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Chapter 1 - A Fistful of Dollars

As always, the screams went right through him. As always, the lights got him through it. Grabbing hands, underwear being thrown at him, sweating from the lights, ringing in his ears…all in a night’s work for ‘Lazarus’. Tonight was an effort though; he’d had a long day. Classes from 9-3, then helping his neighbours move some furniture, a late dentist appointment at 4.30, getting dinner ready for him and then work at 8.

So by the time he steps off the stage for the second time that night Connor Stevens was exhausted. He spent the walk to the dressing room pulling money from his waistband. Mostly dollar bills, but a few fives as well. $42, which he could add to the $55 from the first performance. And he still had his nightly rate to pick up. Not bad, he thought. Nearly $350 for the night. He will be pleased, thought Connor as he towelled himself off behind the screen. Once dressed he went looking for Jay, desperate to get his money and get home.

With money in hand and following a token shared ‘see ya’ with Britney on the bar Connor headed out the back door, unlocked his bike and set off for home. He enjoyed the night breeze on his face as he cycled the 9 miles home. This was probably his favourite part of the whole male dancer routine he was now engulfed in. Some late night traffic but no talking, no shouting, no screaming. No club music and no women reaching out for their pound of flesh. Just him, his bike and his thoughts. Yet while he always enjoyed escaping from the club he was always mindful of what awaited him at the end of the journey. Home. Studying. Bills. Dishes. Vince.

Of course tonight there would be no interrogation, no accusatory glances, no feeling of helplessness…

…at least, probably not.

The wedge of bills in his pocket comforted Connor. It would make him happy. Especially with tuition payments due in a week. Money makes Vince happy. And control. Control over Connor. It’s been just over two years now. Since they met and started dating. Sometimes Connor thinks it has gone by so fast. Other times it feels like a lifetime ago that they met. It usually feels longer on the bad days, or the scary nights. It’s the nights that can be the worst for Connor. Not wanting to fall asleep. Not knowing what might happen if he shuts his eyes for just a minute.

But he’s conditioned to it now. Kind of. The fear will always be there of course, but it doesn’t overwhelm him as much as it used to. Vince knows when to push and when not to push. Definitely not on days Connor goes out to earn money. He couldn’t, could he? How could you expect your boyfriend to go out and earn money for you if he’s sad, or crying, or if Vince has…?

…no, it’s ok, Connor thinks. Life could be worse. Life has been worse. He’s not alone, he has a place to live and he’ll graduate and become a teacher. It’s alright. ‘I’m alright’, Connor regularly tells himself.

Of course, besides bad things where Vince is concerned Connor also gets anxious when he reminisces about his childhood. His domineering father. His parents getting divorced. His mother moving away. His teenage years…and Jude. It still seems strange to Connor that he thinks about Jude every day. It’s been a long time since they spoke, of course. Especially after what happened the last time. Nearly five years ago, Connor thinks. He tries not to wonder where Jude is, what he’s doing, who he’s seeing…or what he looks like.

He’s thinking about Jude as he nears home. In Los Angeles, a place Connor has called home for six years now. A place that took him away from Jude, a place that caused him to split from Jude and a place he seemed destined never to leave. Connor’s regrets include Los Angeles. He knows he should never have moved away from San Diego. He should have stayed with his Dad. Obviously this is the benefit of hindsight. Nobody can predict the future, good or bad. But he knows he should never have come here. Deep down he knows. He would never say that to Vince. That would be…unwise? Selfish? Stupid? Maybe the first. Probably the latter. No, Jude probably has a great life and is popular and is going to be a famous writer and has a great boyfriend…

…but it’s not Connor’s life now. That life is gone. Jude is a memory. A semi-happy one, but a memory nonetheless. He turns on to Freemont Avenue and comes to a stop outside his building. Looking up he can see the light on. He’ll probably be studying. Or staring at the bills. Connor knows the gas bill came today. Shouldering the bike, he heads upstairs to the apartment, unsure which Vince will be there to greet him. With money to hand over it will probably be happy Vince. Probably. Connor can never be completely sure though.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 – Problem with a capital J…

The first time they broke up was hard. Connor’s first heartbreak. It wasn’t him though, it was Jude. Jude broke up with him. On Skype. For reasons Connor didn’t really understand. Nobody understood why. Not Connor’s parents, not Jude’s parents, not Jude’s brothers and sisters. It was a mess. Connor had spent weeks telling his friends at school in L.A. about Jude, what they had been through together, how special he was to him, and how excited he was for Jude to visit for Homecoming. Of course, it never happened. Jude broke it off with Connor, hiding behind excuses like the distance between them and Connor sending him a picture that, in reality, wasn’t all that explicit. It was only later that Connor became aware of how Jude had been scared, not sure how a gay teenager should behave. Unsure of what Connor wanted. Unsure of what he wanted himself. The truth is that no teenager knows how to behave; everyone just makes it up as they go along. It’s called life.

 

After three months of barely communicating with Jude (texting each other every now and then, the odd Facebook message) Connor returned to San Diego to visit his father. As soon as the trip was arranged the subject of ‘Jude’ and what to do about him was on Connor’s mind. Should he tell Jude he was coming? Would Jude want to see him? Would he really want to see Jude? It wasn’t until his father collected him from the train station that Connor decided. He saw other passengers being greeted by loved ones, hugs and kisses shared, tears in abundance. Connor’s reunion with Adam brought a brief hug, but nothing more. How he wished Jude had been there waiting for him. There to hug him. There to smile at him. There to kiss him?

 

The following day Connor resolved to see Jude. He had to do it. Even if it was going to be awkward. Because it would be. Awkward. So, just before midday Connor dug his bicycle out of Adam’s garage and made the ten minute journey to the Adams Foster house. It was so familiar, looking at it. He’d spent so much time there. Hanging out, eating, sleepovers…kissing. From the outside it was like he hadn’t been away. What was inside the house though?

 

He lifted the bike onto the porch, leaning it against the bench. And then knocked.

 

He could hear footsteps, and a voice. A woman’s voice, for sure.

The door opened and there was the face of Stef Adams Foster.

 

‘Oh, Connor…um…what a surprise…how are you?’

‘Yeah, I’m good, thanks. Jude…is, um, Jude here?’

‘Sure, come on in, love. Jude!!! There’s someone here for you!!!’

 

Connor caught Stef staring at him, causing her to smile slightly and look away. Connor could hear movement. From upstairs. Then someone comes, down the stairs.

 

‘Who is it Mo-‘

 

Jude stopped dead. His mouth hung open and he started blinking rapidly.

 

‘W-…um…hi. I, um…Connor…’

‘Hey Jude,’ replied Connor nervously.

 

Stef made some excuse and left. Neither boy acknowledged her as she did. They eventually break eye contact, Connor deciding to stare down at the hallway rug. Jude comes down the stairs and approaches slowly.

 

‘So, when did you come back?’

‘Yesterday. Last night. I’m here for the weekend. I go home tomorrow night.’

 

What followed was awkward chit chat. They could barely look at each other. Connor realised he had made a huge mistake in coming over. It was too weird. They were ex-boyfriends. You can’t get a friendship back after that. Surely not. Connor started to tune out of what conversation they were managing to have. He was about to make an excuse and leave when Jude’s mom reappeared, a can of soda in each hand and a suggestion that the boys go upstairs and talk. She handed them the sodas and shooed them upstairs before they had a chance to decline.

 

And talk they did. For several hours. Jude apologised for the way he behaved. Connor apologised for not making more effort with the distance. They cried a little. And they caught up. On what had been going on in each other lives. It was nice, Connor thought. Nice to talk to Jude. Nice to see his smile again. Nice to be sat close to him in his room again. Until Jude asked what, in reality, was none of his business now.

 

‘So have you, um, you know…got a new boyfriend?’

 

Connor was taken aback, and definitely blushed as he stumbled over replying in the negative.

 

‘What about you? I mean, I figured that maybe that might have been one of the reasons you broke up with-‘

‘No no! I didn’t…I mean…I haven’t…’ blurted out Jude, sighing. ‘There’s no one else.’

 

Connor relaxed, and it must have been visible as Jude suddenly shifted closer to Connor on the floor, initiating eye contact. Suddenly Connor felt like he was having some kind of out of body experience. Everything around them seemed blurred; all he could make out was Jude.

 

‘Connor, do you wanna, like…get back together? I’ve changed, I swear, I know why you have to liv-‘

 

But Jude never got to finish the sentence. Connor took his hand, and nothing more needed to be said. They just sat there for what seemed like an age, staring at each other with teary eyes. Everything was unsaid. It was all in the eyes. Eventually Jude smiled, and Connor returned it. And so they began to fix it. Them. Their thing. The way kids do. And they did. And it worked.

 

For a time.

 

They made it all through the rest of Freshmen year, and well into Sophomore year. They would see each other once a month in periods where there were no school vacations. They would text every day, call each other every other day at least and Skyped two or three times a week. In vacation periods they would alternate between San Diego and L.A. Supportive parents helped of course. But the mutual effort was crucial. They had found a rhythm. It was going really well.

 

Until one day in March of Sophomore year Jude kissed his lab partner, Chris. In his room. And got shirtless with him. And got caught by Callie. Jude had been spending a lot of time with Chris. Like Jude he was shy and wasn’t really part of the ‘social’ scene at Anchor Beach. Jude felt comfortable around him, and the feeling was mutual. Jude had long suspected Chris might like guys, based on little things he would say, mannerisms whist he was speaking. He didn’t really have an attraction to Chris per se, but he did enjoy spending time with someone who knew what it was like to be a gay teenage boy.

 

The kiss was, for Jude, somewhat of a surprise. They were talking about how to get someone you like to notice you, what signals to look for. Eventually the talk turned to how to get someone to kiss you. Chris went for it, pecking Jude on the lips. Shocked, Jude sat back. But then a split second later returned the kiss. Within a minute they were laying on his floor, each removing the others shirt. After the fact Jude wondered what might have happened had Callie not opened the door and walked in looking to borrow a phone charger. Jude wanted to die. Chris was so apologetic, made an excuse and gathered up his things. He and Jude didn’t spend more time together after that.

 

In his defence Jude confessed to Connor almost straight away. He tried to explain it away as something hormonal and unexpected, and that he just got carried away. But Connor was devastated. He had to move away because he and Jude had done that exact same thing in a bedroom. And one of the reasons Jude broke up with Connor last time was because of the physical intimacy issue. Connor asked for time to think about it. The following day he called Jude, and it was a short, mostly one sided conversation. A crying Connor ended it, calling Jude a liar and a cheat and told him not to contact him again. After he hung up on a sobbing, pleading Jude he threw the phone against the wall, smashing it into several pieces. Connor was done. They were done.

 

Shortly after the break up Connor found even less of a reason to go back to San Diego as his father had moved to Chicago for work. In a way it was perfect, as it would mean not being tempted to see Jude if he went to visit his dad. Yet cutting off from Jude completely, in reality, was something that just didn’t help Connor at all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 – Vince

If anyone ever took the time to notice Connor Stevens they’d probably notice how he walks with his head slightly dipped, never making eye contact. Not that people do notice him, really. He doesn’t have a hairstyle or clothes that mark him out as noticeable. He isn’t especially tall and when he’s tired he shuffles ever so slightly. Like now, as he climbs the stairs to his third floor apartment. It’s nearly 11:30 as he shuffles down the hall, wheeling his bike and stifling a yawn. As always when he returns to the apartment he pauses outside the door before putting the key in the lock. The deep breath he takes is his coping mechanism. He doesn’t even really notice that he does it now, it’s just routine. He needs that breath though. To get him through turning the key and going inside.

 

Vince is awake, the light didn’t lie. Books open at their small kitchen table, a notepad in front of him. He glances at Connor, gives a quick ‘hey’ and returns his attention to the notepad. Connor moves quietly, storing the bike in the hallway and taking of his jacket and shoes. He can see the dinner dishes piled next to the sink. They need doing, he thinks. It means walking past Vince, and probably having to talk. Connor doesn’t get to choose whether to talk, as Vince asks ‘So, how much then?’

 

‘$310, so not bad,’ replies the dancing man. Connor decided to keep $37 of the money for himself. He knows he shouldn’t, it’s so selfish. But he really needs some college supplies and a couple of parts for his bike and his usual budget has been cleaned out be textbooks. He takes the $310 and puts it gently next to Vince’s elbow. As Vince looks up Connor smiles kindly at him. He considers bending down to kiss him, but decides against it. Vince looks tired. He’s at a crucial stage of his medical training and the days are long. Connor doesn’t want to agitate him, especially after last week. Connor turns and heads to the sink, intending to do the dishes. He gets as far as the second plate when Vince asks ‘Can’t you do that later? I’m trying to concentrate man, come on.’

 

Connor gently puts the plate down and slowly turns around. Vince isn’t looking at him so Connor gently walks out of the kitchen and heads for the bathroom. A quick shower and a brush of the teeth later Connor is in bed. He needs to sleep tonight; he has so much studying to do tomorrow. He turns on his cell phone for the first time tonight. No messages. Why would there be? Everyone in his life is sat in the kitchen. He turns the light out and lies back. Sometimes, when it’s like this and there is an unspoken tension in the air he doesn’t fall asleep. Just in case. This is one of those nights. Until the man who Connor is supporting gets in bed and tries to sleep Connor won’t sleep. He won’t even close his eyes.

 

To say Junior and Senior years at high school were lonely ones for Connor would be an understatement. His break up with Jude ruined his confidence, turning an outgoing, active and popular boy into an introverted loner. Everything he had built in L.A. he let drift away. His friendship group. His sports teams. His outlook on life. He was sick of people letting him down. His Dad. Jude. By the end of high school, his Mom too. Six weeks before Connor was due to start at UCLA she decided to take a job in Boulder, Colorado. By this point Connor was what can only be described as a social leper. He went to school, did his work, went to the gym and sat in his room. He planned to live at home during the first year of College at least. That plan went out the window as soon as his mother decided to leave. They managed to get Connor a place, last minute, in a UCLA dorm pretty far from campus. Connor did not want to live in a dorm, but he didn’t want to move to Colorado either. Connor’s only saving grace was that he would have his own room, no roommate. He was pissed at his Mom. He felt like she was abandoning him, again. He didn’t say that to her, of course. He rarely said anything to anyone.

 

He hated it. The dorm. Due to the distance from campus it was full of weirdos. At least that’s what Connor thought. In reality they weren’t that different from him. A group of people less socially involved than what would be considered ‘normal’. A girl next door to him tried, she really did. Connor was simply not easy to engage with. Zoe, a lesbian from Sacramento, had to practically drag out of Connor that he was from San Diego, moved to L.A. because of a homophobic father and that he had been single for over two years. She insisted, almost begged, Connor to go to an LGBT mixer with her. In the end she pleaded for him to go so she would feel safe getting to campus and back at night on the bus. Very reluctantly Connor agreed. He wouldn’t want anything to happen to her, after all.

 

His plan was to stay for an hour. And then insist on leaving. Vince coming over and introducing himself changed the plan.

 

Connor was intrigued. This guy was a similar height, had dark brown hair and spoke in a low voice like Connor. The chat was basic. Name, where are you from, what do you do kinds of things. Connor was attracted to him almost straight away. The first time he’d really looked at a guy since, well, Jude. All of a sudden, after more than two years of a monk-like existence Connor wanted to talk to a boy. It was like someone had switched a light on inside him and he was seeing things differently.

 

After a while they exchanged cell numbers. Vince left; he had a campus dorm room. The ride back on the bus with Zoe mostly involved her talking about the girls she had spoken with. Connor had not been forthcoming with details about his chat with Vince, so she didn’t push it. When he got back to his room Connor got dressed for bed, propped himself up with a pillow and stared into space. This was new territory for him really. Talking to a boy who wasn’t Jude, who may or may not have been interested in him. He seemed nice, and quiet which was an attribute Connor could get on board with. Did he say he would text Vince? Or would Vince text him? He couldn’t remember. He had been a bit nervous. I’ll wait a day, he thought. Maybe text him tomorrow night. Yeah, that seemed like a good plan.

 

It was less than an hour later when Vince entered the bedroom. Connor was turned away from him, pretending to be asleep. He felt the covers move as they were pulled back, and the bed move as Vince got in. Connor always tried to keep his breathing steady when he was alone with Vince in the dark. So he would think he was asleep. Most of the time it worked. Sometimes not. But it was money night so Vince surely wouldn’t be…Vince. Connor heard a deep exhale, and the sound of Vince settling down on his pillows. Less than five minutes later he heard gentle snoring. Now he could relax. The problem was that Connor had gone past the point of tired in waiting for Vince to come to bed. So he just lay there with his thoughts. Something Connor did a lot. He’d feel sad and tell himself to stop with that. He’d feel trapped and remind himself that he isn’t a prisoner. He’d feel lonely and remember that he had someone, someone who hadn’t left him like the others in his life. He had someone who was there, and this person relied on him. Connor had responsibilities. He had a role. It couldn’t all be about him and his abandonment issues. No matter what Vince might do. Or has done.

