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The nearest future

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''Homos are just strange'', one of the people, sitting around the table, put out his remark, earning smirks and occasional chuckles from his colleagues. ''I certainly would not want something stuck up my ass or to paint my face with all the makeup they do''.
The one, sitting on the opposite side from him, responded to that calmly, merely stating facts:
''Not all homosexuals are that way, you know, doctor Winston''.
The first man regarded the other one with an annoyed glare.
''Siding with your own kind, doctor Wright?''
''If you are implying that I am gay, then no'', Wright responded calmer still, ''But you seem to forget that every person is by nature bisexual, which every medical book on this subject can tell you''.
''We live in a society with certain morals'', Winston cringed visibly, sensing he was being read a lecture to. ''Male is male and must not be otherwise in his behavior. For those who feel feminine there is surgery''. After that he scowled further, recalling that the other doctor’s speciality was, in fact, operative treatment. ''I am going to have another drink'', he finally found an excuse to retrieve and while he was absent, Charles Wright stood up and said goodbye to everyone at the table, wishing to spend his time in the bar no more.
This was a usual weekend evening when the doctors from the nearest hospital came to this bar to have some drinks, talk and relax. Charles joined them from time to time when he felt like it; though, his mood was usually ruined afterwards with all the lowly jokes he was fed.
On his way out Charles had to pass the semi dark space near the bar dance floor where a lot of young people crowded, in their own way of enjoying the music. Somebody snatched the doctor by his arm, preventing him from moving further, so he had to turn around and deal with whoever it was.
The girl that was trying to get as close to him as possible - she was probably on drugs if she decided to pick him out of the crowd so persistently - was not at all his type: blond where he preferred brunettes, taller than he normally would choose, and obviously quite pushy. She was wearing a blouse with a high collar but practically no sleeves, and a skirt too short to hope for any modesty she might still have left. High hills and mesh tights went without saying. And Charles was probably getting lonely without a girlfriend if he analysed her so closely before dismissing.
She did not intend to let him go. Instead she was gripping his arm as if he were her prey, saying into his ear in a voice lower than he would desire to hear - probably a smoker:
“Care for my company?”
Not that he had much time to answer or dodge her - they were moving several feet to the wall - he felt his back pressing against it; an invading mouth was crashing against his own. The surroundings blurred, Charles just hoped he was not being fed any drugs in this fashion or did not have anything stolen from his person but the girl was just gripping his shoulders, nowhere near his pockets, if rather strongly. Instead of the obvious decision of pushing her away in disgust, though, he chose to kiss her in return as deeply - with his experience it was not all that hard to dazzle her, leave her breathless and resume his way to the exit. It brushed his self-esteem, too.
The girl caught up with Charles by his car, surprising him with her persistence. He was also growing annoyed by it.
“I’m not looking for any company at the moment”, he answered the girl’s previous question that sounded more like a demand.
“Not even sex?” the girl asked straightforwardly, leaning onto the roof of his car on the opposite side from Charles. Not what he would expect from any representative of fair sex to say, but there were all types of women, were there not?
“Surprisingly enough, no”, the doctor replied sarcastically. “Not with you, anyway”.
“You don’t like girls?” she asked as if his answer had led her into a dead end. She looked confused.
Charles felt tired. He had been accused of being gay. Twice. In one evening. Without giving any indications for such conclusions.
“Have a nice time”, he replied tersely and sat into his car to show they were finished.
The girl didn’t leave it at that.
“Seriously, you don’t?!” She exclaimed, bending to look into the door window. Now she seemed excited.
Charles closed his eyes for a second not to snap at her.
“You are not my type, so please, just go away”, he dropped in a more or less gentle tone, even if the contents of his phrase were rude anyway.
The girl hovered next to his car, contemplating on something, preventing Charles from starting the engine and just driving off to show they were finished. Before the doctor could do anything, she was opening the door and flopping onto the passenger seat like she had every right to do so.
“Well, I like you anyway”, she dumped onto him, looking into the window and into the different direction from Charles, leaving him speechless for a minute, no less.
“I’ll forget about the fact I’ve just made myself clear that I don’t really like you”, he started, too shocked to be more ambiguous, “but you hardly know anything about me”. After he said that Charles decided he was actually too permissible and should have gotten rid of her that very instant. He wondered why he hadn’t. Maybe the girl’s straightforwardness somewhat altered his negative opinion about her.
“I heard you talking to those... oafs”, the girl said with a huge pause before the last word, as it took her some time to find a neutral term. A person her age would more likely use a more colourful epithet. “So I know some stuff about you, doc”.
She crossed her arms behind her head, her angular elbows sticking out awkwardly - Charles even wondered, due to his profession, if she was undernourished - getting herself comfortable, as if she was having her appointment with a psychologist, not sitting in a car with her sex interest, whom one normally jumps to seduce.
“I’m not gay”, Charles decided he needed to confirm that because what the girl had overheard was returning them to that particular topic.
She shrugged; clearly the information was irrelevant for her.
“I am”, she told Charles simply.
“You mean a lesbian?”, he frowned, wondering why the girl would come to him in the first place if that was the matter.
“No, I mean gay”, the girl turned to look straight at him, putting one arm over the back of his seat. “So, you know, I like you”.
Charles looked her - him, as it appeared to be now - over a couple of times, wondering, how he had missed the proportion of the shoulders and the hips, and the collar was not quite hiding the Adam’s apple. The fact that he hadn’t figured out the gender in the first place struck him as odd - even if he hadn’t really had any time to do so - and apparently he had also just kissed a boy, but whatever. Moreover the makeup and the girlish clothes were not complementing his appearance much. Charles wondered what the boy looked like without them.
“I’m not interested in men”, he added mechanically, still getting used to the idea of a girl suddenly changed into a boy.
“You are not disgusted by them, either”, the doctor heard whisper that was lulling him into obedience, though not into sexual arousal, but there were lips on his own again, and he wasn’t trying to shake them off particularly hard, more like giving in, letting his skills run wild again - he couldn’t really pinpoint why he was trying to impress someone here, anyway.
“Lessy”, the boy breathed at him as soon as they fell apart, gasping silently, fake breasts rising and falling rapidly. “My name”, he specified as Charles looked at him in wonder, feeling deprived of those lips for reasons unknown.
“It’s a girl’s name”, the doctor told him quietly; his mind refused to get any signs of this boy posing as a girl anymore.
“You’ll come before you pronounce the full one”, Lessy’s lips were millimeters from his again, and now it was probably Charles who initiated the kiss, automatically, without a second thought, like a man who sees an oasis and runs to it after several days of traveling in dry desert.
He still was not aroused, all the kisses were just calming down his anger that had been lured out by the events of this evening, they were pacifying him, coaxing him to close his eyes and drift calmly with the waves.
Lessy, apparently, had different intentions. He was feeding moans into Charles’s mouth, his skirt could hardly hide the erection he was getting from kisses only, since his hormones were really just those of a teenager. He was hardly making Charles do anything for him, rubbing himself through the layers of clothes, but the doctor, lost in a haze of euphoric carelessness, reached out to cover that hand with his own and help it along the way. If he were sane enough to stop and think about what he was doing at the moment, Charles would be wondering for a long time if there was something wrong with him, psychologically wrong, that was. What they were engaged in right now, could by no means be considered a logical thing for a straight man to do.

Lessy leaned onto the back of the seat, looking more content than was strictly necessary for the doctor’s peace of mind. Wright was not freaking out over the fact that he had technically had some sort of sex with a male, but it wasn’t quite settling in.
“Charles”, the doctor returned as they fell apart and more or less caught themselves. Not that the boy was interested in his name much, dismissing it with a nod.
“Can we go to your place?” Lessy wondered, stretching himself with relaxed ease as if his date was passing as it should.
“I’m not particularly aroused if you haven’t noticed”, Charles grumbled, sudden insecurity flooding his body.
“Don’t worry, I’ll suck your cock and you’ll get there”, the boy slipped closer to whisper into his ear and Charles closed his eyes, his brows furring with sudden irritation, as if something was getting in the way with his previous contentment.
There was a silent pause and the body next to the doctor distanced itself from his, probably puzzled. When Charles permitted himself to look into that direction, Lessy was looking into the window again, gnawing his lips.
“Can I just sleep over at your place then?” he asked with a hint of desperate hope in his voice and Charles felt a necessity to humour the boy right now. He couldn’t say exactly who used who in this situation but it seemed as if he needed this company for something.

Their way to Wright's home was undisturbed except for a police officer that stopped the car and asked for Charles's driving license. Lessy had fallen to sleep in the passenger’s seat, covered with Wright's coat.
At home Charles had no choice but to take the boy into his arms and get him upstairs, hating to disturb the peaceful slumber. Lessy just murmured something and clung to Charles's shirt.
Having arranged the boy on the bed, Wright took off his clothes, leaving Lessy naked except for his underwear, and sat down near him, watching the peacefully breathing figure somewhat sadly. He traveled his fingers over Lessy's hipbone, wondering what got into him that he had brought this boy home.
Lessy was rather eye-catching, actually, with a nicely curved body. Thankfully, no piercing marred his soft skin. The makeup was certainly ruined and Wright had to fetch a tissue to wipe it as clean as he could - though some of it was left, Lessy no doubt looked better. He seemed a rebellious boy which Charles could not help admiring. He had no right to be parental with the person he technically nearly slept with, but he was getting protective when he looked at the boy.

''doctor Wright, you have a surgery at one o'clock'', the nurse called him from her room as he passed by to the receptionist desk to ask for a phone call.
''Of course, Mary, I’ll be back in fifteen minutes''. Charles answered her on his way.
Having been given a permission to call, he lifted the receiver and dialed his home number.
''Less, it's doctor Wright, answer me please'', he uttered as the answering machine switched on and waited for the boy to pick the phone up.
Charles left him a note to feel at home, find some food in the fridge, and such. Though he felt somewhat strange leaving Lessy alone at his house, he was pleased to think someone was there as well - Wright lived alone after all.
Lessy was certainly taking his time in lifting the receiver, but he did so before Charles could start worrying.
''Um, hello?'' shy and hesitant voice, absolutely unlike Lessy the other night, answered him on the other end. ''I am sorry, I was taking a shower''.
''That's all right'', Charles offered, wondering what was the matter. ''Is everything okay?''
''Uh, yeah'', Lessy sounded even more embarrassed. ''Mostly''.
''Okay'', Charles considered dealing with the matter right now. ''Go on''.
''Actually, I am earning my living as a prostitute'', Lessy started firmly, though his voice quivered slightly, ''but I haven't done anything with you, strictly speaking, so I...''.
Charles stayed silent for several seconds admiring just how adult Lessy sounded.
''Should I pay you anyway since I took your time?'' He inquired, not sure whether he should feel uneasy on the matter.
''Um, no, that's not what I wanted to say'', Lessy interrupted him and went silent again, probably phrasing his thoughts. Charles waited patiently. ''When are you back?'' the boy managed finally.
''Tomorrow morning; I have a night shift in the hospital. Do you want to discuss it in person?'' Charles decided to help Lessy a bit since he obviously had some difficulty.
''Yes, I'd rather'', Lessy sounded actually relieved and Charles suppressed laughter as the boy purred into the receiver, picking up his evening tone again, ''I will certainly be waiting for you to return''.
''Sure, you will'', Charles chuckled, hanging up.
He entered the surgery with a smile.

It was still mostly dark when Charles arrived home, fairly sure Lessy was sleeping like a baby in bed. Every time he recalled what was waiting for him at home, he could not suppress a chuckle, amusing everyone around with his good mood.
Lessy had indeed occupied the bed full measure, his clothes and a couple of towels scattered around on the floor. The flat was otherwise clean, except for a cup and a plate near the sink in the kitchen, washed and already dry.
Charles took off his coat, bringing order everywhere he went by and heading to the bedroom. Lessy had long hair Charles had failed to notice; now it was scattered all over the pillow, making the boy look girlish, but the naked chest partly visible from under the blanket ruined that impression. He was lying on his stomach, rather uncaring that the covers were mostly off his body.
Charles sat down, tugging the blanket completely away and moving his palm over Lessy's exposed back, mind full of other things. He just liked the feeling of the boy's skin against his.
Threading fingers through the long strands of hair, Wright traced Lessy's spine, stilling as he heard an unexpected gasp from the boy. After several moments of uncertainty he repeated the motion and Lessy moaned more distinctly, shifting to lie on his side and accommodate his growing erection.
But it was not what disturbed Charles. As a doctor he could feel some imperfection between Lessy's shoulder blades and it was exactly the reason of the boy's trashing. The next second Lessy bolted to sit upright, fully awake and looking frightened. He scrambled for covers to gather them in his lap and stared at Charles. Silence lasted for some time before Wright crooked his brow inquisitively.
''What was that?'' he inquired, watching Lessy huff and avert his gaze.
''An erogenous zone'', the boy squeezed out in a stiff tone.
''You nearly came a moment ago, it is not just an erogenous zone'', Charles met the lie harshly and immediately regretted how it sounded. Lessy was clearly distressed; there was no need to press him.
''Yeah, it is'', Lessy snarled, trying to push past Wright and stand up.
Charles caught him halfway by both wrists, intended to find out the truth. With his free hand he sought that spot out again - and this thing inside felt completely like it was out of place in Lessy's body. It was something inhumanly firm, like a false part, transplanted into his body. Nearly... metallic.
Lessy was gritting his teeth and there was even some blood seen on his lips as he tried to keep himself still and let out no groans. As Charles released his wrists, Lessy grasped his hand to cover his hard, leaking cock and then literally attacked his mouth with demanding kisses. He begged for nothing but his facial expression was saying it plainly enough. Charles had no intention to torture him this way, so he brought the boy to release with a mere couple of strokes. It was probably Lessy's face and graceful arch of his body as he came that made Charles warm inside and wishing to see the boy this way more.
''It's your turn now'', Lessy purred, climbing on top of him and pushing him to lie down on his back with the boy pretending to be a giant cat above him. Charles let him but caught his hands before they became too naughty.
''You still have to answer my question'', he reminded and Lessy actually tensed where he was straddling Wright's waist.
''That's a chip I was transplanted several years ago that affects an erogenous zone in my back'', he said in a low voice but clearly enough. ''It helps me if I have a not very desirable customer''.
''It is not normal'', Charles sat up, outraged but Lessy merely shrugged, making himself comfortable in his lap.
''I earn my living this way, you should search abnormality starting from there'', than the boy held onto him tighter as if he was contemplating on saying something important. ''It's not like that with you, though'', he blurted out finally, ''when you were kissing me yesterday, I nearly came on spot and you are just being dense here on the point that...''
''Wow, hold on a second'', Charles could only blink at this sudden stream of confession. ''It is not like I am blaming you or anything''.
He carefully positioned Lessy on the bed and stood up to undress and get into his home clothes.
''I don't want to return there anymore'', the boy muttered, scooping a towel from the floor and heading to the bathroom. He stopped in the doorway and looked back at Charles, clearly waiting for an answer and posing against the doorframe, looking vulnerable and cute, even if he was probably doing it unconsciously.
''Your point is?'' Wright lifted his gaze from where he was buttoning his shirt up to see Lessy leaning against the doorframe even more and flutter his eyelashes at him.
''You could take me as a bed warmer and stop being stubborn'', the boy threw, shutting the door behind him but not before he gave Charles another perfect view of his naked form.

