn't one to slack off on own her cleaning.

He pushed his hair from his face and looked around for his pants and hair tie. The pants were easy, but the hair band had escaped him somewhere in the dark room. He shrugged it off and figured it would either turn up in the cleaning or that the fairies his mother had told him about in his youth had whisked it away for some other use and he'd just have to find another to replace it. Not a big loss and he could work around it. He pulled on the pants and set to work cleaning up.

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 6:

Aaron shifted in his seat, closing the file he'd been looking through and opening another. The organization was meticulous which made his task almost too easy, the trick was just understanding that some of the files he wanted to sort through were not in fact labeled so clearly with exactly what they actually were. Ironically, that also made this job incredibly easy as it meant he would be able to hide what he needed to hide in plain sight if he wanted too. But of course, he wouldn't. The last thing he needed was for his target to find his little program and figure out their personal computer had been hacked. He already had everything he needed to absolutely destroy their life if needed, it was amazing what one could do with a silly little thing like a social security number, but if he intended to keep Alex safe and sound and completely oblivious to the situation he was in then Aaron would need far more then that. Aaron would need leverage, and a fair amount of it. And a game plan. A well thought out game plan to get exactly what he wanted.

The simplest solution would be to get Alex to agree to move into a private room, possibly even pay for a simple apartment for him. Honestly, Alex really should just be living on his own at this point anyway, Aaron knew he made way more then enough money for it. But the stupid kid insisted on doing things his way and he wanted “the full college experience,” so even though the tuition was crazy stupid high Alex opted to live in the cramped student dorms with a different roommate every semester instead of a nice comfy apartment close to campus. Aaron supposed he really only had himself to blame for that one, but really he'd thought Alex would take the bait and agree to stay in the high end apartments he owned on the side. Stubborn boy was too clever for that tho, and Aaron often had to run extra laps just to keep him satisfied; thankfully, he was also just this side of too dumb to figure out just how much of his life Aaron actually ran.

So Alex would give him resistance if he tried to prompt him to move. What other options did Burr have? The second simplest option would be to snuff out the threat, and if he only had one body to worry about then he'd have already made a call. The problem was that his eavesdropping had confirmed three things for him: the target had went and stupidly told another person about the situation they found themselves in, they were incredibly scared of anyone outside of that room knowing about it, and they had no fucking idea how much shit they were in just yet. So Burr really didn't have just one target to deal with, he had two, at least. One body was hard enough to get rid of. Two was a much steeper price to clean up, like, ridiculously more expensive and time consuming. He could try to sell them for parts or snuff films on the black market, but that would require their capture and live storage until he could find a buyer to take them both off his hands. Not to mention he never liked the idea of seeing a parcel shipped off and never knowing what became of it. Better to know a target's life was cut short then to find out they were a persistent asshole who survived whatever cruel tortures were inflected on them and were now on a war-path of revenge. Even if those stories were more Hollywood fiction then fact it still gave him reasonable pause. So of course, selling them into the sex or human trafficking trade was out of the question as well even if the contacts he had on the other side of those operations could ensure that the targets would be well taken care of.

Alex shuffled down the hallway then and Aaron brought up a simple game of solitaire to cover his screen. He smiled at the man as he brushed his hand through his now loose hair. “Alexander,” he greeted. “I saw Maria leave about an hour ago, I figured you'd be right behind her.”

“Eh,” the other male shrugged as he dropped his bag at his feet and once more hopped up onto the counter. “I was just cleaning up for her. She had to go pick up her kid from the babysitter. Hey by the way, do you happen to know what shoe size she wears?”

Aaron raised a brow. “9½ in womens, why?”

Alex shrugged. “She needs new shoes.”

“And you were gunna buy them for her?”

“Yeah.”

Aaron sighed and reached below his desk, pulling out a box of brand new red tennis shoes, size 9½ in womens. “Something like these, perhaps?”

“Oh shit,” Alex said, eyeing the box. “Air Jordan? Those are like, one of the most expensive kinds.”

“She's worth it.”

“Yeah but, they aren't really her usual style,” Alex said hesitantly. He held out his hand and Aaron handed them over so he could examine them more closely.

“They're red, just like everything in her room.”

Alex looked unsure. “The shoes she wore were black...”

“I know what kind of shoes she wears now, Alex. They're simple, black, and worth exactly $10 at Walmart which is where she got them from, and where she got the last three pairs before them from. These are higher quality and they'll last longer. If she would just accept them.”

“How long have you had these?” Alex asked taking the box and peeking inside.

“Long enough that they went out of season, came back into season, went out again, were retro for a hot minute and are now back out of season again. Honestly, I don't know what her issue with them is. It's not like they wouldn't look good on her.”

“Well, maybe she wanted black shoes?”

“Well, I got them for her in red,” Aaron sighed. “I figured it was her favorite color. Green is yours. You two look like a Christmas card when you're together sometimes.” Alex grinned, and held up one hand which was covered by one of the red sneakers. His own green hoodie contrasted horribly with it and Aaron just shook his head at what an eyesore it was to see those shades of colors so close together. “I should honestly just return them, it's pretty clear she doesn't want them.”

“Let me try giving them to her and see what she says,” Alex replied. “I know how you are with gift giving, you just leave stuff in our rooms with no note or anything and maybe she just feels weird accepting something from her boss.”

“Would she feel any less awkward accepting them from you?”

Tucking the shoes back into the box carefully Alex nodded. “I mean, I think she likes me a little better then you. She kisses me more.”

“Ass,” Aaron said with a bemused smile. “Well, go ahead. Let me know what she says. If she doesn't want them I'll return them or something.”

“Okay, but let me know the next time you're gunna do something like this for her. I wanted to help.”

“You almost sound like you like her, Alex.”

The man shrugged again. “She needs new shoes,” he repeated. “And she's a busy mother, working hard to provide for her family. Woman like that will sacrifice their own comfort for their kids well being first and foremost. I've seen what that looks like.”

“Alright, now you're starting to sound like you love her, and you know what The Company's policy about inter-office dating is—”

“Don't date co-workers,” they recited together, tho Alex's was more exasperated then Aaron's.

“Besides,” Aaron went on. “She's a married woman, you wouldn't want to be a homewrecker to that family she's working so hard to provide for, right?”

“I know,” Alex said with a roll of his eyes. “Believe me Aaron, it's not like that. I like her, she's like my best friend. A best friend I happen to work with and that work just happens to entail having a lot of sex. But my feelings are more...paternal...”

“That's a bit on the creepy side, Alexander.”

“No, no, like, she reminds me of my mother.”

“Not really better.”

“But she does, and I just—”

“Alex, baby,” Aaron said with a smile and a wide sweep of his hands. “Talk less. You don't have to explain yourself to me, you like her, I get it. Exactly how doesn't matter as long as your chemistry is good and people want to see you two fuck. Just follow the rules, that's all I ask, okay?”

“Okay,” Alex said with his own nod. “You're right, I don't know what I was trying to say anyway. Like, I don't want to marry her just—”

“Alex.”

He bit his lower lip for a second, realizing he'd tried to keep talking even after he was told to stop. Alex fidgeted for a moment under Aaron's level look before he finally put on his best grin, the one he reserved for cameras as he worked under the alias Lin. Aaron smiled back approvingly.

“Don't fuck her without a condom again,” his boss told him. “I'll bring in some lambskin ones if the latex is bothering her, but the last thing she needs is to get pregnant again.”

“She's vegan,” Alex countered.

“Not vegan enough; her birth control is hormonal and nearly every form of contraceptive has been tested on animals before being passed on to humans, not to mention latex still uses casein, which is found in milk,” Aaron replied. “But I'll go ahead look up vegan condoms for her and order some of those. I'm sure they exist now.”

With a huff of a sigh Alex slid off the counter. “Okay, just don't be so damn demanding about what she should do with her body. I mean, if she wants to go bareback because she trusts her contraceptives then we should respect that, right? And whose to say they haven't made vegan birth control either?”

Aaron swept his hands again and shrugged. “If you say so.”

“I know you're just looking out for us,” Alex replied. “And....I appreciate it even if others might not all the time.”

“I know you do, baby. I'll see you on Saturday for your scheduled appointments? You're just seeing your most frequent customers.”

“Okay,” Alex said as he headed for the door. “I'll see you on Saturday!”

Aaron smiled until the door shut behind Alex. Saturday. He dropped the untouched game of solitaire and looked at the appointments lined up for Alex on Saturday. Of course A. Ramos had an appointment, last one on the block, same as usual. So Burr had until then to figure out and execute a plan for exactly how he wanted to deal with the problem that was actually named John Anthony Laurens.

 


 

Adams House seemed a bit more lively to Alex as he headed up the steps on his way home. The other students that would be living there chatted in their rooms as they unpacked and decorated, with doors anywhere from wide open to semi shut. He said hello to the people he crossed paths with and chatted very briefly with those who seemed interested in socializing. He liked socializing, but of course every new face came with the risk of being someone that would recognize him from the work he did. Statistically speaking, it was a pretty low risk considering Aaron was so damn selective with the clientele he approved and Alex knew that; sometimes that's the only thought that helped him smile at people at all anymore. He sighed as he reached his door, reminding himself that he'd be done with law school in three years and with that shiny new degree he could retire from porn and make a “respectable” living at a nice cushy law firm somewhere.

It wasn't that he hated doing porn. Out of all the things he'd done to earn money it was by far the easiest, and it paid the best. And hey, it's sex right? Who doesn't love having sex? That's exactly what Alex had thought when he'd started doing it seven years ago. Seven years, holy shit, he'd been sucking dick for money for seven years. By the time he finished college it would be ten. He'd be 25, with a Harvard law degree, a spotty work record that may as well not exist, and ten years of experience sucking dick. He had to lean against the wall to let that soak in for a minute.

He'd only be 22 this winter, but he felt so much older in mind and spirit. A younger him, a teenage him, had thought this was the greatest job he could have ever gotten and that he was so good at it he'd be able to do it forever. Seven years later and despite having lucked into a high class company he felt the threat of burn out starting to creep into the edges of his mind. Of course he knew he couldn't do this forever, he didn't want to. He didn't hate it, he felt no shame in it, it's just that.....just that.....Just what, Alex? What did you want?

He wanted to stop playing the part of Lin. He liked Lin, he liked being Lin, it was fun, Lin was a fun part to play, but it wasn't him and sometimes he didn't like the mere thought that people might only like him because of the role he played. That's what scared him when he talked to strangers, the wonderings of if they knew Lin and would that be the only person they saw in him? He'd meant to make Lin a mask, a shield of sorts that would protect him and his privacy, give him a buffer of comfort, but he'd never meant for the act to become something greater then him. Each time he had to step into the role he felt like he pulled away a little more from what it was, as if there was a splitting of himself inside and one part of him wanted to stop doing all of this insanity, the sex, the smiling, the studying, the success of his life so far, it just needed to stop, to stop, to stop, to—

“I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory,” Alex murmured to himself, his back to the wall, the palms of this hands pressed into his eye sockets. “Swirling deep inside me, my friend turned into an enemy; Lin, by night a part I play, and I become Alex again by light of day; we are one beat with two separate melodies; I feel helpless, but I will not be made worthless in the shadow of which I created, nor will I yield to being hated brought on by the issues I've debated in my mind where I should be emancipated—”

“Hey, are you okay?”

Alex looked up into the face of a young woman, her dark eyes shone with mild concern as her hand reached to touch his shoulder. For a moment he felt stunned by her beauty, and embarrassed she'd caught him talking to himself. “Yeah,” he got out, and tried to casually stand up a little straighter. “Yeah, um...I was just....working on an assignment.”

She smiled a little disbelievingly at him. “Really? But school hasn't even started yet.”

“Personal; a personal assignment, I'm never quite satisfied with it,” he tried.

“My name is Angelica Schuyler,” she said with a tiny bow and a small smile.

“Alexander Hamilton.”

“Well, perhaps you can help me?” she said, and he pulled himself off the wall and straightened immediately. Alex was a sucker for a woman asking him for help. Aaron often joked with him that he'd willingly get kidnapped if a fair lady in distress merely asked him to climb into the back of some sketchy ass van. Alex hated that joke because it was most likely true. “I'm looking for room 37?”

“Uhhh, I'm in room 37,” Alex replied. “This one, right here.” He gestured at the door with a smile. “Are you friends with John?”

“Yes,” Angelica replied. “May I go in?

“Yeah,” Alex said as he reached for the door to open it for her. “Yeah, come right in.”

The door was left slightly ajar, so he pushed it open and bowed for her to go in before him. The room looked vastly different then when he had left and he eyed it with a bit of wonder as he followed Angelica in. White stringed Christmas lights were hung all along the perimeter of the ceiling and gave the room a soft warm glow. Alex spied the extra sitting chair, the colorful circle rug, the long console table with a coffee pot, microwave, and a stack of paper plates on top of it; the mini fridge, the curtains, and the string of pictures hanging on the wall above John's bed of his friends and family; the stacks of books, the calendar and note board, the coat hooks with a few of John's hoodies already hanging from them; the handful of carefully selected nick-knacks, the throw pillows and blankets, the fan in the window, the collection of candles on John's desk. Everything John had brought into the room made it feel like a home and less like the Spartan living arrangements Alex was used to in his dorms.

John's bed was covered in a deep navy blue comforter, as well as Lafayette and John himself, the latter male laying on top of the French man stretched out on the bed. On John's desk sat three empty bottles of Samuel Adams and John himself had another held loosely in his hand, however it wasn't being tended to as John's head rested on his friends chest and a light snoring sound came from his mouth.

“Hey,” Alex said in a bit of a low whisper as he noted that John's eyes were closed. Lafayette's fingertips lightly traced lazy circles around the other male's arms and back, and he turned to look up at Alex as he entered. “Is John asleep?”

Lafayette nodded. “Out like the dark,” he replied and Alex tilted his head in mild confusion.

“I think you mean 'out like a light,'” Angelica said, her own voice matching the soft hush of the other two. She smiled fondly at him. “Too bad Peggy isn't here to see this.”

“I would snapchat her just to tease, but she really needs to get over him,” Lafayette said. “I keep telling her he is gay and she will not hear me.”

“The problem is that the best ones usually are,” Angelica said with a sigh.

“I like the women folk,” Alex said, running his hand through his hair and smiling at Angelica.

“Uh-huh, I can tell you're a straight shit shot of adorable yourself there kid.”

“Oh really? Well, would you say you like the taste of adorable as a chaser to that drink of beautiful you got or should I mix it with something else?”

Lafayette raised a brow hearing that exchange and when Angelica turned back to try an give him a 'do you hear this boy?' look he mentally noted the rosey tint on her cheeks wasn't just from makeup alone. “Laf, were you almost done here?” she asked with feigned cheeriness.

Lafayette nodded and carefully removed the extra beer bottle from John's hand, setting it on the desk. “Alex, there is two more alcohols in the mini fridge, I saved them for you if you wish. You should drink them soon or else John will have them all.” As he moved to sit up John grunted and contracted, coming back to consciousness with a moan and and yawn. “Good evening sleepy head,” the French man said, nuzzling John's cheek despite the grumpy toddler protest he made.

“Angelica?” John said as he wiped the sleep from his eyes.

“The one and only,” she replied and moved to give him a hug. “Welcome back to the city, kid.”

“It feels good to be back,” he replied.

“Are you coming back to work at the restaurant again this year?”

Lafayette eyed John in a pointed way, but if the other man noticed he said nothing about it. “That's the plan,” he told Angelica. “I'm going down to talk to the boss tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed for me.”

“I don't think I need to, he hasn't hired anyone else yet and he loved you. You actually work.”

“Better then sitting around with my thumbs up my ass.”

“Well, I'll be in to see you tomorrow. You should come in early though, in case any of the other students around these parts are looking for a job too.”

“Right,” John nodded. He groaned some as Lafayette moved to hug him, then kissed him a few times on his cheek, but John returned the affection with his own squeeze nonetheless.

“I must leave you before I turn into a pumpkin,” the French man said. “Get some sleep, drink some water, and call me if you need me, oui?”

Oui,” John replied ushering his friend toward the door. “It was good to see you again Angelica. We'll catch up more tomorrow, yeah?”

“Of course. Goodnight John, Alex.”

Alex waved from where he'd plopped himself on his bed and waited for John to return from waving his friends down the hall. His feelings from before Angelica interrupted him were ebbing back in, but this time they remained more manageable. This was another reason he was looking forward to quitting the porn. Aside from his co-workers, there weren't many people Alex considered himself close with. Over the years he'd just learned to keep anyone on this side of his life always at an arms distance away from him and somehow he'd never really thought about how weird it was that his only close friends were the co-workers he fucked on screen for money. He didn't think there was anything wrong with getting along well with his co-workers, but it was becoming more and more obvious he wanted deep friendships with people he didn't strip for. Angelica seemed nice. Lafayette did too. And then, of course, there was his roommate.

John shut the door behind him and shuffled back into the room with a yawn. “Oh, there's two more beers in the fridge if you want them, Alex,” he said. He found his half finished beer and downed the rest of it in one go.

“Yeah Laf told me,” Alex replied without moving from his spot on the bed.

“I'm....gunna take a shower and head to bed,” John started. “Will you need the bathroom soon, or...?”

“I'm okay,” he replied. “I'll likely be up for a while; will that bother you?”

John shook his head, his lose messy curls flouncing around his face before he confusedly ran a hand through them and realized his ponytail had been pulled out. “I have a sleep medication I take, I'll be out for like 8 hours once I'm in bed.” Alex chuckled but John fixed him with an even look. “No seriously, if the building goes up in flames, don't bother trying to wake me, just tell the firefighters where they can find my corpse, okay?”

“I'm not gunna let you die in a fire,” Alex said with a slight smile, thinking him joking. When John's expression didn't change it slowly faded and he added, “wait, you're serious?”

“Yes,” John replied. “My doctors aren't fucking around with the shit they have me on.”

“Why take it then?” Alex asked. “I mean, you're just gay, no pill is gunna 'fix' that, no matter what your mother thinks.”

“Because if I don't then you'd wake up to the sound of me screaming my head off nearly every night.”

Alex tried not to stare as John moved toward the closet to collect his pajamas. He wanted to dig deeper into that mystery but the nonchalant way that John was speaking about it was a little off-putting. So his mother hadn't been lying when she'd said he was on medication for other symptoms. He also remembered the way John's father had acted at lunch, when Alex had jokingly asked John to marry him and the way the rest of the Laurens children had gone too quiet and still. He'd suspected abuse, at the very lease some kind of trauma, but that seemed less like a speculation now and more like fact. Still, Alex wasn't about to go accusing anyone of anything or even trying to pry that deep into John's life right now. He told himself to hold his tongue and let the man adjust to his college freedom, then maybe poke him with a few questions and see what kind of answers he got. If John wanted to talk, Alex could listen. If he didn't, well, that was John's choice and Alex couldn't force him.

As the door to the bathroom shut behind John, Alex backtracked on the idea of whether or not getting to know John better would be a good idea. Kid seemed alright, if not a little broken, but Alex had lived through his own traumas and he was certain he came off as weird and off-putting himself sometimes. Besides, John seemed to have a stable, if not a little secretive, relationship with Lafayette, and Aaron had said that man was basically a living saint. Saints didn't deal with psychopaths. He thought about asking Aaron to look into John as well though, just to be sure.

No, that would defeat the entire point of making a friend on his own. That kind of thing was supposed to happen slowly and naturally, not because he had his hacker boss crack his way into a person's personal computer and tell him all of their secrets. And he couldn't live in constant fear that the next person he talked to was going to know Lin and call him out on that either. Besides, that fear completely over looked the fact that most of The Company's clientele did NOT want the attention of anyone knowing they watched porn, let alone gay porn. In fact, now that Alex really stopped and thought about it, there's was a pretty decent chance he'd already met a client of his who had recognized him and just hadn't said anything to his face about it. It was both terrifying and liberating to think of, that the very thing he dreaded the most in life had just...happened, just like that, one day and that it wasn't the life changing shit storm he had imagined it to be, that it hadn't even been worth mentioning. He thought of all the clients faces he didn't see on the regular, there were far more of them then the ones he did, and so statistically speaking it was probable that he'd been spotted dozens of times and the people who knew him as Lin were just content to keep going about their day like nothing extraordinary had happened.

Huh. How completely silly his fear had seemed in the light of rational thought.

A rattling of the door jolted him from his musings, and a distorted voice he didn't recognize called, “Liiiiiiiiiin....” It dissolved into a twisted kind of laughter. He jumped up from his bed with a small scream and quickly covered his mouth. Logic and rationality be damned! Fear was a powerful pep talker and right now it was telling him he was a damn fool. “Liiiiin Gaaaarlaaaand!!”

“GO AWAY!!” he screamed, backing around the extra chair John had brought. The bathroom door opened again, John looking between the door out of their room and Alex. A rapid pounding on the door made Alex scream again and duck closer to the ground. It was another stalker, he knew it was another stalker, oh god it was another stalker and he had only just escaped the last one—

“Move,” John told him in a stern voice. Alex looked up with eyes wet from tears of fear and just barely managed to scramble out of the way. John threw open his closet and before Alex could see what he was doing the door started to open. He screamed again, even as John stepped between him and the assailant, but then Alex caught the sound of laughter from a voice he, unfortunately, did recognize. And then he saw the stupid man's face, laughing as he entered the room like the asshole he was. And that's when Alex realized John was holding a handgun. “WAIT!!!”

POP! POP! POP!

“SONOVABITCH!! WHAT THE FUCK IS THE MATTER WITH YOU ASSHOLE?!”

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY ROOM BEFORE I CALL CAMPUS SECURITY ON YOUR ASS!!”

“John, Wait!”

“FUCKING MAKE ME, JACKASS!!”

John tried to advance but Alex held him back. He looked intimidating enough, however, and Charles Lee scrambled out of the room, just barely missing getting shot again by John's air-soft gun. “John!! WAIT!! I KNOW HIM! It's Okay, I Know Him!!”

“It's not fucking okay!!” Charles called from the cover of the hallway. “Fuck, Alex, I'm bleeding!!”

“You fucking deserved that, Asshole!!”

“John, please put the gun down,” Alex said and was instantly relieved when his roommate listened. “Okay. I am not going to ask why the fuck you have that when campus rules clearly state—”

“I have it for assholes like him,” John interrupted.

“—Regardless, put it away, please,” Alex interjected. “I need to go deal with him. I'd better not see that when I come back.” He turned and left the room then, finding his asshole co-worker standing outside and wiping at the blood that dribbled from his mouth. “Are you okay?”

“Do I look okay?!” Charles shot back at him.

“Honestly, I can't even see anything wrong with you, except for your fucking head! Charles, what the fuck was that?! Why are you pounding on my door at 8 o'clock at night acting like a fucking creep?! Where you trying to give me a heart attack?!”

“Uhhhh, maybe I was sick of you fucking ignoring my texts? So I decided, 'hey, you know what will get his goddamn attention? If I show up and make him give me his goddamn attention.'”

“Well, you have it now. What do you want, Charles?”

“I need a partner for Saturday, Sally bailed.”

Alex hesitantly glanced up and down the mostly empty hallway and leaned in closer. “Keep your fucking voice down,” he hissed at Charles. “For fuck's sake, I'm already pissed at you for using my stage name when you came banging on my door, why don't you act like someone with an ounce of tact for once?”

“Aww, poor baby,” Charles said, in a lowered voice. “What's the matter, don't want anyone thingking you're chubby baby face sucks dicks for a living?” He tried to poke Alex's cheek and got his hand slapped away. “Look, I just need to know if you'll do Saturday or not.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “No. Find someone else.”

“I've already asked everyone else!!”

“And the fact that everyone declined should tell you something. It really should.”

“Aaron says I can't keep working with amateurs not signed with The Company. If I don't find someone to agree to work with me on Saturday, I'm fucked.”

“Do a solo act then. I don't care.”

“No one watches me for solo acts, Alex. C'moooooon! It's just for one session!”

“No, I have personal sessions on Saturday, I don't want you ruffling my feathers before then.”

“So let me fuck you afterwards then.”

“You're gunna wait until after midnight?”

“Fuck no. Just push them up a bit.”

Alex heaved a sigh. “Listen dickhole, I hold scheduled personal sessions every Saturday, Monday and Wednesday at very specific times, times that clients sign up for because it will be convenient and comfortable for them. I can't just change that on a whim. It's not like they sit in a queue and I pick them at random. So no, I can't move my appointments, and no, you're not gunna fuck me before I have to go earn my bread and butter pleasing them! Figure something else out, Charles.”

“Fine, I'll let you suck me off and use your toys on yourself or something, just please say you'll show up so I don't look like an ass.”

“You are an ass.”

“Alex, please! I'm basically begging here!”

Alex huffed a frustrated sigh again and rolled his eyes. “Fine, I'll show up but only for a moment to suck you off. You gotta fucking do the rest on your own. And I mean it, you're not putting shit inside me where I don't want it, got it?”

Charles grinned and Alex tried not to flinch at the sight of his bloody teeth. He could see where John had caught him and honestly it didn't look as bad as it could have been, Charles was damn lucky. Maybe that's why Alex had agreed to work with him, even though Alex already knew the ass was gunna find a way to wheedle his damn dick somewhere it shouldn't go. “I'll see you on Saturday,” he said and turned to leave.

“You're fucking welcome,” Alex called after him. “Ass,” he muttered to himself when Charles gave no reply. He shook his head and turned to go back into his room, noting that the shower was running and John wasn't anywhere in sight. He picked up his backpack from where he'd left it and pulled out the little red door jammer he always carried with him. As he worked on setting it up he heard the shower turn off and a moment later John emerged from the bathroom.

“Is he gone?” John asked.

“Yeah,” Alex replied as he stood up. “Uhh, I like to have some extra security measures when I'm sleeping, I hope you don't mind?”

John looked down where Alex indicated the little device then smiled a bit himself. “Why don't you set mine up too,” he said, nodding toward a security bar hanging from the hooks by the door. “Can't hurt to be too cautious, right?”

Alex smiled as he reached for the extra bar. “No, of course not. Is that...uh...is that why you have that gun?”

“It's not a real gun, it's an air-soft pistol,” John replied as he plopped down on his bed. “Dad wouldn't stand for his kids not to know how to handle firearms, so we all got personal lessons by the old man himself. And he's former military, soooo...”

“Oh,” Alex said. “That explains some things...”

“Yeah. I now the campus rules say we're not allowed to have guns, and I know they probably wouldn't be that thrilled about air-soft pistols either, but my father refuses to let us out into the world without some means of 'protecting' ourselves. I mean, it won't outright stop an intruder, but it'll make 'em think twice about advancing, clearly.”

“Only if they're unarmed.”

John shrugged as if it made little difference to him and not for the first time Alex wondered what he'd been through to make him act so nonchalant about a topic like facing down a crazed gunman. He was about to shrug it off mentally when John asked him, “are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Alex replied with a smile, “why wouldn't I be?”

“You kinda freaked out for a minute.”

“My new roommate just pulled a gun on an acquaint—”

“That's not what you freaked out about.”

Alex hesitated, the even look John was leveling on him still a touch unnerving. He frowned and ran a hand through his hair, looking away for a moment before making his final decision. “I had a stalker.....when I was 17. It's a....really long and complicated story, but basically I was living alone and they broke into my house. Twice. The second time they decided not to leave and I almost ended up in the back of some sicko's van who thought, for reasons I can never fathom, that we were some kind of star-crossed lover soulmates or whatever.” He crossed his arms over his chest and sighed. “So yeah, it was one of the more terrifying moments of my life. I haven't liked the idea of living by myself since. But sometimes I'm scared nice people like you would be the next stalker.” A humorless chuckle escaped him then. “Kinda messed up, right?”

“No,” John said a little quietly. “You went through something that not many people experience, and it must've been terrifying. Even if you came out of it the damage is still real. It's not okay what that person did to you, but you're still here. That's good, right?”

Alex smiled naturally at John then. “Right. We're still here.” John nodded, and for a brief second Alex thought he saw a spark ignite in that level stare.

John plopped back onto his bed then. “If it's alright with you,” he spoke up to the ceiling. “I really need to get some sleep. I've had a very trying day and I would like it to be over now.”

“Okay, John,” Alex chuckled. “I think I'll turn in for the night too.

“I thought you were gunna stay up?”

“Nah, Charles took the wind out of my sails.”

“.....who?”

“Charles Lee, the dumbass that was knocking on our door.”

“Oh. Right. Him.

“Hey.”

“Hmm?”

“The room looks really nice, by the way. I like what you've done with it.” And the last thing Alex saw before he turned off the light was John grinning happily at the ceiling.

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 7:

He felt the roaming hands of a lover's caress glide along his body; hands sliding up his neck, down his legs, across his stomach, all of them snaking around, groping his bared flesh and making him writhe about. His own hands chased them, peeling them from himself, unsure of what to do with them as there were so many. If he dropped one three more slithered in to take it's place. They touched and grabbed and moved about. Fingers rolled over his nipples, they tickled the backs of his knees and armpits, palms slapped and squeezed the tender flesh of his buttocks, running through his hair and dragged their nails carefully along the length of his arms. They fought each other to stroke his penis and stuck their phalanges in his anus; these ones he didn't pull away. They made him moan as he squirmed, and he bucked to encourage them, it felt nice to be touched. It felt nice to be held, and squeezed, and groped, and molested.

He felt the kisses next, the licking tongues, teeth biting just hard enough to arouse without causing pain. He tried to look around for who was doing this to him, who did these hands belong to? Who was controlling these mouths that teased him? He peeked behind himself and breathed a sigh of relief when he finally saw Lafayette's face, felt Lafayette's hands on his hips, pulling them closer. The man's hands snaked up his sides like they had done so many times before and John smiled as they folded over his, holding his own hands, comforting and reassuring. He swayed, feeling his best friend behind him and for a moment all felt right with the world. Then he felt the second pair of hands sliding up his torso.

He snapped his head down in time to see Alex rise up to meet him. He pressed their lips together and John leaned into it, feeling hungry for Alex's kiss. The other male pulled away then, but lingered close to his mouth, pulling away if John tried to kiss him back. “My, my,” Alex's voice purred, or was it Lin's? “You're so eager...”

“John, mon amie, you need to wait for it,” Lafayette's voice cooed in his ear. “Alexander will take care of you.”

“What is this?” John asked but Alex shushed him then, tapping a finger to his mouth.

“This is our little secret, John,” he said. Alex knelt before him and John looked down at the leaking erection he had between his legs. “You wouldn't tell anyone about me, right?”

“I told Laf,” he replied.

“Naughty,” Alex said and licked him. “How would you feel if I told my friends about what you liked to make me do?”

“I'm sorry,” John replied. “I didn't mean to tell. Are you mad at me?”

On peut se faire plaisir,” Lafayette murmured against his neck.

“That's right, you'll make it up to me,” Alex agreed. “By letting everyone watch what I want to do to you.”

Wait, John tried to say, but the word made no noise. Wait! He tried again as Alex proceeded to swallow his dick. Wait! What Do You Mean?! Answer Me!! WAIT!!

And then he noticed the eyes. All around, disconnected to anyone, eyes watching him, unblinking they saw what was happening. Eyes on him, eyes on them, eyes on the sin he was committing. He tried to pull his hands away from Lafayette, but his friend's grip was too strong now, he held John back from pushing Alex away.

WAIT!!! he tried to scream, and his voice was silent. STOP!! WHY WON'T YOU STOP?! LISTEN TO ME!! I DON'T WANT THIS!! WAIT!!! He trashed, but no matter how hard he fought, Alex would not release him, Lafayette would not let him go. His cries were silent, and he felt tears rolling down his cheeks.

“You're never going to get over him if you don't move on and be with other people, John.”

He looked up, and standing now behind Alex was Thomas.

“THOMAS!!” John screamed and was relieved to hear his voice again. “THOMAS!! HELP!! GET THEM OFF ME!!”

The other southerner reached a hand out to cup John's cheek, wiping at the wetness there. But when he pulled his hand away, John could see it was covered in blood. John blinked again, feeling the warm liquid run down his face and he knew it was blood, his blood. He looked up again into the sky of eyes watching him and felt still more blood run down his naked and sinful body.

 


 

John awoke suddenly. For a brief moment he couldn't recall where he was and he sat bolt upright to look around at his surroundings. The lights, the chair, the books, the nick-knacks he kept, what was left of those stupid candles that Laf sent him every two weeks last year when he'd complained about his then roommate's complete aversion to cleaning anything. He remembered he was back in the dorms and he briefly ran his hands through his hair, holding them at the back of his head and hiding his face as he coiled in on himself. He squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered.

Bizarre dreams weren't an uncommon side effect of the medication he was on, but holy fuck did his subconscious have it out for him last night. He took deep steady breaths until the shame he felt in his stomach began to dissipate and he didn't feel so much like vomiting or crying.

The smell of coffee eventually made him cautiously peek from the safety of his arms again at the quiet world around him. The sun filtered in through the blinds, the birds chirped outside and someone down the hall was getting yelled at to turn their damn music down because it was too early for that shit; and the world still spins, he told himself. Spying his phone on the desk next to his bed where he'd left it, John reached for it with a shaking hand. Tapping the button that brought up his lock screen, he checked the time; 6:45AM it read. He lowered the phone to his lap, counted to ten in his head and looked again. The time had changed only to 6:46AM. Satisfied that he was no longer in the middle of some surrealist nightmare bullshit concocted by his own mind to torture him about things he already abused himself for in his waking life, he pushed back his covers and and swung his feet off the edge of his bed, but didn't yet get up. Across the room he saw that Alex's bed was empty and neatly made, and he wondered where in the world his current roommate had gone off too so early in the morning. But then, maybe it was better he hadn't been here when John woke up.

John pushed his hair from his face again and cautiously reviewed the images from his dream in his mind's eye. He shivered, recalling things that left him feeling vulnerable and exposed, and he clutched at the t-shirt he wore, it's texture on his skin giving him a bit of comfort. He needed to go over what had happened in the dream again, slowly, and piece by piece to examine what it was trying to tell him.

Well, he knew what it was trying to tell him. Just get over himself and go fuck someone to get over all his stupid pining for Lafayette; that was fucking obvious. God, if he told his best friend about the dream that's exactly what he'd say it meant too. It was so painfully fucking obvious and that's probably why he felt like shit thinking about it again, because he knew what he had to do. It's just that doing it was his whole problem. Why? What could possibly go wrong? Oh no, he might have a good time. Ahhh, he could actually like the experience. Gasp, what if he met someone, and then they liked him too, and then they went out, and John got his first real boyfriend since the tragic breakup with Lafayette, and then maybe he moved in with that person, and they adopted three dogs, and a bitter old cat, and had a wonderful home flourishing with houseplants that John tended to, and on the weekends they invited the neighbors over for dinner, and swapped recipes and tips on how to care for rose bushes, and he just lived happily ever fucking after?

John snorted, going over the stupid fictional scenario in his head. It seemed ludicrous because he could see all the details of this made up bullshit, the dogs, the cat, the layout and decoration of the living room, the neighbors of course were Thomas and Lafayette because even in some made up bullshit fantasy where they weren't together anymore John still couldn't envision his life without Lafayette and Thomas would probably just stick around to annoy him, as usual. He could see everything except what his lover looked like. It was just a fully clothed body straight from the neck down, and a shadowed area around the head. In the past he'd always just put Lafayette there because that's where he'd always thought they'd wind up someday, but maybe he really did need to give up that stupid fantasy and start fantasizing in this one, the one with the mystery lover he didn't know yet.

He felt stupid for knowing it was far past time for him to move on and how long it had taken him to accept that. He looked at his phone again, unlocked it this time and stared at the picture of himself and Lafayette on his home screen. They'd harassed Thomas into taking a photo of them squishing their faces into a window so that it looked like they were stuck together inside John's phone. He'd smiled almost every time he'd seen it since; they looked fucking ridiculous. And then he started crying.

He knew he was scared of losing his best friend again, and that's why he'd clung so tightly to the feelings he had for him. Because if he didn't, then maybe the French man would drift away forever. Maybe they would grow apart. Maybe John's stupid happy fantasy was just that, a happy little dream world he'd never really get to be a part of and the reality was simply that life didn't work that way. John wanted to get married, have his own family someday, and it wasn't realistic to think Lafayette would be around everyday to be a fixed part of that. Sure, he could come and visit, but it wasn't the same as what John had wanted. It felt heartbreaking.

He sniffled, wiped at his face, and pulled up his messages to the French man he loved so much. 'Hey, so I have to go make sure my job still likes me after I abandoned them for the summer, but can we go out dancing tonight? I assume you've already scooped out the nightclubs in the area and probably know which ones would be gay friendly.' He hit send and put his phone back on his desk. Lafayette was never an early riser, so he didn't expect to hear an answer back for a while.

Walking across to the heavy wooden table that now housed his coffee maker, he found the pot a little over half full with a fresh brew. He'd figured Alex had made some when he first noticed the smell, and a small part of him was mildly annoyed. John didn't like when people went through his things. His last roommate really had no regard for what was his and what was John's and sharing the space had been a headache. He really hoped Alex wouldn't do the same. Before he could pour himself a cup, however, a folded piece of paper with his name written on it caught his eye. Curious, he picked it up and read the note inside:

G'morning!

The coffee you got tastes really good, I hope you don't mind that I stole a cup....okay two THREE cups. I left half a pot for you, I hope that's enough. I'm willing to pitch in to keep us both caffina caffeinated this semester, but I'll understand if you want me to stay out of your stuff. (And if that's the case, I'm really sorry and I promise it won't happen again!) If you leave before I get back I hope you have a good day. I'll touch base with you later this evening, okay? Go get 'em tiger!

—Alexander

John found himself smiling a bit at the note, stupid as it was. Alex's penmanship was better then his, even for what looked like a quickly scribbled letter on a piece of scrap paper. He knew he should just throw it away, but he turned and compulsively filed it away in the box of letters from Lafayette and his littlest sister that he kept.

He had opened his computer to play some music, a soft kind of low-tempo, beat-driven electronic music that he found easy to sway along to; It was relaxing and easy listening, not to mention it generally put him in a good mood. He was bopping head head along to it as he stirred in his creamer when Alex walked in muttering to himself. “Good morning,” John said, but Alex didn't respond. Instead he hung his hoodie on the rack behind the door and looked at the ceiling, tapping his finger against his palm as if counting off a beat. He shook his head and turned into the bathroom without a single glance John's way. Frowning, John told himself not to take it personally. It was only their second day together, there was bound to be some toe stepping while they figured out the steps to whatever dance was going to work best for them. And they had the better part of a week to sort that out before classes officially started.

He sat down on the extra chair he'd brought and noted that the shower had turned on. Okay, so it seemed they wouldn't bump heads on that front. John was contemplatively staring out the window at the leaves that were taking their sweet time changing colors when Alex emerged from the bathroom, hair still wet and with little more then a towel wrapped around his waist.

“Oh!” he said, spotting John folded up in his own chair. “You're awake now; Good morning!”

“Good morning,” John repeated, pointedly looking back out the window and hoping his face didn't betray his emotions.

“Did you sleep well?” Alex asked with a smile as he moved toward his closet, right beside where John was sitting.

“Yeah, it was okay.”

“Hmm yeah, getting to sleep on a bed that isn't quite your own yet is always hard the first few nights. Any interesting dreams?”

John choked on the coffee he'd been sipping and coughed into his hand, warm liquid spilling into it and dripping down his chin and neck. What he couldn't hold soaked into his pajamas and John hated how much it felt like the warm bloody tears of his dream. Alex instinctively reached to pat John firmly on the back as he coughed but pulled away when John flinched at the touch and twisted to give him a look of mixed horror and disgust. He raised his hands in front of him, the universal sign that he meant no harm but John still slunk out of his seat and away to the other chair that went to his desk. “N-no,” John answered him, but Alex caught the way his voice faltered and his suddenly strange behavior seemed completely out of place.

“Are you okay?” Alex asked.

“Yeah, it just went down the wrong pipe.” He frown at his wet hand and wiped it on his pajamas; guess this pair can go right in the wash, then, he thought to himself.

“Not a touchy guy then? I'm sorry, I'll try to keep my hands to myself. I like physical contact and I guess I just assumed you did too, with the way your....friend? Actually, is he your friend? Or is he your boyfriend and you're not telling your parents? Cuz I completely get it if you—”

John frantically shook his head and waved his free hand in front of him, as if brushing something away. “No, no Laf is just my friend now. We dated before, but that's over. He's just....” John sighed looking for what excuse to give him. It seemed lame to say Lafayette was a touchy guy as well if John was gunna ask Alex not to be. “He's Laf. He does what he wants and I've just learned it's easier to let him have his way then fight him about it.”

Alex frowned at that. “If you don't want him to touch you, you should say so.”

“I'm used to it.”

“John, that's not the point. He should respect your boundaries and if he can't he's not a very good friend.”

“He respects my boundaries. He's fine.”

Alex shrugged then. “Alright, if you say so. But just so we're clear, you don't want me touching you, correct?”

“Alex, I'm 22, we're living in a cramped dorm space and I'm not gunna flip out if you brush my shoulder or something on accident, don't worry about it.”

“Then what was that about?”

“What was what about?”

“Why'd you run from me when I touched you just now?”

“I didn't—” John started but stopped as Alex gestured between the chair he was standing next to, the one John had been occupying, and the one at his desk he was sitting in now. Alex was right, he had scurried away from him and John frantically tried to think of a plausible reason why. “I moved for unrelated reasons!”

“John, I'm not going to be mad if you tell me not to touch you.”

“If you don't want to touch me then don't touch me Alex. I don't care, I'm fine either way, it's fine. Will you drop it and just put some fucking pants on now?”