 

They dated. Casually at first. It was all new for Connor, all of it. On the third date Vince asked if he could kiss Connor. The blonde hesitated. Thought about it. Agreed. After a month of dating Vince invited Connor, on a Saturday night, to stay with him on campus. Initially Connor said no, fear overwhelming him. He knew what staying over would mean. He just couldn’t. He’d only ever kissed someone, never gone further. Vince was able to persuade him to stay. He had a… gift, the ability to calmly convince someone to do something. No pressure, he promised Connor. We can talk; watch a movie; just sleep. Connor was ok with that, and agreed. And that’s what happened. As well as Vince charming Connor’s clothes off until they both just lay there in underwear. Nothing happened, there was no way Connor was ready. But Vince was so nice, and listened and nodded along to Connor’s sad stories. Connor felt that Vince understood, could empathise. Vince certainly understood, of that there is no doubt. A vulnerable Connor was just the ticket Vince was looking for.

 

A week later they were intimate, Vince’s reward for carefully drawing Connor to him. Text messages. Late night phone calls. Leaving little notes in Connor’s hoody for him to find. Vince could love him, could care for him. He could show Connor the kind of affection that nobody else ever had. All Connor would have to do is be his, give himself to Vince. Make Vince his priority. Connor was swimming in feelings. To him it was incredible. Someone who wanted him. Someone who wanted to be around him, to lie with him. How could he say no? He should have, of course. But hindsight…it’s a bastard.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 –Eyes Wide Open

He did sleep. For a few hours. It’s Vince’s arm that wakes him up as it falls across his back. The sun is peeking through the blinds, causing Connor to bury his face back in his pillow. He can see from his phone screen that its 6:36 and knowing he has an early class, coupled with the protruding arm, makes him think he should get up and get moving. When he moves to rise Vince slides over to pull Connor closer to him. The blonde inhales slowly and stops trying to get out of the bed.

 

‘Hey, thanks for the cash. You know I couldn’t do this without you, baby.’

 

‘Mm hmm,’ comes the reply from Connor, who now is wondering if this will go any further. Vince has his arms fully around Connor, his torso pressed right up against Connor’s back.

 

‘Are you tired, baby?’

 

Connor knows what’s coming now. Vince’s left hand trails down Connor’s stomach, moving towards his pyjama pants. Connor swallows thickly, and closes his eyes. He can do it, he can zone out…and Vince’s hand moves lower, past Connor’s waistband…lower…he’s kissing Connor, and now he has to play along. Again…

 

An hour later, Connor stands under the hot water of their leaky shower. He’s not crying today. The tears only come after it was more…after he felt he had to in order to repent. He feels low though. It’s getting harder to play along. Getting harder to return the affection. He’s sure he does love Vince, in his own way. But he’s also sure that Vince loves him more. Is it right for Connor to be with this person who he loves but at the same time makes him feel like this? Vince has given him so much. Made him feel so wanted. Made him feel important. What about the hurt though? Connor knows Vince has taken advantage of him at times. He has him dancing in a club at ‘ladies nights’. Because medical school is expensive, and Vince doesn’t have the time to hold down a part time job. He has made sure Connor doesn’t really have any friends. And Connor wouldn’t dare look at another guy. He did it once, kind of, and it was…yeah…

 

By the time he goes back into the bedroom he has corrected his thoughts. Vince has already left for his shift at the hospital. Everything is fine. For Connor, the good outweighed the bad. It had to. He wouldn’t want to come home to an empty apartment every day. To an empty life. Enough of this, Connor. Be thankful.

***

 2nd year of college

 

So, if you feel like it we’ll be at the Oak Hill pub at like 8.30. You should come dude. We definitely don’t bite!’

 

Connor thought about it. He knows he should say no. He knows Vince won’t like it. But Vince has a shift that doesn’t finish until midnight. And Connor hasn’t once socialised with other people in his classes. It’ll be ok, for few hours. That’s what he tells himself.

 

‘Um, ok…yeah, ok. I can be there for, like, 9?’

 

‘Ok man, here, let me give you my number just in case,’ and Connor puts his phone in Carl’s outstretched hand. Carl calls his own phone so he has Connor’s number too, and hands the phone back. ‘See you later then, yeah?’

 

‘Ok, see you tonight.’

 

Vince wouldn’t know. Wouldn’t need to know. It’s completely harmless. A mixed group, nothing too complicated. Maybe they will be nice. He’d love a friend, just one. He hadn’t had one for years. He think Jude will probably have loads of friends. Mr Popular, probably. A boyfriend, prob-

 

No. Stop it Connor. Why did he keep doing that? Thinking of Jude when he thinks about friends. He knows why of course, he just can’t dwell on it.

 

He went. Got there just before 9. It was…ok. He didn’t have much to say, but then he didn’t really know these people he’d spent most of the last two years in classes with. He knew he had to leave by 11, which would give him enough time to get home, shower and brush his teeth before Vince got home. He wouldn’t know.

 

10:45pm

Connor receives a text.

 

From Vince: Where are you?

 

Then another.

From Vince: Call me. Now.

 

Connor stares at the screen. Talking and laughing going on around him. He is zoning out. He can’t move. He knows he has fucked up. What excuse could he possibly have?

 

He moves next to Carl. Makes an excuse about needing to make a call. Then he heads outside and dials.

 

‘Connor. Where the fuck are you?’

‘Hey, I’m erm, I’m just with…some people…from class. We-‘

‘Get home. Get the fuck home.’

‘I…I am, I’ll be back soon. I’m leaving now. I promise’

 

Connor said the last sentence so quickly, it barely sounded like it made sense. He didn’t go back inside to say goodnight. Just unlocked his bike. And cycled. Fast. Why was Vince home early? How mad will he be? What will he say? What will he do? A couple of times he nearly lost control of the bike. He ran a stop sign. Weaved in and out of some traffic. His heart was pounding, but not because of the pedalling.

 

It took him twenty minutes. Had he ever rushed so quickly up the stairs? He fumbled with his keys. His hand was shaking and he couldn’t get the key in the lock. He needn’t have bothered. The door was opened for him. Looking into Vince’s eyes froze him to the spot. Vince reached out. Pulled the bike through the door and leant it against the wall. Then walked into their open plan kitchen/living room. Connor followed him, making more of a fuss of locking the door than was necessary.

 

Turning around, he saw Vince stood in the middle of the room. He wasn’t far away, of course. Their apartment is tiny. Barely enough room to swing a cat. Enough room to swing a…yeah…

 

‘Where were you? Tell me right now.’

 

Connor hesitated. He does that a lot. Then starts blinking. He can feel tears. He can’t cry, it would make him look guilty of something.

 

‘Just…at…with a group from class. They invited me…I just…’

 

Vince looks like he’s processing. Connor can’t tell how angry he is. Or if he’s disappointed too?

 

‘Phone.’

 

‘What?’

 

‘Give me your phone. Right now.’

 

Again with the hesitation. But then Vince’s expression changed. A flash of…something…across his face. Connor reaches into his jeans pocket and takes out his phone. Slowly he moves towards Vince and puts it in his hand. He daren’t take a step back.

 

Vince unlocks it and starts doing something with it. It takes less than ten seconds for him to look up.

 

‘Carl? Carl?’

 

There’s something in the tone. There won’t be any talking him down from this, Connor can tell.

 

‘He’s...a guy from class…he-he gave me his number in case there was-‘

 

‘Fuck that Connor. All I see is some guy’s number and you weren’t fucking here when I came home.’

 

‘N-n-no it’s not like that, I swear. I-it was a group of us, that’s all.’

 

He can tell Vince doesn’t believe him. He throws the phone on the couch. Connor watches it land.

 

‘You wanna make me feel bad, huh? Make me feel like shit? HUH?’

 

He pushes Connor in the chest. Connor’s crying now. He can’t speak. This is going one of two ways, he knows it.

 

‘Not a fucking word. Not a note, not a text. What would I do if you left me? What the fuck would you do?’

 

He was keeping his voice low. He wouldn’t want the neighbours to hear. They must have heard before though. Surely…

 

‘I-I don’t want to leave you…t’s not like that. I just went for two drinks, I swear Vince. It’s just…some nights, I’m on my own and I thought that-‘

 

‘Thought what?! That you would sneak off? Make a secret life?!’

 

‘N-no, I knew you were gonna be at the hospital. I just thought…I didn’t realise you’d be hom-‘

 

The slap didn’t sting at first. Connor felt some saliva fly from his mouth though. He didn’t dare raise his hand to hold his cheek though. He just stood routed to the spot. He’d been through this before though. So he tried not to react. It was his punishment. He deserved it, for sure. Say nothing else. Accept your punishment Connor.

 

By now Vince has walked away, probably to the bedroom. So Connor just waits. There isn’t much else he can say or do. He’s done the deed. He lied to Vince. He hid something from him. You don’t do that to someone you love, to someone who loves you. How utterly selfish I am, Connor thought. And then…

 

‘Connor, get in here.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 – Cut and Run

Two months left of Junior year of college. Connor had started thinking about a summer job. The club was ok, he guesses, but only doing that twice a week wouldn’t keep them going over the summer. The warehouse Connor had worked the previous summer had closed so that was one option down. He resolved to come up with a list for Vince to look through. Places he would be allowed to work, that wouldn’t lead to more tension. Tonight though, he was working a private bachelorette party at the club. 35 women apparently. Connor was due to dance twice, at 9.30 and 10.45. He was secretly hoping for around $400 at least out of the evening. He found women tended to be a bit more generous during bachelorette parties.

 

To an outsider it might seem strange that not only was Connor a male club dancer, but that someone with the possessiveness of Vince would allow him to do it. It was actually Vince’s idea. Cash wages, dancing for ladies only. Connor had a good body. Not like he had in his early high school years but he still took care of himself. Vince saw the money. Connor didn’t. It took some convincing. Two weeks of pleading, suggesting. A night of raised voices. Connor never shouted at Vince. Ever. He couldn’t. But he did try to stand his ground. Ultimately, he gave in, as he always does. He got to put make up on his face so it felt like he was behind a mask, and it was far away enough from anything to do with college that nobody would recognise him.  Connor felt degraded though. Every time. Not because of just actual the job, but because he felt like he was being pimped out, in a way.

 

A full time summer job would mean Connor could jack the club job in. Yeah, that would help make him feel better, he was sure. That’s what he told himself as he finished eating dinner. After leaving a plate in the fridge for Vince Connor moved around the apartment gathering his things for work. What Connor didn’t know at this stage was that this would be his last night working at the club.

 

The bachelorette party was loud. They were hammered. The bride-to-be was, from what Connor could tell, comatose by 10pm. It didn’t dampen the spirits though, and more than once Connor had to grab the wrist of an amorous woman and pull her grip off him. After his second performance he was changing when Jay came in the dressing room. As bosses go, Jay was ok. He was friendly, never messed his workers around and Connor always got paid on time. He was there to hand over cash. Including tips from the party goers he raked in just over $500 dollars tonight. As he sat there counting the cash he wondered how much he should keep for himself. He thought maybe $100, but decided on $50. Don’t want to push my luck, he thinks. Vince’s mood had been ok for weeks. He hadn’t hit Connor for some time. This was something to be grateful for.

 

He made for the door and was about to head outside when Britney the barmaid offered him a coke. To be friendly he accepted. They chatted briefly, not about anything memorable. She was pretty, Connor thought. She worked the bar to supplement her day job as a tattooist. She knew Connor wasn’t local, nor was she aware he was a student. As far as she knew he worked a day job in Subway. That’s the way he liked it. Drink finished Connor made to leave, and walked towards the back door. As he reached for the handle he was distracted by a voice from behind.

 

‘Connor?’

 

Whipping around, it took Connor all of two seconds to realise who the voice belonged to. One he hadn’t heard in a long time. Why were they here? He felt his heart pounding all of a sudden. Seconds ticked by. Connor must look panicked as the person opposite him smiled and tilted their head slightly.

 

‘I recognised you straight away. How are you?’

 

Hesitation.

 

‘I…um…yeah, I’m ok thanks. What are you doing here?’

 ‘I was…’ and she motioned behind her. ‘My boss…she’s getting married.’

 ‘Oh. Yeah…um…how are you?’

 She shrugged. ‘Yeah, good. I, um, I live in the city now. Work here, and stuff.’

 

Connor nods. He doesn’t want to be here. He has to leave. He takes a step back, into the closed door.

 

‘I-I…sorry, I have to go.’

 ‘Wait, Connor, please. You don’t have to worry, I won’t say anything, if you don’t want me to.’ She was trying hard to reassure him. She thought he looked petrified. ‘Can I buy you a drink? We could catch up?’

 

Catch up? Why on earth would he want to catch up with Callie Adams Foster?

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 – Déjà vu

11:35pm.

Callie walked alongside a shuffling Connor, heading towards a 24 hour diner a block from the club. Connor had said nothing since suggesting the diner. Settling in a booth a waitress bustled over and took a coffee order from the pair. Connor sat on his hands, alternating his gaze from the table to his thighs. He really didn’t want to look at her. Shame? Maybe. Embarrassment? Probably. Because he sees Jude…

 

‘So, how long have you worked there?’

 ‘Um...like, 9 months nearly. Just once or twice a week. It sort of…it fits around…you know, classes and stuff.’

 ‘So you’re at college? Or community college? Do you live nearby?’

 ‘Um…college, UCLA. Junior year. And, um, no, I don’t live near here. I cycle. To where I live.’

 

She waited for him to reciprocate and enquire about her. What she didn’t realise is that Connor wasn’t being rude. He was nervous, of course. But he was just so out of touch with how to interact socially. He very rarely ever sat down one on one with someone and talked.

 

‘I live in Echo Park, so pretty far from here. I’m staying with a friend tonight near here. My boss, she was the one passed out, she gets married next week.’

 

Connor looked at Callie, and nodded. The waitress returned, coffee pot in hand. She filled the cups and left them to it. And then she said his name.

 

‘Jude’s in college too. Junior year, like you. In San Diego. He likes it, I think.’

 

That was the most information Connor had heard about Jude in nearly five years. That was all the information he’d heard about Jude in five years, as a matter of fact. He didn’t know what to say in response.

 

‘You guys…you’ve never kept in touch…’

 

Connor wasn’t sure if that was a question or a statement. He inhaled and exhaled slowly. Then stared out the window. This wasn’t going well. What was he doing sitting here? How was this helping him in any way?

 

‘Connor, are you ok? I mean, I’m sure it’s surprising to have seen me but you seem…I dunno…’

 ‘This…I just…look…’

 

He tried to gather his thoughts. It took five seconds. He needed to go. Yeah, go. Like, now.

 

‘I really have to go Callie. It was nice to see you.’

 

He stood up and threw $5 down on the table. The bill was wrinkled and sweaty, it looked like Connor has gripped it for dear life.

 

Callie stood with him.

 

‘Wait. Um, would you like Jude’s number. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind hearing from you…’

 

Connor was horrified at the prospect. Wasn’t he?

 

‘I don’t think…no. No. I haven’t spoken to him in…no.’

 ‘Look, life goes on Connor but sometimes it’s ok to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to for a while, you know? Here…’

 

Callie reached into her purse and took out her phone and what looked like a business card. ‘My details are on this card, and here…I’ll write Jude’s number on the back.’ She hands the card to Connor, and slowly he takes it from her.

 

‘It was really nice to see you Connor. Please, if you need anything, call me. We live in the same city, you know. But honestly, give Jude a call. Or text him. He’s permanently attached to his phone!’

 

Connor smiled ever so slightly. He had this image of Jude, sat at a desk, textbooks out and texting his friends, boyfriend…stop it Connor. He pocketed the card, nodding at Callie.

 

‘Okay, well…bye then. Thanks. See ya.’ Connor looked down and shuffled out of the diner. Callie sat back down and sent a text.

 

To Mariana: U awake?

15 seconds later….

From Mariana: Yup

Callie presses call, Mariana picks up straight away.

‘You won’t guess who I’ve just seen and you definitely won’t guess what they were doing.’

 

He’s cycling but he’s distracted. He has to stop. So he does. Still fifteen minutes from home. Shit, he thinks. He’s scared. Worried. But why? It was just someone he knew when he was a kid. His friend’s sister. Jude’s sister. It wasn’t like it was Jude. She would tell him. Of course she would. Connor. Dancing in what amounts to a Speedo. For women. In  a dive of a club. Jude would judge him. Pity him. Probably laugh at him. Connor felt like he was having a panic attack. His cover, essentially, had been busted. Why did she have to be there? Fuck. But…she didn’t know where he lives, or where his classes are. It’s not like she could look for him and find him. She didn’t have his number even. All she knew was that he worked at the club. He’d have to quit. He couldn’t go back. The money though…fuck. I’ll sleep on it, he thinks. Sleep? Ha. No way, not tonight. Not now.

