Aaron moves in with Marty when he gets out.
There isn’t really anywhere else he could go, after all; no one wants to hire a poor kid with a bad track record, and without any money he can’t even hope to rent an apartment. There aren’t many shelters in the city that will take in a convicted criminal, and everybody knows Aaron’s face now. The murder made him famous.
Somewhere in between faking his entire personality and pretending to recover from his brief homicidal stint, Aaron must have labelled Marty as his emergency contact, because it’s Marty that they call when he gets released, Marty that has to handle the paperwork, Marty that has to sit in his car outside the ugly, grey-mist building and wait for Aaron to shuffle out in the customary white trousers and t-shirt.
He has to handle everything, and he barely even knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t know who he’s inviting into his home, if he’s putting himself in danger or not. He doesn’t even have a clue what to expect when Aaron appears– and should he even be calling him Aaron, when ‘Aaron’ had been a lie the whole time?
So he’s nervous, and his nerves don’t ease when Aaron actually appears, flanked on either side by security guards who force him to a standstill, a hand wrapped tight around his bicep, and take off his handcuffs. Aaron flexes his fingers, looks up from under his fringe to where Marty is sitting behind the wheel, and smiles.
It’s his Aaron smile, the one he gives Marty. In fact, as Marty watches, everything he does screams Aaron. The way he walks: with a nervous gait, his shoulders hunched up around his ears like someone might attack him from behind, the way he lifts his hand in an awkward half wave, the way he flinches at the rustle of a bird in the undergrowth. His hair has grown, and it tickles the shell of his ear as he walks. His fringe covers half of his face now.
“Hi there, M-M-Mister Vail,” he says, sounding sickeningly like the old Aaron that Marty knew. The stammer is a nice touch, and Marty wonders how he missed the lie. Then he wonders how he would have guessed, when Aaron is such a good actor. When he looks at him, when he smiles, he seems so innocent that Marty would never suspect he was capable of murder.
“Thanks for c-coming to pick me up,” he continues, hands folded neatly in his lap, his leg bouncing. He’s nervous, or he wants Marty to think he is, and Marty can’t for the life of him figure out why. What is this? What is Aaron doing? Why bother with this whole charade when he already showed Marty the truth?
“What are you doing?” Marty asks, knuckles turning white around the steering wheel. He doesn’t cave, doesn’t look, just keeps staring straight ahead, even when he feels Aaron’s gaze on his face like a kiss.
“Why not call your father, or one of your friends from the church? Why am I here, Aaron?” He uses the name out of habit - it really just slips out, despite how much the name ‘Roy’ has been tumbling around inside of his head - but he can tell that Aaron isn’t expecting it. His leg stills abruptly and his hands curl into tight, angry fists. Marty isn’t expecting an actual response - more likely a punch in the face, if he’s honest - but Aaron takes his time to respond. When he speaks next, Marty thinks he can detect just a little crack in his mask.
“I ain’t got no f-friends at the church. Not anymore. You’re all I g-got, Mister Vail. Thanks for coming.”
Marty should ask more questions. He should push him harder, scream, shout, demand that he drop the stuttering and the flinching and this whole stupid act. This isn’t a game, and Aaron almost found that out the hard way.
But he can’t. He can’t say any of that, can’t bring himself to. He looks at Aaron, hunched over in the passenger seat, clothes always too baggy like polite society will never quite fit on him, looking ghostly pale and young and scared, and he can’t say a goddamn thing. He wants Aaron to be real. He wants Aaron back– Marty didn’t realise, in the months that they were apart, how much he would think about this kid.
So he doesn’t say any of it. Instead, he says, “Okay, Aaron,” and starts the car.
Living with Aaron is… weird. Different. Not necessarily bad different, because he’s not a big personality and he doesn’t take up much space, mostly stays in the spare room that Marty set up for him. Maybe that’s the weird part, though, because he should be a big personality. Marty remembers the way Roy pushed him around the cell, hit him, bullied him into silence, and he can’t help but think: is that the real Aaron?
He tries to confront him, the first night that he’s there. He closes the door behind them and grabs Aaron by the collar, shoves him against the wall.