Again, Alex held his hands in front of him to ward off John's anger. “Whoa! Okay, I just wanted to know what I did to upset you, but clearly you don't want to tell me. So okay, I'll drop it but here's the thing John, if you don't clue me in to what I did then I might do it again and I don't like the idea that I'm going to upset you without knowing why. But if you want to drop this then I'll try to respect that.” He turned back to his closet and resumed picking out clothes.

John lowered his head and tried not to berate himself. He knew Alex was just trying to help but that stupid dream, of which Alex couldn't have possibly known about, had really messed with his head. “I'm sorry,” he said after a moment. “I.....I just had a really....fucked up dream last night and I let it get to my head.” He looked up briefly and then back down again as he caught sight of Alex just beginning to pull his towel off.

“Do you want to talk about it or is that all you wanted to say?” Alex said glancing over as he dressed himself.

“My head does some really fucked up shit sometimes, okay?” John sighed. “I....god please don't take this the wrong way, I just...I dreamed that you raped me last night.”

“Oh,” Alex said, momentarily freezing under the weight of those words. “Shit.”

“I—I know you wouldn't...really do that, it's just a stupid dream, it doesn't mean anything. So I'm sorry I freaked out at you, but really, we don't have to divide the room and keep to our own sides and never touch each other. I'm fine, really.”

Slowly, Alex resumed pulling his shirt on over his head, popping his head out with a worried look. “Sounds like you had a pretty rough night,” he said. “And here I thought my dream of being chased by a giant crab wearing loafers and shooting lightening bolts from it's eyes was bad.” He smiled some as John let out one single laugh. “Man, that really sucks tho.”

“Yeah, that's pretty much what you were doing,” John muttered into his coffee then shook his head. “Sorry, TMI; I don't mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“Well, you'll have to try harder then that,” Alex replied. He sat down on his own bed and smiled warmly as John peeked up at him again. “If you wanna talk about it, maybe it'll help make you feel better. No pressure tho.”

“You're really not gunna feel weird about your gay roommate having messed up sex dreams about you?”

“Nah, I know I'm handsome. But if you're gunna have sex dreams about me then I wanna be allowed to have them about you too, okay? That's only fair.” He gave John a teasing smile and was relieved when the other male shyly try to return it. “Just for the record, I consider myself bisexual, and I can talk about almost anything, it really doesn't bother me at all. So, I was sucking you off...” Alex gestured for his roommate to continue.

John thought about everything else he could recall from his nightmare and weighed how comfortable he was sharing it. “It's just that you were...ya know...and when I asked you to stop you wouldn't. That's all.”

“I see. So, how did that make you feel?”

“Unheard,” John replied, thinking of the other details of his dream. “Like my voice didn't matter....like I didn't even have one.”

“Do you feel like I don't hear you?” Alex asked, leaning forward. “Like I don't listen to you?”

“Well, I mean, you're listening now.”

“Okay...Do you feel like maybe other people don't hear you? Or that they silence you with their actions?”

John shook his head. “No, I wouldn't say that they do.”

“Really?” Alex asked gently. “You don't think that your parents don't hear you about your sexuality or that maybe Lafayette doesn't listen to your boundaries?”

“That's another matter. My parents just have a different way of thinking and I enjoy having Laf in my life. I want to be close with him.” John shifted in his seat as he made a decision. “He was...in my dream too.”

“What was he doing?”

“Holding my hand....my hands...” John frowned some as he realized something. “He stood behind me...and he held my hands...he kept me from pushing away from you.”

“So he was restraining you?”

“Yeah, yeah kind of....I tried to pull away from him and no matter how hard I fought he wouldn't let go. But...my hands were in his, I wouldn't let go either...”

“And what do you think might have happened if you had?”

John shrugged. “He would have still had a hold of me. And I don't think I could have fought him and you off....”

“Well, let's pretend you had let go and he released you. What do you think you would have done then? What were your desires?”

“I still wanted you to stop.”

“So tell me to stop.”

“What?”

“Tell me to stop. You didn't get a chance to tell me in your dream, so,” Alex shrugged, “tell me now.”

“You're...not doing anything tho.”

His roommate smirked. “Do you need me to come over there and suck your dick?”

“No!” John replied and instinctively closed his legs some.

“Okay, well then, tell me to stop teasing you about it,” Alex said in a silly voice. “Cuz if you don't I might come over there and tease you more.”

John sighed and rolled his eyes. “Okay, you were being sweet,” he blushed as Alex started to make slurping noises. “Now you're just being an ass.” He gave Alex a warning look as the man stared pumping a fist in front of his mouth. “You're being really childish, you know that right?” He jumped some as Alex spread his legs wide and slapped his inner thighs, smirking at John. All at once John realized how much his roommate was also the porn star he idolized, that Lin was sitting right there in front of him, rising slowly from his bed and lifting the shirt he'd just pulled on. He stared silently, fascinated, as the man took two steps toward him then dropped with a controlled and deliberate grace to his knees, crawling towards John with a bedroom smirk and hungry eyes. John felt his body reacting and was torn between telling Lin to knock it off or sit perfectly still and see how far he'd go. The reality of what was happening slammed into him like a truck as soon as Lin raised a hand and hovered it just over his knee. “STOP!!” John screamed and pulled closer to himself.

Lin froze, with a head tilt and a raised brow. The hand retracted, and he sat back on his heels, folding his hands in his lap. With a single blink it felt like Lin was gone, and there before him sat Alex once again.

“How do you feel?” Alex asked him.

“Terrified,” John replied. “The hell was that?!”

“Did I push too hard?” Alex asked, his face again looking worried. “Damnit, I really thought that would help. You know, like just a lesson in boundaries.”

“LESSON? Acting like you were gunna do exactly like what I just told you I had a nightmare about you doing to me was supposed to help?! HOW?!”

“Well, I heard you this time.”

“You Scared Me Half To Death!”

“Hey, c'mon, I didn't mean to—”

“So What Were You Gonna Do If I Didn't Say Stop?!”

Alex shrugged and tried to smile but even he was catching on that something was really wrong between them now. “I was just teasing.”

John nearly slammed his coffee mug down on his desk and jumped to his feet. “It's NOT Funny Alexander!! And Do You Want To Know WHY? Because One Time When I Said Stop—” He choked on his words and the tears running down his face. He shook, from fear and from anger. With the palms of his hands he pushed the tears away and steeled himself to finish. “No one in that room listened to me. And do you want to know the REALLY fucked up part of it? They told me it was for my own good, that they were teaching me a lesson and that I needed to be grateful for the way they held me down and kept thrusting into me while I screamed and cried and begged them to stop!! So this wasn't funny, and it was NOT okay. Do You Understand?”

“John, I had no idea, I—”

DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME, ALEXANDER?!

“I do,” Alex replied. “I just wanted to help, I'm really sorry, John.”

John laughed bitterly and threw his hands in the air. He knew he was now manic with righteous fury and the fear of the words he'd spoken. He didn't know what else to say that wasn't just a scream or crying, so he stormed into the bathroom and slammed the door hard behind him, causing Alex to flinch.

 


 

The bathroom door cracked open a fraction, and Alex tried to pretend like he wasn't hyper aware of the fact that John was ready to come out of hiding. He stared down at the text book he'd been pretending to read for the last hour, pretending he couldn't hear John crying, pretending he didn't feel like the biggest fucking asshole in the whole world, pretending that his bullshit fantasizing of tearing down that door with an axe and hugging John all better would actually work. For a moment all he heard was the door crack open, then, in just the smallest voice he may have ever heard, John called out, “Alex?”

“Yeah?” he replied, snapping his head to look in the direction of the door.

For a moment there was silence and then John said, “will you please get me a change of clothes? And my phone, please? I think I heard it ping, and it's probably Laf.”

“Sure,” Alex replied, immediately jumping to his feet. “Uh, anything in particular you want to wear?” he asked as he opened John's closet. Holy shit, it was meticulously organized.

“Jeans, shirt, underwear. That's it.”

“What color shirt?” He waited for a reply, but when none came he sighed and picked the green one. He picked up John's phone from his desk and handed it and John's folded clothes carefully to him through the crack in the door. “So listen, about what happened, I—” The door shut in his face. “I'm so sorry, John. I know there's nothing I can say to make it right, but—”

“then stop trying.”

Alex opened his mouth to reply, but then realized that's exactly what John didn't need from him. He needed to know he could trust Alex again, and if shutting the hell up was what John wanted from him, then he was going to sit back down at his desk and shut the fuck up until John wanted to talk. And so that's exactly what Alex did. He sat back down at his desk and he stared at the textbook he couldn't read.

 


 

John sat naked on the floor of the bathroom, his back leaning against the door and the pile of clothes Alex had fetched for him stacked beside him. He opened his phone and saw a message from Lafayette, a surprise at only 9 in the morning.

Who are you and what have you done with John?! Lafayette had sent him. It was followed by several of those cry-laughing emojis.

'You're right,' he typed back. 'I don't know what I was thinking. Forget going out, can we just do a movie or something at your place?' He leaned his head back and waited for the eventual reply.

Sure, but Peggy will be the only one home with us. You should bring Alex along so she does not cling to you. You can lay in my lap and have Alex lay in yours.

'Alex has to work tonight,' John lied. He liked Peggy, but he already knew he was likely to be a little testy about being touched and she was the last person he wanted to snap at for his own fucking issues. 'Where else can we go?'

I will ask Thomas if he would like to come over.

'I really don't want to see Thomas right now. Okay, can we just go to a park and feed the pigeons?'

The text messages stopped for a minute and John hoped his friend wasn't already just asking Thomas to crash the much needed alone time he wanted to have with his best fucking friend. To hell with letting Lafayette go, to hell with moving on. He just wanted to put his head down on the only chest he felt safe laying on and try not to cry too loud.

Thomas said he has plans, came the reply. But he said we could use his house. I still want to go out dancing tho, are you sure you do not want to go out?

'No, I don't.'

Well, there is still plenty of time from now til then. If you change your mind let me know. I know of a very good club full of many cute guys, I think you would be very happy there. :)

'I told Alex I was raped.'

A moment later his phone was ringing, Lafayette's name and picture coming up on the caller ID. John sighed, and slid the green circle over. “Hey,” he said lowly.

“Are you okay?” Lafayette asked him. “Tell me what happened.”

“I told Alex I was raped,” John repeated out loud, though his voice was still little more then a hushed whisper. “Now I feel like shit.”

“Why do you feel like shit? There is nothing you need to be ashamed of. The people who did that to you, they are the ones who should feel the guilt and shame, it should eat away at them. But not you.”

“I just kinda threw it in his face, Laf. He got in my personal space and I just....panicked.”

“Well, he should know how you feel.”

“He thinks I'm damaged.”

“You are not damaged! There is nothing wrong with you. I love you just the way you are and nothing in this world will change that. No matter how many people you sleep with or under what circumstances.”

John sighed and didn't respond. He knew Lafayette trying his best to cheer him up. What he didn't need was to rehash an old fight from years ago and get mad at his best friend on top of everything else that had happened.

“If you are uncomfortable with him moving in close you should be allowed to tell him to stop,” the French man was saying now. “Did he listen to you?”

He felt the entirety of his mood shifted with that single question. He still felt like shit, he still felt like today was off to one hell of a shitty start, but something sparked. The will not to roll over and wallow in self-pity for the rest of the day washed over him and he began to stand up. “Can I call you back?”

“Why, what is happening?”

“I just...I need to check something.

“I have one more question,” Lafayette said and went straight on into, “You have not started cutting again, right?”

John looked down at his out turned thighs and the hundreds of lines of scar tissue that mutilated them. They crisscrossed over his skin, wrapping around to his hips and running up his legs to flirt dangerously close to his own genitals. Fresh red lines cut vivid new paths into his flesh, already sticky with coagulation as the blood droplets that beaded from them worked to add what would eventually become more scar tissue to an already over crowded swatch of epidermis. “No,” he lied. “I have to go. I'll call you back in a few minutes, okay? I love you, bye.”

 


 

The bathroom door opened and Alex looked over expectantly. John stood in the doorway fully dressed and for a moment just froze as he surveyed the room, and Alex in particular. He waited, and eventually the silence cracked Alex like an egg. “John,” he started, raising from his seat, “I'm so sorry for what I—”

“Stop,” John commanded and instantly Alex was silent. John took a deep breath and rubbed at his face. He didn't want to have this conversation but the issue was already on the table. It couldn't just be ignored. “What you did really scared me,” he started. “I started to explain why, but I think we can both agree I was pretty upset. So here's what you need to know, here's what I need you to know. Twelve years ago, my parents sent me away to a place that they really felt would help me not be gay. That place did a lot of really messed up shit to me and the other kids there. I have been abused in ways I don't even remember now because my brain has blocked the memories out and if I try to pry back into them...Well, my mind does some pretty fucked up shit, okay? So you can't just apologize to me for what happened here and think that that makes everything okay, understand?”

“I do,” Alex replied.

John waited to see if he'd try to explain himself again, but this time Alex kept his words to himself. With a nod, he added, “I do see that you are trying to make amends. And I do know that you didn't mean to push me...I know you didn't mean to scare me. Thank you for listening to me. Now I know I can hear what you have to say.”

Alex took his own deep breath. “I know an apology will not make this better, but I still need to express that I am so deeply sorry for how I acted. If I had known, John, I never would have thought that was a good idea. And I feel like I should have read you between the lines there, because you were telling me you had been raped before you even came right out and said it, but I just thought it was a silly dream and that if you felt bad about it I could just make you laugh and you'd be better and everything would be okay. Instead I'm an ass and you have to lay out all this really personal stuff to a stranger, you probably don't want knowing all this about you. I'm sorry I made you do that but I just wanted you to know you could trust me to actually listen to you, if you needed me to stop, doing anything, then you just needed to tell me, just tell me if you need me to stop, and I would listen. Because it's important, and I knew that before but I know it's especially important to listen to you now. And I know I'm intense sometimes and I know I can talk too much and I know I can be abrasive but I can listen, I promise I can. So just tell me what I need to do, tell me how I fix this so we're not jerking away from each other and stepping on eggshells all semester because I don't want that, John. I really want you to like me and feel comfortable around me and I really want to be your friend because I think you're really cool and interesting and—”

John listened to Alex ramble on for a few more minutes, noting how scattered his thoughts seemed. It was comforting, in a twisted way, knowing he hadn't been the only one agonizingly upset for the last two hours. “Alex,” he finally said, expecting to get talked over as the man was in such a rant.

“Yeah?” Alex responded and John smiled softly at him.

“I just need to know that you'll listen.”

“I will.”

He nodded. “I know that now. So, what do you need now?”

Alex shift his weight some. “Is a hug too much to ask for? I'll settle for a fist bump.”

John stepped closer and opened his arms, allowing Alex to embrace him. Part of him recoiled as his roommate's hands slid up his back, remembering the hands in his dream that had crawled all over his body. He told himself this was different, that Alex's hands were there to help him, not hurt him. He told himself they'd never find their way under his clothes, never see all of his scars, never brush away his tears in the moments when he'd really need it. Not even Lin would do that. This man was Alex, his roommate, a new friend. He decided it wasn't just Lafayette he needed to let go of, it was also time to let go of Lin.

The sun comes up, the world still spins and I'm still here.

 

END CHAPTER

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 8:

The 1776 Bar and Grill was a small restaurant in the middle of campus that relied heavily on the student population to keep it afloat. It had been the prefect place for John to get a part time job as every summer business tanked and they needed to downsize to the most basic skeleton crew to get by. But each autumn, when the school year started and the students rolled in again, they looked for more people to hire. John had worked there for two school years thus far, and as he knocked on the glass doors and made a silly face at Angelica to came let him in he hoped they would want him for a third. “What's the password?” she teasingly asked him before she would let him cross.

“Viva La Revolution!” he cried, making her laugh and open the door for him. Quickly he stepped inside and she closed and locked the door behind him. Business didn't open till 11AM, 45 minutes from now and just in time for lunch, and then it ran all the way until 2AM, when it would have to shoo away a handful of drunken patrons at best. “Who's in charge today?” he asked, and Angelica gave him a sly look.

“You're in luck,” she replied, leading him back into the restaurant. “It's Mrs. Lovette today. Mr. Todd had some business in London, he won't be back til next week.” John sighed and forced a smile. Both of the owners of this place were odd. In the two years that he'd worked in the kitchen he'd only seen Mr. Todd a handful of times, skulking around, glowering at things as if they'd all somehow slighted him personally. He'd only seen him smile once, and the look had been, well, chilling. Then, there was Mrs. Lovette...

“JOHN!!” the woman called as walked around to the back part of the kitchen. Her messy hair was all put up to be out of the way and her clothes were covered in a flour. She stopped her toils kneading bread and opened her arms wide, hugging him as he approached and covering him with the flour that coated nearly everything in the vicinity. “How's it been there, love?” she asked him, cooing in her heavy English accent and dusting the heavier patches of flour off his chest. The running rumor was that Mrs. Lovette liked to collect strapping young boys to keep around the shop, as evident by how much more friendly she was toward them then she was the girls. Mr. Todd just hired whoever the hell looked competent.

“I'm alright,” John replied, smiling politely. “Just hoping you haven't hired anyone yet for the year?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “I hired a kid just last week, but he went and got his arm broke, he did. He's been rubbish at the grill ever since, and I certainly could use a lad like you back in my kitchen. I suppose I can move dear Evan to be our extra bar maid for now, that might suit him nicely, till the poor thing's arm heals. You are asking for a job again, ain't ya lad?” John nodded enthusiastically. “Right, well, I've got my crew in already for today, but I'll put you on the schedule starting next week. You got your school schedule for the semester then there love?”

Again John nodded and pulled out his class schedule, holding it up for her to look over. “I tried to keep the same days open as last year.”

“Right, I think I see that. Have Angelica get you an availability form and fill it out though, and come back on Saturday when next week's schedule goes up.”

“Okay,” John said as he backpedaled. “I'll see you on Saturday.”

Giddy with how much the day had turned around from where it had been a few hours ago, John nearly skipped back to the front of the store. Angelica looked up from tucking silverware into napkins as he approached. “I take it you successfully sold your soul back into servitude here for one more year?”

“This year it got me a shiny pack of smokes,” John said with a laugh.

“You don't smoke,” Angelica retorted.

“Well, not yet,” John replied. “I need an availability sheet. Ahh! Here we go.” He plucked one such paper from the stack of them kept tucked away under the waiter station with other applications. Swiping a pen from the checkbooks the waiters delivered at the end of patron's meals, he began to fill it out.

“Did you see the new kid back there?” Angelica asked. “Jared got him the job and he's been training him, but I don't know how in the world they expect that kid to work a kitchen by himself with a broken arm.”

“Mrs. Lovette said she'll move him to drinks til it heals. He should be okay.”

“I don't know...he seems kind of timid.”

“I was too when I started here. Y'all are a bunch of wild animals, yelling and hooting and hollering around here.” John shrugged, thinking of his own first days in the kitchen, training under the co-workers that already knew each other so well and weren't sure of him yet. He made a note to talk to the boy when he came in if the kid still seemed unsure of himself, but really he had little to fear working in their restaurant. They were a motley crew, that's for sure. As an immigrant herself, Mrs. Lovette took in anyone who looked like they could get the job she gave them done, and so John had the distinct pleasure of working with people from more then a handful of places. Usnavi told them stories of his family back in the Dominica Republic, Nala countered with her own tales of Kenya, and they even had a French waiter John had harbored a secret crush on for the first few months. However, unlike Lafayette, Lumiere was juuuuuust European. He frowned, remembering his embarrassment when he'd worked up the courage to ask the guy out, only to be laughed at and told no outright. Usnavi had to fish John out of the walk in freezer with a hot coffee and the promise that no one was gunna snitch on him if he needed to dip out of closing duties that evening to go lick the wounds to his ego and pride.

“Hey, is Lumiere still around?” John asked, as he finished filling out the form.

“It's his day off,” Angelica replied. “He's back in on Thursday. Why?”

“I was wondering if he's met Laf yet.”

Angelica shook her head and rolled her eyes. “They have, and it did not end well.”

“Really?” John replied, perplexed. “What happened?”

“I dunno, they seemed to get along at first. Then everything turned on a dime and they were screaming at each other in French. I have no idea what they said, but I can tell you none of it was stuff you'd say to your parents and not expect to be spanked for.” John frowned. As if sensing that he was thinking about him, his phone pinged and John pulled it out to read the message he'd gotten from Lafayette.

John, where are you? I am worried. :(

John groaned, remembering he'd told him he would call him back after he talked with Alex. He'd simply felt so relieved to understand that Alex would listen to him he had forgot the call from his best friend had been to make him feel better. The day was turning around, he did feel better.

'Sorry Laf, I had to go to work. I'm just finishing up here, wanna meet me for lunch?'

Of course! Thomas and I will meet you at the Starbucks down at the corner, okay?

John frowned harder, but decided not to say anything about that. 'Why didn't you tell me you met Lumiere?' he asked. “Okay, I've gotta go meet your roommate so I can hear all about this fight he had with our dear co-worker. Will you make sure Mrs. Lovette gets this?”

“Sure,” Angelica replied. “Enjoy your last days of freedom while they last, John!” she called after him and he flashed her a grin as he headed out. His phone pinged again and he looked down at it to see what Lafayette had said.

I did not think that much of him. He thinks he knows better then people when he clearly does not. He is very judgmental and overbearing.

He raised an eyebrow reading that. 'Oh hoooo, didn't like when the magic mirror told you you weren't the fairest in the land, did you Laf?'

I do not know what you are talking about.

'Will you tell me what the fight was about?'

How much did Angelica tell you?!

'She said you had a lot of heated French words to say to each other. So what was the fight about?'

Cette salope bavarde. Nothing in particular. I simply do not like the way he thinks he is right on everything and will not consider another person's feelings.

He sighed as he got to the Starbucks and sat down at one of their outside tables. 'I asked him out once, you know.'

Hmmm, I wonder why you would do that.

'Ass, you know it's because you spoiled me. He turned me down flat. I spent the night crying about it then, but I'm over it now.'

As I said, he does not consider another person's feelings. It was not right of him to laugh at you for that.

'So your fight was about me then.'

I never said that.

'I never told you he laughed at me for asking him out either.'

The animated dots appeared and disappeared several times as Lafayette tried to craft a response but he knew his friend wouldn't have one. Angelica and Peggy weren't on duty that night, it had only been himself, Lumiere and Usnavi; unless the Dominican had spilled the beans, Lafayette had to have found out about what happened from the only other person who had been involved. John saw Thomas's truck pull up before Lafayette could give him a response tho and he figured it didn't matter. It would be hard for Lafayette to avoid having a face to face conversation about this now. The truck turned into a parking space and Thomas turned it off before stepping out. “Hey,” he called as John walked over. “Are you cutting again?”

John stopped abruptly at the sudden question. “No!” he cried defensively. “Why the hell would you ask me that?!” Inside the truck, Lafayette gave Thomas an exasperated look.

“Well, your fairy gay father is worried that you are, so go talk with him about it. Do you want anything from inside?”

“No,” John said, giving Thomas a glare as he walked past. He took a deep breath and shook his head, moving around to the passenger side of the truck and opening the door. “I told you I'm not cutting again.”

“And how many times have you said that to me with a straight face and I stupidly believed you?” Lafayette countered as he scooted over to give John room to climb into the cab of the truck. “I know all your games John Anthony Laurens, you cannot play them with me.”

“So what? Do you want to stick your hands down my pants and feel me up yourself, then?” Lafayette didn't reply, just gave him a level stare. John tried to hold his gaze but eventually broke, looking down at his shoes. “Fine. I did cut this morning. Are you happy to hear that?”

Non.” Lafayette opened his arms and John finally, reluctantly, climbed in next to him. His best friend hugged him, asking “How bad is it?”

“I just needed a few band-aids, it's not even that bad.”

“Why didn't you call me?”

“You were probably still asleep.”

“So wake me up.”

“I didn't want to.”

“And hurting yourself was an acceptable alternative?”

John shrugged. “I haven't cut in a very long time, if it helps,” he muttered. “Just the last few days have been....a lot....”

“You are better then this, mon amie.”

“Clearly I'm not,” John replied. “Otherwise I wouldn't be doing it. And was running off to tell Thomas about my problems really necessarily? You know how I feel about him knowing my personal shit like that.”

“Would you rather I had jumped out of this car and pulled your pants off in public?”

“You wouldn't dare.” But another level look from Lafayette and a memory of one fight in particular where he had stripped John against his will, thankfully behind closed doors, told John that yes, that had been a serious consideration of his best friend this morning. “Ass,” John muttered.

“I expect you to show me when we get back to Thomas's, I want to be sure you are telling me the truth.”

“Oh for fuck's sake,” John sighed and lifted his hips while he unbuckled his pants. Pushing his pants down and pulling up the fabric of his boxers, he turned his legs out to expose the scarred flesh and that pads of gauze he'd taped over the fresh cuts. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, trying to ignore the way his best friend's hands ran dangerously close to areas he was no longer supposed to touch. Lafayette peeled back one pad and checked the wounds underneath, frowning unhappily as he counted off the marks on one leg, then did the same on the other.

“37,” he said, pressing the tape back against John's skin. “You cut yourself 37 times.”

“I don't really keep track anymore,” John said, pulling his pants up. “I just—” a knocking on the window from the door he'd climbed in got his attention and as he looked over he nearly screamed.

“Hey,” his little brother Henry said. “I went to your dorm but no body was there. If you're done getting sucked off by your boyfriend, can you show me where to get food?”

“Henry!!” John yelled, and reached for the door handle, but Lafayette beat him to it and reminded him that his fly was still undone. Hastily, John zipped his pants back up and got out of the car, but his little brother was already moving to the other side of the vehicle sensing his older brother's upset. “What are you doing?” John hissed at him. “Come here.”

“Nuh-uh,” Henry replied. “You're gunna hit me.”

“No I'm not, come here,” John replied through gritted teeth. He bolted around the car to try and grab his brother but the game was one they played all too often over far lesser things and Henry bolted away, keeping the truck between him and John. “Damnit, don't make me chase you!”

“Well, what are you gunna do to me?” Henry asked, hoping in place. He eyed Lafayette as the French man also climbed out of the truck, but he did not give chase to the younger boy, who bolted once more as John made a dash for him while he was distracted.

“Stop and you'll find out!” John called.

“Tell me and maybe I'll stop!”

“Henry, this isn't funny, stop!!”

“Stop chasing me then!”

“I can't chase you if you don't run!”

“You can't chase—” Henry started to taunt as he ran out behind the truck, meaning to turn a wide circle in the extra space of the parking lot, but a car blared it's horn and startled him into freezing. John heard the tires screech as he grabbed his brother and swung him back against the back of Thomas's truck, pinning him there with his own body and praying they wouldn't get hit.

“The fuck is the matter with you?!” John heard the driver scream at them.

Désolé! Désolé! Sorry!” he heard Lafayette call back, running to make sure they were okay and waving the car past. John felt his brother hug him tight. He buried his face in the shorter mop of curly hair on the young man's head and thanked god nothing had happened.

“Are you okay?” John asked as the car drove away. Henry nodded and John sighed, hugging the little shit he called his brother again. “Good,” he sighed, then swatted him upside the head.

“OW! JOHN!!”

“This is why we DO NOT run in parking lots!!” John angrily hissed at him. He grabbed his brother by the arm, squeezing tightly, and started walking him back toward the sidewalk. “When I say come, you come.”

“John! You're hurting me! Let go!!”

“John,” Lafayette chided. “Calm down.”

“Stay out of this, Laf!” he said, whirling on his best friend. “You want to give me lectures about how I should live my life, that's fine, but don't you dare—”

In the moment that John was distracted, his brother yanked his arm free. “YOU SOUND JUST LIKE DAD!!” he screamed and John's attempt to snatch him again stopped cold.

“...what?”

“I said, you're not our father, John!”

“That's not what you said,” he countered.

“It's what I meant!”

“THAT'S NOT WHAT YOU SAID, HENRY!!”

“Okay, Enough!” Lafayette said, working his way between John and Henry. “John, you need to get a grip. And do not tell me to stay out of this, I will not sit here and watch you blow up at your brother because you are upset about...other things.”

“Like being gay?” Henry sneered. John almost lunged for him but Lafayette stopped him with a wave of his hand and a look that warned John he would receive no further warnings to calm himself from the French man. Lafayette waited to be sure John understood his unspoken message then, slowly, he turned his attention to Henry in such a way that the younger male took a step back on instinct.

“Your brother is gay, Henry,” Lafayette said in a calm and even tone. “As you have said, that is a well known fact. So what? Why does our love for each other bother you so much? Hmm?” Henry looked between Lafayette and John, seeking some clue as to how he should answer the man standing before him. “Are you threatened by it in some way?” Lafayette asked him. “Does it scare you somehow? Or are you merely regurgitating the rhetoric your father and your mother has raised you to believe is true without ever once stopping to think about whether or not it is for yourself? Do you think about why you should or should not do certain things, or will you live your whole life out doing only what other people tell you to do?”

“Look, John, I don't give a single shit what you wanna do with your penis,” Henry replied, surprising both his brother and the French man standing in front of him. “Just like, keep it behind closed doors, alright?”

“Why?” Lafayette injected. “There is nothing wrong with him, or me. We are human and we deserved to be loved as openly as you—”

“Hey, if you wanna hold his hand and kiss him in public, be my guest! But even if you had a nice rack and curves in all the right places I'd still be telling you not to not to put your mouth on my brother's dick where any passer by could just look over and see him!”

John stepped past Lafayette, it was his turn to hold him off with a wave of his hand and tilted his head to the side. “Are you saying you don't care that I'm gay?”

Henry shrugged, as if it wasn't a big deal. “I know Martha and Mary say it more then me and Elias, but yeah.”

“Then...why did you call me a faggot yesterday?”

Henry looked down at his shoes and shrugged. “You are one. So what?”

“So, I was hurt when you said it, that's what.”

“But I didn't mean to hurt you. I said it cuz Dad does.”

“That doesn't make it okay. You know that right?”

Henry shrugged and refused to look up at his brother. “Are you mad at me?”

“You're my little brother, being pissed at you I my default setting,” John replied. He reached for Henry and pulled him into a hug. “I still love you, you stupid little shit.”

“I love you too, you queer fruit cup.”

“Not cool.”

“Gay fairy?”

“Also not okay.”

“Flaming homo?”

“Nope.”

“Well how come you get to call me a stupid little shit and I can't insult you back?”

“Because I'm older then you squirt.”

“That's not fair!”

“Yeah, well....neither is this!” John said as he wrestled his brother into a headlock and ground his fist aggressively into the top of his skull while Henry squirmed and yelled and reached up to pull John's hair in an effort to get him to let go. John laughed despite the pain and moved instead to blow a raspberry against his little brother's cheek before letting him go. Henry indignantly wiped at the saliva left on his skin, narrowed his eyes, and charged at John, shoving him with a shoulder. John caught him and pushed back, reaching a hand down to tickle his brother's stomach when the boy refused to yield. Henry's footing faulted and he had to retreat. He threw a few half-assed punches and swipes at John, who deflected most of them with reflexes honed from years of play fighting.

They swiped and wrestled for a minute more, eventually ending as John picked his brother up about the middle and spun him around, both of them laughing. He hugged his little brother and planted a kiss where he'd earlier given him a noogie, then reluctantly let him go as he squirmed free. “Hey,” he said, catching Henry's attention. “Did you really need me to show you were the grocery mart is?”

Henry looked over to Lafayette, and John followed his gaze to see his best friend leaned up against Thomas's truck, facing away from them. His brother looked back up at him and said, “You guys really shouldn't be so careless, John.”

“It wasn't what you thought it was, Henry.”

“If you weren't about to get some, what were you doing?”

John felt almost sick with how relieved he felt that his brother hadn't seen his scars. No one in his family knew how much pain he inflicted on himself and it was his honest to god intention to take that with him to the grave. “Okay, you're right,” he said lowly, unable to come up with a better excuse. “I was gunna get some.”

“Uh-huh,” his brother replied as if the answer didn't impress him. “Well save it for the bedroom, or at least up put the windshield blind. Anyone could have seen you.”

“We aren't in South Carolina, ya know,” John replied. “People around here don't care as much if I'm gay.”

“I told you, it's not the gay that bothers me. It's that people could see you, more specifically your dick. You think Dad would be happy to bail you out of jail for indecent exposure?”

“Okay, point taken,” John replied, and he smirked at the way his brother swelled with the pride of being right. Even tho John knew it was a long shot he would have gotten arrested for showing Lafayette his cuts, he couldn't deny the twinge of fear he felt at hearing the young man's words. If he did get picked up for something like that he'd have a far harder time convincing their father it wasn't because of lewd activities. “I'll be more careful. Thanks, squirt.”

Henry shrugged. “You're my brother. You look out for me from the front and I watch your back, that's all.” He put his hands in his pockets and rocked on his feet for a minute. “I could use some directions to the nearest food mart tho. I can't find the Piggly Wiggly.”

John rolled his eyes. “Did you only search for Piggly Wiggly?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Because they don't have that here.”

“Yeah, I know that, John. So what's the name of the food mart?”

“You can search your phone for 'grocery store,' and it will give you ALL the stores that fall under that category, dumbass.”

“Really?” Henry pulled out his phone and spent a minute trying out John's advice. “Oh hey, that helps.”

“You're welcome,” John replied. “And don't spend all your food money on junk food. Buy some fruit at least.”

“You're not our mother, John,” Henry retorted, but smiled at him. “I'll go get out of your hair now.” He nodded towards Lafayette and then looked back at John. “An y'all—”

“We'll be careful,” John replied. “Go, get yourself gone.” As his brother hurried off, John turned back to his best friend. He walked toward Lafayette and reached form his arm, not surprised at all when the French man turned to him with eyes brimming with tears. “Hey,” he said. “Wanna talk?”

Lafayette shook his head and wiped at his eyes with his hand. “It is of no concern,” he said.

“Bullshit,” John replied. “It's bullshit that your mother won't let you have a relationship with your half siblings, Laf. They're your family; they should know who you are.”

“Thank you, mon amie,” Lafayette sniffled. “You are right. They should.” He shrugged then as if it was of no consequence. “But then, how could they believe that I am their sibling when I look so different?”

“Who cares about that? They'd be so blessed to know you.”

“I know. But unfortunately, my mother and her new husband care. I have to respect that. At least for two more months.”

“What happens in two months?”

“The oldest turns 18. I intend to send her a letter. And, if her response is warm, I intend to meet with her upon my return to France in May.” He gave John a small but hopeful smile.

“She'll want to meet you,” John told him. “She'd have to be crazy not to want to meet you.” He hugged his best friend and silently prayed that his own words weren't bullshit. Of course he knew there was a possibility Lafayette's mother would still forbid the meeting or even sabotage it by swaying her daughter with her own version of events, but of course that didn't mean John didn't think Lafayette should try. Martha was barely a year younger then him, and Henry was just over two years behind her. John couldn't even recall a time when he didn't have siblings, and he couldn't imagine what his life would be like without them. Quieter, he supposed. Looking up at Laf, he new it was dreadfully lonely.

They stood together for a moment, John offering comfort to the French man in the same ways he often tried to comfort John, with back rubs, hard squeezes and occasional kisses to his cheek.

“So,” Thomas called and both John and Lafayette turned to see him sipping on an iced coffee. Behind him trailed Alex and a man John had never seen before. “What'd I miss?”

 

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 9:

He'd hoped talking things out with John would make the words swimming around on the page before him somehow make sense, but alas, Alex was having no such luck with it. He knew he shouldn't be that worried about it, after all classes didn't start for another week, but sometimes Alex had a hard time waiting patently for things to get underway. He always dove right into his text books as soon as he got them, taking notes as he thought they would be relevant, doing his own further research into what topics especially interested him. He just loved learning. Anything, everything. He wanted to be good at everything he did, he wanted to be valued, he wanted to be helpful and sought out, and trusted.

John had left smiling. But his words kept echoing in Alex's head.

Because One Time When I Said Stop—No one in that room listened to me.”

How many, Alex wondered. How many people stood in that room and didn't do a damn thing? Two? Three? More? How many thought raping a child—oh god, he couldn't have been older then ten if Alex's math was correct—was just another ordinary Sunday afternoon?!

They told me it was for my own good, that they were teaching me a lesson.”

Who in their fucking right mind thought that was even remotely appropriate? Were they ever brought to justice? How could anyone ever fucking justify hurting another human being that way, let alone a child? And exactly what lesson was John supposed to learn from that? Not to trust adults, other human beings? That intimacy was something to fear?

I have been abused in ways I don't even remember now.”

This one broke Alex's heart the most. It was one thing to endure that kind of trauma, to know what someone did and to have to live with that knowledge the rest of your life, but how could someone begin to heal when they couldn't even process what had been done to them? Had John just been suffering for twelve years? And told that he deserved it for being gay? Had no one ever told him otherwise?

Alex took a deep breath and pushed away the tears that were blurring his vision. As a sex worker, what John had told him was absolutely horrifying. He regretted wanting to know what made John disassociate, why his doctors thought he needed such serious medications. John had explained his other pills to Alex as he looked on curiously while he'd swallowed them that morning. A pill for his sleeping to be taken at night, another for his depression to be taken before breakfast, a booster pill to help his body with the antidepressants to be taken with the other one, and another pill he carried on him for “as needed” anxiety and panic episodes that he told Alex he didn't even like taking because it was little more then a high dose tranquilizer and simply knocked him out so he couldn't panic in the first place. Alex had asked if therapy had helped him at all and John had just shrugged. “Honestly, this is probably as better as I'll ever get.”

He wished he'd asked for Lafayette's number. He had a feeling the French man knew so much more about what was going on with John and right now Alex could really use someone to talk to, someone who could tell him what he needed to do to help. But then, he'd also noticed how deflective Lafayette had been about John's episode at lunch the other day, brushing off his weird behavior so that John's parents didn't think he was acing strange, and Alex wondered if he'd even feel comfortable opening up to him about the guy. No, if he was aware of how bad John was hurting then Alex had to believe Lafayette would appreciate Alex's desire to help; even if Lafayette wouldn't tell him John's story at the very least he would tell him what to do to keep from fucking John up even more, right? Well, he hoped so, anyway.

Alex shut the textbook in front of him with a sigh and leaned back in his chair. Brushing away the tears that still clouded his eyes; he told himself he needed to think of something else for a minute, that he couldn't do anything for John now, that the last thing his roommate probably wanted was to be treated like some fragile glass doll that would break if Alex dropped him. He got up and went to pour himself another cup of coffee, but when he realized he'd already finished off what John hadn't he sighed again. This was probably why he felt so antsy.

A walk should clear my head, he thought to himself, and brushed off the fact that he'd already gone for one earlier. He liked going for walks early in the morning, before people were awake for the day and he could roam the streets talking to himself a little louder then he tended to otherwise. If he did that kind of thing when people were awake and around to see him they tended to look at him with pity; with his own broken in shoes and the hoodie that was two sizes too big for his slender frame and the loose fitting jeans he kept up with a belt that were tattered at the bottom and the backpack that he'd had for the last 5 years being held together with duct tape and a prayer, yeah, he looked enough like a homeless bum that people wanted to offer him some kind of charity. The thing is, he hid himself in clothes that didn't fit and carried around a bag that had seen better days because then people thought he wasn't worth shit and left him alone. They didn't steal his things, and they didn't think he was anyone they should care about getting to know. They kept their distance. On a few occasions they just handed him bus money, which always made him laugh before he handed it back to them with the assurance that he did in fact have a job. He just never told them what that job was and of course it wasn't one where you'd walk into a store and see him there behind the counter.

By now of course the college campus was coming alive again with life, shops opening their businesses, eagerly awaiting the students that would bring in new revenue and the regulars that kept them afloat in between. Fraternities and Sororities already had stations set up looking to recruit new members, clubs and extracurricular activities competing with their own signs and banners and fliers. He scurried past the more assertive recruiters, keeping his head down and blending in with the crowd of people around him as they moved from one place to another. Alex disliked navigating foot traffic, but eventually he made it to the Starbucks shop on the corner of one of the more busy shopping streets. He opened the door and was relieved to see the morning rush had already passed through.

“Good morning welcome to—” the barista behind the counter started to say, but stopped as soon as Alex stood in front of him smiling. James Madison sighed almost forlornly at the scrappy youth in front of him and put a hand on his hip. “Hello, Alex.”

“Hi James,” Alex replied and bounced a little in place. “Glad to see you still work here. Got a minute?”

“You need to order a drink first,” James replied, a small smile tugging at his lips.

“I've had like five coffees already tho,” Alex told him.

“In a row?” Alex held up a hand and wobbled it, making James laugh pitifully. “Who let you drink five coffees in a row?”

“My new roommate,” Alex said with a grin. “He has a coffee machine. I quite like him.”

“Oh lord, that poor soul,” James nearly whispered. “I get off in about an hour, but a friend was coming to pick me up.”

“You mean your booooooyfriiiiiiiend?” a co-worker said as she popped up from the cabinet she was cleaning below. She flashed Alex a grin when she saw him. “Oh shit, it's your first boyfriend!” she laughed.

“First boyfriend,” Alex asked as he looked between James and the girl he recognized as Mimi, James's coworker. Alex put on dramatic voice and added, “I thought I was his only boyfriend?! James! What's this I hear about you having...” He dramatically pressed the back of his hand to his own forehead. “Another Lover?!”

“Oh no,” James sighed.

“You said I was your most passionate lover ever, was I still not enough?! Oh, is my sweet Caribbean caramel body just...Not to your tastes?!”

“Well, it would seem I'm just a little more fond of chocolate.”

Alex's eyes flashed and he grinned at James who smirked quietly back at him. “Daaaaark?”