 

Callie goes back to the club, to see if the girls are still there. They are. There are Uber’s coming for them. She ducks back inside and heads to the bar, getting the attention of the girl wiping down the surface.

 

‘Hey, um, the guy who was dancing earlier...do you have a number for him? The blonde guy. We were talking outside and, um…I mentioned we might have a job for him at my company but I forgot to get a cell number.’

 

‘You’d need to talk to…hang on… JAAAAYYYY!!!’

 

A couple of minutes and a flutter of her eyelashes later Callie had extracted a cell number from the club manager.

 

Text to Mariana: Got it. Should I tell him now or wait until the morning?

Text from Mariana: Do it now. He’ll only be buried in Netflix or something. He never goes out.

Text to Mariana: Ok ok. I’ll let u know what he says

Text from Mariana: u had better girl!

 

She presses 2 on her speed dial, and lets it ring.

 

‘Hey douche face!’

‘Hey baby brother. Whatcha doin’?’

‘You know, just…you know…it’s late, why are you calling now? You better still be coming to visit in a couple of weeks!’

‘Yeah, no it’s not about that. I, um…listen, I bumped into…into Connor tonight.’

 

Silence. She couldn’t even hear him breathe.

 

‘Jude? Are you-‘

‘Yeah, I heard. I…did…where? I mean, like, just in the street, or…’

 

‘Um, yeah, I was out with friends and…yeah, I saw him.’

‘Did you talk to him…like, how is he? I guess...’

‘He’s good, yeah, like…he looks a bit different, you know. Older, obviously. Like you.’

‘Mmm hmm. I…I definitely didn’t expect you to say anything like this when I picked up the phone…’

‘I have…I have a number for him. His cell. If you wanted to call him or something.’

‘What, he asked me to call him? Seriously Callie?’

‘No, it was…I gave him your number and I…I got his number. So…you should, you know, give him a call. All that stuff was a long time ago Jude. Water under the bridge and all that, yeah? And, look…I know you don’t socialis-‘

‘Hey, look, don’t talk about what I do and don’t do, ok Callie? I just…it’s something like five years since…I know nothing about him now. Nothing.’

 

Jude sighed and Callie waited to see if he would continue.

 

‘Ok, look I’ll text you the number. Just think about it. Text him and say ‘hi’.’

‘Alright. No promises. How was he…like, how did he seem? Happy?’

 

Callie had to be careful. She thought Connor looked like a cross between sad, lost and scared. But she knew nothing about his life so it wasn’t fair to judge. ‘Just, normal, I guess, I dunno. We didn’t speak that much. He’s in college, that I do know.’

 

After hanging up on Callie Jude sat back against his wall and thought. It’s not that he never thought of Connor. He probably thought about him at least once a day. But he had long since given up any hope of ever speaking to him again. Just before he started college he tried to track down Connor on various social media sites, without success. He went to Connor’s father’s house only to discover he had moved away and the new owners didn’t want to pass on any personal details. Connor’s Mom had also moved and changed her cell number it seemed, so yet another dead end. He could have asked his Mom to use her police connections, he supposed, but Connor had obviously taken great care to vanish and so clearly didn’t want to be found or bothered.

 

The truth is that Jude still wasn’t over Connor. Not really. He’d had one other boyfriend in high school, which ended not too long before college. He’d tried dating in college but nothing really grabbed him. He judged any guy he met against Connor. The Connor he hurt. The Connor he drove away. Connor who came out for him, who fought off bullies for him, Connor who stood up to his Dad for him…

 

His phone vibrated, Callie’s text arriving. With the number. Connor’s number. It was 12:30 though. He couldn’t do anything tonight. Maybe tomorrow, he thinks. But…

 

He gets up from his bed and goes over to his closet. In the bottom there’s a box. He looks in it every now and then. Maybe twice or three times a year. Opening it, he smiles. It’s them. Him and Connor. Photos, things saved from dates. He has one of Connor’s hoodies. Weirdly, a pair of his boxer shorts too. Connor had left them my mistake when he slept over one time. Jude kept them. Not in a weird way, he just liked stuff that had belonged to Connor. There’s a bottle of nail polish too. Blue. Their colour. There must be memories stretching back for 6 or 7 years in this box. He has to put the lid back on. He can feel the tears coming. He hasn’t cried over Connor for, well, years. Certainly not since high school. That fucking number, he thinks. That’s what’s making him cry. All of a sudden, from nowhere, Connor seems closer. Even though he is still in faraway L.A. Ok Jude, bed. Worry about it tomorrow. Yep. Bed.

 

He doesn’t sleep. Connor doesn’t sleep.

 

The following day…it’s problematic.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 – Days of Future Past

Connor slept for maybe a couple of hours. He didn’t hear (or feel) Vince come to bed. But from around 3am Connor was wide awake. Lost in thoughts. Lost in Jude. Everyone always says that your first love never lasts. That people move on. Bullshit, Connor thinks. If that was true would he keep thinking of him like he does? Yet what was he supposed to do about it? Communicating with Jude would achieve nothing. As if he could keep Jude a secret from Vince! Please. No chance. He didn’t have friends for precisely this reason. Vince knew pretty much everything that happens in Connor’s life. And if there was something he didn’t know, like the outing to the pub, or the time before that when he found a guy in the supermarket hitting on Connor, drama inevitably followed. Because it was always Connor’s fault. And Connor would have to make it up to him. In a particular way. That’s what Vince liked. Everybody wins. Connor shows how sorry he is. Vince gets satisfied.

 

Roughly a month into their relationship Connor told Vince pretty much everything about Jude. He had mentioned him before but Connor could tell Vince wanted the whole story. How they fell in love, how much Connor loved him, how much he still thought about him…and at that time Connor had no problem sharing it all with Vince. Vince seemed empathetic, compassionate, attentive…able to understand how his experiences with Jude had ultimately traumatised him. What Connor didn’t know was that this was the start of Vince’s manipulation. Getting Connor to completely open up, to trust him. Vince presenting himself as the only person Connor could trust with his innermost thoughts and feelings.

 

‘I’m glad I am the one person you can tell these things to,’ Vince would whisper in his ear. ‘Everyone needs that one person in their lives.’

 

He made Connor feel comfortable, with himself and his surroundings. Gradually they would start to see each other every day. When Vince finished class or shift Connor would be waiting. He wanted to wait, wanted to see Vince. Holding his hand, kissing him, sleeping with him…Connor became dependent on him. Because, as Vince would often remark off the cuff, ‘It’s hard to find someone who wants to be with you, but I want to be with you. Don’t be scared because nobody else has wanted you.’

 

At first, hearing something like that about himself surprised and disappointed Connor. But over time he started to believe it. When you’re so dependent on someone to make you feel whole is it surprising you would start to believe that? Especially someone as vulnerable as Connor. Boyfriend cheats on him; socially excludes himself; parents both move away from him. Easy pickings for someone like Vince.

 

Vince could be moody. He worked hard, Connor could see that. Classes plus rotations left his boyfriend exhausted. So sometimes Connor would get on his nerves. It was Connor’s fault, he knew that. He needed to be more caring, more considerate. Vince deserved the best. The first time Vince got physical with him was still a shock though.

 

They arranged to meet at the supermarket, Vince coming from a shift at the ER. He was running late so Connor made a start on their grocery shopping. When Vince arrives, twenty minutes late and finds Connor at the fish counter he stops, and observes. The guy behind the counter, leaning over, deep in conversation with his boyfriend. Gazing into his eyes, laughing. Then he touches Connor’s forearm, ever so briefly. He strides over, Connor noticing only when he is stood right next to him.

 

‘Come on, we haven’t got all day.’

 

And with that Connor follows him, pushing the cart and trying to keep up. Vince is quiet in the supermarket, and as they carry their groceries home. He barely acknowledges anything Connor asks him. As Connor is putting things away in the kitchen Vince suddenly appears behind him and asks about the fish counter guy.

 

‘Why were you encouraging him?’

 

Connor was genuinely confused. Encouraging who? About what?

 

Vince grabs his wrist. Twisting Connor’s arm slightly.

 

'Answer me. The supermarket guy. Tell me what you were doing. What were you telling him?’

'W-w..nothing. We were just talking about the cheapest but healthiest fish. He-ow, Vince, that’s hurting me.’

 

He tried to pull away but Vince tightened his grip and moved closer to Connor’s face.

 

‘It looks bad, you know, when you flirt with other guys. Makes me look like a dick, that my boyfriend wants to talk to other guys.’

‘I-I-I wasn’t, I swear. I wouldn’t. Why are you saying that? I-‘

‘Shut the fuck up Connor. I could see it. You’re fucking killing me here. What did I do to deserve that, huh?’

 

Connor was dumbstruck. Accused of betrayal, of dishonouring what he has with Vince. He didn’t even think the guy was flirting, just being nice. Maybe he was though. Maybe he encouraged it.

 

Vince walks away, heads off to the bedroom. Connor doesn’t know what to do. Follow him? Give him space? He stands there and thinks. Decides to put the rest of the groceries away. Then heads, slowly to the bedroom. His arm hurts but he needs to see Vince, to see if he’s ok.

 

He’s sat on the bed, knees pulled up to his chest, arms around them. Connor approaches, not saying a word. Tentatively, he sits at the foot of the bed, just out of arms reach. He keeps looking at Vince, and looking away. Vince is staring at his arms.

 

‘Baby, I wouldn’t…’

 

Vince looks up. He still looks pissed. But Connor can see his eyes have watered. Connor shuffles closer, until he’s right next to Vince’s feet. He puts a hand on his knee.

 

‘Please Vince, you have to believe me…’

‘How can I believe you? I don’t know how much you love me. You say you do but how can I be sure?’

‘You know I do. I tell you every day. I-I-I’d do anything for you. And I would never betray you.’

‘I just don’t know Connor, I just don’t know. If you could prove it then-‘

 

Connor leans over and kisses him. Because he loves him? Or to shut him up? If Connor was being honest, it was probably a bit of both. He pulls back.

 

‘Show me how much I mean to you, Connor. Because I really can’t be sure.’

 

So Connor shows him, in a way he’s sure that Vince will be happy with.

 

This would happen many times. Vince would pick fault with Connor, accuse him of not being committed or attentive. Sometimes Vince would push him; knock him to the ground or into a chair. Sometimes he would slap him across the face or head. One time he threw a plate and it caught Connor just above his eye. There was a cut. And blood. But it was never Vince’s fault. Always Connor’s. So Connor would have to make it up to him. And Connor would feel guilt tripped into offering himself to Vince, whether he was ‘in the mood’ or not. Vince always seemed in the mood though. But Connor had to do this. He had to show Vince how much he loved him, had to make him happy. Connor couldn’t entertain the idea of Vince leaving him. Sometimes you just have to compromise, Connor figured.

 

If Connor was close with his parents or had any friends then maybe they would have been able to put a stop to it all. But Connor wasn’t close with either of his parents now, nor did he have friends. It was just them. Sometimes that was fine. Often it was not. If he had had someone, anyone, would he have cried out for help? Difficult to say.

 

Saturday – San Diego

Jude has his tablet propped up on the fruit bowl, and a grilled cheese in front of him. He’s paying no attention to either of these things though as he’s currently staring at his phone. He has a ‘new message’ open, destined for Connor. The words ‘Hi, it’s Jude.’ already typed out. Obviously he hasn’t sent it yet. He’s been debating for a good twenty minutes if he should. When he woke up he decided that he would definitely not text or call Connor. No good would come from it. So to get from there to lunchtime and having typed out an actual message was progress at least. He’d spent a good few hours wondering what his biggest fear about all this was. He settled on what might come back in response. This was Jude all over: indecisive; nervous; afraid of the unknown. Fortunately Stef was at work and Lena was at a PTA meeting so he didn’t have to worry, yet, about them sticking their oars in about Connor. He had no doubt Callie would have told Mariana by now, and she would have told at least one of their Moms. And probably Jesus too for good measure. Nothing stayed quiet in the family for long. He ate his sandwich, and drained his glass of water. How much more can he put this off? Just do it you coward, he said to himself. Twenty years old and scared to send a text. I need therapy, he thinks.

 

‘Ok, let’s do this…’ he says out loud to nobody in particular, maybe not even himself.

 

He presses send. And exhales. Then he turns his phone off. Because that’s what you do when you’re waiting for a reply by text.

 

Saturday – Los Angeles

‘Look, this is bullshit. All of a sudden you “don’t want to carry on” with it? You’re so fucking selfish.’

‘I just think that i-‘

‘Think? All you do is think of yourself. Don’t you think I’d earn my own money if I could? It’s not like I’m desperate for you to work at that club. If you just swallowed your fucking pride Connor for a few more months and actually give a shit about us that would be great.’

 

Connor is stood on the other side of the kitchen table, out of reach. He has tried to do it gently. Tell him he’s quit the club, that is. He knew Vince would be mad. He’s just unsure how mad he’ll get…

 

‘I just…I just can’t anymore, I’m sorry baby. But I have made a list of jobs I could get over the sum-‘

‘Listen to me right now. Think about what you want. Do you want me? Or do you wanna fuck off to whatever asswipe town your momma lives in? Because what other choice have you got, huh? You need to text the manager and tell him you’ve changed your mind. $700 a week, you stupid fuck. How the fuck can you replace that easily?’

‘I’ll get something else soon, I promise. We can just cut back a bit on some stu-‘

 

He never got to finish the sentence. Vince was round the table in a flash, gripping Connor’s right arm with his left hand and putting his right one around his neck. Connor has the fear instantly, and feels himself being pushed back against the kitchen counter. Vince is close, so close.

 

‘Stop treating me like a piece of shit, Connor.’

 

The way he says it is menacing. Connor can smell Vince’s coffee breath, and it makes him want to gag. He’s fixating on that, as he can’t get any words out. Nothing that would make sense anyway. Vince pushes his whole body up against Connor’s.

 

‘What have I done to deserve this?’

 

Connor starts to speak, but then Vince lets go and steps back, his eyes blazing. There’s silence. Connor rubs on his neck. There will be a mark, he’s sure of it. It feels wet, he can feel something trickling. He checks. It’s blood. Vince must have dug his nails in. Right now though he just doesn’t want Vince to attack him again.

 

‘Don’t you have a book you need to get from the fucking library?’

 

Connor remembers now. He needs a textbook to study for a test. He really has to study hard this weekend.

 

‘Yeah, um, I’ll go now. I won’t be long.’

 

Vince is still eyeing him up angrily, fists balled up, body rigid. Connor grabs a piece of kitchen towel and presses it against the cut on his neck. He bustles over, picks up his keys and grabs the bike. He doesn’t breathe properly until he’s out on the street.

 

See Connor, this is what happens when you only think of yourself. You deserved that. All of that. And I bet he’s watching me from the window. Get on the damn bike. Come on.

 

Connor cycles to campus. He gets barely half a block before he’s crying. He cries all the way. Cries in the bathroom in the library foyer. Cries as he checks the book out at the automated machine. People are staring. The security guard asks him something. Connor ignores whatever it is. He goes back to his bike. He forgot to lock it up but at least it’s still there. Sitting on a bench, he thinks about something. Something he’s only thought about once before. That was the day Jude told him he had cheated on him. It was bad that day. And now its bad today. It’s a question. What he thinks about. For the second time.

 

‘Would anyone miss me if I weren’t here?’

 

Vince thought his rage would subside if Connor got out of his sight for a while. When he heard the door closed he took a deep breath and gripped the back of the kitchen table chair. His improving mood lasted all of two minutes. Until he heard a cell phone ping on the kitchen counter. Not his though, Connor’s.

 

He walks over and the screen is lit up. It’s a text massage and Vince can see the contents.

 

‘Hi, it’s Jude.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 8 – What We Leave Behind

San Diego:

What kind of a rational person sits there debating whether to turn their phone on? Nobody in this room, Jude thinks. He knows he is slightly neurotic. A bit pedantic. Connor once called him ‘granny’ and at the time he was insulted but now he kind of sees it. He fusses over the silliest and most trivial of things. One hour. That’s how much time has passed since he sent it. Ok, get it together. Pick it up. And turn it on. Here goes…

 

…and it’s on. And no reply. No other messages. No missed calls. If he weren’t so preoccupied with a lack of reply from his text to Connor he’d feel insulted that nobody else had tried to contact him. He checks the sent messages, and it was delivered. But it hasn’t been opened. Hmm. Maybe he is busy? Maybe he’s ignoring it?

 

Suddenly it pings and vibrates. A text.

 

From Callie: Hey, so did you decide what you’re gonna do? About Connor?

From Jude: Yeah. I text him. Just waiting for a reply. I’ll let you know what happens.

