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There's this moment where Eric's imagination gets the better of him. Kanga standing at his door, saying there's a visitor. First thing his mind goes to is his father. Second is fat fucking chance, you silly cunt. Trouble is, he hasn't the faintest who else it might be.

Eric hops up from his bed and stands facing the wall, waiting for the kanga to let him out. No harm in seeing, is there?

Turns out it's some solicitor. A black bird with her head shaved clean to the skin. Eric is aware that he’s making a mug of himself. Few and fucking far between it is, situations where he’s around women and all. Doesn’t know how to speak to them besides that he likely shouldn’t call them cunt.

Mostly he feels bad for her, coming all this way. Does his best to be polite-like even though he suspects she might be barmy.

"Neville," he says, a third time, because he can't get his head ‘round it.

She gives him this look, like he's thick. Eric thinks it's rather uncalled for; he hadn't even known his father could write until three minutes gone.

Still, it seems like a lot of effort to have him on for a laugh.

"Yes." She opens a folder, revealing stacks and stacks of paper, typed with handwriting crammed into the margins. "Your father wrote to us about your situation," she says. Eric's never heard someone be quite so matter of fact about it. Before you offed the geezer your mum was fucking about with, sure. Or even when you took one for the team and did away with that filthy nonce. Contempt or admiration, but never this. Eric isn't sure what this is. Context, Hass might say, the cunt. "We've decided to take on your case."

Eric leans back in his chair and stares at her with his hands sat on top of the table, wrists close together in full-view so the kanga that keeps throwing glances through the window doesn't get any more twitchy than he already is.

"Well," he says. "Fuck."

He loses the plot around the part where she starts going on about self-defence. The posh git the court had assigned him as an ankle-biter had said it was a no-go, and while Eric has come to appreciate the entertainment that a bleeding heart can provide, he isn't about to get his hopes up on this one all the same.

Thanking her for stopping in, Eric goes back to D-wing and leaves it at that, far as he’s concerned. Nine years gone, starred up and all, with nineteen more left to his name? There isn't a fucking chance.

Eric hears the kettle go right as he reaches Ty and Hass' door. Ty’s the only one in, and he notices Eric lurking on his doorstep right away. Eric takes care to look especially pathetic. "Where you've been, then?"

He stays quiet, staring, until Ty grunts in disgust and pulls Eric’s cup down from the shelf over the table, doing up a brew for Eric along with his own. A grin breaks out across Eric’s face as he sits in Hass' chair. "No milk then?"

"No milk, he says." Ty sets the cup in front of Eric and then takes his own in hand. "Should be grateful I don't spit in it."

"Aw." Truth is that Hass makes a finer cuppa, but they're both leagues better at doing up than Eric's ever been. There's something to be said for life skills acquired when raised on the outside, Eric imagines. What he has now isn't so bad at all, all things considered. "Nothing about wanking into it? You love me really."

Eric gets on, same as he's always done.

She comes back. He meets with her and the legal services officer a few times each week, something to break up the days, signing where they tell him to and daydreaming otherwise. Most of what they say goes right over his head; he wonders if he even needs to be in the room at all.

Then there's this appearance before a judge. Eric feels a need to fuck things up the minute he steps into the courtroom. Backsliding, Hass would say. Self-sabotage.

Eric hears his father's voice, practically feels the man's grip tight on his neck as he tells Eric to stop being a silly cunt for once in his godforsaken life and be clever about things. The look on his father's face if he could see Eric sitting there, doing as he's been told.

Killing Neville Love is something many a geezer has dreamt about in their spare hours. Eric likes the idea of this finally being what does the bastard in.

If Eric ever has the opportunity to tell him, that is.

Still, it's motivation enough for Eric to keep his gob shut, eyes down as he sits through arguments. The whistle his solicitor's dug up for him is purposefully at least two sizes too-big, Eric’s sure.

It comes and goes. Eric returns to HMP Durham and is given instruction to wait. He doesn’t let himself think about it until his solicitor drops in.

Doesn't leave his cell for three days after she does.

Hass stops in, sitting at the foot of the bed where Eric's curled up facing the wall. He kicks his feet into Hass' lap, trying to get him to fuck off without so many words. Hass, the bastard, just starts massaging Eric’s feet through his socks even though they were due a wash two months past.

"Finally started your cycle?"

Eric knees him in the stomach, trying not to smile at Hass' cackling laugh. "Fuck off," he says, and feels mildly disappointed when Hass stops playing with toes.

"It'll happen one day, young blood." Sounds echo into the cell from the hall, someone shouting above. Hass seems to be waiting for him to say something, but Eric has fuck-all that he wants to talk about. "That appeal of yours go tits up?" Hass asks. "No reason to pipe your eye."

It'd be far simpler for Eric if it had. He hasn't told Ty or Hass shit, but things like this never stay quiet. Gossipy cunts, the lot of them: kangas, geezer’s whose whole existence seems to revolve around watching and yapping their big fucking north and souths on yard, and cunts like Ryan who seem to want to dig up everyone’s secrets in the interest of being a more specific sort of bollocky cunt when they come after you, a class of their own. Wasn’t like the trip Eric had made out to his appearance in court was something that could be explained neither, nevermind his regular disappearances to meet his solicitor.

Eric smothers his instinct to kick off at Hass for getting into his business. They are mates, and Hass is only looking to see that Eric’s alright.

He isn’t. None of it seemed real until she started in about the home leave scheme, this past visit. It's not been six months since the kangas were close to serving him up as brown bread and now? Home leave. Just thinking feels like playing with the worst kind of black magic, which is exactly why Eric won't be saying shit.

He rolls onto his back and says, "yeah," trying not to feel like a right cunt for lying to his mate and all. He tells himself that she'd only been talking about hypotheticals, regardless. With his record, it'll never happen. It can't. Eric would likely look to be a saddo cunt in the end, talking up things like they’re set in stone, getting his hopes up. A child.

Eric sits up properly and decides to stop being a soft fucking lad. Hass accepts him back into the world of the living without any further teasing, solid geezer that he is, and Eric resolves not to think of it again.

It works until his solicitor shows up a week later, riding him about resettlement leave, as if Eric has a home out there waiting for him, easy-as.

"Been mizzed up since I was ten, sweetheart." Eric still can't believe it needs saying, but she can't seem to get her head 'round him not being as excited about this development as she is. "What links are you expecting me to have, like?"

The look she gives him makes it clear she’d like to do him in. He's never quite intentionally trying to mug her off, but the truth is that her getting frustrated with him is just about the only time he feels like they're from the same planet. "It's just for a day, the first time," she says, as if that makes any fucking difference. "You'll be back before your minders will be calling everyone in for tea. Haven't you got anyone who'll vouch for you for a few hours?"

Eric thinks about asking if he can go visit his father in whichever of Her Majesty's Prisons they shifted him off to. If it's close enough for Eric to be there and back within the time allotted. It's just him taking the piss, but as he starts to consider logistics —

Too pathetic, even for him. He stops before he genuinely begins to want it.

Dangerous, that is. Wanting things and all.

"I'll think about it," he says, and hopes that it's good enough for her.

It never is. "Please, Eric," she says. It isn't lost on him how utterly fucked it is that she feels the need to beg him to give a shit about himself. "Try to make this happen. Even if the court decides the initial ruling a miscarriage of justice, you can't have them thinking your time in here has ruined you. Show them that you can make a go of it if they decide to let you out."

His shoulders go up around his ears, fingers squeezing the edge of the table, sharp angle of it cutting into his palms. "I said I'd think about it, fucks sake."

The kanga that collects Eric once they’re done offers to take him out to yard, time only having just passed for his wing to go on. Eric steps out into the mid-afternoon sun and tries to imagine that he's getting off a coach into Durham-proper for the day.

He can't. Childhood memories of the world outside are a lifetime away. He hadn't even been to the North prior to his being stitched up. Closest he ever got was watching cheesy after-school soaps with his mum, back when she still tried to spend time with him, a fucking short window before his shipping off into care.

Eric wonders if Durham has dales, or if it’s only a Yorkshire thing.

