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Chapter One

In the month that Richard and Jared had “officially” been together, Richard noticed a few things:

1. He was happier than he had ever been, no matter how much Prozac he had taken over the years, and

2. Though Richard had received a good number of orgasms from Jared, he had never been able to return the favor.

It wasn’t due to lack of trying – he really had. Even in his admittedly scant experience, Richard came to think of himself as a pretty considerate and generous lover. The two girls and one guy he had slept with before had always seemed very satisfied (and he had asked about it a lot, so he felt pretty confident that they usually weren’t lying). Every time he had recovered from a mind-blowing orgasm via a blowjob from Jared’s surprisingly talented mouth long enough to offer the same in return, Jared went still and gave him a forced smile. “No, no, that’s okay,” he’d say hurriedly. When Richard would ask why, he’d shrug it off and say that he was just happy to make Richard happy.

On one hand, it was sweet and even a little touching.

On the other, it was incredibly frustrating and, increasingly, kind of insulting.

“I mean, does he think I’d be bad at it?” Richard wondered one day.

“Probably,” Gilfoyle said, his eyes never moving away from his computer screen.

“But why? I’m not bad. I mean, I’m pretty sure I’m not.”

“I’m pretty sure you are,” Dinesh replied.

“But why would he be dating me if he thinks I’m bad at, you know, that kind of stuff?” Richard asked weakly.

“Who knows? Maybe it’s a fetish,” Erlich said. “He seems like he’d be into something weird.”

“It’s not a fetish,” Richard grumbled, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. “Well, I don’t think it is. Is that a fetish someone can have?”

“Richard, anything is a fetish someone can have.” Erlich continued talking, his mouth full of yogurt. “I once slept with a woman who could only orgasm if I threw glitter across her stomach and pretended I came rainbows.”

Richard buried his head in his hands. “I don’t know why I ask you guys anything.”

“Neither do I,” Gilfoyle said. “Now, if you’re done complaining about getting no-strings-attached blowjobs every night, maybe we can get some work done.”

Richard sighed. It looked like this was something he’d have to deal with himself.

Richard slumped back against his pillows, gulping in several deep breaths. “Holy fuck.”

Jared laid down beside him, looking shyly pleased with himself. “So it was good?”

Richard just nodded and flung an arm across Jared’s stomach, his hand snaking it way up beneath his lover’s shirt. When his breathing evened out, he laid a few gentle kisses along Jared’s neck. “Want me to… you know… do you?”

Jared’s body went rigid in Richard’s arms. “Oh, no. That’s alright. You don’t have to.”

“It’s not that I have to. I just want to.” Richard frowned. “Is that not okay?”

“Well, no. I mean, yes, it’s okay, but…” Jared couldn’t seem to come up with a way to say no without making it sound like an offensive rejection.

Richard propped himself up on one of his elbows. “Jared, it’s okay. Just… listen, please?”

Jared’s blue eyes were wide with a puppyish fear and guilt, but he immediately fell silent.

“I just… I’m starting to get a little worried, you know? Like, maybe you’re not attracted? I don’t know, maybe that doesn’t make sense, but I’m starting to think that you don’t trust me or something.”

Jared sat up, looking panicked. “No! It’s not like that at all, I promise! I do trust you, and I love you so much, and I find you very, very attractive. I swear, it’s not about you.”

“So… what is it about?” Richard asked. He did his best not to sound too hurt, but he didn’t think it worked very well. “I just feel like there are a lot of things you’re not telling me.”

Richard could tell by the darting of Jared’s eyes that he knew exactly what Richard meant. No matter what they were doing or how close they got, Jared still tried to hide as much of his skin as possible, whether it was beneath blankets or the long sleeves he wore every day. He would shift away from Richard whenever he tried to initiate any affection. And any time Richard questioned him, he would look just to the left of Richard’s gaze.

“It’s nothing important.” Jared swallowed thickly, his eyes glued to his folded hands.

“Pretty sure it is. If it wasn’t, why wouldn’t you tell me?”

“It really doesn’t matter. Really. It’s nothing I want to bother you with.”

Richard rubbed his eyes, trying to swallow any exasperation that may be rising to the surface. “It can’t bother me. Nothing you can tell me would bother me, okay? I’m actually way more bothered about the fact that I might be doing something wrong and I don’t know what it is.”

Jared fidgeted. “It’s not something you’re doing.”

“Prove it.”


“Tell me what’s wrong.”