 

He hoped she would just leave it there and not bug him about it. She likes to do that. Bug him. Even all the way over in L.A. she still finds ways of interfering in his life.

 

He decides he can’t sit around watching his phone all afternoon. He gets up and goes out on his bike. As he’s cycling off the driveway he doesn’t initially have a destination in mind. By the time he gets to the end of the street though he knows exactly where he wants to go.

 

Los Angeles

He seriously considers it. Not going back. The problem is where he would go. He doesn’t speak to his dad. Hasn’t for over two years now. He didn’t like Vince, didn’t approve of their set up, and Vince suggested that Connor cut his father out. So he did. Likewise, his mother didn’t like Vince. She tolerated him. But Connor only saw her over Christmas vacation now. See, this is what happens when you’re a bad person, he thinks. Nobody is there for you. They fall away. Leave you. Only one person had been there for him, even if it wasn’t exactly ideal. He had to get moving and get back, because this needed settling.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9 – Out Of the Frying Pan…

 

It doesn’t take Jude long to get there. He sees them every time he goes to school. But he hasn’t actually sat on them for years. To be more accurate, the last time he did was the day after Connor called him and broke up with him. He was heartbroken. He sat there for hours and cried. Lena ultimately had to come and take him away and get him home. Jude was inconsolable. It was a special place though, the rocks on the beach overlooking the ocean. They sat there together, hand in hand, on the day they were outed at school. After that it became their place, where they’d go after school and on weekends and just talk. Where they could sit for hours, holding hands and laughing. Jude felt a draw to this place today. He locked his bike up and began to climb up the rocks. He lost his footing on one but didn’t slip too badly. It reminded him of how Connor, with his foot in a protective boot, had to make the same climb that first time. It was a lifetime ago. He sat down and took a look at the ocean. Then he pulled his phone out. Still no reply. 90 minutes had passed by since he sent it. Jude was now convincing himself that Connor was ignoring it. And why wouldn’t he…

 

It was Callie, he thinks. She probably harassed him for the number, and he had no intention of actually engaging in contact with Jude but gave it to her just to get her to go away. He really didn’t want to go home yet. Lena would be back from her PTA conference at around 3 and if she already knew about the Connor thing she would want to talk about it. So Jude put his earphones in and put some music on, enjoying the afternoon sun and ocean breeze. Trying, and failing, not to feel like his heart was breaking all over again.

 

Connor realises, as he sets off for home, that he left his phone in the apartment. So if Vince has tried calling him then that’s something else that will stir the pot. What happened earlier was the angriest he’d seen Vince get with him, and without a doubt the most scared Connor has ever been around him. Could it go on like this? Vince might kick him out, but he doesn’t know if he could imagine walking out on Vince. That would take bravery, and Connor isn’t brave. He knows he’s a disappointing boyfriend. As he stands outside the apartment door he’s still pondering how this will all play out. When he goes inside, he will find out.

 

He sees Vince, facing away from him, stood by the sink.

 

‘Hey, look, I left my cell here so if you were trying to call…well…’

 

Nothing. Connor kicks his shoes off and makes to approach where Vince is stood. Before he gets halfway across the kitchen Vince turns around. He looks calm. Collected. Then he holds Connor’s phone up.

 

‘Why is Jude texting you?’

 

Connor is floored. His mouth opens but nothing comes out. This is bad. This is very bad.

 

‘Answer the fucking question. Right now.’

‘I-I-I…’

 

Connor doesn’t even get the chance to answer before the phone is flying at him. He doesn’t get his hands up in time and it cracks him, right under his left eye. It hits the floor and slides towards the couch. Connor, doubled over and crying with blood dripping from his face, can’t even focus as Vince comes at him and kicks him in his hip, knocking him over. Connor tries to crawl away but Vince is on him, kicking him twice in the ribs.

 

‘Fucking lying again. And about that bastard Jude! This is your fault you asshole!’

 

Connor cries out as Vince grabs a handful of hair and tries to drag him across the floor. Connor resists, kicking out and catching the table leg hard, knocking it loose and sending the table, and the lunch dishes on it, crashing to the floor. Vince releases his grip as the noise from the dishes smashing distracts him.

 

‘N-no…stop it Vince please!’ Connor calls out, in desperation more than hope. Connor wants to get to his phone. To call the police? Someone else? It’s a good 20 feet away though, with Vince in the way. Vince picks up a chair and throws it against the wall in anger.

 

‘YOU LYING PIECE OF SHIT! LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE!’ he screams as he decides to sit on Connor’s chest, using his knees to pin his shoulders floor. Connor screams as Vince hits him, his face already smeared with blood from the phone impact. Connor tunes out after the second punch, which lands square on his nose. He hears banging, screaming. Another punch. His vision goes blurry. He feels movement, hands on him, on his face and chest. There’s a dull sound. Am I sleeping, he wonders. He can hear someone saying his name. Softly, in his ear. It’s a guy. It must be Vince. He must have stopped. Must have known he’s gone too far. Too far this time. There’s no going back though. No coming back. Not from this.

 

‘Connor, can you hear me?’

 

***

 

It’s after 5 when Jude gets home. Lena and Stef are both in the kitchen when he strolls in, and he can tell straight away. The way they look at him and each other. That silent communicating thing they do. They know. Fucking Callie. Or fucking Mariana. One of his fucking sisters. Gossiping girls.

 

‘Hey, love,’ smiles Stef, somewhat sadly.

‘You okay, bubba?’

‘Mm hmm,’ comes the response as Jude makes a beeline for the fridge and a can of soda. He can feel them watching him as he ferrets in the fridge. Fuck this, he thinks.

 

He spins around and faces them.

 

‘Look I know you know and yes I text him and no I haven’t heard from him and no I don’t know what to think and no I’m not texting him again and no I don’t want to talk about it ok.’

 

He didn’t even pause between words. His Moms looked scared for him. It was really hard on Jude when Connor broke up with him. They were close, closer than Jude knew, to taking him to the psych ward at the hospital. They didn’t want that for him again.

 

‘Honey, listen…’ Stef began but Jude just cut her off with a shake of the head and an apologetic smile, and left the kitchen.

 

Jude hid away in his room until 7pm, when Lena threatened to drag him by his ankles downstairs for dinner. Reluctantly he shuffled down and ate with them. Saying little, eating even less. Stef and Lena forbade him from moping in his room alone and said they wouldn’t even mention the ‘C’ word as long as he agreed to watch a film with him. He agreed.

 

At 9.07 his phone rang. It was next to his leg on the couch, and he could see it was Callie. He hesitated, but answered anyway.

 

‘What, Callie?’

‘Jude, I need you to listen to me very carefully and don’t hang up, ok?’

 

Stef and Lena observed this, and within 10 seconds Jude had gasped and shouted out ‘WHAT?’

 

His breathing became irregular, and he started crying, reacting to whatever Callie was telling him on the other end of the phone. Stef moved over and took the phone from Jude as he collapsed into Lena’s arms.

 

‘Callie? What’s going on?’

 

Stef couldn’t believe what she was hearing. And now she had to explain it to Lena. And try and comfort their hysterical and devastated son.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 – Life Support

Stef stood in the hallway on the phone, the L.A.P.D. on the other end. She wasn’t saying a lot, just murmuring acknowledgements to whatever horrors were being shared with her. Jude was still in Lena’s arms, sobbing. Try as she might she can’t get him to stop. Jude’s phone rings, its Callie again. Lena reaches over Jude and picks it up, answering. Jude isn’t paying attention to what Lena is saying though as Stef has turned around and has ended her phone call. Jude tries to stop crying and sits up.

 

Stef looks grim. Like she doesn’t want to speak. She has to though. Approaching Jude and Lena she looks at her wife sadly, and then shifts her gaze to her son. Kneeling on the floor in front of Jude she looks him deep in the eyes. His sobbing has stopped. He looks back at her with red eyes.

 

‘Love, what I have to tell you won’t be easy to hear.’

 

She takes his hands in hers and looks into his eyes, as Lena puts her arm around Jude. Stef starts to explain.

***

They had to give Jude some sleeping pills. Strictly speaking they shouldn’t have, but there were some left over from when Jesus had had a knee operation the previous summer and the pain left him unable to sleep. Stef and Lena agreed they would let Jude sleep until 7am, and then get him up and ready for the drive to L.A. After they put Jude to bed Lena started packing overnight bags for her, Stef and Jude in case they needed to stay over in L.A. While she was doing this Stef, through the station, had gotten contact numbers for Connor’s parents and had called them both. Not easy calls to make. She hasn’t spoken to either since before Jude and Connor broke up five years previously. His father took the news…’well’ would be the wrong word. He was shocked obviously, but he didn’t break down. He had a lot of questions, most of which Stef couldn’t answer so she passed on the number for the detective at the L.A.P.D. who was responsible for the case. Connor’s mother was a different story. She became hysterical and ultimately incoherent. At one point she dropped the phone, and seconds later a male voice came on the line. Her boyfriend. He was calm, enabling Stef to explain as best she could. How can you tell the parents of someone you know something so…horrendous? So unexpected? Stef obviously is experienced in these things but still…it was Connor. Jude’s Connor. She had to admit that, while devastated for the boy and his parents she wondered how bad they must be as parents to have allowed their son to end up in a situation like that. And with such brutal consequences. It’s a human trait though, to judge others. However badly she might have thought of Connor’s parents it’s probably nothing to how badly they think of themselves at this moment.  

 

Jude was downstairs, showered and dressed by 8am. To say he was groggy would be a half-truth. He looked truly terrible, like he’d aged ten years overnight. That will pass, Lena thought. In time. She hoped. The drive usually would take around two hours, give or take. With Stef at the wheel it took considerably less time, especially when you factor in the quiet Sunday traffic. Jude slept some but Lena woke him around twenty minutes before they arrived so he could get his head together. When they arrived at the hospital parking lot and had parked on the 4th storey Jude opened his door and vomited right next to the car. Tiredness, grief, sleeping pills, no food: Jude was a wreck. He had to be here though. He absolutely insisted.  Taking the stairs to street level they crossed and entered the hospital grounds. Lena had to stop and take a call from Brandon, who was checking in having heard the whole story so far second hand from Callie and Mariana. Stef stood close by the whole time. When Lena hung up the phone she was about to say something to Stef when they both heard a sob from close by. It was Jude. Stood in front of a sign, with an arrow pointing to the left. It had only one word on it.

 

Morgue.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11 – Cold to the Touch

Callie was waiting, right where she said she’d be. As soon as the three of them approached she pulled Jude into a hug. His arms just hung by his side. He was hugged out. Probably not cried out.

 

‘Did you get some sleep, love?’ Stef asks her daughter.

‘Yeah, you know, some. It was really late by the time I got home.’

‘Ok,’ sighed Lena, ‘I think we should get going with this.’

 

She took Jude by the hand, and the four of them walked up to the doors, which opened automatically. Jude’s grip on Lena’s hand was tight, and she could feel him shaking but she would not let him go. Would not let him fall. They approached the desk, and a smiling woman stood to greet them.

 

‘Good morning,’ said Stef. ‘We’re here…about Connor Stevens.’

 

***

 

Connor and Vince’s apartment, the previous day.

 

There’s banging. And yelling. From outside. In the hallway. He doesn’t care though. He knows. Knows it’s gone too far. Knows that there will be no going back from this.

 

The door. It’s banging. Someone is trying to get in. And they do. It crashes open, and two guys fall into the apartment. Vince stares. They look over. And get up from the floor. As does Vince, who climbs off of Connor. He tries to run, past the two approaching men but one of them takes him down. Vince hits the floor with a thud, face down and he is pinned down. He isn’t getting out from under this guy. This guy who lives in the apartment opposite. Vince doesn’t know his name.

 

What Vince can’t see is the second man, their next door neighbour Ben, approaching the bloody mess next to the ruined table.

 

‘Kate, tell them we need an ambulance! There’s…fuck, there’s blood everywhere.’

 

A woman peers into the apartment, cell phone to her ear. She screams out, panicking the police officer on the end of the line.

 

‘He’s…there’s blood…no, I don’t know. Ben, is he…’

 

‘I…I think..’

 

‘Ma’am, the police are close and an ambulance is on its way.’

 

The police arrive two minutes later, the ambulance less than five after that.

 

‘Connor, can you hear me?’

 

All the while Vince just lies there, no longer struggling against the guy pinning him down. Fuck Connor, thinks Vince. Fuck that bastard.

 

***

 

The woman at the desk directs them down the hall. Jude is still shaking. Tears are continuing to pour down his cheeks but his sobs have subsided. Nobody can say anything him right now that would help. He feels like he wants to vomit again, but nothing would probably come up. As they come around the corner Stef spots a uniformed officer. He’s probably here for paperwork. She asks the others to wait and she approaches the officer. They can’t hear the conversation but Stef produces her police ID and shakes hands with him. She motions to her family to indicate who they are and presumably is explaining why they are there. The officer nods, hands Stef some papers and walks down the hallway away from them. Stef looks at what she was handed, runs her hand over her face and re-approaches her family.

 

‘Ok, so he is in that room there, where the officer was stood. I’ve got the initial report here, and I’m sorry Jude but I don’t think you should read it. And not just because it’s an official report but…it’s…no.’

 

Jude looks away from Stef, and stares down at his feet. The others can see the tears falling from him and landing on the floor.

 

‘I’m going to need to call his parents again. I’ll, um…I’ll head down this way.’

 

Before Stef takes her leave she places her hand on Jude’s face and kisses him on the other cheek.

 

‘Honey,’ starts Lena, ‘do you want me to come in with you? It might not be something you should do alone.’

 

He shakes his head.

 

‘No, it’s something I have do alone. I…have to…’

 

He releases his grip from Lena, and doesn’t even look at her or Callie as he takes slow steps to Room 29. He hesitates before he tries to enter. He knows Lena and Callie are watching. Waiting for a sign that he’s about to break. He touches the door handle, and turns it. He looks down as he walks in. He wants to close the door before he sees what’s in there.

 

He’s in. He closes the door. He looks up.

 

In the hallway they can hear him. His cries. They get louder. Lena and Callie want to go to him. But they can’t. It’s Jude’s grief. They can’t intrude.

 

***

 

Room 29

 

It takes a few minutes. For him to somewhat calm down. Only then does he start to really focus on what he’s seeing.

 

Connor’s face…it’s purple. Battered and bruised. Cuts to his face. What looks like a broken nose. A split lip. It’s been five years since Jude has seen him. Callie said he looked a bit different. A bit older. To Jude he looks exactly the same. It’s Connor. His Connor…

 

He wants to touch him, but doesn’t know if its allowed. Connor’s hand is there though. To be taken. It’s not fair, Jude thought. He’s lying here all alone, draped in a sheet. Having been the victim of…who knows what. He shouldn’t be left alone.

 

Jude takes Connor’s hand.

 

It’s warm.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12 – One of Us

Stef re-joins Lena and Callie who are sat in some chairs just down from Room 29.

 

‘Connor’s parents are both trying to fly in tomorrow. I’ve explained what we intend to do. They both agree. How long has he been in there?’

 

‘About ten minutes. We should leave him for a while. He’ll come out when he’s ready’ suggests Lena.

***

An L.A. police station, downtown

Vince sits, stewing. It’s been hours since he’s seen a cop. He hasn’t been charged yet but he expects to be. That fucking liar, he thinks. Over and over again. All his bullshit, and he’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison because of him. As they dragged Vince out of the building after arresting him for assault he heard one of the paramedics remark that ‘They’re saying the victim is deceased’ as he hurried into the building.

 

Sometime later a police officer appears at the cell door, asking Vince to accompany him for an interview, and that the public defender is waiting. The officer permits Vince a few minutes alone with the public defender before the interview begins.

 

‘So, they claim to have enough evidence to charge you, based on the information in the medical reports and the eyewitness statements. Anything you want to tell me before we begin?’

 

He just shakes his head. Nothing gets Vince out of this. Nothing.

 

***

 

Room 29

Jude has been holding Connor’s limp hand for…he doesn’t know how long. He runs his thumb over the back of it. How he wished Connor would return the favour. That was one of the things he enjoyed doing with Connor. Holding his hand. It always made him feel safe. He remembered the first time they did it at school, walking to their lockers. Jude was on top of the world. Look at them now. Look at Connor now.

 

After what seems like an age there is a gentle knock at the door. Jude turns around to see Stef and Lena enter behind a lady in a white coat.

 

‘I-I-I’m sorry…I…hope its ok I held his hand,’ Jude stammered.

 

‘Of course, it’s not a problem. You must be Jude? Hi, I’m-‘

 

Jude starts sobbing again, still holding on to Connor’s hand. She’s going to make him leave. Leave Connor alone. He can’t. He can’t do it. Lena moves to reassure him, rubbing circles on his back.