“What the fuck are you playing at?” He hisses. “Coming in here acting like you’re not a fucking liar, like you didn’t lie to me. This isn’t a game , Aaron, stop fucking around.”
But Aaron had just blinked in surprise and panic, pulse fluttering against Marty’s fingers, breath crackling with every sharp inhale. “What?” He asks, wide eyed and scared, and Marty is the asshole here. “M-Mister Vail, p-please, I don’t know what you–”
“Aaron,” Marty shakes him again. “Or should I say Roy? Whoever the fuck you are, you’re not staying here unless you’re honest with me.”
“Okay, okay!” Aaron says, but he hasn’t dropped his nervous, deer-in-the-headlights act.
“You’re gonna be honest with me?” Marty asks, eyebrows raised expectantly.
“Yes, sir,” Aaron replies.
“You’re not going to lie to me?”
Marty scoffs and pushes away from the wall, rubbing a hand over his mouth in a nervous way
he’s never managed to cut out. Aaron stays where he is, plastered to the wall, trembling a little. It’s so convincing that Marty feels sick to his stomach just watching.
“Fuck you,” Marty says, defeated. “You’re doing it right now.”
Then he leaves.
There’s a noise from the kitchen, in the middle of the night. Marty hasn’t been able to sleep - apparently knowing there’s a murderer in the room across from you will put you on edge - and by the sound of it, Aaron is having the same problem. Marty had laid in bed for hours listening to the blanket silence from Aaron’s room, and now he’s up and about. The thought is a daunting one.
Regardless, Marty has to go and see what’s happening. Aaron could be doing anything in there, and maybe the only way to maintain his non aggressive persona is to keep him tethered to the real world. Maybe Marty’s presence will keep him calm.
At least calm enough that he doesn’t experience anymore murderous tendencies.
Marty treads carefully on his way to the kitchen. He doesn’t know whether to announce his presence or not, because sneaking up on Aaron is almost certainly a bad idea - the boy is like a spooked animal at the best of times - but Marty also wants the opportunity to watch him uninterrupted. He almost hopes that Aaron will be different, will be real, if he doesn’t know Marty is watching.
No such luck, of course. Aaron knows he’s there within seconds. He’s hunched over the counter with a half empty glass of water in front of him, fingers gripping the edge of the surface like he needs to hold onto something or he’ll just collapse.
“What’s wrong, M-Mister Vail?” Aaron asks, still soft spoken and perfectly innocent, but now there’s something else in his voice as well. There’s a cruel, steely edge to his words. “Coming to check on me? You worried I might k-kill you in your sleep? You can relax, counsellor.”
“I’m not scared of you, Aaron,” Marty says, because it seems like an appropriate time to tell him. This is the first time since he got out that Aaron has seemed to actually be his genuine self, not some character that he had to play to protect himself, and now might be the only time this message will get through to him. “And you don’t have to be scared of me.”
Aaron turns on him, eyes blazing. “I’m not scared of you,” he hisses, furious, terrified. “You should be scared of me, Marty. You know what I do to the people I don’t like.”
Maybe he’s right. Maybe Marty should be scared of him, because he’s seen firsthand what the kid can do. Marty is stubborn and stupid sometimes, reckless and careless. He gambles with death everyday, but he’s never had to come back home to that reality before. He doesn’t know how to approach it, or if to just ignore it altogether.
“I do,” he says after a moment’s silent pause. “But I think you like me, Aaron. I don’t think you’d be here if you didn’t. I don’t think I would, either.”
Aaron hesitates, caught off guard. His eyes are wide and mistrustful, a bird trapped in a cage. He’s backed up against the counter and Marty is covering the only exit.
Marty takes him in from head to toe, the messy hair, the wild eyes, the baggy clothes he had to borrow from Marty’s closet that make him seem even younger and even more vulnerable, and he feels sick. How could anybody look at this kid and want to hurt him? How could Rushman do what he did? Marty wishes he could have seen what Aaron was like before Rushman, before the tapes. Was he always a psychopath, a murderer? Or was he more like this– a quiet, scared, cornered kid, who just wanted somebody to take care of him in a way that didn’t involve pain?