That thing inside Lessy's body was bothering him greatly. It was not the boy’s fault and it by no means marred Charles's impression of him. Lessy could not possibly have agreed to having this chip inside himself. And it was not a last week matter - it had been there for several years, no less, since the boy was rather comfortable with its functions and had found them some use.
Charles took a couple of plates out of the cupboard and filled them with scrambled eggs he had just prepared. Lessy slipped inside the kitchen and pressed against his shoulder to watch what he was doing.
''Going somewhere?'' Wright inquired, feeling how something snapped inside him as he noticed Lessy was wearing his girlish outfit and makeup again. Charles was positive those did not suit the boy at all and if Lessy insisted on wearing that or nothing at all, Wright would rather he went around naked.
''That depends on what you've decided'', Lessy purred, circling his arms around Charles’s neck and nuzzling his shoulder.
''First we eat'', Wright enlightened him, disentangling himself to set the plates onto the table.
''I'd rather eat you'', Lessy was proving to be very stubborn on the matter, though it was probably just his habit plus his age, and really, Charles found it more endearing than irritating.
''I am not right for your digestion'', he countered, sitting down and immediately realizing his lap was full of Lessy.
''Let's check?'' the boy offered, starting to nibble on Charles's ear.
''Trust a doctor on this point, Less'', Wright answered him seriously and positioned Lessy on the chair next to him, pressing a kiss onto his cheek as he got back a pout for his trouble.
The boy grumbled a bit but went to consuming his food obligingly. As soon as he finished, Lessy rushed into the bedroom and returned, gripping a small purse Charles had not noticed before.
''I am going to fetch my things and return in several hours'', he stated firmly but obviously nervous.
''How do you imagine it?'' Charles inquired calmly, sipping his coffee.
''What?'' the boy responded in a whisper as his voice seemed to have betrayed him.
''Come here'', Charles held out a hand and Lessy drew closer, hesitant all of a sudden. ''What can you do? Except sex?'' he added hastily as he saw a familiar flash in Lessy's eyes.
The flash died immediately and whisper came again:
Charles frowned.
''What’s with your attitude, young man? Only dead can do nothing and you are far from that. Have you gone to school?''
''I haven't finished it'', Lessy responded, still hesitant and keeping his eyes down.
''Why not?'' Charles was still frowning but then recalled he probably shouldn’t be and eased his expression.
''I...'', Lessy started but stopped in the middle of the sentence and tried to squirm free from where Wright placed his hands on the boy's hips to comfort him. ''I don't want to talk about it. Can we just go?''
''We still have to figure what you are going to do after you move in here'', Charles reminded him.
''Is it really necessary?'' Lessy asked with a sigh, keeping away from Charles's soothing hand. ''Can't I just do it?''
''What if you get bored? What if something happens to me?'' Wright pressed on, insisting on getting to some decision. ''You would not want to return to being a prostitute again''.
''Can we at least try?'' the boy managed in a small voice, completely defeated by such arguments. Charles felt his chest tighten after he imagined what Lessy must have been feeling.
''Yes, we can'', he agreed softly. ''I'll help you with your things''.

The district they arrived in was certainly not the most fashionable in the city, though Charles was not surprised since he had been expecting something in this manner. Lessy got out of his car silently and only said he would return in half an hour.
Charles was not really sure whether he should have gone with the boy or not, but the fact that he stayed several blocks away and in his car was probably for the better. Lessy knew all about this district; Wright did not. Thus he should not be getting in the way.
Charles leaned onto the steering wheel, unable to get his thoughts off the whole situation. It was a rush, really, to take in a boy, no, better, a prostitute after such a short period of knowing each other. Taking in consideration that the terms of their future cohabitation were very vague as well Charles could not set his mind on whether or not he wanted to sleep with Lessy. There was some barrier that kept him away, only allowing to kiss and a bit more but no intercourse and such. Besides he was not all that aroused with the thought.
He could start with Lessy's education for example. And had not that thought made him feel all fatherly and wrong? But education was important for the boy nonetheless. And his habits as well, he was a boy for the Creator’s sake and a handsome one, gay or no gay.
And there was that chip again, driving Charles crazy. Who could have done something this disgusting to a mere boy? Maybe he should investigate the issue more, because no matter what he like Lessy and wanted him a better life. There had to be a way.
Lessy came into view again, and though Charles had been lost in his thoughts and had not noticed how much time had passed, he frowned as he saw that it had already been an hour and a half. Lessy was irritated, too - something must have happened.
The boy jerked away as Charles held out his hand to brush his hair and asked what it was.
''Nothing. Don't touch me'', was the answer.
Wright was puzzled, really, the boy had not been like this. Clearly, Lessy hadn’t had a pleasant farewell. But it was not until that evening that Charles managed to get at least a word out of the boy.

He was working at his desk, having given up every hope for getting anything out of Lessy but reluctant to tug the information out by using force. He had no right to do so and it would make the beginning of their relationship even more awkward. However, even if Lessy did not seem to have any desire to talk, he clung to Charles ever since they had got home, so Wright was relieved it was at least not his fault.
Right now the boy was sitting on the floor and using Charles’s knee as a pillow. Upon arrival he closed himself in the bedroom, leaving Charles completely at a loss, and then emerged out of it, in a pullover and woolen shorts, both of cream color and though still too feminine, Lessy looked cute and feline-like, arising a desire to hug him. Charles rather suspected the boy had inherited his clothes from some female member of his family, even if he did not seem to have any relatives at the moment.
Lessy felt firm, warm and sure against his leg, staying surprisingly calm and making no attempts to distract Charles from his work.
Wright allowed himself to stretch his hand out to thread his fingers through Lessy's hair, feeling the boy nuzzle into the caress, and then Lessy looked up at him.
Charles could not help setting aside his pen and reaching out to coax Lessy up and into his lap.
''What's wrong?'' he asked softly as the boy sat down onto the edge of the table and let Charles hold him.
''Why do you think there is anything?'' Lessy asked lightly but his eyes did not brighten up like they used to.
''You are not being yourself'', Charles offered genuinely, brushing away the strands of Lessy's hair. ''Something happened back there at your house''.
The boy shrugged, hugging himself with his arms.
''Merely a goodbye from a guy next door''.
Charles frowned, tightening his hands on Lessy's elbows.
''You did not want me to touch you. Am I right in my suspicions?''
''Depends on your suspicion'', the boy started calmly but then just snapped. ''Oh, stop it! So, I fucked with him, so what? Can we just forget about it?!''
''We will if you answer me whether you fucked with him or he fucked you'', Charles responded coolly, feeling strangely possessive and jealous because of the idea Lessy may have gone to some man other than him.
Lessy averted his gaze, shivering as if Wright's tone chilled him throughout.
''He is my longest customer so he found it appropriate to take me upon my leave''.
It was hard to say was it relieve or admiration Charles felt towards Lessy as he heard bitterness in the boy's words, but he gave into the desire to hug him and hold him for some time. Charles stopped shy from Lessy's lips, though, smelling something in his breath.
''Do you smoke?'' he asked, frown back on his face as he looked into the boy's eyes.
''I do'', Lessy retorted, getting defensive all over again but Wright had no time to respond in any manner as the telephone rang on the table.
Lessy slipped from his lap immediately, escaping into the bedroom and Charles had nothing else left but to answer the call.
''Hey, old man, watcha doing?'' a familiar voice rose cheerfully on the other end to greet him and Wright suppressed a sigh as he answered his best friend.
''Nice to hear you too, Gordon''.
''What's with that tone, buddy?'' Gordon inquired even more cheerfully as if saying 'I am happy - why aren't you?' ''Are you tired of our good ol' countryside again, big city gentleman?''
Charles let out a laughter mingled with worry and shook his head even though his motion was obviously invisible for Gordon.
''No, I guess it's just some tiresome business at hand''.
''Rise and shine, there is no business that can't wait awhile''. Gordon chirped, though he was actually a very diligent worker himself, unlike his looks. He was a programmer and usually said computer was the only thing in the world that would not wait for a man but run straight ahead without him.
''Alas'', Charles sighed again. ''By the way, I need your hand in this, so can we meet sometime on the week?''
''We can meet without any business, ya know'', Gordon confirmed. ''Does it have something to do with your work?''
''Vaguely'', Charles responded with a sad chuckle, recalling how the matter had actually started. ''Got it'', Gordon summed up, ''we just meet and you tell me everything''.
Charles, having spoken to his friend, had indeed felt that the matter was this simple - to meet, to talk it over and to come to a decision. However it dawned upon him again that this was not enough, as he saw Lessy standing on the balcony and throwing ashes of his cigarette over the railing. Was it a mere habit of a person of his occupation or was he too nervous to sit still?
Charles appeared behind the boy, snatching the cigarette out of his hand and putting it out. Not listening to any of Lessy's protests, Charles just beckoned him closer and kissed him yet again, trying to concentrate more on the boy's own taste than on that of cigarettes.
They were silent for some time, standing in an embrace with light of the evening sun carefully floating down their figures. Lessy merely snuggled to Charles's chest in a vulnerable manner without his usual attempts to somehow arouse Wright or at least get into bed with him. When they returned inside, though, Lessy became himself again, gracefully slipping out of his clothes as Charles undid the bed. The boy wound his arms around Wright as Charles sat down to undress himself and snaked past him to lean onto the pillow, showing off every single part of his perfect body in details.
Charles stayed unaffected by that, merely lying down next to Lessy and eyeing the boy somewhat sadly. The sight was not unappealing, but that of a beautiful sitter on a perfectly written painting. But Lessy was not arousing any emotions other than those. And though the boy was looking at him in an obvious manner, slowly sliding his hand down his own hip, Charles only rewarded him with a chaste kiss on his forehead.
Lessy bit down on his lip, looking offended, and as he saw that nothing was awaiting him, the boy just turned his face to the wall and stole most of the covers for himself. Not that Charles minded anyway.

The next morning met Charles with smells. Those of coffee and burnt food, so despite the fact today was his day off, he flew out of his bed and into the kitchen, donning his clothes on somewhere in the middle.
Lessy looked up from the stove with puppy eyes, but Charles merely strode to his side and hastily dealt with what were probably sandwiches and still edible ones, actually, saving them from burning and turning off the gas. Then he smiled at the frightened boy, who was no doubt waiting to be shouted at, and kissed him lightly on his lips. A mere brush of skin, just to calm Lessy down, but the boy asked for nothing else, even moving away and averting his gaze.
''You could have stayed in bed for another couple of hours'', Charles told him in a jokingly scolding way but Lessy was apparently taking none of that.
He shrugged, still paying all his attention to one of the cupboard handles.
''I do what I like''.
To that Charles could only raise one brow while bringing his clothes to order. ''What's with this tone, young man'', he inquired without much pressure. ''I am not fathering you, you know. Not that I have any right to''.
Lessy seemed to be seething with anger as their eyes met again.
''Of course not! You are always polite and oh so ideal!'' he snapped, balling his hands into fists. ''Indifferent and tolerant, are we?''
There was a problem in there somewhere, though Charles still could not grasp it properly.
''I was not the one who initiated the whole cohabiting thing'', he tried gingerly and hit the target immediately and perfectly. Too perfectly even - Lessy suddenly blanched and stepped back, wobbling and nearly turning over a chair.
The boy obviously attempted to say something but choked on it and rushed into the bedroom, slamming the door behind himself. That room seemed to be his last resort in everything and Charles hated to think Lessy went smoking out on the balcony again. Maybe he had not been perfectly honest with himself and had after all been too fatherly with Less. Maybe he owed the boy an apology. At least he felt guilty at the moment if it was helping anything.
''Less'', he peeked inside his own bedroom, feeling like he was intruding into a vetoed territory. ''Would you like to take a walk with me?''
The boy jumped off of the bed, startled and embarrassed for some reason. He came to his usual playful self immediately, though. ''Yeah, is it a date? I need to wear something proper? Off with you!''
Despite his words, Lessy dashed to Charles, twining his arms around doctor Wright's neck and demanding a kiss in a conquering manner but softly and unobtrusively as if scared that he’d be pushed away. When Charles hadn’t done that, being kind enough to accept it, Lessy awarded him with a grin and closed the door into his face. All the doctor was left to do was roll his eyes and wait patiently.

Lessy was currently strolling alongside Charles and quite effectively playing the role of a starry-eyed girl so that the doctor had to remind himself every now and then it was actually a boy. This spoiled his spirits enormously. Despite Lessy's clothes being all decent he insisted on wearing a skirt and nothing, but nothing could convince him otherwise.
Charles felt the boy tugging onto his sleeve and allowed himself to be distracted. Lessy stopped in front of a bookstore and now was unexpectedly shyly inquiring if they could come in. It was not at all a place Wright expected Lessy to visit, but he did not mind, not at all. He would have even praised such an idea, but this could only have shown his parental attitude yet again, thus he gave up the thought.
A shop assistant greeted them pleasantly, offering his services, but though Lessy - having been taken for a girl, of course - refused those quite sweetly, Charles could swear he saw hatred in the boy's eyes as he turned away. What was it for, exactly, he wondered? For having no need to hide one’s gender or something similar?
Lessy was already searching the shelves in the depths of the shop with all due light-mindedness as if nothing happened.
''May I have this?'' He reappeared in front of Charles, gripping some thick volume and looking nervous. ''I thought I could go finish school if you wanted me to''.
Had he ever?.. He just asked about his education, right? Nothing more. Why would Lessy suddenly assume something like this?
''I never said I wanted you to'', he frowned, watching the boy bite down onto his lower lip.
''I thought... well, what if I wanted to myself?''
''It's alright, of course, you have every right to. But we could just find you some private teachers and...'' Charles had to drop the end of the phrase as Lessy stared at him wide-eyed. Then he became aware of what he had actually just blurted out. Wright started pondering on how it could come out so naturally, but the outer world demanded his immediate attention. ''Okay, let's buy you some books for now'', Charles considered, struggling not to notice Lessy's excited expression.

