Eren knew things were bad when he found himself relying on Jean for emotional support.
“Argh!” Jean yelped supportively, and promptly dropped his keys. “Jesus Christ, Eren.” He stooped to pick them up again before finally taking note of the oppressive atmosphere as well as Eren’s gloomy expression and posture as he sat slumped on the couch, where he had been for quite some time as the apartment they shared had gone dark. “Eren, why were you sitting in the dark?”
“I wasn’t sitting in the dark,” Eren said, finally looking up from the blank TV screen to his flatmate. “I was sitting here and it got dark and I couldn’t be bothered getting up and turning the lights on. I took Missy to the vet today.”
“Ah,” Jean said, in what was one of the most tactful responses Eren had ever heard from him. “Is she okay?”
Eren hadn’t expected a polite question. He’d been waiting for sarcasm or dismissiveness, and he’d worked out exactly how many steps it would be before he could connect Jean’s face, first to his fist and then to the floor. He was entirely derailed for a few moments and he recalculated the trajectory of the conversation.
Jean and Missy did not get on. Or rather, Jean disliked Missy and Eren had to field a constant stream of complaints re: cat hairs, claw marks and chewed bedspreads (Missy seemed to like how Jean smelled apparently, an aroma Eren completely failed to appreciate, and Missy expressed this by chewing on Jean’s dirty laundry and his blankets whenever he forgot to close his door.)
But Jean also knew Eren loved that fucking cat. Missy had been a present to his mother, one of the last presents she’d ever received, and the little black and white kitten had since grown into a large and friendly cat, now approaching the placid end of middle-age.
Eren scrubbed his hands in his messy brown hair. “She ate a bit of wire or something,” he said. “And it was hurting her; it’s why she wasn’t eating. They gave her an x-ray and they had to cut it out. She’s recovering tonight at the vet. So, I think she’s gonna be okay.” He really, really hoped so. If she wasn’t- she was family, and Eren had precious little of that left.
Jean sighed, and his shoulders dropped slightly. “Sounds like a shit day.”
Eren managed a strangled laugh, “It’s not as bad as the one Missy had.”
Jean clumped into his room to put his bag away and strip off his work shirt for one that smelled a little less like deep fryer. Eren rubbed his eyes and waited for Jean to re-emerge. He wasn’t done yet.
“So, there’s another problem,” he said when Jean returned. “I’m not meaning to dump this on you I just think you need to know. The uh, vet bill is going to be in the four digits.”
“Can you afford that?” Jean asked.
Finally, a stupid question.
“Of course I can’t, what a stupid fucking question,” Eren snapped. “I almost emptied my savings fixing my car last month, and I had to borrow from Mikasa anyway. I’ve looked over the numbers, and I’ve worked out if I stop eating and attending class, and work, like, quadruple shifts at the bookshop, I’m still utterly, utterly screwed.” He slumped forward, hanging his head and staring at the worn carpet between his feet.
“I could see if they have any extra hours going at my work,” Jean suggested.
“I don’t think minimum wage is gonna cut it,” Eren said listlessly. “I had to pay half the bill up front, and that was next week’s rent.”
“If you don’t pay your share of the rent we could both get thrown out,” Jean said, frowning.
“I know. I know that. But I couldn’t just let her die, Jean.” Eren lifted his head, pleading.
“Yeah, yeah, stop looking at me like that. I’ll cover your rent for a week. Somehow.” Jean scowled and tried to pretend he wasn’t being generous. Eren knew he couldn’t afford it much more than Eren himself could. He couldn’t ask Mikasa for help again either; he still owed her for the car.
“I’m really fucking sorry.”
Jean shrugged. There wasn’t much he could say.
“Should I look under ‘L’ for loan or ‘S’ for shark?” Eren asked rhetorically.
“You’re not getting an illegal loan.” Jean frowned and applied the finest mind his mother had raised to the problem. As expected he came up with nothing useful whatsoever. “Hey, if you were a chick, you could strip. Strippers make heaps of cash, right?”
“Dudes can strip,” Eren said.
“There you go then.”
“I’m not- if it’s so lucrative why don’t you do it?”
“I’m saving myself for marriage.” Jean put on such a tortured expression of faux-innocence that Eren felt a smile tugging at his lips.
“Thank you for your contribution, I’ll keep it in mind.” Eren rolled his eyes. He still wasn’t feeling much better, but he knew he’d probably exhausted Jean’s patience by now, and there was no point in going over things again.