He manages one rotation without anyone bothering him. As he finishes his second turn, Ash appears at his side, stepping in close, clearly gearing up to speak. Eric never looks at him straight-on, preferring to glance from the corner of his eye, lest his emotions get the better of him, though fuck if Eric knows how he feels about the whole situation. Mostly he hates how Ash stands tall over him, the same height as Neville.

"You alright?"

Eric has this issue with being rude towards Ash. The issue being that Eric can't manage it.

He wants to fuck Ash up, spit and tear into him, but he never does, even with rage bubbling up inside of him like it is now. "Fine," he says, and keeps his head down, looking to the feet of the geezers walking in front of them.

"I spoke with Nev," Ash says, and Eric nearly turns to look at him dead-on, wants to ask just how in the fuck Neville managed that. He stops himself before he does, biting hard into his lip.

His father would be the cunt to install himself comfortably into wherever he ended up. Exactly like him to get the sort of sway that would allow him to trade messages. Eric isn't the least bit surprised that he went and got himself a channel and has left Eric to play Chinese fucking whispers and all.

Textbook. No reason to make himself look like a cunt by asking. "Good for you," Eric says, and keeps walking.

"I told him about your appeal," Ash continues like Eric hadn't said anything. No point in Eric asking after that neither; wasn’t as if Neville hadn’t been the one to kick the whole thing off to begin with. If anything, Eric's surprised that his father is getting updates from Ash rather than the solicitor herself. "He's excited for you, Eric. Happy."

"Hey." Ash touches his shoulder and Eric tenses up, hands balling into fists. Ash doesn't seem to think anything of it, pushing until they've stepped out of the circle and are standing by the fence. "Tell me what's the matter."

Eric stares at their feet and says, "Not fucking likely."

"No, hey, come on.” His hand is still on Eric's shoulder. "Not even Nev is this thick. C'mon, Eric."

Absolutely fucking ridiculous. Eric keeps talking just so Ash will shut up. "Solicitor mentioned something about home leave."

The hand on his shoulder grips tighter. "That's amazing," Ash says. His voice is off. It's hard to tell what he's thinking just from the sound of it, without looking at him.

Eric tries sticky beak from the corner of his eye. The angle is bad, bodies too close, Ash's height putting his head far out of Eric's line of sight. "Just for the day," Eric stresses. "Don't you two go fucking creaming yourselves in scheming. Not like I'll be sneaking in gear."

"Fuck off." Eric feels like he's disappointing Ash and is annoyed to find he doesn't like it. "I'm going to tell your father, okay? He'll sort it."

Eric doesn't want to have to ask just what in the fuck that means. Doesn't like that Ash is thinking ahead in ways Eric can't follow. "Don't you fucking dare." He sounds like a kid, muttering under his breath and all.

Ash stops touching him. Eric watches a pair of kanga boots walk past, taking their sweet time in moving away. "Be reasonable," Ash says, once they're well gone. The emotion in his voice is one that Eric can read; embarrassed that he'll be grassing on Eric. Fuck all good that does either of them. "Nev'll come up with something, don't worry."

Eric does worry, of course, for the entire day it takes for Ash to track him down again, stepping into Eric's cell and inviting himself to Eric's bed, the only place to sit with Eric having his tea at the table.

They're face to face before Eric's even realized that it's happening.

What anyone could need with eyelashes that fucking long, Eric doesn't know.

"The therapist," Ash says, without so much as a by your fucking leave. "From your group."

Eric waits for him to finish, but it seems that's all Ash has brought with him. "What about him?"

"That's who you get to sponsor you."

Eric blinks. "Are you mad?"

Ash scratches at his knuckles, looking straight into Eric’s eyes. "He took an interest in you, right? Like you said, it's just for the day. He'll know what you should do next as well, won't he?"

"How'd you come up with that then?" Eric goes for a sip of tea but stops at the expectant look that Ash gives him. There’s no fucking use in holding firm, not with the full-force of Ash's gaze on him.

It feels like a victory when Ash makes a disgusted face. "Who taught you to make a brew?" He cuts in as Eric goes to open his mouth. "Nevermind, don't answer." He tries it again, and barely manages not to make another. "Haven't you at least got sugar?"

He isn't about to admit that he doesn't have much of anything except for what Ty and Hass let him borrow. "What you get for begging, isn't it? Ungrateful cunt."

Ash returns the cup to him and leans back, squeezing at his knees through the joggers he's got on. "Your father came up with it." A day’s turn around has to mean that Neville’s managed to make links with some wolly woofta mate with tech up his ass, then. "It's a good plan, Eric. Reach out to him."

"Genius, really." Eric tosses back what Ash has left, not minding that it's on the wrong side of too-hot still, letting the burn clear his mind. "Ring up the geezer that I got sacked and all, ask if he'd be up to childminding for a day. Can't see how he'll say no, nevermind the little fucking detail that I haven't got his fucking digits."

The frown points to Ash and his father not having considered that in their grand plan. Ash's thumb goes up to his mouth, teeth worrying the skin. Eric is just starting to wonder if it's worth fixing up another brew when Ash snaps his fingers together.

"What about those Akhis you hang about with?"

Eric steps through the full-height turnstile to find Oliver waiting for him at the duty officer’s desk. He's quiet, watching as the clerk gives Eric fifty pounds and says that it's meant to last him the entire day. Eric feels like an idiot in the donated clothes they’ve given him, ugly and ill-fitting.

It’s a short walk through the hallway and then they’re outside, doors closing behind them without much fanfare. It's the seventeenth of October, a Thursday, and Eric can't fucking believe that any of this is happening.

"I want to hug you," Oliver says. It brings Eric back to himself, perfect dose of absurdity within the unimaginable fucking surrealness which he's found himself in. "Is that strange? You wouldn't react adversely so close to where staff might see, would you?"

"Best not risk it."

Oliver laughs. Eric feels himself smirking. He forgot how ridiculous Oliver is. Still can't quite believe how quickly Oliver replied to the letter.

I'll sort it, he'd written. And here they were.

"Fuck are we going, then?" Eric will be damned if he wastes time hanging around the car park of HMP Durham with his cock out when he's due to be back in only a handful of hours. "Actually, no — fuck's there to do?"

Oliver takes him out to breakfast; Eric steps through the door and freezes like a cunt, unsure of what to do with himself. Kids running around, couples taking their tea by the window. It's early enough that there are open tables all around, and the girl that's meant to seat them has said that they can have their choice of the lot.

He wants to hit someone. Wants to turn right the fuck around and leave, go somewhere else, though he can't imagine where that might be. Back to his cell, where it's just him and things make sense, with only Ty and Hass to stop in. Ash, now, on occasion.

Oliver's hand settles against his spine, firm though the heavy cardigan they've stuffed Eric into. "That one in the corner looks nice." His hand stays there, steady pressure moving Eric forward until Eric’s sat with his back to the wall, facing the rest of the room with a window to his left and a menu dropped onto his plate.

"Whatever you want," Oliver says.

Eric picks up the menu. It all looks fine. Fucking good, even. He has no idea how anyone is meant to choose. Oliver's foot taps against his beneath the table. Eric meets his gaze. "It isn't meant to be a quiz," Oliver says. "Don't overthink it. What do you like?"

Isn't that the whole issue. "Trying to work within a budget here, aren’t I?" Eric says, to give himself time.

"Don't be silly." Oliver looks like he wants to say more, but their server returns, asking if they'd like anything to drink. Eric had forgotten that he'd have to contend with that as well, on top of the food.

"Coffee for me," Oliver says. "Tea for him — milk?" He looks to Eric, who nods, and then carries on, "And we're ready to order as well. I'll have a full English; he'll take the pancakes and whatever topping is easiest, thank you." She doesn't ask them anything else, just takes the menus and shuffles off to the next table. Eric can't believe it was that easy.

"Pancakes?" he asks, to keep himself from gaping his mouth at the whole process, feeling like a right cunt.

"We can switch out if it ends up being too much," Oliver promises. "I tried to think of what I'd like to have if I were on holiday from prison."

Christ, when put like that.

