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Hey Little Girl

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"Do you know why I'm doing this?"

Thomas slathers more of the pink sludge over Ethan’s leg, slapping his calf when he shivers. Ethan shakes his head feverishly and looks down, so slavish and doe-eyed even with Thomas crouched at his feet.

"Because you didn't knock, you idiot."

Thomas hadn't told him to do that, but Ethan hangs his head anyway. Thomas always feels a bit guilty about pulling tricks like this, but Ethan has never complained and it's all pretend anyway. His conscience might churn over it later, certain that he's somehow traumatizing Ethan for good, but that's not important right now. He's got a hot guy at his mercy, and everything else can fuck off.

"You couldn't wait for even a second," Thomas scolds. "You barged in like a savage. No manners. No self-control. It's just as well that I'm around to tame you."

He’s got a beautiful view as he flattens the first strip down the side of Ethan’s right thigh. To the left, Ethan’s beastly gnarled hands are cuffed and clenching behind his firm ass. To the right, his thick cock is engorged inside a silver ring and already weeping. It's just as well that Thomas has room for his erection in the baggy track pants he chose.

Thomas pinches the top of the waxing paper, ready to pull it down…but seeing Ethan flinch makes him hold off. He wants to dangle him over the edge for a bit longer.

"How's the gym going, baby doll? Is your muscle mass finally higher than your IQ?"

He stands and skirts his hands over Ethan's chest, smearing remains of the wax around those bulging muscles, too fleeting and unpredictable to be tender. He lingers around Ethan's budding nipples and bends to lick lazy circles around the left one. He rests his head on Ethan's pec, revelling in its softness. An unexpected image springs to mind that makes his heart ache: lying like this in bed with his arms around Ethan as he sleeps, feeling so safe and warm…

A contented sigh from Ethan snaps him out of his submission and he bites down, hard enough to hurt and make him squeal but not to break any skin. He gives the other side the same treatment. The soft teeth marks around the nipples make Thomas smirk, but as he goes back to surveying Ethan's body, he notices something else: a light trail of brown hair snaking down the center of his chest. It looks dark and downy against the mounds of glistening flesh, and Thomas smears his finger on it while tracing Ethan's collarbone with the other hand.

He feels his pocket. Good, he stuffed the strip he was holding in there on instinct. All the better to surprise him.

"Why'd you do it, Torchio?" he grumbles, taking his voice as deep and soft as he can, trying not to be annoyed that it can't compare to Ethan's. "Walk in like you own the place, like you have any rights here? Did you think you'd catch me jerking off without you? What would you do if I had been?"

Ethan puts his trademark blank stare on, the one he wears when he’s burrowing into his head to escape physical pain. Thomas has seen it when they’ve gotten tattoos and vaccinations together, and now he’s trying to pull that shit again. Thomas yanks his head back, extracting a squeaky gasp as he bites his earlobe. He snarls and spits as he whispers in his doll’s ear.

"Because I've done it, you know. A lot. I touch myself when I can't sleep, and most of the time, I don't even think of you. What do you say to that?"

Of course this is bullshit. Of fucking course Thomas always jerks off to him. In any other circumstance Ethan would know it, but now his body is locked and his dick is hard from shame. Now he's so fucking dumb and easy and safe. His distress is beautiful, so rare and honest. Sick as it is, it makes Thomas feel special.

But he can't afford to get all sappy in front of him. So he turns to face the side of Ethan’s head and caresses the air around his dick, barely even touching the skin.

"That's what I thought: jack shit. Look at you: you're such a dumb slut that just thinking about me masturbating gets you hard. You're such a pussy, getting cucked by my right hand, night after night...and loving it."

Thomas finally gives Ethan one slow torturous pump, then pulls away and reaches the same hand down his own pants. The fingers on his free hand clench harder into Ethan’s hair as he strains and whines. Those dark terrified eyes stay on him as Thomas leans in to lick up a tear trickling down Ethan’s cheek. That distracts him enough for Thomas to shove his fingers into his parted lips, drenched in both of their fluids.

"How does it taste, bitch?"

Then he smacks a sticky strip on Ethan's chest and yanks it off. It's a trial that Ethan passes: he bellows but doesn't bite down on Thomas' fingers. He aces every test, and it pisses Thomas off to no end. He's so fucking stoic and attentive. Maybe if he misbehaved even a little bit on occasion, Thomas wouldn’t feel like such an incompetent sick bastard. It's even worse now that Ethan insists on cuddling and talking and all that sappy shit. Thomas gets that aftercare is important but actually doing it always makes him want to hide in a locked closet until Ethan forgets that they ever did anything.