He guessed Jean probably would make a fortune if he did decide to take up stripping; he had a face that had been far too long for him as a child that he’d grown into nicely, and Eren assumed the rest of him didn’t look any worse than it had when they were in high school and seeing each other naked regularly.
Eren also knew there was no way he could take up stripping himself. The mere thought of doing a presentation in public with his clothes on was enough to make him sweat a little; the thought of shaking his bare arse on stage made him queasy.
Since they were now officially in the poorhouse they ate instant ramen for dinner, and Jean retreated to his room to study, or whatever it was he did in there.
Eren drifted around the living room and kitchen aimlessly, half-heartedly tidying up a bit. He missed Missy. He kept looking for her in her favourite spots before remembering she wouldn’t be there. He could call Mikasa, but if he explained what was wrong she’d try and help him out again, and he just couldn’t. Besides, he didn’t want to rely on his sister all the time.
He found himself standing outside Jean’s door, faint music coming from within. He raised his hand to knock. Jean was a good kisser; they’d taught each other, after all. It wasn’t like it had to be anything more than that.
No, Eren. Don’t be fucking stupid. He lowered his hand. Right now it was pure bad luck that had screwed him over, and there was no sense in making obviously terrible decisions on top of that to screw himself over further.
He was just lonely, that's all. He missed his cat.
He went back to his room and shut the door. He thought he’d done pretty well at being an adult; he got himself into college and into a (crappy) job and into a place to live all by himself for the most part, but now he felt that his apparent competency was merely a facade, and at the first sign of real hardship everything was going to fall down around his ears and he would end up living under a bridge, having dragged Jean and probably Mikasa down with him.
He crossed the room and his reflection in the mirror on his wardrobe caught his eye. He turned and faced himself, scowling. Was he really desperate enough to consider stripping? He was probably hot enough, he decided. Jean had always called him pretty although he might have said that just to piss him off, which it did every time. He was cute if he pouted, he thought, pulling a few faces at himself in the mirror. He sighed and gently head-butted his reflection, which bowed its head to meet his. He just couldn’t do it, and it was ridiculous to pretend that he could.
Maybe I should sell my arse instead, he thought sourly. At least he’d get laid. Which reminded him, it was time to cut back on everything and the most obvious saving he could make was cancelling his subscription to his favourite porn site.
Eren flung himself down in front of his computer and jiggled the mouse to wake it up. He had study he could be doing, but after a day like this one he knew there was zero chance of it being productive even if he tried. Civil engineering could wait.
He traced the cursor through a familiar path of favourites folders and clicked on HotFreeRange.com. It wasn’t what you’d call a normal porn site, but he hadn’t come across it in what you’d call a normal fashion, either; it had all been Mikasa’s doing, although by now he had successfully divorced the site of all associations with her.
She’d sent him the link.
He’d been fifteen, or thereabouts, his mother four years in the grave and his father an almost non-existent presence in both their household and their lives. In a way, Mikasa raised them both; where Eren got angry and frustrated, she remained calm and collected. She was the one who called plumbers when things needed fixing and made dentists appointments, and somehow in all of that managed to find the time to get political.
Eren liked to think she’d investigated his browsing history; the alternative was too horrible. She sent him a long, carefully worded email expressing her reservations with an industry that exploited thousands of people, mostly women, and encouraged an unnatural attitude towards what should be a fun and mutually satisfying activity- the email was long-deleted but he could still remember parts of it seared onto his brain for all eternity.
She wasn’t asking him to give it up, she said, and implied such an ambition was a lost cause anyway. She was asking him to consume responsibly and to that end there was a link. Eren never knew how she discovered it, but he suspected it had something to do with all her online friends who as far as he could tell did nothing but write stories about gay men.
It wasn’t a gay porn site, however. Not entirely. There was an ‘about’ section full of words like diversity and inclusiveness, and regular rants from the studio owner that Eren never read beyond the first one about how the industry had to change. This was free range porn, they declared, ethically made and guilt free.
Mikasa had successfully made him feel very guilty about the whole thing and despite the best of intentions the site wasn’t really making him feel any better. If he hadn’t seen the teaser video he might never have been back.
Filled with adolescent stubbornness (and guilt) he clicked over to the free samples, determined to hate everything forever. The galleries were arranged in alphabetical order by actor’s surname, and the first male on the list belonged to an Axel Black.
Who was five foot three, the text profile helpfully told him.
Eren was taller than that already, and he sniggered at the very idea. He clicked, determined to be entertained if not aroused.
