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Drowning Season

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Jean Vicquemare has three problems. The first is autumn. Not because he hates the cold—which he does—or because the shedding trees and shortening days make depression even worse—which they do. He hates autumn because it heralds the coming of winter, which is when Harry, historically, goes off the fucking rails. And some barometer in Jean is forecasting that this one may break them. 

The second problem is his caseload. Everyone at the 41st has too much to do and too little time to do it in, but Harry’s seemingly trying to solve all crime at once, and not because he wants to make triple-yefreitor. The ink will have barely dried on a report before he’s reaching for the next file, flipping through notes and barraging Jean with questions, and then he’ll hurtle through Jamrock like a train pulling away from the station, with Jean running after, trying to catch him. A heavier caseload also means Harry’s back on speed, and sometimes he’ll come back from a smoke break sniffing and sweating and talking a mile a minute. Jean hates it, but there’s no use getting him to stop. He’s tried. He looks the other way now.

The third problem is he wants to be fucked. He has no hang ups about getting fucked. In his twenties he dated a woman with a truly impressive collection of fake cocks, and she had thoroughly educated him on the nature of holes and the ecstasies of prostate stimulation. The problem is he wants to be fucked by Harry, and Harry is a walking, talking nuclear reactor in meltdown.

Problems one and two are out of his control. The third however, is not. Which is how, on the night before his day-off, Jean ends up loitering outside a nondescript bar three side-streets off Main, smoking a cigarette to calm his nerves.

He stares at the small brass plate fixed to the door. Engraved on it is a picture of a cat, stretching its front paws and arching its back, tail in the air, looking like it’s just woken up. He’s never gone to a place like this, for this purpose. He’s been with men, of course. And there are other bars he goes to if he wants to flirt with bored housewives and career women flitting in from Couron and La Delta, looking for thrills. But if he wants to get a handle on problem number three, he needs to be at a bar like this. Because getting asked, “Will you fuck me in the ass?” during a one-night-stand is a little too intense for most women.

He doesn’t know what to expect. But he needs to get this out of his system, and the jeans he’s wearing make his ass look good, so maybe something will come out of this? He takes one last drag, cigarette burning down to his fingers. Then he flicks it to the ground and heads in.

---

The bar was a mistake. No one approaches him because he looks like an undercover cop, and he approaches no one because he has no idea what he’s fucking doing. He nurses his whisky, pretending to sip it. Scans the wall of liquor bottles and wonders if he should order something else he can’t afford. A green flash catches his eye, and he turns without thinking because he thinks it’s Harry, but a stranger stares back at him and he glances down at his glass. He checks one more time to confirm it isn’t his partner, then downs his drink and stands up. He’s had a long day and he’s promised to meet Heidelstam in the morning to go over some cases, and this has been fucking pointless—

“Can I buy you a drink?”

He looks up and sees the stranger in green leaning against the bar. He’s a little paunchy, smiling nervously, and his shirt is truly, truly hideous. But his eyes are almost the same grey-green shade as Harry’s, and Jean likes that. A part of him hates that he likes that.

“Sure,” he says, and sits back down.

They make small talk, swapping anecdotes about city life and complaining about the light rail system. Jean finishes his second drink and the stranger buys him another. He learns that the man works some vaguely defined white-collar job in some creative capacity, and he’s just moved back to Jamrock after quitting his previous, equally vague job in Stella Maris. When asked, Jean says he works in security and offers no further details. The other man doesn’t pry. Discretion is prized at bars like this.

“I completely forgot to introduce myself,” the man says after buying them their fourth round of drinks. “I’m Laurent Blanc. What’s your name?”

“Harold Pascal,” Jean replies.

The man tilts his head, lips pursed. “Is that your real name?”

“No. But I bet Laurent Blanc isn’t yours either.”

That earns him a smile. “Touché,” the man-called-Laurent says, and clinks their glasses together.

Halfway through these, he leans forward and asks Jean if he’d like to go home with him. “My flat’s around the corner. It’s a little cramped, but it’s quiet, and maybe we could...get to know each other a little better?” He smiles and traces a fingertip around the rim of his glass.