He wanted to be that for Aaron from the moment he first saw his face in that cell. He still wants to be that now, even when he knows the truth. He just doesn’t know if Aaron will let him.
“Maybe you’re right, counsellor,” Aaron says, voice soft, lilting. “Maybe you aren’t. Do you really want to risk it?”
Marty smiles, wistful and sad. “Yeah,” he says, and walks away.
In the morning, he wakes up to Aaron sitting at the foot of his bed, one leg curled underneath him, palms braced on the mattress so that he can watch Marty as he sleeps. “Good m-m-morning, Mister Vail,” he says, as though the night before was just a dream. “I made you a coffee, if you w-want.”
Marty’s eyes flit over to the bedside table where, sure enough, a mug of coffee sits steaming, and then back to Aaron’s smile, charming and sweet. He wonders who the real Aaron is, if this is him, right in front of his eyes.
Marty has to take Aaron to his weekly checkups with Molly, because he can’t drive and she isn’t allowed to do house calls.
They’d planned to give him mandatory therapy sessions every week with a trained psychologist after he was released– at least that’s what Marty had been told. Aaron, being the conniving little shit that he is, managed to persuade them to give him sessions with Molly instead. He probably made them feel sorry for him, Marty thinks, probably used his pretty face and his big puppy dog eyes to garner their sympathy and their support. It’s what he did with Marty, and why would he be any different now?
Their car journey is silent but not awkward. Aaron, despite everything, is a comfortable person to be around. Silence isn’t tense and conversation isn’t frivolous when they’re together, and as long as they don’t speak for too long, they get on fine. Marty wonders if this is what it’s like to be a father - giving lifts and buying clothes and taking care and exchanging the briefest ‘hello goodbye’ possible. He doesn’t feel like a father figure for Aaron and he hopes Aaron doesn’t see him that way either. It would be weird. Out of all the things they’ve done, all the things they’ve been through together, that would be weird.
“Are you going to be okay in there?” Marty asks, a cursory question. Aaron has to go one way or another, or it’s back to the hospital for him and that’s that, but he’ll do his best to make the experience tolerable.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Aaron asks, and it’s not quite confrontational but it’s not pathetic and pandering like it has been until now. “You know something I don’t?”
“No.” Marty smiles. “But I can come in with you if you want.”
A muscle in Aaron’s jaw tics. Somehow, without meaning to, Marty has said the wrong thing. Again.
“Listen, counsellor,” Aaron says, some of Roy’s aggression slipping into his tone. “I appreciate your good-citizen concern, but I can take care of myself.”
“You don’t have to, though.”
Aaron’s face goes slack. For a moment, it seems like Marty has caught him completely off guard, has thrown him off course, and now he doesn’t know what to say. He’s frozen, choked up, fighting the emotion that wants to show so clearly on his face. Marty’s words have touched him so deeply that he doesn’t even know how to respond.
Then he swallows, sets his jaw, narrows his eyes. He doesn’t say anything in response, just climbs out of the car and slams the door behind him, but Marty feels his pain like a knife through his chest.
He goes to see Janet. She’s the only other person who knows how he thinks.
“Are you here to gloat?” She stands in her doorway, tracksuits baggy around her waist and her pyjama t-shirt stained with ice cream. Her hair is piled up on top of her head and falls around her face in long, greasy strands.
“No luck with the job hunting then?” He asks, quirking an eyebrow.
“The best damn attorney at the firm and no one wants to give me the time of day.” She rolls her eyes, heading back into her apartment without a word. He follows her, shutting the door behind him. “Thanks for that, by the way. I’ll have to join a convent myself pretty soon.”
Marty winces. Her words are callous but not cruel, and she picks up on his discomfort straight away.
“So,” she says, balancing a cigarette between her lips. “How’s your little pet project doing? I heard he’s living with you now.”
“Don’t call him that,” Marty says, but there’s no real bite to his words. He has no right to be annoyed with her, but he doesn’t like the idea that all these people who don’t know Aaron are judging him, are mocking him. It hurts, because Aaron has already been on the stand in front of the entire city, under scrutiny and targeted attacks by the media. He’s had enough.
“Sorry, sorry,” Janet waves her cigarette in front of her face. “I meant your boy toy. How’s he doing?”