“Milk.”

“Ooooo. Tall?”

“And handsome.”

“I thought I was handsome?”

“You're scrappy. He's...a little more sophisticated.”

“I can be sophisticated!”

“But you're still pushy. Besides, he's a Virginian, like me.”

“Ahh I see. Easier to take home to mom and pop then, eh?”

“Yeah.”

“You ask him out yet?”

“I get the feeling he wants to ask me.”

“Has he asked you?”

“Not yet.”

“So ask him out!”

James shook his head. “I'm letting him case me until I catch him,” he replied.

“That makes no sense,” Alex huffed.

“If I chase him, he'll run and I'll never catch him. So I have to let him chase me.”

“What if he wants you to chase him?”

“Oh, he does. But that's exactly what all his other suitors do, it's what he's used to.”

“And if you do exactly what all his other suitors do, he wouldn't distinguish you from any of the rest of them.”

“Exactly.”

“Huh,” Alex mused, thinking that over. “That's kind of cleaver. I'll have to remember that.”

“What do you want to drink, Alex?”

“Do I have to order a drink? I really just wanted to talk.”

“The fee for my therapy is one large drink, Alex. You know this.”

“Well, what do you recommend?”

“I recommend you don't get any more coffee if you've already had five cups. Would you like me to make you a strawberry and cream frap? They're really good.”

Alex sighed and nodded, even tho he was sick to death of the taste of strawberries and whipped cream. It was too common a request in his line of work; but of course, James didn't know that and Alex's wasn't about to lie about having a food allergy when he didn't, lest it come back and bite him in the ass somehow. He fished out some money and handed it to the barista, then carefully filed away the change he was given.

“So,” James said, moving down the line since it was slow to fill Alex's order. “Tell me about your woes.”

“I upset my new roommate already.”

“Oh noooo,” James said with mock concern as he measured out the ingredients for the drink. He just thought Alex was being melodramatic, as he was sometimes prone to do. “I think that's a record, Alex. Didn't you just move in yesterday?”

“Less the 24 hours, shit you might be right. When was the first time I upset you?”

“You can't upset me Alex, I'm unfuckwithable.”

Alex chuckled. “That's not a word.”

“You said it was a word when we were playing Scrabble that one time.”

“And you told me it wasn't and you wouldn't let me have it.”

James smiled at him as he turned the blender on and allowed the drink to mix for a moment. As he stopped the machine and began pouring Alex's drink into a cup he said, “Well, maybe it is a word now.”

“Then you need to concede that I won that game.”

“The thing about language is that it's constantly changing and evolving, Alex. What wasn't a word one day can find itself becoming a word the more people begin to use it in their everyday lives.”

“Absolute fucking balderdash.”

James slid Alex his drink and handed him a straw as he leaned over his side of the pickup counter. “I think someone is just mad that they lost a little game of Scrabble.”

“I think someone is just smug they think they won because they wouldn't let their then roommate have an ingenious word that they've now stolen and used against said roommate,” Alex said with a smirk.

“Hurts to have your own work turned against you, eh?”

“I tire of talking about my woes,” Alex said with a dramatic flourish, nearly tipping the drink all over himself. He caught it just in time though and licked off what little had made it up and out the hole at the top of the domed lid. “Oh, this isn't that bad...but tell me about this boy you like. What's his name? What's he like?”

“His name is Thomas,” James said, moving away to do some cleaning of his own. “He started coming in two months ago and we got to talking.”

“About what?”

“Well, Virginia at first. How much we miss it.” James ignored the way Alex made a face of disgust. “Where our families are from. They're actually pretty close, just an hour drive away.”

“That'll make the holidays convenient.”

“I don't think he's ready to bring me home to his family.”

“Why not? You're a catch.”

“Thomas says he has a big family.”

“How big?”

“Fifteen kids.”

Alex choked on the sip he was swallowing. “Holy shit! Fifteen Kids?!”

“They're not all his full siblings.”

“Jesus,” Alex sighed. “Thank god for that, I can't imagine his mother would have been too happy otherwise. Also, aren't you an only child?”

“I am.”

“Think you can handle a huge family like that?” Alex smirked. “It's gotta be quite chaotic at dinner.”

“I imagine so, but only ten of them are still at home. Thomas says he has two full sisters, one older then him and one younger. Then there's his four step siblings from when his mother remarried, that brought him two more sisters and two little brothers. Then they had three more kids, those are his half siblings of course, and he got another two sisters and another brother. And then they adopted three more girls and two more boys. They just adopted the youngest one nine months ago, Thomas met him for the first time when he went to visit over the summer.”

Alex sighed and shook his head, still in disbelief at the large number of siblings this Thomas fellow had to contend with. He'd lived for a time in a group home that had housed 12 other minors and then himself, so Alex was well aware of what it was like to be one voice in a sea of many but seeing as he'd also decided to make his stay there as short as humanly possible he couldn't fathom having to be raised and brought up in a family that big. He also wondered about the children that were being adopted into it. As a kid from the foster system himself he'd seen both the good and the bad side of where wards of the state wound up. “Do you think they're doing the right thing?” Alex asked. “Taking in more kids when they got so many already?”

“He showed me pictures,” James replied. “I didn't get the feeling that any of his siblings were unhappy. But you can ask him yourself if you'd like, he just pulled up.” James nodded toward the door and Alex turned to see the same Thomas from yesterday as he pulled it open to step inside. He pushed back half of his hair and strode forward, beaming at James until right before he noticed Alex standing in his way; Alex laughed to himself as his mind played the sound of a record being ripped off a player when Thomas's smile fell off his face upon seeing him.

“Hamilton,” the taller man said as he looked down on him.

Alex let go of the straw he'd been sucking from. “Thomas,” he answered. “What can I do ya for?”

“You couldn't afford me,” Thomas started to say but stopped when Alex snickered. “What?”

“Oh nothing. It's not important.” He turned and gave James a look. “Is-thop is-hop our-yop ister-mop ilk-mop ocolate-chop?”

“The hell's the matter with you?” Thomas asked as James squinted at Alex's brightly grinning face. The barista was still salty Alex had cracked his secret code of note taking.

“Thomas, what can I get for you?” James asked, distracting the man from eyeing Alex distrustfully.

“My usual,” Thomas replied, smiling at James. He waited for the barista to step back to the cash register, then turned a steely gaze back onto the smaller male standing in front of him. “So, Hamilton—”

“Call me Alex.”

“Whatever. I heard you fucked with John this morning.”

Alex frowned as he set his drink down. “Who told you that?”

“People talk. You want to explain your side of it?”

“I don't think I have anything to explain. Unless you wanna tell me what it is John told you?” Thomas fidgeted and Alex eyed him, suspecting it wasn't John that he had spoken to at all. Which means whatever John told Lafayette this morning had leaked out to Thomas and now he was catching heat from some twisted game of telephone. Great.

“Listen, you little shit,” Thomas said lowering his voice, “John is a really good friend of mine and if you play games with him or screw with his head I'll make sure no one ever finds a single piece of your body, understand?”

“Are you threatening me?” Alex answered, bristling despite the chill of fear that nestled inside him.

“I don't make threats, Hamilton,” Thomas replied coolly. “I make promises. Don't mess with John.”

“You know, John's a big boy, Tommy. Why don't you let him and me figure out how we wanna deal with each other and you can step right off, asshole.”

Thomas opened his mouth to reply but a hand on his arm caused him to turn the glare he was fixing on Alex onto James. Unflinchingly, the barista held out his finished drink order and softly said, “I'm off for the day, we can go now, Thomas.”

“The other two are out in the car,” Thomas told him, his voice resuming a casual conversational tone and his glare was gone in a blink. “So you'll get to meet the besties, finally. But we'll have to throw Lafayette in the back of the truck, my cabin only holds three.”

“Oh, I can sit in the back, I don't mind,” James replied, smiling at Alex as Thomas widely shook his head.

“Nonsense, you'll sit in the front with me. The boys can play rock-paper-scissors for the other seat if they want, but driver gets final say.”

“Well, if you insist, Thomas.”

“I do.”

“Have you met my friend Alex?” James said, gesturing to the other male and watching Thomas's reaction.

“I have,” Thomas replied pleasantly, but Alex could hear the hesitation to say anything more in it.

“We shared a room,” Alex offered, grinning at the jealous look he received. “Last semester, we were roommates. So I think if anyone wanted to know anything at all about James, they would have a harder time finding a better source of information then me.”

“Haha, I think I'll be okay. We should really get going now, James.”

“Alex, would you like to come with us? I can show you that thing we were talking about earlier.”

“Oh, of course!” Alex replied before Thomas could block him. “I have nothing better to do then pal around with some buds. And Thomas and I can get to know each other better. After all, I'm roommates with his best friend now.”

“Oh, small world,” James said pleasantly. “Then I assume you'll be coming to his party?”

“Party?” Alex looked to Thomas who grinned at him in a way that clearly told Alex he didn't want him to come.

“Oh, just a very private get-together I like to host at the start of October. Bit of a tradition now. Strictly invited guests only.”

“Wow, I've never been to such an exclusive college party,” Alex replied, pretending he didn't catch the hidden meaning in the man's stressed words. “I'd love to come, sounds like John and I would have a great time.”

“Great,” Thomas said through gritted teeth. “I'll text you the details later.”

Not one to be brushed off so easily, Alex pulled out his phone and opened up a new text message, then waited expectantly for Thomas to give him his number. With reluctance, Thomas recited the number from memory not daring to use a fake number in case James called him out on it, and forced himself to grin as Alex shot him a text message that just said, You're not the only one who can make vague little promises. James is MY good friend. Be good to him.

“Got it?” Alex asked him.

“Got it,” Thomas replied.

“Good.”

“We should get going,” Thomas said, moving toward the door as he pocketed his phone.

“What was all that about?” James whispered to Alex as they moved to follow but the other male just waved dismissively. “Alex, I know how to read between the lines.”

“We can talk later,” Alex said. He decided he'd warn James about Thomas's attempt to threaten him, even though he got the distinct feeling it was little more then hot air. Thomas struck him as the kind of guy who was used to people giving him what he wanted, and using idle threats or intimidation to get what he wanted when they didn't. He wasn't like Aaron who could find out everything about you with a few strokes of a keyboard or deport a man with a click of his mouse and Alex relaxed knowing that if things came to blows at least he had Aaron on his side. But then, Alex doubted it would come to that. As he calmed in the wake of his brush with Thomas, he realized what the threat really meant; just that John was someone he cared a lot about and wanted to protect. Alex would have probably said the same thing if their roles were somehow reversed. It still rubbed him the wrong way, but hey, he didn't even have intentions of messing with John. He knew it would be fine. He told himself it would be fine. He really thought it would be fine.

 

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 10:

“Hey,” Alex said to John as he climbed up into the back of Thomas's truck. Despite his earlier words, it would seem that the driver didn't have final say in seating arrangements when a stubborn South Carolinian was involved. “Fancy meeting you in a place like this. You come here often?”

John laughed some as he settled down, laying out on the bed of the truck. “You're gunna wanna get low,” he warned. “Thomas takes turns a little sharply.” He scooted over to give Alex some room and pulled his hands in when the other male brushed them accidentally. Remembering the morning's talks that he wouldn't do that, however, John intentionally bumped Alex's hand with the back of his and ended up accidentally drawing his attention to it.

“Yes?” Alex asked him and John faltered, trying to come up with an excuse as to why he'd bumped him. But Alex grinned and just took hold of John's hand in his, intertwining their fingers together and resting it on the bed of the truck between them. The truck started and Thomas peeked down at them from the front.

“No making out in the back of my truck,” he chided.

“You're not our mother, Thomas!” Alex shot back, mimicking John's siblings and making the other male laugh.

“Don't make me come back there!”

“Don't make me come back there,” Alex mocked in a low voice as John snickered beside him. God it felt good to make him laugh. “Man, Thomas is a tool.”

“A bit yeah,” John replied softly.

“You know he gave me shit about upsetting you this morning, while we were inside.”

“What?” John asked his eyes flashing. “I didn't tell him—ugh! Laf...”

“Sorry, I just thought you should know. And I kinda figured it was something like that.”

“I'm sorry Thomas got on your case. I hope he wasn't too much of an ass?”

“I'm still here aren't I?”

John snorted. “What did he say?”

“Ahh, just that you're someone he cares about and if I were to hurt you I'd wake up six feet underground in some undisclosed location, that kind of thing.”

“He doesn't scare you?”

“Nah, I ain't scared of shit.”

“Oh-hoooo?” John said, a teasing tone to his voice. “Is that sooo, Alexander? What about stalkers?”

“Okay, but no, that's another matter entirely! Have you ever had one of those? They are terrifying!”

“How come?”

“You don't know what they want. Wait, no...you know they want you, but you don't know why, what purpose they have in mind, or what they plan on doing once they have you. Or they tell you why and that's even worse, cuz then every time you see them somewhere you think of that and how much you don't want it...and how much they...do...And they're never sound of mind....like, when they keep showing up, because they're so fixated on you and they just refuse to see anything else, that's really scary. They scare you and they don't even understand why they scare you because to them it's just another Tuesday, going through your things, following you whenever you leave the house, taking photos of you without your knowledge or consent while you're just trying to....do your shopping, eat out with friends, live your life...You're not a person to them anymore, you're an idea, and something they've built into their minds to be something far greater then you ever could be, and god help you if you fail to live up to that for them, they'd freak out at you for daring to disappoint them. And you don't know them, you don't know what they're really like, you don't know what they might be capable of; will they hurt you if you set boundaries? Will they hurt your friends or family if you're out with them? How will they retaliate? When will they retaliate? How do you protect yourself from people like that when you don't even know who might become one...?”

Alex felt John squeeze his hand some and he returned the gesture. “Sorry,” he said, a little embarrassed to realize he'd been rambling. “Sometimes I can talk a lot.”

“That's okay, I like the sound of your voice,” John replied. “It would probably be even more soothing if you were talking about something less frightening then stalkers, but you know.” Alex chuckled some, smiling at John.

“You're not a stalker, right John?”

“Oh, I am,” John said a teasing smile on his face. “I know so much about you. More then you'd ever want to tell me.”

“You do not,” Alex replied, trying to force a smile on his face.

“Do too!”

“Okay, fine. Prove it. What's my favorite color?”

“Yellow!”

Alex snorted. “No it's not.”

“Red?”

“Not even close.”

“The color of Thomas's jacket?”

Fuchsia?! Nah.”

“Okay, so that's the one thing I don't know.”

“It's green,” Alex told him. “I really like the color green.” He patted his chest and smoothed over the oversized faded green hoodie he wore. “It can be elegant or obnoxious, goes with pretty much any other color, and I think I look damn good in it, don't you agree?”

“I dunno, I think I need to see you in Thomas's coat first, see if maybe that looks better on you.”

“What, do I look like a Barbie to you?”

“Maaaaaaaybe,” John grinned at him.

Alex smirked back. “Okay new question, Mr. I know all of Alex's secrets, what was I doing last Saturday night?”

“Oh, that's easy, you were working,” John replied before he could stop himself. It was true, every Saturday at 8PM Alex was starting his cam shows, and John's slot always started at 11:45PM, the last slot of the night. He had Lin's attention for 30 minutes and they had spent every Saturday together under those conditions for the last several months. But as soon as he said it he saw something shift in Alex's face, a kind of fear wash over him for just a second. “Well? Was I right?” he asked, feigning innocence.

Alex snorted and his smile returned. “Lucky guess. But I'll bet you can never guess what my job actually is?”

That was a trap. John saw it a mile away. Alex was testing him, to see if he actually did know him. He tried to look thoughtful as he internally panicked. On the one hand, John never once intended for Lin to see his face or hear his voice. Hand to god, John wanted to keep his own anonymity in tact because if later on down the line he needed Lin's services, he was hoping Alex not knowing who he was would allow that to happen just as it had been for the last year. Then of course there was the way Alex had been so secretive about his job. He didn't want anyone to know what he did as much as John didn't want anyone to know he was the one Alex did it for. So John had to make a choice, either tell Alex he knew who he was or....

“Therapist,” John replied and the surprised relief he saw in Alex's face told him he'd made the right choice.

“Therapist?”

John nodded. “Maybe like, crisis center? You know, for like, one of those numbers you call when...you're feeling suicidal and stuff? You're the guy on the other end of the line that handles the call. You talk to people, you give them comfort.”

“Really? That's what you think I do?”

“Customer service job for a company where you handle incoming needs? Isn't that what you said at lunch the other day? So like, call center work, right?”

“Where did you get therapy from tho?”

“From this morning. You like to help people, don't you Alex?”

“I....just wanted to help you...”

“But...the crisis line makes the most sense...” John said, once more feigning innocence. “Especially if you can't discuss with other people what you do for a living because you could get fired for it....Am I right?” He was putting the ball back in Alex's court, giving him the opportunity to confess to John. So now either Alex could own up and tell John himself what he really did or...

“Well, you'd be right,” Alex said with a charming smile. God, it was the same smile Lin gave him all the time and suddenly John saw how well rehearsed it was, how easy, how perfect, how.....fake. “But don't tell anyone I told you that. It can be our little secret, okay?”

“Okay,” John agreed, squeezing Alex's hand once more. “Our secret...”

 


 

Burr listened to the conversation coming in through the transmitter he'd planted on Alex's phone and swore under his breath. John was toeing a dangerous line and he did not like it. No, he did not like it one bit. It didn't matter that the boy seemed to be a total closet case, he was edging into things that could upset the balance of how he kept his life running. Of course, if John told Alex who he was and upset one of Burr's most lucrative employees, well it would only make everything in John's life go to shit. Burr would personally oversee it burned to the ground if it came to that.

“Okay, new question!” he heard Alex say to which Burr muttered, “Steer him away from the job, you asshole,” but of course Alex couldn't hear him. Some kind of sloshing sound was heard, followed by Alex asking, “what's my new favorite drink?” Burr relaxed in the knowledge that Alex wasn't a complete moron.

“I dunno, it looks like some kind of pink drink,” John's voice replied.

“Wanna try it?” Alex asked him and as soon as John said yes Burr understood a new problem. Alex liked this new little roommate of his. Of course, Alex tended to like anyone who thought he was cute and wanted to snuggle with him, so that wasn't wholly a surprise. But thankfully up until that year most of his roommates had seemed disinterested in reciprocating Alex's attempts to be affectionate. Now this little John Laurens bastard was getting too close for comfort and snuggling up where he really shouldn't be...Well, at least not before Burr had a chance to talk with him, about how inappropriate that would be.

“It tastes like something I can make at home,” John's voice said and Alex giggled at him.

“You probably could,” his employee replied.

A section of a monitor that was all black suddenly light up and Burr took note of the man that was fiddling with the camera as he placed it. It's view captured a wide sweep of he dorm room Alex would be sharing with little Laurens and he watched as the man went to place another camera. Burr had requested six, one in each corner of the room and the last two tucked away in the bathroom. It was a precaution he hadn't had to take for nearly two years. Alex was, surprisingly, a creature of habit and only aware of the things he focused in on; for example his studies. Backed up on a drive in Burr's office was hours upon hours of Alex sitting at a desk reading textbooks, going over class notes and and doing homework during his first semester at Harvard. He really only got up to use the bathroom, and go to class or work. His first year of college Burr had sent him food because he watched the stupid kid go an entire day without eating and Aaron knew a work load the size of which Alex decided he could take on did not couple well with a lack of nutrition or sleep. Alex had just accepted the orders handed to him and ate at his desk, until he caught on that he wasn't the one paying for any of it. The lack of sleeping was something Aaron couldn't fix without having somebody break down his door and tranquilize him, so he just had to watch Alex work himself to exhaustion at his desk or hope that his roommate would mind him to get some sleep.

Once Burr knew the boy's usual routine, he eased up on the video surveillance and tracked him only through the location that tied into his phone and the transmitter he'd planted when he'd given Alex the darn thing. Every single one of Burr's employees had one, it's how he kept track of where his assets wandered off too. He'd been considering getting them all chipped like cats, but he knew that would be a bit of a hard sell for some people to swallow and honestly, the technology was more expensive then it was worth right now. Threats, blackmail, and good ol' fashioned voyeurism did everything those chips could and then some. Besides, he could package and sell the more interesting parts of a person's mundane routine for extra cash. He knew a guy who would be very pleased to know he could have new videos of Alex showering and another that would be pleased to watch him and John as they relieved themselves on the toilet. The world was filled with people with dark desires and Burr would be lying if he didn't admit feeding them their vices didn't fascinate him and satisfy his own dark curiosities.

The man finished setting up the last microscopic camera and, whether or not Burr liked any of the angles, he left the room. In and out with little time for anyone to notice anything was off. That's exactly what Burr paid him for tho, and if he was any less of a professional Burr would simply make the arrangements to spare someone else in his position from having to deal with sloppy work. The angles were fine, the cameras would catch everything, literally everything, the boys could possibly do in their already cramped little dorm without ever once alerting them that there was another set of eyes watching all that went on inside. And if John wanted to snuggle up to Alex and fuck him right there on the floor of their dorm, well, Burr knew more then a few buyers who would pay to see that too.

“So, how'd it go with your job? Are you back on their good side?” Alex's voice came through.

“Yeah, they hired me back on for another year,” John replied. Burr turned the volume down, no longer feeling like he needed to keep a close tab on Alex. In truth he could never watch all of his employees all of the time. He had to accept that constant recordings and outsourcing to other people who enjoyed that kind of thing far, far more then he did was the only way to make sure he would be kept in the loop at all. If John said something to Alex that he shouldn't, someone would alert Burr immediately and if they didn't...well, Burr would find them and make arrangements for sloppy work.

He leaned forward in his chair, reading over a few replies he'd gotten for an inquiry into some services he'd be needing soon to deal with what he was now calling the John Situation. People more twisted them him quoted him prices for the things they offered, and he scrolled through their replies on a message board hidden to all except those who knew how to find it. He ignored the replies of people who claimed to be fans of Alex's work, both the kind where he knew he was on camera and the kind where he did not. The last thing Burr needed was for some internet cretin to actually make a move to take John out of the picture and think that would leave them an opening to get close to Alex. Besides, most of those people were amateurs, if that. Professional hit men skipped the pleasantries and got straight to the point. One post caught Burr's attention and held it. The price was good, and the guy offered more then one of the services Burr was looking for. Surveillance, kidnapping, delivery, parcel protection, disposal...He'd be hard pressed to find a better deal. And the entire John Situation could be resolved in just a few short days.

Burr decided to reach out with a simple email and was delighted when a call came through a moment later. With a cold smile he said, “let's talk business.”

 


 

“If you get close to my face, I'm going to kiss you,” Alex warned, a sly grin in place.

“I can't help it, it's all of Thomas's turns. I told you he takes them too fast.” John protested with a smirk, but moved his face closer to Alex's, as if daring him to make good on his word. Alex waited until he moved close enough, then quickly pecked his lips against John's nose, earning a surprised look from the other. “What? I warned you, didn't I?”

“I didn't think you would!” John countered with a grin. The car turned again, rolling Alex closer to John and he sat up on his side, letting go of the other's hand to do so and holding his drink aloft so it wouldn't tip.

“That just sounds like your p—” Alex started to say but a bump in the in the car rattled them both and the drink Alex was trying to keep upright slipped from his hand, raining down on John who cried out from the shock of it. Nearly half of a wet and cold strawberry mess seeped into John's clothes and he could do little more then sigh dejectedly after the fact. The day had been going so well, but of course some bullshit like this had to go and happen.

“I'm sorry!” Alex cried, mortified on John's behalf. “I'm so sorry! Oh shit, John—I didn't mean to! I—I'll—I'm—” He searched frantically for something to clean with, but seeing nothing opted to remove his own hoodie and shirt subsequently. “Here, I'll clean you up!!”

“Wait—” John tried to get out but Alex was already pressing the fabric of his clothes into John's chest, trying to mop up the extra moisture. He rubbed up and down John's torso and John involuntarily squawked and squirmed underneath him, til Alex stopped with a head tilt and a raised brow. For a moment they both stared at each other and then a smile slowly spread over Alex's lips. John knew what that look meant. John almost hated that look. “Don't. You. Dare...”

“John Laurens, are you.....ticklish?” Alex asked, grinning and drumming his fingers against John's sides.

Squirming and trying not to make the noises that always drove everyone to goose or tickle him, John ground out, “I. CanNOT. Be HELD. Respo—OoOoOON—sible! For your SaFTEY!!”

“Oooooh, but John,” Alex laughed. “You should see your face right now, you're trying so hard to be mad and me but if I—” And he tickled John who let out a yelp, bucking beneath him and grabbing at Alex's hands to at least try to hold them still. It didn't help that there was bunches of fabric between John's sides and Alex's hands, his fingers still dig in against his sides, and John's bucking and squirming only seemed to make them worse, which in turn only served to elicit more of the high pitched squeaks that John made whenever he was tickled. Alex laughed at the absurd and yet adorable way it sounded, until John's flailing slapped him hard across the face and knocked him to the side of the truck bed.

“Oi,” Lafayette's voice called from the now open backed window of the truck as he glanced back at them. “What is happening back there?”

“John punched me!” Alex groaned.

“I did not! Alex tickled me first!” John said, exactly as he always had when he was a kid. “I warned you!!”

But Alex smiled through the pain and reached for John's stomach again, who saw the attempt at an advance and blocked it with a well placed slap to his hand. Alex pulled back but made like the was reaching again, and soon they were both waving their hands about, slapping, pushing, grabbing and only the occasional tickle landed on John's abdomen.

“It's Not Fair!” John cried after his third attempt at tickling in retaliation was only met with a swift clamping down of Alex's arm on his hand. “You're Not Ticklish!!”

“Ahh, All's Fair In Love And War, John!” Alex replied. “And Everyday Is A New Battle!”

“Children! Knock it off back there!” Thomas called from his front seat, but Lafayette laughed him off.

“They are just having fun, mon amie.”

“I'm Getting Mauled!!” John protested.

In one swift movement, Alex rolled on top if him again, straddling his waist and grabbing each wrist as he pinned them above John's head with his own weight. He grinned down at John who looked up in flustered and blushing shock. “Do you yield?” he asked, his own face blushed from the play fighting.

“Never!” John said, bucking his hips in a moment of defiance, but Alex rode it out like he had many of the rest. “Give me liberty or give me death!!”

“Okay, okay,” Alex sighed, feeling his red face deepen in reaction to the friction between his legs. “How about a truce then? A peace treaty?”

“Liberty or death!”

“We'll I'm not just gunna give you liberty,” Alex mused. “Guess it's death then. How shall I kill you? Any requests?

“Softly,” John challenged.

“Softy?”

“Softly,” he repeated with a nod and a grin.

“We don't have anything soft on this vessel! It's all—” But whatever else Alex was about to say got drown out as a hose was turned on him and John. Caught up in the moment of their play fight, neither one had realized that Thomas had finally reached their destination, and now he stood outside the bed of his truck, spraying Alex and John down who both sputtered and shrieked in response.

“Get Out Of Tiger Lily's Bed!” Thomas yelled at them as he held the sprayer off. “Ya Nasty! Fooling around back there where you think I can't see!!”

“FUCK OFF THOMAS!!” John yelled as he climbed out of the truck bed, soaking wet. He dodged being sprayed again but Alex did not escape the second spritz to his body once he was out on the ground. He did not avoid the third or fourth either as he started marching toward Thomas, hellbent on wrestling the hose away from him. When he marched closer despite a fifth warning shot was when Thomas screamed and gave up ground, but now Alex gave chase, and they ran off around the front yard of the house Thomas had parked outside of.

John would have given chase on a better day, but the chill already creeping into a crisp fall day sent shivers racking through his soaking body and even worse, the now soaking wet pads of gauze tapped to his legs also reminded him of the wounds he'd inflicted on himself earlier. They dully ached and he wanted little more then to just change out the pads and lay down for a bit. At least he wouldn't really need a shower anymore.

Lafayette slowly made his way over to John, followed a moment later by James. “So...”

“Sew buttons on your underwear, what?” John replied..

“I gather that you like Alex.”

John tried to look perplexed, even though his face flushed despite a bout of shivers. “Well, what's not to like about him? He's a great guy.”

“You're the roommate that let him have six cups of coffee this morning, right?” James asked. As John nodded he added, “yeah, try not to do that very often. Otherwise you'll have to deal with, well, this.” And he gestured out at where Alex had managed to succeed in getting hold of the hose, chasing and spraying Thomas while laughing manically as the taller man screamed a string of curses while trying to escape. “It looks funny from the outside, but once you can't get him to bed it becomes a real problem.”

“How long will he stay up for on six cups of coffee?” John asked.

“Well, if you don't feed him anymore, he could be out sometime about three in the morning. If you do, you're looking at somewhere between three days and a week, depending on how soon you can find the source supplying him and cut him off from it.”

“You should not be drinking coffee anyway,” Lafayette said as he petted John's head. “It makes you worry more.”

“No it doesn't,” John replied and stuck both his pinkies in his mouth. Lafayette had just enough time to cover his ears, tho poor James did not catch on it time, before letting out a sharp and shrill whistle to catch the attention of Alex and Thomas. “I'm heading inside,” he called. “And I'm raiding your closet for a change of clothes, Thomas.”

Thomas shoved Alex off him, getting spritzed in the back of the head one more time for good measure, but when he didn't even turn around to glare at the other man Alex realized their water fighting was at an end. Turning the hose off as they met at the door, Thomas handed his keys to Lafayette's to unlock it and let everyone inside. John's shivering intensified as he stepped inside as AC was still left on from over the summer and inside the house was far colder then the weather outside. “Go dry off in the bathroom,” the Virginian ordered of John. “I'll get you some sweats.”

John marched down the hall for the bathroom, but it wasn't until he tried to close the door behind him that he even realized Alex had trailed him as he called out a little, “Hey!”

“Oh, hey,” John replied, turning and seeing his roommate. “Sorry, didn't see you there. Did you need something?”

“Yeah, I want out of my wet clothes too,” Alex chuckled, but faltered at the worried look on John's face. “C'mon John, you haven't got anything down there that I haven't seen. Trust me.”

John bit his bottom lip, thinking of the multitude of scars that ran over his legs and hips and wished that was true. If it was he would've just invited Alex in already, maybe he'd even have more confidence to flirt with him, but instead all he said was, “You don't know that.”

“Penis, vagina, something in-between? Seen those. Seen all of those. You can't shock me with any of that, John. Unless you got like, some alien tentacles down there, or like a shark, cuz I haven't seen that before.” He smiled teasingly and John gave a small laugh.

“No, no tentacles,” John said.

“Damn,” Alex sighed in mock disappointment. “A shark then?”

“Maybe.”

Alex's smiled turned mischievous then. “Big shark?” he asked. “Little one?”

“It's a full grown great white,” John said. He'd thought that would sounded intimidating, but the way Alex smiled up at him let him know immediately that the other man did not think that at all. “Man, I can't control it, if you you come in here it could rear up and bite you.” Internally John started screaming at himself. He didn't know where the hell this was going and he was pretty sure it just got really, really weird.

But Alex met him with, “Yeah, I've heard that it's easy to startle shark genitalia. But you know, people with a shark between their legs aren't nearly as dangerous as the media says they are. They get such a bad rep from movies and such, when really the amount of people attacked by someone with shark genitalia is less then those who get zapped by those with lightening bolts in their pants.” John laughed,hiding half his face against the door jam; he couldn't help it, Alex was being too sweet to him, matching the absurdity in their conversation. The way he smiled up at John, as if telling him it was okay to be weird made him blush. And the fact that Alex was still topless from their tickling...

John's smiled faded some, as his thoughts wound back through why they were here. “Here,” he said, stepping out of the bathroom and holding the door open. “You go ahead and get cleaned up first. I'll wait out here.”

“You really can't undress with me?” Alex said, tilting his head to the side and John shook his. “Can I ask why?”

“You can...I don't want to answer tho...”

“Is it...” Alex's voice stalled, his face becoming worried. “Because of what happened...?”

Again John shook his head, though this time with a little less conviction. “I just....can't...I'm sorry....”

“The hell are you two doing?” Thomas said as he walked up with the clothes he'd promised. “And do not tell me it's flirting; Hamilton, we talked about that.”

“Oh no, John and I were just discussing his shark genitalia,” Alex said with a completely straight face earning a snort of laughter from John and double-take of shock from Thomas between the two of them.

“The hell?!”

“I have a shark in my pants,” John said, trying to match Alex's nonplussed look and falling just short as he struggled not to giggle.

“And honestly, you do a really good job of hiding it, John,” Alex pretended to compliment him. “I can't even tell from here.”

“Thanks.”

“Am I the only one who has not lost his goddamn mind today?” Thomas asked. “Here, John, these are for you,” he said and handed him half the clothes in his hands. “Go change in my room or something. Hamilton....you can just have these....” And he handed the rest of the clothes to Alex. “Not sure what's gunna fit you in that pile, but it's all stuff from old girlfriends who haven't come by to collect any of it, sooo.....” Alex hooked a pinky under the strap of a small lace and string bikini and held it up with a raised brow. “You're welcome,” Thomas said.

“Umm, Thomas?” John said, his voice going low. “J'ai besoin de ta trousse de secours.”

But Thomas only looked at him with a perplexed look. “In English?”

John glanced at Alex then back to Thomas, trying to get him to understand he didn't want to alarm the other man. “La trousse de secours,” he repeated and tried to mime not so obviously bandaging his arm. “La trousse de secours?”

“Saying it again doesn't make me understand it better John. LAF!”

Oui?” the call came from down the hall.

“What does la trousse de secours mean?”

“The medical kit, the one you keep in the bathroom!”

John shook his head and covered his face with a hand; of course now Alex caught on to what was being said and he looked worriedly between John and Thomas. The taller man stepped past him and went to dig out what John has asked of him, so Alex leaned over to ask, “John are you—”

“I'm fine,” John snapped, not looking at him. “It's fine. I don't want to talk about it, Alex. Just leave it alone.”

“Here,” Thomas said as he came back and held out the unmistakable first aid box. “Next time just ask in English.”

“Next time have some fucking tact, goddammit,” John growled at him. He grabbed the box out from Thomas's hands and turned to march down the hall but stopped and whirled back around angrily as someone caught his arm. John was ready to scream, but checked himself as Alex worriedly looked back at him.

“Hey,” he said softly. “I know it's a real hassle having a shark in your pants, but you don't have to be ashamed asking for a first aid kit in case it bites you while you're dressing yourself, okay? That's just shark genitalia 101, right?”

John's anger completely deflated. Of course he knew Alex was just trying to make him feel better, playing along to something absurd, giving him a playful excuse to brush off his embarrassment with. Alex gave him a small and kind smile, and John returned it weakly. “Yeah,” he said. “It is....” Alex let him go and John felt slightly better about the situation as he made his way to Thomas's bedroom.

“You know John doesn't have a shark for a dick, right?” Thomas asked Alex once John had shut his bedroom door.

“He does as far as he wants me to know,” Alex said. “Here's a better question tho, if I asked you why he wanted that first aid kit, would you even tell me?”

“......No,” Thomas replied.

“I didn't think so.” Alex shrugged. “Shark dick it is then.”

 


 

John closed the door to Thomas's bedroom behind him and sighed. It was barely even noon and he was already ready for this day to be over with. He wished he could relax and enjoy Alex's charm more, but that was difficult to do in public where anyone could see them. It was fine when he played Lin to tease and play with him, but now that John was encountering it in his daily life it would very quickly become a problem if they weren't careful.

He laid the clothes and kit out on the bed Thomas had and looked up to the full body mirror he hand hanging on his closet. He saw at once how flushed he was....and felt how warm he'd gotten just talking to Alex as he began to peel off his clothes. He knew he should be quick about changing, but as he slid his pants down he thought of Alex's hands pulling them off, slow and deliberate and teasing him. He'd chuckle as he'd reach his hand down, kissing John's cheek and murmur, 'well, it's not a shark,' right in his ear as he took hold of John. He felt the wall against his back and he braced himself a little better, sliding his eyes closed, one hand around his warming cock as the other pushed his damp shirt up, the fabric teasing his nipples. He just touched himself teasing light, pumping loosely as he imagined Alex would, feeling how that made him grow harder. And he'd let Alex play with him, work him up to quiet little gasps and grunts, tease him with kisses till his legs trembled and he wanted to beg for more. He was about to tighten his hand and quicken his pace when he heard the door open beside him.

Mon amie, what tea would you li—”

John gasped and tried to pull his shirt down to cover himself while snapping his legs shut, but it was too late. He knew at once by Lafayette's face that he'd been caught red handed in the act of masturbating. Frowning hard, Lafayette stepped fully into the room and shut the door behind him. “Is now really the best time for this, John?” he asked, gesturing to John's crotch. “When you are injured? In the middle of your friend's bedroom?”

“I just—I had a need—”

“No, you do not need to touch yourself in the middle of the day. Tell yourself to wait and put it away,” Lafayette demanded. He walked over to the bed, opening the first aid kit and started pulling out the things John would need. “You need to change out of those wet bandages, you need to put on some dry clothes. Those are needs, John. This,” he gestured to John's fading erection, “is a want. You want to touch yourself, but you do not need to touch yourself. There is a difference.”

John knew exactly what this was as soon as Lafayette started chastising him; he was being punished. When they were still sleeping together, Lafayette had developed a simple little system of classic Pavlov conditioning for him. If John refrained from cutting himself that day, he got rewarded with a happy affectionate Lafayette who was willing to do whatever John asked of him. If he hurt himself, Lafayette's affections came a little more sternly and he would refrain form giving John anything he wanted. He never denied him what he needed, but if John was hoping to be fucked after cutting into himself an hour earlier, it certainly wouldn't be by Lafayette. The longest he had ever gone without breaking skin was seven months, and that was more because he wanted Lafayette to keep sleeping with him. Fresh cuts earned him a pitying look, a long winded and very worn speech about why he needed to stop, and a cuddle session where Lafayette would run his hands over everywhere but where John wanted to be touched. Old scars got him deep kisses and a deeper penetration. He'd always thought it was bullshit that Lafayette had done that but, then again, it had worked. For a while anyway.

He knew he could argue, he'd done so before, but it was never a fight he'd won without feeling guilty and ashamed of himself afterwards. There wasn't anything he could say to justify hurting himself to his best friend, no excuse that Lafayette had ever accepted from him. And it would seem that that conditioning still held some sway over him because now that Lafayette was in the room, talking down to him like a little kid, he felt the flush that had graced his body a moment ago leave him. He didn't deserve to have such sinful thoughts about Alex; he'd been bad. He'd hurt himself and if Alex knew what John had done he'd side with Lafayette and tell John not to think of him like that.

“Take your shirt off,” Lafayette told him and John complied without argument. “Sit on the bed here, and turn your legs out.”

“I can dress my own wounds, Laf,” John said. “I don't need you to stand there and breath down my neck about it.” He peeled away the wet gauze and tape, throwing them away in the garbage. “They aren't even bleeding that bad anymore, they probably don't even need bandages...”

“I think that you do. They are still open wounds and you will get an infection if you do not keep them clean. Here.” Lafayette handed him a cotton pad soaked in hydrogen peroxide. “Wipe only one leg with this, I will make you another one.”

Begrudgingly John complied, forcing down his feelings of vulnerability and fear. He knew Lafayette wasn't going to hurt him. He knew the man was trying to help, that his actions came from a place of concern and love. But tears began to well in John's eyes as he sat naked and exposed before the other man and he tried not to think of all the ways Lafayette could pin him down and....

No.

No Lafayette wasn't going to do that to him. Lafayette would never do that to him. Lafayette loved him.

“Why are you crying?” he heard the French man ask him, and a hand cupped his face to brush away the tears. “Mon amie, what is wrong?”

“Nothing,” John said, pushing at his tears, trying to get a grip on the hyperventilating that was settling over him. “It's nothing. I'm sorry—just get me—my bandages...please...” He pushed Lafayette's hand away and prayed the man would take a fucking hint.

For a moment no other contact was made, as the French man turned back to the first aid kit and dug out some ointment, uncapping it, holding it out before John and waiting patiently until John took it from his hand. He didn't like the way he was watched as he smeared the cream over his wounds, but at least Lafayette wasn't trying to force John to let him do it. He took the tube back and handed John a new gauze pad and the medical tape he would need to hold it in place. As he finished dressing his wounds he was relieved when the French man fetched the sweatpants lent to him, scrunching each leg up and kneeling before John to help him dress. He pulled the fabric up, helping John to stand and hitching the elastic waistband up and over John's trembling hips. He kept a hand on John as he reached for the shirt, also helping his friend into the oversized garment.

As the fabric fell down around his abdomen, John felt a stronger sense of security wash over him. Now at least when Lafayette hugged him he didn't feel exposed and on the verge of freaking out. He even wrapped his own arms around the French man's neck, the way his little sister always did to him when she wanted to be picked up, and the warmth and familiar way they embraced calmed him. The scent of lavender and ylang-ylang filled his nose, the same damn perfume the man had worn in all the years John had known him. He nuzzled his face deeper against his friend's neck, comforted by the better memories he associated with it.

“Are you better?” Lafayette asked him, his voice low and gentle. He ran his hands up and down John's back, obviously trying to sooth him and after a moment it began working. Against him John nodded and was met with a kiss. “Will you tell me what upset you?”

“I don't want to talk about it.”

“Is it because you are mad I scolded you?”

“I said I don't want to talk about it, Laf.”

John felt his friend sigh and hugged him tighter. “Je t'aime,” he said kissing John's neck. “Do you want to lay down for a moment? Take a rest?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, then do that. I need to take your clothes to Thomas, but I will bring you some tea, oui?”