Jean has been propositioned by both men and women in far more interesting ways. But Laurent really is quite handsome when he smiles, and those grey-green eyes are gleaming with hope, and Jean is tired and lonely and would like to be someone else for a night.

He finishes his drink. “Let’s.”

The flat really is cramped. Boxes clog the entrance hallway and living room and Laurent is clearly halfway through unpacking. But his bed is large and clean, and that’s all Jean needs right now.

Jean strips them with military efficiency, pushes Laurent back on the mattress and straddles him, already hard. Under that hideous shirt is a nice chest, furred with dark hair, and Jean really likes that. Laurent tries to pull him down into a kiss, but Jean turns his head and the other man’s lips hit his cheek.

“No kissing,” Jean says.

Laurent looks disappointed and Jean’s buzz wears off slightly. “I’d just prefer not to,” Jean says, stroking his smooth cheek. “It’s not personal.”

The other man nods. As an apology, Jean shifts down and takes his cock in his mouth. He’s a good size, thick, and Jean likes it even more when Laurent grips his hair and pushes his head down. He squeezes his eyes shut, holds his breath and takes in as much as he can, then comes back up and looks at Laurent flushed and panting against the pillows.

“Got condoms?” Jean says, voice hoarse. “I wanna ride you.”

The other man’s eyes widen. “Uh,” he says, then sits up and yanks the entire drawer out of the bedside table. He stares at it, dumbfounded. “Shit.”

This somehow endears him to Jean. He grabs a condom and the squeeze bottle of lube, then gently lifts the drawer out of Laurent’s hands and places it on the floor. He straddles him again and rips the foil packet open with his teeth, watching how the other man’s mouth goes slack, then reaches behind him and rolls the rubber ring down his cock.

Laurent stops him when he goes for the lube. “Allow me,” he says, squeezing it onto his palm. “You’ve done everything else.”

Jean sighs as a slick finger is pushed into him. “One more.”

Laurent obliges, his other hand wandering up Jean’s torso. “How are you already so open?”

“I prepped before hitting the bar.” Jean groans when Laurent slips a third finger in and finds his prostate. “Lemme ride you.”

Laurent withdraws his fingers, squeezes more lube onto his cock, pumps it once. Jean lines his cock up and lowers himself down in one smooth motion. He feels full, utterly and deliciously, and he rocks his hips, sending the mattress springs squeaking. Laurent runs his hands up Jean’s thighs, grabbing his ass and squeezing it around his cock, and Jean feels those grey-green eyes on him again, watching pleasure shiver through his body.

He meets them. “Fuck me."

Laurent grips his hips and thrusts shallowly. “Like that?”

“Harder.”

He thrusts again, driving Jean’s hips down, and Jean gasps as pleasure jolts straight to his cock. “There. Like that,” he says and hangs on.

Laurent fucks him exactly how he wants. The bedsprings shriek like they’re coming apart, and Jean is vaguely aware that he’s making all sorts of embarrassing noises, but he doesn’t care. Because for once in his goddamn shitty life he can close his eyes and just focus on how good this feels, and he doesn’t have to think about CODs or rent or whether Harry will laugh at a joke he makes or have a screaming meltdown. He grabs fistfuls of chest hair and thinks about grey-green eyes, these hands that are pushing him down, and he’s so full and so close and he wants more

“God,” Laurent moans, “you feel amazi—”

Jean covers his mouth. “Don’t, please. Just let. Lemme—” And Laurent slams into him at exactly the right angle and he comes, striping the man’s belly.

“That was incredible,” Laurent says after, when they’re both breathless and flat on their backs.

Jean pants, staring up at the ceiling light. “Yeah.”

“Would you like to do that again, sometime?”

Jean thinks that Laurent really needs to up his conversational game. “Yeah, sure.” He rolls off the bed and picks up his clothes.

Laurent watches him dress. “I’m at Le Chat same time every week. I’d love to see you again.”

“Sure.” Jean realises that he’s wearing his T-shirt inside-out and he peels it off again. “Just so we’re clear,” he says, shoving his arms through the sleeves, “this is just sex. Nothing else.”