Lessy refused to eat in a crowded place no matter what arguments Charles introduced to him. Giving up, Wright bought some fast-food, vowing in his mind he'd make the boy eat properly at home.
They settled on a bench in the nearest small park, where now - at working hours - pretty much nobody passed by. Lessy was slowly munching on his hamburger, reading the books they had just bought, his gaze moving rapidly between pages. It was his thoughtful expression when he held his snack in front of his mouth but had not quite yet recalled he had to open his lips to eat it, that Charles admired silently, that was beautiful and worth noting.
Lessy caught him staring, having looked up from under his lashes, and Wright did not have any intention to avert his gaze, so they held it for several moments. Charles was caught in a minute hesitation on whether he had the right to crave kissing Lessy at a moment like this if he felt nothing towards him in the sense of love, but then he gave in and leaned in to catch that mouth which was bearing a soft taste of a hamburger, even softer one of cigarettes and the one dominating over them and that Wright liked the most - that of Lessy himself.
Lessy was torn between clinging to him and the liability of holding the book that was not bought with his money and thus demanded careful treatment. He settled with gripping Charles's shoulder with the free hand, probably desperately happy to receive this attention at all. And it was somehow good to be able to kiss him in public like this - like a girlfriend; and no one would censure him for kissing a girl, right?
''I could go through a surgery if it makes you want me after all'', Charles heard Lessy muttering in his ear. ''Maybe I will make a better girl in the end''.
Charles just held him tightly, silent and unresponsive. The idea struck him immediately as an unappealing one and he opposed it inwardly with all his might. But he could not say this to the boy since Lessy was merely trying to find some happiness for himself and the amount of things he was giving up so readily was astonishing. Wright thought of things he could do for the boy but those were to help him change, not some sacrifices he himself could offer. He was not changing at all, merely being there to force Lessy to shift entirely. What he could not understand was why he was worth doing so...
''Sometimes they did not know I was a guy'', Lessy spoke, lying pliant in Charles's loose embrace. ''They thought I was a girl who preferred it that way. They didn't care if I came or not as long as they could fuck me and leave. I just got the money. You are different.'' He looked up, shifting to lie close as if wanting to burrow deeper into Charles. ''You don't deny me and don't use me'', Lessy bowed his head a bit for his lips to touch Wright's ear tip lightly and purred, ''Though I wouldn't mind having sex with you''. Charles chuckled lightly because it tickled but when he was listening to Lessy's words his insides were boiling with rage, for he could blame that thing inside Lessy’s body for everything that happened with the boy. Maybe getting it out was the least he could do but he would not leave it at that. Lessy deserved normal life like any other person, straight or otherwise. Possibly in future he would meet some guy who would fall in love with him and would find him normal - then Charles would be sincerely happy as well.

''Help yourself'', Gordon set a plate of snacks in front of Charles along with a teacup like he always did when his friend came along. It was probably more of a prejudice the men from the capital preferred tea to anything else but after a hard day of work and in sight of the prospective ride home, Charles really did not mind.
Today he did not have to work a night shift so Wright called both Lessy and Gordon before dropping by his friend's place like he had promised a couple of days ago.
''So, watsup?'', Gordon inquired after they had the first sip of tea. ''I haven't seen much of you lately. Got yourself a girlfriend?''
Charles politely took a waffle from the plate, nearly losing it on the way to his mouth in surprise. The phrase hit him the bull’s-eye, though he could not say it was precise.
''Just work, mostly. And no, no girlfriend'', he responded, getting a grip of himself and directing the waffle to where it belonged.
''You and your work'', the answer got him a shake of a head and a sigh, ''You should have some fun as well''. Gordon leaned back on the back of his armchair, acting like any attentive listener should. ''So what was with that thing that occurred several days ago?''
''It is some confidential research that is probably shut down now but maybe you could track it back to when it was held. I need it for work''. Charles started vaguely, not quite ready to tell Gordon about Lessy.
''You want me to mess with some criminal medical research, huh? It's not like you at all'', his friend responded thoughtfully, probably thinking it all over already. ''What kind of research is it? I need more information, you figure''.
''Of course'', Charles scratched his brow, gathering all he knew together. ''They implanted chips, so it was surgical, but at the same time...''
''Hold on there'', Gordon interrupted him, suddenly rising and snatching a notebook from the nearest chair. ''Gonna make some notes for future, now go on''.
While he was doing that, Charles pondered on the matter for several moments, deciding how to dicsribe it better.
“To cut the long story short”, he said when Gordon looked up at him with expectation, “they work with chips that influence person’s erogenous zones”.
His friend actually whistled, leaving his notes for a moment to regard Charles with an amused glance.
“Now that’s an interesting topic we have here”, he pointed out, putting down some scheme. “A chip, huh? The size and the position if you please”.
Charles regarded his palm for a second, recalling the moment he found out about that thing in Lessy’s body for the first time.
“About this big”, he showed the knuckle of his right thumb, “and I’m not very sure about the position. I know one, but there might be more”.

Their discussion had been going on for an hour already when Charles recalled time still existed in this world. They had not figured out much, because Wright could not have known much to start with. Gordon had been silent for last several minutes, gnawing on the end of his pencil while striding back and forth around the living-room.
“It’s getting late”, he announced finally. “How terribly do you need to know this?”
“Terribly enough”, Charles muttered and stood up to stretch his legs.
“If you don’t have work early in the morning you could stay overnight and try to figure it out, though I am still at a loss”, Gordon offered, returning his gaze to what was written all over the sheet of paper in his hands. Wright was surprised by how much they had managed to extract out of the whole matter, but that still could not help them.
“I need to make a phone call”, he decided finally, hoping Gordon would not pry on the matter, but his friend just mumbled something under his breath in agreement and renewed his thinking.
“Less, it’s Charles”, Wright uttered the phrase which was becoming a habit after dialing his home number. Lessy never picked the phone unless he knew it was his cohabiter, probably still not used to the thought he actually lived in the flat too. Maybe he wanted to avoid unnecessary questions just as much as Charles did.
“It’s midnight”, Lessy sounded tired and half-annoyed as he answered. “Don’t tell me you are still at your girlfriend’s place”.
“Less, it’s ‘my friend’s place’, don’t exaggerate”, Charles laughed lightly suddenly feeling tired himself and strangely comfortable calling Lessy like this. “I need to stay overnight, it’s important”.
“And I won’t see you for another day?” The voice on the other end sounded sad and fretful at the same moment. “I want my goodnight kiss, too”.
“I will give you two in the morning as a compensation”, Charles offered, suppressing a bout of laughter. “It’s work, Less, please, no offence meant”.
“I like the way you beg”, the trivial phrase sounded almost endearing coming out of Lessy’s mouth, as if there was no sexual context in it.
Having hung up, Charles stood there for another couple of moments, regaining himself. A sudden thought made him bolt back into the room.
“It must be some huge medical organization which has spent loads of money on the project”, he announced, rushing up to Gordon.
His friend woke up from his thinking and pointed his index finger at Wright, as if catching the thought. “And it got no profit since it was shut down, so its budget must have collapsed”.
“Exactly”, Charles nodded. “And it is situated in our city”.
“Gotcha!” Gordon exclaimed, dashing into his study to switch the computer on.

Charles woke up because someone was shaking his shoulder. He nearly muttered to Lessy he wanted to sleep some more but recalled he was not at home just in time to merely sit up and glance at Gordon expectantly. He fell asleep when the search had turned out to be very long and his friend sent him to rest on the sofa.
“I’ve managed to hack a couple of sites and found something that may interest you”, Gordon offered Wright a cup of coffee and sat down onto the floor right where he was standing. “You know, I’ve never been particularly disgusted with pornography but that…”
“What do you mean?” Charles blew onto his coffee and sipped it slowly, then nearly dumped the whole cup onto his knees. “You mean – they took those videos?...”
“Of their test subjects, yeah”. Gordon snorted and got up. “It figures they had one particularly well-made sample. Come, I’ll show you”.

It was even worse for Charles to watch those, because he knew precisely who was on the tape. He gripped his cup, no matter that it was still hot, looking at Lessy several years younger in every pose his torturers could imagine to test out the chip. Wright tried not to let many emotions show on his face, but Gordon understandably took his expression for aversion and nothing more.
“I need all information on how it works and how it was implanted”, Charles threw and went into the bathroom to thrust his palms under cold water because he was risking getting minor burns any minute now. Gordon just sighed and obediently started turning the whole site over.

Lessy tended to occupy the whole bed when Charles was not there, always sleeping on his stomach - for that Wright rather suspected the reason. Covers were half on the floor, too, as if the boy was having nightmares or just felt too hot under the blanket.
Maybe it was finally time to buy Lessy his own bed to sleep in, Charles pondered, sitting down and petting the boy’s hair. It felt natural, though, to be in one, even without any sex, as natural as all the deep kisses Wright was giving and getting – and he had already lost the counting of those. What a strange relationship it was... All the tenderness and the care without even an ounce of sexual desire – and Lessy seemed okay with it, though he probably still hoped for a development. Charles would certainly give him a development, or like the boy said – the surgery, but not the one he had asked for. Then he would do everything to provide Less with a decent education, a job and possibly even a boyfriend. But after that he would have to let him go completely, because that was for the best. For both of them.
Lessy opened his eyes, still looking sleepy but nonetheless smiling and stretching his arms to catch Charles by the hem of his shirt.
“You’ve promised”, he announced lazily, curling into a ball and lying on his side for better view.
“Yeah, promised what?” Charles smiled slightly, leaning closer because he did remember what he had said the night before.
The kiss turned out to be idle, slowly segueing into the second and the third ones. Lessy was still rather sleepy and did not try to force Charles into anything, having merely swung one arm over his shoulders to keep him near. The thought that he was already giving more than he had promised made Wright laugh against Less’s lips and move away a bit, though still remain in the close proximity to the boy.
Less crawled into his lap – as naked as he was – straddling his knees and pressing against his chest. Charles could even swear he heard the boy purring, though it was probably just a sigh or something similar.
“You come home early tomorrow?” the boy inquired, rubbing his forehead and looking up, his voice still slightly raspy – but the reason for that was obvious.
Charles ruffled his hair and nodded, not very eager to get rid of this comfortable and warm weight even though he had to leave in a couple of hours.
“I’m going to a club tomorrow”, Lessy stated meanwhile, something shifting in his eyes, something not good-natured.
A club, huh? Charles felt torn between the feelings of relief and huge disappointment. Less was finally getting himself a life, which Wright welcomed with happiness, because the boy had the right for it. But that meant he himself bore no value for the boy any longer which hurt, no matter how right it was. He was just the turn on the road, and soon this turn would be over.
“Just be careful there, okay? I will worry”, Charles preferred to note only that, standing up and moving to the kitchen to get some breakfast made. His bag was on one of the chairs there, and Wright gripped its handles, because inside there were the documents Gordon had printed out for him not so long ago. Even if it were the last thing he did, he would do it anyway.
Lessy did not follow him immediately, probably getting dressed, but then he emerged, sad and thoughtful, gripping one of the books they had bought several days ago. Charles was surprised to see the boy was actually studying even though no one forced him to – he took the whole matter of starting his life over rather seriously, like one day he had apparently decided to work as a prostitute, and Wright felt great respect for him. He even doubted if he himself was capable of such a thing.
“Here”, Lessy put the book in front of him onto the table, showing the page and looking up. “I am not sure about this theorem”.
Charles checked the cover of the book – which said he was looking at a textbook on Mathematics – then tried to recall what he had been taught about it at school, but it was so long ago the memory appeared to be vague. Wright sighed and kissed Lessy’s cheek apologetically, already forgetting he decided not to do this much.
“I’m sorry, Less, I am not a teacher and I most certainly don’t remember this subject. Shall I ask my friend? He is way better at this”.
There was something in the way Lessy shook his head and returned back to the bedroom that Charles could not give a name to. It looked much like… misery?

Charles halved down a glass of water and signed. The surgery he had made was a difficult one and he was surprisingly tired. It was a rare matter, but there it was. His patient had a tumor to be operated on in his brain and had lost a large amount of blood through the surgery. It all turned out well in the end, and the relatives were happy, but Charles was still tense. He was a doctor, and took the whole responsibility for what he was doing. He held the lives of his patients in his hands and could never step back and just let those be. The only thing he really wondered about was how he was going to help Less – because the responsibility grew with the amount of attachment he had to a person, and he had much of it for the boy. There was fear, and worry, and something more.
He rather suspected it was what made him take Lessy in – his choice of profession. People trusted him with their lives and he had to trust them back with all he had. He never even suspected Lessy could pretend to be innocent and then rob him, or something similar. He just brought him to his flat and let him do whatever was decent. It was like bringing home a homeless kitten that would never deny whatever help was offered and simply fall asleep in one’s lap once fed.
Charles turned to the door, as he heard someone knocking on it and saw a woman who was peeking in shyly, unsure if she was welcome. When she recognized Wright, her face brightened up with a smile and she slipped in, holding a small and modest bouquet of flowers in front of her.
“I want to thank you for your help… You’ve saved my husband just now… I was not sure if he would live and, you know”, she offered the flowers, her hands shaking nervously and Charles even noticed tears glittering in her eyes, probably of happiness. “I don’t know if this is proper, just… I want to thank you”.
Wright welcomed the woman with a smile, relieving her from the flowers and trying with all his might to show her how he was glad for her and thanked her as well – though his strength was already withering and he could bear socializing no longer. He was used to patients and their relatives coming to him so, it was common practice for a doctor. He had learned to pay it little mind, merely accepting the gifts and bringing them home.