John let his best friend go, nodding in agreement and sat back on the bed. Lafayette kissed the top of his head once then closed up the first aid kit and brought it with him as he left the room, stopping only to pick up John's wet and dirty clothes on his way out. John looked around at Thomas's room, a space that felt almost weird to be in without the man himself sprawled out in some area of it, talking about something John couldn't give two shits about. He picked at the hem of the shirt, some obnoxiously orange t-shirt with a jack-o-lantern face on it that he was just swimming in, and scooted around on the bed until he could look out the window that Thomas had set his bed against. There wasn't much to look at outside but a large shady oak tree with leaves that hadn't yet caught on to summer's end and squirrels running along some of it's branches looking for nuts to collect for the winter.

He wasn't going to sleep. His anxiety was no longer low enough to allow sleep to have him, and even if it was he never really liked sleeping the day away anyhow, which he knew Lafayette would let him do if he fell asleep here and now. Besides, everything in the room smelled like the obnoxious cloud of Axe body spray that was Thomas and that in and of itself set him on edge. But honestly if John had to keep dealing with people right now, even people he liked, he knew his mood would likely explode. So he was grateful for the quiet room and the moment to himself as he just sat on Thomas's bed and watched the squirrels outside chase each other around for nuts.

 

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

 

CHAPTER 11:

Alex set the pile of clothes on the bathroom counter and shifted through the them, looking for something he could wear. He figured Thomas wanted him to bitch about how absurd it was that he was being made to wear....ugh, the clothes of girls that Thomas probably fucked—wait, were these clean?! He picked up a shirt and sniffed it, surprised that it didn't seem to be dirty, or at the very least not disgustingly gross. None of it looked too bad, actually, tho Alex was probably not going to wear any of the undergarments from woman he didn't know. Those things he sorted carefully into it's own pile.

He almost wished he could just walk out in a lacy thong and nothing else, give Thomas a show he didn't ask for. That would teach him a valuable lesson in not fucking with Alex, but alas! He wasn't about to risk his own health flossing something in his ass that he wasn't sure had been cleaned before being handed to him.

He found a silky pair of leopard print pajama pants with a glittery Bitch written in pink cursive across the back of them and decided that coupled with a small black spaghetti strap shirt would send enough of a message to Thomas about how much he wasn't phased at all to wear feminine things. Besides, Lafayette was rocking leggings and either a long shirt or mini dress today; Thomas really should know better.

After dressing himself, Alex grabbed a towel and ran it through his hair, remembering that he'd have to get another pack of hair ties soon. He didn't mind letting the locks flow free sometimes, but it was a real hassle to keep pushing them out of his face when he was studying. He put the towel back where he found it and made his way out to the living room, where Thomas told him to bring his wet clothes when he was done changing.

“Interesting choice,” the man said, a sly ass smirk on his face once Alex emerged.

“Well, I couldn't just let Lafayette have the best looking ass out of all or us,” Alex replied nonchalantly. “I mean, mine's a real contender too.”

The French man laughed from the adjacent kitchen and called, “my ass works out five days a week to look this good, amie! Thank you for noticing!” Alex handed Thomas his clothes and followed the sound of his voice to find him setting out a mug and filling it with a tea bag. “Allô! Would you like some tea?”

“No More Caffeine!” James yelled from the living room and Lafayette nodded knowingly.

“Would you like some sleepytime tea?” he corrected himself. “There is regular and one with vanilla.”

“I think I'm okay,” Alex replied. “I've still got like three cups of coffee and half a large Starbucks drink in me that's gotta sort itself out first.”

“Fair enough.”

“Hey, can I ask you something?” Alex said, lowering his voice in case Thomas was listening. “Would you happen to know why would John need a first aid kit?”

A sudden look of understanding washed over Lafayette's face then. “Oh no, I did not realize that was why he was asking for those words.”

Alex nodded but also shrugged. “I mean, I understand if you don't want to tell me, but I'm really worried about him. I get the feeling his home life isn't that great. And he really worried me this morning with what he shared with me; I'm just scared of pushing boundaries with him that he doesn't need pushed, ya know?”

Lafayette nodded sympathetically. “I do not know where even to begin with him. He has known you for two days and he tells you he was raped. It took me almost a year to...” For a moment Lafayette looked perplexed, but shook his head when Alex inquired about it and simply said, “It is of no concern, just a thought of something else. The point is sometimes he can seem very confusing. I know, I have been there. I love him so much but he drive me crazy with how much he either says he cannot do a thing because this reason or that, and then he can turn around the next day and do it—” he snapped his fingers, “—just like that, no problem. 'oh I cannot sleep around, I cannot have a boyfriend,' one moment, but I see him flirting in the back of that truck with you. He likes you,” Lafayette narrowed his eyes at Alex. “And if you break his heart just know I am bound to break each bone in your legs one at a time.”

“I think Thomas called dibs, but dully noted,” Alex replied.

Non, non, Thomas will be the one to bury you alive when I am done with you. Make no mistake, you must outrun me first and I am very good in Hide and Seek. But no matter, you want to know when John is being close to upset, non? His biggest tell is his mouth. He becomes very sarcastic when he is upset, and say things he does not mean. So if he bites you with his words, he is warning you that he is upset.”

“Okay, I think I see what you mean...what do I do when he starts doing that?”

“He does that to try to push people away, so just be calm and patient with him. He says a lot he does not mean, just mind him not to do this, but gently, cuz he does not like being told what to do when he is mad, of course. Or, you do not have to stay. If he really hurts you, tell him so or leave. All I ask is that you do not attack him, it will not end well.” Lafayette sighed and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “That man would fight a war to protect so many other people less lucky then him but would not even raise a hand to shield himself from the onslaught of an enemy coming for him alone.”

“So he doesn't stand up to daddy dearest that much I take it?”

“If it is on behalf of his siblings, he can; I have seen him almost come to blows with that man for his smallest sister, Mary. But for himself? He is too afraid that doing so would send him back to another....” Lafayette's face turned dark and for a moment Alex caught a glimpse of pure hatred in his eyes. The tea kettle started to whistle then and he turned away to take the kettle off the stove. “Please do not ask me anything more about John's father,” Lafayette said with his back still turned to Alex. “My thoughts are not the kind I should be admitting to out loud.”

“If you mean you want to shove the guy right off a very tall cliff and watch him as he falls to his death, hey, I feel you.”

“Killing him is too good for that man,” Lafayette said. “I would do far worse then that I am afraid.”

“Like what?” Alex asked, slightly bemused, but as Lafayette gave him a glance of that same hatred burning in his eyes a chill ran down his spine. Alex shifted his weight as he tried to look innocent to how much the look scared him. Aaron had said Lafayette wasn't like him, and he certainty seemed to enjoy entertaining with a light and bubbly persona, yet this look of hatred and pure malice was a look Alex had seen in the eyes of men before and he knew far too well that anyone in that mindset was not to be messed with.

“Not things I should admit to a man who will be a lawyer some day.”

Alex nodded. “Right, well, hey I'd just consider it practice for when I am a lawyer. And hey, if you ever need the legal advice and you can't talk to John, I guess you could always come find me, haha.” Alex hoped it wouldn't come to that. He was now genuinely scared of Lafayette; if this was a bluff, well shit, it was a damn good one.

The french man turned back to the cup with a little shrug. “I will keep it in mind, but you are a terrible actor, mon amie. I can see the fear in your eyes; if this scares you you might consider another path than law to pursue.”

He frowned at that and puffed his chest some. “I'm not scared of shit,” Alex lied, even to himself. Lafayette chuckled without turning around. “What?” Alex prompted.

“It is nothing, mignon petit lion. I am sure you are very brave.” The sound of a spoon dinging lightly against the inner sides of a mug sounded as the French man stirred in milk and honey into it. “We will continue this talk in the living room in a bit, oui? I have to take this tea to John now, before it gets cold.”

“Won't he be joining us?”

Non; I am sure by now you must have noticed how sensitive he can be sometimes? I think he is already very socially tired for today, he needs to rest some. We had plans to watch movies today and maybe cuddle—”

“Ooo!”

The French man laughed a little as Alex perked up. “I take it then you do not want to go with Thomas and James?”

“Oh, I was supposed to hang out with them, wasn't I?”

“Or,” Lafayette supplied, sensing Alex's hesitancy in wanting to leave. “You need to stay here and wait for your clothes to dry, oui?”

“Hmmm....Follow Thomas and embarrass him in front of James....stay and cuddle with new roommate and his cute friend friend. Hmmm...decisions, decisions...”

“Well, that is a very bold outfit to have to walk down the street in.” Lafayette said, a flirtatious smile on his lips.

“Said the French man wearing a dress,” Alex shot back at him. “But you're right, this outfit doesn't go with my tattered old shoes. I guess I'll just have to stay home with you guys and cuddle. What a shame, cuz I so very much wanted to bother Thomas. Wait, isn't this Thomas's house?”

Oui, it is.”

“And he's just going to leave us here?”

Lafayette shrugged. “I used to live with him the last time I visited the States. I was just that good of a roommate that he doesn't mind. I am happy that you will stay; between you and I, Thomas has been given a task he must complete by a certain time and I know he will not do so if he is around people he is not comfortable with.”

“What kind of task?” Alex asked, curious.

“I will tell you in a bit, but first I need to bring John this tea. Perhaps you can keep James some company?”

Alex shrugged and followed Lafayette from the kitchen, but stayed in the living room rather then followings the man down the hallway. He made his way to the couch James was sitting at and plopped on a couch cushion beside him. “Hey James.” His former roommate smiled a bit at him.

“Hullo Alex, are you having fun making new friends?”

He held up his hand and wobbled it a bit. “Ehh, it's a lot of work.”

“Now you know why I prefer to let people makes friends with me.”

“But if I worked like that we would have spent an entire semester never saying anything to each other unless it was absolutely necessary.”

“Oh no, what a nightmare.”

“So hey, do you like really like Thomas?”

“Blunt as ever, Alexander. Yes, I rather do,” James said. “But why do I get the feeling you're about to tell me something I won't like hearing?”

“Probably because I'm gunna tell you something you might not like hearing,” Alex replied. “So he threatened me, or tried to anyway. But you know how I am.”

“Unfuckwithable.”

“Heh, the very inventor of the word.”

“I see. So...what did you do to deserve his wrath?”

“Why do you assume I'm the bad one?”

“Because I know Thomas and I know you. You stepped on his toes about something; please tell me you were at least aware of what you did that offended him.”

Alex gestured down the hall with a nod of his head. “You know my new roommate, John? Ya boi Thomas is basically pissed we had a minor fight this morning.”

“About what?”

“About his personal matters that I probably shouldn't be talking about. The point is I guess he has some mental health issues that I set off and Thomas basically told me not to do that again or I'd wake up in some undisclosed hole somewhere in the middle of nowhere.”

“I see, so he's being protective of his friend.”

“Glad you see it that way too. But also consider that threats shouldn't be a man's immediate go too when dealing with a problem. Now, I'm not here to tell you not to trust him, but do be careful. And if something happens, I might know a guy who can get rid of a body.”

“Not a woman?” Alex looked confused as he shook his head and James let a smile creep onto his face. “Women know better than men about cleaning up bloodstains.”

Alex snorted out a laugh and covered his mouth briefly. “That's dirty,” he said and pointed at James. “You're dirty. Naughty humor.”

James shrugged. “It's true. Just ask any woman.”

“And get slapped? Nooooo thank you,” Alex laughed, but the mirth of it was ended as someone tapped the back of his head firmly enough to catch his attention but not enough to actually hurt. Alex turned and glared when he caught sight of Thomas coming to join them, pointedly sitting in the middle of the couch between Alex and James.

“What are you two talking about?” Thomas asked, eyeing Alex as if he still didn't trust him.

“Things!!” Alex retorted.

“What kind of things?”

“Big private things you're not allowed to know about!”

Thomas turned away from Alex to look at James. “Is he telling you he has a shark for a dick?”

James chuckled but Alex huffed. “I don't have a shark for a dick! That's John.”

“Oh does he?” James asked. “What does it mean when one has a shark for a dick?”

“It means you need to be careful with dating them. That they need more time to warm up to the sexy parts.”

“Oh,” James sighed, then he poked Thomas with a little smile. “Guess what?”

“What?” Thomas asked, thinking James was gunna change the subject so they could stop talking about this nonsense.

“I have a shark for a dick.”

“The Fuck?!” Thomas cried as Alex burst out laughing. “No, James, don't play the gremlin's games!! It only encourages him to be weirder!”

“As-wop hat-top ou-yop elling-top im-hop ou're-yop hasexualop?” Alex asked in that weird ass language he'd used earlier as he leaned across Thomas to grin at James.

“It-hop ay-mop ave-hop een-bop,” James replied with his own smile. “Ow-hop ong-lop o-dop ou-yop ink-thop it-hop ill-wop ake-top im-hop o-top igure-fop hitop houtop?”

Omas-thop?” James nodded to let Alex know he'd made the right correction and Alex continued on, “Omas-thop rikes-stop e-mop hasop oo-top upid-stop o-top igure-fop hitop houtop or-fop imself-hop, ou-yop ight-mop anna-wop ust-jop ell-top im-hop o-top is-hop ace-fop.”

“Ell-wop, hI'llop ive-gop im-hop haop ay-dop o-top ink-thop hitop hoverop. Handop haskop im-hop haboutop hitop hagainnop ater-lop.”

“LAAAAAAAFF!!” Thomas cried. “I NEED YOUR HELP WITH WOOOOOORDS!!”

“What Words, Mon Amie?” the french man called back.

“I DUNNO!! THE WORDS THE GREMLIN IS SPEAKING TO MON BÉGUIN!! THEY ARE SPEAKING IN TONGUES!”

A moment later Lafayette came back down the hall and into the living room, his own perplexed look on his face. “What tongues?” he asked. “Speak it for me?”

“I have no idea what Thomas is talking about,” Alex said. “James and I have been just sitting here having a perfectly normal conversation when Thomas started yelling that he didn't understand us. We've been speaking English this whole time.”

“You lie like a rug!” Thomas snapped at him.

“But we have been speaking English,” James told him. “Hocop illudop onat-sop atine-lop.” While Thomas looked expectantly to Lafayette for a translation, both his and Alex's faces mirrored a perplexed look.

“What,” Thomas sneered at Alex, catching sight of his confusion. “You don't know what he said this time?”

“......Latin?” Alex asked and James nodded.

“That does not sound like any Latin I know of,” Lafayette replied.

“It's my own spin on it,” James offered. He tugged on Thomas's sleeve to get his attention again. “We should get going, if we're going to see our movie.”

“You're right,” Thomas sighed. “Laf, you remember where everything is, the rules of the house, right?”

“No more then three regular sized ducks in the house at any give moment,” Lafayette replied.

“I meant like how to work the TV, and I'd better not find any damned rubber ducks in my house when I get home, you french bastard,” Thomas scolded as he stood up. “You,” he pointed down at Alex as if he were speaking to a naughty puppy. “Behave.”

“I am being have,” Alex replied with a smirk. It was worth it to see Thomas's exasperated glower, but James pushed him toward the doorway with his own little, “we're going to be late.”

“Adams is in his room, doing lord only knows what, so don't disturb him unless you have to or you want to see some weird ass shit,” Thomas said, making his way toward the front door with James. “There's a timer for the washing machine, so when you hear that move the load to the dryer, and keep the lid open so the inside can air out and doesn't get mildew. Jay is at work right now, stay out of his room, he'll be back later but I don't know if he'll be back before or after us. You're welcome to anything in the kitchen, I'll cover it if my roommates bitch. And if Jay is especially pissy, tell him he needs to take his bullshit up with me. I put the first aid kit back under the sink, there's a list of emergency numbers on the fridge next to the house rules, Laf, if you need a refresher and please give Alex a crash course in it. Do not make too much noise and—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Alex called. “Throw a big house party and trash the place, we got it Thomas! Don't worry, you can count on us demolishing this place in no time flat!”

Hamilton!”

“He's jerking your leg, Thomas,” James minded. “The house will be fine. And if it's not, I know a girl who gets bloodstains out of carpets and will help us bury a body.”

Thomas huffed some. “Come lock the door so the damn gypsies don't steal you away!”

Lafayette laughed and he moved to do as Thomas bade, waving him and James off for a moment before closing the door and turning to look at Alex. “Alone at last,” he said.

“Usually when that gets said something sexy follows it,” Alex laughed.

Lafayette stalked closer to him, a coy smile on his face. “And what do you know about being sexy, mon cher?”

“Eh, enough,” Alex replied carefully. Lafayette sat on the couch next to him, scooting in to be close and Alex wasn't sure if he liked that attention but he steeled himself to tolerate it for now. “Why? Do you need some pointers?” he teased.

“I catch enough on my own,” Lafayette replied. “So tell me more about yourself, Alex. I am very curious to know you better.”

“I thought you already did the google searches to know everything about me?”

“Google does not tell me everything,” Lafayette replied. He trailed a hand up Alex's arm and found a lock of hair to play with. “It does not tell me what your favorite food is, or what smell comforts you the most. Tell me things like those.”

“And why should I do that?” Alex asked, keeping a playful smile on his face. “Wouldn't it be better to keep an allure of mystery about me? Wouldn't you find that more exciting?”

“But then how can I tell John what you might like for dinner or what perfume he should avoid wearing around you?”

“Oh, I'll eat anything. I'm not picky about stuff like that.”

“And your favorite perfume?”

“You got on something nice. Is it...lavender?”

“Do you like it?” Lafayette asked, offering his neck to Alex for a sniff. “It was my mother's; when I was very little I used to sneak into her bedroom and spray myself with my father's cologne, but it made her very mad. She didn't mind me using her perfume as much however, and now I think I just prefer it better.”

“Really? Why'd she get upset with you for taking your dad's cologne?”

Lafayette shrugged but looked away from Alex, his face remaining a careful neutral expression. “I suppose because he died when I was very little, and she had a very hard time coming to terms with it. She told me often I look just like him, but I....” He shrugged and put on a smile. “I guess she just wanted me to share things in common with her at the time.”

“I'm sorry to hear about your father,” Alex replied. “Mine, uhhh....he left our family when I was ten. We don't know where he was or why he left, just...he walked out one day and was gone. So, ya know, I get what it's like, growing up without a dad.”

“Ahh, lucky. You had yours for eight more years then I did. I do not mean to pry, but...you have brothers?”

Alex nodded. “James and Peter are older then me, but I only grew up with James. Peter was from my Mom's first marriage. She got a divorce but they granted full custody to his father, so we only ever got to see Pete when his dad allowed it, which wasn't often. The guy was kind of a dick. The most time I ever got to spend with my half brother was just before James and I got shipped here to the States....”

“Did you enjoy spending time with him?” Lafayette asked, a hopeful look on his face.

“Yeah. I mean, there's nearly a six year age difference between us and his dad made sure to remind everyone around that were were literally only being allowed to stay with him because otherwise James and I had literally nowhere else to go; and oh yeah, he was getting us the necessary paperwork to immigrate to the States so we best be suuuuper grateful for that, but like he wasn't doing any of that because he actually cared, he just wanted us out of his hair. And Pete still had to deal with him afterwards, so like, I don't blame him for being standoffish and awkward about the situation....I guess I just wish I wasn't pulled around in secret only to talk about Mom all the time.”

“Do you still talk to him?”

“Sometimes yeah.”

“Good.” Lafayette nodded and Alex noticed his eyes seemed to shine too brightly with the sheen of tears.

“You got any siblings?” Alex asked.

“Two, half siblings,” Lafayette said with a little nod. “I have...” He looked for a moment like he wanted to say something else, but finished his sentence lamely with, “I have two half siblings.”

“So your mom remarried after your dad died? What was it like growing up with them?”

“I didn't. Mama left me with my bonne-maman when I—”

“I'm sorry, left you with your...banana?”

Lafayette shook his head. “Non, bonne-maman,” he repeated. “How you say...la mère du père?”

In turn Alex slowly shook his head, but then asked, “Wait....you mean your father's mother?”

“The woman who birthed my father, oui. What is that word? Grand-mère, non?”

“Grandmother. Grannie. Gram. Grandma.”

Oui, oui, oui,” Lafayette said nodding. “I lived with her when I grow up. I have not met my sister and brother.” He tried to smile and Alex could tell right away that it was forced. “I hope one day that will change however. I would like a family again.”

“I know how that feels,” Alex mumbled.

“Oh, that is right. You had another brother. What became of him?”

Alex sighed. “We got separated when I was 14. Long story short, the uncle that we were sent to live with decided life was too hard for him and swallowed a bullet one day before we got home from school. Made for a lovely afternoon with police and Child Protective Services. After that, it was a revolving door of foster homes until James got emancipated, but the courts wouldn't give me to his care, even tho he was my last living family and had been looking after me ever since our dad disappeared. I flitted through a few more homes and was dragged all the way to another state by one case worker who thought putting more distance between me and James was the best thing for me. Shortly after I aged out of the system he told me he was moving out to Puerto Rico and I just got left here. And that's my tragic backstory, hooray.” He held up his hands and wiggled his fingers in a jazzy sort of way before flashing Lafayette a sad kind of smile.

“I am sorry to hear that, mon amie,” Lafayette said as he reached over to pet Alex's hair. For one moment Alex closed his eyes and leaned into his hand, enjoying the tingles that ran down his back immediately. It was his one weakness and he heard the French man chuckle as he dug his fingers deeper into Alex's locks. “Oh, do you like that?”

“Uh-huh,” Alex sighed, bowing his head. Lafayette's other hand pushed up from the other side and Alex actually moaned a little. “You can ask me to do anything right now, and I would.”

“Anything?” Lafayette repeated and Alex could hear the teasing smile on his face.

“Five more minutes and I'll gladly suck your dick for you,” Alex said, beating him to the sexual joke he knew the man was alluding to. That usually made people pull their hands away and chastise him, but Lafayette's hands kept messaging. Alex gave little grunts of contentment, shifting to be closer to the other man. Fingers worked their way down his scalp and onto his neck and once more Alex shifted, tho this time it was to sit back up. Lafayette's hands did not leave his shoulders.

“Turn around, mon amie,” the French man said. “I will rub your back for you.”

Alex considered him for a moment but then complied. Most of his back and shoulders were already exposed, the little spaghetti strap shirt not covering nearly as much as his own locks of hair did, but he pulled them down and let Lafayette push the shirt down even further as he slid his hands down Alex's back. Alex pulled his hair our of the way and arched forward as the feeling of thumbs traced his spine down to the small of his back, and fingers guided their way along his sides. He felt little muscle spasms run back up his own back as he straightened up some, then Lafayette's hands came back up to his shoulders. The flats of his palms rubbed up and down Alex's neck and across the top of his shoulders, as if trying to smooth everything out, or maybe just feeling around Alex's skin for the muscle knots he had. Thumbs began to work in circular motions with a little more pressure then before, fingers squeezing at the niche where shoulder and neck met for leverage and worked from pushing up into the base of his skull down to his shoulder blades. Alex felt himself relaxing into the message, until his felt lips kissing one of his shoulders and working their way up to his neck.

“Shit!” he said, standing up and pulling the straps back up to cover himself as much as he could. “Sorry, but my bladder just said one of those coffees is ready to be dumped. Like, NOW. Haha, I'll be right back.” And before Lafayette could say anything more, Alex was up and already shooting straight for the bathroom.

It wasn't a lie, necessarily. He did drink a lot that morning so, it needed to go somewhere, but Alex's bladder honestly wasn't that full yet and he knew it as a poor excuse to just hit a full stop on Lafayette. As he stood in front of the mirror pretending to wash his hands and looking at himself in the mirror, Alex cursed his stupid lack of a hair tie. Pavlov conditioning at it's finest he supposed, but Alex found it far to easy to flirt and charm other people when he let his hair down then when he tied it back. He always left it down when he was Lin, and Lin would have had no problem letting Lafayette kiss and fondle him, but damnit, he wasn't Lin right now. That was life from one box crossing into life in another box and that was NOT okay. Lin needed to go back into his box and stay there. He held his hair back with his hands, reminding himself that it was time for Alex to be on control, he was supposed to be living his normal life right now. Of course he'd look stupid as fuck just walking around holding his hair back, so with a sigh he let it go and watched it spill back around his face in the mirror. The unhappy look staring back at him made him feel like Lin didn't want to go sit in time out, but he told himself that was a ridiculous thought to have and shook his head to get it out.

Alex peeked out from the bathroom, relieved to see Lafayette had turned on the TV and was flipping through channels. At least he wasn't just waiting for Alex to come back so they could jump back into...whatever he seemed like he was gunna do. Alex pushed his hair from his face and was about to step back out into the living room when a soft voice sang from the room John had disappeared into. Turning instead toward that, Alex found the door ajar and decided to investigate it instead. He could almost see John, sitting on a bed and with his face pressed against a windowpane. “Are You listenin'? Are You there?” his voice sang softly, “I keep falling, do You care? Is it all, a part of Your plan?” John closed his eyes and the next words seemed almost too faint for Alex to hear but he could still feel the heartbreak that came with them as John continued, “Or is it me? Did I lose it? Have I ruined my own beauty? Is it too late to recover from these bruises?”

Alex didn't know the door would creek as he pushed it open and of course once it did John stopped singing and whipped his head around to see who was coming in. Alex tried on his best 'nothing is wrong, everybody just stay calm' smile as he was caught red handed standing in the doorway. “Hi, sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you,: He said, hoping he wasn't embarrassing John by being there.

John's eyes narrowed on him nevertheless. “How much did you hear?” he asked.

“Uhhh, that depends,” Alex replied, stepping tentatively into the room. “How dead am I if I said I heard you singing?”

“Depends on how much you liked it,” John responded.

“A lot?””

“Hmm. Okay, c'mere.” Alex smiled and started to step forward before John added, “Gotta just snap your neck and we'll be golden.”

“What? Hey, why do I get death just because I liked your singing?”

“Because if you liked it, you're gunna ask to hear more of it, and then you're gunna tell people about it and I am not about to be put on a stage for anyone's amusement. So c'mere, give me your neck, let's get this over with so I can get back to what I was doing.”

“That's no fair,” Alex pretended to pout as he came and sat on the bed next to John. “What if I pinkie promised not to tell anyone?”

“You can ask Lafayette why I don't hold stock in that,” John said, holding his hands on either side of Alex's head without actually touching him. He made a sharp clicking noise with his mouth as he twisted his hands to mimic, poorly, snapping Alex's neck, and so Alex made a show of dying dramatically for him as he sprawled out on the bed. John laughed lightly, until Alex grabbed his arm and pretended to be a zombie eating him, effectively pulling him down to lay beside him.

He waited until John had shifted into a comfortable position before asking, “so, what was that song you were singing?”

“Oh, it's nothing,” John said, hiding his face as he nuzzled into a pillow.

“It didn't sound like a song I've heard before,” Alex replied. “Is it your own lyrics?”

“Sorta,” John replied. “I don't really want to talk about it tho.”

“Ahh, so asking for a private performance is off the table then? Got it.”

John's cheek blushed a reddish tint. “That....I thought I was in private, Alex....you really weren't supposed to hear any of that.”

“Oh,” Alex said his face looking worried as he pushed himself up. “Am I bothering you then? Should I go? I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to be a bother—”

“It's okay,” John cut him off. “I—I like you, Alex. You can stay...if you want.”

“Heh, you want me to stay?”

“If you don't mind....I like hearing you talk...it's...kind of comforting...”

“Okay, I'll stay,” Alex said, a little grin pulling at his lips. The mug of tea he'd watched Lafayette make for John caught his eye on the bedside table, still full of the liquid inside. “Hey, are you gunna drink this?” he asked reaching for it.

“Knock yourself out,” John told him. Alex carefully picked the mug up and took a sip of the tea in his hands. There was too much honey and it had a weird grainy kind of taste to it, but otherwise it was...well, Alex had swallowed things far more disgusting.

“So, you gotta understand that you can't kick me out of our dorm, unless you're doing the sexy times with some hot lover boy, alright? So you be careful how much time you spend with me outside of there, deal?”

“Sounds fair enough. But you can't kick me out of the dorm period. If you do the sexy times, me and the shark want front row seats to watch.”

Alex laughed. “Oh, how is that fair? I give you privacy and you want tickets to a show?!”

John shrugged with his own smirk. “The shark wants what it wants, man. I don't make the rules. I just listen to it tell me what it wants.”

“And it wants me?” Alex seductively purred and leaned closer.

“Maaaybe,” John replied, feeling his face blush. “Maybe not. You never know.”

Alex sipped more of the god awful tea. “So basically, I have to kiss someone else to see if it makes you jealous enough to want to kiss me for real then?”

“You can....probably just go ahead and kiss someone else...” John said. An onset of depression started to settle over him, thoughts that he wouldn't be interesting enough for a guy like Alex settling over him in tiny little waves. “I wouldn't mind...”

Alex eyed him for a moment, seeming to calculate something in his head. “So, here's the thing...it's not fair if you can kick me out of the dorm for sex, but I can't kick you out for the same reason, so how about a compromise? Neither party can kick the other party out of the dorm when sex is about to take place if, and only if, the party that would otherwise be booted agrees to participate if they stay in the dorm. No standing around eating popcorn, take your pants off and jump on the bed!”

“Are you asking me to have a threesome with you?”

“No, I'm telling you'll have a threesome with me!” Alex laughed for moment, then stopped abruptly. “I mean—if you'd like. I wouldn't, like, force you or anything—That's not what I—”

“I've had a threesome before, Alex.”

“You...you have?”

John nodded. “Almost had a second one too, but...” He shrugged and shook his head. “It didn't come to pass.”

“John Laurens, you sexy minx!” Alex teased, his smile coming back as he nudged John playfully with his elbow.

“Neither of them were my idea,” John confessed. “I was just there to be a third body for it. That's all...”

And just as fast, John had wiped the smile away again. “Did you have....any fun at all?”

John shrugged and pulled the pillow down to his chest to hug. “I...didn't hate it....” He'd hardly been mentally present for it really. “How many have you had? Threesomes, that is?”

Alex tried not to outwardly cringe or roll his eyes. He honestly couldn't say how many threesomes or foursomes or even flat out orgies he'd been a part of now. They all blended together in a haze of sex and work and things he didn't want to confess too for fear of being seen in a light that he didn't want shined on him all the time, so he shrugged and said, “oh, a few actually. Like, I can't knock anything til I try it once, ya know? College is meant for that kind of thing. Exploring yourself, trying new experiences.”

“Here my parents told me college was for learning.”

“Yeah, learning. You can't learn everything from books alone, John. You gotta experience life sometimes. And it sounds like you do, I mean, I almost can't believe you've had a threesome before!”

“And what exactly should I have learned from that?”

“Depends on your experience. You said you didn't hate it. Do you want to talk about it?”

John shrugged. “Lafayette likes to have sex with multiple partners. So when we were together it just kinda...happened....”

“Were you okay with it? Like, you wanted to be there?”

“.........I wanted to be with Laf...”

“Did you want to be with the other person?”

John shrugged for a moment, then slowly shook his head. “I.....I'm sure she was a nice person, I just....I'm just gay...”

“Was that the first time you slept with a woman?” Alex asked gently. He could tell from the way John was clamming up that they were skating on some thin ice now and, as a troubled look crossed his roommate's face, he knew he had to tread carefully. “It's okay if you don't want to answer. I'm probably prying into some really personal stuff here, right? Do you want to talk about something else?” As John nodded Alex shuffled through his mind for another topic that would lighten the mood. “So, did you do anything fun over the summer?”

“I went fishing with my dad,” John replied and Alex felt alarm bells go off in his head for just a moment before he smiled and added, “I caught a 40 pound stripped bass, biggest one I ever caught.”

“Oh shit, what'd you do with it?”

“We cook 'em and eat 'em. Dad takes me and my brothers camping out on Lake Murray every summer, we spend a day fishing and then cook our catch that night on an open fire. Little lemon juice, some seasoning and serve it over rice with some vegetables, pair it with a white wine and you're golden. I mean, my younger brother's can't drink yet so they just get soda, but Dad and I share a bottle now.”

“And....” Alex wanted to ask more about John's father, but chickened out. “What's your favorite part about camping?”

“About camping? Probably tending to the fire.”

“Just cuz you get to play with fire?” Alex asked with a smile.

“Because I get a glimpse of what it's gunna be like when I die and go to hell, and once I'm there I know it's gunna be painful so I wanna appreciate how beautiful fire is now before I'm made to hate it.”

“C'mon John, you don't actually believe in that stuff, right?”

“You don't?” As Alex shook his head John sighed and sat up. “There's a church nearby, if you want to come with me on Sunday, we can talk to the pastor, he knows my father—”

“John, I'm not going to church. It's a load of bullshit.”

“Please don't say that.”

“Why? It is.”

“It's my religion, Alex,” John said as he turned to look at the other male.

Alex shrugged. “It was mine too, before I had a good hard look around at the world and my life in it and realized, there is no god. That's just a lie people tell themselves to feel better about things like their mother dying when their family is too poor to afford medicine to make her better, or their uncle blowing his brains out because he had mental health issues and just couldn't be bothered to keep living. It's all just part of some greater plan when a hurricane tears through your little island town and abolishes houses and contaminates the drinking water, and kills hundreds of your friends and neighbors. Yeah, I know god is really looking out for me when I survive an accidental house fire in the only decent foster home I was placed in, only to be moved to one where I was treated like just another dumb kid to babysit, or the one after that that would starve me and my little foster brother when we misbehaved. Guess I just wasn't praying hard enough that god could hear how badly I really wanted to be kept with James when they told him he was old enough to leave but that I had to stay in the system, dealing with all the shit it kept piling on my door. So excuse me if I think this all-knowing, supposedly ever-loving god everyone always talks about isn't real because I can't fathom why they would spend so much time making the world just so and then turn around and punish people for things they can't help like being in love with another person who has the same genitalia as you do, or who doesn't identify with the genitalia they were born with, or who because they worship in a different way then what one religion says or because their skin is too dark or too light, or too red or too yellow. 'God made you perfect! He loves you just the way you are! He has a plan for you!' but then 'No wait, that's not how God wants you to be! Your a sinner! Oh no! Why are you being a horrible human being? If you're not careful, you'll wind up in hell!' How do they even know we're not already in hell, huh? Sure feels like it, when you live in a world where the concept of an all knowing god who does nothing to ease the pain of human suffering and let's us all rot here in our own filth and torment, excuse me if I think they aren't worth my time and energy to worry about how they might punish me when I finally shed this mortal coil and escape this terrible fucking place!!”

Alex sighed as he finished his rant, but as he glanced over to John he regretted every word he'd said. Tears welled in John's eyes and for a moment Alex thought they were going to have another dispute like that morning. “I'm sorry,” Alex started to say as he moved to get up, “I'll just...take my negativity and leave you alone now.” But John reached for his hand and clasped it between his own.

“Wait, please,” John nearly begged and the desperation in his voice stilled Alex. John swallowed around the lump in his throat, the fear he had over saying his next words, but he knew he had to or else...or else..... “I'm sorry you feel that way...but please, please let me just pray for you.” He squeezed his eyes shut again and held on to Alex a little tighter, scared he would pull away and become cross with him for even asking.

“Why?” Alex asked, his voice returning to it's own gentleness.

“Because I'm scared for your soul now.”

“No, I mean...why do you need to do this? It's not gunna change anything John, and you can't be dumb enough to believe it would, right?”

“I know it won't change your mind,” John replied, looking up at Alex. “But I really need to believe in my faith Alex, so please...please....”

Alex stared down at the cup of tea in his hand, watching his own reflection in it's opaque liquid dance from the jostling it took a moment ago as he moved to get off the bed. He sighed and chugged what was left in the mug, then set it down on the night side table and settled back onto the bed next to John. “Okay, fine; but I'm only doing this because it will help you more then me, understand? If you need help looking for Jesus or Allah or Kali or whomever I'll help you look, but once you find them that's your responsibility to look after them, okay? I'm not interested and I don't want to be guilted about it either.”

“Okay,” John said nodding. “That's fine, I understand. Thank you, Alex.” He squeezed his roommate's hand once more and turned to face him more comfortably, removing one of his hands clasping Alex's to lay it on his shoulder instead. He bowed his head and Alex did the same, feeling awkward otherwise. “Dear Lord, please forgive Alexander's words that he used to speak against You—”

“I'm not sorry,” Alex interjected, “especially because, supposedly, you're the one who made me like this, so I really don't know what else you expected from me. But my intent was not to lead John away from you, I guess I'm just bitter he still believes in you and I don't. That's all.”

“Eheh...Lord, I ask that You please look after Alexander as he faces the challenges You set before him, even if his faith in You is...”

“Non-existent?”

“...less then what You might wish of him.” John took a deep breath, steadying his nerves and pressing on. “Please comfort him for the trials he has faced already and help him to fulfill the plan You have for him, that he may still serve Your call for the greater good, Lord, and help the people who's lives he was meant to touch—” Alex snickered and John ignored him. “—and guide as they in turn make their way through this gift of life You have given us.”

“And hey yo, if you could just get on with setting John up with a good-looking lover-boy he'd enjoy snuggling up with, that'd be greeeaaaaat,” Alex added.

“Alex!”

“What?” he replied with a sheepish little grin. “Don't you want a sweet-talking boy to make love to you on a bed of fine silk or something?”

“That's not how prayer works,” John sighed. He bowed his head once more and went on. “Lord, I ask that You look after Alexander's brothers, and one day bring them together again. And I pray, Lord, that You have taken Alexander's mother and his uncle into Your care, that You shelter them in Your kingdom and loving embrace, keep them safe for Alexander until he can be reunited with them when his troubles at last are put to rest at the end of a very long journey.” He peeked up a little at Alex. “Did you have anything else you'd like to add, respectfully?”

Alex looked thoughtful a moment then reached his free hand up to rest on John's shoulder as well. “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory, You've pushed me through so many trials and tribulations that I wonder what You have in store for me, and I don't believe in how You could conceive that the suffering of humankind could be good for anybody; I see my friend John bleed in torment, reliving a moment I would not wish on my worst enemy, suffering for Your name and still he would ask You to forgive me for transgressions I speak against You so freely. I want for nothing in this life but I'll ask You to treat him kindly, keep him safe for me and allow him to see clearly how good he is just as You've made him to be. Love him completely for his loyalty, shower him in blessing beyond his wildest fantasy; no Lord, I will ask for nothing else for me, for tho I walk in the valley of the shadow of Death she is far more my friend and I call her not an enemy. You know me Lord, I am not afraid to die, and I am more then willing to die if it would mean telling You off to Your face for the challenges you place on shoulders such as ours. Amen.”

A hush fell over them. Alex let go of John's shoulder to wipe away the tears that rolled down John's face that he hadn't even realized were there until just then. The other male sniffled and pulled away some, letting Alex go to wipe at his face. “Thank you,” he said. “For taking me seriously...”

“Is it too personal a question to ask you why you still choose to believe in a religion that damns you for being gay?” Alex asked.

John shook his head, trying to dry his eyes on the inner collar of the shirt he wore. “You're gunna think I'm stupid...”

“Hey, between you and me, which one of us has bitch written in pink glitter on their ass?” Alex smiled as John cracked a small smile. “And you really think you'll look like the stupid one? C'mon. Try me.”

“I believe that I'll get one shot when I die to ask Him what the fuck He thought He was doing when He handed me this life, but only if I can make it through everything He's set before me without...giving in to weakness....”

“You mean, like loving another man?”

“No.....I mean like suicide. If I kill myself, I throw away the gift of life He gave me. That's a sin, I go straight to hell, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. If I try to live the best life I can, maybe before I get sent to hell anyway for being gay I might get to see Him and just ask Him why he put me through all of this. What greater good did any of it do? What higher purpose? My religion was turned against me and is used to put me down because of the kind of people I'm attracted to, it's completely understandable that I would forsake it, and don't get me wrong Alex, I have my doubts to be sure. But faith is believing in something greater then you even in the face of everything telling you it's not real. And if I deny my God simply because of the things I've been through, then I've let the people who...hurt, me...take away another part of me, a sacred part of me. I'm scared that you and Lafayette are right, that there is no God and that I'm just a fool who puts his faith in something that doesn't even matter; but if that's true, then everything I've been through really was for nothing and I've got no reason left to keep myself alive anymore. So I need to believe in that, Alex. Because without it, I don't have a reason at all to keep going. Because that's what my faith in God really is, the only reason I can find to stay alive anymore.”

Alex stayed quiet for a moment, processing that. He breathed deeply, heaving a sigh and asked “What's your favorite thing to do in the world? What gives you joy?”

John bit his bottom lip, the determined look in his roommate's eyes new and slightly intimidating. “Cooking,” he answered quietly.

Alex nodded solemnly. “You ever cook for other people?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So, that's what god must want you to do then! I mean, maybe it's not all they want you to do, maybe they want you to do something else or have some bigger plan then that, fuck if I know what the hell anything like that has got going on in their brain, But! Think of all the people you won't get to feed if you ended your life. I've never had your cooking! You have to cook for me! And you have to cook for, maybe your younger brother, it's his first year at college, right? He's probably gunna miss home and you should be around to cook for him sometimes, right? Or the homeless, or just those less fortunate then us. You gotta cook for people who are sick, or disabled; you gotta cook for little kids that couldn't feed themselves otherwise, ya know? You gotta cook for people when they're celebrating and you gotta cook to bring them comfort when they're sad. You gotta feed as many different mouths as you can, you gotta share that with as many different people as you can, ya know? There's like billions of people on this planet and you gotta cook for as many of them as you can, okay? You gotta, you gotta, teach people to cook, and show them how they can make food delicious like only you know how! You gotta swap recipes, you gotta learn about food things you've never tried before. You gotta bring people together over meals! You gotta—”

“Do you cook?” John asked quietly, expecting to get talked over.