Laurent ponders this for a second, then nods. He sits up, hair sticking out in crazy angles. “Would you like something to drink?”

“No, thanks.” Jean backs up against the door. He really wants to go home and sleep. “See you next week.”

---

Jean turns up every week, surprising both Laurent and himself. They fall into a routine: two drinks, a chat about nothing in particular, then they walk two blocks, climb three flights of stairs, and Laurent fucks his brains out. The flat is slowly being put in order, and Jean keeps spotting changes. Boxes are cleared. Books and ornaments are shelved. Potted plants appear in the windows. Furniture is also set up, and Jean breaks them in by getting railed on pretty much every available surface.

“Hope you get your deposit back,” Jean says, bent over a coffee table. He’s ruined its varnish.

Laurent grins and squeezes his ass, still hard inside him. “My landlord won’t know.”

“Until they use a blacklight. This place'll look like a fucking slaughterhouse.”

The sex is incredible. It makes up for how they have nothing in common. It’s funny, Jean thinks, how Laurent can make him come without touching his cock—sometimes twice—and fail to say anything interesting before or after the act. But Harry’s behaviour is getting more erratic, Bevy’s quit the taskforce, and a new patrol officer—Judit Minot—has been assigned to C-Wing. Whether as punishment or a sick joke Jean’s not sure, but he has to ease her in and train her regardless. So he looks forward to these weekly appointments, the one constant in his rapidly unravelling life. For a few precious hours he gets to be just a body, and the part of him that insists he’s failing everything and everyone and especially Harry shuts up.

They stick to the rules they’ve made. They don’t kiss, and Jean doesn’t stay the night. It seems to be working so far. There are times when Jean looks at Laurent and thinks it would be nice if they could be something more. But winter pulls its shroud over Revachol and Jean still feels nothing for him, not during the post-coital serotonin high, and definitely not after it leaks from his brain.

They’d never work out. He’s at least self-aware enough to know that. He refuses to think about why.

---

Jean does almost miss one week. Harry has fucked off somewhere during their shift and left an important witness in the lurch, and Jean has had to scour all of Central Jamrock for him. He eventually finds him drunk and weeping by a canal, ringed by onlookers who are more curious than concerned.

“Fuck off!” Harry shouts as he sees him approaching.

“No, you fuck off!” Jean shouts back. “Where the fuck did you go? When I said witness interview I didn’t mean with Commodore Red!”

He dodges the bottle Harry flings at him. It smashes against the pavement, green glass radiating in an explosion.

“I don’t need you!”

“Of course you need me. You can’t write your own name without pissing off the Captain and at least one other wing.” He bends down to yell at his partner, still hunched over himself and clutching his head. “A whole wing of cops, Harry! With guns!”

“Fuck guns. I don’t need guns.” Harry lurches to his feet. “I have my brain. I’m a crime-solving superstar brain machine.”

“You’re a drunk bum screeching bullshit at his tie.”

“Who the fuck are you?” Harry slurs. His eyes are red and wild in his bloated face. “Fucking Satellite Officer? I made you. You’re fucking toilet scum, fucking nothing—worse than nothing! A traffic cop.”

“Let me jog your memory, you fucking prick.” Jean says, voice cold with fury. “I made lieutenant on my own. Before you ruined my goddamn life.”

“Fuck off then. You don’t need me. You don’t care about me. Just leave.” Harry swallows, cheeks clammy and pallid. He clutches his stomach. ”Just leave me here to—” and he doubles over and vomits all over his snakeskin shoes.

Jean takes a step back, wrinkling his nose. “For fuck’s sake.” He glares at the gawking crowd and cups his hands around his mouth. “Move along, folks!” he shouts. When they don’t, he raises his ledger in the air. “Clear out or I’m writing all of you Station Calls!”

He watches them go, muttering among themselves and staring. “You’re really representing the side here, Harry,” he hisses. “Really showing the calibre of Revachol’s finest.”

There’s a low moan by his feet. Harry’s fallen over, into his stinking puddle of vomit. He’s crying. Again.

“I’m a joke, Jean,” he says. “A shitty partner. You should leave me.”