Marty narrows his eyes. “He’s fine,” he says. “He’s having a check up with Molly right now.”
“Ah,” she nods sagely. “The academic.”
“He’s not my boy toy, Janet, whatever the media will have you believe. He’s just a scared kid that needs help.”
“A scared kid that killed a man.” She takes a drag and blows smoke into his face. Marty’s eyes water. “He’s using you, Marty. Roy or Aaron or whoever the fuck he is– he’s using you.”
“Why would you say that?”
She rolls her eyes again, and Marty takes a quick glance around the apartment. It’s a mess, with takeout boxes upended all over the floor and stacks of paperwork covering every surface. Maybe he shouldn’t be giving her such a hard time, maybe he shouldn’t be grilling her about Aaron, but he wants to know what she thinks. Her opinion, as always, might be the only one beside his own that actually matters to him.
“Marty, please tell me you aren’t that blind.” At Marty’s blank stare, she scoffs. “He lives in your house, he eats your food. You pay for his clothes, you drive him everywhere he needs to go. You’re not his friend, Marty, you’re his butler. He’s using you. I thought you of all people would find that obvious.”
Something hard and sharp lodges itself in his throat, and Marty has to swallow it down. “You don’t know anything about him.”
“Do you, Marty?” She uses her index finger to tap the ash from the end of her cigarette straight onto the floor. “Do you?”
Aaron is angry when Marty comes to pick him up, that much is clear. He’s silent as he marches across the parking lot, Molly hovering anxiously over his shoulder, and he brings a storm along with him. The sky breaks open as he’s almost to the car, and the rain plasters his hair to his forehead.
“Mr Stampler,” Molly is saying, determined despite her guilty expression. She’s set him off somehow, and she thinks she’s triggered the split. “Roy!”
He doesn’t stop to listen to her, doesn’t even hesitate in climbing into the car beside Marty and slamming the door.
“Fucking bitch,” he’s mumbling, no preamble. “What the hell does that cunt know anyway? If she thinks she can fuck with me and get away with it then she’s got another thing coming. I’m telling you Marty, if she pisses me off one more time I swear to god, I’ll–”
“Aaron!” That gets his attention, and he whips around in his seat to glare. Marty risks a quick look at Molly, standing hopelessly in the rain. He gives her a weak smile before he starts the car, desperate to get away from her watchful gaze.
“What?” Aaron demands.
“What happened in there?”
He crosses his arms over his chest, sulking, and turns away. “Nothing that fucking matters,” he mutters, pissed.
“It clearly does, Aaron. Did she say something that upset you?”
“Upset me,” Aaron mocks, mimicking the words with a sneer. “You don’t have to treat me like a kid, counsellor. She fuckin’ pissed me off, is what she did.”
“Okay.” Marty holds his hands up against the steering wheel briefly in surrender. “Okay, you’re right. What did she do that pissed you off, Aaron?”
There’s an ugly pause. Aaron seems torn between wanting to tell Marty everything, and wanting him to just shut up. It’s a delicate balance that Marty has to be careful not to disrupt - it’s important that Aaron comes to all of his decisions on his own now. He’s been forced enough in his life.
“Rushman,” he says after a long while, spits the word out like it’s a curse. “She wanted to talk about Rushman. Always, always Rushman. Is it so fucking bad that I never want to think of him again?”
Marty’s heart sinks, sympathy and guilt building in his throat like bile. “It’s not bad, Aaron,” he says. “It’s normal. I can have a word with her, if you like.”
Aaron barely seems to have heard Marty. “She’s not even a qualified fucking psychologist anyway. Why do I have to see her? What can she tell me that I don’t already know?” He demands.
“You wanted her,” Marty reminds gently. “The hospital offered you an alternative and you asked for Molly.”
“I didn’t want her, Marty, are you fucking dumb? They made me. The devil you know is still better than the fuckin’ asshole you don’t.”
Marty inhales slowly. “So,” he begins. “You don’t think it might be… helpful? To talk about Rushman?”
Aaron scowls. “Why would it be helpful? I don’t need help, and definitely not from her.”