“Me?” Alex replied, surprising John. “Oh no, I've survived on peanut butter sandwiches and and like, pickles most of my life. I can, maybe, cook some basic ass ramen, that's all.”

“You just speak so passionately about cooking, I thought you cooked too.”

“I just have no chill, that's all,” Alex said around a yawn. “Oh, excuse me. But listen, this isn't about me, it's about you and your life's calling or whatever. If you love to cook, then make that the reason god put you on earth. Don't sit around on your ass feeling sorry for yourself and waiting to die just so you can ask god what the hell they were thinking! Say 'This is the reason god put me here and this is what I'm gunna do with my life!' And then go do that! Because you know what, John? You're right, life is a gift! And everyone has a talent or a gift they were meant to give back to the world. And some people go their whole lives never knowing what that is, and other people have a good idea that it's one thing, but then maybe it becomes another thing later, or maybe some people have multiple talents. And some people do big things with their gifts or their talents, they touch hundreds of lives, they impact people hundreds, maybe thousands of years into the future. And some people only every touch the lives of their family, or their closest friends, and that's okay! Because you're right, your god gave you that gift for a reason and they want you to use it to do good in the world. And I know you're gunna do good in this world, you're—”

A knock on the door interrupted Alex just before Lafayette poked his head in. “Oh, I thought I heard you in here. You disappeared on me, Alex.”

“Sorry,” John said as his roommate yawned again. “I think my talking to myself distracted him.”

“John was singing,” Alex supplied and laughed at the slight glare he got form John. But Lafayette's face lit up with a smile.

“Really? You are singing again mon amour? That is wonderful.”

“It wasn't,” John said, looking clearly uncomfortable. “It wasn't that. Anyways, Alex, you were telling me something about talents and gifts from God?

“What? Oh.” Alex tried to wave dismissively but his hand barely came up off his lap. “Sorry, I fell off that train of thought, John.” He yawned again. “But cooking, you need to do that for many other people, okay? Promise me? That's what you'll make your life about? Or it can be something else, it's okay if you want to choose something else to be good at and do for people. You're good people.”

“Alex, are you...tired?” John asked.

“Hmm? Ummm...” Alex noticed for the first time then that his body felt heavy like lead and that he had the strangest feeling he should curl up somewhere and take a nap. “Yeah, a little?

“What time did you get up this morning?”

“I dunno,” Alex said, trying to wave dismissively once more. His hand uncoordinately almost slapped John in the face. “It was dark out still tho.” His eye lids didn't want to stay open.

“How long did you sleep?” John questioned. Alex tried to shrug and then his body went slack a little and John instinctively grabbed him before he fell off the bed. “Alex?”

“I'm fine!” Alex said, seeming to jerk awake for a moment. His head lulled to the side and found John's shoulder. “Just....tired....”

“Okay, here,” John said, easing Alex down to the mattress. “Lay down for a bit.” He looked up at Lafayette and caught the worried look on the man's face, but then John figured Alex would be alright after a nap. “I think we need to let him rest.”

“You needed to rest a bit too,” Lafayette said softly. “He should not have been disturbing you.”

“It's fine,” John said with a shrug. “We talked about sharing space, no big deal. Is Thomas gone yet? I'll come out if I don't have to deal with Thomas anymore.”

“Thomas is gone,” Lafayette confirmed. “But you can stay laying down if you want.”

“Heh, yeah,” Alex said around yet another yawn. “You can sleep with me John, I don't mind.”

“Aha,” John replied, exchanging a look with Lafayette and putting on a nervous smile. “No, if you need to sleep, we'll let you sleep. Ah!” He was pulled down into Alex's arms and a moment later Lafayette was crawling onto the bed as well behind him. They became a mess of legs and arms and bodies smooshed together and for a moment John felt his heart beating almost too fast in his head as he was cuddled from in front and behind by the two men he dreamed about. As their moving and squirming stopped and they each lay still in the comfort of each others embrace, John cracked an eye open and peeked over his shoulder. Lafayette's eyes looked up at him but the rest of his face was too obscured by John's shoulder. He kissed at John's ear and murmured softly, “you are safe here, mon amour.” It was comforting to hear.

He decided not to fight it, not to struggle free and move somewhere where he couldn't be touched. He could feel the all to familiar sensation of disassociation trying to settle over him, and John mentally pushed it away. His hands ran up to Alex's shoulders, fidgeting with the hair there and giving him something to play with. Lafayette kissed John's shoulder and he didn't tell the French man to stop. He grounded himself in the feeling of being here, loved by his best friend and cuddled by his roommate. He took a deep breath and his last thought was that Alex's hair smelled better then his pillow.

 

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 12:

Burr hung up the Skype call as soon as he was sure the details of what he wanted were laid out in no unclear terms. It would cost a little more then he'd expected, but the man he'd hired had excellent feedback for the jobs he did. He'd have John in check by Friday at the earliest. And for that, Burr would gladly pay almost any price.

He pulled up the transmitter on Alex's phone again, surprised to hear nothing but slightly muffled traffic sounds now. No movement of clothes, no voices. If he listened close enough it did sound like a car was being driven somewhere, definitely traffic moving around the phone.

So. Alex had forgotten his phone again somewhere. Great.

Burr sighed. That would just have to be fine for now. It wasn't hard to open the running log that tracked where his phone was and how long it stayed in anyone place. From the looks of things, Alex had left his phone in the car of whoever was driving him around, and they had stopped for a time at 3804 Rosemount Street; the quick Google search showed him it was a quaint little house, in a quiet little neighborhood. And a moment later he had the floor plans for it's three bedrooms, two bath layout. A red ping told him the owner of the house used to be on The Company's roster of customers they serviced years ago, one Mr. John Adams, but he'd since moved on to other sites. Burr sighed again. Of course.

He pulled up Mr. Adam's file, and skimmed over it for anything he'd have to take care of. He noted that Mr. Adams had been active more in the years leading up to Alex's recruitment, and had stopped his subscription about a week after Alex started making appearances. His file also noted he was a shut in who never left the house. Well then, that certainly worked in Burr's favor. But what he need to know now was whether or not that man would recognize Alex and then what he'd do about it. Likely he'd just make a comment in passing, but that would be all Alex would need to flip his shit. Burr wondered if he couldn't just lock Alex in his studio and keep him there for the rest of his life. That would certainly solve a lot of these problems.

A few keystrokes later and Burr was flicking through the hacked webcams on the local home network at 3804 Rosemount Street, one of them showing him literally nothing and the other one, surprise of surprises, popping into a bedroom where he could clearly see his darling little moneymaker laying on a bed with none other then the problematic little John Laurens and the Marque de Lafayette. Burr squinted at the screen and listened closely. Was Alex....? Why yes, he was asleep! But it was barely past noon, and Alex had said he had slammed down something like six cups of coffee that morning. He should be wired like a squirrel right now, so how the fuck did that sneaky little asshole John get Alex to lay still long enough to fall asleep with him? This wasn't good. This wasn't good at all. He needed to pull Alex out of there, or at the very least, he needed an extra set of eyes and ears in that room NOW.

The door buzzed and that's when miss Maria Reynolds walked into the room.

“Maria!” Burr greeted with a smile. “Just the woman I wanted to see.” She ignored him as she strode past, making her way directly for the hallway that would lead to her studio. “I don't know where you think you're going,” he called after her as he started typing at his keyboard. “Your session has been canceled today.”

Immediately she whirled around and shot him a glare. “What are you talking about?” she asked coming up to his desk. “You can't just cancel my sessions!! I Need The Money!!”

“Sorry, baby girl, I just did,” Burr cooed at her.

“I am NOT your baby girl.”

“Listen, I know you think my canceling your session was a wicked bad thing for me to do, but I pulled you out today because I need you to do another job for me. One where you can keep your clothes on.”

“I can't believe I'm saying this, to you of all people even, but I'd rather take my clothes off for my money, thanks,” she hissed at him.

“You're not listening to me, Maria. I've already pulled you off today, I'm not gunna put you back in, and if you keep talking to me in this disrespectful tone I'm going to pull your sessions for the rest of the week too.”

“You can't do that!” she screeched at him, but reeled her anger in when he didn't seemed at all phased by it. She took a deep breath and tried her best to ask calmly, “What other job do you have for me?”

Burr smiled, a charming little smile that held no warmth in it. “I need you to go make sure Alex isn't in more trouble then he thinks he is.”

“What trouble is Alex in?” she asked, and this time her tone did carry actual concern.

“Well, the short end of it is that I think he's found his way into the house of someone who used be a client of ours, I'm still checking some things. I don't know if the man has any intention of hurting Alex, and of course you know how he'll respond if he finds out someone like that found a way to wheedle into his life, he'd just be a mess. So I need someone I can trust to go and check things out personally, then report back to me exactly how it is.”

“And you trust me to do that?”

“I trust that you'd do anything to keep your daughter out of doing exactly what mommy does to pay the bills, Maria. After all, she's only two years old, isn't she?”

He watched her fight to keep the fear off her face, but of course that wasn't possible. Maria looked away as she blinked back her tears, caught in his trap with no foreseeable escape. How he did delight in pulling her strings and controlling her like a puppet. “I know you must be reeling to hear something like that, baby girl, so let me go a head a sweeten the deal for you. I'll pay you for this job as well, three times that what you'd make today. There now, see? I'm not such a bad guy, am I?”

“Fine,” she said after a moment. “Where is Alex? And what, exactly, do you expect me to do?”

“That's a good girl,” Aaron cooed at her. He jotted down the information and handed it over. “Just pick him up and get him somewhere safe. Bring him here, take him to your house, perhaps. Or take him out for ice cream, I don't really care. I just want him with...family right now, ya know? His little roommate might want to tag along. Do me a favor and ditch the kid, or any of his friends that try to follow. And whatever you do, don't tip him off to why you're making him run errands with you. Let me handle that.”

“You're a despicable human being,” Maria said as she turned around to leave. “I don't know what Alex sees in you.”

“He sees God,” Burr called after her. He smiled as she glared at him from the doorway. “Or at the very least, salvation. Much like you did once, didn't you?”

“Go back to hell where you belong, demon.” She spat on the floor then turned and stormed out of the room. Burr sighed as the door slammed in her wake, then calmly turned back to his computer and deleted every session she had for the next two weeks.

 


 

Alex felt John's hands around him, and he heard himself talking to John, but he wondered why John had stopped talking back. Did John.....did John no longer like him? No, that couldn't have been true because he was still holding onto Alex and why would he do that if he didn't like Alex? He looked up to ask John what was wrong, but instead he kissed him and felt relief when John kissed back. Alex rolled on top of him and panted, grinding their hips together, feeling that friction...hearing John moan. He liked this, he liked John.

He heard a splash come from off the side of the bed and he looked away, momentary panic gripping his heart. The floor was flooded. Floors shouldn't be flooded, floors should NEVER be flooded. Lafayette's face swam up to the edge of the bed and stared at him. Alex asked him why the room was flooded.

“Storm is coming,” Lafayette said. Alex noticed rows of sharp teeth in his mouth. Shark teeth. “What are you doing with my John?”

He looked back to John, he wanted to ask him what Lafayette meant, but he didn't have too. John's bear torso started to fade from human to the underbelly of a great white shark below his navel, like some special kind of mermaid. “The toilet is backed up again,” John said. “We should call a plumber about that.”

Alex said he would fix it. He got off John and splashed into the water, walking past Lafayette, whose glistening stripped silver tail Alex now caught sight of as we waded past in murky water. The toilet was overflowing, but as soon as Alex touched it, it stopped. It was fine. He made use of it and started washing his hands, not feeling at all relieved. He needed to take a shower before work. But John was in the tub and he took up all of the floor space. Alex asked him to move. “Why?” John asked him. “You can scrub all you want but you'll never be clean again. You sold your soul, remember?”

Alex asked him to whom had he sold his soul, but John only stared back at him. “I know what you are,” he said. Alex asked him what John meant by that. “Whore,” John said. He didn't have time for this, he was going to be late for work.

He left the house and turned to looked back at it....the house he had lived in with his uncle when he first came to the states. A gunshot went off inside and he ran; maybe if he ran fast enough they wouldn't find him, they wouldn't be able to drag him back. He would run and run and run, but the sounds of police sirens still followed him. He couldn't run anymore and he stopped, collapsing on the floor, but the sirens sped past him as if he wasn't even there. Alex looked up, and they were gone. What was he doing? Where was he going?

He had to stop and ask James for advice. It was important. He bounced in place as he waited in line, UGH! Could it move any slower?! Finally it was his turn and James handed him the key to the bathroom. He took it and made his way back there, forgetting what it was he needed advice with. Maybe it wasn't important.

He made use of the urinal. He made use of the urinal. He made use of the urinal. He didn't have time for this, he was going to be late for work. His reflection in the mirror growled at him. “You can't keep me locked away forever,” it yelled at him as it banged it's hands angrily against the glass from the other side. “No one likes you! You're boring!! They Only Want Me!!” Alex ignored it as he washed his hands. He always ignored it as he washed his hands. The more his reflection banged, the more it's arms and hands bled as the mirror began to crack and break. It screamed in agony, but Alex didn't care.

He walked to work, it didn't take as long as he remembered. The doors were all unlocked, but as Alex walked through them they kept slamming shut behind him. He knew without checking they were locked too. He couldn't go back, only forward, so Alex kept walking forward through door after door. “Alex, baby!” Aaron greeted him when he got to the lobby, it seemed like it took him forever to get there. Alex walked to his desk and saw a cup of tea sitting there. “Drink it,” Aaron commanded him, but Alex didn't want to. It was poisoned, he knew it was poisoned. “But why would I ever hurt you, baby?” Aaron asked him. His eyes were completely black. His teeth were sharp. “You were a falling star and I caught you, baby. I saved you. Every single moment of your life from the time you were seventeen has been a gift from me. You owe me.” Alex drank the tea.

It was not a good idea.

He coughed and gagged. He ran into a bathroom and threw up, threw up words. He threw up so many words, they just lay in puddles, in his lap, dripping from his arms, spilling from the seat of the toilet. He was covered in them, a mess. They were inky black and slimy, clinging to his skin and clothes. He tried to read what they said, but they mixed together in a blur. Then, some of them started to turn red and if he was touching those ones they burned. They burned like fire and one word started to blaze bright in the black ink: Liar! LIar! LIAr! LIAR!

He took his clothes off and realized he was no longer Alex. Alex was dead, the words were gone, and this was Lin's world now. Lin would do what he wanted with Alex's body because it belonged to him now. He touched himself and fucked himself, and people watched him do it. They liked him for it. That was the only thing they liked him for. It was the only thing he was good at anymore. Aaron led him down a hallway, and opened a door at which a long line of people where standing outside of. The room only had a bed in it. The bed had chains. He wanted to run away. He wanted to say no. But Lin wouldn't let him. Lin calmly walked to the bed and put the chains on. He did it with a smile. “Remember baby,” Aaron cooed at him. “Talk less. Smile more.”

John walked into the room then. “I know what you are,” John said again. “Whore.” That was supposed to hurt him, and if he was Alex it would have. But he was Lin now and Lin didn't care. He kneeled before John and clutched at his waist. “I can be your whore,” he told John. “I can be your everything. Tell me what you want.”

“Alex,” John said.

“Alex isn't here anymore. I killed him. He's dead.”

“Alex, wake up.”

He stared up at John, wondering what he meant. He was awake, they were awake. And they were kissing, and he was gunna show him such a good time.

“Alex get up!” John's voice called from somewhere else. “Alex! Why isn't he waking up?!”

“John, calm down” Lafayette's voice said. “He must be very tired.”

“ALEX!! ALEXANDER!!” He felt someone shaking him. The world was crumbling around him. It was dark. And then.... “ALEX!! ALEX!!

 


 

“Wha—?!” Alex said as he rolled over and opened his eyes. He was back in Thomas's room, Lafayette and John were standing over him, peering almost too close for comfort. “Whazit?” he asked. John sighed in relief and behind him Lafayette too seemed to look like a burden had been lifted. “Whaswrong?”

“You peed the bed, ami.”

That's when he became aware of the warm, wet mess he was laying in. It covered his legs it ran up the small of his back. Alex sighed as he sat up to look down at himself, his head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. He really wanted to go back to sleep.

“No, no, no,” he heard John say, holding him upright. “You need to get up, we gotta...we gotta clean you up, okay?”

“Okay,” Alex agreed. “Just five more minutes...”

“Alex!”

He grunted as he moved to get up. He felt gross as he moved. His limbs still felt heavy and like they didn't want to cooperate with his brain. Alex blearily looked around, holding onto John's hands because his feet tried to trip him underneath. Lafayette took hold of his other arm and helped hold him up.

“Okay,” John said in a voice that was too matter-of-fact. “He needs to get out of these clothes and wiped down, the bed needs to get stripped and the sheets should be washed, do you want to strip him or the bed?”

Puis-je vous faire confiance pour ne pas toucher ce qui n'est pas encore à vous?” Lafayette asked him.

Vous pouvez, ne soyez pas vulgaire,” John said with a pout.

“Oh, you guys speak French?” Alex asked, his face lighting up. “Teach me to speak French! I need it for a client I have to work with! They like it when I speak French!” He didn't catch the way John looked uncomfortable or the too amused look Lafayette shot him. “All I can say right now is...is...moon cherri.....I think.”

Mon cherie,” Lafayette and John replied together.

“Oh wow, you guys are good.”

“You know what else your client might like to be called?” Lafayette asked, ignoring the deathglare John was shooting back at him over Alex's head. “Précieux cygne.” John forced himself to take a deep breath instead of wrangling Lafayette's neck. That was a lover's name he had not been called by in nearly two years and Lafayette should have known better then to bring it up. It hurt to hear him say it.

“Pressure singing.”

Okay, he was wrong. It hurt more to hear Alex attempt to say it. Lafayette covered his smile and tried not to chuckle too loudly. “We will work on it more later, petit lion,” Lafayette said and he turned to leave the room before John could shoot him an accusing look. Guess that meant he was trusting John with Alex...and the bed? John sighed in annoyance.

“Okay, let's....get you out of these clothes,” John said.

“Mmm,” Alex replied without letting go of John's hands. He was swaying a little too dangerously, and John wasn't sure if letting him go would be a smart move. “What does he mean by petty lawn?” he asked.

Petit lion,” John repeated, enunciating the phrase for Alex. “He's calling you a small lion. It...it doesn't mean anything. He thinks he's being affectionate.” John let go of Alex's hands and caught him by the shoulders as he swayed. By the looks of things, the tank top was tubular enough he could just...slide it down around Alex's hips so John set to work getting Alex's arms free from it's thin spaghetti straps in order to do just that, keeping at least one hand on Alex at all times.

“Oh,” Alex said. “I mean, I guess at least I'm a lion, yeah?”

“Mmm.”

“So....what's the other one mean?”

Mon cherie? That means—”

“No, no, I know that one...the other one. The....the pusher swing?”

Précieux cygne,” John reiterated, again making sure to sound the words out slowly for Alex. He pushed the the shirt down to the waist of the pants his roommate was wearing, then gathered the pee soaked waistband in his hands and pulled those down as well, kneeling before Alex and ignoring entirely what he knew he would find underneath the clothes.

“Pres-sure sing,” Alex said again.

Précieux,” John repeated, lifting one of Alex's feet. He wasn't startled or surprised at all when Alex's balance faltered and he madly grabbed onto John's head to steady himself.

“Pressure, I'm saying it right!”

“You're not accenting the e correctly, it's like an 'eeh' sound, not an 'eh” sound.”

“That's....that's the same thing,” Alex argued, sounding defeated.

“It's a subtle difference.”

“Well, what's it mean, anyway? That phrase.”

John bit his lip as he gathered the clothes he'd now successfully gotten off Alex and stood up. “I....I don't know.....those words...”

“Oooooh, it means something baaaaad, doesn't it?”

John didn't know how else to explain without outing himself so he just said, “Yeah...it's not something I would use on a client you wanted to keep....if they knew French...”

“What would you use?” Alex asked around a yawn.

“I don't know, something stupid probably.”

Alex smiled. “Well tell me something stupid then. Between you and me, who just wet the bed like a little kid and feels like a total ass about it? C'mon John, make me feel better with some stupid French phrase.”

John laughed lightly as he turned to gather the sheets in the middle of the bed. Thank god Thomas had on a plastic mattress protector; at least they didn't have to worry about how to wash an entire bed. With a shrug, John gave him the only phrase he could think to translate into French right then that matched the theme of what they were talking about. “Tortue maladroite.”

“Torture what now?” Alex asked.

Tortue. It means turtle,” John replied. “Maladroite means like bumbling, awkward, clumsy, or stupid.” He turned and tried to ignore that Alex was now standing naked behind him as he laid the palm of his hand over the back of his other hand and rotated his thumbs so they looked like swimming flippers. “My brother's and I do this and we say 'aaaawkard tuuuuurtle' when one of us is doing something dumb, ya know, to tease each other.” He watched as Alex mimicked the hand gesture for a minute, trying to master how coordinated John's thumbs were in rotating to look like they were synchronized. By comparison, Alex's thumbs flailed about independently of each other and he let out a low laugh, thinking maybe that was the point, since the imaginary turtle would have looked far more bumbling if it tried to walk the way Alex was doing it.

“Okay,” Alex said, dropping his hands and rubbing at his face. He was still tired, but clearly he wasn't gunna get to crawl back into a bed anytime soon. “So what would be a nice phrase to say to a client if I wanted to impress them and make them feel better?”

“I think if you can manage to actually say anything in French for a client they'd be happy about it.”

“I can say things in French.”

“Say 'awkward turtle' in French then.”

“Tortured—no, hush let me say it—tortured malachite.” Alex smiled so proudly that John had to laugh at him. “Yeah, see, I'm pretty good, aren't I? We can go on a tour of France now. You wanna go see the Eiffel Tower? I'll take you.”

“I've already been there,” John told him, smiling at Alex's too confident attitude.

“You have?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Oh, Laf took you?”

“Pretty much, yeah. He took me all the way up to the top.”

“Damn. Okay, then, how about....we go see...Notre-Dame?”

“Seen it.”

“The French palace?”

“Which one?”

“There's more then one?”

“Oh yeah. And I've seen quiet a few of them. There's a lot of cathedrals too.”

“I suppose you've been to Disneyland in Paris too?”

“Mm-hmm. Laf and I spent three days there.”

“Well, is there anywhere in France that Laf hasn't taken you yet?”

John thought about it for a moment, then answered, “the catacombs.”

“Catacombs?” Alex repeated. That seemed to help shake of the dregs of sleep that still fogged his mind. “Catacombs?”

He nodded, smiling bemusedly at the shocked look on Alex's face. “He was too scared to go. It's the one thing in Paris I know I haven't seen.”

“What is the one thing in Paris you have not seen?” Lafayette said as he came back into the room with a wet wash rag and a towel. “I took you to see everything.”

“Apparently not the catacombs,” Alex answered and all color drained from Lafayette's face.

Non Non Non!” he cried, frantically waving his hands in front of himself. “Je t'ai dit que je n'irais pas! Cet endroit est hanté, voulez-vous être maudit?!”

“Well, I might not speak French, but I know what that means,” Alex said. “It's haunted, isn't it?”

Cet endroit est rempli de morts,” Lafayette replied, heedless that Alex would not understand. “Les gens qui veulent l'explorer disparaissent tout le temps.” He pointed at the smirk John wore on his face hearing him say such things. “Arrêtez de sourire à ce sujet, ce n’est pas un endroit où une personne sensée voudrait aller. Toute la beauté de mon pays et vous préféreriez être entourés par les morts.”

Les morts nous entourent peu importe où nous allons,” John replied. “And yes,” he said to Alex, “he's saying it's haunted and cursed. And that he won't go, cuz he's scared.”

“Sounds like you need a lion then. A petty lion!”

Lafayette shook his head as he handed Alex the washcloth. “You are crazy. Both of you. Those are not playgrounds to run around in like it is no big deal. Je ne comprends pas parfois votre fixation sur la mort. Je souhaite que vous laissiez cela aller.”

John shrugged, even as Alex looked at him for a translation, and moved to Thomas's closet to find Alex a new pair of pants so he wouldn't have to see either male's gaze on him. Alex's bewildered look he could handle, but the disapproving stare of his best friend was another matter. So what if John had a fixation on death? He wasn't gunna off himself on some tourist attraction underneath the city of Paris. He just thought it was interesting to think about all the millions of people who lived and died before he had, how one day he too would be little more then dust on the wind like them. He liked to wonder where their souls were, what kind of people they were like, if any of them were, well, like him. Billions of people on this planet, billions and billions of people to have ever lived and died, and somehow he felt so isolated from all of them sometimes.

“Well, you don't have to come if you don't want, Laf,” Alex said with a little shrug. “But I'll take John, if he wants to go.”

“You will get cursed.”

“Nah, we'll be fine,” Alex replied. He smiled as he caught John peeking over at him. “Aren't there like a million cathedrals or something? We'll just pop in for a Sunday mass afterwards and then catch some brunch or something, sound like a date?”

John smiled back, despite Lafayette's muttering that it did not sound at all like a pleasant time to him, but John was glad that Alex didn't seem to mind the thought of it. “Sure. It's a date then,” he said as his best friend threw his hands in the air. John handed Alex a pair of jeans and tried not to let his stupid bubbly excitement at the thought of going on a date with Alex show to much on his face. It wasn't like they could just pop over to Paris tomorrow for funsies.

“Well, I forbid you from making that your first date,” Lafayette said. “You two can do something boring and common for your first date instead. See a movie, go to dinner. I do not care, just no cemeteries, no dead bodies, no haunting buildings, nothing like that!” He huffed at the mess of bed sheets. “Thomas is going to be so mad,” the French man said and Alex began to giggle to himself, swaying dangerously as he was standing on one leg and causing John to anxiously reach for him and step closer, in case he fell.

“One might even say...” Alex trailed as his head lobbed froward for a minute and he giggled a little more while stepping into the legs. “He's going to be....heheh...pissed.”

“Oh no,” John said with his own laugh. “He's making puns.”

“Hey, c'mon,” Alex went on, hitching the pants up and buttoning them closed. “Let's look on the bright side here......” He giggled more trying hard to reign in the bubbly attitude because god were his jokes funny. “At least it's not.....a shitty situation.” He let go of the pants and they immediately fell straight to the floor around his ankles; apparently Thomas was a bit bigger in his waist then Alex was. John laughed some and Alex bent down to pick the pants back up, holding them in place this time with one hand. He leaned against John trying to plant a kiss on his mouth but missed entirely and ended up smooshing his face against John's neck, causing him to laugh more.

“C'mon, what are ya doin', ya goof?” John asked, and Alex wondered if that hint of a southern accent had always been there or how he had not noticed it until just now.

“Nothing,” Alex replied, smiling as he nuzzled John. He felt so warm and Alex hugged him just wanting to be embraced by that warmth.

“You're still tired, aren't you?” John asked.

“Nooo, I'm awake.”

“John, shouldn't you change too?” Lafayette asked him. “You were the one who noticed first that Alex had peed the bed.”

John glanced down at his own pants, only slightly damp on one side now from the experience. “I'll just wait for my original clothes to be dry. It's fine.” Alex buried his face with an embarrassed grunt and John reached up to pet him. “Hey, c'mon Alex, it's not that big of a deal.”

“You're surprisingly okay with this,” Alex asked. “Are you into golden showers or something?”

John blushed profusely as Lafayette turned to ask, “what are golden showers?”

“Oh, you know, getting sexual pleasure from being peed on or other forms of piss play,” Alex explained nonchalantly. “I think the technical term for it is....urophilia?”

“I do not get sexual pleasure form being peed on!” John defended. “Or peeing on people!”

Non merde,” Lafayette said. “I think that would have been a very long conversation between us if you did.”

“Well, okay,” Alex said as he looked up at John with innocent brown eyes. “But I mean, I'm still curious about how you're just, 'ho-hum, just another day getting pissed on,' about this. I mean, I'm grateful you're not mad, but it seems a little strange, ya know? Will you sate my curiosity, please John?”

He sighed, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Look, if I tell you guys, you gotta promise you won't make a big deal about it, okay? And whatever you do, never, ever fucking once mention I said anything about this, cuz I'll kill you both, got it? Like I don't care if one of you says something, you're both getting shot.”

“Then count me out,” Lafayette said as he gathered the bed sheets and moved toward the door. “That does not sound like a secret of yours I can use for blackmail against you, I am not interested.”

“You can't use any of my secrets against me,” John said defiantly, but Lafayette's only reply was an unspoken look that told John he didn't buy that bluff for a minute. Rolling his eyes after he was gone, John asked, “so are you sure you wanna hear this secret of mine?”

“Only if you want to tell me it,” Alex replied. “And you know you don't have too, I'll probably live a richer fuller life without this big, private John Laurens secret hanging over my head, but you know, I'm already in so deep knowing about your shark genitalia and your sexually questionable dreams about me...so, what else you got?”

John chuckled some. “Okay, so....I have this little sister named Mary, right?”

“I do recall you having one of those, yes.”

“And there's an 8 year difference between us. So when I was...eleven, or abouts there, she was only about three or so. And she'd....she'd crawl into bed with me whenever she had a bad dream, because I wouldn't send her back to her own room like Mom and Dad did with the rest of us.” John shrugged. “Sometimes she'd have accidents in my bed, so I just got used to cleaning them up because it was easier then throwing a fit and making everyone in the house mad.”

“Geeze, you are a big brother, huh?”

John shrugged as if it wasn't a big deal and didn't say anything more. He didn't want to explain the real reason his little sister had taken to crawling into his bed at night, or that she still did it even now that he was almost twenty-three and she was fourteen. He knew what people would say; that it was improper, that he was talking advantage of her, that they were incestuous and disgusting and sinners bound for hell for the sexual acts they committed. The thing was, there wasn't a damn lick of truth to any of that, but John only needed to be woken up once by his father dragging him out of his own bed by his hair the first time they were found together when he was sixteen and Mary was only eight. His father had accused him of some really awful shit. It had been one of the worst fights John had ever had with the man. But he'd never touched Mary. He never would.

Nearly seven years later and the memory still caused John to choose his words very carefully when he talked about how close he was with his baby sister. She meant so much to him, and maybe their relationship was a little outside the normal parameters for siblings, but he honestly didn't care. He'd do anything to protect her, even if it would cost him his life. How else could he ever replay the kindness she showed him at three years old when she'd first crawled into his bed as he lay sobbing into his pillow about all the things that had been done to him and offered him her favorite blankie, her softest teddy bear and even the damn binkie from her mouth to sooth him? How could he talk about how she'd hug him when he woke up screaming and wait with him until his terror passed? Who would ever understand the way she never asked him to explain the demons that plagued him, just loved him through his darkness and held his hand in hers so tightly that he was certain some nights she must have known if she let go of him he'd never see the morning, and yet, she got him there time and time again. She started writing him letters when he went away to college because she must've known he would need some piece of her to continually find him and keep him safe. He wrote back because he needed her to know he loved her so much.

The sound of the doorbell ringing brought John back to the present and he shook his head to clear it of unnecessary thoughts. Alex turned to go see who was at the door, but tripped over the too long legs of the jeans and John's reflexes unfortunately weren't quick enough this time to catch him. He landed on the floor with a surprised thud and a groan. John figured the door could wait as he bent down to make sure Alex was okay.

“Hey,” John said, rolling Alex onto his back. “You okay there bud?”

“Yeah,” Alex moaned. “The only thing that's hurt is my pride.”

“Oh no,” John replied, “that's basically a death sentence.” He could hear Lafayette answering the door and talking to whoever was on the other side.

“Spread my ashes over my writing desk,” Alex said in a maudlin tone. “Tell my wife I died valiantly in battle and that I perished screaming her name with all the passion I regret I couldn't return home to show her.”

“You have a wife?” John said, unamused.

Alex looked like he was thinking hard about something for a moment then said, “pick a girl at random and tell her that her dear Hamilton has died valiantly in battle, and that he perished screaming in agony for he knew not yet her name to call and regrets that he'll never know the comfort of her arms. Tell her he regrets that he could not lay upon her body the passionate love that he felt for her, but that you, my most beloved friend John will step in to fulfill—”

“I'm gay.”

“........pick a boy at random, and tell him—Hey! Where are you going?!”

“You're fine, ya big drama llama!” John said with a laugh.

“My pride was wounded, man! Does that mean nothing to you? You said it was fatal!”

“Yeah, but I'm gunna be a lawyer not a doctor, remember?”

Alex scrambled to his feet just as John was meeting Lafayette in the living room. “We have a problem,” the French man said, looking worried. “Thomas needs to move, this house is haunted. Pack up everything, I am moving him away tonight.”

“Why, what kind of problem does Thomas have?” Alex asked. “Aside from, you know, being a dick.”

“This house has bad ju-ju,” Lafayette said as he nervously waved his hands around. “I think it was Thomas's curse when I live here, but now I think it is the house. Also, there is a woman outside for you, but she is very mad; and we cannot let her in.”

Alex looked confused until John snorted. “Oh lord, does he still have that shitty sexist rule about needing the approval of two housemates before letting a woman in? He's gunna get himself slapped.”

“Well, he did not change it even after Angelica slapped him for it, so I do not know what else can be done.”

“Just let her in if she wants in. It's Thomas's curse or whatever to deal with, right?”

Non, non, non, you cannot! Thomas will be mad!”

“Okay! Okay!” Alex called as he walked to the front door. “I'll talk to her outside, Laf. Just keep your pants on!” He laughed at his own stupid joke as he opened the door and turned to see, to his surprise, a woman he knew all too well standing on it's stoop. “Maria? What are you doing here?”

 

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 13:

Maria stood on the front porch of the address Burr had given her and rang the doorbell. She thought about telling Alex everything; that he was in danger, that Burr was a fucking creep, that he'd threatened her, that he'd threatened her child, that she'd rather be sucking stranger's dicks behind dumpsters at three in the morning to pay for the studio apartment her kid would be asleep in because honestly, that was a far safer position to be in then working for Burr. Maybe, if she was lucky, she could get a day job working a pole, or serving drinks to guys while they watched girls prettier and younger then her dance on a stage. Maybe, if she was lucky, she could manage to run far enough away to have a month or so of freedom before Burr found her again. Maybe, if she was lucky, she'd see her kid again after telling him all of this.

She knew she'd never make it that far. And she seriously doubted she'd last that long. She had no money, she had no where to go, and Burr knew how to see everything, to find out anything. Where could she hide herself and her child where they wouldn't be found? In the woods? Far away from civilization? Where could she run to find freedom? Would they be better off, if she took her daughter's life and then her own? Was that the only way to escape the hell she'd walked her family into?

She pressed the doorbell a few more times, surprised when the front door finally opened and a man in a dress and leggings answered it, asking in a thick French accent, “Bonjour! Can I help you mademoiselle?”

“I'm looking for Alex,” she said, trying to sound as if nothing was wrong. Get Alex, get out, get away. That was the objective here, simple. Alex, out, away. What she would tell him about Burr would come afterward. “Is he here?”

“And who are you?” the man asked as he looked her up and down. “How did you know he was here?”

“His stupid Snapchat account is broken,” she explained. “He doesn't even have the app on his phone anymore, but it still tracks where his phone is.” She doubted that was the actual truth, but it's the bullshit lie Burr fed everyone when they started picking up that he seemed to know more then he should about their whereabouts. It was also the story she knew Alex would corroborate; as well as being the reason he sometimes just.....forgot...his phone at home when he decided to go for a stroll, despite having previous experience with a stalker in the past. Honestly tho, if it was that easy to ditch Burr for good then neither her nor Alex would be in the mess that they were in. Feeling pressured to get to Alex as fast as possible, she decided to play a Bitch Card to get things moving. “Listen, he was supposed to meet me for lunch and I waited an hour at the restaurant by myself, feeling like an idiot when I realized I was stood up, so he'd better be in there, and you'd better go get him, or else you're gunna get the chewing out I'm stewing on and saving for him.”

Once more the man's eyes darted up and down her body, but a faux smile remained on his features as he said, “One moment,” and retreated behind the closing door. She tensed even as she heard Alex's voice calling something in the background of the house. A primal part of her thought of kicking down that door, grabbing Alex and making a break for it, but she knew that's not how Burr would have her play it. Get Alex, get out, get away. Don't let him know something was.....well, wrong.

A moment later and she couldn't help the flood of relief that washed over her face when Alex opened the door. “Maria? What are you doing here?”

She noticed the two people standing behind him and so kept up her angry facade. “You stood me up for lunch today!”

“I did?”

“Yeah boo. I waited an hour. If you wanted to hang out with your boys, you shoulda called me!”

Behind Alex, the French man in a dress started shaking his head and tutting something about the house being haunted. Aware he was just standing in the open doorway, Alex stepped out onto the porch and shut the front door behind him. “Maria, what's really going on?” he asked in a hushed voice. “We didn't have plans, you work today.”

“Burr canceled all my sessions today,” she told him just as hushed. “I am livid mad and I just need someone to calm me down so I don't fucking murder the shit out of him!”

“What? But why?”

“I dunno Alex, you tell me!! Has Burr ever just canceled all your shit on you?! Probably not, he fucking loves you!!”

“Okay, okay,” Alex soothed, patting the air between them. “And actually, yes, he has canceled or reorganized my schedule for me when I was too over worked, so this probably isn't a big deal. Do you want me to talk to him, find out what's going on for you?”

“Not a big deal? Alex, I need the money! If I don't work my family doesn't eat. There—there's car payments and rent is due next week and I need to be able to buy Susie more clothes as she grows and—and—and pay all our stupid bills!” She could feel the tears coming down her cheeks now, and she wasn't sure if it was an act or reality as she thought of the trouble she could be in if Burr didn't make good on his promise to pay her for this. God, she felt so awful lying to him. “That is a very big deal to me! I don't want you to talk to him and make him understand why I need the work, he should fucking know why I need the work, Alex!! I want you to talk to me and keep me out of jail right now because I want him dead, Alex! I want to fucking murder that man, do you understand me?! I would fucking shoot him if I knew I could get away with it!!”

“Okay, shhh, shhhh,” Alex said, taking hold of her shaking free hand as she rubbed at her forehead with the other. “It's okay. Maria, we'll figure something out. Why don't you come inside—”

“No, I don't want to sit down on someone's couch and have to explain myself to people I just met, Alex. Can't we just go drive around for a bit, please? I really need my best friend right now.”

Alex looked down at himself, then back up at her. “I mean, I don't think I can just run off without my clothes right now...” He pulled at the waistband to show her how much extra space there was in them.

“Where are your clothes?”

“In a dryer, I hope. It's a long story, and unimportant.” Alex sighed. “Okay, you obviously need me so I'll just go get my shoes and we can stop by the dorm or something, or just drive around. Hey Maria?”

“Yeah?”

“It's gunna be okay.” He squeezed her shoulder and smiled with that soft and stupid face of his, the one she knew she shouldn't love yet did. And she felt so bad, so incredibly bad that he was caught up in a web of lies he couldn't yet see, that she was helping to keep him trapped still. She hated what she was doing. She hated herself so much that she did the one thing she knew she shouldn't do.

She leaned in and kissed him.

 


 

“Will you get your head out of the damn window?” John hissed at Lafayette. “They're gunna catch you spying on them!”

“They will have to stop kissing first,” the French man replied and was not that surprised when John hurried up behind him to peek out the window as well. He sighed himself when he heard John whisper a curse to himself. “Looks like she really is his girlfriend, mon ami,” he said. “I wondered why he did not take my bait. This explains that.”

“What bait?” John asked not peeling his eyes away from the spectacle. Ugh, did they have to use tongue?

“I tried to go fishing for you,” Lafayette said with a shrug. “But he was not into me. I thought at first that was a good thing because he must be very into you, but now...” He shrugged again as he leaned back from the window. “I must have been wrong. You should not stick your head in the window for much longer. They will probably see you.”

“What do you mean, 'go fishing' Laf?” John asked but before his friend could answer he pulled back and plopped on the couch, dragging Lafayette along with him. “He's coming in, act natural.” He nearly slapped his friend when he leaned in as if to kiss him but instead blurted out, “And that's why my little sister isn't allowed to have stickers in the house anymore, haha, crazy story, huh Laf?” just as the front door was reopening.

“Indeed. And I would love to hear it sometime,” the French man replied dryly.

“Hey, Alex!” John nervously called, ignoring Lafayette. “How's your friend? Is she staying for lunch?”

“Huh?” Alex said looking a little lost for a moment. “Uh, no. So umm....I...gotta go help Maria with something for a bit, is it okay if I ask you to bring my clothes back to the dorm for me?”

“Yeah, sure,” John said. “You gotta take care of your girlfriend man, we get it.”

Alex looked embarrassed for a moment, smiling sheepishly and shaking his head. “No, no, see, she's married...”

“To who? You?” Lafayette asked.

“Uhh, no, no, not exactly.”

“Oh! Elle vous a sur le côté, I see.”

“What?”

“It's nothing,” John cut in. “I got your clothes Alex, don't worry about a thing. I'll catch you back at the dorm then?”

“Yeah, man. Thanks, I owe you one.” Alex smiled and saluted them both before collecting his shoes and leaving again.

As soon as the door closed behind him John's face fell and he leaned back against the couch with a sigh. He wasn't disappointed. He wasn't at all upset that Alex was involved with a woman. No, no, of course he wasn't, because that would be stupid, stupid, stupid of him to start falling for a freaking porn star of all people. He stared at the ceiling for a moment trying to repress the sudden resurgence of feelings he hated having to deal with. After a moment he remembered Lafayette was still sitting next to him and turned to see his best friend staring at him with an almost to causal look. “What?” he asked.

“She is married?” Lafayette said. “He is kissing married women? Who works with him?”