The site granted access to two pictures and a short video before credit card details were required, but for Eren that was more than enough. Axel Black was something else. The first picture was a head shot of a severe looking man with short black hair buzzed into an undercut. He looked right out of the screen at the viewer, pinning them with an intense gaze. The corners of his mouth softened slightly in what might have been a ghost of a contemptuous smile. He's five foot three, Eren reminded himself, which was absolutely not breathtaking.
And yet he was short of breath all of a sudden.
In the second picture he was naked. And upside down. He was doing a handstand, his back to the viewer, and Eren spent a good twenty seconds staring at his arse, and another forty staring at the defined muscles on his back. His mouth was dry. This guy looked like an athlete; why was he on display here?
Eren decided he didn't care, he'd just make the most of his good fortune. He was half-hard already and he checked his door was shut before he unbuckled his belt and unzipped his fly. Right. He scraped his teeth across his lower lip as he clicked the play button on the video.
Axel, possibly in the same room the photos were taken in, wearing nothing but a pair of snug dark boxer shorts.
“Huh, okay.” His voice was deeper than Eren expected, but it suited his solid frame. That smile was definitely slightly mocking. His fingers plucked briefly at the edge of the boxers and then he started rolling the edge down over his hipbones. Eren practically had his nose against the screen as more skin and dark hair was revealed, and then the broad base of what was probably going to be an amazing cock-
And then video ended. Eren actually made a noise of frustration, and immediately played it again.
He only needed to play it three more times.
Spent, Eren saved the bookmark, deleted Mikasa's email, and cleaned himself up. Over the next week or so he explored the rest of the free content – that which appealed to him anyway – although he kept going back to Axel Black and his stupid mysterious almost-smile and his perfect abs. He was all the way down in the S's before he discovered Armand Savage.
Superficially he was Axel's opposite, tall and blonde where Axel was short and dark. His portrait grinned cheekily, promising all sorts of things if the viewer would care to stay just a bit longer, but something in his eyes was a warning as well. Like Axel, he was letting the viewer know he was holding things back. The other photograph was an action shot, Armand launching himself out of a pool, while sunlight glittered off the water and illuminated the drops running down his cheeks and arms. His head was thrown back and his whole body was arched, like he was leaping from the water as effortlessly as a dolphin might.
Eren was expecting the video to be an utter cock tease and he wasn't wrong. Armand stalked towards the camera, a look of lustful concentration on his handsome face, while the suit he was wearing just seemed to melt off him. The coat slithered off his back, and he ran one hand down the line of buttons on his shirt, stripping them off rather than undoing them as he opened the garment. His belt buckle caught the light for a moment as his right hand undid it and his trousers fell off his hips and Eren hadn't been expecting the fact that he was wearing nothing underneath but this happy surprise was almost instantly followed by the video ending before he could get a really good look.
Eren ended up ripping and saving the videos, and in one night of online one-upmanship with Jean he actually sent the clips to him. Jean responded with incessant demands for 'sauce' and 'moar.' Eren didn't have any more, but he did pass on the link.
But more wasn't that hard to get, in the end. With the teenagers now running the household themselves, their father had given them access to his credit card. Simple as that. Eren panicked the first time a bill arrived, but his father never mentioned the extra charge; he probably didn't even notice. Eren had been a subscriber to the site ever since, although he had long since ceased charging his father's card.
Axel and Armand shaped his late-adolescence. It was something of a private embarrassment to crush on porn actors, but it wasn't like all they did was have sex. As part of HotFreeRange's quality endeavour, they made longer, more complex films and Eren found himself watching some of their long-running series at least partially for the plot, not just for the frequent sex scenes. His favourite was a rather silly series called Wings of Freedom in which Armand was an angel and Axel was a demon and they spent their time trying to seduce mortals away from each other. Eren envied those mortals.
Axel and Armand didn't do scenes together, and Eren did sometimes wonder why. The closest they came to one was a strange black and white movie in which they had a shirtless fistfight in a rain storm. Eren thought it was fascinating and hot, but not exactly wank material. He wanted to get to know them better. He wondered what they were really like.
And now he was saying goodbye to them, at least temporarily. He checked their galleries one more time, just to see if anything new had been posted before he unsubscribed. Neither of them had added anything for a couple of months, but that wasn't entirely unusual. Even porn stars took holidays, Eren supposed.
Nothing new. He didn't really feel like jerking off anyway, he was more lonely than horny, and he gazed wistfully at a few photographs instead. Kind of pathetic, he thought.
Eren scrolled down through the gallery and his eye caught an item on the sidebar.