Jared’s bright blue eyes practically glowed in the soft moonlight coming in through the window when he finally met Richard’s gaze. “Alright,” he said slowly, using the same tone he did when he was about to deliver bad news. “This isn’t something I’ve ever told anyone before.”

“Okay.” Richard tried hard to ignore the way his stomach dropped.

Jared sat up against the wall, wrapping his arms around his knees. For such a tall guy, he looked so painfully small with his shoulders hunched and the nervous shifting of his eyes. “I know I haven’t really mentioned it, but my childhood was sort of… unusual. My mother passed away when I was four, and my father decided he didn’t – I mean, he couldn’t take care of me.”

A pang shot through Richard’s heart.

“So I went to live with my aunt and uncle, at first. But my uncle had, um, a bit of a temper, and the state decided I should be put in foster care.”

“A temper like how?” Richard’s voice came out as a hoarse whisper.

Jared shifted, sinking slightly lower down the wall. “Children can be frustrating at times,” he began apologetically. “He didn’t have any of his own, and all of a sudden he had a five-year-old in his home. And he worked two jobs and was usually stressed…”

“Did he hurt you?”

Jared bit his lip and thought for a moment. “Sometimes,” he said finally. “When he was having a really difficult time. I went to the hospital a few times with broken bones. Other times he would just lock me in the shed in the backyard. To keep me out of his hair.”

Richard thought of the small guest in Noah’s backyard that Jared had been sleeping in and found himself nearly choking on a lump in his throat.

“Anyway, a year later I went into the system, and from there I cycled through quite a few homes. A lot of them were very nice people, but others… weren’t.”

Silence fell. Jared ran a hand through his hair. Even at his most stressed and sleep-deprived, Richard had never seen him look so exhausted. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall as if willing Richard away as he continued.

“There were a few places that were difficult. Some places I didn’t get enough to eat. Others came with more hospital visits. But there was one place that was a lot worse than the others.

“I stayed there for three years, which was a long time for me. I moved in when I was fourteen. The woman there was usually drunk or at work, but her husband was always there. Things usually weren’t bad during the day, but at night…” Jared cleared his throat. His closed eyes tightened. “At night he would come into my room. He would have me… do things to him. Service him. It was bad, but manageable at first. But then he started bringing his friends around and letting them do whatever they wanted, and it just… it got to be too much.

“I couldn’t tell anyone. I knew better than that by then, and the social worker who handled my case never seemed too concerned about me. So it just kept happening. Eventually every night he was having me sleep with at least one of his friends. They started paying him. He told me it was the thing I was good at. The only thing I was good for. And after a while, I couldn’t help but believe him.”

Jared held out one thin arm, and Richard saw, in the moonlight, a pale scar running up his forearm. “I did this when I was seventeen,” Jared said quietly. Richard glanced at Jared’s eyes and saw they were glazed over and lost. “When I was discharged from the hospital, I ran. I lived in homeless shelters until I went to college. No one seemed to notice I was gone.

“But since then I’ve always felt… strange about people touching me that way. No one ever really cared about how it felt for me. It was always about them being satisfied. So that’s what I’m used to, and that’s what I’m good at. And when I was with them, when I did – “ here Jared winced – “finish, it was humiliating. They would laugh at me and say they didn’t even have to try, that I just enjoyed it. So I don’t let anyone do that sort of thing to me.”

Richard couldn’t believe that Jared’s voice had stayed so free of bitterness and anger. He sounded sad and humiliated and confused. It was like he thought he had deserved it all, but didn’t know why. Maybe that was what he thought.

Jared glanced up at Richard and went pale. “Richard? I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t meant to upset you, I just…”

Richard shook his head. “I’m not mad at you. I’m just…” He swiped at his wet eyes. “I just don’t understand how someone could do that. I want to, to…” With a mild sense of shock, he realized he wanted to kill these men. He had never been a violent person – he apologized to spiders when he killed them – but he would have been perfectly satisfied with ripping apart every single person that had hurt his precious Jared.

He felt a hand on his shoulder. He felt an ache deep in his stomach when he saw Jared looking worried. “Richard, it’s okay. I’m okay. Please don’t worry about this. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“Stop.” Richard’s voice was shaking and he was crying and fuck this was so embarrassing to be acting like this when it was Jared who needed the comforting. “Stop apologizing. I can’t take that right now.”

They stayed silent for a long time, listening to the creaks of the old house and its inhabitants around them. Jared watched with quiet concern while Richard desperately tried to slow his breathing to a manageable pace. Every time he thought he had gotten a hold on himself, he would break apart all over again.