“You don’t think that maybe you have some trauma to work through then?” Marty snaps. He knows that he should stay calm, that he can’t seem aggressive, that he can’t have Aaron see him as an enemy, but he can’t help himself. Aaron seems unwilling to accept that he can’t do everything on his own, and for Marty, who has done just about everything for the kid since he first met him, that stings like a slap in the face.
“You just wanna take his place,” Aaron accuses, and Marty’s heart jumps in his chest.
“What the fuck?” He slams on the breaks. They’re on an empty road and rain runs in rivulets down the windows. It feels like they’re completely isolated, and maybe that isn’t the best thing to be with a murderer but Marty is too angry to feel scared.
“Why else would you be so fucking obsessed with me talking about Rushman?”
“Maybe because I want you to get better?” Marty says, jaw clenched tight. “Maybe because I don’t want you to repress your goddamn emotions and kill somebody again?”
“Or maybe you just want me to be the perfect fucking choirboy for you. Maybe you wish you’d gotten there first. You only ever like me when I’m ‘Aaron’.”
“That’s not true!” Marty feels like he’s arguing with a brick wall. Aaron is so convinced of his own insecurities that any counter will just bounce right off him.
“It is! We’re fighting right now. The second I dare step out of line you’re all over me, telling me what I should say and how I should fucking act. You don’t like me like this.”
“That’s because you accused me of wanting to molest you, you little shit!”
Aaron lunges over the middle console, so quickly that Marty doesn’t even have time to jerk backwards in shock before Aaron is balling his fists up in Marty’s collar and shoving him backwards. The back of his skull knocks painfully against the window and he winces, feels Aaron’s breath ghost across his face, erratic and shallow.
“I didn’t accuse you of anything, counsellor,” he whispers. “Just pointing out the truth.”
There’s something in his voice then, something soft and broken and so, so vulnerable that Marty notices. Marty takes a deep breath in, avoiding eye contact as though Aaron is a wild animal that he has to keep from challenging.
“Aaron,” he says slowly, carefully, reaching up to clasp his hands around Aaron’s where they’re bunched up in his shirt. “It’s alright. All I want– all I’ve ever wanted, is for you to be okay.”
Aaron blanches, gaze flitting between Marty’s mouth and his eyes. His lips are parted just slightly, damp where his tongue darts out to wet them, his cheeks are flushed with his temper. He’s beautiful, Marty realises for the first time, and destructive, and dangerous. Marty will burn himself if he gets too close.
“You’re lying,” Aaron says, but his voice trembles, and he doesn’t sound convinced. If anything, he sounds like he wants Marty to convince him otherwise.
“No,” Marty says. “I’m not.”
Aaron slumps back in his seat, and after a minute of tense stillness, he starts to tug on his seatbelt. Marty considers saying something, but decides in the end that it would be best if he didn’t. He’s said all he needs to say.
It’s just gone three when Marty feels a dip in the mattress, and he wakes up with a jolt of nervous energy. He already knows who it is, but he’s expecting to see Aaron kneeling over him with a butcher’s knife in his hand, maybe a crazed look on his face. Their argument in the car was just too much for Aaron, Marty decides, and now he’s going to die.
He isn’t expecting, however, to see Aaron crawling towards him, pyjama bottoms slung low on his hips, sleeves pulled down over his hands like it’s a comfort thing. Marty sighs, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Aaron?” He mumbles. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Aaron doesn’t reply. His eyes flash in the darkness of the room, bright with intent, his mouth twisted into a miserable frown. When he’s far enough up the bed he lays his head down on the pillow beside Marty, facing the wall, and tucks his knees to his chest.
“Aaron?” Marty asks again, a gentle prompt.
“Shh,” is the only response he gets. Marty settles back into bed, the position a little awkward now that Aaron is so close to him. Marty doesn’t know what to do at first, doesn’t know what Aaron wants from him.
After a moment’s deliberation, he reaches out and wraps a tentative arm around Aaron’s waist. Aaron shudders, his whole body moving with the force of it. It just makes Marty want to hold him closer.
“Okay,” Marty whispers, curling his body to fit around Aaron. Marty presses his forehead to the nape of Aaron’s neck and, after a moment’s thought, presses a chaste kiss to the skin there. It’s sweet and simple, and Aaron has probably never experienced anything like this before. Everything he knows, he knows from pain and betrayal. Everything he’s done, he’s done in fear and under duress. Marty wants him to know that it can be good too– it can be safe.