Jean crouches next to him, not bothering to avoid the puddle. “I’m not going anywhere, shitkid.” He strokes his partner’s back, soothing him until he stops sobbing. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”

The rest of the day is burnt on looking after Harry. Jean drags him back to his crappy flat on Tabernacle and dumps him in the shower. When Harry finally emerges, there's a sandwich and a glass of water waiting for him on the table, and Jean cajoles him to finish both while he cleans Harry’s shoes. Then it’s back to the station where Jean covers for them and writes some of Harry's reports—enough so that Pryce won’t start hounding them—all the while watching his partner to make sure he’s not slipped away to snort or drink something from his stash. Not that it matters. Harry spends the rest of the day with his head on his desk. Not moving. Not sleeping. Just still.

Jean knows the location of each of Harry’s caches. He monitors them. Harry’s been rapidly consuming them this winter, and Jean is worried. He knows what that means.

He walks Harry home to Tabernacle at the end of their shift. Harry sits on his fold-out bed, catatonic, while Jean makes something resembling soup out of whatever isn’t rotting in the fridge. Harry breaks out of his stupor and starts talking after he’s eaten about half of it, which is a relief, so Jean flops down next to him and listens, leaning against the wall and stretching his legs out.

The room is dark when he wakes up. There’s a blanket tucked around him that he doesn’t remember getting, and Harry is curled next to him on the mattress, his head by Jean’s lap and his hand on his knee. He’s asleep. 

Light from a streetlamp steals through a gap in the curtains, a thin yellow bar falling across the floorboards and over Harry’s nose and cheek. In profile, with the soft shadows smoothing his face, Jean can just make out the man he used to be.

His heart clenches like a fist. Jean swallows thickly. He checks his watch—half-past one in the morning. If he walks briskly he could make it to the bar in twenty minutes, if Laurent hasn’t left already. He gently moves Harry’s hand off his knee and levers himself off the bed.

Harry whimpers in his sleep, fingers closing around air.

Jean hesitates. Kneels next to him. Harry’s mouth twitches, lost to a dream, and Jean hopes it’s pleasant. Has a feeling it’s not. He takes his partner’s hand, brushes a thumb over the chapped knuckles, and presses them to his cheek.

He's screwed. So, so screwed. A terminal headcase, just like Harry.

It starts raining on his way over. Because if God exists, he's a sick fuck who finds it funny to shit on Jean Vicquemare. Freezing rain pierces his coat and soaks his skin. He wipes it from his eyes. He’s cold; he feels alive.

He reaches just as Laurent is taking his umbrella from the bucket by the door. The other man’s surprised to see him. 

“I thought you weren’t coming.”

Jean joins him under the lintel. “I got held up at work.”

Rain roars down around them. Laurent takes in Jean’s chattering teeth, how his hair is plastered to his scalp and dripping. His eyes soften, and his umbrella opens like a hand. Offering shelter. “Shall we?”

When they get to the flat, Laurent cranks the radiator to its highest setting. Jean shucks his sodden clothes and Laurent spreads them on a drying rack. He offers a towel, which Jean accepts, and a dressing gown, which Jean rejects.

“Getting naked’s the whole point, remember?” Jean says, toweling his hair. The wet spot around him grows, seeping into the carpet. He sneezes, teeth still chattering.

Laurent smiles. “I guess you're right.” He stoops to dry Jean’s legs with the dressing gown, then straightens and runs a warm palm down Jean’s bare arm, feeling shivering gooseflesh and chilled skin.

“You’re freezing,” he says, and tugs Jean forward. He places Jean’s hands under his shirt and around his collarbone to warm them, then folds him into an embrace.

Jean clings to him. He really is very cold.

They end up in bed, on their sides. Jean pushes his hips back as Laurent thrusts into him, and he can feel the other man’s warmth pressed along the length of him, from the arch of his sole to the base of his neck. His toes curl as Laurent rolls a nipple between his fingers, and he suddenly thinks about Harry lying on his thin mattress, alone.

He doesn’t want to think about that now. He reaches behind him and grabs Laurent’s ass, asking him to move faster, harder. But Laurent removes his hand and folds it to Jean’s chest, pinning it there.