"How are things?" Oliver asks. Eric's shoulders go up to his ears, expression shutting down. He doesn't want to think about it, to talk about it. Oliver sees, he must, but Eric's discomfort has never stopped him in the past. "I was upset when you didn't add me to your list, you know. I still keep up with the rest of Group, even if it's mostly letters. You could have at least had me visit."

Eric really, really couldnt've. Not when he hadn't been sure if Oliver hated him.

It'd been Hass who'd written to Oliver about Eric's home leave, Ash and he teaming up to conspire behind Eric's back. Eric never would have dared.

"You expect me to believe Hass hasn't told you when I shit and all?" Their drinks come, Eric's tea put down next to his hand in a nice-looking glass with a matching carafe set in front of it, loaded with milk and an assortment of sweeteners.

"You'll be disappointed to hear that Hassan hasn't mentioned a single bowel movement as far as you’re concerned," Oliver doesn't seem to think twice, picking up two white packets and tearing them open, dumping them into his coffee. "I'll have to let him know that he's been slacking."

Eric licks his lips and picks up the creamer dish, pouring milk into his tea until it's the shade he likes. He's so focused that he forgets to tell Oliver to fuck off until it's almost too late. “Fuck off,” it hangs awkward in the air between them, waiting to be added to.

"Do you take sugar?" Oliver asks, and the thing is that Eric does, but he hadn't been planning on doing so in front of Oliver. It makes him feel like a fucking kid, and most times he doesn't have any to put in, except for when Hass fixes him up. It's better for Eric to be used to without.

"It's fine," he says.

Oliver shakes his head. "This is your life, Eric," he says, and Eric supposes that it's meant to mean something beyond the obvious. Oliver's hand comes up between them, hovering over the table. Eric isn't sure what he'll do if Oliver touches him, and Oliver seems to come to the same conclusion, dropping it down onto the wood, near the carafe. "You get to make your own choices. All you can control is yourself. What good is it, being miserable just so people can see that you're hard enough to stand it?"

Eric vaguely remembers a time when he was about four or so. He'd gone to a cafe with his father, though he can't recall the circumstances why beyond that it'd happened. Neville had taken his tea with almost as much sugar as water, and enough milk that Eric hadn't even realized it was tea at all, light as it was.

He'd let Eric have some and made it seem like he was letting him nip from a bottle in a pub, the way he'd shielded Eric from view of the staff. Like ducks & geese themselves would come flooding in and drag Neville off for doing it.

Eric had loved it.

He grabs a fistful of the stupid little packets, white ones, just like Oliver had taken, since he isn't quite sure what in the fuck the other colours mean. Pours every last one of them into his cuppa.

The girl comes back with the food. It’s good enough that Eric isn’t exactly kidding when he makes as if he’ll stab Oliver when he fakes that he’s going take one of the slices of bacon that’d come with Eric’s portion. “Don’t make yourself ill,” Oliver says, though he takes one of the roasted tomatoes from his egg and drops it on top of Eric’s bacon not a second after he’s said it.

Eric can’t imagine how he looks, hunched over his plate, devouring his meal, likely far too quickly to seem normal. Oliver doesn’t seem to mind, agile fingers cutting everything on his plate into reasonable pieces, taking the time to chew like a fucking proper git. “What do you want to do after this, then?” he asks. “Should we walk around the garden?”

He pauses to finish off his tea. The minute he sets it back onto the table, the girl is at his side, filling it up from the pot in her hand, gone again as swiftly as she’d come. Eric blinks at it before returning to the milk and doctoring it how he likes. “Fuck no, mate,” he says.

Oliver doesn’t seem bothered. “Alright.” Eric can feel Oliver watching him. “Suppose the shops must be open by now.” Eric’s head perks up, looking away from his plate and meeting Oliver’s eye. “You’ll feel more like yourself in something that’s more your style, I suspect.”

Eric hadn’t been expecting that. “Fuck you on about, then?”

“Finish your food.”

Eric does, and about half of what’s left on Oliver’s as well. The check comes and Oliver grabs it before Eric can even remember he’d been given funds, paying for it all. “Are we on some poncy date,” Eric asks. “and I somehow missed the fucking memo?”

Oliver stands from the table, shrugging into his jacket. He isn’t wearing one of his ill-fitting suits as he’d done when he’d been volunteering. Jeans, a smart-looking top and a jacket that’s so nice even Eric can tell it’s expensive. His fucking boots look well-off and all. Eric feels like a right muppet in the manky tracksuit and cardigan Durham’s finest had issued to him for this little excursion.

“I know you think I’m a cunt, Eric,” Oliver says, hand back on Eric’s spine as he helps to lead them past now-full tables to the door, “but I promise even I’m not so bad that you’d fail to notice it was a date.”

The shop Oliver walks him to is full of even more people than the cafe had been, and Eric realizes that this is a mistake.

Oliver’s hands settle on his shoulders this time ‘round. He’s stepped close to Eric’s back. “You’re allowed to be here, same as anyone,” he says, practically whispering into Eric’s ear as the twist minding the shop spots them and starts to head over. Eric shivers. He stares at her, a shark coming through the water. Jaws.

“Morning,” she greets. There’s a bright name tag attached to one of her tits that reads Caoimhe. “Can I help you find anything?”

The hands at his shoulders squeeze tighter. Eric clears his throat and says, “You’re alright.”

Oliver’s fingers tap out a rhythm against his chest. “We’re just looking for now, thank you.”

She smiles and nods before stepping away to fuss with a rack of clothes, leaving them be.

“Not so bad, was it?”

Easy for him to fucking say.

They walk deeper into the store, past the crowd picking through hangers and racks up front, back to where the men’s section is. Oliver’s hands stay on him the whole time. They end up looking at jeans hung up on the wall. Eric touching them and pretending that he knows what sorts of things he should be looking for.

Oliver finally lets go of him to grab a few pairs, looking at the label. “These should be about your size, I think.” He nods to a few racks to their left. “Those look alright.”

They wander over to whatever Oliver spotted, picking out shirts now. Eric sees a white one that he likes, pitching the tag between his fingers to read. “Fuck’s a ‘mock neck’?”

His entire body seizes up when Oliver steps in far too fucking close, leaning to look at what Eric’s talking about from over his shoulder. Eric lets out a shuddering breath through his nose. “Anyone ever tell you to mind your fucking self around someone who’s done time inside, mate?”

Oliver grabs the hanger from his hand and steps away, holding it up in front of Eric’s chest. “You’ve got to get used to being startled,” he says, though he seems more focused on imagining Eric in the shirt than the conversation. “People aren’t as mindful of space.” His eyes flick up to meet Eric’s and he grins. “Besides, you didn’t knife me. Well done.”

Didn’t have a fucking knife, Eric thinks.

“Let’s have you try them.” Oliver nods to the very back of the store. “See how they fit.”

Eric feels at ease, locked in the tiny dressing room with too-harsh lighting. He uses it as a moment to collect himself, staring at his face in the mirror for a few seconds. “Cunt.” He doesn’t look away. You’re doing alright.

He shrugs off his clothes, folding them into a neat pile as he steps into one of the pairs of jeans. It’s a little too loose at his waist, but the other pair fit perfect. He pulls on the shirt and almost can’t believe that it’s him being reflected.

A knock comes on the door. “Let’s see you, then,” Oliver calls.

Eric gives himself another look-over, second-guessing his earlier appreciation. He looks like a cunt. If Eric saw himself on the yard, he’d give himself what-for, done up like a fucking ninny as he is.

Olivier knocks again.

“Alright, alright,” Eric undoes the latch and steps out. “Hold your fucking horses.”

Eyebrows up, Oliver whistles. “Look at you.”

“Oh wow.” Eric startles, hadn’t realized the girl had come back with them and then feels like a git for it. Oliver looks like the posh bastard he is, but Eric must’ve looked like the pilfering sort. She turns to Oliver, “He’s gorgeous, isn’t he!”

Eric isn’t sure how to react. He gives her an awkward smile that disappears as soon as it comes, looking away. Oliver does something else with his eyebrows, making eyes at him. “He’s alright.” He steps in close and Eric freezes when Oliver reaches for his waist of his jeans, fingers dipping beneath right above his ass, tugging the tag free. Oliver makes an appreciative nose. “Well, they’ve certainly kept you fit, I’ll give them that much. I don’t think I’ve ever been your size in my life.”