Jared doesn’t want me to touch him.

Jared is afraid of me touching him.

And I’m just using him like everyone else did.

Chapter Text

Jared was avoiding him.

For the first couple of days, Richard tried to ignore it. He had woken up alone the night after Jared had told him his secret with the gut-wrenching realization that he had cried himself to sleep without ever getting to help Jared. Half-scrambling, half-falling out of bed like a squirrel with an inner ear problem, he bolted out of his room only to find that Jared had apparently packed his schedule full of meetings that didn’t require Richard. That night, Richard waited for Jared in bed and woke up cold and lonely yet again only to realize that Jared had started sleeping in Noah’s guest house again. Jared didn’t say anything, so neither did Richard. The few times they ended up seeing each other they spoke strictly about business and Jared kept his eyes glued firmly to his laptop screen.

After nearly a week, Richard was a mess – well, a bigger mess than usual. Not only was he throwing up nearly on the hour (he had even caught Dinesh and Gilfoyle essentially using him as a vomiting cuckoo clock), but his night sweats had come back in full force, and he couldn’t sleep without thinking, “Any more stress… bed-wetting.”

Finally, it seemed that the stars had aligned. Everyone was out of the house other than Richard and Jared, and Richard knew perfectly well that between Gilfoyle’s misanthropy, Dinesh’s lack of a social life, and Erlich’s hatred for putting on pants, having an empty house was the kind of opportunity that may not present itself again until roughly the next century.

And without other people in the house to turn to, Jared wouldn’t have an excuse to run from him.

“Hey, uh, Jared?”

Jared looked up, but his eyes never quite met Richard’s. “Hello, Richard. Do you need something?”

“Not really. Well, I guess sorta. Can we talk for a second?”

Jared let out a soft sigh and looked up at Richard, eyes disconcertingly shiny. The dark circles beneath them were more prominent than ever, and his hair was mussed. “Of course. I knew we would have to talk about it eventually.”

Richard gave a noncommittal shrug and sat at the table. He considered saying, “Talk about what?” but thought better of it.

Jared inhaled slowly, still carefully staring straight ahead at his computer. “I know that night was probably extremely uncomfortable for you, and I’m very sorry about that. I didn’t intend to upset you. I know I probably shouldn’t have said anything at all, but I wanted to be honest with you.” He took another deep breath. When he began speaking again, his voice was shaking almost imperceptibly. “I just want you to know that I don’t hold it against you for being uncomfortable about it or about me. And I understand that you probably want to be with someone who can have a more normal relationship, who can return your affection more easily…”


“… and I hope that this doesn’t affect our working relationship negatively. I promise that I can be completely professional about working together in spite of our, um, dalliance…”


“… Also, I would really appreciate it if you didn’t mention any of this to the other guys. I actually prefer that you try to forget about it as well. It really wasn’t important, and considering we won’t be sleeping together anymore, there isn’t any reason for you to worry about it. I just hope you see that I’m still the same employee I’ve always been and none of this in any way changes how I feel about the success of Pied Piper, and…” Jared trailed off when Richard snapped his laptop closed. “Richard?”

“Why do you think I don’t want to be with you anymore?”

Jared’s cheeks went slightly pink and he shrugged. “I know that you want someone who can be more open with you, and I don’t want you to feel that you’re wasting all of your time and energy on me. I want you to find someone who can give you a fulfilling relationship.”

“I mean… do you want to break up with me?” Richard winced when he heard his voice crack. This whole situation was shitty enough without him having to relive puberty in the middle of it.

Jared blinked rapidly. He bit his lip to keep it from quivering and shook his head.

Richard gave a wheezing laugh. “Well, good. Because I don’t want to break up with you.” He kicked idly at the ground. “I really care about you, and I’m such a disaster without you around. We don’t have to… you know… fuck for me to feel fulfilled.”

Jared nodded along, though he didn’t seem to believe him.

“And besides, all that stuff that happened to you… it wasn’t your fault.” Richard took advantage of a moment of bravery and met Jared’s eyes. “I really hope you know that. It wasn’t your fault, and there’s nothing wrong with you. You – You’re not broken, Jared. You’re just fucking not.” Feeling bold, he took Jared’s hand, watching their intertwined fingers. “I’m not gonna throw you away because someone hurt you.”