Laurent takes his time instead. He fucks him slowly, luxuriously, and the sweet drag of his cock is absolutely maddening. Jean glances at the arm wrapped around his torso and the dark hair that dusts it. Thinks about another hand holding his knee, and he hates it, he fucking hates it, so he rolls his hips and pushes down on the cock inside him and pleads for Laurent to fuck him. Really fuck him.

Laurent stops moving. Jean pants, and asks, and asks again, and Laurent lifts his head to look at him quivering and begging on his cock. Then he yanks Jean’s thigh towards him, slinging his leg back and over his hip, cups Jean’s balls, and drives up.

Jean comes, shouting, and Laurent keeps pounding into him as he shudders and jerks, heat pulsing through his entire body.

“Why do you do that?” Laurent murmurs against the back of his neck, after he’s come. They’re still on their sides, sticky with sweat. Laurent strokes Jean’s stomach. He hasn’t pulled out.

Jean tries to catch his breath. His eyelids are heavy, and his limbs feel loose and languid. He’s too fucked out to move. “Do what?”

“Fuck like you want to disappear.”

Jean stays quiet. He lies there, in the dim room, feeling his heart rate slow back to normal and Laurent softening inside him. He doesn’t have an answer.

Laurent stirs when Jean moves his arm from his chest. He’d fallen asleep.

“You’re going,” he says. A statement of fact.

“Yeah. I’ll see you next week.”

Jean pads out of the bedroom and to the drying rack. He pulls on his shirt, still damp. Laurent appears in the doorway, and Jean avoids the look on his face.

“You’ll catch a chill,” Laurent says.

Jean buckles his belt around his waist. “I’ll be fine.”

“At least let me call you a cab.”

“It’s too expensive.”

Laurent bends and fishes his wallet out of his discarded trousers. “I can afford it,” he says, and holds out a leaf of black bank notes.

“I’m not your whore,” Jean snaps. He immediately regrets it. 

Laurent drops his eyes and replaces the notes. Jean shrugs on his coat. It’s dry, unlike everything else, and should keep him warm-ish on the walk home. He looks up, across the living room. Watches Laurent fold his trousers.

“I’m sorry,” Jean says, “I know you meant well.” He doesn’t close the distance between them.

Laurent holds his trousers to himself. “It’s just sex, right?” He smiles. There is sadness there.

Jean looks away. “Just sex,” he says, and leaves.

---

Things between them change after that. But that's not the reason why Jean stops going. He stops going because he’s realised that Harry’s hellbent on killing himself—through overwork, an overdose, or both—and Jean’s the only person in the entire precinct, maybe the whole world, who gives enough of a shit to stop him.

Winter is lightless. Bleak. Jean keeps thinking he should let Laurent know. He could easily shove a note under his door with an explanation and an apology, maybe even a promise to meet again in some happier hypothetical future. But there is no future. Only the unending present. And the gnawing, frozen fear, metastasizing in his stomach, that he can’t stop Harry.

He feels guilty. But most days he’s too exhausted to feel anything.

---

Everything goes to hell in Martinaise. In some crumbling shithole called the ‘Whirling-in-Rags’. Harry screams at the whole taskforce, raving about how he doesn’t need them, they’re fucking his case just by breathing, and he saves the worst of his insults and abuse for Jean.

Jean glances at the finger that’s shoved under his nose, nail chewed off, pad yellowed, bloated and writhing like a maggot. And he leaves without a word.

A hanged man swings gently in the wind. His ceramic carapace glints in the weak sun.

---

Jean ditches Trant and Judit the moment they’re back in Jamrock. He stalks away, ignoring them calling his name behind him, drops by home to change, and then heads straight to Le Chat. It’s late in the afternoon. There’s no one there except for the bartender, cleaning glasses and prepping for the night.

He opens a tab and starts drinking. He shouldn’t. Not on an empty stomach, and he hasn’t gotten really shitfaced since drinking with Harry stopped being fun, but he’s had enough of everything and everyone and he’d rather not exist. So he drinks, and waits, and drinks some more.