Thomas lets that frustration fuel him as he gets on his knees and starts plastering and stripping the wax away, so fast that Ethan barely has time to breathe between each tear. That's when the trouble starts: it turns out that waxing takes a long fucking time. Thomas has never removed any body hair in his life, whereas Ethan prefers to keep his chest bare. He only shaves and says that anything else is too intense on his skin. He didn't protest as Thomas made him strip and lathered him down, but his wide eyes and rigid humiliation were to die for.

Thomas focuses on that memory as he labors through rip after rip of patch after patch of hair, but it's not enough to keep him focused. Even though Ethan is overwhelmed the whole time, eyes and nostrils flaring like a spooked horse, it feels like everything has flipped and now Thomas is serving Ethan. That's how the spiralling always starts: with the feeling that he's being puppeted by someone else. It's gross and pathetic and so wrong for him. So he runs his mouth.

“I was going to get you to shave yourself, you know. You could have done it in the bath while I watched and wanked all over you, but no. You just had to be an impatient little slut and ruin it for us both. Now I’m doing your fucking dirty work, you lazy bitch. I hope you’re happy. I hope this feels good.”

He finally slaps and gropes Ethan's hips as he moans, getting him to waddle around so that Thomas can start on his other leg. He can feel his dick throbbing as he stares at that thick boner, those full balls and how uncomfortable they're making his toy. Thomas tries to bring his focus back but now the idea of tackling a second forest of hair feels repulsively mind-numbing. Fuck it. He started this whole mess for entertainment. He shouldn't be the one groveling and cleaning his puppet. Ethan could do all the boring shit and the sick puppy would probably enjoy himself anyway.

"Alright, I'm done playing with you. You look like a lobster with alopecia. Finish it all off in the bathroom and come back when you're smooth. And put some makeup on too, just a simple look with some blush. Then maybe at least I'll get off and you won't be totally useless."

Ethan's brow furrows for a moment. Maybe Thomas' tone wasn't sincere enough, or maybe the order itself was too out-of-character. Either way, Thomas sees that the illusion is breaking.

"What, do I need to whip orders into you now? Fuck off!" Thomas yells, hoping he doesn't sound as frantic as he feels.

Ethan flexes his arms behind his back. Thomas blushes red-hot. He'd forgotten he was still cuffed.

"Oh…right." He veers around and undoes the cuffs and Ethan immediately turns on his heel, scurries to the bathroom and shuts the door. Once water starts running, Thomas sighs and flops against the wall. How does Ethan stick around? He's so shit at this on so many levels, can't even keep track of what he's doing, can't even take care of him properly afterwards. Not that he should care - objects don't care if they're treated well or not.

He takes a break from feeling sorry for himself to rummage through the closet and find a pair of pink ballet boots and hide them under the table. Then he shunts the clothes he needs to one side of the hanging rail so he can find them quickly while keeping them hidden.

He relaxes onto the bed, pulls his phone out, messes around on some crappy game, and waits. This time he knows that it will take a while. He wishes he could have done Ethan's makeup himself but he's far too clumsy to put on his own face decently, let alone anybody else's. A part of him wanted to do it anyway, make him look like a clownish whore, but something stronger held him back. Ethan is a gorgeous man, and if there's anything Thomas doesn't want, it's for that beauty to go to waste.

There's a pang in his heart again. He muffles it by getting a triple combo score or some shit like that.

There's a knock on the other side of the bathroom door. Thomas stifles a giggle. Ethan really has learned his lesson, better than he could have imagined.

"Come in."

Yes, leaving the makeup to him was a great choice. Ethan has such a smooth and delicate touch despite his thick fingers. He’s taken Thomas’ note about the blush well – it rounds out his face and turns his curious expression into one of innocent lust.

“My little whore,” Thomas murmurs, hoping it doesn’t sound too much like praise. He snaps his fingers and points in the direction of the desk. “Stand there. Face the wall.” Ethan obeys and Thomas goes back to the closet, throwing a threat behind him.

"If you move, that cockring stays on until your dick falls off."

He throws a mismatched set of lingerie at Ethan. A few strands of hot pink elastic fabric passing for clothing land on his head. A pale pink lacey bra falls at his feet.

"Put them on. Thong first. Then the bra."