Jared was nodding vaguely, his eyes closed. He seemed to be holding his breath. “Okay,” he whispered finally. “Thank you, Richard.”


That night, Jared was back in Richard’s bed. They laid together in awkward silence, both acknowledging the unspoken truth: this was the first time they were going to be sleeping together without Jared making Richard come first.

For quite a while, Richard could feel Jared’s eyes burning a hole in the side of his head while he tried desperately to fall asleep. He knew that Jared was watching for any small sign, any hint of disappointment or frustration from Richard so that he could correct it.

Richard had no clue what he could do. Should he just pretend to be asleep? It certainly seemed like the easiest option, but then, he wasn’t sure how Jared might take that. The last thing he wanted to do was treat him like some sort of untouchable, but asking for sex after the night before just felt callous and wrong and gross.

An idea occurred to him just as Jared rolled away from Richard, turning to face the wall. “Hey, Jared. Are you awake?”

“Yes,” came the quiet reply.

“I think I might have an idea. Of how we can maybe make this a little less weird.”

Jared rolled back. A faint trace of hopeful excitement flitted across his face. “What is it?”

“I was hoping that maybe I could try, um, touching you? Not like that,” he added when he saw the panicked look on Jared’s face. “Nothing that you’d be uncomfortable with or anything. Just maybe little stuff? And you could tell me when you wanted me to stop?”

“Maybe,” Jared said, but his voice was so placating that Richard knew he didn’t mean it.

“I know it’s a lot to ask,” Richard began, and the words that he thought sounded so eloquent and well-phrased in his head turn into mush by the time they reached his lips. “I know it makes you nervous and I don’t ever want to make you feel that way or make you feel like you can’t tell me know, because you can always say no to anything, I would never be mad at you for it or anything. I just really want you to feel like you can trust me and I want you to know that I would never ever hurt you because I love you, I just really fucking love you, and it would make me really happy if I could ever make you feel even a fraction as good as you’ve made me feel. I just want… I just want to make you happy so bad, and I want you to feel safe and feel like you can let me do that for you.”

“Would that make you happy?”

Richard huffed out an exasperated laugh. “It’s not about me, Jared. That’s kinda the whole point.”

“But would it?” Jared frowned and those Goddamn gorgeous eyes were just begging Richard to say something, anything.

“Yeah,” Richard whispered. “Yeah, it would.”

“Okay.” Jared smiled. It was a bit uneasy and forced, but determined. “Then we’ll try it.”

Chapter Text

It was late-night movie night in the hostel and, for once, Richard was actually allowed to pick the movie (in spite of Gilfoyle and Erlich’s arguments). While digging through their piles of DVDs, he found an old and clearly well-loved copy of Pretty Woman pushed off to the side. By the end, even Dinesh had left and gone to bed, and it was just Richard and Jared, who was wiping his eyes and sniffling lightly.

“Are you okay?” Richard asked.

“Oh, yes, thank you.” Jared grinned. “That final scene just always gets to me.”

The two of them were snuggled close under an old blanket, Richard wrapped in Jared’s arms. The silence of the house cradled them gently. Richard wanted so badly to feel content where they were, but he couldn’t. It had been over a week since he’d had any kind of sexual contact, and after a month of daily orgasms, he was starting to develop the kind of constant horniness he hadn’t experienced since he was a teenager.

“Hey, Jared. Do you think… maybe…” Richard fiddled with the edge of the blanket. “Could we maybe… fool around a little?”

Jared’s eyes widened slightly, but he smiled. “What were you thinking?”

“I don’t know.” Richard bit his lip. “Could I just start by kissing you?”

Jared nodded, and their lips met. That was enough to make Richard groan in need, feeling Jared’s tongue swipe across his lower lip. He curled up, allowing Jared’s arms to encircle him completely. It wasn’t often that Richard got to feel tiny and delicate, and he liked it.

He wanted more.

Slowly and carefully, Richard shuffled to his knees. “Hold on,” he breathed, and he threw his leg over Jared, straddling his lap. A small electric surge seemed to flow through him. He felt open and vulnerable and surprisingly comfortable.

“Is this okay?” he asked, his voice shaking. He noticed that Jared’s hands were at his sides.

Jared took a deep breath. “I think so. I’m just not used to, um, being in this position.”

“Do you not like it?”

“No. I mean, I do like it.” His hands brushed over Richard’s thighs. “Would you like me to touch you?”