 

‘Jude, I’ve explained everything to your mothers. I don’t need to go into all the details with you but there are some things you probably want to know, right?

 

He looks at her, nodding glumly.

 

‘Ok, well, I was the doctor on duty when Connor was brought in. Obviously he was found in a bad way by the paramedics. He was unresponsive but was breathing. They had him here in twenty minutes and we got straight to work. There was a lot of blood on his face. He had cuts to his forehead, cheek and neck, and his nose had been broken. That’s why the amount of blood made the scene look worse.’

 

Jude didn’t acknowledge any of this, just kept his eyes on bruised and battered face occupying the bed.

 

‘We’ve done tests and examined Connor thoroughly and apart from a concussion and the facial injuries I described he is expected to make a full recovery. Now, the sedative will wear off in the next couple of hours and then we’re hoping by mid afternoon he will be fully awake and responsive. Do you understand?’

 

Jude nods. The doctor takes her leave and promises to check on them soon.

 

Hearing these words comforted Jude somewhat. More than when Stef had told him the previous evening that Connor was expected to be fine, physically. Even then he still needed the sleeping tablets. Stef went on to explain that the plan would go ahead and that, assuming Connor would be discharged tomorrow after a second nights’ observation, he could come back with them to San Diego. If he wanted to.

 

Jude had his doubts. The obstacle remained: he and Connor had no relationship. No communication. Was Connor likely to just wake up and agree to go to San Diego with them? It wasn’t his home. He had no ties there now. But Jude wanted to help him. Wanted him to be safe. Safe from this monster who has done things to him. Jude doesn’t even know the half of it. Nobody does. Only Connor. And Vince.

 

Less than two hours later, Connor began to stir. Jude still hadn’t moved from Connor’s side, or released his hand. Lena went to get a nurse, who promptly made them all leave the room while Connor woke up and adjusted. The doctor from earlier joined the nurse in Connor’s room. Ten minutes later she emerged and joined Jude and his family at the seating area.

 

‘So, I’ve explained to Connor as best I can what happened and why he’s here. Obviously I don’t know all the details, that’s something you can perhaps help with. But he is awake and alert, and I think it would be okay for you to go in, if you want to.’

 

Jude stood up immediately and looked to Stef and Lena.

 

‘I’ll go with you Jude,’ suggested Stef, ‘Connor will have questions about what’s going on with the police. They’ve took a statement before he was sedated last night but they will be back for more information, no doubt about that.’

 

Jude led the way, slowly. He hesitated knocking on the door. When he did he did it gently. The nurse opened the door and stepped aside.

 

And then he was doing something he hadn’t done for five years. He was looking into Connor’s eyes. Not the Connor he knew. A different Connor. A broken Connor. Who stared back at Jude with a look of shock mixed with relief. Jude could see the tears starting to form in his eyes. They were already forming in his own.

 

‘Jude,’ whispered Stef softly behind him, giving the gentle nudge he needed to enter the room. So he did, Stef close behind. Her heart was breaking for Connor, so she could only imagine what Jude must be feeling. She remained by the now closed door as Jude approached the bed, never breaking eye contact with Connor.

 

It didn’t take long. Jude standing next to him overwhelmed him. Sobbing. Then howling. Connor was a wreck. Jude perched himself on the bed, taking Connor’s hand again. Not knowing what to say. So he just held on to him. That’s all he could do. That’s all anyone could do.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13 – The End of the Beginning, part 2.

It hurts to focus, everything is so blurry. Is the room spinning? Or am I going blind? He’s not, of course. Then there are voices. The owner of one comes into focus. A woman.

 

‘Connor, do you remember where you are?’

 

He starts to. The memories are flooding back. Quite clearly, actually. From yesterday. He remembers waking up, head pounding, and oxygen mask over his face. People around him. Nurses. The Police. Explaining to him…about his injuries…about Vince. Who should they call? He ignores them. They press and he becomes agitated, emotional. He wants to get out. They have to restrain him. He calms down enough to give the police a partial statement of what happened. He can’t describe…Vince…pinning him down…hitting him…

 

They sedate him. The doctor thinks it’s for the best.

 

And now…they’re asking him if he remembers where he is. What happened to him. He does. The doctor updates him on his condition, and suggests that he can be released tomorrow after another night of observation. Released? To where? Where am I supposed to go? He doesn’t ask these out loud, of course. There are people to see him. His parents? No. Friends. He’s confused, he can’t process. He doesn’t have any of those. She must be mistaken. But she says they are keen to see him, one in particular. She’s going to show them in. It’s all happening so fast. Then the door is open and she’s waving someone over, smiling. Then…

 

…for the second time in his life, Connor lies in a hospital bed and sees the figure of Jude Adams Foster in the doorway.

 

***

 

It takes some time for him to calm down. He knows Jude is there. Sat on his bed, holding his hand. He can’t look at him though. Just at his lap. And he knows Stef is in the room. But he can’t look at her either. He really doesn’t understand what’s going on, and nobody is making an effort to explain anything.

 

He stops sobbing. Starts catching his breath. She senses her opportunity.

 

‘Connor, love, everything is going to be ok. Do you understand?’

 

She says this softly, from behind where Jude is sat, not wanting to invade the personal space Jude seems to have created around the bed. Connor doesn’t really acknowledge what she is saying. He just stares back at her, scared and confused. He can’t look at Jude. Jude who still has hold of his hand.

 

‘…and so, when they were looking for details for next of kin they couldn’t find anything on the apartment paperwork, and the office at your campus was closed for the weekend. So when they found Callie’s card in your pocket they called the number, and…’

 

The last part of what Stef said snapped Connor back to reality. Now he understood. And he remembered that Callie had written Jude’s number on the back of the card. He was thankful Jude didn’t get that call from the cops.

 

‘Connor, we want to take you back with us to San Diego, tomorrow. Assuming they discharge you and everything is ok. Would you want to do that? Your parents are happy to fly there to meet us,’ says the woman who, as always, had displayed genuine affection towards him.

‘W…I…but…what about…’

‘Love, I don’t think going back to that apartment is a good idea. You need time to rest and recover. You know us, you know we can give you a safe place to stay.’

 

He feels Jude’s hand tighten against his. Why are they doing this? He isn’t in their lives anymore. They don’t owe him anything. Yet here they are, seemingly offering to rescue him from this…nightmare? He looks Stef in the eye again, and nods slightly. He wants to say the words but he’s crying again.

 

‘It’s okay, Connor, you’re safe. You’re safe now.’

 

This wasn’t Stef’s voice though. This one belonged to the boy sat on his bed. The boy rubbing his thumb over the back of Connor’s hand. And he had spoken to Connor. For the first time in years. So Connor returned the favour.

 

Gesturing at Jude’s face, Connor asks, attempting a half smile, ‘What are these?’

 

Jude blushes slightly, and goes to take them off.

 

‘Don’t…they look…you look great in them.’

 

It’s the nicest thing anyone has said to him about his glasses.

 

***

Stef left them alone after explaining that the intention was to set off for San Diego at lunchtime at the latest the next day, and that she, Lena and Jude would be staying at a motel close to the hospital. It was her last piece of news that made Connor flinch: that the police would be back to finish taking his statement about what happened. She promised to sit in with him and that she would make sure they didn’t turn it into an interrogation.

 

Sitting alone with Jude helped him relax. Not talking, just breathing. Connor by now had returned the grip on his hand. Returned the grip of his ex-friend and boyfriend. The guy he had hidden himself away from. After a time, Jude decided to break their silence.

 

‘I…I texted you. Yesterday. I didn’t know if…Callie, obviously told me she saw you. And…I guess I wasn’t expecting you to reply or anything. For all I know you co-‘

‘I know,’ whispered Connor, ‘I know you did. I left my phone, and…’

 

Connor’s words get caught in his throat. He can’t tell Jude this. How do you tell someone their text message was what set Vince off? He knows it isn’t Jude’s fault…but that’s how it would sound. And he didn’t want to do that to Jude.

 

‘The guy...who…he’s…was…your…’

‘Yeah.’

Jude nods. He knows he can’t ask more. Can’t start prying.

 

A knock at the door. It’s Lena. Connor starts crying again when he sees her reaction to his appearance. He doesn’t hear what she says. It sounds like a comforting tone though. Then he feels her plant a kiss on his forehead. And he’s remembering the time he sat in her office, tearing up over Jude going mute. And he remembers her comforting him. Just like she is now.

 

He’s exhausted again. He doesn’t want to let go of Jude, or stop looking at Jude but he wants to sleep again. Lena suggests they leave him alone. Jude is about to protest but Lena fixes him with her stare. She suggests they let him rest, and go and check into the motel. She wants Jude to eat something as well.

 

‘It’s ok Jude, really,’ Connor tells him, using his eyes to reassure the brown haired, spectacled boy (or man?) looking back at him. Jude gets up from the bed, with Connor still holding onto him. Stood next to him he feels Connor lift their hands, and Connor is staring at Jude’s. More specifically, his fingers.

 

‘What are you thinking about?’

 

With a half-smile, the blonde on the bed replies with one thing:

 

‘War paint.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 14 – Confessions of a Dangerous Mind

‘Mr Stevens is awake and we’ll be getting a further statement from him soon. To fill in the gaps. And then we’re confident we will have a charge for your client.’

 

The public defender sighs and nods. The detective walks away, leaving her leaning on the wall outside of the interrogation room. This guy is going to jail, she thinks. She knows this, even though she has yet to hear the whole, gruesome tale.

 

***

 

‘So, the detectives are going to ask lots of questions. They have to be sure of as much as possible. It’s going to mean being brave. I mean, you’ve already been really brave, but…it’s really important that you tell them as much as you can, love.’

 

He understands. Nods a little. He can do this. He has to. He just needed Stef to sit with him. Just Stef. Nobody else, especially not…

 

***

 

Jude was on his way back from the bathroom, and saw them. Detectives. Outside of Connor’s room. This is it, he thinks. He tries to imagine how hard this will be for Connor. He has no idea. Jude steps around the detectives and re-enters the room, noticing Connor and Stef huddled in a whispered conversation. Connor sees him enter the room, and immediately looks back to Stef. What’s that look, Jude wonders. Connor looked at Stef with a face that was…pleading? Stef turns to face Jude, and then moves towards him.

 

‘Honey, perhaps its best you wait outside while Connor talks to the detectives, okay?’

‘B-B-But…I want to…Connor?’

 

The bruised, battered blonde begins to tear up, and looks away.

 

‘Love, I think…there are some things Connor doesn’t…that Connor doesn’t think you should hear.’ She lowers her voice, so only Jude can hear. ‘This is incredibly difficult for him, Jude. We can’t even begin to imagine what he may have been through, and it’s probably going to be very personal…the things he…has to talk about.’

 

Jude doesn’t really understand. He wants to be here. To help Connor. Support him. Not sit outside like a spare part. Connor won’t look at him. Jude reluctantly shuffles outside the room. Connor lifts his head to see Jude’s back as he leaves. He feels terrible. Jude is offering himself, without question or condition. And he has him sent away. But he knows what he is going to have to tell the detectives. And Jude can’t…Jude can’t sit through that. Stef beckons the detectives in, and Connor knows there is no going back now. Stef closes the door as the detectives move to the seats that have been put out for them, and plants herself down at the foot of Connor’s bed... She rests a hand on his shin. He relaxes at her touch, just a little.

 

‘So,’ says one of the detectives, ‘shall we begin?’

 

***

 

One hour, eighteen minutes. That’s how long the interview with Connor lasted. He was timing it, and he doesn’t give a fuck. Lena tried to get him to relax but it was pointless. He was on edge the whole time. Obviously nothing compared to how Connor must be feeling in there, he knows that. But still…fuck. He doesn’t actually hear the door open, but it’s the voice of a detective that catches his attention, as he wishes Connor a speedy recovery and says they will be in touch. Jude shoots up from his seat, but Lena holds him back. Stef emerges behind the detectives, thanks them and turns to Jude and Lena. Then he sees. She’s been crying. Stef doesn’t cry. Like, ever. Lena doesn’t need to hold him back now as he’s frozen to the spot. It must have been bad. Whatever Connor has told them. She closes Connor’s door and walks towards them. She tries to collect herself, and wipes her eyes but they can tell…they can see…that if this has broken Stef…

 

‘I think you can…I think he needs you, love…’

 

And so he goes.

 

What he doesn’t see is Stef collapse into Lena’s arms. What he doesn’t hear is Stef sobbing gently. She waits though, manages to keep herself quiet until Jude closes the door. When the door clicks she can hold back no more.

 

***

 

‘So…it’s um, pretty quiet at our house these days. Everyone else has moved out. It’s just…me and Moms. You know…it means you can just…I dunno…recover, I guess. Not having to worry about people all up in your shit, I mean.’

 

Connor nods. He feels awkward. It’s the small talk. Jude is trying, really trying, he can tell. Trying not to upset him by saying the wrong thing. He appreciates it but it’s weird nonetheless. He tries to join in the chit chat.

 

‘So…your sister…she said you’re in college too. How come…how come you live at home?’

‘Oh, umm…well, I’m like the 4th kid they have to put through college. My Grandma, the fund she set up for me helps obviously. But for them to pay tuition and for dorms and stuff would have just…I know they both don’t wanna be working until their 60’s, and they’ve done so much for me as it is. I just…I just figured that, you know, if I lived at home it would save money and stuff. I didn’t really wanna do the college dorm thing anyway.’

‘What, um…what is it that you’re studying?’

‘Oh,’ says Jude, adjusting his glasses, ‘my major is American History. It’s pretty cool.’

Connor nods. He is doing a lot of that. Nodding. Taking part in conversations hasn’t really been something he has had to do a lot in recent years. But he’s pretty sure part of it is because it’s Jude sat close to him. For his part, Jude is avoiding firing questions at him. He fissures if Connor wants to say anything then he will.

 

At 6pm the nurse came to kick Jude out, saying visiting hours were over. He didn’t want to leave. Connor didn’t want him to go. So, he mustered the bravery from deep within to ask the nurse if Jude would be allowed to stay. In his room. Overnight. Jude looked stunned to hear Connor suggest this, making Connor regret it instantly.

 

‘I…err…s-sorry. I just though…I don’t know if I want to be al-‘

‘N-No, it’s ok. Can I?’ Jude asked the nurse, who mumbled something in return and left to get the doctor.

‘Sorry, Jude. It’s not fair to ask you for that.’

‘No, I want to. You shouldn’t be on your own.’

 

The doctor was dead against it. As were Lena and Stef. Jude pleaded, while Connor just lay there looking awkward. Eventually the doctor relented, as long as Jude agreed not to sleep in the same bed as Connor as he needed rest. Jude understood. He wouldn’t have wanted to sleep on Connor’s bed anyway. And Connor definitely wasn’t ready to have his space invaded like that.

 

An agreement was reached. Jude was staying. A smaller, old looking bed was wheeled into the room and placed along the far wall. Stef and Lena said they would return around 10am, by which point Connor should be ready for discharge. Then they left. Leaving just the two of them. For the whole night.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15 – Escape from L.A.

Connor tried to force down some of the dinner they brought him. Jude sat watching, thinking it was some of the most disgusting looking food he’d ever seen. After a minute he stood up and said ‘I’ll be back’ and left. 20 minutes later he returned, looking mischievous. He then proceeded to remove two paper bags from the rolled up hoody in his hands. Two Burger King bags. Connor smiled at the cloak-and-dagger effort Jude made, the first time he had smiled properly since…well,in a while. They had to eat quickly in case they got caught. So they did. After they had finished and Jude had cleared the trash away each was wondering how they would fill the time until Connor needed to sleep. This ultimately wasn’t an issue as after making a trip to the bathroom and back, Connor felt exhausted. It had been a long day. Jude understood. He helped Connor back into bed and found himself instinctively tucking him in. It took him around five seconds to realise what he was doing. He looked up at Connor who seemed surprised, and he backed away, blushing. Hopping up onto his own bed he turned to the boy across the room and said ‘goodnight, Connor.’

 

Ten minutes later Jude could hear the familiar sound of Connor softly snoring. Jude always liked the sound. He would never admit it but when they were kids he would lay there and listen to Connor sleep. The memory made him smile. He took out his phone and caught up with some college emails, read the news headlines and played a couple of games. By 8pm he himself was asleep. The worrying had taken it out if him. But he could sleep now. Knowing Connor was safe.

 

***

 

Connor was examined, and ready to be discharged, by 11am. He had no spare clothes with him so put on the jeans he was wearing when he was brought in, as well as a t-shirt of Jude’s which was three sizes too small. Nothing changes there.

 

‘So,’ began Lena, ‘me and Stef thought we might go by your apartment and pick up some of your things? And then come back here and pick up you and Jude?’

 

Connor had already thought about this. He knew he probably should stay away from that place. It would definitely upset him having to see it again. But it was his home, his things were there. His whole life was there, in effect.