He taps Eric on the hip and then leaves, walking over towards where they’d found Eric’s clothes.

“How’d the other pair go for you?”

Eric jolts in place, tearing his gaze from Oliver’s back. “Uh,” he says. “Too big.”

She smiles. “That’s alright.” When she steps towards him he takes two steps back. She looks confused and then carries on without comment, ducking inside the room to collect the jeans. “Are you going to want to wear it out?” she asks, pointing her chin to where he’s folded the clothes he’d walked in with.

“He is.” Oliver’s back, two more pairs of jeans tossed over his arm and three more shirts in his hand. “Here,” he says, handing Eric a light brown jacket, “try this.”

Eric shrugs into it. Oliver smiles at him. “Perfect.” To the girl, “We’re ready to be rung up now, thanks.”

She hands Eric back his old clothes and then leads them to the front of the shop. She scans all the things that Oliver’s chosen, and then Oliver tears the tags off of what he has on him and hands them over to her to ring up as well. “That’ll be £528.64.”

“Fuck right off,” Eric says, without thinking much about it.

Oliver laughs, throwing an arm around Eric’s shoulder and pulling him in close enough that his elbow strangles Eric a bit. “He’s under the assumption that he's clever, sorry,” Oliver says to the girl. “Here you are.” He hands her his card and doesn’t let go of Eric until she’s passed them the bags and waved goodbye.

“Five hundred fucking pound,” Eric says. “Fuck me.” And he means it too; the fuck is he supposed to do if they do let him out and can’t even tell that he’s been fucking about in a high-end shop until it’s too late?

“It’s fine.” Oliver looks embarrassed, eyes tracking up the road rather than looking at Eric. “We’ll keep them at mine for next time, so you’ll have something to wear.”

“Must be fucking nice, such a flash cunt that you can just leave ‘em hanging in your fucking closet.” Eric knocks their shoulders together. “Couldn’t’ve just taken me to a charity shop? Don’t even know what a fucking Primark is, do you?”

“Oh, fuck off.” Oliver blushes and Eric finds that he can’t quite take his eyes off Oliver’s face when he does. “What do you want to do now?”

Fuck if Eric knows, but he’s tired of being led around. The day is passing them by and he is actually meant to be figuring out if he can handle how things are. “There a cinema ‘round here?”

Oliver brightens up, tossing his head over his shoulder. “Few minutes back that way. Is there something specific you’d like to see.”

“Is there something specific — I haven’t the fucking faintest, mate. Just who do you think you’re talking to?” He grabs his bag of clothes from Oliver’s hand and starts walking, trying to look like he knows where he’s going. “And I’m buying my own fucking ticket, fuck’s sake.”

Catching up to him, Oliver says, “You can buy mine too. It isn’t good if it doesn’t look like you’ve spent anything.”

The posters out front make it seem like there’s a good mix of films on. Eric tries to guess which one will be to his liking without having anything else to base his choice on, though the novelty of actually seeing a fucking film will likely carry through even if the plot itself is shit.

He settles on the bright yellow one with some geezer riding a pig, and has to reach into the shop bag to retrieve the five £10 notes he’s left in his joggers, paying up for both Oliver and himself, shoving the rest in his jeans. They end up queuing behind two lads, waiting their turn at the snack kiosk. “I don’t much care for popcorn,” Oliver says.

“How are you fucking real.” The pair in front of them finish up, stepping away from the bench. “I better not catch you trying to sneak any of mine, then.” He orders for himself and gets satchel of fucking Bombay mix at Oliver’s request, not bothering to stop from rolling his eyes when a packet of Jelly Babies gets tossed down as well. “Finished?”

Oliver nods, pleased with himself.

The theatre is empty, it being the middle of the week, most everyone likely at work or school. “Poor sods,” Eric says, and then grabs a fistful of Oliver’s mix.

“Did they have you take up your GCSEs in young offenders?”

Eric grunts.

“Well?” Oliver asks. “How’d you fare?”

He doesn’t want to talk about it, and wished the fucking previews would hurry up and start so that Oliver might be forced to shut his fucking gob for once in his life. Though, with Eric’s luck, Oliver might be one of those tossers that talks through a film and all. “Fucking passed them, didn’t I, Ols?” he says. “Change the fucking topic.”

Oliver looks like he wants to say more, but nods. “What sort of career were you hoping to pursue?”

As if that’s any better. “Ols,” he says, clipped.

“Oh, alright.” Oliver reaches for the popcorn box in Eric’s lap, pilfering. “Fuck you too, then.”

The lights go and the previews come on, saving Eric from whatever Oliver might have started in on next, likely if Eric had perhaps decided what neighbourhood he’d wanted to buy property in upon release, or something equally fucking daft.

The film ends up being a laugh. Oliver is the sort to talk through it, but Eric finds that he doesn’t mind, leaning over the armrest to whisper back to him, even though they’re the only two in the theatre. They step out onto the road, and stare at one another.

“C’mon,” Oliver says. “Let’s go to the garden.”

They walk back to the cafe where Oliver left his car and put Eric’s clothing bag into the boot. Oliver drives them onto the A1 with the music set low, Eric staring at the world as it rushes past the window. The garden is in full bloom when they get there, lush summer greens surrounding them, a smart-looking pond with geese and all.

It isn’t too crowded, mostly pensioners and old-timers sitting on the benches, a few women in their work-out kits running about with dogs. A few couples making eyes at one another, too, which has Eric giving Oliver a look. He steps in close, knicking Oliver's ciggies and shaking one out and up to his lips. Oliver doesn't seem bothered, fishing a zippo out from his other pocket and handing it Eric's way. “You sure this isn’t a date?” Eric asks, walking closer to the water, exhaling a cloud of smoke.

“Careful,” Oliver comes to stand at his side. “You’ll get my hopes up.”

Eric keeps his eyes on the water, hands stuffed into the pockets of the jacket Oliver’s bought him, stashing the packet and flame. He’s blushing. First fucking time in his life, blushing because of something other than shame, rage.

Give yourself ten years, Neville had said.

Fucking hell.

“Hey.” Oliver takes him by the elbow, pulling until Eric looks at him. “I’m only teasing you,” he says. “You know I wouldn’t.”

And just why in the fuck does that make him feel even worse? “I do know,” Eric bites back at him. “I’m not some fucking—” Words leave him, wanting to be replaced by anger. He struggles through it, past it. “Neville’s a fucking uphill gardener, isn’t he?” He kicks a rock down into the water. “I’m not so fucking damaged that I’ll get done up on a fucking GBH charge just because some stoke bastard flirts with me on the outside.”

“Alright.” Oliver holds up his hands between them. “Alright. I just didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

“Well I’m fucking comfortable.” He starts walking away without waiting for Oliver to catch up, shouting, “Let’s look at the fucking flora, why don’t we?”

Eric scoffed at the idea earlier, but it is quite nice, being out in nature, able to walk about where he pleases without a kanga shouting at him or some geezer mouthing off. Oliver keeps a few paces behind him and that’s nice as well. Someone watching his back.

It’s big enough that Eric’s able to keep on without needing to turn around. There’s a man with a cart offering ice lollies and Eric buys two for the both of them, devouring his before it has any time to melt. They eventually pass a glasshouse and Eric ventures inside, looking at the flowers.

Oliver rejoins him. “What are you thinking?”

He fucking would. “Thinking about becoming a fucking groundskeeper, aren’t I?”

“Eric.” The way Oliver says his name drives him fucking mad. “Be serious.”

“I dunno.” He reaches up and rubs his palm over his head. “Nearly time to go back, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Oliver agrees.

“Fucking don’t, mate.”

His hand settles on Eric’s back. Was he always this fucking touchy? Eric fucked up, letting Oliver protect him that first time they’d interacted. Gave off the wrong impression. Nobody in his life has ever touched him as much as Oliver does.

“Just talk me through it,” Oliver says. “Whatever it is.”