It takes Ethan a couple of missteps to figure out where his legs go. Even then, it's near impossible for him to stuff his raging erection inside.

"Didn't think you of all people would have trouble finding the right holes," Thomas sneers. Ethan ignores him, which is the last thing Thomas ever wants. He strides over and shoves his hand into the crotch, adjusting it so that it tents over the tip of Ethan's rigid cock.

"Such a slut, always wanting your dick out." Ethan whines in pain, then reluctant pleasure as he bends over and realizes Thomas won't give him space. He presses his bulge as hard into Ethan's crack as he can, wondering if he can feel his precome seeping through the fabric.

"Stay down," he orders. Ethan wriggles into the bra and Thomas musters every ounce of self-control to not rut into him. He contents himself with adjusting Ethan's pecs until, as he predicted, they almost perfectly fill out the A-cup bra.

"Look at those bitch tits," he growls. "You'd love for someone to milk them, wouldn't you?" Ethan's fingers curl around his ankles and he raises his ass up higher, but stays oddly silent, his moans softening into deep pants. Could he…? Thomas turns his toy around to confirm his thoughts and is rewarded with total vacancy. Not the forced stoicism from earlier, but a dreamy dead-eyed stare. His tunnel vision is entirely fixed on Thomas. He half expects him to start drooling. His heart jumps. Is this…subspace? Oh god, it’s gorgeous.

“You sissy whore,” he whispers. He doesn’t bother to try and hide his desire. Ethan probably can’t process it anyway.

He, along with the rest of the world at this point, knows that Ethan loves his pecs. It’s obvious with how many harnesses he wears at gigs and how much he focuses on his upper body at the gym. That’s what gave Thomas the idea to do this forced feminization thing, but he never expected to be able to push him this deep with barely any pain inflicted. He wants to see how far this rabbit hole goes, and from the flush creeping up Ethan’s face, it seems like he does too.

He bunches Ethan’s hair into a fist and starts yanking it back, increasing the strength until Ethan starts whining again. A warning before he lets go, retreats back to the closet and pulls out a puffy pink dress. It has enough frills and big bows to take up a quarter of the railing and its skirt flairs out and up at the perfect point: just above the ass cheeks. Thomas guides Ethan into it, firm but gentle, and prays that it fits…it does. A little tight around the chest, but of course that only makes Ethan arch back further, show himself off better. Thomas massages his tits as Ethan stares up to the heavens. He keeps whispering, keeping him in this hypnotic state as best as he can as he ties his hair in a braided ponytail, finishing it off with a dainty pink ribbon.

"Look at you, all dressed up like the brainless doll you are. You’re so fucked out and I haven’t even stuck my dick in you. I could just shove you in my closet right now and only drag you out when I want to use you. You're such a prissy fag that you're probably all annoyed that the clothes don't match. But all a tranny like you deserves is-"

"Thomas?"

“Wh-!” Quiet as it is, his name rams into him like an insult. But Ethan sounds too plaintive to ignore or punish and some light is returning to his eyes. Thomas tries to shake his shock off. “Sorry, yeah?”

"Could you...not say those things to me, please? Y’know, words like fag and tranny? It...feels bad."

Of course it does. Why did he think it was ever a good idea to go that far? He’d finally gotten Ethan into that magical subspace state he read so much about, then went and ruined it. What’s wrong with him?

"Oh god, of course. I'm sorry."

"It's fine."

"Should we stop?"

"No, please, as long as you want it, I'm very happy to keep going...master."

Oh, that sounds good. Very good. Ethan clearly thinks so too: he's beaming from ear to ear.

"Well, in that case…"

Thomas slaps him across the face and pins Ethan's wrists in front of him when he goes to cup his jaw.

"Don't you dare spoil that makeup, you brat."

Ethan looks delightfully trapped, panting and restrained under Thomas' grasp, those wild eyes brimming with aroused terror.

"The fuck were you smiling at? You've learned nothing, you stupid cunt! You don't know shit about respect, so you don't get any from me."

Thomas wishes he could bend Ethan over the table and whale on his ass until it's red as rare meat, but he doesn't know how to safely spank someone repeatedly and Ethan is too hefty to manoeuvre easily. This only irritates him more, reminds him that he's being given permission rather than taking it. He's never fully in control.

But then he remembers the ballet boots and giggles like an evil clown. He drags them out from under the desk and wedges Ethan’s feet into them. The stiletto heel is paper thin and the base tight and firm around the toes. Even an actual ballet dancer would probably have trouble with these – the leather is heavy and they’re weighed down even more by thick silver chains dangling around the ankles. Ethan’s lucky that Thomas let him stay near the table; he almost keels over as soon as the first boot is in place but Thomas shunts him into position whenever he falters.