Aaron’s chest hitches silently and his hand finds Marty’s where it rests over Aaron’s waist. “It’s true though, isn’t it?” He says finally, in a wavering voice. “You only like me when I’m like this. When I’m small.”
Marty frowns against Aaron’s skin. “That’s not true,” he says, because it simply isn’t. “I don’t like it when you act like someone you aren’t. I don’t want you to lie to me. Especially not about who you are. Don’t you understand that?”
Aaron squeezes Marty’s fingers, seemingly unaware that he’s even doing it. “What if I don’t know who that is, counsellor?” He asks. “What then? What if this is as real as it gets?”
Marty inhales; Aaron smells like sweat and body soap and Marty. He can’t help but feel a surge of sickening pride, of possessiveness. ‘I don’t want you talking to anyone else,’ he remembers saying to Aaron a lifetime ago, back in the cell. Well, he got his wish now.
“You don’t have to know everything right now, Aaron,” he says, soothing. “You don’t have to know. It’s okay not to.”
Aaron doesn’t say anything more, but Marty knows he stays awake the whole night, thinking about it.
The first time Aaron kisses him, it’s over the breakfast table.
Marty isn’t expecting it, because he’s just turned off the stove and is in the process of dishing scrambled eggs out onto two separate plates. He doesn’t take many people home, none lately what with Aaron around, and the few that do make it to his bedroom don’t tend to stick around in the kitchen the next morning.
This morning, though, he catches sight of Aaron in the corner of his eye. He’s huddled up in the doorway, watching Marty lay the plates down with that watchful gaze of his.
“Morning,” he says, a little confused. Aaron was reluctant at first to journey outside of his bedroom, but he’s been gaining calm confidence - not the angry, destructive cockiness of Roy - every day. It’s not like him to look too nervous to even get close to Marty.
“Morning,” he replies, quiet. “I thought you had work today?”
“I took a day off,” Marty explains. He’s his own boss these days, but he still has a large workload to maintain. Days off are usually reserved for holidays or emergencies. Today is neither. He just thought, “You need to get some new clothes. Clothes that actually fit, preferably. An ex client of mine is opening a bar in the city and they owe me a favour. I thought you could go in for an interview.”
Aaron pauses, wringing his hands together. The skin around his fingernails is picked red-raw and bloody. “You didn’t tell me,” he says, matter-of-fact.
“Sorry.” He is, genuinely, for not telling Aaron, but not for setting it up in the first place. Aaron needs a job, needs to feel independent, like he’s a real person again. “Do you want me to cancel? I can, if you want.”
“No, don’t do that.” Aaron shrugs. “I’ll go. It’s fine.” He draws closer as he speaks, and Marty heaves an internal sigh of relief. Something he’s saying must be the right thing, because Aaron isn’t closing himself off like he otherwise might.
“Okay,” Marty says. “If you’re sure–”
Aaron leans over and kisses him. It’s not very practised or neat, just Aaron’s mouth on his, warm and sweet and so unexpected that he jerks back on instinct. Aaron goes pale and pulls back, already panicking. His eyes are wild again, an animal trapped in a corner. He’s backing away before Marty has time to think.
“Don’t–” Marty begins, and then cuts himself off abruptly. He doesn’t know what he wants to say.
It isn’t like he’s never thought about Aaron before in that way. The kid’s pretty and he’s sweet when he’s friendly and fiery when he’s not, two qualities that Marty happens to be equally attracted to. It’s not like he’s never thought about what it would be like, to kiss Aaron, to touch him, to sleep next to him at night. It’s just that he never considered acting on it. Aaron dealt with so much trauma throughout his whole life, and the last thing he needs is his lifeline - his friend - making a move on him. What if he feels pressured? What if he feels like he has to reciprocate in order to stay here? What if, despite all his best intentions and his clumsy, well meaning gestures, Marty just becomes a second Rushman in Aaron’s eyes?
He can’t let that happen.
But then, here they are, and Aaron made the first move. Marty doesn’t know what to make of that.