The bartender cuts him off around nine, when the first patrons start trickling in. She pointedly fills a pint glass with water and thunks it down by his elbow, then flicks a jumbo packet of peanuts at him, hitting his chest.

“Sober up. He’s coming in soon.” She glares at him, her eyebrow piercing glimmering. “Why are you masc dudes always so messy.

Laurent walks in at quarter-to-eleven. His eyes widen when he spots Jean, slouched at the bar, and he makes a beeline for him.

“How’ve you been?” he says, pulling out a barstool. He’s in another horrible shirt—magenta polka dots do him no favours.

“Fine,” Jean says, rubbing his left temple. He’s starting to come down and he doesn’t like it. “Work’s been terrible.”

“Busy season in the security sector?”

“It’s always busy season.”

Laurent smiles. Jean has no idea why they’re talking like he didn’t vanish for weeks. He'd expected demands for explanations, or to be given the cold shoulder, or a fight, but not this.

There’s a hand on his arm, caressing the skin above the crook of his elbow. “It’s really good to see you,” Laurent says.

Jean looks into those grey-green eyes. They’re warm and smiling, not bloodshot, and he wants and resents them in equal measure. He leans in, tilting his head, watching how those eyes flick down to his mouth and back up again, and stops right before their lips actually touch.

“Do you want to fuck me or not?” Jean says, breath hot.

Laurent’s throat bobs. He nods and Jean stands, swaying slightly on his feet.

They’re in the flat, naked, and fucking in record time. Jean’s braced against the wall by the front door, three slick fingers in his ass and two in his mouth, and he sucks on them while he’s fucked open. He moans as Laurent rubs his prostate, and in a muffled voice he begs him to use his cock. Laurent pushes him onto the floor. Jean gets on his knees and elbows, and Laurent nudges his legs wider apart, takes his hips and buries himself in him, rocking their bodies forward.

Jean claws the carpet as Laurent fucks him. There’s a hand squeezing his right tit, teeth on his left ear lobe, and he wants more. To feel nothing but this fullness and the power of these thrusts, to be used as a hole and nothing else.

“Fuck me like you hate me,” Jean gasps.

Laurent stops in mid-thrust. “What?”

“Please. Please just do it. Please.”

Laurent snaps his hips forward and Jean yelps.

“Are you s—”

Please.”

Laurent shoves Jean facedown and snaps his hips forward again, and again, and again, and Jean finds his belt and bites it and whimpers, “Yes, yes, yes.”

---

He spends the following day lying on his stomach and arguing with himself about whether or not he should check on Harry. He should, at least to ensure that Harry doesn’t wreck the case and bring the whole wing down with him. But then he remembers Harry’s reeking breath, the spittle frothing at the corners of his mouth, and he resolves that his partner can go fuck himself. Let’s see how he does without Satellite-Officer-and-Emotional-Punching-Bag Vicquemare around. He’ll be crawling back by Monday—

A knock on his door. “Jean!” A woman’s voice shouts through it. “It’s Judit.”

He doesn’t respond. Maybe Jude will think he’s out or asleep and she’ll leave.

Another knock, louder this time. “I was in the neighbourhood. Thought I’d drop by,” she says. “Trant’s here too.”

“Hello!” the unmistakable voice of Special Consultant Heidelstam booms through the door.

Jean buries his head under his pillow. He definitely doesn’t want to open the door now. But he can still hear them talking in the hallway.

“No response, Judit. Should I say something else?”

“Tell him we brought lunch and coffee.”

“But we haven’t.”

“Then tell him we’re going to buy him lunch and coffee.”

“I mean, it’s past four o’clock. It’ll be tea, or maybe a very early dinner—”

“Just tell him something.

“I’ll try.” Two quick raps on his door. “Jean? Would you like to join us for tea and coffee? Tea as in food and coffee as in coffee, though we could also get the beverage tea if you’d like, or just coffee, or neither. Or maybe we could go directly to dinner. There's a little place off Boogie Street that does a fantastic mezze—”

“This is not helping.” The door knob rattles. “Jean, I know you’re in there. Open this door or we’ll kick it down.”

“As a civilian consultant, I’m not authorised to kick down doors.”

“This isn’t work, Trant!”