When the last lace is tied off, he steps back to admire his handiwork. Ethan braced over the desk, every muscle in his calves, thighs and ass straining to keep himself up, butt fully exposed under the frilly skirt, the thong cutting into his ass flesh and crack. He almost groans, but channels it into a laugh.

"Walk to me."

Ethan freezes, then clacks back around, face blanched. His pants become more determined and focused as he fixes his eyes on Thomas’ crotch like it’s the finishing line in a race. He takes a step…and crumples to the floor like a piece of pink tissue paper.

Thomas finally starts stroking his cock under his pants. He can’t help himself anymore: the sight of Ethan immobilized on the floor is too delicious. His feet can’t flex so he can’t use the balls of his feet to push up. His ass looms up as his back curves into the floor. Even on the rare moments he gets purchase, the heels of the boots might as well be toothpicks with all the support they give. The most he can manage is kneeling on his haunches, and even then, he has to spread his legs to make room for his throbbing dick. It’s still straining against the thong and utterly drenching it.

Thomas could come just from watching this, but he reminds himself of what he’d miss out on by staring at those massive hands (which look even bigger compared to the dainty dress) and lascivious lips, engorged with arousal and parted as he gasps with the effort of controlling his own bulk.

"Fine," Thomas harrumphs. "You can crawl. Just get over here, you lazy bitch."

Ethan quickly shuts off a grateful smile and clambers to the foot of the bed, kneeling up and hopping onto it with surprising agility. Despite being top-heavy, he clearly doesn’t skip leg day. Thomas shimmies his waistband down, then gestures at his erection.

"Suck it."

Ethan gobbles it down. They’re both so hungry and desperate and his tongue is so thick. Thomas only breaks concentration to push the hair out of his sweaty face to drink all of him in. He rolls his hips as Ethan’s mouth retreats and slams back and forth, both of them heaving and grunting, both of them close but only one allowed to orgasm.

What ruins it is ridiculously banal: Ethan pushing Thomas' hips and thighs into the bed to get a better grip. It feels so good. It gets him so close that he groans and swears, unable to hide his pleasure. Now Ethan has power over him. Now he's almost there, and then he'll have to make Ethan come, and then Ethan will be able to speak and maybe he'll want to talk and Thomas will have to hold him like they're lovers and he can't. He just fucking can't.

“Wait! Dumbbell! Stop! Stop! No! Fuck! Stop! Please! No!”

Ethan pulls away completely by the first ‘stop’ but it's still too late. Thomas comes, gasping and shuddering like a beached whale. Seeing that pathetic line of jizz snaking down his stomach makes him feel so utterly wasted and broken that he sits up and curls his knees into himself to hide it. Ethan is still kneeling in front of him, unable to stop himself from speaking.

“Thomas, wha-”

“Get out!” He tries to sound commanding but it bursts out as a shriek.

“But-”

“Just get out! Leave me alone!”

“I can’t! You’re-”

“You can’t help me! You can’t help me! You need to go! You can’t help me!” On and on he yells, accuses, realizes and mourns.

The other side of the bed lightens. Thomas glances up between cries and sees Ethan shedding the clothes and dislodging the cock ring, taking deep breaths and trying not to come on the spot. Once his body calms down, he climbs back onto the bed and holds Thomas close.

"Get off! Get the fuck off me!" Thomas smacks and punches that gorilla chest until the arms unfurl and he has space to breathe. He can still feel Ethan's breath and hair dangling too close to his face. He dares not open his eyes. A primal part of him is certain that Ethan would use it as an excuse to attack.

“Thomas, I can’t leave you like this. I’m sorry, I know that you want to be alone, but I can’t go away until I’m sure you’re safe.”

Staying here to keep him safe. Of course. Sure. That would work. He has no fucking clue. Thomas' howls morph into strangled laughter.

"You fucking dumbass! You don't know shit about what's 'safe' for me," he sneers. "What, you think you can protect me? You're gonna be all big and strong and fight off all the monsters for me? How stupid do you think I am?"

"I...Thomas, I don't underst-"

"Maybe you're the one that makes me feel 'unsafe', huh? Did you ever think of that? Why else do you think I shut you up and boss you around and tie you down?"

"I don't believe that for one fucking second."