 

‘No, I think…I think it’ll be ok. I’ll go…we can all go. I need to get my own things.’

 

Stef and Lena shared a look of concern with each other, but didn’t push it. Jude was also concerned and likewise, kept his own counsel. Twenty five minutes later they pulled up outside the apartment building. Connor had been extremely quiet on the journey. Even more than he had been since he had woken up yesterday.

 

It’s a blur: getting out of the car and walking into the building; climbing the stairs; walking along the hall. He snaps out of it when the door to the apartment is opened by Stef. She enters first, Connor slowly behind her. Jude hesitates. Should he be going in there? This is Connor’s place. It would feel…weird, surely? This place where Connor has been hidden away. Where he’s been living with…sharing a life…a bed…with him. Lena beckons him in, apparently sensing his apprehension. He sees Connor stood, staring. At a collapsed table and some broken dishes on the floor. Jude still doesn’t know the whole story of what went on in here. He steps from behind Connor and then sees it.

 

Blood. Smeared on the wooden floor. Connor’s blood. Connor is looking at it too. As are Stef and Lena. It’s Momma Adams Foster who gets them all moving, away from the mess, asking Connor what he wants to take from the apartment. There are only a few things he wants from the kitchen and living room. The rest of his things are in the bedroom. Jude and Lena collect the handful of things Connor has pointed out, and they barely fill a single trash bag. Stef goes with him into the bedroom. Jude doesn’t want to go in there. Connor’s clothes and other things fill two bags. The whole exercise takes less than twenty minutes. Stef carries the bags out of the room, leaving Connor stood there. He looks around. At Vince’s clothes still hanging in the wardrobe. At the wall he would stare at when he’d lay in bed. He feels a tear fall. Why now? Why am I crying now? After what he did. I can leave. These people want to help me. Get it together.

 

He’s snapped out of it by Lena softly calling to him from the doorway.

 

‘Um, Connor, there’s someone at the door for you.’

 

Confused, Connor follows her towards the door. It’s his neighbour, Ben. When he catches sight of Connor’s face he blanches, seemingly unprepared for how Connor looks. Both men just stare at each other awkwardly.

 

‘Umm, I heard voices and stuff…I just wanted to say…I’m glad you’re okay. It was…um…really bad. The other day. We were just glad…that the ambulance got here so quick, you know?’

 

Connor looks confused.

 

‘Oh…so, you…you were here…or…’

‘Yeah, we…stopped him…called the cops and whatever.’

‘Oh. Okay.’

 

Connor had barely ever spoken to the guy. He loved next door, with a woman. His girlfriend or wife, Connor wasn’t sure. He’d recently helped them move an old sofa and table down to the street, but even then it was just polite chat. And now here he was, talking with the guy about the boyfriend who beat the shit out of him two days ago.

 

‘Are you leaving?’

‘Um..yeah, I’m going to stay with…I’m going to stay in San Diego for a while. Umm, this is Stef and Lena. And Jude. I’ve known them for…I went to middle school with Jude. So…yeah.’

‘Cool. Well…look, it’s good you’re ok and…you know. If you need me to…hang on.’

 

Spotting a pen and paper on the kitchen counter he writes his name and a cell number down.

 

‘If you need me to do anything about the apartment or whatever, or you know…anything, just let me know.’

 

He offers his hand to Connor, who takes it.

 

‘Thank you,’ Connor whispers. ‘Thank you.’

 

Ben smiles sadly, turns, and leaves.

 

‘Are you ready to go Connor? Is there anything else you want to take?’

 

He shakes his head at Stef. Looking down at the bags of belongings it suddenly hits him. His whole life in three bags. He has maybe never felt as pathetic. He picks one up, Jude and Stef collecting the other two. He’s the last one to step out of the apartment, and he closes the door.

 

***

 

Two and a half hours later the car pulls onto the driveway of the Adams Foster house. As Connor steps out into the mid-afternoon sunshine he takes in his surroundings. The house, from the outside, looks the same. The same as all the times he would walk or cycle round to see Jude. All the times he would come to stay over. All the birthdays. All the parties. Now he could see it. This place, even though he never lived here, felt like a home. His home. But it wasn’t his home. And he doesn’t think it could ever be his home.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16 – Back to the Future

He sat on the staircase, listening to their every word. Stef and Callie thought they should take him. Lena was dead against it. She felt that support from the family would be enough. That their love would be enough. Enough to get him through it. A week had gone by since Connor had broken up with Jude. The day after it happened he was allowed to stay home from school. He went the following day but only made it to halfway through his second class before he was in Lena’s office, bawling in her arms. He was signed off from school with exhaustion. He would cry a lot, sleep a little, and eat even less. He couldn’t concentrate enough to get through the work that Lena brought home for him, felt unable to sit through family dinners and in effect shut himself off from everyone. On the seventh day after the breakup Callie had had enough and resolved to get Jude out of bed, out of his room and out of the house. As Jesus was about to leave for school she asked him if Jude was awake. His reply about Jude not being in their room surprised her, and their Moms. A quick search of the bathrooms and bedrooms revealed there was no Jude. A brief panic set in before they found him, in the garage. He was lying on the battered old sofa, curled into the foetal position, shaking slightly. At first they couldn’t make out what he was hugging tightly to his chest, and had to get close to see what it was. It was Connor’s hoody. Grey, with blue stitching. Jude loved it and Connor had given it to him to keep. Jude was wide-eyed, in a trance like state. This was the first time that his Moms and sister seriously considered the possibility that Jude might hurt himself, as he seemed to have completely shut down. After leading him up to bed the discussion began: should Jude go into hospital for a psychiatric assessment?

 

Jude didn’t want it. He felt ashamed that they thought he would hurt himself, that he would hurt them. He wasn’t suicidal, didn’t want to hurt himself. Even though the pain was real, impossible to escape from. So he had to put a stop to it. Slowly he made his way down to the kitchen, and was so quiet they only realised he was there when he spoke.

 

‘I won’t hurt myself. I don’t want to. I promise.’

 

And so Jude Adams Foster had to dig deep to be strong, to hold himself together. He had to reach back, and think about how he managed to survive abusive foster homes and foster parents. If he could survive those things he could get through this. What Jude didn’t know was that Stef and Lena began watching him like a hawk. They agreed that one more missed school day or any more behaviour out of character Jude would have to see a doctor.

 

The ‘cause’ of Jude’s angst from five years ago was now sat beside him as they pulled onto the Adams Foster driveway. He had often wondered how Connor felt in those days after they broke up. Was he as devastated as Jude? Of course, he must have been. Even more so as it was Jude who had cheated on him. Would any of this get spoken about, Jude wondered. He was sure it would have to come up at some point. 

 

Stef and Lena began unpacking the car as Jude stood alongside Connor on the lawn. Connor looked peaceful, kind of. Certainly the most relaxed that Jude had seen him look in the last 48 hours. Jude had to snap him out of his trance though.

 

‘Come on; let’s help Moms with the bags.’

 

Jude led the way inside. It looked exactly the same to Connor. The same as that first Saturday all those years ago when he came over to work on a science project with Jude. Some things will have changed, of course, but that mattered little to Connor.

 

‘So…um, Connor, you can sleep in Brandon’s old room. There’s a bed in there and plenty of closet space, things like that,’ remarked Stef. ‘Jude, do you wanna help him upstairs with his stuff, get him settled in?’

 

Off they went, carrying Connor’s bagged possessions. The room was mostly bare apart from the bed, a chest of drawers and a wardrobe. There were some boxes against the window but there was plenty of space so they wouldn’t get in the way. Jude didn’t know if he should start unpacking Connor’s things so he just stood there awkwardly. Connor didn’t look like he wanted to unpack the bags either after they were dumped on the bed. So Jude spoke up.

 

‘Do you wanna see my room? It’s different than when…um…than it used to be.’

 

Connor followed him to Jude’s lair. And different it certainly was. Now there was just one queen sized bed in the room. The dividing shelves had been removed so the room looked so much bigger. Where Jesus’ bed used to be there was now a desk with a laptop and various college-related things of Jude’s. A pretty nice set up, thought Connor. Jude sat himself on the chair at the desk, and indicated to Connor that he could sit down on the bed. Which he did.

 

Again with the silence.

 

The Connor spotted it. In the corner near the desk. A skateboard. The one he had bought Jude for his 15th birthday. Connor had been teaching him to board for nearly a year, and Jude had been using a spare of Jesus’. Jude had gotten pretty good at it, and he really liked that it was something they could do together. It looked in great condition, from what Connor could tell. Like it hadn’t really been used. Jude of course had noticed that Connor had spotted it.

 

‘I…haven’t really…you know, used it. Not since…’


Connor nods. He knows why. It’s fine, really. He himself hadn’t really touched a board since…since high school? Wow, he thinks, has it really been that long? Lena appears at the door with bed sheets and a towel for Connor. Jude helps him make his bed up, and then helps when Connor starts unpacking the bags. Not much gets said between the pair. Lena said something about pizza for dinner but that would still be a couple of hours away so Jude was wondering how they would fill the time. He had an idea, and was about to suggest it when Stef and Lena called them downstairs. Stef had spoken to Connor’s parents. They would both arrive tomorrow, around lunchtime. In the car Connor had told Stef that he didn’t feel ready to talk to them yet and so she agreed to do it for him. There would be no escaping that tomorrow though, not when they are in this house. But that’s tomorrow. He can worry about that tomorrow. Deal with it tomorrow. In the here and now he just wants to feel…safe? Relaxed? Wanted? He excuses himself and goes to take a shower. Jude sits himself at the kitchen island. He feels tired. Probably looks it too.

 

‘He just needs some time and space, love,’ Stef whispers in his ear. She knows, about Jude’s conflict. How he feels concerned and scared and guilty all at the same time. Twenty minutes later Jude goes upstairs and is met with the sight of a showered and dressed Connor lingering on the landing.

 

‘Um…do you wanna, maybe…I dunno, go for a walk or something? I think I could use the fresh air, you know?’

 

Jude hadn’t been expecting it but agreed. His Moms were a bit concerned about Connor going out so soon but Jude promised they wouldn’t go far and would be back for dinner. They walked to the park not far from the house. Bought some candy from the 7/11 on the way. Sat on a bench in the park. Didn’t talk much. Walked back. It was nice, though. Jude felt like it was good for Connor, to be here in this environment. Connor felt it too. To be far away from his disaster of a life. Far away from him. What Connor also felt was happiness. He kept trying to push it away. Had been since he’d first laid eyes on Jude again. But he was happy to be around him. Happy to walk next to him. To sit next to him in the park. Happy that Jude sat so close to him over pizza in the kitchen that night. Happy as Jude told him things about his American History classes, and his brothers and sisters, and what garbage he liked to watch on TV. Happy that Jude hugged him before they went to bed. The first real, loving hug that Connor had had for years.

 

The happiness couldn’t help him sleep though. He was in someone else’s bed in someone else’s room in someone else’s house. He wondered…

 

Jude was propped up in bed, tablet resting against his knees. He was Googling stories from survivors of male-on-male domestic abuse. Light reading it was not. From the corner of his eye he saw movement, a shadow appear near the crack in his door. Stef and Lena had long since gone to bed. He focused but couldn’t see as well at distance without his glasses. He reached over to his nightstand and put them on. Then he saw it. In the shadows outside of his room. The peering face of Connor Stevens.

 

‘Hey. Can’t sleep?’

Chapter Text

Chapter 17 – “Take a sad song, and make it better…”

Connor pushed the door open, and Jude beckoned him in with a flick of his head. Connor pushed the door closed gently. Jude put his tablet on the nightstand, and motioned for Connor to take a seat on the bed. The second time today he had Connor sat on his bed. Stop it Jude, Jesus.

 

Connor sat, and mimicked Jude by pulling his knees up to his chest. Connor was staring down at the bed, but Jude had his gaze focused on the boy opposite him. His face looked a lot better than when he first saw it around 36 hours ago. The swelling around his eyes had gone down. The broken nose…that would be fixed later. At least Connor didn’t look like a corpse anymore.

 

‘Do you wanna talk about…about anything?’

 

Connor fixed him with a stare.

‘This is…this is the first night, for like, nearly three years where I’ve slept alone. Or where I’ve got to sleep alone. Apart from the hospital, you know…because I was sedated.’

 

Jude nods. He gets it. He’s about to ask Connor a question when the blonde continues…

 

‘I guess that you…have questions, and…maybe that you wanna know some things. About me. Um…and about…what’s been…I mean, how it has turned out like…like this…’

 

Conor gestures with his hand at nothing in particular. But Jude gets this as well. And he is curious, oh boy is he curious. Not necessarily about that fucking scumbag, per se, but about Connor’s life post-breakup. He really does want to know everything, but he doesn’t know if Connor wants to share everything. He has to ask though; they have to start this…

 

‘How…what…how did it turn out like this, Connor?’ he asks softly. Jude is scared to death, not only that he asked this but that he had the balls to ask this. He’s fully expecting to get some of the blame. Connor must blame him, in part. May be if he hadn’t cheated then Connor wouldn’t have dumped him and then maybe they would have stayed together in high school and college and lived happily ever after…

 

…breathe, Jude, come on…

 

Connor takes his time. He doesn’t look shocked by the question, just pensive. Like he wants to give the correct answer the first time, and not have to repeat himself. A minute goes by, a minute of silence punctured by Jude’s heavy breathing.

 

‘I guess…after us, I just focused…on me. After we broke up…again…I just figured that going through that kind of thing with someone and ending up…letting someone in like that would be a mistake.  I kind of cut people out. The friends I had in L.A., I mean. And I stopped playing sports too. I wanted to be on my own. I didn’t think…I just thought I would try it for a while, the solo thing. I didn’t expect it to last all through high school, you know? But a month leads to two, and then the school year is gone and…it just went by so fast. Everything did. Then college came around and…’

 

Jude stays quiet. He thinks if he speaks it would be like an intrusion.

 

‘…so, yeah. I was pretty lonely. I can admit that. It sounds like a lonely story and it is. But it was my choice, you know? Until I met…I chose to be alone. And I don’t blame you Jude, at all. So please don’t think that, okay?’

 

Jude is thinking that. Connor telling him not to isn’t going to stop him. Jude feels ashamed. Utterly, totally ashamed. And that’s only for the high school stuff. Connor hasn’t even mentioned…him. And whatever went on in their lives…in that place.

 

‘What about you though? Like…how was high school for you?’

‘Oh…’

 

Jude wasn’t expecting that. He thought this was Connor’s confessional session.

 

‘…well, I guess not too…dissimilar, I suppose. Look, I was never Mr Popular, you know that. And that…didn’t really change. In senior year…it was a bit…it was better.’ Jude looks away, and Connor notices. Why is he looking away?

 

‘Better? Like, friends you mean? Or…’

‘There was…I had, kind of, a boyfriend. For a while. He was a friend of…of Taylor’s actually. Um, he was nice, you know? But he got into NYU and, I just didn’t want to try the…the distance thing again. And it wasn’t serious or anything. Yeah. So…’

‘Yeah…I get it,’ replies Connor sympathetically. Which Jude just can’t bear. Why is Connor being sympathetic to him? He’s the one who has been bounced around and treated like shit. Connor’s the one who deserves sympathy, not Jude.

 

‘I like…I like hearing about you. About your life, Jude. I’ve never…I haven’t ever hated you or wanted bad things for you. Honestly, until I saw your sister a few days ago I never thought I’d hear about you again.’

 

‘Same. Like, once I found out your Dad had moved and your Mom had moved too I figured that…I dunno…that it…me and you…as friends or whatever…was done. In the past.’

‘What did you think, when Callie told you we talked?’

‘I…I was surprised. A bit excited I guess. To hear you were okay and stuff.’ Jude said that last part very quickly, not wanting Connor to misunderstand, not wanting him to get the wrong impression.

‘Did she tell you…where she saw me…and stuff?’

‘Um, no. I think she said…just out somewhere. I figured in a bar or whatever. Why?’

‘No…no reason. Just wondering.’

 

Some silence. Then…

 

‘Connor, I was so fucking scared for you. I’m sorry, I know you probably…don’t wanna hear that but when Callie was telling me…and when Mom explained things…I can only remember one other time being as scared as that, and…’

‘It’s okay, it’s okay,’ reassured Connor. He shuffles close to Jude, from the end of the bed to right next to him. He doesn’t reach out to Jude. If he cries he might do.

 

‘Connor, please don’t feel sorry for me, Jesus! I’m just telling you so…yeah.’

 

Connor gets it. He gets Jude. Even after all this time. Then he realises. This is always how they used to sit in Jude’s bed. Connor on his left. Except now instead of the single bed it was a queen sized one. So they weren’t touching shoulders. Or anything else. But they were close.