“I know, I know, but in order not to compromise my role—”

I’ll kick it down, and you can stand there and not help—”

“God-fucking-damn it!” Jean throws his pillow on the floor. “Okay, okay, okay, fuck. I’m alive. Give me two fucking seconds.” He gingerly climbs off his bed and reaches for his clothes. The last thing he needs is his colleagues seeing him naked with an ice pack in his ass.

---

He’s back in the Whirling on Wednesday, in stupid sunglasses and an itchy wig. Harry descends, the 57th’s representative close behind him, and Jean waits for Harry to break into his goofy grin and demand to see his journo’s license.

His partner just stares at him. “Kim...who is this guy?” he says.

---

Harry gets shot and Jean isn’t there.

---

He’s back at the bar when the Martinaise case is wrapped, the week after his world has ended. He doesn’t know where else to go.

Laurent is in attendance as always, leaning against the bar and chatting with three other men. He’s telling a story, gesturing with his hands and grinning, and when he delivers the punchline they erupt into laughter.

His grin falters when he notices Jean watching. But he doesn’t approach.

Jean goes up to him. Ignores how his friends trade glances and raised eyebrows. 

“Can I talk to you? Just for a minute,” he says.

Laurent follows him to a small table at the back of the bar. They sit opposite each other, like an awkward first date.

“I owe you an apology,” Jean says. 

Laurent folds his hands on the table, silent.

“I’m sorry for disappearing last week and over winter,” he says. “It was a bad time.” He falters and looks down at the stained wood. “It still is a bad time.”

Laurent bumps their knees under the table. “You don’t need to explain yourself to me.” His voice is gentle. “It’s okay.”

Jean’s eyes burn. He nods once, still looking at the table.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Laurent says.

Jean nods again, then shakes his head and buries his face in his hands. “I don’t know how.” He bites the inside of his cheek, trying to stop himself but it’s no use. A sob wrenches itself from his throat. Laurent moves his chair around the table and sits next to him.

“Would you like to go somewhere quieter?” Laurent says, stroking his back.

Jean wipes his face on his sleeve, clamping down on his emotions. “Yeah,” he rasps.

Laurent bundles him out of the bar and back to his flat. They settle on the sofa, Jean sipping a glass of water that Laurent’s fetched for him.

“It’ll be easier to talk here,” Laurent says, “away from the noise.”

Jean sets the glass down on the coffee table. How the fuck is he supposed to talk? Where does he even fucking start? He’s slept maybe ten hours in three days, he’s carrying a whole Wing on his back, his partner’s been shot and he wasn’t there.

Laurent touches his knee and Jean chokes up again. He doesn’t deserve this grace. He doesn’t deserve to breathe. Harry doesn’t remember a goddamn thing about the taskforce, their partnership, or him—that’s what he deserves. Because when Harry needed him most, Jean left.

There are arms around him. Laurent is pulling him in, settling his head on his chest.

“It’s okay,” he soothes. “Whatever happened, it’s okay.”

Jean just cries harder. It’s not and will never be. So he lifts his head and grabs Laurent’s face and breaks the ‘no kissing’ rule.

Laurent is surprised at first. But as Jean squeezes his eyes shut and presses his body to his, he starts kissing back.

“You’ve wanted this?” he says, lips moving against Jean's. He cradles his cheek.

In answer, Jean climbs on top of him, straddles his lap, and crushes their mouths together. Laurent makes a noise in his throat and his hands creep over Jean’s ass. He squeezes, hard, and sucks on Jean’s tongue.

They move to the bed, trailing clothes behind them, still kissing. Jean gets on his hands and knees, but Laurent presses his lips between his shoulder blades and asks him to turn over, on his back. As he watches Laurent kneel between his spread thighs and drape a leg over his shoulder, Jean realises that they've not fucked face-to-face since their first time. But before he can process this, Laurent pushes into him and Jean swears.

Laurent bends over him and thrusts once, watching him scrabble against the sheets. He laces their fingers together and pins Jean’s hands to the mattress, above his head, and thrusts again, grey-green eyes raking over his body. Jean can’t move. He feels exposed like this, with Laurent moving above and in him, mouth hovering over his, and it’s too intimate, too close, too much, too much.