Oh god. There it is. The anger, brimming in that tense low voice. He knew it, he's done it now, he's finally pissed him off for good.

"Wait, no, nonono, fuck! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean it!"

"Thom-"

"It's my fault! It's all my fault! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"

Over and over, until the words become as meaningless as they are sincere, until he collapses into a puddle of shame and terror.

At any moment, Thomas expects to hear the door slam. He doesn’t. He expects Ethan to try and put his arms around him again. He doesn't. He wishes he would.

***

Thomas doesn't know how long it takes him to settle, curled into the fetal position, face plastered with tears but breaths finally even. It's long enough for Ethan to fidget in the nearby chair, but he still waits before breaking the silence.

"I'm gonna ask Vic and Dami if they can leave us for today. They can go shopping or see a movie or something. I'll be back soon."

He leaves the door ajar. Once he's gone, Thomas lets out a breath his body was forcing back. He drags his shaking limbs half under the covers and half sitting upright against the headboard, like a dying old man in a movie. When Ethan comes back, his eyes widen in sorrow and Thomas can see in them how wretched he must look.

"I'm so sorry, Thomas."

"I don't need your pity." The words snap out like machine gun bullets, faster than Thomas can release the trigger.

"No, I mean it. I'm sorry for hugging you after you told me not to earlier. I didn't know what else to do but I shouldn't have invaded your space like that. I won't do it again."

As Ethan pulls his chair closer to the bed and sits, Thomas stares at him like he's grown a second head. He's apologizing? No excuses, no sarcasm, no hedging, just...that? Thomas' first instinct is to deny that he'd done anything wrong and fully blame himself but...he does have a point. It was a mistake, he's said sorry and now, it's all fine. Christ, if only it could be that simple all the time.

"Also I'm sorry for speaking before you said I could. Like I said, I was worried-"

"It's fine. I get it. I...it was an emergency."

"Right."

Just say thank you, you fucking idiot, Thomas orders himself. It shouldn't be this hard to show some basic niceness, to not be such a massive twat to him all the time, but it is. He spends forever trying to push the words past his throat but every time he tries they get swallowed by a pulse of dread, so he gives up eventually. But the fear doesn't go away, because now he's bracing himself for the moment when Ethan breaks the silence, or even worse, when he does. God knows what that will lead to, what he'll end up agreeing to-

"What are you thinking about?" Ethan asks softly, like he's reassuring a wounded animal. A spurt of anger nearly erupts from Thomas and he digs his fingers into the sheets to keep the swelling temper inside him. It takes a few seconds of deep breathing to remember that Ethan isn't trying to patronize or manipulate him. He wouldn't know how to convince a child that Santa is real. He's too awkward, innocent and kind for mind games.

Thomas sighs. If he's going to keep blowing up and losing control like this, Ethan at least deserves to know why. Then he can leave knowing that it wasn't his fault that everything went wrong.

"Do you remember Amelia?"

Ethan nods.

"She was pretty cool, wasn't she?"

Ethan bites his lips, tasting the bitter note in Thomas' voice and selecting his words carefully.

"I think you two complemented each other well."

"Yeah, that's what everyone said. 'Aww, but you were so good together! She brought out the best in you! She was so much fun! Such a shame that lockdown messed it all up!' I mean, I never disagreed with them. I wasn't even sure why I broke it off so I lied and said it was her choice."

"Yeah. She needed to focus on her studies or something."

"It was easier to pretend that was it. Because she was cool and fun and smart and I really did love her and I wanted it to work."

He can feel Ethan's gaze on him as he waits for the magic word. Trouble is, Thomas doesn't know what to say afterwards.

"But...shit got weird. I don't know how or when but...let's just say that the girl I moved in with for lockdown wasn't the same person I'd met a year before."

He doesn't know where to start. The beginning is miles away from the end and the middle is a minefield of tiny moments and incidents that messed him up in ways he still doesn't understand.

"This probably won't make any sense and maybe I just wasn't ready for serious shit, but the way she treated sex...it didn't seem right. She was really into...I guess you'd call it 'hate sex'? Like we'd fight and then we'd fuck and then we'd talk shit out. Eventually the only time we'd have sex was after a fight, and we fought a lot. Maybe...it's possible that she'd start shit specifically because she knew that would persuade me to have sex to her. Like, she'd get angry over something dumb, I'd get angry, we'd yell at each other for ages and either she'd give me the silent treatment until I apologized and then fuck me, or she'd apologize and...touch me to convince me to take her back."