Like it’s that fucking simple. “Fuck am I supposed to do with myself?” He shakes his head, flicking one of the flowers with his finger. “Did whatever the fuck I pleased today and now I’m meant to press my head to a wall while I wait for a fucking kanga to open any door I want to go through and consider myself fucking lucky that they did that much and all.”

The hand that Oliver’s got on Eric’s back starts rubbing circles through his jacket. “That’s just it though, Eric,” he says. “You know how it should be now, don’t you? You’ve got your reason to see it through.”

Eric's eyes drop down to Oliver's lips, a split second, and shoves him away. “Have I?”

Oliver’s on him in an instant, pulling Eric into his chest and holding him firm, trapping him. “You’re alright,” he says. “Stay with it, it’s fine.” He must have a fucking death wish, Eric thinks. He tries to get his arms up but Oliver has too tight a hold on him.

Except he doesn’t. Eric’s stronger than him, has experience, could well get away if he wanted to. Which means he doesn’t, doesn’t it? He drops his head to Oliver’s shoulder and stays with the feeling. “Fuck me,” he says. “I’m a fucking saddo, aren’t I?”

Oliver’s laugh rings in his ear, mouth as close to Eric’s cheek as it is. “Just a little,” he admits. “It’s understandable.”

He takes a deep breath, realizing that Oliver smells — well, lovely, and then decides that’s enough of that. He pulls back and scrubs his hand over his eyes. “Time’s it?” He looks to Oliver, who glances down at his watch and tells him.

Erich whistles through his teeth. “Time to pack it in, I reckon.”

Oliver looks sad as he nods. “I suppose so.”

They walk back to the car, Eric doing up his safety belt once he’s settled into the passenger’s side. “How far is the drive back?”

Oliver turns over the ignition. “It’s just five minutes up the road.”

Eric couldn’t have heard right. “You’re fucking kidding me.”

“It’s all so close, Eric.” Oliver pulls out of the car park and onto the main road. “That’s what you need to keep your eye on. You’re so close to it, all the time. Don’t let them make you feel like it’s on another planet.”

They reach the prison in five minutes, just as Oliver said. He isn’t due in at least for another twenty, so they sit in the car together, silent, with the music going.

“You should go in now,” Oliver says, after about ten minutes. “It looks good when you’re back early. Show them your receipts and don’t mention the clothes.” He gets out of the car, heading for the boot. Eric sighs and follows him out, taking the tracksuit and cardigan that Oliver returns back to him.


Oliver stares at him. “It doesn’t reflect kindly on me, but I did miss you, you know.” He pokes a finger in Eric’s chest. “Add me to your fucking approved contact list, you little cunt. And let me know when they’ve scheduled to let you out again, alright? Next time should be overnight, and you’re welcome to stay at mine.”

Eric can’t even imagine it. He also has no fucking clue what to say. “Yeah,” he settles on, in the end. “Alright. Well, see ya.”

It’s easy, getting back to the routine of life inside. The kanga’s come to let him out each morning and lock him in at night. Hass and Ty inquire after Oliver and much leave it at that, like the fucking gems they are. Eric spends his days with them, going through the motions. He keeps what Oliver said in the front of his mind, that the world outside isn’t all that far away. He looks at every meal that’s given to him and tries to think of what he’d like to eat instead, making a habit of it. Options. Choices.

“Have they said when your next leave will be?” Hass asks. He's been stopping in on Eric in the evenings before they’re due to be locked up, likely collecting fucking gossip to lord over Ty, the bastard too hard to admit to being interested and all.

“Don’t know,” Eric says, like he’s done every night this week. His eyes are closed and he’s laying on his bed. “Likely wouldn’t tell you if I did.”

“Well that’s not nice.”

Something pokes his side.

Eric glances down and see’s that Hass is prodding him with a Yorkie. “You fucking didn’t.” He sits up in a flash, reaching for it, but Hass pulls it into his chest, giving him a look. “Oh fuck off, I dunno. My solicitor said she’d come by on Monday, so I’ll likely know then.”

Hass hands it over, looking pleased. Eric ripes the packaging with his teeth and takes a bite. “You’re fucking gorgeous, mate.”

PO Scott comes by the next morning, and Eric is sure he has the wrong cell. “A message?” he asks. “For me?”

“Only one Love here now,” Scott says. “Not sure who else it could be. You coming or not?”

They go to the phones and Eric dials in his identification number. The service lets him know that there’s one message waiting for him, and he hits the number that’ll have it play.

“Hello, Eric,” Oliver’s voice says. “I meant to give you my number before I returned you back but completely forgot, and I don’t want to wait for however long it’ll take for post to make its way to you. I’ll be writing to you as well, but I want you to call me a few times a week when you can, alright? I’ll take on the charges. It’s not as good as Group, but we’ll manage, won’t we? This’ll be my mobile so don’t worry about needing to catch me at home.”

Eric ends up needing to listen to the message three times, again as he tries to memorize the number and then once more after he stops being a total knob-end and calls the kanga responsible for monitoring the room for a pen and paper.

He decides to ring back Oliver right then, to let him know he’d gotten the message, and isn’t quite sure of what to do with himself when Oliver answers with, “Eric?”

“How’d you know?” he asks, like a cunt.

“You’re calling from prison, Eric, not a new number.” He sounds amused.

“Alright, sweet, fuck off.” Eric picks at the skin on his fingers with his teeth, holding the receiver up to his ear with his shoulder. “Got your message, returning your call.”

“How are things?”

“Fucking sunshine and roses, what do you think?” Eric rolls his eyes. “Bet you’re glad I got you sacked.”

Oliver laughs. “You didn’t get me sacked,” he says. “I did that all on my own.”

“Still my fault though, wasn’t it?”

“I attacked Deputy Governor Haynes in the men’s toilet, Eric.”

Eric sits up in the chair. “You did what?”

“I shouldn’t tell you this,” Oliver sighs, but keeps talking. “He was running his mouth, so I strangled him. Handed over my keys and left.”

“Ols.” Eric is delighted. Something else. He doesn’t know. “We can’t have you getting done-in just as I’m getting out, can we? Who’ll look after you? Fucking Ty? Good luck there, mate.”

Oliver sighs again. “Worry about yourself, Eric fucking Love.” Eric keeps laughing. “Well, I’m glad my anger issues were able to brighten your day. Give us a call later in the week, will you?”

“Yeah alright,” Eric says, getting his breath back. “Later then.”

“Right as,” Oliver says, then hangs up.

His solicitor meets with him a few days later, as scheduled, bringing news with her. “We went digging,” she says, referring to the paedo that Eric sloshed. “Apparently there were other children that he interfered with. We got them to make statements, and now it isn’t just all on your claims, Eric. This is very, very good for your odds.”

He kind of shuts down, lets her words wash over him. Other victims, Christ. She says it easy-as, like it’s good news that Eric needed to resort to murder to keep himself from becoming one of them. She doesn’t notice, likely used to him being a stoic cunt, and carries on like usual until she’s due to leave.

“I’m going to do my best to speed up this process, given this new evidence,” she says, putting her things into her bag. “Which means I should likely get your overnight release approved soon. Do you think you’ll be able to stay with Baumer for this one as well?” Eric nods. “Wonderful. Let me know if you need assistance in coming up with a housing plan.”

“Ah, sure,” Eric says. “I’ll get on it, won’t I?”

He goes right from the visiting area to the phones, dialling Oliver’s number. For a moment he worries it’ll roll over to voicemail, but Oliver picks up before it can. “Fucking geezer touched up other kids,” Eric says, right as it connects.


“Oh Ols, fucking keep up,” Eric barks. “Spoke to my solicitor, apparently they found other kids that he tried it on with.”

“Fuck, Eric,” Oliver’s voice goes off, and Eric hates it. It didn’t happen to him, he made sure of it. “Well that’ll be good for your argument, won’t it?”

“Why in the fuck does everyone keeping saying that?!”

Oliver goes quiet, just the sound of his breathing. “No, you’re right. I’m sorry. Eric, murder — it’s awful, isn’t it? Because of what it does to you. I’m sorry that it was you Eric, but. Look, you did a good thing, didn’t you? The system failed you, but you did something.”