John grunted but sat up. “What do you mean, works with him?”

“You did not notice who she was? John, that is the girl we saw him...'working' with,” he quoted with his fingers, “the other day. You do not recall?”

“No, Laf. I told you I don't watch him do other people. Wait, seriously, that was one of his....his co-workers?”

“As if it is not bad enough you will be living with one sex worker, now you will be up to your eyeballs with them all semester.”

“Well good thing I'm not a judgy asshole then and oblivious to what relation they have to Alex. So...do you think she's really his girlfriend?”

“I do not know what to think about Alex anymore, mon ami. He is lying about things and I do not like it.”

“Yeah, well, I'm not exactly telling him whole truths either here, remember.”

“I think you should move in with me.”

“I think you're full of shit if you think that's going to happen, Laf.”

“Just for the semester.”

“And sleep where, exactly? On the couch of your living room? The floor of your bedroom?”

“You've shared a bed with me before.”

“And I'm not sharing one with you ever again.”

“John, we can share a bed without anything happening, that—”

“No, we have shared a bed without anything happening before things started happening and, now that you've made it very clear you don't want me anymore. I don't think we should ever share a bed again, Laf. I'm not moving in with you.” John got up and stalked to the kitchen as Lafayette rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“It is not that I do not want you, mon amour,” Lafayette called after him as he too got up to follow John. “It is that I do not want you to be stuck with me. You know this.”

“Right, so sharing a bed, yeah, that'll solve that problem.”

“It would be better then you pinning over a man you—” He stopped short as John whirled to stare him down.

“No, go ahead, finish that sentence, Laf. I dare you, I triple dog dare you.”

Lafayette narrowed his eyes at John, not wanting to be the one that backed down. “A man that you will not chase for yourself.”

“You think I won't chase a man for myself?”

The French man gestured his arms wide to his sides and dramatically looked around the space surrounding them. “How many men have you kissed since we broke up, John? I do not see anyone here but you and me.”

John's mouth opened and closed a few times as he tried to come up with a retort. “I've kissed people since we broke up!!”

“Name me one.”

John seethed, reluctant to give him the one name he did have. “You know, it's really none of your fucking business anymore who I want to kiss.”

“So go out and kiss someone already! John, it has been two years since we brake up! You can not hide away forever! Or do you really want me to become so desperate to see you happy that I start kidnapping men off the streets and leaving them tied up for you in your bed?”

He wanted to be mad, damnit he really wanted to stay mad, but the absurdity of that statement drew out a laugh before he could shove it back down again. “Oh, you would not.”

“Want to bet me? We can settle this as soon as Thomas comes back.”

“You're not tying Thomas up in my bed, Laf!” John shoved playfully at his friend's shoulder.

Non, of course not. That would be silly,” the French man replied. “We will go to a club, and you can either go home with a guy you like or I will kidnap one for you and bring him back to your dorm when you...” he waved his hand in that circular motion that always told John that Lafayette was looking for a word, “...rooster out.”

John laughed again, shaking his head at his friend's lingual mix up. “It's 'chicken out,' Laf. There's not really a meaning for 'rooster out' although if there was it would probably have something to do with my dick.”

“Rooster out with a guy you like or I will find you one to rooster out with.”

“You know what you glorious French bastard? I'm gunna take you up on that. AND! And, I'm also gunna bet that not only will I be able to snag a guy to go home with in one night, but that you won't even be able to find a guy I really like to kidnap for me if I don't!”

“You are suddenly very confident for someone whom is too scared to come out of his closet, mon ami,” Lafayette teased. He held out his hand all the same, but pulled it away when John made to reach for it. “We do it tonight. Once you shake my hand there is no, how you say, chicken out?”

“I'm not scared to leave my closet, Laf.” John snatched his friend's hand and shook it. The quick kiss that came afterwards hardly startled him. Although he wasn't going to outwardly admit it, he knew Lafayette had a point. He had been avoiding doing exactly what he'd told himself he needed to get out there and do for two years and it was time to finally get off his ass and go do it.

“Hmm, we shall see,” Lafayette told him, smiling all the same.

“I'm not!” John insisted as he let go of his friend and turned back into the kitchen. “Just you wait, I'll show you! We'll go to the club, I'll get so drunk I won't care who I fuck and then I'll just go home with the first guy that will have me! And you can suck it!”

“Oh non, non, non, we are NOT doing that,” the French man chastised. “You get one beer at the bar, that is all.”

“Five, at least,” John countered.

“Three, final offer, or no beer you got to do it sober.”

“I didn't agree to do it sober.”

“Three beers, mon ami.”

“Well then, you can't get smashed either!”

“Fine, because I cannot be smashed to kidnap a guy for you anyway. Three drinks. One from me, one from Thomas and the third must come from the guy you will be going home with, tho I suspect I will buy you that one as well to get you to sleep with the man I will pick out.”

“Oh you will not!” John griped. “I can seduce any guy just as good as you can.”

Lafayette nodded at him as if he were humoring a child. “Well, I will believe it when I see it.”

“Then prepare to be amazed!” John stopped his rummaging through the fridge and cabinets to turn back toward his friend. “Are you hungry? Thomas doesn't have much here, but there's the makings of grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“I would like that,” Lafayette said. He leaned in and kissed John's cheek, for a moment his hands rested on either side of John's hips, giving a small but affectionate squeeze. But then he let John go and wandered off to give him the space he needed to cook. John let out the breath he'd held and brushed it off. Lafayette had always been affectionate with him, this wasn't new. But this time it felt almost patronizing, like he really was sure John was all bark and no bite on their last topic of conversation. Or maybe he was actually trying to fluff John up for it. Either way, it bothered John. He didn't need to be prodded into doing this and he didn't enjoy having his best friend's doubt hanging overhead. He wasn't shy or scared to come out of his closet, it just wasn't anyone's fucking business what he was doing in bed, or....not doing rather....And okay, he wouldn't come out to his father, ever, but that wasn't a fear thing per se so much as it was just common sense. You didn't tell Henry Laurens SR he'd raised a gay son; you just didn't if you knew what was good for you, and John knew what was good for him.

This would be good for him. He wouldn't be hung up on Lafayette anymore, he wouldn't be stepping on eggshells around Alex. He could relax and maybe, just maybe, enjoy himself a little. The cuddles and kisses his best friend bestowed upon him aside, it had been far too long since he'd had someone be physically intimate with him and god did he really want it sometimes. It was just time.

John nodded as the weight of his decision settled over him in a positive feeling. It was time to move on.

 


 

Alex hung one hand out of the car window, allowing it to coast by on the waves of air currents as they drove along. The wind also blew his hair around his face, so for the most part he kept his eyes closed and just tried to enjoy the summertime serenity that washed over him. Maria, despite her earlier upset, seemed to calm down as soon as he climbed into her beat up Pontiac Grand Am. He figured she just needed a minute to gather her thoughts, or maybe that all she really wanted was the company of a friend while she sorted through her own head. Or maybe still, she just needed to put her emotions aside and focus on the road; in any event he knew better then to try to distract her while driving. His other hand held loosely onto hers between their seats, but still allowed her to pull it away to drive when she needed, offering it up with ease when she could reach for it again.

It wasn't long at all before they had pulled up to the dorm and Alex unbuckled his seat belt to get out. “You wanna come in or stay here?” he asked, turning to Maria but she was already turning the car off. “Come in it is then,” he said with a smile. Holding his loose pants up with one hand, he offered her his arm and walked her across the lawn like a gentleman. He was actually quite nervous; she'd never actually visited him at his dorm before and he was secretly grateful that he had John of all people as a roommate this semester as he'd really made the space feel warm and inviting; at least more so then Alex would have ever managed. Alex held open the dorm door for her, bowing all formal like and grinning when she giggled at his charming, “after you, m'lady.”

“So this is your home away from work-home, huh?” she said as she entered and looked around. Everyone knew that over the winter and summer breaks, when the school demanded their students take a damn break and go visit their families, Alex bunkered down in his own studio. Aaron made a point of reminding him every time that this activity wasn't supposed to be allowed and that moving into an apartment would solve his temporary homeless problem, but since Alex always signed up for summer classes it wasn't like he ever spent more then two weeks at a time “living” at his work studio. Besides, he didn't want an apartment yet and the only other alternative was to make Alex sleep on the streets, which Aaron would never do to his precious workers of course. The fact that Aaron still let him get away with breaking a rule so blatantly was just one of the ways Alex was convinced the man truly cared about him.

“What do you think?” Alex asked. “John, my roommate, did most of the decorating.”

“Is he the French man that answered the door when I came and got you?” Maria asked, looking at pictures of both John and Lafayette taped to the wall beside John's bed.

“No, that's Lafayette.” Alex moved to the closet, fishing out another set of clothes that would fit him.

“Oh, the man Burr wanted to deport.”

Alex frowned as he flipped through shirts. “Maria, I told you, he wouldn't actually do that. Besides, now that I've spent some time with the guy, I think.....” Alex trailed as he tried to find the right words for how he felt about Lafayette. He'd thought he liked the guy, but now that he had a minute to stop and think about it something felt....off. No, no he liked Lafayette. At the very least he would be pleasant with him so long as he was rooming with John since they seemed like good friends...or...boyfriends? Damnit, he'd meant to ask the Frenchman about that, make sure John wasn't just being shy about it; and for Lafayette's phone number. Maybe he just needed more time to really form an opinion. He decided one shirt was as good as any other and picked the one on the top of the pile then a spare pair of jeans. He would need underwear too.

“What do you think?” Maria asked him.

“About what?” Alex replied as he pulled on the shirt. He didn't worry at all about dropping the jeans he had stolen from Thomas, since Maria had seen him naked hundreds of times, really no surprise there.

“About Lafayette? You were talking about him a minute ago, Alex.”

“Oh, umm....he seems okay,” Alex said lamely, feeling embarrassed he'd slipped away into his own head. He turned from his closet to find Maria sitting on his bed, leaning back in an almost suggestive pose. Had he never noticed how tightly her jeans hugged her hips or how the the contours of her bra peeked through her equally tight t-shirt before? “So did you just want to go grab some lunch or something?”

“Actually....could we maybe just hang out here for a bit? I've got some time to kill now and since Burr wanted to pull me off the schedule for the day I've wasted gas going into work when I apparently didn't need to.”

“Yeah, so what happened?” Alex asked.

“I told you, he just canceled my sessions!” Maria said defensively. “No rhyme or reason for it, I just walk in and I don't have work when I know I had work.”

“C'mon Maria, he had to have had some reason for it.”

“Oh you're right, his reason is that he's the devil.”

“I doubt that.”

“Then he thinks I'm getting old and is going to replace me soon.”

Alex laughed like this was a joke until he saw the look on her face. “Oh, you can't really think that, you're not even that much older then me.”

“Why not? It would make sense wouldn't it? I've been with the company for almost four years now, what if he thinks my face is too old? What if he thinks everything I do is just...the same old boring things, over and over?”

“Well, are you losing viewers?” Alex asked. “Has your revenue been decreasing?”

“What does that matter? We're just products to him Alex, and when your products go stale you replace them to keep the bottom line good. That's business.”

“We're not just objects,” he said, sitting on the bed next to her. “We're people, capable of changing and growing and adapting to our needs. If you feel like you're going stale you can try something new, ya know, shake things up. And you don't look old, Maria. We're in our 20's we've got time. Hell, Benjamin has been—”

“No, you're in your early 20's and attending Harvard law. I'm a 23 year old high school dropout, with a three year old daughter, who's working in porn because I have no other options. Between the two of us, who sounds like they have their shit together?”

“You,” Alex replied, catching her off guard. “You forgot that you're married, you're raising a family. I'm homeless four weeks out of the year, and the only reason I can even afford to go to Harvard Law School is because I suck dick for a living, so don't say doing porn can't get you somewhere. Oh, and you have a car.” He grinned trying to get her to smile back at him but Maria's expression remained decidedly not happy.

“Okay, so if I'm trying to raise a family, why is my boss taking work days away from me? Especially when I can't afford it?”

“How much do you need?”

“What?”

Alex shrugged. “How much do you need? I'll give you the money you'd have lost today, just name it.”

She stared at him in dumbfounded shock for a moment. “You....don't have to give me money, Alex. That's not—”

“I make about $400 every day,” he said, already getting up and going to fish something out of his closet again. He turned around counting off twenties from a wad of money and held out a significant portion of it for her to take. “Here, it's about $460, since I know you have more viewers then me and your cut of profits should be just about that, right?”

“Alex, I'm not going to take your money,” she replied. “And what in the world are you doing with so much cash on you? Isn't that....dangerous?”

“I don't keep it on me, it's just....a personal savings account.” He offered the money once more. “C'mon, if you don't take it I'm just gunna use it to buy you groceries or pay your rent.”

She seemed to hesitate before finally reaching out to take the money. “You...don't have to do this for me, you know.”

“I want to,” Alex replied nonchalantly. “Oh! And that reminds me, Aaron and I both noticed you needed new shoes—”

“I'm not taking those stupid red ones he bought for me.”

“Okay, easy. Look, you don't have to wear the shoes. You can sell them and get a pair you like, and if money is tight, and those are really nice shoes, then you can apply the rest of it toward anything else you need. But is it just because you don't like Aaron that you won't even accept them?”

“No, it's everything they represent.”

Alex tilted his head at her, tucking the rest of his savings back into whatever hiding hole he kept it in. “What do they represent?” he asked.

“Just that I have no control over my own body anymore,” she mumbled.

“Maria,” he moved back to sit beside her, “you do have control over your own body.”

“God, you really believe that, don't you?”

“If you want to quit working at The Company, it's okay to quit. Maybe once your husband gets a job you can be the stay at home parent for a while, okay? And I'll tutor you, we can get you a GED and then when Susie is old enough for preschool or kindergarten we can find you something else for a job, something as far away from sex work as possible if you want. It's gunna be okay.”

“Alex, it's more then that. There's a lot that I'm unhappy with right now and I just...don't know what I'm going to do about any of it.”

“Well, then you need a break. So let's start with being happy you got a day off with your best friend in the whole world, even if your boss is a jerk for not telling you before hand.” He rubbed her arm as a means to show her comfort. “Is there anything you want to do today that would make you feel better?”

She looked over at him with big, sad, brown eyes. “Do you every think about us, Alex?”

He chuckled. “What about us, Maria?”

“Like...do you ever think about us being together?”

Alex tilted his head to the side as he considered her words. “Like....if you weren't married?”

“Or just......like right now...”

He hesitated before answering. Of course he'd thought of them being together, more together then just co-workers in an unusually intimate work environment, but that was before he'd learned that she was married. He'd shelved those thoughts and any feelings he'd thought he had for her the moment she told him she had a husband, when she'd told him she had a kid; and besides that, Burr was actually pretty strict with his rules about not letting employees date each other in the work place and even if he'd let Alex slide on somethings he was certain he wasn't going to be allowed to slide on that. When he'd started at The Company he'd wanted the job more then he'd wanted Maria, so it was easy to tell himself to just leave her alone. And of course, the fact that he was still allowed to have sex with her was a great way to keep himself from wondering about that much at least, though he had to tell himself many times over once he'd learned of her marriage not to pry into how in the world her husband could be so open and understanding of her work. Alex thought he must be a saint to be cool with watching his wife get nailed by other guys and still love her enough to raise a kid together. But then, Alex knew some people got off on shit like that, so who was he to judge?

And he knew if he couldn't date someone in the same line of work as him, a line of work he had no intention of staying in forever of course, then what was the point? What if he got out of it but his significant other didn't want to? Would he be okay with that? He'd like to hope he would be, because he had such a great understanding that sex was just sex, right? It didn't have to mean anything, and the ban on dating coworkers froze any attempt real romance might make otherwise, but what if he couldn't be as cool with it as Maria's husband was? Or what if he dated someone outside of it? Would they be jealous? Hurt that Alex screwed around to earn his financial security? Any which way he looked at it, it was a mess he just didn't want to deal with. He could completely understand why Aaron had that no dating rule, and why he was so strict with it.

Still...if he stopped and really thought about it....Alex felt a little starved for genuine love. He wanted to love Maria, but he couldn't.....could he? “Maybe, a little,” he admitted. Well, no sense in telling her he didn't find her attractive, that he didn't really like her as a person. He wanted to stay on her good side after all, because they worked well together. He liked working well with her, but that was all....

“I think about us a lot,” she told him, pulling at the hem of her shirt.

“What do you think about us?” he asked already seeing where she was leading and almost regretting it. Though, it was hard to regret anything as she pulled her shirt off. Funny, he'd seen her in a million different outfits meant to show off all the curves she had in the right places, but he'd never seemed to really notice just how visually pleasing she was to him. Well, he'd noticed superficially before, it was hard not to. But as she leaned forward and unclasped her bra he noticed the way her hair fell across her face and the folds of her stomach. He watched her stand up and hitch her fingers around the button of her jeans, popping it open and sliding them down to the floor.

“Heeeeyy,” he said, trying to get his stalling brain to work again. She leaned in for him and he realized too late that she had caught his month again. There should have been nothing new in her kiss, no way that she could seduce him that he didn't already know of, and yet he was drawn into it almost immediately. “Wait,” he said into her lips, “wait, wait, Maria,” he pulled away, with reluctance he pulled away. “What is this, what are we doing? You're married.”

“He won't mind,” Maria told him, kissing him again, moving to straddle his lap. “He knows we're sleeping together.”

“For work,” Alex said around another mouthful of kiss. “Maria, this isn't work.”

“You're giving me a lot of money here, Alex. I think that warrants a reward for you, shouldn't it?”

Alex could hardly believe what he was hearing. “No, no I gave you that money because you're my friend and you need it. This,” he gestured his hands around her body, oh god, he had had his hands on her hips and now he couldn't put them back, “is not why I gave you that money. You don't owe me anything, okay?”

“What if I want to then?” she asked, biting her lip. “Just once, just you and me. No cameras, no audience watching, not for the money, not for work but because I want to...do you?”

“I think that's very different then what we do at work,” Alex whispered. “Is this what you mean when you say you feel like you don't have control of your own body anymore?”

“No,” she said with absolute conviction. She held his gaze for a moment more before leaning in to kiss along his jaw. He felt her arms wrap around his waist, one hand trailing down his stomach and over his penis. He shifted, slightly uncomfortable with her sudden foreplay. “This is actually something I've wanted to do with my body for a very....”

“Oh.”

“Long.....”

“My.”

“Time...”

“God.”

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 14:

John lay with his head on Lafayette's chest, listening to his heartbeat and lazily watching the scenes of a boring hallmark movie play out on the screen in front of them. He could hear Lafayette clicking away on his phone, tapping out some message to someone that John couldn't care less about over his back. In between his furious typing, and the sounds of messages being sent and received, his best friend ran his hands up and down John's back, petting him lazily in a soothing way. This was all he had wanted to do today and he was blissfully content to just stay laying there nuzzled up to Lafayette without a care in the world.

The French man heaved a sigh then, and John noted the hint of annoyance in it. “Je n'y crois pas,” he muttered more to himself then anyone else. “Tu ne peux rien faire sans moi?”

John shifted his head to look up at Lafayette's face. “Is everything okay?” he asked.

“I am working with a new manager, she thinks she needs my approval for. Every. Little. Thing. Bonjour Monsieur Lafayette, dites-moi quelles couleurs préférez-vous? Voulez-vous la robe courte ou la longue?” His tone was mocking and he rolled his eyes to further display his annoyance.

Voulez-vous une pipe ou une branlette que vous voudriez mieux aujourd'hui?” John replied, smiling as Lafayette chuckled even though he had to turn his head away because the bouncing of the man's chest hurt his neck.

“That is exactly what it feels like. Non non mademoiselle, I hired you to do a job so that I would not have to. Why do you come crying to me about all of these things?”

“How new is she?” John asked.

“Only two weeks. I hired her two days after I got here. She is supposed to look after the new store opening in a month.”

“Store?” John said, again turning his face up towards Lafayette's. “You have a store now?”

Non, it is not so much mine as I am just on the paperwork for the time being. A friend wanted to open her own beautiful store. You know, like Collete,” Lafayette explained. “I am just a financial investor and business partner, so I get a say in some of the decisions being made. But I do not want to have this much say.” He sighed and started immediately replying to a new message after it came in. “I will have to get up early tomorrow and go into town to address this.”

“It must be nice to be able to do whatever job you want whenever you want and still not have to worry about money,” John replied dryly.

“When you want to stop listening to ton papa and do as you please I will buy you a restaurant. Until then do not tell me how I should spend my money.”

“What if I don't want a restaurant?” John asked.

“I will buy you whatever business you wish to occupy your time with then, but only if you are sure and it makes you happy.” Lafayette set his phone down on the coffee table, though the chime that another message had came through made him sigh.

“So, are you taking on any other jobs while you're here?” John asked.

“I was considering giving dance lessons again, but I do not think that would be very wise right now.” He brought a hand up to pet John's head and kissed at the crown of it. “Opening a store is very busy work it would seem. I might need to stay focused on that for now.”

John was just nuzzling his face back down against his best friend's chest when the front door opened and Thomas's voice boomed excitedly, “GUESS WHO HAS A DAAAAATE TO GO SEE A MAJOR BROADWAY PLAY NEXT WEEK?!?” Immediately, John was made to sit up as Lafayette moved to greet him in his own excitement.

“REALLY?! YOU ASKED HIM AND HE SAID YES?!”

“HE SAID YES!! I HAVE A DATE!!”

“A DATE DATE!!”

“I HAVE A DATE DATE!!!”

John rolled his eyes from where he remained sitting on the couch as Lafayette screamed and jumped up and down excitedly for Thomas. “Congratulations,” he told Thomas after the screaming had stopped enough for John to be heard. “James seems like a nice guy, too bad he wants to date you.” He didn't mean that to sound so salty, or for Thomas's mirth to disappear so suddenly.

“You are just jealous because Thomas has a date and you have yet to ask anyone out for yourself, ever,” Lafayette said, oblivious to the looks the other two exchanged for a brief moment. “But you can try to change that when we go out and celebrate tonight!”

“Go out....where?” Thomas asked, looking between the two.

“A bar I know that will have lots of boys for John to pick from when he tried to pick one up. And good drinks for you to celebrate your new boyfriend.”

“John is going to pick up a guy?” Thomas asked. “John who? My Adams or my Jay because I know you're not talking about our Laurens right there.” John felt himself bristle a bit at that.

“I can ask a guy out just as easily as you can!”

“Uhhh, no you can't.”

“Oh, you're so right Thomas,” John retorted, fake smiling as he tapped at his forehead and stood up. “Because you don't actually know how to ask a guy out while I actually do.”

“And that is why you have had so many boyfriends,” Lafayette teased.

“Oh, bite me,” John said and headed for the laundry room to check on his clothes. The machine had chimed a while ago, but he'd been too content laying on his friend's chest to get up then. He pulled open the dryer and fished out the clothes, setting them on top of the machine and then opening the washer to switch the load of Thomas's bed sheets into the dryer. Once he set the dryer to work again, John started sorting through the articles of clothing that Thomas had washed, easily finding all of his things, but John frowned when all he found was Alex's pants and underwear. Hadn't Thomas washed Alex's shirt and sweater too? He stopped the dryer and poked around inside, even though he knew he'd emptied it of the small load it had already, just to be sure. Shaking his head as the missing items failed to turn up, he quickly changed back into his normal clothes and folded everything else. “Thomas,” John called as he walked out of the laundry room, carrying the clothes with him. “Do you know what happened to Alex's shirt and sweater?”

“His what now?” Thomas asked, confused.

“The rest of Alex's clothes. There's only his pants here.”

“I washed everything Hamilton gave me. You'll have to ask him what he did with whatever is missing. Where is the little gremlin, by the way?”

“I think he had to go to work,” Lafayette said. “Some woman come by and picked him up earlier. A co-worker of his. You need to move because your house is haunted by unhappy women.”

“What, did he leave without his pants?”

“I'll make sure he gives back the clothes he borrowed,” John said. “But I just wanna make sure I have all of his stuff, and I know that sweater needed a wash; he tried to use it as a towel after he spilled his drink on me.”

“Where was the last place you remember seeing him with it?”

“The back of your truck.” John set the folded pile of clothes down on the couch and headed out the front door to go check, sure enough finding the missing shirt and green sweater, still wet with the hose water John and Alex had been doused with. As he gathered the material and rung out the excess water he realized Alex had also left his phone and wallet in the hoodie's pocket, along with a small music player wrapped in cheap earbud headphones. Worried it might have been damaged sitting in a wet environment for how many hours, John clicked buttons first on the music player, until it showed him it was still working alright, then side buttons until the phone turned on. Nothing seemed wrong with the screen, and as he wiped away the moisture he realized with a start that Alex didn't have a lock on his phone. Frantic, John clicked the button that would close the screen again and pocketed the device, then stowed the wallet away in the same pocket. He didn't need to go through Alex's personal items.

“Did you find what you were looking for?”

John looked up as Thomas came walking toward him. “Yeah, looks like the sweater got left behind in your truck. I'm just gunna rinse it out in your utility sink and throw it in the dryer, is that alright?”

“Sure,” Thomas said with a nod, but stopped John before he could hurry back to the house. “Listen, John...uhhh, I know you don't usually go out and talk with guys, so I just want to be sure that this foolish plan of Laf's to take you out tonight is actually something you want and not just him dragging you along on something you don't want to do.”

John shifted in place, feeling uneasy being alone with Thomas as he considered his words for a moment. “Yeah, I want to go out tonight. So what of it?”

“Because if you're gunna try to go home with a stranger,” Thomas started, rubbing at the back of his neck and finding it hard to look John in the eyes, “then I want you to promise me you won't make the same mistakes you made with me.”

Again, he felt himself bristle then. “I made mistakes?” John scoffed. “Who shoved their tongue in my throat when I didn't ask for it? Or their unwanted hand down my pants?”

“Admittedly, I didn't read you right,” Thomas countered. “Nevertheless, here's what you do if you get in another situation like that again; use the palm of your hand to strike up and aim for the nose. Hit hard and run. If he gets hold of you from behind, elbow down, hit his stomach, bend forward will break his hold. Eyes, nose, ears are the best areas to go for to disorientate, got it? Eyes, nose, ears.”

“Is that what I should have done to you?” John snipped.

“Yes,” Thomas said with such conviction that John's anger deflated some. “You should have fought me like hell, John; God you have no idea how much it scares me that you didn't. And I know you'll go running to Lafayette a million times before you ever even consider asking me for help, but I want you to know that you can call me to come bail you out too."

John relaxed under Thomas's concern, though the topic they were discussing still put him on edge. “Well, I highly doubt I'm gunna need your help tonight....but I'll keep what you said in mind.”

Thomas nodded and reached out to pat John on the shoulder. “Laf's in the bathroom freshening up, so as soon as he gets out he wants to go. You better hurry if you want to get Alex's things in the dryer before then.”

“Oh, I got like 20 minutes then,” John said with a small laugh. “I'll probably be back out before he is.”

“I'll leave without you if you aren't,” Thomas teased, and for the first time John chuckled at his jab. “Go on, and tell Laf no amount of makeup is gunna make his personality better.”

“Yeah, yeah,” John said. He stepped past him and headed back toward the house, with Alex's clothes in hand.

 


 

Alex thrust himself frantically into and out of Maria as she bounced along on his lap. A hand fondled her breast, the other jumping while she moved and her hair tossled about her face and shoulders. His other hand slapped at her rump, the sound arousing him almost as much as her moaning how much she loved having him inside her. He felt himself growing tighter, wanting to pick up his pace but he knew she was having fun and he needed to wait. Slick juices leaked from her arousal, letting him slip in and out with ease.

Maria tossed her head back and started rocking as she moaned, and Alex knew she was getting close. He'd get there in a few strokes when he needed, but he slowed his pace and tried to match with the way she was rolling her hips now to get her off even more. It worked because a moment later she was rolling her head back and leaning father over him, telling him she was almost there and encouraging him to keep his pace. He pushed up into her, kissing at her neck and licking down to a breast as he steadily brought her to orgasm. Then he rolled over her to top, and thrust himself happily back and forth until he spilled himself inside her. He panted happily over her, kissing her chest, neck and face, smiling as she pulled him in for more kisses and wrapped her legs around him so he couldn't pull away. He felt full and happy enveloped by her in their post coituscuddles, and he brushed the hair carefully from her face so he could smile at her.

“Feeling better?” he asked as he lay on top of her body, nuzzling his face against her shoulder.

“Yes, much better,” Maria replied. “God Alex, nobody else fucks me as good as you do.”

“I'm sure that's not true,” he chuckled.

“It is,” she told him. “You should feel proud. You know how to treat a lady.”

“Well, I'd do anything to help you,” he said and kissed her cheek.

For a moment they lay in silence cooling down, Alex blissfully stroking her skin the absent way he always did after they fucked and Maria contemplating beneath him. She broke the spell with a sudden thought, blurting it out before she could stop herself, “let's run away together.”

“Hmm?” he questioned as he sat up. “What was that, Maria?”

“Let's run away together,” she repeated. “Let's just...let's just throw everything we need in my car and go somewhere far away.”

“What, like a vacation?”

“No, like for real. Alex, run away with me, please.”

“And where would we go?” he asked, bemused by her thoughts. The notion was ridiculous to him, and he was certain if Maria stopped and thought about it a little bit she'd see that too.

“I dunno; Let's go to Hawaii,” she said.

“You can't drive to Hawaii, Maria.”

“We'll drive to California,” she countered. “Then sell my car and buy plane tickets.”

“And where will we stay?”

“We can camp out on a beach until we found jobs, regular jobs. We'll save up and get a little apartment or a little house.”

“What about your family?”

“We'll take Susie with us, I know you would make a wonderful father to her and we could start our own family when we're ready.”

“Whoa, hold on; I'm not ready to be a father,” Alex said. “And I still have school.”

“You can transfer to a local college.”

“If I wanted to graduate from a college in Hawaii I'd be attending a college in Hawaii,” Alex said. “But I intend to graduate from Harvard in three years, Maria. I worked hard to get here, I don't want to throw that away.”

“I love you, Alexander.”

He pulled away from her and sat fully upright at hearing that. “Maria, we can't be together,” he said. “You know this.”

“Unless we run away,” Maria said, pushing herself up under him. “If we don't work for Burr anymore then we could do whatever we wanted.”

“I want to work for Aaron, I enjoy my job, Maria.”

“Why? He doesn't care about you, Alex. He doesn't care about anyone.”

“I disagree. Look, you can be mad at him, I get it. You need the work and he's forcing you to take a day off, that's stressful. But I don't think that's a good enough reason to run off to Hawaii, or anywhere else for that matter. And I mean, you're also talking about leaving your husband here, Maria. That's...a lot to take in. Is everything okay?”

“I just want to be with you, Alex,” she said, reaching for his face and kissing him. Alex stayed still and didn't feed into it, even pulled away just a bit. As she let him go she whispered, “I thought you loved me.”

“I'm sorry,” he replied. “I mean, I do, but...this is...not...what I want....”

She nodded under him, blinking back tears that started to form in her eyes. “Right. I don't know what I was thinking. It would be stupid to run away.” She shuffled out from under him and started collecting her clothes. “We'll just treat it like any other time, it doesn't have to be a big deal. Forget I even said anything, Alex. You're right, running away would be stupid. God, I'm so stupid...”

“I don't think you're stupid, Maria,” Alex told her. “I think you're unhappy about something in your life and looking for a way to change that. And that's okay, if you're unhappy you should definitely chang—”

“Alex, don't give me any of your pyscho-analytical talk right now,” Maria snapped. “You're not a therapist, you're not even a lawyer yet and frankly, I don't need you weedling your big stupid nose into any area of my life where you don't have business, okay? Just...forget anything we discussed here.”

“Oh,” he said, watching her finish buttoning up the jeans she'd pulled on again. “Well, okay, if that's how you feel....I just wanted to help.”

“Well, you're not anymore.”

“Right, because agreeing to run off with you would help somehow.”

“You could have at least just agreed to make me feel better.”

“Maria, I'm not gunna lie to you to make you feel better about yourself or your life. You're my friend. Please appreciate that I'm honest with you.”

“Well next time I'd appreciate if you were less honest.”

“Right. I got that.” Alex got to his own feet and started collecting his clothes again. “Well, if you got everything that you need, I think it might be best if you got going.”

“You're mad at me.”

“Don't tell me how I feel right now,” Alex said. “I'm not mad or upset, but we clearly need to step away from each other here and just breathe.”

“I should give you your money back—”

“And don't insult me anymore then you just did, Maria.”

“I'm not trying to insult you Alex, I just don't want you thinking I'm taking advantage of your kindness here.”

He breathed deeply and rubbed at his temple. “I gave you that money to take care of your family. Go take care of your family. That's all I want from you, Maria.”

“Yeah, and just to fuck me, like every other man I've ever met,” she muttered.

“You came on to—” Alex sighed and shook his head. “I do not want to just fuck you, Maria. I'm sorry if I made you feel that way. Please believe me when I say that wasn't my intent. Can we maybe talk about this over lunch or something, tomorrow? After we've cooled off from....this?”

“Sure, whatever. Are you sure you're not mad?”

“No. Are you?”

“....No.”

“Okay.”

“...Okay.”

Alex ignored the way she stood silently in his dorm room as he finished pulling his own clothes back on and ran his fingers through his hair. If she had anything more to say she didn't say it, and Alex was done feeding into whatever upset Maria was clearly still feeling. He pretended it was more important to look for his hairbrush and comb through his locks then look at her and after a moment of awkward silence she finally muttered, “well, I'll see you around...”

“Yeah,” he said without looking up. “Catch you later, Maria. Be safe getting home.” And then she made her exit and Alex let out a long sigh. He didn't know what any of that was about, and he had the strangest feeling of regret over sleeping with his best friend outside of a work situation. He chewed on his bottom lip as he thought over what he should do; should he tell Aaron what had transpired and risk making Maria mad at him? Should he keep his mouth shut and just pretend like they hadn't gotten into some passive fight? Should he ask her about it later and hope that she was in a better mood to tell him what the honest to god fuck was going on?

It had to be stress. She had to be stressed. That's the only conclusion Alex could figure. Just....she said she needed the money, and that Aaron canceling her sessions today wasn't ideal for her. So Alex made the decision not to tell Aaron what had happened, no matter what. Because if he thought Alex and Maria were fucking around off camera because they had feelings for each other, then one or both of them would be suspended or fired and the last thing Alex wanted was to get Maria canned or have to figure out how to go back to making money with his own camera on an amateur site without the security Aaron offered him.

Alex sighed and just hoped things between him and Maria would blow over without another incident.

 


 

John practically clung to Lafayette's arm as they passed through the line and security to get into “one of the best clubs in the city, with many cute boys!” He didn't bother to remind Lafayette that he said that about every club he'd ever dragged John too, or that a lot of them had the same kind of atmosphere that put John off and that the crowds and loud music that accompanied such places generally made his anxiety shoot up way past a comfortable level. Normally, he would have. He would have bitched and complained and bemoaned till the cows came home how much he didn't want to be there and how eager he was to go home, or anywhere really, where it was calm and quiet and safe, but this time he made a point of keeping his mouth shut. He still basically clung to his best friend's arm as they walked past two huge bouncers in tight shirts that said SECURITY across the front. They gave John a curious look and he hoped they didn't think he was using a fake ID because he was too young to drink; his face was just young, people told him that all the time. But after a moment of scrutiny they finally let him, the French man and the Virginian past and John breathed a sigh of relief.

Until he got a good look at the inside of the club.

It wasn't fully packed yet, but it had enough people in it already that John felt immediately overwhelmed. How in the world was he going to find anyone in this sea of noise and movement who would tolerate him long enough to prove he wasn't some gay shut in incapable of leaving his metaphorical closet? All these people, they came here because they wanted to and John had spent way too much time angrily muttering to himself while standing naked in a laundry room just half an hour before to honestly have anything in common with any of them, right? He wanted to go home. He opened his mouth, intent on asking Lafayette if they could just turn around, when he stopped himself.

He was being ridiculous. There were so many people here. ONE of them had to be okay with sleeping with him for just one night. Not even one whole night! John could probably get away with a fuck and run if someone was just looking to fool around a little. Hell, okay, did he even need to go all the way? What if there was some other scared baby gay out here in the big scary sea of noise and movement dragged out by his more experienced gay best friends who were just trying to get him to hook up with someone, anyone, because they didn't want him to be all alone in his own little closet for the rest of eternity too? John could take him under his wing, they could be scared out of their minds together, and maybe it would be good for both of them to find some private dark area to giggle together about how stupid this all was and how much they wished they could just not be there in the big sea of noise and movement. Then John could go home with him and maybe it'd be easier to kiss a guy like that and get on with his life.

“Who are you looking for?” Thomas said a little too loudly into John's ear. He tried not to hold it against the guy; John was certain he wouldn't have heard him otherwise.

“Someone who looks as ready to leave this place as I do!” John yelled back. He felt Thomas tap on his shoulder and then followed his point across the room. At first, John didn't see what Thomas was indicating, until he realized the guy was pointing at a section of a mirror behind the bar where John could juuuuust make out his own face. He slapped at Thomas as the man chuckled. “That's not funny!”

“You said you were looking for someone just like you.”

“I meant like me! Not me-me!” John sighed knowing it was likely that his thoughts from before would be hard to hear if he tried to explain them in this sea of noise. He kept following Lafayette forward through the crowd of people, hoping he had scooped the place out well enough to know where other shy people like John might like to hang out. But then again, the bar would be fine too.

Lafayette ushered John up to the edge of the wooden counter that came up just above John's waist. Already there was a crowd of people clustered around it and Thomas flanked from the other side to keep anyone from pushing into his friends. “Do you know what you want?” the French man asked him, leaning in close to be heard over the noise of the music and people clamoring for the attention of the bartender.

“I'll just take my usual,” John replied. “Better I stay with stuff I know how it will affect me, right?” He forced a smile and Lafayette nodded in approval. He flagged down the attention of a bartender and placed the drink order for both himself and John, then Lafayette turned to Thomas and said, “Are you sure you do not even want one drink?”

“Hard pass,” Thomas replied. “You're still buying me soda tho.” He turned to the bartender. “Coke. Not Pepsi, Coke-Cola. Hold the ice.”

“Why aren't you drinking?” John asked as the bartender went to get their drinks.

“Designated drivers don't drink, John,” Thomas replied. John glowered at him, but decided to say nothing more as a beer was placed in front of him.

“You know something I just remembered?” Lafayette said. “You never got your whiskey from me for helping us move John's things yesterday.”

“Consider this that drink then,” Thomas said. “Here, a toast; welcome back to Cambridge, John, and here's to you doing your best.” He clicked his glass against John's then took a sip, nearly spitting it back out. “I said I wanted coke!”

“The drug dealers are in the alleyway out back,” John commented.

“Haha, you're hilarious,” Thomas muttered, taking another sip of his drink. “Drink your damn wheat water.”

Lafayette tsked him. “Why are you being so mean, mon ami?” he asked Thomas. “We are here to have a good time and your mood is very sour.”

“Thomas is always mean,” John started to say, but his words were drowned out by Thomas's response of, “Because babysitting you and John really isn't my idea of a good time, Laf.”

“I don't need to be babysat,” John snapped instead. He threw back his head and downed the entire beer in one go, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand as he set the glass back on the bar. “Hah! Now watch me go talk to a guy and convince him to take me home with him!” he added as he turned toward the dance floor.

“That would be the very definition of babysitting you, John,” Thomas called after him. John waved him off with his middle finger and headed deeper still into the crowd. “This is your fault,” he said turning toward Lafayette.

“I only nudge him,” the French man replied. “He has to get back out there sometime, or do you really think pining for me is good for him?”

“Ass,” Thomas muttered, but said nothing more.

 


 

John made his way through an overcrowded sea of people telling himself the touch of claustrophobia was just a result of his anxiety disliking crowds of strangers. He looked around for some corner he could slink off into, just some niche someplace he could put his back too and observe from until he really felt brave enough to go out and actually try his hand at talking to someone. Every place he looked was already filled with people and John didn't think himself brave enough to ask if he could just sit near any of them, so he made his way deeper still into the club. He spotted a door that people were moving in and out of and headed towards it, curious as to what was beyond. He was almost too relieved when he found that it opened to a quieter patio courtyard, with another bar and dance floor, and an elevated sitting area that wasn't yet packed with people. Not only was the back area a smidgen less crowded, the noise wasn't all compressed into an enclosed space and there was even a slight breeze wafting in the night air. He sighed in relief.

This was where the other scared, awkward baby gays would want to hang out, for sure. John shook his head and told himself he needed to stop thinking such things; it would likely make him really awkward later if he did.

He found a couch with only one other person sitting on it, while texting on his phone, and worked up enough courage to ask, “excuse me, would it be alright if I sit here for a bit?”

“Yeah, sure,” the man said, and scooted over before resuming his typing. “Knock yourself out, kid.”

“Thank you,” John said and carefully sat down on the free seat. For a moment he sat in silence looking out at the smaller crowd of people enjoying themselves far more then he was right then. Beside him the man finished his text and finally put his phone away, looking out into the crowd as well. John tried to casually eye him from where he sat without being obvious that's what he was doing. His prim white pants had an iridescent sheen to them that flitted through a light blue and green shine when he shifted in place, and he'd paired them with a simple black t-shirt, black combat boots and a dull gray beanie. A single chain hung around his neck with a pendent of some kind of spiral design centered on his chest. He was broad shouldered and looked to be tall, tho John couldn't tell if he'd be taller then himself as they were both sitting and honestly John was shit at making guesstimations like that. He looked about as bored as anyone could be sitting in a room full of strangers and John figured he had to start somewhere. “Hey,” he said, drawing the man's attention to himself, “I, uh, like your pants. They're really cool.”