“Please?” Richard whispered. Jared’s fingertips set off sparks running over Richard’s skin. He shivered. He was embarrassed by how easily he had gotten hard, and while part of him hoped that Jared wouldn’t notice, he couldn’t stop himself from grinding against Jared. He felt Jared’s hard cock grind against his and whimpered.
Jared’s hands moved further up and up until his hands had slipped into Richard’s back pockets, groping his ass. His hot breath ghosted over Richard’s neck as he started to lick and kiss his collarbone. Richard continued thrusting his hips against Jared’s. Jesus, Richard, you’re getting hard over dry-humping, a small voice jeered in the back of his head. How fucking old are you?

Richard ignored it. It felt too good, and the way Jared was pulling him forward, pressing against him harder and harder, made up for any of the stupid insecurities in his head.

Jared started sucking gently on Richard’s throat and, keeping one arm wrapped around Richard’s hips, unzipped Richard’s fly, reaching in a grabbing Richard’s hard cock. “Oh fuck yes Jared!” he moaned. He didn’t know whether he was worried about the possibility of one of the other guys catching them or turned on by the thought. He was too far gone to stop.

Jared stroked him roughly, harder and firmer than he ever had before, and Richard’s knees went weak. His body was only moving because Jared directed it – Richard’s muscles had turned to jelly. He wrapped his arms around Jared’s neck. The thought of riding Jared’s cock like this, really doing it, pushed him over the edge with a strangled cry.

Jared’s movements slowed, gently milking Richard’s dick. Richard’s eyes fluttered open, panting, and looked down. Something about the sight of Jared’s hand covered in Richard’s cum was surprisingly appealing. Without thinking about it, Richard grabbed Jared’s wrist, bringing it to his lips and slowly and licked a stream of cum off of Jared’s finger, savoring the taste and the pang of hot humiliation that shot through him.

Jared jerked his hand back. Richard was surprised to see him looking suddenly terrified. “Jared?” He slid off of his lap. “I’m sorry, did I…?”

Before he could finish, Jared had leapt up, rushing out of the room. From down the hall, Richard heard the shower turn on.


Richard was waiting when Jared came to bed. “I’m so sorry,” Richard started. “I’m sorry if that, like, grossed you out or whatever. I didn’t mean to freak you out. Maybe this whole thing was a dumb idea. I’m sorry.”

“Richard.” Jared settled in beside him. “Please don’t apologize. I’m not angry with you.”


“Yes. I’m just…” He sighed. “I’m angry at myself.”

Richard frowned, shaking his head slightly. “Um, for-for what?”

“For getting carried away.” Jared’s cheeks were bright pink. He looked ashamed and beaten down, like a puppy that had torn apart the house when left alone. “I didn’t mean to be so… rough with you. I don’t know what came over me.”

“I didn’t think you were too rough. I mean, I, uh, I really liked it.” Richard wanted to slam his head against the wall. Jared probably thought he was some kind of pervert. “Plus it seemed like you were actually enjoying it.”

Jared shut his eyes tightly. “I don’t want to like being rough, Richard. And I don’t…” He shook his head. “I don’t like seeing you do something so… degrading. I don’t want to hurt you or humiliate you.”

“You didn’t. Like, not at all.” Richard took Jared’s hand. “I want you to do what makes you feel good. I want you to enjoy yourself.”

“I know.” Jared laid down, digging himself into the covers and turning his back to Richard. The words he hadn’t spoken hung heavy and crystal clear in the air.

“I don’t want to feel good.”

Chapter Text

Richard wasn’t sure whether it was him or Jared that was feeling more self-conscious, but both of them were. For the most part, they continued to act normal around each other, but Richard noticed that, not only were the two of them not having sex, but Jared had stopped even suggesting it.

He tried to make sense of it. Jared had seemed so self-assured and in control that night on the couch, the way he grabbed at Richard and licked and sucked. Most importantly, he seemed to like it. Richard had been so happy to see Jared that way. He loved seeing Jared confident and turned on and (okay, maybe he loved this more than he wanted to admit) kind of cocky and dominant. Richard had never even imagined that Jared could be like that.

He wanted to tell himself that he’d never imagined being on the receiving end of that kind of behavior, but that would be a lie. He had definitely never thought of Jared that way – he hadn’t even dared to imagine it – but there was a part of him that craved that loss of control. It would be a fucking miracle not to have to think or choose, at least for a little while.