Charles could only truly forget about his tension when he arrived at his flat and settled in his armchair in front of the table. To tell the truth, his hands were shaking the entire day when he had not forced himself to remain calm – and the reason was not actually his work.
Lessy was not there as Charles came home, and that was quite unsettling as well. Wright was worried about what the boy was going through among the people who could hurt him – even if it was none of the doctor’s business, because Less had seen worse in his life than just fleeting one-night stand relationships, Charles could not help it. Then again, maybe Lessy would be able to find someone more suitable than a man nearly twice his age, and that would be a real relief… or would it?
He did not have time to open the folder Gordon had given him the other day as the keys turned in the lock of his apartment’s door and someone came it. It could not have been anyone other than the boy, of course, since even Gordon never needed to visit when Charles was not home, and Wright had necessary keys made for Lessy in the middle of the week as he could not keep the boy prisoner here anyway.
While Charles contemplated on whether he should come out of the room and meet Less, the boy entered himself, without any footwear and in his best – or so it seemed – clothes. Out of his character, though, was that he looked greatly disappointed about something, on the verge of tears, even.
“Less, what is it?” Charles inquired, suddenly worried, his heart skipping beats one after another then suddenly rushing as fast as it could.
Lessy started moving in his direction, or so Charles thought, because the boy stopped suddenly and asked in a trembling and unsteady voice:
“Flowers, a gift?”
Charles gave a start because he had quite forgotten about those and really it was not the right time to think of such minor things.
“Yeah”, he waved lightly at the vase on his table as if showing it was of no importance. “What happened, Less? You…”
The boy did not appear to listen to him even for a second, rushing up to the table, so that Charles even rose up instinctively, but Lessy ran past him and swung his arm…
Wright was there just in time to catch the vase and the boy, though he had always thought it was slightly past human abilities but evidently emergency could broaden anyone’s reflexes. Having clumsily returned the flowers to where they had been standing, he hugged Lessy, trying to stop sudden tears that burst out of the boy’s eyes. He had not cried even after his neighbor gave him the ‘parting gift’, so to speak, and Charles dreaded to think it was he who caused this.
He had no responsibility for the boy, had sworn no oath. But he held him tenderly nonetheless, rocking him slightly like a child. Lessy was a child, clutching on to his fruitless desires and he was so naively cute at that Charles treasured it unconsciously, tried to help it last, because the boy had no proper childhood.
“It was my recent patient’s wife, Less”, Wright whispered into that long hair that spilt over his chest, with a tint of cigarettes, shampoo, cool street air and the boy’s warmth. “I saved his life, she was merely grateful”.
Lessy tensed in his arms, stubbornness in his shoulders then burrowed further into Charles’s embrace, possessively. He had realized his mistake and now could not quite decide whether he should be embarrassed or not.
“I… can do the surgery”, Charles blurted out suddenly, somewhat ahead of his thoughts. Not that he regretted it, but sudden decisions are never as easy as some expect them to be from the others.
Lessy stared at him, half-frightened, eyes wide as if Charles was slowly torturing someone right in front of him.
It deemed upon the doctor that his words might have been misinterpreted.
''I can take that chip out of you'' - he added hastily, recalling that the boy had wished to change his gender some time ago and no matter how eager he had been, Charles could not allow that to be done for his sake. It sounded all wrong to say the least.

Dr. Wright had specifically requested a day off work and a surgery for his needs, so that he could make sure Lessy was all accounted for.
The boy seemed more nervous with every passing day, as the date of his surgery drew nearer. Charles would often notice that Less was staring at him every now and then when the doctor was supposedly not looking. It was a tougher decision on the recipient that on the performer, obviously, so Charles had more than once asked himself whether or not he had the right to force the circumstances. But then his thoughts returned to the matter of the chip and the whole blasted forsaken organization, and he bristled, gaining assurance in the rightfulness of his act. Whether or not his and Lessy's paths went in different directions after the surgery, Charles would not permit some bastards to use this chip as an excuse to mar that perfect young body and especially the soul. The boy was so much more than prey for such people.
Right now Less was with Mary, Wright's nurse, getting prepared. The boy had seemed very cautious of the young woman once they had met, probably did not like her much - Charles recalled his outburst the other day and suspicion came to him why. Not that Lessy had much of a choice other that go with her and through the standard procedure.
Wright was passing to and fro, waiting for them to finish. He could not recall being this nervous even when his first surgery had taken place. Lessy was not some random, nameless organism that Wright had never seen before. Moreover, he had seen him more intimately than was strictly necessary. Medical ethics dictated that he did not have much right to perform the whole thing when a personal relationship was involved. Yet he could not ask any of his colleagues to operate on Lessy in his place, not with the amount of top-secret information to share. He would have to deal with all the responsibility himself.
And again, something quivered deep inside him as he entered the surgery, mentally prepared. To see Lessy on the table in white garment - the table where Charles had performed so many surgeries already. It now felt odd - as it had never before, not even when Less had been lying in his bed, irrelevant whether asleep or awake. There he had seemed to... belong?
But casting aside the fact that his guts protested against such notions as of torturing the boy or similar, he started his work in a cool and professionalized manner. Mary told him afterwards that she could have never imagined the doctor to act so much like a robot, especially with the person in front of him being his relative - as Charles had introduced Lessy to her. She liked the boy a lot - after realizing that he was, in fact, a boy, since Less once again insisted on going to hospital in his skirts.
Wright had performed the surgery in record time, extracting the damned chip most efficiently and laying it aside for further research - Gordon had hinted he would not mind to dig into the matter due to his natural curiosity.
It was only after he left the surgery and went to have some coffee while Less was being taken to his room, that the nerves reminded of themselves, waking up, making Charles nearly spill his drink and hastily sit down onto the hard surface because his legs threatened to give way.
His hands trembled, gripped the plastic cup, nearly crashing it, as the feeling of scalpel being held in them returned with unexpected might. Lessy's skin through latex gloves, Lessy's long eyelashes, not completely ridden of make-up, fluttering shut, his blood prickling through the thin cut. When the chip came out and into the basin, euphoria ebbed and engulfed Wright whole. He wanted to live through the feeling over and again, the intensity of it, the flight, the rebirth.
His pager chirped, cutting into the line of thoughts, and Charles reached out for it, absently discarding his coffee cup into the nearest waste bin.
The short message informed him to come to Lessy's room immediately, and Charles realized he was running only when he was already up and on his way. The boy must have already come to from the anesthesia, but Mary could easily attend to any of his needs, so the message meant something must have gone wrong. Very wrong. Awful. The surgery had seemed properly performed just half an hour ago, but now Wright imagined every sort of drastic outcome there could be. It was not usually in his habit and self-confidence, and he knew deep inside that nothing was his fault, but an unexpected side-effect could appear out of some alterations of Lessy's body Charles had known nothing about.
In front of the white door, that was showing nothing of what was happening inside, he stopped and forced himself to take a deep breath. Then, in a manner as cool as he could manage, Charles entered his patient's room.

Mary hurried to meet him as soon as he entered. Lessy seemed to be still sedated, but even that disturbed Wright because the nurse would not have called him if there had been nothing to worry about.
''He was in hysterics as he woke up sometime ago. I was forced to give him a shot or he could have harmed himself'', Mary stated, her eyes wide, still reliving what had just happened.
Wright hastily strode up to the bed, taking Lessy's wrist to feel his pulse, then cradled the hand gently in his. The boy looked exhausted, which he probably was, his figure suddenly thinner that Charles thought it had been. He could not permit himself the intimacy of kissing those pale lips while Mary was present but craved them - he realized it with a start, and gripped the long fingers firmer.
''I will take it from here, thank you, Mary'' Charles was grateful he managed to suppress nervous hoarseness in his voice.
The nurse started arguing, perhaps suggesting something but then simply nodded and left.
Charles took a chair from the corner and settled on it in front of the patient's bed. He could not simply lay the fact of the surgery aside as done, but other problems still reeled in his mind. The future seemed unnaturally vague for him right now as it had never before. He could not decide what to do, now that someone else had become an undeniable part of his own life; the thought of which left him somewhat breathless and broken with worry.
Lessy stirred once again, groaning slightly and then making an attempt to turn over and lie on his back. Charles had to catch him then, since the boy could harm himself.
Lessy stared wordlessly, eyes flashing around the room with uncertainty, then his fingers crawled along the edge on the bed in the direction of Wright's arm.
''I don't feel it anymore'', he mumbled as soon as their hands met.
The doctor rose up from his seat for his professional habit bid him to carry out necessary procedures as to check the patient's pulse or the sensitivity of the limbs. At the same time Charles's heart leapt as he heard Lessy's words in anticipation even if the meaning of them was still out of his grasp.
“Do you feel my touch?” he asked, probing the boy’s feet, minutely holding his breath in fear that something had indeed gone wrong in the course of the operation.
“I do”, the response came in a broken soft voice. “It’s not the same as before”.
Wright noted tears starting to glitter in Lessy’s eyes and sat closer, bending over to pat his head.
“Not the same how?” he did his best to make the question sound soothing.
“Not… I don’t… feel aroused by you anymore”, Lessy made a bubbling noise deep in his throat as though choking on tears. “It’s all dull now”.
Wright drew back with a start. Not aroused. That damned chip had made the boy think that he was in love with a much older man, not suitable for being his soulmate. Thankfully now it was all dealt with and Lessy was returning to a normal teenaged self with peers for friends and lovers. It was a good thing. It was for the best. Judging by the wounded look in the boy’s eyes, Wright had managed to mutter all that out loud. But to face the truth, Charles’s role in Lessy’s life turned out to be almost finished.

Now that the chip was out, Lessy’s body was rapidly coming back to normal. Not a week had passed and he was already up and walking, getting used to what he called “a new view of life”. He often described how everything he touched felt different from before, not wrapped into a veil of sexual arousal, or at least he could not recall how it had been before the time that he had been taken through the procedure of implanting the chip. Lessy was not repulsed by the topic, at least when talking to Charles – he was more than friendly with Mary, but as close-mouthed as Wright could have never imagined him to be.
Despite this, the relationship between the doctor and the boy was deteriorating rapidly. Despite all the friendly banter, Lessy drew back each time Charles reached out to touch him, was it in medical manner or simply out of the sudden desire to feel of the boy’s skin under his fingers. Wright could not fathom where his need had come from. Was it because he had gotten used to it but now had to restrain himself from having it? Lessy on the other hand must have understood that the craving he had had for Charles was naught but another trick of his altered nerve system and as it had expired, he felt disgusted by having wanted someone not suitable for him. Charles realized how right he had been in not using the boy’s body in the first place – instead of disgust Lessy could have started hating him. They were better off as they were. Time would sort it out.

''Here'', a heavy package dropped onto the bed near Lessy, who stared at it in wonder. ''Wear these''.
Today was the day of the boy's discharge. They had not been talking about what would happen afterwards, as if avoiding the uneasy and awkward topic. Charles was overloading his working schedule out of desire to stay near Lessy and see him the least time possible at the same time. The strain between them grew but neither the boy stated in any way that he was leaving to find another flat nor Wright pushed him to do so. What he did was that he bought Lessy clothes, which were currently lying on the bed, and now was going to take the boy shopping. He was firm on the fact that now as Less started his new life he could as well start it as a young man. At least as firm as he could be after thinking about how awfully it could severe their already declining relationship.
Lessy had shown him the side he was aware of only slightly and Wright could not help admiring it over and again. The willpower he had to go through every issue he had ever encountered! Such as now - not a flicker of emotion appeared on that pale face, for complexion of which Lessy could thank being bedridden for several days, as he unwrapped the clothes and put them on. They were plain enough - Charles had brought them merely for the purpose of covering the body - but finally male. And they suited Lessy even if he was not sure about that himself, as he eyed them critically.
Fresh air must have breathed new life into Lessy – his eyes were blazing as he watched the people and the cars, passing by. Strangely enough Charles felt like he was showing the world to a person who had been blind until recently. He had no idea what was on the boy's mind. Was it really that different to wear the chip? Was it bringing that much discomfort? Or was it concentrating all the attention on one specific object, like looking through a tube? There was no way to find out. But Lessy was happy. So happy, Charles could not help feeling glad as well.
He had planned the whole day ahead as if he tried to make sure every slightest possibility of Lessy leaving him right now was prevented with his foresight. Wright was not even thinking about it in quite so many words – it was the force that was driving him in the first place, and then he managed to find some excuses afterwards.
But Less was not running, he was smiling and living this life to the full when he finally got the opportunity to, even his cautiousness around Charles had reduced a little. Wright himself was shamelessly basking in the glee that emanated from the boy.
He did have two shocks throughout the day, even if they were dull, like getting hit by a sedative, when you slip into dark and painless numbness just to wake up later into a slightly confusing and cotton-soft world.
Firstly, they visited the barber’s where Lessy got his haircut in a manner totally different from the previous one. His fair hair was still longer than most men preferred it, but not quite getting down to his shoulders. Or rather, falling in soft curls around his face. Nothing extraordinary, none of those phantasmagoric swirls kids had on their heads these days, but an adult haircut. Lessy’s eyes shone with the same confidence Charles had already noted in him before, but the air around the boy – or rather the young man now – was changing dramatically.
But this was nothing compared to what Charles lived through after Lessy chose himself several outfits in a clothes shop and emerged out of the booth wearing one - particularly well-suited jeans with a long-sleeved shirt and a soft bright scarf around his neck. All that complemented his appearance much more than any woman skirt or top ever would. All the make-up could be forgotten as well - the male version of Less was much more appealing and potentially alluring. And in all unexpectancy Charles found out that he was very much allured himself. In went the boy with a tendency to dress up as a girl and earn his living as a prostitute. Out came out man who could easily drive any interested male crazy. He probably just decided to start with Wright.
Now, what should a man, who had had his number of affairs with women throughout his life and was not going to stop those quite yet, think on the point that this young man seemed the most gorgeous being to him. Charles felt dizzy alone just from watching Less move around the shop in his newly acquired image, leave apart contemplating on his own reaction. He was a doctor, who could proudly admit that he was not an amateur in psychiatric matters, plus lying to himself was not one of his shortcomings, but currently he failed in solving the puzzle. He could not help it. He did not want to.