“If you try to tell me you'd think they'd look better on your floor at home I will scream,” the man said with a straight face and John felt his cheeks warm up. “I've heard that line six times tonight.”

“No, I, umm, wanted to know where you got them from? They look nice, I'd like a pair.” That was a boldfaced lie, John knew he'd never in a million years have the courage to wear something that would make anyone take notice of his lower body. But it seemed to work.

“I made them,” the man said.

“You—you made them?”

The man nodded. “I work part time with a tailor, sort of like an apprenticeship. These are a byproduct of my work there.”

“Oh. Well, they look good on you. Uh, I'm John, by the way. John Laurens.”

“Oak,” the man said.

“Just....Oak?”

“Just Oak. Like the tree.”

“Does Oak have a last name?”

“No,” the man replied. “Just Oak.”

John felt this wasn't going to go anywhere. “Do you come here often?” he tried anyway, just to be sure.

Oak shrugged noncommittally. “I come here enough,” he said. “I know the faces of the regulars. But you're new.”

“Student,” John said, as if that answered everything. Apparently it did because Oak nodded once to show his understanding. John didn't know what else to say and patted a little rhythm on his knees, feeling awkward. “Sooo, what do you do for a living? Aside from the apprenticeship?”

“That's classified,” he replied, taking a scan of the crowd. He didn't say anything else and John was going to just let the conversation drop, when suddenly Lafayette came climbing up the stairs to the sitting area and spotted them, hurrying over with a smile.

“There you are,” he said. “I was wondering why you were not out on the dance floor, I see you are making a new friend?” Lafayette leaned forward the way one might when they talk to a child and his emphasis on the word friend sounded condescending, like he thought John wasn't taking his personal mission tonight seriously.

“Yeah, Oak and I were just talking,” John said. “Where's Thomas? Did you leave him somewhere?”

Lafayette rolled his eyes and stood up straighter. “Non, he see some girl he made very angry when he broke up with her, now he is hiding in the bathroom like that would somehow save him. I told him I would come get him when we are ready to go home.” He turned to Oak with a charming smile. “I am sorry, where are my manners? My name is Marie-Joseph Daveed Paul Yves Roch Gilbertdu Motier, Marquis de Lafayette,” he said with his signature flourish and bow. “But I know that is a lot to say, sooo just Lafayette will do.” He offered his hand as if to take Oak's but the other did not give him one.

“You're standing in the way of my view,” Oak said calmly. “I would appreciate it if you moved.”

Lafayette stood up and looked behind him at the dance floor a few steps below them. “Your view of the dance floor?”

“Yes,” Oak said.

“Well, would you like to dance?”

“No.”

The French man nodded then as if he understood. “Oh I see, you like to look at people.”

“People watch,” John supplied. “The phrase you're looking for is 'people watch,' Laf. Sorry, Oak, he's French.”

“Believe me, I noticed,” Oak replied. “He's also still in the way of my view.”

Désolé!” Lafayette said and moved to sit next to John, nudging him so that he would have to be the one to sit closer to Oak. “Is this better for you, ami?”

“It is a marked improvement, yes,” Oak told him without looking over.

“So, Oak, what do you do for fun?” John said, trying to get himself back on task.

The man chuckled and glanced over at John. “You're really gunna keep trying here, aren't you kid?”

“Trying what?” John said, feigning innocence.

“To get into his shiny pretty pants,” Lafayette said and caused John to blush profusely. “Please tell me you did not pick him only because of the shiny pants?”

“Laf,” John said through gritted teeth and a fake smile, “don't you have somewhere else to be?”

Non, not yet,” the French man replied. “Besides, I would like to get to know your friend here too, especially if you are going home with him.”

“I won't be going home with him if you keep hanging around.”

“You won't be going home with me, period,” Oak cut in. “Sorry kid, better you know now.”

“Oh,” John said, feeling a weird wash of relief and disappointment come over him. “Okay, right; umm...sorry to have bothered you.” He started to stand up but Lafayette held onto his shoulders and kept him from moving on.

“And what is wrong with my friend, John?” the French man asked.

“I'm not into casual hookups.”

“Right, got it,” John said, again trying to rise up only to be pulled back down by his best friend.

“He is a very great boyfriend. What about that?”

“Well, that's it's own matter.”

“I don't need a boyfriend,” John said, turning toward Lafayette. “Laf, the plan was for me to find a one night stand, remember?”

“Or a boyfriend,” the French man countered, “You do better with boyfriends anyway. I think you should ask Oak out on a date. He seems....decent.”

“And I think you ought to stop telling your friend what to do,” Oak said.

“You just said if he ask you out you would be okay with that.”

“I did not say any such thing.” Oak looked at John. “Is he always like this?” John nodded, until he caught the Look Lafayette was giving him then shook his head with his own Look that said that very motion was a lie. “Right, well, I think it's time to re-evaluate your friendship here.”

Excusez-moi, you do not know John as well as I do,” Lafayette said, clearly getting heated. “And I take back what I said, you would be a terrible boyfriend for him.”

“Okay,” Oak replied, clearly not bothered by that. “Not that you said that, but whatever floats your boat.”

“I think we should go now, Laf,” John said.

“No, I am not done with him yet. What makes you think it is okay to twist my words around? I was trying to be nice and you decide to tell mon cher ami that I should not be trusted? You, Monsieur, are an unbelievable ass.”

“Laf, c'mon, let it go,” John said. “We'll regroup at the bar and decide what to do from there.” He stood up and thankfully this time was not pulled back down. “Are you coming?”

“In a moment, John. I want to hear his reply.” But Oak simply pretended Lafayette wasn't there anymore and said nothing in response. “So, do you even have anything to say?”

“It was nice talking with you, John,” Oak said, smiling up at him for a brief moment. “I hope you find what you're looking for. And if you want to run, I can handle your friend here.”

“Do not ignore me!”

“I'll be at the bar, Laf,” John said. “And sorry about him,” he added to Oak just before he made his little escape leaving Lafayette to seethe at the man alone.

He made his way back to the bar, this one less crowded then the one inside, and found a stool to sit on until the bartender had a moment to take his order. He knew Lafayette had said he would buy John his drinks that night, and that he was limited to just three, but fuck it. If the guy was gunna sit and be pissy at a stranger for turning John down then he couldn't care if his best friend bought himself a few more drinks while he waited. Maybe he'd go over in a few minutes and if Lafayette was still trying to get a raise out of him John would just lie and tell him he'd found someone to go home with, then catch a bus back to his dorm. That...actually didn't sound like such a bad idea to be honest. And if Lafayette asked whom John was going home with, he'd just point to a random stranger and say it was them.

The disappointed weight settling over his chest wasn't anything to worry about, at least that's what he told himself. John was used to being alone now, and maybe in time he'd learn to like it more then the way he'd felt waking up next to Lafayette when they were living together. If he was alone the rest of his life, well, that wouldn't be so bad. He could leave the toilet seat however he wanted or cook the things he liked and not worry about if the other person had allergies or disliked a certain food. He could enjoy the peace and quiet, he could get a dog. He could...he could...he could be sad and miserable the rest of his adult life because, fuck, if he thought it would just be better to go home alone then actually work up any courage to try having a one night stand then what was he even doing wasting everyone's time here? It was official, John was just gunna die alone and he needed to make peace with it right now so he could move on with his life.

“Well, aren't you just a cute one.”

John turned to find an incredibly handsome man smiling at him and he nearly choked on the beer he'd ordered. Clean shaven, tall, deliciously dark, black leather jacket with a crisp white undershirt and jeans just tight enough to show off the ass without giving away all of his secrets as he leaned against the bar next to John. “See something you'd like to inspect closer?” John's eyes snapped back up to the deep brown ones that twinkled just right in the low bar light.

“N-no?” John stuttered.

“No?” the stranger mimicked, a playful mock frown gracing his face. “Are you sure? I could have swore I just caught you staring.”

“Sorry,” John muttered. “I didn't mean to be rude...”

“I didn't think you were. So, do you come here often?”

“The gay club isn't exactly my usual scene,” John said into his cup.

“Honestly? It's not mine either. I'd rather just stay at home.”

“Huh, coulda fooled me.”

“What, is it the clothes?”

“You look like you're looking. Just don't know why you're looking at me.”

“Maybe because you look like someone cute I can chat with for a bit.”

John found himself beginning to smile, despite himself. “You're a real smooth talker, aren't you?”

“Hey, don't get mad at me for that, I gotta find someway to warm you up to the idea of dancing with me.”

Was he....flirting with John? “And what if I told you I don't dance well?”

“I'd say a couple of shots of tequila convinces anyone they can dance and offer to buy you a drink.” Shit he is!

Now John was smiling openly despite himself. A cute guy was flirting with him and even he had to admit, it felt kinda nice. “I'm John,” he said and offering his hand. With a smile, the stranger took it and brought it to his lips to kiss. He felt the blush deepen on his cheeks as he noticed the man didn't take his eyes of him.

“I'm Leslie,” Aaron Burr replied. “It's very nice to meet you, John.”

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 15:

Alex's stomach growled and reminded him he hadn't eaten much since that morning, and coffee was not as life sustaining as he thought it was. “I know, I know,” Alex muttered as he finished preening in front of the bathroom mirror. Sure, he tended to lean toward a homeless bum look, but there were limits as to how far he'd take it. He found another hair tie and was able to throw his hair back up into a ponytail. Finally, he felt like Alex again, and that Lin was good and ready to sit down and keep quiet for a moment. Well, almost like he was Alex again...he was missing the hoodie he always wore, the green one that had to gone through the wash at Thomas's house. He thought to shoot John a text and ask him how he was doing.

Aaaaand then he realized he'd left his phone at Thomas's house and he hoped the guy had had enough sense to check the pockets of Alex's hoodie before throwing it in the washing machine. But then, given how much Thomas already seemed to hate him, Alex wasn't so sure he wouldn't have just put Alex's phone through the wash and dryer to spite him. Great. Alex slapped his hand to his forehead when he realized he'd also left his wallet in hoodie pocket as well, which means it too was also left at Thomas's house. Good job Alex, you're a dumbass.

He dug out another few twenties from his personal stash of money, the money he had socked away for the day he'd graduate and put it toward a house or some form of stability for himself, and decided he'd go take a walk down the street to get some dinner. There was a slew of restaurants and other shops catered toward the needs of students, bookshops and entertainment venues all meant to be exciting and enticing to the new student body. Since the school year hadn't started yet, the streets were lined with people meeting up with old friends from the previous years and plenty of students looking to have a great time before their studies began. Alex side stepped more then a few groups as he made his way down the sidewalk, looking at the bistros and cafes that passed as he tried to make a decision about what to eat based on names alone. He stopped in front of one place called the 1776 Bar and Grill, smelling the scent of fresh baking bread from inside and what might be the smell of charcoal cooked hamburgers. American cuisine sounded alright, and he pulled open the door and headed inside.

It was crowded with students and every table in the place was taken, with a few of them milling about in a small waiting area and chatting loudly. But that wasn't what caught his attention. Alex immediately froze, as did the hostess in mid greeting when they recognized one another. Alex let a smile grace his face. “Angelica,” he greeted with a bow.

“Alex,” she replied with a forced smile. “How good to see your face. How many are in your party?”

“Uhh, just me,” he replied, stepping up to her podium. “Think you got room to squeeze me in somewhere soon?”

“There's a 15 minute wait,” Angelica curtly told him. “At least. But you can have a menu to look over. Or would you like the children's menu and a pack of crayons?”

He nodded without so much as a snappy reply. “A regular menu will be fine, thanks.”

“Something wrong?” Angelica asked. “You don't seem to be full of the pep I remember you had last night.”

“It's.....nothing,” he said, wanting to avoid having to give details. If he indicated why he was upset, because he'd had a fight with a friend, then she may ask what the fight was about. Then if Alex told her what the fight was about, that said friend wanted Alex to run away with them, then she might ask why that friend wanted that. And if Alex told her why that friend wanted that, because apparently Alex was the only one good enough in bed for them, then Angelica would probably assume, correctly so, that this friend was female, and given how standoffish she was with his flirting she might become even colder toward him as a result. And she would probably have some choice things to say, about how he was leading her on or some such nonsense. And if Alex wanted to set her straight, he'd have to tell her what he did for a living. And that would be crossing the boxes. So he decided to just pretend he was playing hard to get with her and see what that did. “I just wanna be waited on and fed good food. Will you please take care of me, Angelica?”

She bapped him on the forehead with a menu. “I'll get you in as soon as a single table becomes available. Take this and go sit down.” Alex sauntered away with the menu in hand, slowly making his way to an empty seat in the waiting area. He causally peeked over the menu as he sat down, catching Angelica eyeing him like she might actually have some pleasant feelings toward him, but she put on her best haughty look as she went to attend whatever other duties she had. Ah well, it wasn't really anything Alex was gunna worry about. If she wanted him she could certainly humble herself enough to ask him out or even just accept his own playful invitations. Or she could play hard to get with him and see how much Alex was far better at it then she was. Either or.

It also dawned on him that if Angelica worked here, then so did John. Huh, so this was the part time job he'd have over the school year. Alex wondered what exactly he'd be doing in the restaurant and if he'd get a shot at visiting John while he was on shift to see. He tried to picture John in the prim and neat hostess attire Angelica wore, black slacks and tie, with a white button up shirt, little red flower pin over his left breast. The splash of red on white reminded Alex of blood, and for a brief terrifying moment Alex thought he saw a bullet wound on Angelica's shirt, before an invasive memory flashed into his mind before he could stop it and he turned back to the words swimming around on the menu in an attempt to shake them away. His eyes chased the letters all around but couldn't make them make any sense. His mind evicted the thought almost as quickly as it had come, but that did little to ease the feeling of reeling his mind had in the empty space left in it's wake. He set the menu down and rubbed at his eyes, as if that might get them to work again.

“Angelica?” he called, hating how for a single moment his voice sounded too young and small. She looked up from where she was writing something down at her podium. “Is there a bathroom I can use?”

“Around the corner,” Angelica said and pointed with her hands. “Then straight back. You can't miss the sign. Come right back when you're done.”

He saluted her and made his escape, leaving the menu on his seat. Her directions were hard to mess up and Alex was grateful for a moment that men's bathrooms where hardly ever crowded. He rubbed at his face and tried to shake off the uncomfortable feeling the invasive thought had left him with. “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory,” he whispered to himself, almost laughing at the irony that this time he had imagined death and it was a memory. “Intrusive thoughts inside need to leave me, I'm not the scared little boy I used to be.” It had been a while since he'd experienced one of these, and he paced slowly in a circle, speaking only to himself, until his head felt like it sat in a better place. He wondered for a moment if he should make an appointment to see his shrink again, but then thought better of it. Nothing was really wrong in his life right then, and he knew it would be silly to call the woman up just to say what? That a sudden thought had briefly attacked him and made him uncomfortable? He'd rather not spend eighty dollars to just go over such a minuscule detail in his life such as that for an hour. But he made a mental note to record it's happening when he got back to the dorm, in case something came up later.

As he exited the bathroom and was making his way back toward the waiting area, his eyes caught sight of a woman eating alone at a table and he stopped for a moment. He wondered how he hadn't noticed her before on his way to the bathroom. She sat by herself at a table meant for two and picked absently at a salad while looking over a book. With a pale blue cashmere button up sweater over her shoulders and a string of pearls draped across her neck to match her pearl studded earrings, she looked the exact picture of elegance and grace. He thought about how much he wanted to make a friend outside of work and found himself slipping into the seat across from her. At first she didn't seem to notice, too engrossed in her book to see anything around her, but when she glanced over to get another bite of her salad, Alex's form came into her peripheral and she looked up at him with a start. “Hi,” he said with a soft smile. “I'm sorry, I just came around to wash my hands in the bathroom, but I saw what you were eating and it looked really good. Can I just ask what you got so I can try one?”

“Oh,” she replied, a pink tint to her cheeks. “Uh, sure. It's...just their cobb salad. Nothing fancy.”

“It looks better then any kind of salad I could put together. What dressing did you get?”

“Oh, well, it came with ranch but....” She reached into the purse she had hanging on the side of her chair and pulled out a bottle of salad dressing. “I.....brought my own...”

“Green Goddess,” Alex read the label then smiled charmingly. “Well, I didn't know I was in the presence of such divinity, though your beauty should have given you away.” She giggled at him. “I'm Alexander Hamilton, by the way.”

“Eliza Schuyler.”

Alex perked at hearing her last name. “Schuyler?”

“MY Sister.” Alex looked up into the narrowed eyes of Angelica as she loomed over him and smiled sheepishly. “I told you to come right back to the waiting area,” she said.

“I was,” Alex said as he started to rise. “But Eliza's food just looked so good, I had to know what she was having!”

“She's having a salad. And you're having a seat in the waiting area.”

“Oh, ummm, I don't mind if Alexander sits with me,” Eliza spoke up.

“Really?” Alex said, smiling happily at her. “I mean, if I'm not a bother.”

“No, no, of course not,” Eliza said. “It's my pleasure.”

“As it would be my pleasure to dine with such a lovely lady.”

“You better tip well,” Angelica said to Alex then. “On your own tab.”

“Oh no, I'll pick up the tab for us both. It's least I could do if Eliza would share some of her personal salad dressing with me.”

“Can you even afford it?”

“Angelica...”

Alex pretended the question didn't phase him, “I know I look young and scrappy but believe me, I make enough.” He smiled for a minute as if he'd won the debate, then pretended to looked panicked. “Wait, how much IS your salad dressing worth, Eliza?”

“Ten thousand dollars a drop,” she replied, with a smile. “Still think you can afford it?”

“Hmmm, that is pretty steep. Guess I'll just have to go with boring ol' ranch after all....”

“Well, you seem pretty nice,” Eliza told him. “Maybe just this once I can wave the fee.”

Alex grinned at her. “Really?”

“Really, really.”

“So, a salad then, Alex?” Angelica cut in. “Sure that's gunna satisfy you?”

“If the food doesn't, I'm sure the company I get to spend my evening with will,” he replied causing Eliza to giggle.

“Right.” Angelica looked between the two of them, especially the way her sister leaned across the table and smiled at this silly boy with a dreamy look. “I'll go....tell your server...” she said and turned to walk away.

“So Alex, tell me about yourself,” Eliza said. “You...do prefer to be called Alex, right?”

“Eh, Alex, Alexander, Li—” He caught himself before he finished. “It's all the same to me.”

“Li?” Eliza questioned, and Alex fidgeted nervously, trying to keep his causal smile in place.

“Well, Lin is my middle name, and I guess you could call me that, if you wanted. But you're right, I prefer just Alex!”

“Alexander Lin Hamilton,” she said slowly, as if sounding out the each syllable intimately. He never knew the sound of his full name could be so sensual until it came from her mouth. Then she smiled up at him almost impishly. “Well, now I have power over you to make you do whatever I want!”

“Wha?”

“Oh!” She suddenly looked embarrassed. “I-it's nothing, just fairy lore, and one of the reasons we have middle names.”

“Tell me about it.”

If possible Eliza blushed harder. “Umm, in fairy lore, if you know a fairy's full name then you have power over them. You could give them any command and they'd have to find a way to fulfill it for you. Likewise, it's believed witches could also curse you if they know your full name, so back when that was a thing people wanted to protect against they would give their children three names; the family name, their first name, and finally a middle name that was meant to be kept secret except to those whom you trusted weren't witches.”

“Huh, so what about people with like super long names?”

“How long?”

Alex held his hands out as far as they would go on either side of himself. “Thiiiiiiiis long!” he said and earned another giggle. “My, uh, roommate has a friend whose got like 10 names, and when he introduces himself he says it all really fast in this thick French accent, cuz he's from France, and then he says, 'oh but that is too much for you to say like I do, so here, just call me—'”

“You mean Lafayette?” Eliza said, tilting her head. It was in that moment that Alex remembered he'd met Angelica when she'd come to pick Lafayette up from his dorm last night. “Don't worry,” she said seeing his flustered 'oh shit' face, “I know what he's like. I live with him after all.”

“You...live with him?” Alex said. “Is he....Angelica's boyfriend or something?”

Eliza laughed, and then covered her face as if she was doing something naughty. “No, no, nothing like that!” she said. “Angelica is very picky; I don't think she'd ever go for a guy like Laf.”

“Well, what about you?”

She shook her head shyly. “I don't think he's the right kind of guy for me. I'm....boring. And, well, he's very colorful, isn't he?”

“Very,” Alex agreed. “but I don't think you're boring. You know things I don't. Like that fairy bit, where'd you find that out?”

“Oh, I just have an interest in fairy tales, that's all. It's silly, a grown woman reading children's stories, don't you think?”

Alex leaned forward on the table, smiling at her. “Not in the least. What's your favorite story?”

“Umm, it's not a common one.”

“Oh, good! Then you can tell me the whole thing!”

Eliza giggled nervously, uncomfortable in the spotlight he was shining on her, but she sheepishly pushed her hair behind her ear and cleared her throat. “It's the story of All Fur.”

“All Fur?” Alex asked.

“Do you want to hear it or not?” Alex nodded with enthusiasm and so Eliza went on, “Once upon a time a young princess lived with her father in their castle, in a far away kingdom. The poor king's wife had passed when the princess was very little, but every day the princess grew more lovely, looking more and more like her mother every day.” Eliza looked a little embarrassed. “One day, the king called the princess into his throne room and announced that she was to wed him and be his wife, because her resemblance to her mother was too much for the king to stand.”

“Ew,” Alex interjected. “Sorry, sorry, go on.”

“The princess, thinking quickly, said she would not wed her father unless he could first produce three dresses. One that glowed like the moon, one that glittered like the stars and one that shined as bright as the sun. And that they could be made of nothing less then the actual glowing light these celestial bodies produced.”

“A reasonable request. I mean, I'd marry my father if he gave me dresses like those. Quick question, did she also get shoes to match?”

Eliza laughed. “It never said. Well, to her dismay he was able to produce exactly what she asked for, and when he gifted them to her he also gave her an engagement ring and said that they were to be wed the following morning. So she took the dresses up to her bedroom where she folded them all very carefully and stored them in the shell of a walnut.”

“A walnut?”

“A walnut,” she nodded. “Remember, these dresses are made only from the light of the sun, moon and stars.”

“Ah yes,” Alex replied, nodding as if this explained everything. “It makes much more sense now. See I was imagining them being made of fabric.”

“No, they were a conscious manifestation of light. So anyway, she tucks the ring inside the shell as well as a set of her mother's pearl earrings, ties it around her neck with a ribbon then steals a fur coat her father had made years ago from the pelts of every animal in their kingdom—”

“Wait, so they have no animals, like at all?”

“No, no, like they hunted one of each animal. And then used their fur to make a big coat.”

“Ah, okay.”

“So she runs away.”

“Naturally.”

“All the way to another kingdom far away, where she lives in the wilds, and sleeps in a hallowed out tree for several years. Then one day the hunting dogs of that kingdom's prince find her.”

“Oh no.”

“At first they think she's some kind of strange beast—”

“Because of the coat?”

“Yes, because of the coat, very good,”

“See? I do pay attention!” Alex chuckled. Movement to his side made him look up as a waitress brought out a plate of food.

“Angelica said this was for you?” the woman said holding out a large salad plate and glancing between him and Eliza as if she wasn't sure.

“Oh, yes of course,” Alex said and leaned back from the table so she could set it down. “Thank you...Nala,” he added, reading her name tag. She smiled guardedly at him and then set down a drink as well. Alex noticed everything he was given was exactly what Eliza ordered. Well, he really couldn't complain, as he hadn't really given anyone an order. Besides, to his starving stomach it would be fine.

“Everything tasting okay?” Nala asked, looking to Eliza. She nodded and smiled happily back, about to reply when Alex, mouth stuffed full of lettuce, yelled, “Oh! This IS Good!” and his table mate giggled.

“I'll check back on you two in a little bit, okay?” Nala said and bowed out. Alex was already stabbing another forkful as Eliza pushed her dressing bottle toward him.

“Oh right!” he said, spotting the bottle. He twisted off the cap and was careful not to pour too much out, just what looked like it would be enough to cover his meal. “Thank you, for both the dressing and suggesting this, you have great tastes.”

“It's...just a salad,” Eliza giggled.

“It's wonderful, just like you,” Alex told her. “So! Our princess was just found out by the dashing prince's hunting hounds, right? Do they fall in love as soon as their eyes meet for the first time?”

Eliza shook her head. “'Fraid not. So they were about to kill her, before they heard her begging for her life and realized she was a person under that big mess of fur coat and all the dirt that she had on her face. They asked her what she was doing on the royal hunting grounds and she replied that she wasn't aware she was trespassing, and so the prince decided to take pity on her. So he takes her back to the castle, and she's put to work in the kitchen. She works there for several weeks and learns that the king is very distraught that his son hasn't married yet. And so one day the king announces he will host a ball which all the eligible women in the land are to attend and his son has to pick one to marry. And of course, this is a huuuuge deal, there's so much work to be done, so much prep to do, and the kitchen has to cook a lot of food.”

Alex weakly smiled at that, imagining a fictional banquet fit for a king and the end result of any leftovers in a world that, presumably, didn't have refrigeration. He carefully picked out a bigger bite then usual and put the whole thing in his mouth as he listened to Eliza tell her story.

“They put All Fur, that's what the rest of the kitchen staff had started calling our princess by the way, because she refused to tell them who she was or where she was from, and she never took off her fur coat. So they put All Fur on soup duty, and she was to cook up this big pot of soup and pour it all out into bowls for the servers to take out to the guests at dinner. So she's doing that, but of course there's a bit of time where all the ingredients are simmering in the pot and there's nothing she can do, so she begs, begs, begs the head chef if she can just go and see all the guests that are starting to show up. The head chef says okay, but minds her not to be seen because, of course, she's wearing nothing but a filthy fur coat she refuses to take off. So All Fur sneaks out back and away to a little river where she'd fetch the palace's water in the morning, and under the cover of darkness she cleans herself off and dresses herself in the starlight dress. Then she sneaks around to the front and sneaks her way inside to the ball. Well, of course she knows no one there, so she's not going to socialize, she just wants to dance and have a little bit of fun, right? But who else should spot her but the prince himself.”

“Oh snap,” Alex commented. “And did he recognize her?”

“Not without all the dirt from before. But he dances with her and when the song ends she knows she's gotta get back to the kitchen or else the head chef is going to be mad. So she excuses herself and sneaks out back again to where she'd hid her coat. She takes off her dress, carefully folds it up and puts it back with it's sisters, then takes out a single pearl earring from her walnut. She puts on her fur coat again and dirties her face with mud from the creek. Then she heads back inside to tend the soup and pour it for the guests. Well, the prince has a special bowl meant only for him, and into the bottom of it she drops the pearl earring. So the servers take the soup out and everyone is enjoying it except for the prince, who's too preoccupied with wondering where that girl he just danced with went because as he asked around trying to find her he realized that yes everyone saw her, but no one had any idea who she was. Then he finds the earring in the soup, and he knows it belongs to her. He demands at once that the head chef be brought out and he asks her who made the soup. The head chef, said it was All Fur, so they bring her out and then the prince demands to know if she put the earring in his soup. She swears up down and sideways it wasn't her, so he asks her if she saw who did, and All Fur tells him it was a girl who dress glittered like the moonlight. So that seals it, the prince has to see this girl again. But he doesn't know who she is, he doesn't even know how she got into the party without an invitation. So naturally, the only thing he can do is hold another ball and hope she turns up again, right?”

“And this time Miss All Fur wore the sun dress, yes?” Alex asked.

“Moon dress,” Eliza said. “And she does exactly as she did before, sneaks out to wash up and change, sneaks in to the ball, is seen by everyone including the prince who approaches her and asks for a dance, but as they dance now he asks her who she is and where is she from? Only All Fur gives him vague answers, she's from very far away, but is staying somewhere close by in his kingdom and when she heard the announcement that all eligible ladies were supposed to attend this ball she felt like she had to come to or else she'd make him very mad somehow. When the song ends, again, she excuses herself and sneaks away to change back into her coat. Again she returns to tend the soup, and again she drops the other pearl earring into the bottom of the bowl meant for the prince. Again he demands the kitchen brings out All Fur, and again he asks her if she saw who put the earring in the soup. When she says she saw the woman who wore the dress of moonlight put the earring into the bowl he demanded to know where she went, but poor All Fur had to tell him she didn't know. He was very distraught. He told his father, the king, that this mystery woman that showed up only for one song and then vanished was the woman he wanted to marry, but of course he didn't know how he was going to do that if she kept disappearing and he didn't know how to call on her. So the king decided they would have one more ball, but he told the prince that this time he had to find out who this girl was, or else he would have to pick someone else at the end of the night. And the prince agreed, determined to find out who his future wife would be one way or another.

“So they hold another ball, and All Fur is once more in charge of soup duty. So when everything is again in the pot and simmering, she asks the head cook if she can take a break to go and see the guests arrive. And just like before she sneaks out to the creek to change and sneaks back in to the ball itself. The prince, of course sees her right away—”

“Because of the sun dress!”

Eliza laughed. “Because of the sun dress, yes, very good Alex. And again they dance, but this time the song seems to go on and on. It goes on much, much longer then the songs of the previous two nights and the prince tells her that he has given his minstrels distinct orders to not stop playing until she tells him exactly who she is and how he could call on her. This panics poor All Fur as she knows she has kitchen duties she has to get back too, and if the prince doesn't let her go then she'll be in trouble with the head chef. So even though it's against protocol, she shoves him away and makes a break for it through the castle. He pursues her, but it's no use, because she knows where all the hiding spots are as she's been told every day since she started working at the castle not to be seen by the royal family, and she easily loses him. She then sneaks back to the creek, but since she's been gone for so long she can't properly change, so she throws on her fur coat and runs back to the kitchen without dirtying up her face again. The head chef is, of course, very cross with her, but has a lot of other things to do and so lets All Fur off with a berating and nothing else. Once more, All Fur pours the soups and this time she puts in the ring her father gave her into the prince's bowl. The prince is very upset this night, because once more the mystery woman has eluded him. When he finds a ring in his soup he calls immediately for All Fur to come out, but he never gets a chance to question her because as soon as he looks at her he sees the same woman he'd danced with moments before. Her fur coat fell away revealing the dress made of sunlight and at once he takes the ring she'd snuck to him and asks her to marry him.”

“And she says yes, and they live happily ever after?” Alex asked.

“Well, in some versions. There's one where she takes out a sword and kills everyone at the banquet and then crowns herself queen and goes to war with her father's kingdom to dethrone him and take back the land and rule over both of them with an iron fist,” Eliza smiled sweetly as Alex sat in a shocked silence with his mouth poised to take another bite of food. “But I suppose you're the kind of guy that would like the sweet happy ending, wouldn't you?”

“I very much would,” Alex said a little nervously. “Dare I be bold enough to ask you which version you prefer?”

“There is one version where she married the prince but returned to her land as a queen to take it back from her father. I rather like that one. Also, depending on how it's told, you can generally figure out which way the end will go.”

“How so?”

“If she wears the sun dress last she's going to marry the prince. If she wears the moon dress last, she'll kill everyone there.”

“What about the starlight dress?”

“That's always the first dress she wears. But I imagine if she wears that one last it's the one where she marries the prince, then kills him, then takes back her land from her father and rules them both as evenly and justly as she's able.”

“Hmm. Well, I didn't know fairytales could be so dark.”

“A lot of the originals were. You know in Cinderella the stepsisters cut off their own feet to fit the slipper and it's the birds that sing about how bloody their feet are that tips the prince off that they aren't the right girl, right?”

“What? No, I didn't! How did he not catch that? Also, yes, of course, take the advice of the talking animals, seems legit.”

“In The Little Mermaid, she makes the choice to kill herself in the end, because she can't stand to hurt the man she loved.”

“Aww, but that one is still sweet.”

“And in Sleeping Beauty, she slept for 100 or 1,000 years depending on which version of it you can find.”

“Man, I never knew any of this. That's wild.”

“Yeah, most people think all the stories are the happy washed out versions that Disney tells them about. They forget that back in the day these tales and fables were meant to be stories parents told their kids to warn them of dangers in the world and how to be smart enough to avoid them.”

“Yeah, like that one that says don't eat a witches house or else she can eat you, right?”

“Hansel and Gretel,” Eliza nodded. “Oh, did you see the Witch Hunters movie that came out a few years ago?”

Alex shook his head and Eliza looked disappointed. “Oh, but, I probably would have if...uh...if I had had the...money...at the time....” He waved his hands as if to dismiss her increasingly worried look. “I mean, I'm more financially stable now, with a great job and even tho I'm in college I'm studying law! Sooo, you know, soon money won't be an issue at all for me! And, well, I grew up really, really poor, so even when money is tight I know how to stretch it as far as it will go, and those habits are hard to break you know. Because why waste money on useless things or stuff you don't need? But don't worry, I can pay for my dinner!”

“How...” Eliza started, but bit her lip to stop herself.

“How, what?” Alex prompted.

“How poor were you?”

Alex fidgeted in his seat. “Ummm...have you ever had to choose between keeping food in your stomach or a roof over your head?”

“Noo...”

“Lucky...that's how poor I was...Was being the keyword here, tho, heh.”

“Which did you choose? Roof or food?”

“Food,” Alex replied right away. “A roof is no good to you if you starve to death under it. There are places on the streets where you can take shelter if you know where to look, but you need food to survive. So yeah, I was poor enough to be homeless once. Poor enough to beg, steal, borrow or barter for anything I could get. And I'm not scared to go back to living like that if I have too, I just......don't want too, ya know?”

“Well, yeah,” Eliza said sympathetically. “I've never been in a situation like that, but I can't imagine it being easy.”

Alex shrugged as if it didn't matter. “You do what it takes to survive. Can we talk about something else, please? Sorry, it's just...that part of my life..”

“Oh! Right! I'm sorry, and I was prying too, oh you stupid dummy!” She lightly slapped at her own cheeks but Alex reached across the table to still her hands with a chuckle.

“Hey, it's okay, if you let me ask you something next,” he told her.

“Okay, what?”

“Would you like to get ice cream with me after this?”

 


 

“Sooo, if you'd rather just stay home all the time, what brings you out and about the club tonight?” John asked, leaning toward the other.

“Business, I'm afraid. I own this place.”

John scoffed. “Boy, do I look stupid to you?”

Aaron stood up then and walked away. John followed him with his eyes, momentarily feeling like an idiot for chasing off the only guy who was willing to talk to him, but was surprised when Aaron pushed open the little door at the end of the bar and stepped behind the counter, walking back toward John. “What are you drinking?” he said with a smile as he leaned over the bar in front of him.

“Sam Adams,” John replied, glancing down the line at the bartender. Before he could say anything else tho, the man slipped past Aaron with little more then a “excuse me, sir,” to reach for something just above his head before he resumed waiting on other customers. Aaron held his knowing smile. “That....doesn't make you a boss,” John tried. “You could just be another employee.”

Aaron produced a ring of keys and flipped through them til he reached a small one in particular. John watched as he moved over to the cash register and with a twist of the little key opened the machine and started looking through inside. “Hey Kevin,” he called down the line. The bartender glanced their way. “You have way too much cash up here, you need to drop your till more often.”

“I've been non-stop since 10. Hire another guy if you want that till micro-managed.”

“I'm dropping your excess. Leave the reports with Steve tonight and I'll do the books later.”

“Whatever you say, sir.”

Aaron chuckled some as he counted off money. “Still don't think I own this place?” he asked John.

“Alright, say that you do,” John replied. “I'm literally a college student and you seem to have way more of your life figured out then I do. What are you doing talking to me?”

“I like to know people, John. I just think they're interesting. I run a bar because it's a place that lots of people from all kinds of places like to visit. Sure, there's a very particular crowd it will always generate, but once you know what the standard looks like it makes it far easier to pick out the unusual.” Aaron put a cup down in front of himself and filled it with a darker liquid. “Would you like some of this or do you have your heart set on another Adams?”

“What is it?” John asked, nodding at the drink Aaron had finished pouring.

“Tennessee Honey Whiskey.”

“Strong stuff.”

“You're not a fan of liquor?”

John shrugged. “Beer does the same job.”

“I disagree. Beer does a terrible job of warming a guy up to the idea of dancing with a stranger they just met who pours them a glass, at least not without a lot of it. Liquor will get you there quicker.”

“Beers are cheaper.”

Aaron smiled and slid John the glass of whiskey. “On the house,” he told him. “So, you said you were a college student? Where and what are you studying?”

John scoffed and rolled his eyes some. “Harvard law.”

“Harvard?!” the man repeated, his face looking surprised. “Laaaw? That would mean you're cute and smart.”

“Oh yeah,” he laughed, looking down into his first drink, “and daddy dearests perfect little son, you know if I wasn't a secret faggot.” John felt his face grow red again, his clutch on the glass in his hands tightening as the silence between them grew heavy with tension. John peeked up shyly, relieved and yet worried to find the stranger still standing there beside him. “Sorry, that was....” he struggled to find the right words, but wasn't sure what he even needed to say. “I—I shouldn't have used that word...sorry...”

“Not the most supportive family, I take it.”

“I don't want to talk about it.”

“At all, or just in public?”

Again John looked up but held Aaron's gaze this time. “It's not an interesting tale. I have a southern family, they think God told them not to let dudes kiss other dudes, and I got an aunt who swears up, down and sideways that lesbians just don't exist because the only reason women kiss each other is to lure guys like me back to bed with them.”

Aaron laughed low and easy. “Does it work at all?”

“Not in the slightest,” John replied. “I see two girls kissing and I just think, 'ahh, good for them,' and then hope the other males in the area nearby are as gay as I am.” He nearly jumped when he felt something brush the back of his hand but found it to just be Aaron's hand, carefully removing the empty cup he'd been holding onto like it was a security blanket. The glass of whiskey was slid right into his now empty grip, yet Aaron didn't pull away; he kept his hand lighting brushing over John's, running soft fingertips over the back and knuckles of his hand.

“Well, I think you came to the right place for that. Lot's of folks here are queer,” Aaron told him.

“I gathered that,” John said. “My...friend I came out with said this place was the best nightclub for that kind of stuff, soo...here we are....”

“Here we are, indeed.” He leaned in closer and John felt his cheeks growing hot. “Can I ask you a personal question?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you ever feel lonely, even in a crowd of people?”

“Yeah.”

“Crowds are kind of noisy....wanna go someplace a little more quiet to talk, maybe get to know each other better?”

John tried to process the words, but they felt surreal in his head. “Is this a....a 'your place or mine' kind of thing?”

Aaron smiled. “I was hoping you'd want to come back to my place, yes. Unless you feel comfortable staying here and giving me that dance I'd like?”

John downed the whiskey in his hand, feeling the alcohol burn as it went down. He turned to get off the stool a little suddenly, then whirled back around to Aaron. “Let me just tell my friend not to look for me when he wants to go home, okay? I'll be back, just give me a minute, okay?”

“Okay,” Aaron said, smiling like the Cheshire cat. John grinned back and giddily whirled back into the crowd of people, looking for Laf. He wandered first back to the spot where they'd met Oak, but found the couch empty of both his friend and the stranger he'd first talked too. The area was elevated just a few steps from an outdoor dance floor, so John squinted into the crowd until he spotted where he was dancing with some random guy and then made his way over to them. The music was far too loud in the middle of the sea of people grinding on one another, so when John tapped his friend on the shoulder Lafayette quickly disentangled himself from his current engagement, ignoring the nasty look the guy shot at John, and walked them over to a quieter corner where they could speak.

“How are you doing, mon amour?” Lafayette asked him with a kiss to his neck. “Have you talked to anyone else or am I kidnapping Oak for you?”

“You missed your chance with Oak,” John said. “He's gone off somewhere.”

“You do not know I did not put him in Thomas's tru~uck,” Lafayette said, his voice adapting a sing-song quality to it at the end.

“Well, go cut him loose,” John said, not believing Laf for a second. “I found someone else and he's invited me back to his place!” He glanced back where Aaron was watching them with an amused smile and for a split second John thought to shove Lafayette off of him, but there was no need and the French man instantly sat up.

“Oh, did you now?”

“Uh-huh,” John said, forcing himself to turn his back to Aaron so Lafayette could peek over his shoulder with out being so goddamn conspicuous. “Behind the bar, leather jacket.”

“The one smiling and checking out your cute butt?” Lafayette asked.

“He is not checking out my butt!”

“Oh, but he is mon amour. I think he likes very much what he sees!” Lafayette smiled as John blushed. “Ooo! Here! Take this, you will need it!” and before John could ask what he was talking about Lafayette had pulled out a train of condoms from lord only knew where on his person and handed them to John. “Call me when you want a ride home, I will get you a Lyft.” He kissed John's cheek but John just stood there staring at his full hands. After a moment the French man tilted his head and asked, “What is wrong, John?”

“I'm.....I'm really gunna do this....I'm going back to his place.....” John looked up at Lafayette. “What if I don't want to? What if I change my mind? What if I'm leading him on?!”

Lafayette waved his hands and shook his head. “Mon amour, you do not have to do anything you do not want to. If you change your mind you can simply call me and I will come pick you up. You have your phone, oui? Should I be checking mine every ten minutes or every five?”

“I want to do this....” John muttered. “Am I doing the right thing?”

“Oh thank God,” Thomas said, coming up behind them. “Listen, Mary is here—”

“Who?” John interrupted.

“Mary!” Thomas said frantically “Mary Field!! The Big Ex! The one that I can never show my face to again or she will eat me alive AFTER she rips my balls and dick off to keep as souvenirs and a warning to all other men!!”

“Thomas left her at the alter,” Lafayette supplied.