“What?” Aaron spits, angry now, or maybe not angry– maybe just scared and unwilling to let his true feelings shine through. Marty doesn’t let that anger distract him - he can’t. Not when it comes to something as important as this.
“Don’t go,” Marty says, voice soft and calming. “You can if you want, but I don’t want you to. Just so you know.”
Aaron hesitates, and in that time Marty reaches out for his hand. He offers no resistance, makes no indication that he’s uncomfortable when Marty intertwines their fingers together and brings it up to his mouth, kisses Aaron’s knuckles tenderly.
“Are you fucking with me?” Aaron asks, and his eyebrows are still drawn together, his shoulders still tense with anger, but his voice is tentative and uncertain, like maybe the aggression is just a show he’s putting on for his own benefit.
“No, Aaron,” Marty says. “I’m not.”
This time, when Aaron leans in to kiss him, Marty meets him halfway.
Things don’t progress all at once. Aaron is still closed off - more so now, if anything - but they work together. Before where Aaron might have sat down on the couch right next to Marty, he huddles himself up at the other end. Throughout whatever shitty action they’re watching, he’ll inch closer and closer until he’s shoulder-to-shoulder with Marty, and then he’ll draw Marty’s arm over his shoulder like this is how he wanted them to be from the start, tucked into Marty’s side, warm and safe.
It’s endearing, for sure, but it’s upsetting as well. Marty doesn’t want Aaron to think that he can’t ask for things, can’t say what he wants, whatever that might be. The whole point of Aaron moving in with him was to reacclimatise him to the real world, to give him a chance to get back on his feet. Is Marty just holding him back?
He brings it up the next time it happens. How could he not? It keeps him awake at night, makes his heart stutter from uncertainty whenever he sees that cautious, closed off look on Aaron’s face, as though he’s waiting for someone to tell him off so he can get angry about it. Marty isn’t going to be that person.
“You know,” he starts, brushing the backs of his fingers over the bare skin of Aaron’s arm where they’re pressed together on the sofa. “You can ask for things. For what you want. You don’t have to pretend you don’t want them.”
Aaron had been resting his head on Marty’s shoulder, but at these words he sits up straight to look at him, eyebrows furrowed, lips quirked to one side.
“What do you m-mean, Mister Vail?”
Marty rolls his eyes with a smile, pinching Aaron’s arm lightly just to make him laugh. “Cut that out. I’m serious.”
Aaron’s smile fades, replaced with something a little dimmer, a little sadder. “What are you talking about?” He asks.
“I’m just saying… you’re in charge here, okay? You get to pick what we do and when we do it. You don’t have to be embarrassed about wanting something.”
Aaron gives him a mean grin. “You think I’m embarrassed, councillor? I can play the blushing virgin if you want. Gosh, Mister V-Vail, it’s so big.”
That one word, that reminder, is enough for his smile to drop. “Well, what do you want me to say?” He says, sulky. “You keep treating me like I’m fragile.”
The words ‘ you are’ are on the tip of Marty’s tongue, the urge to hold Aaron and protect him and remind him that he’s precious is almost overwhelming. His heart splinters looking at Aaron’s frustrated expression.
“I don’t know,” Marty sighs. Maybe he shouldn’t have brought it up. He just… wants Aaron to feel safe with him. “I’m just saying, okay? You set the pace.”
Aaron shifts a little, wriggles like he’s uncomfortable; Marty thinks it might be a good idea to put a little distance between them, if Aaron is feeling claustrophobic or overwhelmed with Marty so close to him, but when he tries to pull away Aaron grabs his wrist and doesn’t let go.
“I set the pace,” Aaron says, beautifully confident.
“Okay,” Aaron says, and kisses him.
It’s different, this time. Aaron gets a hand on either side of Marty’s face, draws him in, makes it hurt. He bites Marty’s lower lip and pulls his hair. Marty wonders, once Aaron has pulled back for long enough that he can breathe and think again, if this is the only way he knows how to kiss.
“This is me,” Aaron murmurs, swinging a leg over Marty’s hips and climbing into his lap, a knee to keep him balanced on either side. “Setting the pace.”