A familiar figure met them several feet from the entrance of the mall - Gordon waved from the other side of the road and called Charles's name as soon as they emerged from out of the doors. Wright had contacted him before leaving the hospital, having decided that it was time to uncover what he had been hiding from his best friend.
Gordon looked amused as he took Lessy in, needless to say he recognized him from those hideous videos. The young man in his place glared at the unknown man as if he bore a threat or could possibly steal any of Lessy's property.
''Alexander'', he answered the offered handshake tersely, and Charles realized with delay it was the young man's full name.
''My best friend Gordon'', Wright added hurriedly, because it was odd enough that a person this young was not the one being introduced first, though knowing Lessy's forward character, it was no real surprise to Charles. ''Gordon, the boy I've told you about''.
Lessy looked wounded by such a description and the programmer turned away to suppress a laughter.
''I see'', he responded later in a perfectly steady and serious tone. ''Pleasure to meet you''.
That was left without much of an answer, if one did not count Lessy's quite expressive silence for one. He obviously refused to make any contacts and with Gordon too amused to attempt it either Charles found himself faced with a problem of holding a small talk. But instead of chit-chat he just held his hand up to his forehead and muttered with a sigh:
''This is just childish''.
Gordon so much as let the comment slide, observing Lessy's reaction with a non-concealed curiosity, which made Charles wonder what was so obvious in his behavior and worry if something at all gave away - whatever there was to give away. He could not recall such a feeling from anywhere in his past, as if he had done something to be ashamed off, to hide, something that was driving him crazy with escalating paranoia. Something in Lessy's eyes reminded him that he had nearly had a gay relationship and now his friend could no doubt see it too - and here Wright was, after all his speeches in homosexuals' defense, frightened he could seem one of them. It was a mess, the whole situation was.
Lessy, to give him some credit, did not move a muscle while Charles was dealing with his new enlightenment. It struck Wright as odd that the young man was not flirting around - the doctor was used to the sight, missed it even. Probably Gordon was not his type, which Charles could define neither as a good nor as a bad thing, or possibly the absence of his chip had given him another personality.
''Let's just find someplace to eat'', Wright muttered finally, completely at odds with why he was unable to hold his end of the conversation. Maybe all the shifts at work were to blame.
Somehow Gordon managed to melt Lessy's silence by the end of the day, probably because it was impossible for him not to. Even Charles was not getting much opportunity to insert a word, so he was left to imagine all the nightmares Less could drop onto his head by just one wrong phrase, by one slightest hint. Gordon was careful not to show his awareness of the previously present chip, but still found out even about the fact that the young man had encountered problems while dealing with math. Which he straight forward promised to help the boy with, true to his nature. Charles even allowed himself to draw a humble conclusion that his friend had liked his new headache. They had parted their ways, agreeing to meet one of those days at Gordon's place and Charles sighed with relief. Until the next obstacle. The bed.

Lessy padded through the dark hallway without putting his slippers on to switch the light on in the living room. Charles stayed behind, still taking his coat off, but not yet, enthralled by the figure, standing in the doorway. He was probably becoming a poet with all the epithets that came to his mind at once, but it was probably an untimely thoughts.
“You take the bed, I’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight”, he broke the silence when Lessy did not move an inch in what seemed an eternity.
The young man paused, not turning around, just looking at the doorway as if it suddenly became the most interesting thing.
''I'm fine with the couch, you are the host'', he replied in that new adult voice of his Charles couldn't yet get used to.
‘Exactly,that's why you sleep in bed, since you are the guest’, Charles wanted to insist, but stopped himself just in time, because Lessy was not a guest. Anything but. Anything. Wright spotted the young man observing him from over his shoulder and squeezed out the poorest excuse he could think of:
“You are just out of the hospital, you should not exert yourself much”.
Less could not have commented it better - he snorted and then added while entering the room and, knowing him, going to the bathroom:
“So now you are trying to put me into your bed any way possible, huh?”
A better phrase couldn't have been thought of to serve as a bomb onto Charles's head. While Lessy couldn't see him, he permitted himself a moment of weakness, raising his hand to wipe his forehead, giving up. Something strange was going on with him, and he hadn't any strength to deal with it, as well as any power over it.
Instead of contemplating over it any further, Wright hung his coat and went straight into the kitchen to drown his thoughts in cooking. He was halfway through making soup as Lessy reappeared in a different set of clothes - apparently he had gone through the bought items and probably even found them some space and hangers in Charles's wardrobe; and hasn't that thought made the man warm inside.
The young man's cut hair was wet and clinging to the sides of his neck, making him shiver every time another droplet slid off them and down his back under the T-shirt. He was still a little awkward about his new image, now that Charles could take a closer look though he was busy tearing his eyes off Lessy's collarbones.
They ate in silence, as if both of them couldn't find a topic for conversation. The atmosphere was dence, it was their first time alone in a long time - no nurses, no Gordon. Any word Charles was ready to say got stuck in his throat and he toiled with inability to make a small talk. As for Lessy, he was probably simply not in the mood.
By some luck Charles was spared the necessity of choosing between the bed and the couch - he was urgently called to the hospital for the night shift, which he was enormously glad for. He sensed a long talk in front of them, but wanted to delay it for just a smallest bit longer. Until it got too late, of course, but humans are never very sensitive about such a thing as 'too late'.
The next evening when Charles came home, Lessy was already absent.

Charles prouded himself with being quite rational about things, as was expected of his as a male being. He had taken the next day as a day off to find the strength and talk to the young man - no matter, about what. Maybe his education. Something connected to the future, their future.
He overreacted when he saw the empty flat nonetheless. Lassy had always been unobtrusive in here, no dropped clothes, no dirty plates, not even a cigarette or any improvised ashtray. But Charles was used to seeing him in bed, since that was the most frequent state he found the boy in when returning from work. Now it was already dark, but not a lamp switched on, and the bed untouched. Lessy hadn't slept in it even the previous night - at least Charles had gotten such a notion from looking at it. He managed to exhale - and only then he realized he had been holding his breath - when he thought of checking the wardrobe. Everything that belonged to Lessy in this house was still there.
Charles went into the kitchen to see if there was a note. Normally people wrote notes before they left. At least when they were on speaking terms. Lessy and he weren't. Rolling this last phrase in his mind over and over, like a pill he wasn't sure he wanted to swallow, Charles switched the kettle on. Then switched it off for some reason, not being able to get rid of one notion to realise the other. But when he stubbornly switched the thing on again, it came to him he wasn't in the mood for tea. No, he wanted coffee. For that he didn't need the kettle.
Several weaks ago he would have been in the flat alone like this on regular basis, just women coming and going, never being present for a long time - Charles had never seemed to be able to settle down, as well as miss any of those strangers. Truly he didn't. He was polite enough to keep their names in mind and gentleman enough to court them, but not one of them had stayed. Maybe they lacked something. Maybe he did. Not that he had low self-esteem, but this field was probably just closed for him.
His musings, worthy of a teenager, were cut short by telephone ringing. Charles cursed, coming to his senses - what idiocy he was thinking about anyway, it had never used to bother him before - and put the coffee pot away to get that call.
''Hard to reach you at home these days'', Gordon sounded no less cheerful, but Wright spotted a hint of worry in his voice. ''Wanna drop by?''
Charles fell silent for a moment, somewhat unsure how to respond, then finally deсided the truth would be good, since he had already concealed far too much from his best friend. Gordon forestalled him, though, and Wright stilled, processing the information:
''Alex's here, too, maybe both of us is enough to convince you''.
Charles hardly heard Gordon add something about Less being a nice young man and so forth. He felt like some puzzle started making more sense even if the picture itself was still mostly unclear. He threw 'Okay, see you soon' to his friend and probably hung up on it too fast. The way he jerked his coat off the clothes rack and dashed down the stairs instead of taking the elevator certainly spoke volumes of his state of mind and the unwise decision of driving a car to Gordon's place.
Fortunately for him, he was spared running into somebody or something on his way, which may have been due to his experience, or his natural calmness, or he had just itched himself together somewhere between the first and the second traffic light.
He must have had a grave expression on his face, to match how he felt at the moment, because Gordon, who opened the door, looked puzzled, and after scratching the back of his head, made an attempt of joking.
''Man, you look just like my father did, when he was about to thrash me'', he said, letting Charles in. ''Something tells me its about Alex, but I'm missing the point here''.
Less showed up in the doorway of the living room, or computer room, in this particular case, and was now leaning onto the doorframe as he seemed to be in habit of doing, and it was going to be the death of Charles, he thought, as they stared at each other for a short eternity, air between them tingling with static. Then Less just raised one hand and waved.
''Sorry about not leaving a note'', he apologised just like that, as if for a minor slip. It was just a minor slip, though, taken out of the long row of different circumstances, that made it seem more meaningful, suspicious and deliberate.
Gordon was observing them both from the door, as if something was going on in his mind, as if he was noticing something, and Charles was dipped into first cold, then boiling hot water. That gaze was borring into him, like gunshots, with time he even felt being naked. He tried to conceal it, possibly too fast:
''I'm starting to wonder, if there's any tea for me after a long day of work'', he turned away from Less, noticing with a side glance, how abruptly the young man's arm fell after there was no more need to be nonchalant. Holding up a show for Gordon then. Charles and Less probably wouldn't be at each other's throats if they were alone, but the silence between them would surely be murderous.
''Certainly, anything for an old friend'', Gordon responded, cheerful again, the only one in the room candidly so. The guests followed the host into the kitchen, where the programmer set at boiling a kettle, and the other two sorted themselves into the opposite corners, defensively finding some wall with their backs. Charles thought with an abyss opening in the pit of his stomach, than Gordon could not but have noticed the strain, and was concealing his knowledge on purpose, because both traits were in his nature, and what was currently going on there was not natural - but he thought so in vain. That was why, when Gordon bypassingly asked if Charles would have anything stronger than tea, the doctor just nodded with abandon, which spoke enough for itself, since normally he would decline. Then again, normally he wouldn't be asked at all.

How his friend could stand it, he knew not. Charles was not taking part in the conversation, going on between Less and Gordon, he just sat silently back in the couch, observing them talking and sipping his beverage without much notice. They seemed to succeed well without him, even if Charles could not tell the current topic as his mind was already clouded with alcohol. He was not in habit of getting drunk on regular basis, and he had some kind of limit in his drinking, relatively low when compared to other men, and now when he was not paying attention to it, of course he was losing it.
He must have dozed off, maybe even without closing his eyes, just staring into space into the direction of the window, the only thing in his mind was Lessy, shifting images from the first impression to his present state, changing like an unstable reflection on water surface, distant or flirting, close or driving away. Charles felt being in a haze, light glow and growing darkness, brain going numb, body warm and cool at the same time. Maybe he was at home, waking up, and Lessy was itching nearer, ready to seduce any moment now, and he should finally give in, he ought to...
''Gordon went out for a second, are you asleep there?'' Lessy appeared in his line of view, even if he was not saying things Charles expected him to say, the halo of light hair around his handsome face, just drew Wright's hand up to touch it.
''You are the most gorgeous being I know'', he muttered, desiring to convey his feeling, the truth, here and now to everyone, to himself, because he had delayed all this for too long.
Lessy looked puzzled for some reason, then he simply disappeared, making Charles's hand drop back into his lap weakly. Then he just fell into darkness, his consciousness slipping, unable to fight the tiredness and the alcohol amount anymore.