Jean closes his eyes. Lets himself be fucked, mattress springs squeaking, and he opens his mouth for the tongue pushing past his lips. It feels good, and he makes all the right noises and movements, but he doesn’t come.

He finally feels the other man shudder in him and fall forward, chest heaving. Jean holds him. He’s warm and solid and alive, and as he noses Jean’s neck, Jean knows that Laurent wants him. But Jean wants someone else, and he hates himself.

Laurent kisses Jean’s forehead and then the corner of his mouth. “You didn’t finish?”

Jean shakes his head. Laurent pulls out gently, leaving him feeling empty.

“Turn over.”

Jean rolls onto his stomach. Laurent bends over him again, kissing a trail down his spine. Then he nips Jean’s ass, grips his cheeks and spreads them open, and Jean’s eyes flutter closed. He imagines that it’s Harry’s hand that’s pumping his cock, Harry’s hot tongue that’s licking down his cleft and flattening against his hole. That Harry’s here, with him, his health and memory intact, and Martinaise didn’t happen because Jean didn’t leave him in a shitty motel room to hang—

A tongue breaches him. He swallows Harry’s name.

“I should go,” he says, as Laurent spoons him after. His brain feels like straw, digging into the backs of his eyeballs. He feels the other man sigh, breath tickling his ear.

“If you want.” A hand trails up Jean’s torso and thumbs a nipple. “But stay.”

Jean’s too tired to refuse.

He wakes up before dawn and stares at the ceiling. He’s a real piece of work—hung on a gallery wall with a big gold frame, ‘MORE ISSUES THAN A FUCKING NEWSPAPER by JEAN VICQUEMARE (’18)’ printed on the label in neat lines. He’s fucked up. That much he knew. But this is a new low.

Laurent snores softly next to him. Jean turns on his side. Watches his pale back rise and fall with each breath. He could pretend. Go through the motions until they’re walking their dogs in some suburb, filling in the crossword every morning and sniping at each other over a homemade dinner every evening. That would be easy. Even though Jean gazes at the mole on Laurent’s shoulder and feels only the sterile quiet of this room, the white sheets blank as new snow, and the space between their bodies a handbreadth and a chasm all at once. 

He doesn’t deserve to be used like this. Jean needs help. Maybe Trant could link him up with one of his lefty psychologist friends—if they’ll let their objection to the modes and relations of capitalist production extend to free shrink sessions.

Jean gets up and quietly gathers his clothes. When he’s dressed, he thinks about slipping out the door and disappearing, but he knows he should wake Laurent. He won’t be able to live with himself otherwise.

He sits on the bed. Places a hand on Laurent’s shoulder and calls his name until he surfaces from sleep.

“I have to go,” Jean says.

Laurent blinks up at him, bleary. “Work?”

“Yeah.” Jean smiles and strokes Laurent’s hair. It’s a kindness, an apology for not loving him. “I don’t think I should come back here.”

Laurent sits up, fully awake and lost. “What? Why?”

“I’m fucked up. You deserve someone that isn’t.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it.”

The dark of the room is lightening. The sun is starting its climb to the horizon.

“It is. I do.” And that, Jean realises, is the truth.

Laurent falls back into bed and rolls over, turning his back to Jean. “Just go.”

“I’m sorry.”

Go.”

Jean does, closing the door softly behind him. He walks into the city. The air is chilly, prickling his nose and lungs. He needs to go home, shower, and change into his work suit. Lieutenant Kitsuragi’s report should be on his desk by the time he arrives at the station, couriered overnight from 57, and he needs to read through it before his meeting with Captain Pryce. He needs to follow up on leads for the SQUARE BULLETHOLE case, sort out whatever the fuck is happening with the giant stick insect, and negotiate the logistics of how to transfer a lieutenant and his Kineema from a station which would prefer to keep them both, fuck you very much. Motor carriages are rumbling out of garages, headlights sweeping over weathered asphalt. Their wheels bite the road. Street lights flicker above him. Revachol is stirring.

Tabernacle isn’t too far. He’ll check in on Harry on the way.