 

That silence…again…

 

‘I don’t think…I don’t think I can talk about him yet. With you. About Vince. I…I’m gonna have to talk about him to the cops again soon. And it’s…when I did yesterday, and with your Mom there…’

 

He looks at Jude. Jude turns to look at him.

 

‘…for now…I’d rather you didn’t have to…hear about…that. If that makes you mad-‘

 

Jude took his hand. Just like in the hospital. He doesn’t break eye contact.

 

‘Connor, you don’t ever have to do anything you don’t want to do ever again. I promise.’

 

Connor wants to believe him. Jude looks determined. Jude looks strong. He needs that. He needs a strong friend. More than Jude can possibly know. And Jude gets him. It seems like he always has.

 

‘Sleep here. With me.’

 

Was it a question? Or a suggestion? Connor isn’t sure. But he joins Jude under the comforter anyway. There’s a space between them, both boys lying on their backs. Jude turns to him.

 

‘I want you to be safe, to feel safe. Whatever it takes to help you feel that, I’ll do it. I want to be your friend again, Connor, okay?’

 

Connor turns to him. There are tears in his eyes. But he can be strong for Jude. For his friend. He smiles at the dark haired boy whose bed he is lying in once again.

 

‘I think with you, I’ll always feel safe.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 18 – Parental Guidance

Lena’s alarm at finding Connor’s bed unslept in subsided when she found him with Jude. Both were turned to face the window. They weren’t spooning, but they were close. If Lena had $1 for every time she found them spooning in Jude’s bed during sleepovers when they were kids…

 

She and Stef decide not to wake them, and to just leave them alone. If Connor wanted to sleep in Jude’s bed he must have had reasons, the same for Jude allowing it. It really wasn’t their place to intrude. They had enough to contemplate anyway, with visitors expected soon.

 

Just after 11am there was a knock at the door. Here we go, think the Momma’s…

 

***

 

Connor opens his eyes slowly. He’s face down. Then he has that three second blind panic everyone gets when they wake up somewhere strange. He lifts his head. Jude’s room. Jude’s house. Jude’s bed. No Jude. He rolls himself over and sees Jude, stood by his door which is open just enough for Jude to stick his face in the gap. What’s he doing, Connor wonders?

 

‘Um…Jude…?’

‘Hey…um, your…your parents are here.’

 

***

 

It took Connor a minute or so to gather himself together and get out of bed. He was a peculiar sight, Jude thought. Face peppered with purple bruises, hair everywhere (oh, did Connor need a haircut!), that just-woke-up stumble that people get. Suddenly he was next to Jude at the opening. His face was no more than a few inches away from Jude’s. He could smell Connor. Not his breath, but Connor’s…scent, he supposes. It’s familiar. He has to snap out of it though. Connor isn’t thinking that way. Is he…

 

…He can’t hear, not really. Well, he can hear voices. They sound raised. He could be wrong. They are too far away. Is it the distance though? Or is it that he’s distracted by Jude. Jude being so close. How nice Jude smells…For fuck’s sake Connor, get it together. He goes to take the door handle and open it fully. Jude’s hand is there though. Connor’s is now covering it. Slowly, he takes it away. Connor looks at Jude and then away. Jude opens the door all the way and the boys creep together to the top of the stairs. The voices are coming from the kitchen. They can hear Stef. And Adam Stevens. Connor stops moving when he can hear his Dad. The Dad he hasn’t seen for nearly two years. The Dad he hasn’t spoken to for several months. Connor slowly, quietly sits himself down on the top step. After a beat he turns to see Jude stood behind him. He wants Jude to join him. It must be written on his face as Jude steps over and sits next to him. Close to him. Knees touching. Jude notices this. Connor doesn’t. Not really. Only a little.

 

‘Look, Adam, we’ve told you everything we know. As a police officer I can’t tell you any more than I have. Yes, I know certain other details but it isn’t for me to tell you. Only Connor can do that. I will not betray a confidence. Too many people have let the kid down already.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean? I have tried to-‘

‘I’m not implying anything. If I wanted to say something to you Adam, I’d just do it.’

‘And Vince? The charge will be, what?’

‘Aggravated assault, they think. They still had to re-interview him after Connor’s second statement two days ago, and I haven’t heard anything else since then. They have me down as first point of contact for him.’

‘So, is he going to come and stay with me, or you then?’ It sounds like Adam is addressing someone else now instead of Stef. He is.

‘I…I don’t know. I’ve no idea what he’d want.’

 

It was his Mom. He let his head hang low. Jude is looking at him and can see he has started crying. Then, to break the silence comes Stef’s voice again. Clear. Certain. Determined.

 

‘Connor isn’t going anywhere.’

‘Excuse me?,’ retorts Adam. ‘I don’t know what-‘

‘If you think I’m going to let…if we’re going to let anyone take him away from a place he is safe, from a place he is wanted and welcome then you can think again.’

‘I’m his father. She’s his mother. He belongs with one of us. He’s going to need support, and if there’s a trial then-‘

‘He will get all the love and support he needs right here. He needs stability, not to be passed around like a toy, handed off to whoever is free for a while. Jude is here. Jude knows him better than anyone. Connor needs him.’

 

Jude went rigid at the mention of his name. Connor must have felt it as he rested his hand on Jude’s knee, in an attempt to relax him. Once again, Connor trying to comfort Jude.

 

‘Look, whatever happened in the past is in the past. I love my son. I can look after him and get him through this.’

 

‘Oh really,’ replies Stef, he sarcastic tone wafting out of the kitchen and up the stairs, ‘is that so? Until your work gets in the way? Or until you have to sit through the trial and listen to intimate details of your son’s life with a man? A man who beat him, a man who made him feel worthless. Don’t fucking pretend that you are what Connor needs right now.’

‘Ok,’ interjected Lena, ‘let’s all just take a breath here. Us all arguing helps nobody, especially not Connor. Everyone needs to be on the same page. I agree with Stef. I’m sorry, I know you both don’t want to hear that. But we’ve talked about it…and Connor is welcome to stay here for as long as he wants to…for as long as he needs to. It’s going to be a long recovery for him. He can’t do that in an environment that makes him anxious, and I think…I think living with either one of you right now would be-‘

 

Lena stops talking, distracted by movement to her left. Connor is stood there. Jude is just behind him. The other three in the room all have their back to the entrance way, and so only notice him when they turn around. Connor’s mom cries out and rushes to her son, pulling him into a tight embrace. Adam rises from the stool, not really sure where to put himself. Stef moves away to join Lena on the other side of the counter. Jude…Jude just lingers. He feels like a bit of a spare part here.

 

‘Guys, why don’t you the three of you go to the living room. You can have a bit of privacy there,’ suggests Lena. Connor’s mom releases him and takes his face in. She’s sobbing. Adam now can also see Connor’s face properly. He doesn’t hug Connor, but places his hand on the back of Connor’s head and looks him in the eye. An act of reassurance. Stef isn’t impressed. She is seething with rage in fact. She holds Connor’s parents partly responsible for all this. Lena can sense Stef’s mood, which is also why she wants to move the Stevens’ to another room. Connor leads his parents out of the kitchen. As they get to the entrance way Connor turns to Jude, and holds out his hand.

 

‘Will you come with us? Please?’

 

Without missing a beat Jude is at Connor’s side. Connor knows he needs Jude. His support, his understanding…he needs it.

 

Stef and Lena go out to the back yard. Stef wants to be nowhere near them. She’s hoping they will leave soon. Lena is more pragmatic, and knows that they will probably be around for a few days at least.

 

Connor is trying to explain some things to his parents. It’s hard, as Adam keeps interrupting and asking questions so Connor can’t get into any kind of rhythm. After several minutes of chaotic chat Jude intervenes.

 

‘Okay, here’s how this needs to work. Connor will speak. He’ll tell you things he wants to tell you. You have to listen and not interrupt him. If he doesn’t mention it, don’t ask about it.’

 

Adam and his ex-wife are taken aback by Jude’s firm tone. They both also note Connor is clinging to him for dear life. As Connor goes through several different things with them the atmosphere in the room changes. His mom cries a lot. Adam seems exasperated at times. Yet both follow Jude’s orders and don’t interrupt. After nearly half an hour Connor is done. He’s spoken about Vince: how he was physically and mentally abusive over a long period of time; how Vince would control and manipulate him; how he felt trapped but also how he didn’t ever want to leave; and how he felt Vince was the only thing he had in the world. The last part was the saddest part for Connor’s parents to hear. His mother by now had moved onto the sofa, sat on Connor’s other side (Jude was on the other side, of course). Connor had been awake less than an hour and he was already exhausted. He of course kept some things unsaid, things he had yet to discuss with Jude and things that only Stef was aware of. That will come later, he thinks.

 

Jude goes to make tea for everyone. Connor now seems able to sit alone with his parents, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Lena sees him from outside and joins him in the kitchen.

 

‘Bubba, you doing ok?’ She’s rubbing circles on his back as he plays with mugs, teabags and the kettle. He nods. That’s enough for her. She doesn’t want to push anything.

 

An hour later both Stevens parents head off to their respective hotels, having both come straight from the airport. They would be back later, having been invited to dinner by Lena and a very reluctant Stef. It was actually Jude who had to ask Stef to tone down her obvious dislike of Connor’s parents, as he didn’t want that to become something else for Connor to have to worry about. Connor’s medication made him drowsy so it was only after a nap that he felt able to function properly. He sat with Jude in the garden, playing with Jude’s tablet as Mr American History read some chapters of a book for a class at the end of the week. Stef and Lena had gone to the store for dinner supplies. In years gone by had Jude and Connor been left alone in the house they would have been upstairs, in Jude’s room. Making out. Maybe with shirts off. But nothing more. Today, they weren’t doing that. But Connor was glad to be alone with him. Once again. Would it always be like this? Probably not. Connor was grateful though.

 

Jude finished whatever it was he was reading, closed his book and found Connor looking at him.

 

‘Are you okay?’

 

Connor smiled, leaned over and pecked Jude on the cheek. Jude was surprised, unable to do anything other than blush slightly and blink through it.

 

‘I am now. Thank you Jude.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 19 - Back To Reality

The dinner with the Stevens’ wasn’t as bad as everybody seemed to think it would be. It was awkward in parts but Jude and Lena seemed to have an agreement to just talk through any silences. Jude rambled more about life as a college student more during the dinner than at any point of his college life so far. Connor was grateful. Anything to avoid having to talk about Los Angeles. Over the next two days Connor spent quite a bit of time with his parents. Sometimes at the Adams Foster house, sometimes not. He felt it wasn’t fair to inflict his awkward family set up on Jude and his Moms all the time. To Connor’s relief, both left San Diego the same day. The night before Connor sat down with them and announced that he was taking Stef and Lena up on their offer to base himself in San Diego for the foreseeable future. He had pretty much enough credits to complete junior year and so if he handed in one more paper and sat one more test he could advance to senior year, perhaps transferring to San Diego. Both parents were disappointed that he didn’t want to return and live with them in their respective cities, but over the last few days they had come to see how comfortable Connor seemed to be now, and certainly how more…relaxed…he seemed to be than he had in the last two and a half years. At this point it still wasn’t certain what was going to happen in respect of Vince. He had an arraignment hearing set for the following week at which he would enter a plea. But that was still several days away. He could worry about that later. What Connor was certain about was that he didn’t want to go back to Los Angeles. Connor had, for most of the time he had been with Vince, refused most offers of financial assistance from his parents beyond tuition. Partly because of his pride, but mostly because of Vince’s. Now though pride was right out the damn window. His parents enthusiastically agreed to start sending him money every month, so he could live and contribute to the household bills. For Connor though, the best thing to come out of his parents’ brief visit was that it looked like he would be able to rebuild his relationships with them both. Little things like this were helping. Not everything was going to be positive but in the last several days things certainly looked less bleak for the boy.

 

Jude had to go back to class. The saga with Connor had taken over a week of his life now and he couldn’t afford to get behind with his studies. It was hard to readjust to life as a student though. Connor was always around. And Jude was constantly thinking about him. Not necessarily in a way that could be interpreted as…inappropriate…but just through concern. The concern mostly came from Connor’s night-time behaviour. The second night Connor was at their house he tried to sleep on his own in what was now, essentially, his room. When Jude woke up in the morning, having gone to bed alone, he rolled over to find Connor curled up next to him. Jude didn’t mind. He was glad Connor felt comfortable enough to do it. He wouldn’t want him lying alone in the dark unable to sleep.

 

And so over the next two weeks a pattern developed at night. Connor would try to sleep alone, but more often than not would end up in with Jude. Stef and Lena were slightly concerned, but not too much. They could see how Jude was with Connor: calm, protective of him but respectful of the boundaries between them. One night around two weeks after Connor moved in Jude woke up needing the bathroom. He was surprised to find Connor spooning him. His left arm was curled around Jude’s waist, and Jude could feel Connor breathing slowly on the back of his neck. What should he do? Get up and risk waking Connor up, making it awkward? Or try and hold it in and go back to sleep. After 20 minutes of debating in the dark he could hold it in no more, and so gently lifted Connor’s arm from around his waist, slipping out of the bed in the process. Connor didn’t stir. When he came back a couple of minutes later he could see that Connor had rolled back onto his side of the bed. His side? Get it together Jude.

 

Daytimes were less confusing, certainly for Jude. Classes, studying and assignments gave him his structure back. And he had to admit that he liked coming home every day and finding Connor there. For Connor, having a 6000 word assignment to delve into, as well as preparing for a final test, gave him something to occupy his mind. His professors had been understanding, sending study aids to him and arranging for him to take his test at Jude’s campus.

 

Vince’s arraignment had been delayed after he had been assaulted in jail. Connor didn’t know the whole story but from what Stef told him he was attacked on the way back from the showers and he ended up hospitalised for a week. The third week of living with the Adams Foster’s saw the arraignment hearing come and go. Connor wasn’t present. He wanted no part of that. Vince pled not guilty to the charge of aggravated assault. Stef wasn’t surprised to hear this, nor was the prosecutor. It was hoped that a deal could be reached that would avoid a trial and therefore spare Connor the ordeal of having to testify. Connor was convinced that this was Vince’s final revenge: making him have to open up on the stand, to go through personal humiliation. Connor tried to put these things out of his head. A trial would be months away. Fortunately Vince was remanded in custody, the bail application tossed out by the judge. Connor doesn’t even want to imagine how it would feel having Vince walking the streets again.

 

Both Connor and Jude had avoided the subject of Vince, more or less, over the last three weeks. Certainly they had never discussed details of their relationship, home life or the abuse Connor had suffered. Connor knew the time was getting closer where they would have to talk about it though. They were friends. Jude was, for all intents and purposes, Connor’s rock. Jude needed to know these things, and for sure before he would have to hear about them in court. He toyed with ways of starting the conversation, how he might put things across so Jude could understand. It was hard though. Connor found it hard thinking about these things in his head, let alone out loud. One afternoon he came across Stef in the kitchen. He was glad she was there. She knew the details. Most of them anyway. She would know what to do. She agreed that Jude should know, and that it should come from Connor. But she couldn’t help with how or when he should bring it up. Only Connor could decide that. Eventually, he decided. He would do it away from the house. Away from distractions. In a place they could be alone. Just the two of them: Connor and his best friend Jude. It was a Wednesday afternoon. Jude finished class at 2pm. Connor sends him a text.

 

From Connor, 1.45pm: Hey. Do you wanna meet me at the rocks at the beach?

From Jude, 2.03pm: Sure. Everything ok?

From Connor, 2.05pm: Yeah. Just wanna talk. I’ll be waiting Cu soon!

Chapter Text

Chapter 20 – Tales from the Crypt

One week ago

Callie arrived for her visit on Friday afternoon. With Jude on campus and Stef and Lena working it meant that it was just Connor at home. He knew she was coming home. It would be the first time he had seen her since the diner in Los Angeles. She never came into the hospital room, even though he knew she was there. She knew his secret. And she hadn’t told Jude. For that, he was extremely grateful. As she came through the door Connor was coming down the stairs. For Connor, it was almost as awkward as his reunion with Jude. There was small talk. About how well he looked. About how well he had settled in, according to Jude and their Moms. Connor hated small talk. Even more so at this moment. So he confronted the elephant in the room…

 

‘Um…I, um, just wanted to say…thanks. For not telling Jude, or anyone else, where you saw me. I know it’s weird, but…it’s not exactly something that would be easy for me to explain, you know?’

‘Yeah…I understand. But, um…look, I did tell Mom. When I called Jude, the night the police called me. I told Stef, and so I’m guessing she told Momma too.’ Callie took a breath. ‘Um…and I kind of told Mariana…the night I saw you at the club.’