They kiss until Marty’s lips are numb and his head is empty and he can’t remember feeling like this before ever.
There are still some things that Aaron can’t do, even if he wants to. He can’t take his clothes off. If Marty even thinks about telling him what to do - even just small things like lie down or take it easy - he’s looking for a punch to the gut. Aaron is volatile and playful and so, so scared when Marty first puts a hand on him that he’s literally trembling, teeth clenched together so he doesn’t cry. They have to stop, that first time, because Aaron looks like he’s about to pass out and not in the way Marty wants him to.
They try again, though. Aaron is calmer this time, level headed when he sticks his hand down Marty’s pants and wraps a spit slick hand around his cock.
“Fuck,” Marty hisses, lips wet from Marty’s tongue. “Are you sure–”
“Don’t you dare ask me that,” Aaron says before he can finish, baring his teeth in a grin that makes him look like even more of a wild animal than ever. He kisses Marty again, bruising, and moves down, one hand still tilting Marty’s face the way he wants. He bites at Marty’s throat, no finesse or delicacy, just sharp teeth and a warm tongue. Marty gasps.
“Fuck,” he says. He’ll have marks there tomorrow, too high up to cover with a collar, and everyone will know how fucking feral Aaron is in bed. Janet will guess straight away. She already knows– she knew before even Marty did.
Marty comes with Aaron’s hand on his cock and their lips pressed together, the kid’s tongue in his mouth. A simple handjob feels better than anything he’s done with random hookups for ages, and maybe that should worry him more than it actually does.
Aaron leans backwards and props himself up on his elbows, knee bent, foot planted flat on the bed. He watches Marty with heavy lidded eyes, like he’s just drinking in the sight. They have nowhere to be and even though Marty is recovering from the force of his orgasm, exhausted and sated, he swears the sight of Aaron like that is pornographic. He’s never seen anything so beautiful.
“Can I?” Marty asks, rolling onto his side and laying his palm on Aaron’s chest, fingers splayed flat over his heart. He hears the racing thump of his heartbeat, all rabbity and nervous. He wants to gather Aaron into his arms and kiss him.
“Yeah,” Aaron whispers, all small and nervous now that he’s the one being touched. It’s astonishing how quickly he can flip from outgoing and pushy to closed off and shy. Marty can’t beat himself up for not realising that Roy was a lie when the kid acts like this as his true self. Aaron can be loud and mean and desperate for it or he can be vulnerable and embarrassed and needy and either way he’s still Aaron. That’s the beauty of him. It doesn’t have to be a lie anymore. Marty kisses him.
Aaron jumps when Marty lays a hand on him, over his jeans. He’s holding tight onto Marty’s biceps and his nails are digging into his skin, leaving little crescent shaped spots of blood. He’s not doing it to be malicious, Marty knows, he’s just overwhelmed.
“It’s okay,” Marty soothes, and Aaron relaxes back into the bed.
“Mhm,” he says, voice tight.
He’s exquisite really, the prettiest thing Marty has ever seen, when his eyes flutter shut and his head tilts back and his mouth falls open; when his back arches off the bed and he pushes into Marty’s hand and he comes, high pitched and whining and so trusting. Marty could cry.
Afterwards, they lie side by side. It must be uncomfortable, falling asleep in come covered underwear, but Marty knows he would change if he wanted to. He won’t push him.
In the darkness, Aaron’s hand finds Marty’s and their fingers intertwine. A hushed silence falls over them and they listen to the bustle of the city just beyond their walls. They are wonderfully isolated like this: the only two people in the world that matter.
“I did mean it, y’know?” Aaron says softy, hesitant to disturb the quiet of their bedroom.
“Hmm?” Marty is so close to falling asleep, but this feels important. Significant.
“I know everything else was… a lie. Pretend. But I really did mean what I said, at the end. I knew everything was going to be okay when you walked into my cell. You really did save my life, Marty.”
Marty turns his face towards Aaron, watching his profile in the dim light from the street lamps outside. The slope of his nose, the curve of his lips. He has to reach out and touch.
“I know,” he says, tilting Aaron’s face towards him and placing a gentle kiss to his forehead, his eyelids, his mouth. “I think you saved mine too.”