First thing Charles thought about as he woke up in the morning, was the fact that he surely was late for work. It took him about five minutes to process what day of the week and how late in the morning it was, before he slumped back into the couch, realising he had a day off. Now that adrenaline seized burning through his blood, he closed his eyes for a bit more to recall that wonderful dream he had had. His head hurt from hangover, which did not surprise him; his medical habits kicked in and he started wondering about the whereabouts of headache pills in Gordon's flat but this certainly could not win over that perfect image of Less in his head.
Good dream, he thought sarcastically with a groan, for a straight man with a long history of love affairs. Though he had to admit it was still remaining pretty platonic, but at the very least he was already fixated. Charles thought of Less, dreamt of Less, worried about him, cared about him, got jealous over him, even if he was only ready to admit so in his head. Maybe he could even get hard for the young man, because now he was expecting anything, really. And Gordon's place was just the spot for contemplating whether it was a curse or a blessing.
Charles opened his eyes one more time, noticing he was left in the living room where he clearly recalled falling asleep in the first place. Gordon obviously slept in his bedroom but thoughts where Lessy could have spent the night burnt through Wright like a hot blade since there were not much options left. Unless he went home. Or chose some armchair. Or never slept at all.
The clock on the wall tickled, reminding of early time; it was a habit, burnt into him by his choice of profession like a stigma, to wake up at these hours. Otherwise the flat was still asleep. Except that Gordon was an early bird too, he prefered to have some time to wake up and enjoy his breakfast, rather than running to his computer shirtless, and at the same time he prefered to start accomplishing his orders early too, so it all summed up into sadistic sleeping habits, which a doctor could only shake his head at but a friend needed to be tolerant of.
So when Charles stirred himself into the kitchen, he found Gordon there, spreading butter over his toast, coffee steaming in front of him. Medicine rested providently on the counter beside a glass of cool water.
''Thought you'd finally sleep in'', Gordon muttered around his food which he had already started chewing on. ''Even hangover can't get you, huh?''
Charles rolled his eyes and answered something incomprehensive as he swallowed the remedy.
''Where's...'', he started as his head stopped spinning more or less, but could not bring himself to finish the phrase with the name he had too much association with right now.
''Oh, Alex'', Gordon finished himself, reminding Wright he actually had to use a different name now. ''He is entirely unlike us, still sleeping so soundly I envy him. He went to bed something crazy, though, like three AM''.
After Charles's inquiring glance and expressive silence Gordon responded with a shrug.
''Yeah, he took the other half of my bed, we didn't want to wake you up. He didn't bother me or anything''.
Shock must have somehow reflected on Charles's face, because even if he was still silent, Gordon waved the hand that was free from the coffee cup and laughed:
''I know he's gay, alright? He is not concealing the fact, ya know''.
''Ah'', was the only thing Charles could manage. He wondered if that was something about Lessy that made even perfectly straight men fall for him like inexperienced teens.
''You are not afraid he would try to seduce me, are you?'' his friend enquired, peering at Wright more closely. ''You did have that murdering look on your face yesterday, you know. I'm not sleeping with kids, especially male''.
Charles jerked his chin incomprehensibly, not really sure himself whether he was agreeing or contradicting. Less was not a kid, definitely not, beautifully carved and positively basking in golden light, he was not a kid. He was something else, something inhumanly divine. Unless Charles was going raving mad - and he suspected he was. But true, not with kids, Gordon wasn't. But Charles had claimed he had not been getting aroused by boys either. Look where it brought him.
''You know you can tell me if there's any problem with that matter, right?'' Gordon paused eating to make sure everything was alright because his friend was behaving strangely. ''Not to mention I know a part of it already''.
Charles wondered with dread which part that was, but Gordon was not psychic, he could not read all those inner thoughts Wright suffered from.
''Of course'', he responded calmly, more likely because he was already tired. ''When I figure the rest of it myself''.
Gordon rose to slap him on his shoulder as an act of friendly support, when from the depth of the apartment Lessy came strolling into the kitchen in just his t-shirt and underwear.
''It's positively impossible to sleep when you are making so much noise''.
The young man was going to be the death of him, Charles decided, as tired as he was, leaning back into his chair and averting his gaze in the direction of the window without a second glance at Lessy, because the first one was quite enough.
''Well, don't miss the best part of the day, that's what this is about'', Gordon told the young man in that serene tone of his, that he uptook when he was giving somebody a lecture. ''Come, sit, have breakfast. Don't be too hard on Charles, he's tired''.
Lessy grumbled something under his breath along the lines of 'yeah, right', and since he was known for his contempt of adults' desire to teach him how to live, this could have as easily been said about the first part as well as the second one.
Charles stole a smalish glance in Less's direction as the young man sat at the opposite side of the table, his hair rumpled from sleep - and he clearly was smothering yarns. And Wright wished they suddenly moved to two weeks ago, no Gordon beside them, no rubs between them, warm bed in the next room and - it was a totally wrong line of thoughts. Even if he could conceal his slight erection from the others, or, blast it all, it was morning anyway, he could not conceal it from himself. He was getting hard thinking about a man. Even the fact it was Less made it no easier. He stood up abruptly, thankful that his shirt was long enough to cover his abdomen, and strolled out of the kitchen. From the sympathetic look on Gordon's face it was obvious he thought Charles felt sick.
Wright did go into the bathroom - to wash up. Cool water streamed down his neck behind his collar and he felt way better. He still had to figure out how to deal with this mess, because it was driving him quite mad. Though not the type of mad they cured in mental hospitals.
''There is something wrong about all this'', Gordon slipped in after him several minutes later, shutting the door behind himself. He looked pretty worried, and Charles couldn't really blame him for that. He was, indeed, being not quite himself. To put it mildly.
''You end up with a result of some secret medical experiment, are you lucky or damned, huh?'' Gordon continued his musings out loud. ''Where did you find him, anyway? Not in a gay bar, I hope?''
''No, not in a gay bar'', Charles responded with a sigh, not angrily, simply tiredly. He was even more closed-mouthed than usual, he felt no desire to discuss something that might lead to topics that should be avoided.
''He does give you the whole lot of a headache'', Gordon resumed as if Charles's curt answers were not bothering him. ''Are you actually ignoring him?''
His friend was cutting to the heart of the problem, and he did have sharp eyes, and maybe it was for the better.
''Le-Lex'' he switched to a passable short name just in time, ''had a problem with this surgery, he did not like the idea of it much''.
''No?'' Gordon sounded surprised, because objectively no one ought to want to have that chip in their body. ''Hadn't met him before the whole surgery thing, but he is plenty cheerful at the moment. I have to give him that: he knows how to enjoy this life.''
Charles looked up at his friend, startled by these words - that did sound like Less all over - when the said person knocked on the closed door of the bathroom, interrupting the two friends' attempt to sort things out.
''Hey, doves, stop snogging in there. I feel left out''.
Charles's emotions ebbed and poured into one another, as he thought of the Lessy he had first met and the same, yet not, young man standing just behind the thin door right now, that the doctor impulsively wanted to throw it open, to embrace the man, to lock themselves within each other, to kiss, like he had for the first time, when Lessy became all defocused and aroused, when there were no chip between them, no surgery, only themselves, naked in front of that lack of knowledge, and thus as vulnerable as they were strong. A small funny thought intervened, too, of Gordon looking at the two of them in his own corridor, definitely not engaged in friendly pats on the back, and Charles twisted his lips in half-smile, half-disturbance.
''I'm not feeling well, I should return to bed'', he answered out loud at his friend’s silent asking glance.
''Well, I am going outside, then, for some fresh air'', Lessy growled from the other side of the door, and Wright got a notion that he should have done what he had just imagine, but now the moment was lost. No matter the absurd that action somehow felt right. Yet, when he pressed the handle and came out into the hallway, Less's form against the wall opposite from where the doctor was standing made his stomach curl up and through a couple of cartwheels, so he simply passed the young man and made his way for the couch as his only salvation. Gordon tried to persuade him into occupying the bed, which would have possibly been wiser for Charles's state, but the moment he recalled Lessy had slept in that very bed, his head started spinning and he just ignored his friend's arguments. He did not even have to fake how drastically he felt.

It had been four days since Charles had last seen Less at Gordon's place. After he had returned home that evening, he and the young man had not crossed their paths once, at least Wright hadn't spotted Lessy at home. On the day number one, after he came home from work, several garments they had bought were missing from the wardrobe. On the day number two Charles was working a night shift and Lessy obviously hadn't slept at home at all. Food in the fridge was untouched, the bed was unruffled. Lessy's books went missing on the day number three. Charles hadn't contacted Gordon yet, but he was pretty sure where all the things were wandering to. Here was the evening of the day number four and the doctor was opening the door of his apartment with the expectancy to find it deserted. Which it, indeed, was.
It was warm out in the street, but the place felt chilly all of a sudden. How many times did he actually come home, never realizing it was desolate? And after how many times of Lessy simply being there did it become so painfully obvious?
Charles put his suitcase onto the nearest chair and went into the kitchen to cook something to warm-up, even if he had little desire to move. As his food hissed on the frying pan, he leaned onto the counter and started contemplating again. At the very least he could not let things stay as they were right now because it was killing him. It was probably not bothering Lessy anymore, Charles thought with a pang in his chest. He realized it might have been the same for the young man before he had been deprived of the chip and the illusion of love and adoration Less himself had thought to be real. These were the two sides of one coin. Lessy with his girlish garments and girlish attitude was not drawing Charles's attention as much at his more masculine and self-assured version that could stand his ground more sternly and defensively. Apparently as a drawback that - Lex, he should say, did not fancy older men at all, not this much older and meddlesome. Or maybe just not Charles? If he had indeed spent these four days at Gordon's place, it could not have been out of mere friendly feelings. And when Wright thought of it, something clenched in his chest, like thongs around an ember in the fireplace, crushing it.
His food looked inedible. He hovered near the counter, looking at the mess on his plate, then pushed it away and went into his bedroom, wandering restlessly. He felt an urge to do something, to hold something, maybe move, he could not fathom. Maybe it was Lessy Charles was thinking about, as he stopped in front of his desk in the adjoint study, staring at the phone on the desktop. His fingers gripped the cool plastic of the receiver unthinkingly. He wished for warmth but there was none. In dull haze he pushed a speed dial button and came back to reality only when someone on the other end picked the phone up after several beeps. Charles knew there was, in fact, only one speed dial on his machine, but before he could speak, Lessy's voice startled him into awareness.
''Why are you picking up Gordon's calls?'' Wright reacted to 'Hello' without thinking. Less had never answered his calls at home with such ease.
''I saw it was you on the display'', the young man responded nonchalantly, ''Gordon's taking a bath''.
Charles closed his eyes and leaned heavily onto the desk. Something was slipping from his fingers so fast he could not grasp it but at least he still had the permission to hear Less's voice. No, Lex's now, he corrected himself.
''I see'', he replied emotionlessly. ''Are you living with him these days?''
''He helps me with maths'', Lex threw back immediately as if he had had answers ready beforehand.
They fell silent for some time. It felt natural to listen to Lex's breathing, even if Charles couldn't hear it very well but he used his imagination.
''Are you returning here anytime soon?'' he finally thought of asking, moving through the most important of questions.
''I shouldn't bother you much'', came the quick answer. Oh, he was definitely prepared for the talk, and Wright clenched his free hand with abandon, because it was so much like the person he appreciated and the person who wanted to be his no more.
''I worry...'' he started without thinking, and forced himself to continue - he had thought about this a lot himself, he might as well speak his mind open and be done with it. ''I'll worry if you don't''.
Now it was Lex's turn to fall silent. Maybe he had not expected for the conversation to go quite in that direction.
''Have you...'' he started after a while, ''have you actually meant what you said then?''
Charles wondered at this sudden uncertainty, he didn't even specify when was 'then', must have been that time at the hospital, because it was the thing that, in Charles's point of view had hurt Lex the most.
''Maybe it is for the best, even if...'' pause again, this conversation was getting more full of silence than anything else, ''even-''
''Not that one'', Lex cut him off with sudden metal in his voice, that made Charles jump slightly and open his eyes to the emptiness of his apartment. ''The one you said when you were drunk''.
Charles could not recall saying anything at the time, so he opened his mouth to ask what Lex actually meant by that, but he was forestalled by the young man's shout right into his ear:
''You can at least stop being a fucking coward and admit it!'' followed by beeps of a receiver being thrown back into its nest.
Charles looked down at the phone in his hand with a wonder of what had just happened, startled especially because he had never heard Lex swear like this before. Not that it mattered anymore, really. This relationship was successfully severed, all by him. He could as well go and try to swallow what was standing on the counter in the kitchen and was trying to show itself off as his meal.
It was already cold by the time he got to it, or maybe he hadn't warmed it up sufficiently in the first place. Charles swallowed bits and pieces on sheer will, because it was evening, he had to have supper - at least this would keep him sane enough. He tried not to think of what Lex'd just said, not to puzzle it out. He had lost the last round of this game and all the mistakes he had made in it were no longer reversible.
Charles had no strength to pick the plate up and put it into the sink, he simply put his palms to his face, elbows on the table, and gave himself to the opening darkness. It was empty and he craved emptiness now. It was peaceful and he needed peace. He needed to erase the events of this last month - even if it would never make him happier, it will get easier over time or so he hoped.
Some small sound on the background hadn't drawn his attention at first, because really, what is some sound that doesn't concern a person when the said person is ready to crawl into a hole and never show his face to the light again. Or at least that's what he would think out of sheer misery.
Yet the sound grew slightly louder and with that familiar. Of metal scraping against metal inside a door lock. The notion of a door lock made Charles raise his head to meet the front door of his apartment opening - and even he could not see who was in the hall, who else had the keys rather than...
Wright was up and in the hall in a split moment. If it hadn't been Lex as he'd thought it was perhaps something inside the man would have broken without repair. Yet it was, by some unexplained luck, the young man himself.
If asked who was the one to initiate the kiss, Charles would hesitate to answer. He could swear Lex moved towards him at some point and replied to the touch of lips if not immediately then close to that. At the same time Charles could not deny that he was going forward without a second thought - it felt right and for once he wanted to do what was right, and it hadn't let him down.
He felt getting drunk after the first kiss and once they had fallen apart he didn't seem to have been able to regain his breath. He gulped for oxygen like a drowning man who was saved at the very last moment. Lex was looking up at him with these patient eyes Charles must have had in the very beginning. When they had switched roles he could not fathom.
''It will be alright now, I guess'', the young man stated calmly, not even breathlessly.
''What?'' Charles asked more or less steadily which in itself was already an achievement. This lack of spark in Lex somewhat frightened him but he willed this emotion down because things were looking up and he couldn't afford losing the prospective.
''Us'', the young boy replied simply and despite the seeming lack of arousal reached up to take another kiss.
The knot of Charles's emotions was dissolved in it like in a glass bowl full of acid. It didn't matter now whether what they were about to do was looked upon by the society or not, whether he had ever dreamt of being in this position in general, whether he stood up for homosexuals or denied their normalcy. This was the moment containing the eternity that would pass without notice and memory to become a border between the past and the present. And they were in it together.
''I'll take a shower first'', Lex grew away slightly, still as calm albeit in the lead of the events. When he slipped from Charles's embrace and left the man to regain his wits in the corridor, Wright even wondered if there was going to be any sex on the other end of this affair. To speak nothing of fire one would expect a teenager to have in these circumstances, he couldn't brag about any noticeable erection himself. He was feverish from kisses but once they'd ended and the source of them had vanished, Charles was beginning to wake up. There was no understanding to what had happened or was about to happen. He pushed himself from the wall and went into the bedroom as the only room they both had an aim to be in, but yet he had trouble realizing why he chose to come there.
Charles stopped by the window, touching the cool glass with the tips of his fingers and peering through the evening darkness outside. For some reason now he forced himself to puzzle the situation out. He had had an erection on Lex's account before but not at the moment when of all times he should have it. He wanted the young man to be nearby with possessiveness he was yet to experience. Charles tried to compare all that was happening here with any of him encounters with women and failed.
''This is going to be different'', Lex's calm voice tore through Charles's contemplations and bare arms wreathed around the man's neck from the behind. He turned around.
The young man was standing beside him naked as he had on several occasions but this time it was different. Something about Lex was different. He still reminded of a wild cat, but now leaner, stronger, even taller. He looked healthier by far when naught a week had passed from his recharge from the hospital. His skin was pale but pale golden now as if he had spent some on the beach, which, something told Charles, he hadn't.
''I haven't thanked you yet'', Lex said lightly, letting Wright watch the whole of him.
''Thanked me?'' Charles wondered if he had misheard. In his point of view Lex had little reason to thank him for anything.
''When you've removed that chip the mist I was in for the last several years started clearing out. I could not see it at first, but you opened my eyes''. The young man was speaking like he was a shaman in some tribe who had a vision but could not interpret it because something was clouding his mind.
''Life is not only about sex now?'' Charles made a weak attempt to joke, but Lex smiled widely so it must have been a success.
''Oh, it is about sex alright'', the young man laughed a bit, leaning closer and embracing Wright again. ''But not like it used to be. Feeling any better now?''
''I am confused'', Charles confessed and wondered why he was being so alarmingly genuine.
''I know you are'', Lex joined in with that omniscient look on his face that was becoming frightening. ''But it is different. You were not confused before and it didn't do us much good, did it?''
''Who are you and what have you done to that Lessy I knew?'' Charles choked out, because this was not normal, this conversation.
''I am not Lessy anymore, but it's your doing, not mine'', Lex laughed, nuzzling the fabric over Charles's right collarbone, which strangely made the man warm and tingling all over. ''Come here, we can talk later''. He reached up to cup the side of Wright's face and draw him nearer for more kissing. The touch of lips pacified something in Charles's chest and made him worry about the outcome no longer.
Lex seemed to know what he was doing even if normally people went to bed with a mutual desire, which was now nonexistent, but soon Charles found himself pressed into the bed cover, still clothed, still only kissing. There was something about this kissing, though, the way they had done it before, the way they were doing it now, as if this was the essential part. Lex was hesitating to do anything else, and Charles for once in his life was uncertain what to do next. He probably knew the technique of sex between two men, but was unsure where to put his knowledge.
''Doesn't it bother you?'' Charles breathed out, panting nonetheless, as Lex finally forewent kissing to remove the man's shirt. ''That I don't seem to want you''.
Lex gave him a glance that made Charles clench inside - because people shouldn't look like this, like the world was on their palm and they were divine creatures.
''It sure bothers you'', the young man whispered in return. ''Don't worry, you will''.
He undid the buttons on Wright's shirt all the way down and placed a hand over his lower ribs.
Charles wondered what was going to happen after that, but Lex merely stared at him, then lay back onto the bed, intertwining their legs, but otherwise taking no action.
''You said I was the most gorgeous being'', he said bluntly as if they were outside on a stroll and some stormy cloud appeared in the sky. ''Am I?''
Charles closed his eyes for a second to calm down his heart that sped up for some reason. He was pretty certain he had said that part in a dream, but what did he have to lose anyway.
''Yeah, I guess you are''. He responded dismissively, stating that the stormy cloud indeed looked rather convincing.
Suddenly hot breath touched his earlobe and Charles nearly jumped as Lex started chanting:
''Then just think of me riding you, aroused by how you'd feel inside me, coming all over your stomach, clenching around you and taking you over the edge with me''.
Something flared inside Chales as the words burnt into images in his mind, his body finally believing what the mind was already hoping for. Lex laughed from under him as Wright rolled them both over in one powerful movement, lining their matching arousals as the evidence that the young man had been right from the beginning.
''I can be persuaded if you have something else in mind, though'', he purred and Charles groaned through his teeth at how the before and the after entwined with familiarity into a heady image of a young man, lying beneath him, waiting for Charles to give him whatever they both wanted.
''Did I help to make you into this, too?'' he asked, running an unsteady hand over Lex's torso.
''You did the most part by yourself, you know'', the young man drew one leg up to through it over Charles's hip in one liquid motion. ''You do have to pay for it though''.
''Never doubted that'', the doctor responded, finally going for his own clothes which, all things considered, were getting in the way. ''Name it, then''.
''You are mine'', Lex announced with condemnation that should have sound threatening but Wright did not care; he was not afraid of anything anymore, not judgment, not his own strange behaviour, not any divine punishment. If this being here told him he belonged, then he did.
It all happened as Lex had said it would. They were kissing a lot beside that as the necessary part of the whole procedure. The young man had mentioned in the very start it was something that was important for the two of them. Maybe it was like rebirth. Maybe Charles was just thinking of non-sensual epithets afterwards because he was slightly euphoric.
Lex had dug out a bottle of some hand cream lotion in the bathroom. Due to the unexpected nature of the whole affair they had no lubricant on them so that had to suffice. The young man did let Charles help preparing him even if he had mostly done it himself. Something clenched possessively inside Wright as he thought about the way his new lover had acquired those skills and he suddenly wanted to erase that, too. Somehow. Judging by the twinkle in Lex's eyes it would not be so easy. But if Charles was now committed to the young man, he had to make that commitment go both ways. At some moment, though, as Lex let out a choking sound and his head rolled onto his shoulder, so, Charles thought with unexpectedly smug satisfaction, there was something left inside him that could be taken by this one man only.
''You said you couldn't feel it anymore'', he whispered, ghosting his lips over Lex's cheekbone.
''I've just said it is going to be different. Man, we were talking so much and you weren't even paying attention'', Lex returned breathlessly, even more than Charles expected him to ever be from something like sex.
He felt hot all over, like a piece of scorched metal, looking Charles straight in the eyes without averting his gaze, as the man penetrated him, slowly, afraid to hurt, even if knowing perfectly it wouldn’t hurt for a number of various reasons. Still, Charles did not want to rush it. It was important not to hurry. There was something special in the way time seemed to slow down and stretch with pleasant pain that is sometimes felt after the whole day of being busy with some favourite if tiresome activity. When they finally settled against one another Lex looked triumphant, droplets of sweat forming over his brows and Wright gave into the desire to collect those with his lips, forgetting how silly such things might look. It was a moment without cleverness or foolishness, without masks humans put on every day, it was about something entirely different.
Lex wasn’t very talkative throughout their love making, only whimpered shortly now and then, which Charles suspected might have been a habit of his from earlier days. He proved to be right as he tried to kiss his lover yet again as they were getting closer to the pick, finding that Lex’s lips were pressed together and his teeth had managed to draw blood from attempting to remain silent. He was plenty afraid himself, Wright realized, of his past mistakes, and the understanding made the doctor warm inside. He lapped the faint hint of blood from Lex’s lips, opening them to slip his tongue inside, jerking his hips up slightly harsher than before and rolling them both over again, because they seemed to be constantly switching turns in proving each other there was no mistake in what they were engaged in. Lex cried out, deprived of the possibility to stifle the sound. He was becoming undone and Charles had only helped him along the way. The golden hair scattered all over the pillow, creating that halo again, that made Charles wonder if he was with a human being at all. Wright leaned heavily onto the bed with his elbows on the both sides next to Lex’s head, his vision doubling from the rush of hormones in his body, then it all blurred, save from the golden light that seemed to force everything else out.
When Charles opened his eyes again, Lex was gazing up at him somewhat worriedly, his chest heaving with exertion.
“What is it?” the doctor whispered, blowing the young man’s hair away with his breath. “Have I done something wrong?”
Lex blinked, surprised, then the worry on his face changed to a wide grin and he slipped up, releasing Charles, making him jerk with the last pangs of passion calming down.
“Oh yes, you have done something irreversibly wrong”, he answered with enough mischief in his voice to make the doctor suspect something that would follow was not so awful at all. “You’ve made me fall in love with you”.
Charles let out a responsive short laughter and shook his head.
“Nah, it’s even worse than that, I have to disappoint you”, he whispered again, as if he was deprived of his voice, but for some reason he wanted to keep it like that. “I have fallen there after you”.
Lex’s eyes widened almost unnoticeably but he was quick to hide it as he got out of Charles’s embrace and off the bed.
“Well, I’m going to--”, he started in his usual fashion, but Wright interrupted him, rising up to and leisurely weaving his arm around the young man’s waist.
“The bathroom, yes, I’ve gathered. Mind if I join you?”
Lex gave him a side look which was full of mischief and sparkle again and silently led their way out of the room.