He digs his fingers into his eyelids until he sees nothing but white. “Yeah,” he says. “Suppose I fucking did.”

“Eric, you don’t know how strong you are.” Eric laughs. “I’m serious, you little cunt. I’ve met loads of lads like you. I’d have never,” he sighs. “You’re amazing.”

“Fuck off.” His voice is thick, holding far more than he usually lets it.

Oliver clears his throat. “Is it almost time for dinner?” Eric grunts. “What are you having, do you think?”

Eric wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. “Fucking Sunday Roast and all,” he says. “And on a Monday too.”

Oliver laughs, the sound carrying easily across the line. “Sounds like I have a lot to live up to. Did she say when you’ll be on leave again?”

“Soon, she thinks.” Oliver says something about making sure to have everything ready for him, whatever that might mean, and then they say their goodbyes and ring off.

Eric goes back to the wing feeling a bit surer in his skin. He stops at his cell but can’t take the quiet, and his appointment has meant he’s missed the chance to join Ty and Hass at the gym. He jogs his merry way up the stairs and into Ash’s room, frowning when he sees that Ash isn’t in. They haven’t replaced Neville yet, and so Eric lays on the bed that had been his, waiting. Thinking.

Ash shows up not three minutes later, breathing hard as if he’s run the way. “Everything alright?” he asks.

Sitting up, Eric says, “Yeah, sweet.” They look at one another. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

Ash blinks and takes a seat in his chair. “Don’t mind it.” He gets Neville’s cup down from the shelf, filling it with juice and holding it out to Eric, who takes it, muttering ta as he does. “I was speaking with Nev,” Ash says, as if Eric had asked for a report of where he’d been. “Someone passed by and said they’d seen you go into my room, and Nev told me to get running.”

Eric makes a face before he knocks back the glass. “Fucking ridiculous, he is.” He nods at Ash, handing the cup back and standing up, rubbing his hand on the fabric of his pullover. “I’ll just leave you to your filthy habits.”

Ash swats his thigh, saying, “fuck off.” Eric leaves and heads for the stairs, going back to his room. He closes the door behind him, done for the night. He pulls off his jumper and drapes it over his chair before dropping down into his bed. He taps his fingers on his stomach, looking up at the ceiling.

His thoughts drift off. He realizes that he doesn’t even know how long of a sentence Ash has, or what he did to get sent down. Maybe he’ll be out soon — and then what? Face like his, he’d be a right pathetic cunt to still play this game once he’s out.

Eric knows what he’s doing. Worried for what’ll happen if his plans don’t play out, if the solicitor’s been wrong all this time, and has to blank out his mind before he fucking depresses himself.

He thinks instead about them talking on the phone to one another, like he and Oliver do. Course, the tech they’re using means that their conversations aren’t monitored like Eric’s are.

Eric can hardly imagine real sex, let alone getting off over the phone. His hand slides down his into his joggers, past the elastic band of his pants, until he’s got himself warm in his palm, squeezing. He licks his lips and closes his eyes.

Oliver’s likely good at it, the posh fuck, all that focus on feelings and all. Would tell Eric to stay with it, poke and prod Eric shares every sordid detail, every fantasy. How he’d like to feel Oliver’s stupid beard on the inside of his thighs before Oliver goes down on him. How nice Oliver looked in the trousers he’d worn during Eric’s leave, the way they’d hugged to Oliver’s legs just right. How Eric wants to eat him out before getting his dick inside of Oliver, fucking him until he can’t come any more. He even hopes that Oliver’s kept those shit suits of his somewhere. They looked easy to rip off, and that could be fun and all.

The sound of Oliver’s laugh. Oliver calling him amazing.

Eric spends inside his pants and wonders just what the fuck he’s done.

He practically falls over himself getting out of the car to take in Oliver’s house. “You dirty lying cunt,” he says. “You might as well own up to it now; whose fucking bastard son are you?”

Oliver makes a face at him from the other side of the bonnet. “It’s only got the four bedrooms, Eric.”

He doesn’t stop himself from barking out a laugh. “Oh, only the four bedrooms, my mistake. Might as well burn it down, really.” He walks in front of the car and stands at Oliver’s side with his hands in his pockets. He nods at some room extended from the house nearest the garage where they've parked, looking to be mostly windows. "Fuck's that, then?" Oliver's quiet, even after Eric turns to look at him directly. "Well?”

“It's called an orangery, but—" Eric's laughing again, nearly doubled over. “Oh fuck you, Eric.”

“Don’t even know what that is.” Eric wipes at his eyes and slaps his cheeks a few times. “Do you get off on this or summat? Acting like you’re a man of the people? It’s alright to be posh, Ols, I promise no one will take your aggro card away.”

Oliver shoves Eric’s shoulder and walks the path to the entryway, Eric rushing after him to keep up. “Be glad I told the staff to go home for the day. Didn’t want them underfoot.”

Eric stops in his tracks, staring at Oliver's back. After a few steps, Oliver stops as well, looking back at him. Eric blinks. "I'm kidding,” Oliver says. “I don’t have staff.” Eric keeps staring. “Eric, of course I don’t!”

“Fuck me,” Eric says. “Just the way you say staff, mate.”

Oliver shakes his head and takes the steps two at a time, getting out his keys from his coat. It’s a proper one, not the light jacket from a month ago, the season officially having turned. He’d brought one for Eric as well, Eric’s size and suspiciously looking to be new, like Oliver had bought it just for him. “You’re the one that’s got staff, have you ever thought of that?” The door opens, and Oliver steps inside, shrugging off his layers. “Someone does your washing up, cooks for you. There’s even people that clean your manky fucking showers.”

He deserves a clump for saying such daft fucking nonsense, but Eric finds himself charmed as well, taking his coat off and handing it to Oliver to put on the rack standing by the door. “Yeah, you’re right, Ols. Prison really is just a country estate if you think about it, thanks.”

“Why did I think this was a good idea.” Oliver crowds in all of a sudden, pretending to strangle him, hands around Eric’s neck. Eric’s whole world narrows down to Oliver’s fingers on him, a light pressure against his throat.

He licks his lips. When he swallows, his Adam’s apple moves against Oliver’s palm. “Gotta work on that temper, mate.” He isn’t sure why his voice has gone so soft. “Now come on, own up. Property like this has a name. What is it?”

Oliver isn’t meeting his eyes, looking down. At where his hands are at Eric’s throat, probably. “You do my head in,” he says, voice matching Eric’s. His hands drop back down to his sides and his gaze rises to meet Eric’s. “I’ll show you to which room’s yours.”

They head for the stairs, Eric forced to do little but glance through the doors of the two sitting rooms they pass on the way, Oliver not offering a proper tour, the rude cunt.

The house truly is massive; the one Oliver says is his looks like it should be the master. “You aren’t giving up your room for me, are you?” he asks, actually concerned that it might be the case.

Oliver shakes his head. “Mine’s through there; we’ll share the bathroom. The only other one on this floor was that door we passed coming up the stairs, right before the landing.” He walks to the closet and opens it. The shirts and jeans that Oliver had bought for him are hanging there, making it look empty and lived-in at once. Oliver nods to a chest near the window. “I picked up some underthings for you. Stuff to sleep in as well.”

Eric tucks his hands up under his armpits, surveying the room. “Fuck’s sake,” he says, “Only here for the night, aren’t I, Ols.”

Oliver makes a face but doesn’t say anything else. “How about you take a shower and see if you can’t rest for a bit, huh?”

It’s his turn to make a face. “Don’t wanna waste my time kipping off mate, if you don’t mind. If I’m underfoot I can run around the fucking garden or something, yeah? You don’t need to mind after me.”

Oliver shakes his head. “You don’t actually sleep in places like prison, Eric. I’m telling you: wash up; lay down for a bit. I’ll come get you when I’ve got lunch sorted. Even if you just sit in the quiet, I promise it’ll do you good.” He leaves having said it, closing the door behind him.

Eric takes care to hang up what he has on. It’s the outfit Oliver had bought for him and he’d returned to prison in, left crammed into a personal affects bag for the month it’s been between leaves. It looks much more at home on a hanger in the closet.