Wait, what? He'd noticed that particular notice pop up a couple of times before in the past, although the one time that he'd clicked they were looking for a web designer. What were the odds they were looking for a first-year engineering student, he wondered, although he could do a bit of coding if he had to. Maybe? He was desperate, and he knew it. And if he got to work in an office in which Axel and Armand might be wandering about, well, he was due for some good luck, surely.
They weren't looking for IT staff, they were looking for actors.
Eren felt a strange jolt in his stomach. He was qualified for that, wasn't he? Better qualified for it than for stripping, at least. He tapped his fingers against his lips nervously. He was actually considering- the studio was in the same city, after all.
He might get to work with Axel or Armand. Or both. At the same time.
Okay calm down, he told himself. He stood up and did a nervous circuit of his room before sitting down again and reading through the requirements, butterflies in his stomach because he might actually go through with this. There were clear guidelines and expectations laid out up-front, including a .pdf of the contract he'd have to sign.
You had to be of legal age, obviously, and there was a medical exam, that made sense, and they wanted some photographs. Of course they did.
They don't have to be unclothed but please show us your best side.
Eren was pretty sure the only naked photographs he had were of when he was about four anyway. Mikasa had custody of the family photographs, including the more recent ones were but were any of them sexy enough? Could he ask his sister if she had any sexy photos of him? No, he could not.
Eren got up and started going through his wardrobe. Pretty much everything was just tshirts and jeans, aside from one set of formal wear that made him look and feel like he was at a funeral. There was a trick to wearing suits comfortably, and Eren had yet to acquire it.
Maybe just boxers then. Like Axel. Or just jeans.
Eren was worried that the moment he stopped and thought about it he'd lose his nerve and he spent the next few minutes trying on his own underwear in front of the mirror, and wondering what expression to make.
“I can't do this. This is stupid,” he muttered, scowling at himself.
They had to do it once. For all their apparent ease in front of the camera, Axel and Armand were new at one point as well. If Eren wanted them to fuck him- and oh boy he did- then he had to do this first. And he had to stop looking like someone was putting a gun to his head and making him, he realised.
Yeah, he wouldn't really consider this seriously if it weren't for his current financial troubles, but that wasn't enough. The site made it clear than none of the actors were forced to do anything with anyone they didn't want to. If he wanted either of his idols, he had to impress them first.
Eren took a deep breath and lifted his head, staring at the mirror like he was a lost puppy hoping to be adopted. Well, that was better. Maybe a smile. Shy smile. Crazy smile. He went and got his phone and started taking photos. At least they didn't have to be professional quality.
And he found he was starting to have fun. In his head Axel and Armand lounged somewhere on the other side of the mirror, giving him encouragement, telling him to show them more. And he did. He swapped his boxers for his tightest pair of skinny jeans and had trouble getting himself into them- maybe he would jerk off this evening. After he'd finished taking pictures.
He smirked at the mirror and slid his hand under the waistband. He wasn't keeping track of how many pictures he'd taken by this point; he'd sort through them all later for the best ones. He undid the top button, and started to peel the garment open. Caught his lower lip between his teeth and gazed promisingly at the camera. He was in some sort of zone, he realised; it just felt easy, the butterflies gone. He felt hot. He felt like he could walk into a room and turn heads. He felt he had that power, for the first time in his life.
He could feel the cool metal teeth of the fly on his cock as he slid the garment down, just a bit further-
Jean knocked on the door, “Hey Eren!”
“Fuck!” Eren nearly dropped his phone and then he tripped and staggered as he accidentally stood on the hem of his jeans. He stumbled over and put his hand on the door, in case Jean tried to open it, his heart pounding as he tried to wrestle his jeans back on one-handed.
“Are you all right?” Jean asked.
“Yes! I mean, yeah. I'm just-” he sagged against the door. “Applying for jobs. Focused, you know?”
“Yeah, I get you. Good luck. I was just gonna say I was out of caffeine and is there anything you want from the store?”
“No, it's fine. Thank you. I couldn't afford anything anyway.”
“You sound a bit more cheerful. Go get those jobs.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Eren listened to Jean's footsteps receding towards the living room, and a few moments later he heard the front door close.
“Pfft!” He chuckled. And then he threw his head back and laughed, feeling some of the tension of the day drain away. “Oh, what the hell.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
He sat down at his computer, uploaded his best photos and started filling in the online application form. By the time he was done the day had thoroughly exhausted him and he brushed his teeth and crawled into bed.
He woke up the next morning to underwear all over his floor, no money, no cat, and a job interview.