Charles woke up in the morning somewhat earlier than he would have on a weekend but still well-slept. Lex was breathing softly next to him, having carefully tucked himself under the doctor’s arm but otherwise not occupying more space than was strictly necessary. Wright reached out to pat him on the head without waking him up when he realized it was the phone on the bedside table ringing that had woken him up. He snatched it before it could switching the answering machine on.
“Mornin’ there, sorry to wake you up”, Gordon sounded disturbed and hurried as if he was late for his train but had forgotten the tickets at home. “It’s maybe nothing, but...”
“You wouldn’t call without a reason, I know. What is it?” Charles responded softly but that still was enough for Lex to turn and grumble about people who had no respect for early morning sleep. The doctor leaned down to make up for it with light kisses onto the blond head.
“Alex had left yesterday in a hurry, I’m not sure where. I’m worried, you know, things happen to young men--”. Gordon sounded so much like Charles in the first days of meeting Lessy that the man had hard time stifling laughter. Lex forestalled him in his response, though, having heard that part of the conversation. Since Charles was still near him with the receiver, the young man turned his head and grumbled into the mouthpiece:
“Of course, I went to my drug-dealer and had my ass kicked there”.
Then he paused, considering something, and added in a whisper into Wright’s ear:
“Come to think of it, that’s what happened, don’t you think?”
Charles couldn’t help bursting with laughter after which he had to apologize to his friend, who asked with realization:
“He came to your place straightaway?”
“Yeah, well, he did”, Charles answered immediately after Lex let him, having caught his lips in yet another one of their countless kisses. In order not to disturb Gordon he had to cover the mouthpiece with his free palm. “We decided it was high-time we sorted things out”.
“And came to what?” Gordon sounded rather dry on the phone so he must have started getting the whole situation.
Charles actually felt rather relieved that he could finally tell him the whole of it now that he knew it himself. The nearest future at the very least.



When someone is growing right by your side you start having hard time telling when it so happened that the guy who was getting only as high as your shoulder, had no decent education and claimed to be a no-good became a stunning adult with a degree in medicine, graduated with honors, was running his own pharmaceutical company and was now looking at you slightly downwards. At this point Charles always wanted to add that Lex must have changed at least several boyfriends over time but then he recalled he himself was claimed to be the one and the only, which left him somewhat dazzled. Minus the flirting, of course. Lex was flirting around constantly. It was the way he behaved on regular basis.
Thoughts like these were getting into his head because he currently had no idea what to get his lover as a birthday present. Accessories and books were all good and well but they were getting somewhat mundane. At least they weren’t anything Lex could not get himself any time he wanted to. It had to be special.
“You are brooding”, soft voice sounded against the back of Charles’s neck and two strong hands landed onto his shoulders. Wright turned to meet the gaze of his lover who had perfected the skill of sneaking up on him far too well. “Bet I know what about”.
A faint trail of cologne, best and always fresh clothes - Lex’s madness about being clean hadn’t left him with years. He had even quit smoking somewhere in the beginning of them becoming a couple. The man tended to keep his hair in that first hairstyle he had had after the memorable surgery and looked every inch the successful businessman he was.
“My birthday present”, Lex stated while Charles admired him for the countless time.
When a stiff nod came to answer his surmise, he continued:
“How about you give me a kiss and go to work because you might be late for it and I tell you what I want for a present afterwards”. After that he smiled as if it was a simple thing to do, which it was, but Charles felt as if he was stepping right into some kind of a prank trap though normally Lex wouldn’t do anything like that to him. Wright leaned in to give his lover a light peck on the lips and got up to gather his bag. In the hall, though, Lex caught him by the hand and pressed him against the nearest wall to clear things up because he was obviously dissatisfied by how down Charles looked.
“Considering things I am not going to list right now something about my birthday disturbs you”, he said, towering a bit, but leaning down to catch Wright’s gaze as he had a habit of doing when he wanted to find out the truth.
“You have gained every possible thing one might want from life, yet you are still pretty conservative about staying with me and I can’t even find you a proper gift”, Charles stated unwillingly, trying to look aside but iron grip caught him by the chin and soon Lex was proving some point he was yet to state out loud by invading his mouth harshly and possessively. This always happened when Charles hinted about being unsure on this matter.
“I have gained you and though you I have gained everything else”, familiar cool tone that Lex used every time he was arguing with somebody was always strikingly different from his usual friendly purr he was talking to Charles in managed to cut the ground under the doctor’s feet. “And it’s common practice to ask people what they want to receive”, he added, suddenly changing back, and giving Wright another kiss, more tender this time. “Off with you”.

The tradition of gathering on someone’s birthday stayed unchanged year after year even if the number of participants had grown over time. Charles remembered times when there were just the two of them - he and Gordon, then Lex added to their company without a second thought. A couple of years ago he had brought a young man with him, his best friend, as he claimed him to be, though their relationship seemed to be somewhat uncertain on the first glance.
Everyone was taking a compensatory leave which they were storing just for the occasion - at least those who had compensatory leaves to speak of in the first place. Charles sometimes wondered how Lex was running his company if every time the doctor returned home his lover was there waiting for him - and Lex straight out refused to bring any work home. He was absent sometimes but not as much as Charles would expect from a person who had to arrange everything on his own and did not have a steady timetable of shifts as Wright did. Not that the doctor was very keen on all the ‘entrepreneur’ stuff.
Lex seemed to break his usual habits that day, though. Charles had not seen him from the previous evening and the man called around noon to say he’d come straight to the restaurant they had reserved the table at. When Wright drove up to the place of the meeting himself he spotted Lex’s car immediately; the others must have already gotten there too. Indeed, inside the restaurant Lex was standing over his friend Michel, and Gordon was sitting nearby amused by the conversation going on.
Lex was the first to notice Charles coming up to the table and moved in the doctor’s direction, his grin full of cheerful mischief.
“Then I should go to the one person who really appreciates me”, he flirtatiously proved some point unknown to Charles and slipped into his lover’s embrace without so much as looking around for curious glances from other customers.
Michel, a young man of Lex’s age but the very difference of the blond businessman, dark-haired, skinny and tall, pale, reserved, cynical, historian by education, merely snorted to show the argument had fallen to deaf ears and stood up to shake the doctor’s hand with all due respect. Gordon waved at his friend, sitting back and reminding Charles of the father of the family, who observed and kept order but never really participated in the course of action.
Gordon had taken news about Charles and Lex pretty well rather soon if not immediately. By the present day he had already got used to the thought and was treating it as given. No disgust was spoken of, no foul jokes, the fact was taken by Gordon as would be expected of a good friend, even if he was straight through and through. Sometimes Charles noticed jolly twinkles in his friend’s eyes as he watched the couple kissing and embracing, it made him look like a matchmaker. Funny thing was - the programmer was the only person Lex never ever flirted with. They were always conversing in this tone of voice, serious, confidential, as if Lex was asking for advice from his elder brother.
“So, now it’s your turn to show Alex his birthday present”, Gordon said as they all sat down and the waitress brought the drinks.
Charles knew the others had already given Lex something, what exactly the young man would show him at home, this was a set thing. He did not feel quite at ease with the fact that he was breaking the tradition by not giving his lover something. They had all known each other for a while, they were friends, and still Charles felt trapped for some reason. Lex placed a steady hand onto his leg and leaned closer to whisper something calming. Then he lay his head on the doctor’s shoulder to answer Gordon’s question with a soft laughter.
“I haven’t told him what I want yet. I’ll deal with him afterwards”.
“I just hope you’ve chosen something for a reasonable sum of money”, Charles grumbled, hiding his nervousness, and felt Lex’s fingers sliding up and down his hip in soothing motion.
“Not a coin”, Lex was whispering into his ear again and Wright noticed Michel looking cautiously in another direction from them. He had suspected the man to be homophobic some time ago, even if was still a puzzle to him, why they were friends in the first place then.
“Then, my friend, you get to pay a fee”, Gordon replied, laughing at their sight. “How about a nice toast?” he added as Charles’s brows shot up in question.
“I can’t help recalling the time when Lex was about to continue his education”, the man started calmly as everyone poured themselves a drink, not much, because some were driving and the others didn’t like alcoholic beverages all that much. Charles stood up and was now leaning on the back of his chair. “Without a certificate of finishing school he had to pass an exam on every subject before he was allowed to enter. I honestly thought something might go wrong any moment. Who could have ever imagined that Lex could possibly spend every minute studying so hard he managed to cover all school curriculum in several months?”
Michel snorted from his seat and Alex grinned at him tauntingly. His friend couldn’t have known everything about him but Lex was not by nature a reserved person and never made a secret out of the facts of his biography. People found out about his homosexuality merely within the first ten minutes of talking with him. It had resulted into one or two of Charles’s appearances in the principal’s office as he had posed as Lex’s former guardian.
“It is almost a year and a half now that Lex is the head of a successful company”, Charles continued, permitting himself an affectionate look into his lover’s direction, just to get a matching one in return. “Sometimes I can’t tell if he is indeed as gifted and ambitious, but this can’t be simple luck either. One thing I do know”, Charles shook his head to show he was getting to the final part, “I’ve never seen such determination in any man, and this determination is what can’t be taken from Lex”. He cast a glance at Gordon to hint that he had closed his part of the deal. His friend nodded approvingly and stood up, lifting his glass:
“I’ll drink for that”.
Alex and Michel stood up too, but when the latter agreed with Gordon with a nod, the former was not yet taking his drink.
“I see a need to correct the point”, Lex reached out and took Charles’s left hand off the glass the man was holding and gripping it. “Semantics and stuff. Not determination. Motivation. For it I’ll drink and not just once. So that it stays with me forever”.
Charles had to blink a couple of times to break their eyes contact after this because he could swear if he hadn’t they would have been kissing right there and then. They could find proper time for it later without disturbing anyone.
“Yes, I accept it like that”, he replied somewhat coarsely, suddenly afraid of showing how Lex could affect him to outsiders.
Glasses clinked and everyone drank, submerged into their own silence of thinking over the toast, and Charles took just a small sip unable to look away from his lover.