He stands in the middle of the room, starkers. Thinks about how it's his, if only for the night.


There’s a bath as well as a shower, and Eric opts for that instead, making the water as hot as he can stand it before settling in. He sniffs the shampoo Oliver keeps and before he knows it his cock is hard, bobbing beneath the surface of the water.

“Oh, fucks sake,” he says to himself, looking down at it.

It keeps happening. Stiffies springing up, concerning Oliver. Picked a fucking stellar time to start figuring this shit out about himself, he has. Tits too simple for you? he thinks down to his cock, before taking himself in hand.

He’s thought about Oliver showing up in the showers at Durham sometimes. Utter fucking nonsense, but still an idea he’s particularly fond of all the same. Oliver pinning Eric to the wall, rutting against the back of Eric’s thighs as he takes care of Eric with his hand. Now that he’s seen this bathroom, knows that it connects Oliver’s room to his, he imagines Oliver walking in, coming to take a leak or wash his hands, any stupid excuse, and catching sight of Eric wanking —

“I forgot towels,” Oliver says.

Eric’s eyes pop open, knees jolting up to his chest.

“Oh fuck,” Oliver stares right him. “Sorry!”

“I wasn’t!” Eric shouts.

“No, Eric,” Oliver’s hands are cupped over his eyes, the pair of towels he’s brought downed to the floor. “You’re not doing anything wrong. I should have knocked. I shouldn’t have come in at all. I’m so sorry.”

He’s glad that Oliver can’t see him, because his face feels as if it’s on fire. “I really wasn’t.”

“It’s fine,” Oliver stresses. “Would it help if we spoke about it?” He swallows, and it’s loud in the quiet of the room.

Eric’s cock throbs, still hot and heavy between his thighs. He thinks of Oliver taking a step closer, telling him to stay with it. His mortification. His arousal. Both. Using it.

“Absolutely fucking not, mate.” Eric says. “I weren’t doing nothing, and I appreciate the fucking linens. You can get back to cooking or whatever it is you’re doing. Cheers and fucking ta, Ols.”

“Alright.” Oliver bends down, dropping his hands to pick up the towels. He walks closer to Eric, setting them on the windowsill behind the tub. Just about does Eric’s heart in with how it thunders in his chest, Eric folding himself up tightly to stop Oliver from seeing that he’s still hard enough to pound stone.

Oliver opens his mouth and then closes it. “I’ll have lunch ready in about an hour, take your time.” He’s out the door in a flash, closing it with a slam.

Eric’s hands are back on himself in an instant, mad with it. Thinking of Oliver coming back in, saying, actually, no, fuck this and stepping into the tub with his clothes on, wrapping his hand over Eric’s, doubling the strength of their grip, tugging Eric off as he kisses him, fucking devours —

Breath racing, coming so hard that it almost feels worth the fact that he’s likely just ruined his life, Eric watches as his spend disappears into the water. There’s no way he’ll be able to look at Oliver again.

Hass would say he’s being a dramatic cunt. Neville would likely instruct him to kill Oliver and never think of it again. Eric figures that he likely should come up with some advice for himself that lies in the middle.

Oliver most certainly is going to want to talk about it. Reassure Eric that it’s fine, bring up some story about a time in boarding school where the whole footie team walked in on him wanking. How it somehow had lead to Oliver sucking their knobs in a fucking daisy chain, and look how fine he turned out? Eric just needs to stay with it, and he’ll be able to come out the other side.

His cock twitches in his lap at the thought.

He splashes some water on his face and pulls the stopper.

The towel is the softest thing he’s ever had against his skin, almost worth the trauma and all. Eric wraps himself up and steps back through the door leading to his room. There’s a phone on the bed, next to a note with two numbers written on it. Neville Love is written beneath the topmost one, underlined twice.

Eric can’t fucking breathe. He sits down, heavy, and dials the number. It rings into the prison voicemail system, telling him the price per minute and instructing him to leave a message.

“It’s Eric,” he says, suddenly unsure if this is against the rules, and decides to play vague. “I’m visiting Oliver. From the Group,” he adds, in case Neville’s never bothered to learn his name. “Ash likely mentioned it to you. If you want to speak to me, there’s a number you can call back.” He reads off the other one written on the paper. “Alright. Well, bye.” He presses the number to disconnect and then set the phone back on the duvet, staring at the room.

He lets himself fall back onto the bed, looking up at the ceiling. It really is quiet. Eric can’t remember the last time he’s had this sort of peace, despite everything. Not even CSU manages it, for all that it’s supposed to be. He closes his eyes.

Wakes up to the phone him ringing. Eric blinks, confused about where he is, before it all comes back and his hand fumbles to answer in time. “Hello?”

“Fucking hell,” Neville’s voice says from across the line. "Wasn't having me on after all."

Something twists in Eric’s stomach. “You could’ve talked to me directly.”

“And risk you getting caught with tech while you’re meant to be on your best behaviour?” Neville scoffs. “Not fucking likely, boy.”

They listen to one another breathe. “Want to know how Ash is faring?” Eric asks, just to rile the cunt up.

“Fuck off,” Neville says back, quick enough that it has to’ve been a reflex. Then he asks, suspicious, “Why?”

Eric rolls onto his side, looking out the window. “Dunno.”

“Wait a fucking second,” Neville goes on.

“Fuck right the fuck off, you cunt.” His heart beats hard at his chest.

“I could fucking strangle you,” Neville says, but he’s laughing a little under his breath. “Shoulda given you another clump when I had the chance. Too late now, I suppose. Free man, you is.”

Eric’s hand grips the phone tighter. “Just about.”

A voice comes through in the background. “I need to be going,” Neville says.

“Yeah, alright.” He sits up, resting his free hand against his thigh. “Look after yourself, huh, dad?”

Neville’s sniff carries across the line. “Fucking always do, don’t I? Don’t worry about me,” he says. “And fucking write us some time now that you’re out, huh? Ungrateful little cunt.”

The line goes dead.

Eric holds the phone so tightly that he worries it might shatter.

He forces himself to get up, walks to the chest to collect a pair of pants. Unlike the closet, it’s stuffed full of cosy items that look lived-in, like they’ve been passed down. He pulls out one of the shirts and tries it on, wondering if it’s Oliver’s. The joggers fit his hips fine but are a bit too long in the leg. He rolls them up and then tucks them into the socks he’s pulled on as well.

Eric leaves the room and heads down the stairs to the ground floor, poking his head into rooms as he tries to find the kitchen. He ends up having to double back, finding it to the left of the stairs, down a hallway he hadn’t even noticed the first go-round.

Oliver is fussing with something, back to the door. His ass looks magnificent in the trousers he’s got on. “Can’t believe you fucking cook and all,” Eric calls. A plate drops to the floor, shattering. “Oh fuck, sorry.” Eric rushes over, grabbing a tea towel from the oven. It’s broken into three large pieces, and he pushes Oliver away when he tries to pick them up with his bare hands. “Well there’s a flaw then, I suppose, you fucking jumpy cunt.” Eric tosses the pieces into the bin.

“I didn’t expect you to come down so soon,” Oliver frowns at him. “How are you?”

“Fit as a fucking fiddle, mate.” Eric hops up on the worktop. “Rung up me dad.”

It’s enough to get Oliver off whatever track he was gearing up towards. “How is he?”

“Still a cunt.” Eric takes care to ensure Oliver’s hands are empty when he says, “Asked if I was moving in on his old bucky.”

Oliver seems to choke on air, head snapping up from the pot he’s minding. “Oh?”

Eric grins at him. “Called him a silly cunt, didn’t I? Hardly my type.” He kicks at Oliver’s leg across the way before he hops down, stepping up to Oliver’s side so that his chest is pressed to Oliver’s arm. “What’re you making, anyway?”

“Eric,” Oliver breathes out his name, knuckles tight on the wooden spoon in his hand, stew bubbling away on the hob. “Eric,” he says again. “I think we should talk about earlier.”

“Nah.” Eric grabs the spoon and brings it to his lips. “This isn’t half bad.”