“Oh, that's never good,” John said.

“I Know! So Can We Go—”

“Wait, you were almost married?” John asked. “You're like our age tho.”

“I'm 25, John. I'm older then both of you.”

“You almost married her when you were 18, non? Thomas, that was seven years ago, I am sure she does not care anymore.”

“You don't know Mary,” Thomas hissed back. “Seriously, I am a dead man walking if she spots me, so it is time to go. Sorry John, you'll have to whore yourself out on Tinder or Grinder like the rest of us.”

“I've actually found a date,” John said. “So you can go if you need too, I'm going home with someone else.”

“You are not,” Thomas said, but followed it immediately with, “Who?” as he scanned the crowd.

“The handsome one at the bar,” Lafayette said, pointing back toward Aaron.

“Laf, don't look so obvious!”

“A bartender?” Thomas said. “Really, John?”

“He doesn't tend the bar,” John snapped. “And what's wrong with having a steady job, huh?”

“Nothing. Which one is he? The polo wearing shirt one or—”

“The one in the leather jacket that Laf said was checking out my ass.”

“Ew,” Thomas said. He flinched as John slapped his arm after rolling his eyes. “John, c'mon you can do better then that.”

“And what's wrong with him?” John asked. “Hmmm? Name me one thing. Go on, I'll wait.” Thomas stared at Aaron for a moment, who upon noticing the trio staring only raised a hand and gave them a little wave and smile. But when Thomas couldn't think of anything else to say, John rolled his eyes again, tucked the condoms into his back pocket and said, “Right, well then, if you'll excuse me, I got a one night stand to go have so you two naysayers can suck it.”

“And you're sure?” Thomas said. “That is what you want?”

“If you're trying to dissuade me it's not going to work, Thomas,” John replied. He noticed the worried look the other gave him and felt off about it, but only added, “Ears, nose, eyes, right? I'll remember what you said.”

“They have to grow up sometime,” Lafayette said, patting Thomas on the back. “Come here, we have to go untie someone from your truck anyway.”

“What?” Thomas and John said in unison.

“Ha, I made you believe me,” Lafayette said as he kissed John's cheek. “Go, you have made your boy wait long enough, he is likely to be wondering if you are changing your mind.”

“Right,” John said, feeling the jittery energy of excitement starting to fill his system. “Well, here I go.” he stepped back and turned to navigate through the crowd again, moving back toward the bar where the man he'd been talking to had stepped from behind to text on his phone.

John took deep breaths to steady himself as he approached, mentally walking himself through what he wanted to do. This was it, a one night stand, a rebound to get over his ex and the roommate he'd never thought he'd see anywhere else except on a screen. He smiled as he stepped up to stand next to the man who looked up when John approached. “Ready to get out of here and go someplace where we can be alone?” Aaron asked him.

“Ready as I'll ever be, Leslie,” John replied. He chuckled as the man offered him an arm, but John simply took hold of his hand.

“Just so you know, I'm about to change your life.”

“Oh, by all means, lead the way.”

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 16:

John followed Aaron as they made their way through the club, getting pulled along by the hand he held. A giddiness filled him as he walked, excitement as he thought about how long it had been since he'd climbed into bed with anyone. He skipped a step and pulled up closer to Aaron, hugging his arm to his chest. He was rewarded with a smirk, and before John could wonder where the charming smile went, Aaron broke his arm free and swept it around to pull John in close to his chest. John blushed and buried his face against the man's shoulder, smelling the rich scent of his leather jacket and aftershave, so different from the flowery scents Lafayette wore or the simple musk and laundry soap scent of Alex. John wrapped his arms around Aaron's waist and nuzzled him as they stopped in front of a door. He thought it was just an exit, but when the man produced a card key and opened it, the door swung into a little room with a security guard monitoring the surveillance footage of the club. Aaron didn't allow John a moment to look around as he was pulled through the room and to another door, this one lead to an elevator. “Leslie, where are we going?” John asked.

“My place, baby,” Aaron replied, shooting him an easy smile. “Third floor of this building. The rent is cheaper that way.” He tugged John closer to his body, then hit a button that closed the door behind them. As the doors swung shut, Aaron pushed John up against one of the walls and kissed him, pulling John's pelvis against his own. John squirmed for a moment until he started to notice how aroused he was. He never went for aggressive or assertive guys, even Lafayette had to tread carefully to get John to open up the first time....but then John thought that this was the point. It wasn't about finding someone to replace Lafayette or Lin by being another sweet, gentle, sensitive guy who would cater to all of John's needs; this was about primal sex, and a need to fucking feel another human's naked body pressed up against his, someone he could use for a night of fun and then never have to see again if he didn't want to. His hands came up around Aaron's neck, John wanted to jump up and wrap his legs around the man's waist as well. The friction on his crotch, the cool steel wall at his back, and Aaron nipping at his mouth.....shit, it was making him horny.

He wondered what else Aaron would nip at and a moment later he was tilting his head to the side to let him bite and suck on his neck. It felt good being touched, and ground against and kissed and bit. Even when he squeaked because Aaron sunk his teeth in a little too hard, John felt himself get harder. Funny, he couldn't remember ever liking this before...

Well, he was liking it now. That's all John wanted to hear in his body. And a lot of places were lighting up green to be touched right now. He wanted his nipples rubbed, he wanted his dick stroked, he wanted his ass filled, he wanted his hair pulled. Hell, Aaron could have slapped him then and John was pretty sure he'd cum from it on the spot.

The doors pinged open and John felt Aaron sweep his feet out from under him. Instinctively he threw his arms around the man's neck and held on as he was carried through what looked like a fancy condo. John would have maybe been more impressed, if he'd been given a tour or allowed any time to take in the décor as it passed by in a blur, but he was brought straight to the bedroom and then dumped almost unceremoniously onto a bed.

“What happened to talking?” John said, already opening his legs as Aaron crawled on top of him.

“Later,” Aaron said, pushing up John's shirt. “We'll have plenty to talk about after I get done showing you a really good time.” John almost couldn't believe how his body felt as those hands glided up his chest and he wanted to feel them wrapped around his cock, wiggling up into his ass. God, he couldn't recall ever being this horny before. As soon as John's shirt was cast aside, he started undoing his own pants, and he almost had them off when Aaron pulled his hand away from his undone fly though and pinned them to either side of his head. He leaned in to kiss John more, grinding their hips together again. John tilted his head back, breaking the kiss to moan his pleasure. “Heh, you like that, don't you, you nasty little slut? Bet you can't wait to let me get behind you and slam you good and hard.”

John bit down on his lip. His body was screaming at him not to fuck this up, not to take this away, but his mind was chirping that something was....off. “Leslie, ease up a little bit, okay?”

“On what?”

John wiggled as he tried to clear his mind of all his body's signals telling him to shut up and let them get started, trying to find the words that wouldn't upset this lover so they could both get what they wanted, or John supposed in his case what he needed. “Don't...don't speak to me like that, I'm...not into it...please...”

“Awww, is my baby a little sensitive to dirty talk?” Aaron cooed almost condescendingly. “You're so cute.”

“You don't need to coo at me like a child either,” John growled.

“Sorry big boy, just trying to find what you like.” Aaron slid off him and John whimpered thinking he'd upset the guy. But if Aaron heard him he didn't acknowledge it as he opened a drawer in his nightstand and fetched a box from inside. “At least tell me you like playing with toys?”

“Like....sex toys?” John asked, thinking of the selection Alex had on his order screen.

“No John, action figures,” Aaron replied with a smile as he dug out a rubber dong and waved it about. “Like this one. You wanna show me how you like to play with yourself?”

“I've...never played with a toy before...” John said as he sat up. It was too risky to keep them with himself when he was at home in South Carolina and he'd been too shy to get one while he shared a room with another person, but all the times he'd asked Alex to play with one hadn't left him clueless. The sudden knowledge that Alex likely wouldn't care if John had his own toy made him blush, especially as he thought of Alex's inclinations to work with them, And that meant that if John wanted to he certainly could go out and buy one now.

“You haven't?” Aaron said, sounding a bit surprised and drawing John's attention back to him. He handed over the one in his hand as John reached for it and smiled at the way the other male marveled for a second at the feel of it. “Well, now's as good a time as any to get into it, don't you think?”

John nodded, feeling that euphoric feeling of giddiness wash over him again. A silly thought entered his brain then, what if he pretended to be Alex pretending to be Lin? It made him smile and John decided he'd give it a go, since he was all for new experiences tonight. He kissed at the toy the way he'd seen Lin do and licked up it's side, trying to eye Aaron seductively. “How does that make you feel?” he asked, boosted as he saw the smile widen on the man's face.

“I do like that,” Aaron told him. “Show me what else you can do with that toy.”

“Will I get any lube?” John asked, trying to mimic the way Lin always sounded submissive when he asked. Aaron pulled out a bottle from the box and handed it to John who took it happily. He kicked off his shoes and socks before climbing onto the middle of Aaron's bed and standing on his knees as he started pulling his pants off the rest of the way. He was already leaking precum with a semi-hard dick hard from the earlier friction.

Then the sight of the bandages reminded him of the the mutilations of scar tissue that ran all up and down his legs and hit him like a punch to the gut.

“What's wrong?” John heard Aaron ask and he looked up in confusion. How could Aaron not see what was wrong with him? How could he not find him disgusting and broken and something to be pitied? How could John really think he deserved any of the affection he was hoping to receive? A chuckled laugh cut through John's alarming thoughts of self-hatred and disgust, and for a moment John thought he was being laughed at. “Don't tell me you got shy all of a sudden.”

“but my cuts,” John replied, as he looked down at his legs again. “...my scars...”

“We all have scars, baby boy,” Aaron told him. “And I'm not here to scrutinize yours.” It sounded enough like reassurance. Was it reassurance? It sounded enough like reassurance and John wanted to be touched. When Aaron ran a hand up his bare side it sent lightening sparks of electricity all through his body. As Aaron rolled his palm over John's chest and then circled back around to tease a nipple, John tilted his head back and moaned. And when Aaron's other hand cupped John's chin and slid a thumb inside his mouth, John suckled on it like it was his only purpose in life. “You should get that toy in your ass soon, John,” Aaron's voice whispered in his ear. “Because it's the only preparation you'll have before I decide when I want in.”

John fumbled blindly with the rubber dildo in his hand, feeling more then seeing the lube he squeezed onto it. As one of Aaron's hands slid down to grip John's dick, he found that holding concentration on anything that he was doing was quite hard and gave up trying to think his way through the motions. His slick fingers fumbled the bottle and it fell away, as far as John was concerned now it no longer existed. He pressed his own fingers against his ass, wanting to buck into the hand that held him from the front, but Aaron seemed to be using that part of him and his chin more to keep John upright and steady. The toy slid in a moment later, reaching deeper into himself then he could get on his own. It ran over that bundle of nerves and John gasped as an even more intense feeling spider webbed in his body.

“You like that, don't you?” Aaron was asking him. He pulled his thumb out of John's mouth and smiled as John nodded happily for him. “Do you wish it was me inside you?”

“It will be soon,” John said, pulling the toy back and shoving it in again. One of his hands stayed on the toy, fucking himself slowly so he could feel every pulse of arousal in himself, the other reached out around Aaron's shoulder for leverage. He felt silly for ever being worried about this in the first place. Aaron was rubbing a thumb over his leaking cock and getting him off, his prostate was flooding him with happy little waves of pleasure, and John had never felt more confident or content in the universe. “Ahhh, Leslie, I can't wait, I want you,” John moaned.

“How soon do you want me?” Aaron asked, smiling.

John suddenly realized that his partner was still fully dressed and he let go of playing with the toy in his own ass to bring his arms around Aaron's neck. He kissed him hungrily for a moment, then brought his hands down to push open that leather jacket. Aaron let go of his penis then, let go of all of John, and he broke the kiss to protest before he looked down and saw him unbuckling his pants. “Oooh, what have you got down there for me?” John asked, feeling more excitement. He giggled to himself a moment later, asking, “Is it a shark dick?”

“Boy, you are high,” Aaron muttered with a chuckle. “Maybe I gave you too much.”

“Too much what?” John asked, missing the implication. “Too much sugar, sugar sweet-talkin' Yankee boy?” He giggled into Aaron's neck and then nuzzled the collar out of the way so he could kiss the dark skin he found there.

“You wanna put that mouth of yours to some actual good use?” Aaron asked and John nodded against him. “Then stop trying to give me a hickie and start sucking me off.”

John sat back on his legs and pushed some strains of hair that were coming loose back behind his ear as he looked down at Aaron's cock. He wet his lips and hoped the things Lafayette had always told him he liked were universal tricks of pleasure. Aaron wasn't as hard as John was just yet, but he was gunna change that. He bent forward and took Aaron into his mouth, sucking him in and letting his slick lips slide all the way down the shaft. He heard Aaron groan above him and John smiled temporarily around the dick in his mouth. He wrapped his tongue around the underside, using it as a barricade between his own bottom teeth and the cock. He drew back til he was almost at the tip, then slid Aaron back inside him, matching the slow and sensual pace he'd used with the toy still filling his ass.

John rubbed one of his hands over his own cock, feeling how hard he was and how much he wanted to buck soon. He sucked a little harder on his next drag, hoping that would get Aaron stiffer quicker. A hand bumped into the knot of hair that was his ponytail in an attempt to interlock among the curls. None too gently it started trying to pull the hair tie out and forced John to stop what he was doing and pull back.

“Cut it out, that hurts,” he complained.

“Take your hair tie out,” Aaron demanded. “It's in the way.”

“Do you see this mane? It goes all over the place if it's not tied back.”

“You'll look better with it down.”

John was almost surprised by the compliment, tho he didn't know why. Maybe because he wasn't expecting it, maybe because he really thought this was just gunna be a fuck and run. He gave a coy little smile and reached for the hair tie, pulling it loose so his curls could spill back around his face and over his shoulders. “You really like this better?”

“Sure do,” Aaron told him. He gave John a shove just hard enough to push him to fall back on to the bed, then Aaron threw off his jacket and pulled off his shirt, revealing the lean and fit torso underneath. “You look more like a girl that way.”

“I'm not a girl tho,” John protested.

“Yeah, that's a shame.”

John narrowed his eyes as he considered Aaron. “Why would you fuck me if you're into women?”

The other male chuckled. “Oh no, baby, you got it wrong,” he cooed as he crawled up over John, tangling a hand tightly in John's hair. “I mean, don't you ever think sometimes your life would be better if you weren't a little fucking queer?” Something told John there was something more to that sentence, something else Aaron was saying to him, but all he could hear was his own insecurities being echoed back to him. Of course John wondered what it would be like if he found woman attractive, if he could convince himself to really love a woman the way his parents wanted. But whatever ability he might have had to do that was stripped away when he was a kid and forced into the laps of females who had no business showing him any of the things they had when they told him they were going to make him better. John mentally shook the thought away and came back to Aaron, seeing him stroking himself mere inches from John's face. “I'm sure you'll be a lot more fun to play with tho. I'm getting hard just thinking about all the ways I wanna fuck you over some dumb whore.”

“Heh, what are you gunna do to me?” John asked, feeling cocky in his sudden confidence.

Aaron smiled coldly and trailed a hand slowly down John's exposed chest again until he reached his groin where he traced his fingers around John's cock. “Oh no, if I told you what I have in mind to do to you then you might not want to stay.”

“Give me an idea,” John moaned, bucking a bit into that hand. He yelped lightly when he was squeezed and he wondered when he'd get to thrust himself inside Aaron. At this rate he didn't think he'd last much longer, and he wasn't sure if several rounds were acceptable for one night stands. But maybe....John moaned again as he was stroked; just maybe Aaron would want to play with him through the night.

Something brushed against his lips and John realized his head had been brought to Aaron's crotch again; it was his semi hard dick that was being slid into his mouth. “You're gunna suck me til I'm ready to turn you over and take you in the ass, and I want you to scream for me the entire way, understand?” Aaron told him and John hummed around the cock in his mouth. He wanted to point out how silly it was to expect him to scream with his mouth full, but then he thought it would be a better use of time to see if he couldn't just make Aaron scream instead. If the little gasp Aaron gave him in response was anything to go by, John supposed he would be good at it. He suckled and hummed until Aaron started bucking his hips into John's mouth, eager to get his mouth to the end of his length, holding John's head from pulling away or controlling the thrusting. Both of Aaron's hands were in his hair now, grabbing fistfuls to keep John's head where he wanted. It felt like hours had passed as John worked.

Finally Aaron pulled out of him, muttering, “This will do.” He let go of John's head, and pushed him to lay down on the bed. Hands slid under his knees, pulling them up and spreading them to either side of John, not a favored position. “Leslie,” he gasped out, as little tendrils of panic started to ebb their way into his mind. He was hesitant to push back, a childhood memory of having his wrists pinned down on either side of his head flashing in his mind. “Leslie, wait, ummm....I'm not okay with this.”

“Not okay with what?” Aaron asked him, and John picked right up on the tinge of annoyance in it.

“This, this this,” John stuttered over trying to find the right words in the heat of a moment he didn't want to mess up. “I can't be bottom, can't be, can't be...”

“Well, you don't act like a top, baby. I just assumed you'd be the catcher.”

“No, I can, I just, this, this won't work,” he gestured a little frantically between them, scared his meaning was lost. Things were different when it was Lafayette; Lafayette knew how to read him, Lafayette knew when to get off him, and John was starting to feel claustrophobic as he lay exposed under Aaron's body. John tried to wiggle free, to get out from under the male looming over him, his mind reeling with little flashes of childhood trauma. Aaron chuckled as if he were amused, tho John couldn't see what in the situation was so amusing.

“Hey, hey,” Aaron's voice was suddenly soft and soothing; or was it always soft and soothing? “It's okay. Someone didn't treat you right, did they baby?” He stroked at John's face, smiling sickly sweet in a way that made John nervous and excited and dizzy all at once. “It's okay baby, you can trust me. You wanna try another position? That's okay with me, just as long as you're letting me put it in your ass.”

“You ever....try it the other way around?” John asked, but he knew what the answer would be before Aaron replied as he chuckled coolly at John.

“No.”

“Heh, well....good thing I've had some practice being the bottom then.”

“Lucky you. What position you want me to fuck you in?”

John shifted a bit where he lay, thinking that over. He thought of all the ways he had loved getting fucked by Lafayette, the ways he'd thought about how Lin would take him...but, he felt like he shouldn't stay in his safe little bubble of comfort for this; hell he was already well outside it anyway, maybe he should just push hard into something that made him uncomfortable and see what happened. John wanted to push himself, wanted to experience something new. He drew one leg closer to himself and rolled over on his side, setting up on all fours. His heart pounded in his ears and his arms trembled, memories of the holier-then-thou-aren't-bastard that had delighted in putting him in this very position every time he'd raped John flooding his mind. He'd never liked this position. It felt degrading, it made him feel filthy...And John wanted to take it back, take away the power it had over him, take it away from the memories of the man that had put him into this position to hurt him, over and over and over. He shivered as he felt Aaron's hands slide down his back, one of them slapping hard on the flesh of his rump. He bit his lip even tho it didn't stop the little involuntary whimper he gave to the small smack of pain. One of Aaron's hands reached around his hip and found his cock, stroking it back to attention, and the other found it's way to the dildo John still held between his cheeks.

He moaned lightly as the rubber toy was thrust in and out of him a few times, then was finally removed. He bucked into the hand that encompassed his shaft, biting his lip as he felt it slide over him, working to keep him erect. Eventually Aaron stopped stroking him and John gave a high moan of protest. Hands on his hips steadied his need to thrust, and eventually a new sensation could be felt as his hips were guided backwards to meet Aaron's. He could feel the cock brush against his ass, and he tried not to tense up, knowing that would only hurt him. He began to lower his chest without realizing it, the way he'd been trained too respond, for better access when Aaron wrapped an arm around his chest and pulled him back up off of his hands. “Impale yourself on me, John,” he demanded, “I want to feel you sink down on me slowly.”

John nodded and reached between himself to positioned the penis brushing against his ass, guiding it in, feeling Aaron penetrate him and slowly slip further into his cavity. He brought his hand around to stroke himself, gasping as the other's hand brushed over a nipple then returned to pinch and roll it's perky little nib between it's fingers. John tilted his head to the side, and pulled his hair away to give Aaron access to his neck, allowing the other to bite and kiss and lick as he pleased. A hand firmly on his hip kept him from from bucking right away, seeking out the friction he wanted, but after sliding as far as he could go and taking a moment to just feel how good and tight John felt hugging his cock, Aaron eventually pulled out some and began to thrust into him.

“Yes,” John gasped as he felt Aaron move in and out of him. His own erection throbbed and he squeezed it trying to keep from cumming too soon. He grinded with the other male, leaning back into his chest for a moment and feeling the solid mass of pectoral muscle that had fascinated him for a moment, feeling the rough rub of his jean fabric against the backs of his legs. Eventually John began to lean forward again, seeking a deeper penetration, looking to angle Aaron's penis toward his prostate. Both of Aaron's hands moved to grip John's hips, and with the position change they picked up some speed. He leaned forward a little more and then felt it, that bundle of nerves inside him was hit by the cock burrowing inside him and John's gasps came quick with each thrust. “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” John tried to keep stroking himself, but the thrusting made it hard for him to keep balance on just one hand, which was probably for the best, he could feel his climax beginning to build inside him. He gripped at the sheets under him, arching his back. “Leslie,” he gasped, “Leslie, Yes! Leslie!”

A hand left it's station at his hip and gripped him then, giving him something tight to buck himself into. The lubrication of his own precum helped him slide in and out of the hand and the friction gave him the needed stimulation to reach his edge faster. His cum spilled out over the bed, and he cried out in his climax. Aaron's thrusting picked up pace.

“Aah!” John cried, feeling some pain begin to ebb into his groin. “Leslie, wait...”

“I'm not there yet,” a voice grunted into his ear. “Just let me finish inside you.”

“Well....hurry up!” John gripped the sheets tighter as he was hit harder from behind, the painful feeling growing. He was almost to a point of demanding they stop when the familiar sensation of ejaculation came inside him. Aaron gave his own cry of release, bucking a few more times into John, then finally pulled out. John sighed with relief and began to release his grip on the sheets. Blinking his eyes open he released there were the smallest hints of tears in them. He felt a soreness he wasn't used to feeling after sex.

John rolled to the side and collapsed on the bed, catching sight of Aaron already wiping himself off and tucking his dick back inside his pants. “Hey,” John said, garnishing his attention and beckoning him closer. “Come lay with me for a little bit, yeah?”

“In a minute,” Aaron told him as he slid off the bed. “I've got a few things I gotta check first.”

John frowned a little, put off by that. “You were a bit rough,” he said.

“So?”

“Sew buttons on your underwear, I'd like a little comfort.”

Aaron chuckled. “Sew buttons on your underwear?”

“You heard me.”

“Is that like a Southerner expression? It's cute. I'll have to remember that one.”

“Are you just going to ignore my request?” John said, sitting up and wincing.

“Relax, baby, I'm just gunna get you another drink. Wouldn't you like that?”

John pouted but didn't say anything more as Aaron walked out of the room. Whatever the hell kind of drink he was bringing back had better be stiff enough to unhurt John's ass. He fell back into the pillows with a sigh and wondered what the protocol was now. Maybe he should get dressed. But...he didn't want too. The sheets felt nice on his bare skin and despite the mild pain he actually felt really good about himself. He hoped Aaron wasn't tired of him already and going to kick him out soon. Wasn't he allowed to sleep over, that was how it worked right? Then he had to do a walk of shame the following morning, or was that privilege only bestowed upon women? Damnit, why hadn't he bothered to ask Lafayette what he was supposed to do after and good fuck down.

“Here,” Aaron said, holding a cup over John's head and pulling his focus back into the present. “Drink this. It'll make you forget about whatever discomfort you think you have.”

John sat up and took the cup, eyeing what was inside for a second. He could smell the alcohol and decided that was explanation enough as he downed half of it in an attempt to get himself back to pleasantly buzzed. He grimaced when he tasted the weird grainy kind of texture in it. “What is this?” he asked, realizing that Aaron didn't have a drink of his own.

“Something meant to help you relax,” Aaron replied with a smile. “Drink up.”

John looked down at the cup in his hands and saw his vision blur. It would be the last thing he recalled before passing out.

END CHAPTER

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 17:

“I'm sorry,” Eliza said, her words coming as a bit of a slap to Alex's face. “I can't. Not tonight, anyway.”

“Rain check then?” Alex immediately prompted. “I'm mostly free all week, when would work for you?”

“I'll have to check my schedule,” she replied. “Can I.....have your number?”

He smiled and held out his hand for her phone. “Only if you promise to call me.”

“Promise,” she said with her own smile and pulled out the device from her purse, setting up a new contact and handing it to Alex to fill out. He typed in the number he knew from memory and then took a silly selfie of himself to add it as the photo before handing it back. “So you won't forget me among all the other numbers you must have in there of other cute guys.”

“Believe it or not I don't have that many numbers from charming young men. Those belong more to each of my sisters.”

“Cute girls then?” Alex teased, smiling wider when he saw Eliza's face blush a bright red.

“N—no,” she replied and tucked her eyes away from his. “Just....my friends, my sisters...”

“Well, I find that hard to believe. You're really adorable, I imagine a lot of guys would kill to sit where I am right now.”

“They'd have to get past Angelica first.”

“What, is that hard?” Alex asked, feigning innocence to how Eliza's sister could be a hard person to read.

“You're the worst,” Eliza giggled. Their waitress came by and slid a check next to Alex, letting him know it was his bill. When he inquired about Eliza's half, she added with a flustered, “Angelica always pays for me, you don't have to worry about it.”

“Oh,” Alex said as he fished his cash out. “Shame, I had every intention of impressing you with picking up the whole tab. Well, next time.” He counted off what he would need and then some more and handed it back to their server. “I won't need change, thanks.” The sever disappeared with a nod and Alex turned back to Eliza. “So can I at least walk you back to your car?”

“Oh, I can't leave just yet. I'm waiting for my sister to get off so we can go home together.”

“Ahh, so that's why you were sitting here all alone.” Alex pretended like he didn't approve. “You know, Angelica really should consider hiring someone to sit with you and make sure you aren't lonely or bored while you wait for her.”

“Someone like you, perhaps?” Eliza asked.

“Well, yeah. I think we'd look good together. I can keep away all the guys who aren't worthy and we can swap fairytales.”

“Oh? And what fairytales do you know, Alex?”

He faltered for a moment. Folk tales and fables were never something he'd had an interest in, but he wanted Eliza to like him. “Okay, so, maybe I don't have any traditional stories to tell....certainly not any that I'm sure you haven't heard before. But I'll bet I can tell you a tale longer and more fantastical then anything else you've read.”

“Oh really?”

“Yep, really.” He would have launched into a tale, probably embarrassingly, right on the spot had they not been interrupted by Angelica slamming her hand down on the table and smiling at Alex in a way that he felt was a little forced.

“Heeey, hate to break this little jam up, but I just got off work and would really love to get home now,” she said before turning and speaking more sweetly to her sister. “Eliza, you ready to go?”

“I thought you had another hour,” she said, looking between the cute boy and her sister.

“It's been a little dead and they'll be fine,” Angelica said. “I got someone to cover for me.”

“Dead,” Alex repeated as he looked out to the sea of people that filled the restaurant. “Right.”

“I've scheduled everything that it can run itself now,” Angelica countered. “The other hostess will be fine.”

“Oh, well, Alex invited me out for ice cream, maybe we could all go together?”

“We have ice cream at home.”

“You know, I'm not doing anything this evening, in case you didn't have Alex at home,” Alex interjected and immediately felt the heat of Angelica's eyes as they swiveled around and told him, silently but not uncertainty, to keep his mouth shut. “Whoa-hoooo, that's a look,” he added, deciding he felt lucky enough to push it. “I take it you do have a freezer full of Alex at home then.”

Eliza giggled as she gathered her things. “Angelica, leave him alone. Alex has been very sweet.”

“I'm sure he has been,” Angelica replied. “But we really need to be going. Tell your roommate I said hi when you head back.”

“Do you want a ride?” Eliza asked, ignoring the deep breath her sister took.

But as Alex stood up he realized his welcome was wearing thin on Angelica. “It's okay,” he said. “I don't live very far from here and I enjoy the walk. Good exercise you know.” He stood and bowed to Eliza, taking her hand in his and bringing it to his lips for a kiss. “Til we meet again, I bid you adieu, fair princess.” And he smirked as he eyed her, knowing at once that Eliza fancied him by the starry look in her eyes and the blush to her face.

But Angelica seemed less impressed as she ushered her sister along. “Okay, I'm sure we'll see you around then. Goodnight, Alex.”

He sat back down to watch them leave, tapping his fingers slowly to count off ten sets of ten beats on the table in their absence. He didn't know why Angelica seemed so sketched out by him, but the last thing he wanted was to make it seem like he was gunna follow them home or something if he walked them out to their car. Sure he wanted to, but no sense in making one woman uncomfortable in order to woo the other.

Alex pondered that thought as he finally got up to leave. He'd thought he'd only sat down with Eliza because she looked, well, adorable but lonely all by herself. He was glad he'd introduced himself, she certainly was sweet and fun to talk too, but he wondered for the second time in as many days how a romantic relationship would fit into his current lifestyle. If Angelica was wigging out because she thought Alex was a scrappy, starving college student only attending Harvard because he'd lucked into some scholarship money, well, he couldn't imagine how hard she'd flip out if Alex told her what he did for money. So of course that meant he shouldn't pursue a relationship at this time, right?

But......he did kinda like Eliza.....

No, he had to be practical. School came first, then a second well paying job and as soon as he could afford it a house, and then he'd think about pursuing a relationship. It's just that....a part of him wanted the intimacy, the comfort of sharing a life with someone. And besides, once all that other stuff was sorted out he'd likely be in his 30's and a cute, sweet girl like Eliza might be even harder to come by.

Alright, a compromise. Alex would attempt to get her to chase him and if she seemed really interested he'd find a way to make all that other stuff work around it. He smiled as he chuckled to himself thinking about how annoyed James was going to be when he showed up at his work to harass him for insider secrets on how to do exactly that.

 


 

Burr smirked as he considered the sleeping form of John Laurens sprawled out across his bed. It was almost too easy how well his plan was going and he almost couldn't believe the stupid boy had been so careless as to walk right into his little trap. He knew the drugs he'd slipped John had helped immensely, but there was almost a part of him that wished he hadn't resorted to that, just to see if he could have walked John right into the same cage on his words alone. Almost. Perhaps if John had been buddying up to anyone else but Alex Burr might have done that, but unfortunately for John that wasn't the case.

He pulled his phone out and snapped a few photos of John's still naked body. He'd need them in case he had to go into his contingency plan. As of now he was willing to let the boy live, since dead bodies and missing persons where just a nightmare to deal with when cops got involved and from Burr's research into John's family he'd likely be a high profile case. Not to mention the sudden disappearance of his roommate would likely set Alex on edge and the last thing Burr wanted was for Alex to think he couldn't track down a kidnapper or murderer if they came after him next, or some such silly thing. Only a nutjob or a real amateur would go for any of Burr's toys tho, and if they did, well, then that was an incredibly stupid move on their part.

The phone in his hands began to vibrate with an incoming call and Burr answered it with a tinge of annoyance. “What?” he said.

“Alex is still inside the restaurant and I need to go home soon,” Maria's voice croaked through the phone. She sounded like she'd been crying.

“Well tough shit,” Burr told her. “I told you to tail him and that's just what you're gunna do until I give you permission to go home.”

“James is going to wonder where I am—”

“James works for me, Maria. I thought you understood that by now? But if it's really a concern for you I'll just call him and let him know you're gunna be working late tonight. In fact, I'll even be so kind as to let him know whose dick you thought you could sneak up inside you so you don't have to, sound good?”

“How did you—I didn't—you took me off the schedule!”

“Yes, I did. You've also been taken off the schedule for the next two weeks, so now if you want to get paid I suggest you keep your big brown eyes trained on Alex, like I know you have been when you think no one but your clients see you screwing his brains out.” He peeled up the corner of one of the bandages on John's leg to access the damages underneath, frowning as he calculated how much he would have to allow for anyone to lowball on an offer for the boy if he decided to go through with selling him. “Oh and by the way, you've got a doctor's appointment in six weeks. I want you to be peeing on a stick every morning until then and showing me your results because I know you don't have any latex allergy, Maria. And you'd better pray your birth control is as good as you said it was because I know you only told Alex that so you could get him to ride you raw and give you a sweet squirt of his baby juices. Good job trying to hide the second round of it that you went for today, but you forgot one thing Maria, and that is that no matter where you or Alex go, no matter how far you think you can run, I will always find you.”

He didn't wait for her reply, hanging up on the barely contained sounds of her crying again. Really, Maria was getting to be more and more of a liability then an asset these days. Maybe he ought to look into having her retired, he'd fetch a better price for her now then later anyway. It was a shame, as she was his second highest paid actress, but maybe it was time to pass that flame along to someone else. Alex would certainly appreciate the pay raise, as would may of his other employees. He decided he'd see how they felt about it after Maria's two weeks on the bench were up and if the majority seemed pleased with the arrangements he'd go ahead and make them permanent.

And as for John Anthony Laurens...oh what to do with sweet, little John Anthony Laurens....

He ran his finger down John's torso, mining cutting into him and imagining playing with his innards. Such a shame he had a well-to-do family that meant Burr had to reconsider murder. But then, it was John's well-to-do family that was going to keep sweet, little John Laurens in line. After all, Burr already knew about the kind of father John had, the kind of mother he had. And it was such a shame they didn't know their son as well as they thought they did. He really hoped John had the good sense to thank his parents one day for everything they did for him, the standards they held him too. After all, it was because of John's parents that John would live to see another day at all. That was something he should be grateful for.

Burr pulled out a ring box he kept in his pocket and opened it, smiling coldly at the two simple rings each embedded with a single diamond in them, only one was bigger then the other. “Yes, a parent really should do everything in their power to keep their child safe, shouldn't they?” he murmured to them before snapping the box shut again and closing his fist around it.

 


 

John woke up slowly, his head feeling as if it were stuffed with cotton. The first thing he was aware of was the fact that he was still naked. As he moved, he became aware of the mess seeping between his legs and with a small jolt the details of last night began to filter back into the forefront of his brain. He remembered going out, meeting a guy, saying goodbye to Lafayette....everything else seemed a little blurry...God, how much had he had to drink last night?

Enough to need the bathroom, apparently.

He got up and made his way to what he hoped was a room with a toilet and sighed in relief as he found what he was looking for. He sat down to do his business and put his still fuzzy head in his hands. How much alcohol had he had last night? He never drank enough to get hangovers.

John finished his business and looked around the bathroom, noting with a slight sense of unease how picture perfect everything seemed, like something out of a fancy hotel. But there was nothing personal at all about the room; no hairbrush or toothbrush, no lotion, no used scented candle or ruffled hand towel. John wondered if he wasn't supposed to be there, but then thought that his date last night wouldn't have let him stay over if he wanted him out, right?

Come to think of it...where was the handsome stranger from John's fuzzy memories? He crept back to the door and double checked the bedroom he'd woken up in but, just as he'd thought, he'd woken up alone. No sign of.....Lester? Leslie? Was it....Leslie? Oh great, and the guy wasn't in bed, which meant he was up and awake somewhere and John would probably have to see him on his way out...didn't he say he owned the club downstairs, or was that something John's depression and medication riddled brain had dreamed up?

He spotted his clothes on the floor and quickly bent down to collect them, gathering the garments in his arms and shutting himself back in the bathroom. He fished his phone out of the pocket of his pants and swore when he saw he only had 5% battery left. And 15 text messages from Thomas. Five from Lafayette. He opened the messages sent from his best friend first.

Hope you are having a good time, mon amie.

How is your boy? I want to hear all about him when you are done with him! :)

Thomas is getting worried, mon amie, will you text us that you are alright?

I think you are quite busy, how you say, ride that dick? :) I will leave you alone now, but please text Thomas when you have a moment, he is worried. But do not worry if you need to be busy all night, I will tell Thomas to be more chill.

It was the last message that surprised John, sent only 30 minutes ago. Bonjour John. Thomas says you never checked in with him. Please call me when you see this. It was nearly 8 am, and John couldn't think of a single reason for Lafayette to be awake this early. Unless, he'd been waiting up for John. A pang of guilt hit him and he dug through his other pocket until he found Alex's phone, saying a silent prayer of thanks when he saw Alex's phone held far more of a charge, and punching in the number of his best friend which he knew by heart. The other end of the line rang four times before the French man picked up with a, “Bonjour, qui appelle?”

Bonjour Laf,” John replied, more out of habit. “It's me, John. I—I'm using Alex's phone. Thomas killed my battery with all the messages he sent or something.”

“John!!” Lafayette replied, sounding at once happy and relieved. “One moment Mademoiselle, this is actually important. John, où es-tu?”

“I, uhh...I'm still at that guy's house?”

Comment était-ce, était-il bon?”

John wanted to ask why Lafayette was speaking in only French, but the comment he'd made earlier told him that the guy was standing around people he did not want to understand what conversations he was having. “Look, can we discuss that later, I need a bit of advice.”

Que veux-tu savoir?”

“Uh...what's...what the protocol for leaving? Do I just like...put my clothes on and go? Do I need to say goodbye? Can I take a shower first, is that weird?”

Qui était top? Vous ou lui?”

John rolled his eyes. “Who do you think, Laf? You know I don't top...”

Prenez une douche, si vous voulez. C'est le moins qu'il puisse offrir, non? Quelle est ton adresse? Je vais vous chercher et nous pouvons prendre le petit déjeuner.”

“You're gunna think this is weird, but I'm still where the club is. Like, this guy's apartment was above it. At least, I think that's the case...” John checked the GPS on his phone and confirmed he was still at the location of the club they'd went too last night. “Yep, still at the club.”

Eh bien, prenez une douche et préparez-vous. Je serai dehors quand je viendrai te chercher, d'accord?”

“Okay, I'll see you in a bit Laf. Thanks.”

Je t'aime.”

“I love you too.” John hung up the phone and sighed. He stood up and locked the bathroom door in case Leslie came looking for him, then thought he was being silly. They'd just had sex, what did he think was gunna happen? Leslie was gunna bust in here and murder him with an ax? That was...ridiculous. And yet, John couldn't help feeling like he needed to lock the door.

He waited a minute after turning the shower on to see if anyone would come knocking, but when the apartment stayed silent John cautiously made his way into the shower and cleaned himself up. Or tried to, there was no soap. No washcloth or loofah. No shampoo, tho John didn't expect to have to borrow that. When he got out he realized the towels that were hanging on the rack were the decorative kind his mother had in their house, the kind she'd told her children a hundred times never to use as actual towels, they were meant only to look nice. But John couldn't see anything else for him to use, so he carefully removed one and patted himself dry with it, a touch of guilt coloring his emotions as he did so. He was very careful to hang it back up exactly as he'd seen it before sitting down on the bathtub edge to examine the wounds under his bandages. He decided the pads were becoming redundant, as the cuts had clearly clotted over and besides, he felt bad enough using Leslie's shower without asking; he didn't want to go snooping around for a first aid kit he had a feeling he wouldn't find.

John dressed himself and ran his hair through damp curls, mildly annoyed that he hadn't been able to find his hair tie. Oh well, he had a bunch back at the dorm. He unlocked the door and peeked out into the bedroom again, noting once more the lack of personal touch to the area. If it weren't for the mussed sheets, John would have sworn this room never got used for anything. He tried to smooth out the winkles of the sheets, but wasn't sure what to do about the bottle of lube or the, ahem, mess in the sheets from their activities, so he just put a pillow over it and shuffled quickly to the door.

The bedroom opened into a niche and John stepped out from it into a dining area. A long table set for eight with fine china, and John wondered if there was to be a dinner party later. There was a large open concept living room with all the comforts, but still nothing personal. No family photos, no clutter of knicknacks, no real signs that anyone even lived in the apartment. John felt goosebumps raise as he slowly wandered around, trying to remember where the front door was. He found an immaculate kitchen, two more bedrooms as devoid of personal belongings as the one he'd woken up in, even a laundry room that looked like it was never used and no sign of Leslie anywhere. Finally he found the front door with a note tapped to it, his name scribbled across the front.

 

John,

Sorry I couldn't be here when you woke up, you're welcome to help yourself to a shower and breakfast before you go, and I know my place looks like a neat freak lives there, but don't worry about any mess you make. I keep a maid service well paid to clean my place so it'll likely be put to rights by the time I get home anyway. I had a really great time last night. Hope you don't mind, but I got your number from the phone you had in your pocket. I'll call you later. There's a few things I want to discuss with you and until then I would appreciate if you kept quiet about us.

L

PS The code to lock the place up behind you is 1804#, just punch it in to the keypad on the right and it'll give you 30 seconds to get out and close the door behind you. The guard downstairs will show you out.

 

He wondered what things Leslie wanted to talk about as he keyed in the code. Or maybe that was just what he'd said to try to let John down easy that he wouldn't want to see him again. Ah well, either way John was satisfied with the encounter, so if he called, great. And if he didn't? Well, surprisingly John felt that would be a blessing too. He stepped into the waiting elevator and hit the button for the ground floor.

Wait a minute... He dug in his pockets and puled out both his and Alex's phone. Which phone did he mean? He had to have meant Alex's, John's phone had a lock on it and it needed his fingerprint and face to unlock it. But it's not like Leslie wouldn't have had access to those things last night. Had.....Had the guy gone through his phone while John slept?!

The doors to the elevator opened and John stepped out into the same little guardroom he faintly remembered from the night before. Only this time the guard sitting behind the desk was the man he'd met last night named Oak.

END CHAPTER