“Come outside, I want to discuss the present with you”, Lex told him after the dinner was finished and the bill paid and the last cups of tea drunk.
Gordon was discussing something with Michel - surprisingly they had a lot of topics in common - so Charles just waved his friend to show him to wait for the two of them and followed his lover outside, feeling like he was going for his execution.
The first thing Lex had done, though, once they were out in the dark street, where it had started drizzling some time before, was tug Charles closer and kiss him, deeply, as if he had hungered for it and only now his hunger could be sated.
“I want to come inside you”, Lex whispered into Wright’s ear once they were finished and drew back slightly to see if his phrase was understood.
Charles blinked at him slowly, still dazed after the kiss.
“You mean--”, he started and then fell silent, shocked as the sense of the sentence came to him. Charles couldn’t quite process it for a while, though he did nod automatically, until the whole picture of the request set in.
Lex was observing his face, peering closely for the change of the expressions, trying to figure out what went on in Wright’s head. He rubbed the doctor’s shoulder soothingly.
“You know I’m not going to hurt you, ever”.
On hearing that Charles recalled that it indeed would be painful, though it was not what bothered him here. Lex was taking up so much space in his life, which was fine by Wright. When the young man went all the way from being under his care to being an independent adult, Charles looked at it philosophically, albeit his heart started clenching with unfathomable confusion. He had not really thought about this in such terms but only in sex he still stayed more or less the guide, the shadow of it, the self-delusion. This shadow was now threatening to vanish too, leaving Charles standing there, hit by realization.
“I love you”, Lex told him softly, making him glance up, struck by the fact that the young man looked rather sorrowful. “We’ll talk about it at home”.
The small voice of Charles’s consciousness started nagging him about being ungrateful and distrustful, and hadn’t that thought made the matter even more difficult.
Luckily, they were not heading home yet, not he and Lex. The two of them made up the rich part of the group, or, to put it simply, they were the ones owning cars. So until it was time for Charles to be confronted again he could think it over on a safe distance from his lover, giving his best friend a lift home.
“I’ll just keep asking”, Gordon broke the silence in the car once Charles gentlemanly let Lex drive out onto the motorway first and followed him for some time before turning into another direction.
“Asking what?” Charles reluctantly gave up thinking about his lover, and when he had he was actually happy about it.
“About the present”, Gordon threw, staring at the road in front of them and holding onto the handle above him because his friend had to maneuver among some cars that were going slower than them.
“What got you so curious? It’s just a present”, Charles retorted half-heartedly. The matter seemed to follow him around, although Gordon had this habit of hitting the bull’s-eye.
“I was curious in the first place”, Gordon laughed shortly, amused, “Now I am properly intrigued. Lex is never secretive about things, I mean never. So?”
Charles cringed inwardly at the thought of telling his friend what he could not stomach himself yet and squeezed out:
“I’ll tell you once I’ve given it to him”. Or not. Once he had dealt with it. And ‘maybe’. He should have definitely said ‘maybe’. No way he was talking to his straight friend about the poses he and Lex were using in bed.
“I see”, Gordon drawled so slowly Charles felt being convicted once and for all, “so it’s like when you were trying to figure out whether you would be a couple or not”.
“Must you be so bloody quick on the uptake”, the doctor grumbled, vexed. “I’m not discussing my sex-life with you”.
“Funny thing is, now it’s an easy guess”, Gordon seemed to find it amusing but Charles couldn’t agree with him. “He could ask you for a sex toy or something. Women are no different”.
Charles was somewhat offended that Lex had been just said to be no different from any woman but he let it slip. The argument wasn’t worth it.
“We aren’t using them, thank you very much”, he said instead trying to finish this conversation for good.
“I think you are discussing your sex life at the moment”, Gordon taunted him instead.
“Okay, he wants me to take the woman’s part”, Charles gave up, wondering how these words managed to get off his tongue at all. “Happy now?”
“That’s all?” Gordon actually looked surprised. “I thought you’ve done it ages ago”.
Charles was a good driver. A very good driver. If he hadn’t been such a good driver he would have run into that car in front of him upon hearing the last phrase. Instead he shot his best friend a dark look and retorted.
“And you are what? Think of us doing it when you get off?”
He was rather angry when saying it but thankfully Gordon could take a joke even if there wasn’t much of one.
“No way, man. I just kinda assumed”, he laughed lightly and gave his friend’s shoulder a pat.
Charles relaxed, looking ahead of him silently for a few moments.
“I’m not sure I’m ready anyway”, he confessed after a while. “I’m sorry for the topic”.
“Come on, it’s Lex. It’s not an alien with I don’t even want to imagine what kinks”, Gordon looked at him with supportive gaze. “How bad can he be?”
“Technically he can”, Charles started but snorted at the look of Gordon’s face that was telling him ‘too much info, man, this hard drive is not ready for it’, “but it’s not the point. He is becoming the one taking care of me, taking up all of the control. I’m not used to it”, the doctor paused, but finished his thought since he had already started talking, “I’m afraid to lose it”.
“I guess it’s pointless to tell you you can trust him, right?” Gordon hummed. “Well, look at me, being a shrink for a gay couple”.
“Part of me tells me to give in”, Charles jerked one shoulder, unintentionally giving away his nervousness, “I just wonder if it’s the same half that made me go for Lex in the first place”.
“Sometimes it’s good to give in”, Gordon said philosophically that changed his tone to a totally different one: “Hey, you’ve missed the turn, there’s my house over there”.
Charles obediently returned to where he should have pulled over and stopped the engine and turned to Gordon who was finishing his thought:
“You can at least try it once and tell Alex if there’s something wrong with your feelings - I’ll call it protectiveness. He is a man, Charles, he is not going to run after you with a rolling pin. Envy you about it, by the way”.
“Yeah, you are probably right about it”, Charles sighed answering a familiar goodbye wave with a nod. “Thanks for listening”.
“Well, until you start sharing something way too personal. What are friends for?”
Gordon slipped out of the car and Charles suddenly thought that there was no way he would have wanted to return to an empty house with no Lex in it, even if Lex wanted things from him he was afraid to give. It wasn’t even about fear, more likely about stereotypes. Seriously, he could still care about his lover no matter the place he took in bed, right? Subconsciously hoping the mood and the courage wouldn’t slip away while he was on his way home, Charles started his car and pulled off the side of the road.

Lex was staring into space sitting on the couch in the dining area next to the kitchen. He looked submerged into his thoughts and even jumped when Charles appeared next to him. The young man hadn’t even taken his coat and boots off and the doctor wondered if he was so troubled over this ‘present’ matter as he sat down next to his lover.
“You know, I’ve been thinking”, Lex gave him a side look and his hands twitched in his lap as if he wanted to reach out and grab, “you are the only person I’m ready to beg. For anything”. He looked down again, as if it was hard to share these thoughts. “I’m going to”.
“Hey”, Charles responded softly, snaking his arm around the young man’s back, drawing him nearer. “Have you expected me to agree on spot? I’m too old for experiments”.
Lex settled his head in the juncture between the doctor’s shoulder and chin as he usually did when he wanted closeness but didn’t want to press for sex. Or couldn’t. In this case he couldn’t.
“You are not too old. I’ll be careful. I know how to do make it painless, you figure. It’s important”.
He was talking in short, jerky sentences, nervous, obviously. Charles kissed the top of his head, right into the crown, where the golden strands of hair formed a small sun.
“I trust you”, with this phrase he felt to be the one in control again, the one taking care and he pointed the direction their relationship was moving. He cringed what the selfishness that had crawled into that thought and suggested himself that maybe he was holding onto those way too much.
He was pressed into the couch cushion in one quick movement like someone had released the safety lock on the gun. Lex was looking at him from above with huge eyes, stricken by the way he acted on reflex upon hearing the permission phrase, panting slightly. He still reminded Charles of a wild cat, ready for jump any moment the bait appeared. But Wright wasn’t the bait. He was the tamer. He ran his fingers through the loose strands of Lex’s hair that were now hanging between them and gave his lover a small smile.
“I would prefer the bed in any case”.
Lex growled under his breath, completing the image of the wild animal and dove down to catch Charles’s mouth in a kiss, tugging onto his lover’s lower lip sharply. They both moaned against each other and Wright noted with awareness dying away the usual flash of sexual hunger that swallowed him as a huge wave once he was locked in a tight embrace with the young man.
They rarely started kissing and touching somewhere other than the bed but when something clicked in Lex’s head and there was no way to stop him Charles knew in advance there would be clothes shed all over the apartment, hasty movements and attention slipping from them both. He did not mind these sudden bouts, as scarce as they were, but often wondered if there was something specific left in Lex’s neurological system that acted as a switch to turn these moods on and off. He knew there were technically nothing wrong with his lover’s health, and maybe the fact intrigued him more than worried but often left him wondering afterwards, suspecting crazy things.
Charles felt his back pressing into the doorframe between the kitchen and the bedroom and knew immediately as if someone put the picture into his head that Lex had nearly had them run into this obstacle but was quick enough to put his arm between his lover and anything that could hurt him. He always did. How he oriented in space at times like that was puzzling.
Lex released him once they had arrived to their bed, mostly naked, and reached over him for the side table to get lubrication out of the upper drawer. He looked even more dazed that Charles was used to see him, his eyes unfocused and his chest heaving. After staring down at his lover, Lex bent his left arm and collapsed onto the unoccupied side of their double bed.
“Sorry, I need to calm down unless you want me to tear you to pieces”, he mumbled, rolling onto his back releasing the bottle in his hand so it fell somewhere between them.
Charles kissed Lex’s brow silently wondering if there were going to be any second thoughts about this. There seemed to be none at the moment.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Lex asked rhetorically in a whisper, the question he uttered every now and then, the phrase was as common to him as ‘I love you’. He slid his hand all the way down Charles’s torso to stop on his hip, cupping it gently. “Back or stomach?” He continued, suddenly all business.
“It’s your present, Lex”, Charles smiled at him openly, suddenly unable to hold back his euphoria.
The first finger that slipped inside him, coated with cool liquid, was anticipated but still unexpected. Lex was searching his face for any signs of discomfort - they’d settled for staying as they were, face to face - his lips were moving but he wasn’t really saying anything, or maybe the rush of blood was troubling Wright’s hearing. He was trying to keep himself from clenching around the invading fingers, feeling as if he was being operated on, but that disturbance was already leaving his mind, because Lex was there and the body was getting used to this little by little, and of course his lover knew where exactly to touch to cover a pang of ache with a wave of desire.
Once it was his lover himself who pressed into his opening, Charles felt like crying out but a spasm contracted his throat and he couldn’t squeeze out a sound. Lex had a pained expression on his face, or maybe it was the same tearing pleasure Wright was feeling now. He was not in pain, it was beyond pain. Lex touched their foreheads together and then went for his lover’s lips, even if they couldn’t manage much of a kiss at the moment.
When Lex started moving inside him, it had returned Charles’s voice, allowing him to moan. He couldn’t concentrate on any sane thought, thinking of the way Lex’s hand was gripping his shoulder for leverage, how sculptured those fingers looked, as if a perfect statue had come alive for him, as if this was the completion , the sense of life every human blindly searched for to attach to his useless life as a fake body part. For Charles, though, it wasn’t fake. It was not fake because Lex was breaking the pace of their lovemaking, coming undone above him, because Charles was starting to see tiny sparks of light everywhere in the air as if fireflies had flown into the apartment and their number was growing endlessly. And through Wright, caring and worrying, permitting and asking in return, Lex was alive. Just before the fireflies died, Charles came to know that he was infinitely right.

“Funny, that after turning twenty-seven I should finally lose my virginity to you”, Lex was telling him afterwards, smiling and sated, shining with completion, and Charles could see the discovered truth in his every movement.
He smiled at his lover in return and drew the covers over their bodies. The knowledge made him feel almighty.
“The next time I’m taking you abroad. Life is not about sex”, he told Lex instead of commenting on his phrase.
“What’s it about?” his lover asked him calmly, not even attempting to press his usual jokes about the matter.
“Being alive”, Charles replied solemnly. Somehow, he wished eternity for the two of them. But there was no divine force out there to grant it to him.