As he feared, it sounds so stupid saying it out loud. It's not like she'd ever hit him. It's not like he'd ever said no, and if he had then he'd never really meant it. That's probably why she did it: he was such a useless boyfriend that the only way to his heart was through his dick. Even if she was wrong, he could have just left even earlier than he did. But he stayed because he just couldn't keep it in his pants. Still, if he's going to be honest, he might as well keep digging.

"Then we'd resolve everything afterwards while cuddling but...I realized after a while that things always seemed to go her way. They weren't even proper apologies. It was all 'I'm sorry if you felt that way' and these grand promises she never kept. And she wasn't fair. Like, she'd call me useless and emotionally stunted and dumb but I'd never dream of saying that to her. The few times I did, she'd leave and come back drunk and apologize and we'd go round and round again. But I got sick of it one time - I can't even remember what the fight was about - and I wouldn't let her near me. I slept on the couch, fucked off the next morning to yours and you know the rest."

Thomas just wants to gloss over the mundane chores of breaking up. Ethan was there for almost all of them: the Big Final Talk happened at his place since it was neutral ground, he drove Thomas back to his flat after Amelia left, and he helped Thomas disassemble the extra IKEA furniture he'd bought for her. But now Ethan's nodding with a faraway gaze, like he's remembering a difficult time that never happened. It scares Thomas sometimes, when people can see things in shared memories that he can't. Amelia always saw things differently, remember and forget everything until the world and fate always seemed to bend to her wishes. He never questioned why things always went her way - the sun rose in the east, fish swam in the sea, and Amelia was always right.

Once again, Ethan chews on his words before letting them flow, slow and so pragmatic.

"That explains a lot, actually."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, for starters, it's pretty obvious why you don't let me talk: if I can't talk then I can't insult you or persuade you into doing things you don't want to do."

Thomas shrugs. He was at least conscious of that when he was doing it.

"You did seem to move on from the break-up rather quickly, like you were stuffing all your feelings down, but I figured you were just coping differently and needed space. And there's other stuff too, but...we can get into that another time. I just want...I had no idea, Thomas. I'm so-"

"I made sure nobody did. Like I said, I lied about what happened because I didn't know how to explain shit or what I should have been feeling. You probably still don't get it and that's fine, it's stupid-"

"Not at all." Ethan smolders with anger, but for once Thomas can feel that it's not because of him. "Not even a little bit. It's not stupid. You're not stupid. She abused you, Thomas, and I'm so sorry that I didn't realize what was happening sooner."

She abused you. Fuck...

"Do you really think so?"

"From what you've said, I know so."

"N- no, I don't think that's it. I probably gave the wrong impression and you've got to remember I only have one side of the story so-"

"Thomas-"

"Also if how I've treated you is anything to go by, all the horrible things I said and all the mistakes I made, well...maybe I'm no better than her. If she's an abuser then so am I."

Ethan falls into the same face he had when Thomas called him those slurs. Thomas shrinks away but Ethan only leans in closer. Thomas expects to be afraid as always, but this time he knows it's not a predatory gesture. Ethan's just determined to help, as always. Thomas has no hope of stopping him, no matter how much of a waste of time it is.

"Thomas, she was your first serious partner. Of course you thought it was all normal and took some bad habits with you. That's perfectly understandable. Do you honestly think that Amelia ever stopped to wonder if she was hurting you?"

Thomas has to think for a while. "I don't know. It feels wrong to say 'no' and sometimes she'd be nice to me after fights but…"

"Okay, let's put it this way. That time you interrupted me in the gym, it took you a while to realize I was annoyed, but you backed off as soon as you did. Would she have done the same for you?"

Thomas shakes his head.

"Right. And when I asked you to stop calling me slurs today, you did. Straight away. No questions asked. The fact that you even told me about Amelia is proof that-"

"It took me fucking long enough to-"

"Doesn't matter. Point is: you're learning and trying and growing. That alone makes you a much better person than her. In fact, it really just shows me what I've been saying all along: you'll always be much stronger than me."

Ethan gingerly holds a hand out and Thomas takes it. They look into each other's eyes and Ethan must see something that Thomas doesn't. He's not quite finished.

"She's gone now. You left her. And I'm so proud of you and so happy you got out. I know it's not easy to move on from these things, but I know you can, and if you let me, I want to help you."

"You already have."

Ethan glows gratefully and leans in. For the first time, Thomas doesn't think twice about letting him start the kiss.