This wasn’t anything new. When he was young, one of his action figures always played and almost pathologically subservient role for the others (even, Richard remembered with shame, going so far as licking the other heroes’ boots clean a few times). In high school, he bought his first hentai manga at a convention as a joke, thinking it would be funny to read the terrible dialogue and mock the absurd yaoi tropes with his friends, but the plentiful scenes of pretty men tied up urged him to instead keep the book in his bedside table for what he thought of as “occasional perusal.” In college, Bighead had bought a book on shibari and BDSM and insisted on Richard helping him learn how to tie some of the knots. More of those nights had ended with awkward erections and confused feelings about Bighead than he cared to remember. The idea of someone being in total control of someone else – of him – was Richard’s idea of heaven.

And the idea of being able to please Jared, worship him, and make him come was almost too much for Richard to handle.

Too bad that wanting any of that made him feel like a complete asshole.

He didn’t really understand, but he definitely didn’t want to ask. Jared had already opened up and shared so much with him. What kind of dick would he be if he tried to dig deeper? If there was anything else that he should know, Jared would have told him.

But Richard couldn’t understand the connection. Jared seemed willing to be at Richard’s beck and call, always at his service. He was letting Richard use him the same way he’d been used his entire life. Why? Why would he do that to himself? He could do anything that he wanted, and it broke Richard’s heart that he kept doing what had hurt him. Did he not trust Richard? Did he see Richard as just another asshole to placate and bow down to?

And the moment Richard had tried to give Jared that power, he had shied from it.

While he wanted to believe that all of his worries were about Jared, Richard knew how selfish it really was. Jared being in control had been amazing. It had been the first time that Richard had felt safe enough to try the things he’d always wanted to do, and it felt so fucking right, especially with Jared. IT was the first time he could remember feeling at peace.

And now what was he supposed to do? Ask Jared to do it again? He couldn’t. Not with the way it had ended and the way Jared had stayed curled away from him that night (an impressive feat in a twin bed, to be sure).

Richard knew he needed to say something. Jared seemed completely intent on apologizing for something that Richard didn’t want him to apologize for. His already selfless nature had kicked into overdrive, and he had practically turned himself in Richard’s servant. He had taken to making every single one of Richard’s meals for him (which Richard hesitated to put a stop to, because Jared was a fantastic cook) and buying him gifts almost every day. The sweet, Jared-esque tokens of affection that Richard had become accustomed to were suddenly dialed up so high that it was a little overstimulating. A few times, Richard had hidden in the shower for a few extra minutes to avoid being smothered with love.

One night, as Jared gave Richard a shoulder rub (which, for a guy with such slender, bony fingers, he was actually pretty good at), Richard decided to speak up. “You know, you don’t have to do this for me.”

“It’s no problem,” Jared said, voice crisp and chipper as always. “I enjoy doing things for you.”

“I know. And it’s great, seriously. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever gone this long without eating ramen noodles. But I don’t know, I guess I’m just kinda worried about you.”

Jared frowned. “Why would you need to be worried about me?”

“Because. You’re doing all of your regular work and spending a bunch of time doing stuff for me on top of it. I feel like you’re going to wear yourself out.”

Jared’s hands stilled. “Do you… not enjoy it?”

“No. I mean, I do. You’re great, Jared. You’re really, really great.” Richard craned his head back to look at Jared’s confused, anxious face. “But you know, I don’t just want you to take care of me. I like you doing it and everything, but… I wanna take care of you too.”

Jared stroked Richard’s hair. “You don’t have to take care of me.”

“I know I don’t have to.” Richard sighed. “Fuck, I don’t even know if I would be good at it. But I like the idea, you know? I want to be able to be there for you and do the stuff that you need me to do. I… I want to be your partner. I don’t want to be a burden or a passion project or some kind of weird master. I just want to be your partner.”

Jared sat down across from Richard, taking his hands in his. His anxiety was clearly starting to shift into fear. “Richard, you are my partner. You always have been, and you always will be. You’re not a burden or anything else. I just love you and want to show you that.”

“I know. But I love you too. And I want to show you that too, but I kinda feel like I can’t.”

Jared nodded. “I suppose I understand that. I want to give you the kind of relationship you want.”

“Okay, good. Thanks.” Richard gave Jared a small, shy smile.

Jared cleared his throat. “Could we maybe start that tomorrow, though?” he asked awkwardly. “I’d really like to finish your massage.”

Richard laughed. “Uh, sure. Okay.” Richard couldn’t resist giving Jared something that made him smile so broadly. Plus, Jared was surprisingly good with his hands.