“I would like to talk about it,” Oliver says.

He sighs. “Well if you want to, Ols,” Eric turns to rest his back on the worktop next to the stove, looking sideways at him. “Have at it.”

“I was going to suggest that you list my house as your plan of residence for release,” he says.

Eric blinks. He hadn’t expected that. “Why?”

“Because as you’ve pointed out, it’s certainly big enough,” Oliver says. “This whole thing is set up for you to fail, really, and I don’t want you to.”

His hackles start to rise, wondering just what the fuck Oliver is really on about. “I don’t need your fucking charity,” he says. “I could figure this out on my own.”

“I know you can,” Oliver says in a rush. “But you don’t have to, yeah?”

“Why in the fuck are you bringing this up now, anyway?”

“Why are you getting so defensive?”

Eric recalls the early days of Group. How tedious Oliver can be when he digs in. “I asked you first,” he grits out.

Oliver looks like he’d much rather die, but answers anyhow. “I’m gay,” he says, “And I don’t want it to make you uncomfortable to live with me, and I’m fucking annoyed with myself that I didn’t say something before I walked in on you in the bathroom, because now it just sounds like I’m coming on to you.”

“You have got to be fucking joking.” Maybe Eric should have taken Oliver up on his offer for a proper lie-in.

“No, Eric, I’m not.” He turns off the stove, folds his arms across his chest. He’s got on a soft looking jumper, bare feet on the tile. “Is it going to be a problem? I can help you rent a room if you don’t feel comfortable here any longer.”

What a fucking martyr. “No, it’s not a fucking problem.” He rubs a hand across his face. “Except for that I’m fucking sweet on you, aren’t I, you silly fucking bender! And you walking in on me wanking myself silly didn’t do shit for you.”

Pain flashes hot in his hip from how quickly Oliver gets him shoved against the worktop. Eric’s eyes cross, trying to look at Oliver’s face despite how close they are. Oliver kisses him so violently that Eric first mistakes it for that. His hands come up, gripping Oliver’s shoulders tightly. It’s his first kiss and he hasn’t the faintest what he should be doing. He opens his lips, licking blindly into Oliver’s mouth. He’s hard, pushing his hips against Oliver’s and enjoying the immovable weight of him. Oliver’s hands are warm where they grip Eric’s jaw, stilling his head, tilting it the way he apparently wants it, kissing him deeper.

He pulls back and they both gasp, fighting to catch their breaths. “I shouldn’t have done that,” Oliver says.

Eric feels dazed, light-headed. “Nah, you’re alright.” He licks at Oliver’s lips, wanting to kiss him again but unable, Oliver’s hold on him too strong still. “What kind of body you hiding under there, Ols?”

Oliver’s gaze drops down to his mouth, and he sways in, pressing kisses that he never quite allows to deepen into more, despite Eric’s best efforts. “We’re meant to be eating.” Eric grins, opens his mouth to say— “You won’t get anything if you say whatever Johnny fucking bollocks comment you’ve thought up.”

Eric shuts his mouth, still smiling.

“Fuck.” Oliver kisses him again, deeply. He pulls back and steps away once, twice, putting distance between them. He nods at the cupboard behind Eric’s head. “Bowls are in there,” he says.

Eric pulls two down and watches through hooded eyes as Oliver ladles the stew he’s made into them. Oliver won’t look at him, points somewhere to the right of him and says, “get us some spoons. Napkins are in the one next to it.”

Of course the posh git has cloth fucking napkins.

Eric grabs pairs of both and then follows Oliver as he carries their bowls out into the courtyard off the kitchen, to a table set up in the garden. They take their seats and Eric passes over Oliver’s half of the cutlery, dropping his napkin onto his lap and digging in.

“This is great,” he says, and means it, not just pretty fucking nonsense because he wants to get into Oliver’s pants. He’s quick to polish it all, of course, because he is rather keen on getting into more than Oliver’s trousers and he doesn’t trust the bastard not to talk himself out of it and all during a meal.

“Finished,” he says, once he has.

“That’s nice.”

Eric could smack him. “In the interest of clear communication,” he says, “I’d rather like to get back to kissing you.”

Oliver’s hand tightens on his spoon, but he doesn’t react more than that. “Noted,” he says.

“And more, ideally,” Eric carries on. “Since I’ll be heading back to HMP Durham in the morning and my release isn’t guaranteed. Could be the only chance I have to fuck someone I like for nineteen years and all.”

Oliver looks up at him, startled. Eric grins at him, “Forgot that, did you?” He supposes he may as well put it all on the table. Clear communication. “I’ve never done anything with anyone,” he says. “In case you didn’t connect those dots.”

“We shouldn’t.”

To Eric’s eyes, his resolve seems to be wavering.

“We absolutely should.” He nods at Oliver’s bowl. “You going to finish that, or just let it get cold?” Oliver slides it to him, and watches as Eric devours it as well.

“They’re going to release you, Eric. Don’t do something you’ll regret because you’re worried that they won’t.”

For such an educated fuck, Oliver certainly can’t seem to ever keep up with the plot. “I fancy you,” Eric spells out. “I’m keen to fuck you. The only one to teach us fucking people skills was you and your fucking Group, and you didn’t cover anything useful like this. Don’t make me fucking beg, you cunt, because I likely fucking will at this point.”

Oliver’s blushing. He stands up and looks back to the house. Eric certainly doesn’t care; the day’s warmed up now that it’s the afternoon, so it shouldn’t be uncomfortable if they rut themselves silly out in the garden, and there certainly aren’t any neighbours close enough to catch them at it if they do.

“Let's see how far we get,” Oliver relents. “You’ll tell me if you want to stop?” Eric is out of his chair in a shot, dragging Oliver into the house before he can change his mind again, mumbling his agreement. He gets them far as the sitting room before he can’t take it any longer. He drops down onto the floor, pulling Eric down with him by his hand. “Eric, honestly,” Oliver says, before he’s stopped by Eric licking into his mouth.

The feel of Oliver’s shorn hair against his palms is everything Eric imagined it would be. He worms his hand into the front of Oliver’s trousers, groping him through his pants. Oliver’s hands join his between their bodies, undoing the button and giving Eric more room to work. His joggers are much easier to manage, shoved down to his knees in a quick movement.

They rut together on the floor, cocks dragging together. Eric comes far quicker than he’d like, but it’s still the best of his life, nevermind that it’s his first. Oliver stares at him the whole while, eyes getting darker once Eric’s had his, Oliver still hard, sticky with Eric’s come.

“This house has six sodding sofas,” Oliver says, sounding a bit manic. His fingers grip tight to Eric's back, anchoring them together. “And four fucking beds.” He kisses Eric within an inch of his life, for long enough that Eric considers if oxygen really is a requirement, or if it's worth going without.

"Just needed to get that one out of my system, didn't I?" Eric grins, gasping and dizzy and eager to see just what it is that’ll make Oliver come undone once they really get going. “Happy to christen them all with you, mate. Only had to ask.”

Scott’s the kanga to draw the short straw, assigned to seeing Eric off at the arse-end of dawn. It suits Eric just fine; Scott's the only one of his lot that Eric can stand.

He gives the room a final lookie-loo, though he won’t much care if there is anything he’s forgotten. Everything worthwhile he's already passed on to Ty and Hass. Scott had come with the clothes he’ll be wearing out and Eric's gone and changed, leaving his grey joggers and pullover folded up nicely on the bed, likely to go to whichever poor fucking cunt gets sent in next.

“Don’t wanna see you back in here, son,” Scott says, as if it needs saying.

“Not fucking likely.” Eric steps out and doesn’t turn to face the wall, though the instinct is still there. He’s led out through the wing, all the geezers locked up in their cells for a few more hours yet. Nine fucking years, he thinks. Keeps on walking, down the hall and past the turnstile, until he's at the duty officer's desk. There's paperwork for him to sign, course there fucking is. Eric doesn't bother reading, looping his name down and accepting the copies when they're given to him.

Oliver’s face lights up when Eric is let into the lobby. Fucking embarrassing, he is.

Eric bites down his own smile and gets on with it.