 

Connor’s face fell, and he slipped into a bit of a panic. If Stef and Lena know and if Mariana knows then Jude’s brothers will probably know too. His level of embarrassment could probably only be higher if he were caught wandering naked.  Focus, Connor. There’s nothing you can do about it now. But Jude needs to hear that, and the rest of the story, from you. He’s saying this to himself, of course. But it’s probably what Lena and Stef are thinking too.

 

***

 

Jude’s panicking slightly. Connor wants to talk. About what? They talk every day and night at home. Why is he being specific about needing to talk now? And at their place? Well…it’s not been ‘their’ place for years. He’s on the bus, running scenarios over and over in his head. Is Connor going to tell him he’s leaving? Is he going to go back to L.A.? Has he done something to upset him? Is he going to tell him he wa-…no, it won’t be that. It’s 3pm by the time he gets to the beach. He can see Connor from quite far away. His hair is blowing in the wind. He needs to get that mess cut, Jude thinks. Priorities though, Jude. Focus. Connor is facing out to sea, and so doesn’t even know Jude is there until he hears him climbing over the rocks to join him. He relaxes slightly on seeing Connor’s smile. His smile has been returning lately. For most of the last month it’s flitted between a grimace and a polite smirk. Today there’s a brief flash of teeth. Jude used to think that Connor’s smile could stop a war. He wanted to see that smile again. One day, he hopes to. For now though, Jude tries to relax. He slips back into ‘support Connor’ mode. He’s as prepared as he can be.

 

‘So…there’s some stuff that I think it’s time we…or I, need to talk about. With you. You’ve probably been waiting for me to…fill in the gaps, I guess…and it’s stuff that, you know…basically it’s my life for most of the last three years.’

 

Jude nods, looking at Connor who is looking out at the water again.

 

‘I’ve tried to…work out how to start, and what order to say things in. So…I think,’ continues Connor, and now turning to look Jude in the eyes, ‘that what’s best is that…if you let me speak, and don’t…don’t interrupt…even if I get…you know…’

 

Jude nods again, and takes Connor’s hand.

 

‘…that way, I can get through it, and…then you can ask me whatever you want.’

 

Jude alters his position, turning to face Connor. Connor himself doesn’t move. He returns his gaze to the Pacific but doesn’t pull away from Jude’s grip. A couple of deep breaths later, he begins. He starts with how he’s been going to a therapist. This shocks Jude. How could he have not known this? Connor reveals that he started a week previously, and had been twice, on days Jude has early classes. Stef and Lena arranged it for him. He hadn’t been 100% set on needing to see anyone, but after two sessions had realised that it was a good thing, and that he was going to carry on twice a week for the foreseeable future. Jude had to admit that he didn’t like not knowing about the therapist, but he swallowed it: Connor needs this, it’s no time for selfishness.

 

Connor continues by moving on to Vince; how they met and where, and how it was all so different for Connor. Being able to connect with a person again, letting them into his life, being let into theirs, being intimate for the first time with someone… and how they essentially were living out of Connor’s dorm room. Connor actually avoided saying his name for a while. It was always ‘he’ and ‘him’, with Jude thinking that Connor wanted to make Vince seem as least like a person as possible.

 

‘The whole time we lived in the dorm, and even after we moved into the apartment things were…good. I mean…we were together a lot. Like, every night. And I honestly didn’t mind that. He sort of made it seem like I didn’t need anyone else, and I felt…yeah, it felt like he was right. Sometimes though, I kind of…wished there were people…or even just one person who I could, you know, do stuff with. Like a friend, or whatever. Even if it was just like to go see a movie, or…I dunno. The, um…the bad stuff kind of started when I saw a dude on campus putting up a flyer about a skateboarding club. So I asked him about it and basically they’d board in a group in different places, explore the city a bit. It sounded pretty cool. And he had an old board he was selling for like 40 bucks. I had the cash for it, I was saving to buy us a new DVD player. Vince didn’t know about that so I could have lied and said I got the money from Mom or something. Anyways, I mentioned the boarding club and he got all…kind of, weird. Quiet and stuff. Then the next day I knocked a glass of OJ over at breakfast and he just went crazy. Saying I was careless about this and that, no respect for our things or for him. Like, he had never been like that with me. I couldn’t…I couldn’t understand it. I mean, now I know…it was the possessive thing, and…he didn’t want me spending time with other people or whatever.’

 

Connor paused. He wasn’t looking sad, Jude thought, but just collecting himself to say the right things.

 

‘It happened…quite a few times. The cops, they wanted like numbers and stuff, you know? How many times did he…hit me and stuff. How many times he threw things, or broke things. Did he ever threaten to…kill me.’

 

Jude had stayed quiet as Connor had asked. He was surprised that he wasn’t overly shocked so far, but considering he had seen the state Connor had been in in hospital it’s perhaps not a surprise.  There was something though that Jude wanted to know. And he just couldn’t stop himself from asking about it.

 

‘How…how many times did he…hit you?’

 

Connor made like he was going to look at Jude, but stopped his head as it had turned halfway towards him.

 

‘I think…six or seven times. Not including…what put me in the hospital.’

 

Jude’s grip on Connor had tightened. Then they sat there for maybe ten minutes without saying anything to each other. Jude had questions, so many questions. The main one concerning why Connor just didn’t pick up and leave. There’s no way to ask that though without making it sound like you’re blaming the victim. Jude’s Google searches had come in handy here. What not to say to abuse victims. There was another question too. Something he was so scared to ask. Because of Connor’s possible reaction, but also because he doesn’t know himself if he can bear to hear the answer. Connor looks no closer to talking, so Jude decides he’s going to ask it. He thinks, he hopes, that if Connor reacts badly that he could talk him down.

 

‘Did he ever…I’m sorry, Connor…did he ever, like…hurt you by-‘

‘Are you asking if he sexually assaulted me?’

 

Connor is looking at him now. Jude’s eyes are wide. He’s scared. He’s overstepped the mark. He wants to release his grip on Connor and bury his face in his hands. Connor, though, doesn’t look scared. He’s calm.

 

‘It’s ok…I don’t mind you asking that. The cops asked a lot more than that.’ He pauses, still looking at Jude. ‘No, he never…sexually assaulted me. He didn’t rape me, Jude.’

 

Jude believes him, but still his heart is pounding. Connor must sense this as he moves his free hand onto Jude’s left knee. It relaxes him. Connor continues.

 

‘He did, kind of…have control over me though. I mean…I was so scared of him, Jude. Of what he might do or say. Not all the time, but…a lot of the time. I’d do something, and he’d get mad or go quiet. And he would…need me to show how sorry I was because he thought…that I didn’t love him or didn’t care about him. But I did Jude…I did…I did love him.’

 

Connor starts to cry. Jude shuffles closer to him. He knows what Connor wants to say. He doesn’t want to hear it, but he knows Connor needs to say it.  Connor pushes on through the tears.

 

‘He would always ask me to…show him. How much I loved him. To prove it. Kissing…a kiss was never enough. He’d always want…he’d always want more. Even if I wasn’t in the mood. I felt as if I…had to, you know? For the first…maybe, I dunno, a year or so…I remember being scared of what he might do if I didn’t…if I didn’t…’

 

Jude squeezes Connor’s hand, signalling that he gets it. Connor doesn’t have to say the words.

 

‘…and I so scared he would leave me. I had nobody, Jude. Nobody. And…and…’

 

He’s lost in his tears. Jude releases his grip and puts his arm around Connor, pulling him in to his chest. Connor lets him. Jude feels sick. How did it come to this? How can someone have done this to Connor? Done these things? For the longest time they sit like this. Jude comforting the sobbing Connor. He gets it now. Stef, when she came out of Connor’s room after he gave his statement to the cops. These things are what she heard. He never wanted Connor to have to repeat them again. He will have to, of course, in whatever trial takes place. For that bastard.

 

‘People keep saying that…that it wasn’t my fault. Stef, the cops, my therapist…but…that’s how I felt, at the time, you know? That I was a bad person, or that I was uncaring and selfish…that’s just how I thought of myself.’

‘Do you still feel like that?’

‘No…no. I know that…I was…I am vulnerable. My therapist used that word. I don’t like it…but I guess it fits.’ They sit in silence again. Connor now is sitting back up, his hand in Jude’s once more. ‘I think…I think I’m done. I don’t think there’s anything else to say about it right now.’

‘Okay. Why don’t we head back? I’m getting hungry and I know you are too,’ Jude smirks at him.

 

Connor smiles, and lets Jude help pull him to his feet. After making their way down from the rocks they set off in the direction of home. They walk barely twenty feet when Connor slips his hand into Jude’s. Jude tries not to react, not in any way. But the sensation that sweeps through him…it’s like…back when…

 

Connor breaks his train of thought. ‘There’s something I didn’t mention, actually. Um…it’s about where Callie saw me. In L.A. It’s…kind of a funny story…in a way…sort of…’

 

And so as they walked home, hand in hand, Connor filled Jude in about the man known as ‘Lazarus’…

Chapter Text

Chapter 21 – Time to Pretend

The first five weeks of Connor’s time living with the Adams Foster’s seems to fly by for everyone. Stef and Lena felt proud for how Jude was handling Connor being…well Connor. Initially they worried that their son would do something ‘Jude-like’ and do or say something inappropriate. Obviously he didn’t. They had even become accustomed, again, to the touchy-feely nature of their friendship. Connor was still sleeping in Jude’s bed most, if not all nights. They’d hold hands a lot too. Often when Connor seemed to be in particular need of support. Such as when the L.A. police or the prosecutor would call. Or even if he spoke to his Dad on the phone. Stef and Lena could see how Jude being so close to him, emotionally and physically, was aiding in his recovery. And his recovery, such as it was, was likely to be severely tested when Connor would be forced, reluctantly, to testify in Vince’s trial. The charges of aggravated assault and domestic violence were obviously serious, but with a not guilty plea entered it meant Connor’s ordeal would be played out in a public arena. The story of Connor’s assault and history of abuse had made the L.A. press, particularly as it had the somewhat unusual angle of a gay male student as the victim of domestic violence. The detectives and a prosecutor involved in the case paid a visit to Connor in person to clarify several details, and it was a detective who produced a copy of the newspaper article about Connor’s case. It even named him. Connor was devastated. Shutting down completely he spent a whole afternoon and evening hiding away in his room, emerging only around midnight to climb into bed with Jude. In Connor’s mind Jude’s bed seemed to be the only place he could hide away from what he perceived as his total humiliation.

 

Jude had started to feel bad. About several things. He felt bad about Connor’s naming in the newspaper, and how sad that made him. He felt bad that Connor was going to have to testify in court. He felt bad about Connor’s hair which he was refusing to get cut. But there was one thing he felt particularly bad about: how he wasn’t being honest with Connor.

 

No matter how hard he tried to deny them, his feelings for Connor had been reawakened. From the moment he laid his eyes on Connor in the hospital he was fighting a losing battle. He was trying so hard to keep his feelings hidden, but it was so, so difficult. Every morning when he would find Connor in his bed; every time Connor reached out to take his hand; every time they sat and giggled over something trivial; every time he comforted Connor when he was down or upset. It was all consuming. He found himself rushing home from class just to see him. When Connor would go to his own room to go to bed he yearned to just ask him to get in bed with him, even though he knew Connor would probably be there when he woke up. Something embarrassing occurred one Sunday morning. It had been a particularly warm night despite still being late spring. Jude has switched from a comforter to a sheet in bed as it was just too hot. He woke up at 3am by something brushing his leg. It was Connor’s foot. Connor, clearly hot himself, was lying on top of the sheet wearing nothing but his boxer briefs. Jude didn’t know where to look…would not be an accurate statement. He knew where to look, even if he knew he shouldn’t look. Worst of all, Connor was dead centre in the bed and therefore in contact with Jude. So, no, Jude couldn’t sleep, not for a long time. He last remembers seeing the time on his phone at around 7am, before drifting off. When he woke up the sheet had fallen off the bed (presumably kicked off by one of the boys) and Connor was curled up against a face down Jude. And Jude could feel…something…poking him in the hip. This was a disaster. An absolute disaster. Connor would be mortified. And Jude was…panicking…but he also, completely inappropriately, he sort of liked it. As soon as he admitted that to himself he felt ashamed. Connor can’t help it; it’s just one of those things. It doesn’t mean anything. And you can’t be a perv towards your friend who has just come through something like this.  

 

What started to make Jude even more anxious is how this would look if Stef or Lena came in to wake them up for breakfast or something. They liked to do that on weekends. For a few minutes though, Jude did enjoy looking at Connor lying against him, the sunlight coming through the gaps in his blinds. Connor looked so peaceful. His face was so much better. He had some bruising still under his eyes, a consequence of getting his nose reset, but his physical injuries were almost gone. This, right here…him and Connor curled up together in bed…this is what Jude found himself dreaming of. Him and Connor, as a couple. But he knew…he knew it was a pipe dream. Connor had shown nothing, given no indication that he still had romantic feelings for Jude. Over and over Connor had made it known that he was so happy that they had rekindled their friendship, and how important their friendship was to him and how it was aiding his recovery. Jude had no right to ruin that, no right at all. As he lay there with his eyes closed he decided: Connor can’t know. Connor doesn’t need to know. It’s the least I can do, Jude thinks. I can’t rip his heart in two again. After some time the…thing…poking Jude’s hip, um, subsided. And Connor rolled over, giving Jude the chance to escape the bed. What Jude didn’t know is that Connor had been awake for some time, and, like Jude, was horrified at the physical…closeness, as pertaining to the bulge in his boxers. He didn’t dare move, he didn’t want to wake Jude up and have an uncomfortable scene play out. So he waited until it had…gone…and then rolled over when he felt able to make it look like a natural movement. Disaster averted. The last thing Connor wanted was for Jude to think he was into him again. Which, of course, he absolutely was.

 

***

 

Sat in a class on Monday morning Jude’s attention was anywhere but in the room. He had to shake this Connor thing off, now, before it really set in and become a problem. Could he though? He’s looking diagonally in front of himself, to where Javier is sat. They don’t speak that much, usually only what’s necessary in respect of their class. Towards the end of freshmen year Jude had been on two dates with Javier. The dates were…fun. They were Jude’s first since his high school boyfriend Alex. He tried, he really did. To enjoy himself. But he turned down a third date. His heart just wasn’t in it. He was still hung up a bit on Alex. And, he reluctantly admitted, was still hung up on Connor. He felt stupid about that. Just like he felt stupid when he was going out with Alex. Because, like with Javier later, he thought about Connor a lot. This was one of (but not the only) reasons he and Alex had never gone beyond making out. Any time their make out sessions got hot and heavy Alex would run a hand under Jude’s shirt, or press his body down against him and Jude would seize up. They dated for five months. What Jude told Connor about he and Alex breaking up because of distance was a lie, of course. Alex had broken it off because Jude wasn’t willing to make the relationship more physical.  What Jude also neglected to mention was that Alex, during their break up phone call, had basically referred to Jude as being frigid. A boy like Jude with intimacy issues needed to hear that like he needed a hole in the head. So when the more experienced (by his own admission) Javier oozed confidence on their dates Jude was panicked. He knew that on a third date Javier would probably expect a kiss, or maybe more. He couldn’t do it. And so he did what he always does: he cut and ran.

 

His closest friend in high school, Taylor, had gone to college in Chicago and while they spoke fairly regularly on text and Facebook they rarely saw each other. His lack of a social group as he came out of high school, coupled with his hang ups about being gay and his intimacy issues just didn’t help him adapt socially at college. He couldn’t find the inner strength to go to LGBT events or to even seek out dates. Keeping himself to himself was his default coping mechanism. Living at home aided with this. He became adept at making excuses and changing the subject when his brothers and sisters asked him about parties and boys. He kept the Javier dates a secret, to save having to explain himself and get peppered with questions. So when it didn’t work out he didn’t have to talk about it. Simple, really. And effective. Sat in class and looking at Javier, though, had Jude wondering: would dating other people take his mind off Connor now? Would someone like Javier be enough? No matter how much he tried, the answers were no. Always no. What are you gonna do, Jude? What are you gonna do?

Chapter Text

Chapter 22 – It’s The Fall That’ll Kill You

It kept coming up. She kept mentioning it. Mentioning him. Talking about Vince was becoming less and less traumatic for him, in therapy at least. But the mention of…Jude…in relation to Connor’s future…it was all so…complicated.

 

‘You and Jude are close, physically, right? You feel comfortable holding his hand, sleeping in his bed. This affection is returned, without question or motive. Do you think that can last, in a platonic sense? What if Jude becomes close to someone else? What if you do?’

 

These words from his therapist affected Connor deeply. He couldn’t decide if they were a help or a hindrance, and certainly he spent a lot of time over the following days considering them. Was it normal for him and Jude to be so touchy-feely with each other? To sleep in the same bed, to cuddle close to each other watching a film…was Connor doing the wrong thing? He was fairly sure of his romantic feelings for Jude: he could picture them being together again, and he was clearly sexually attracted to him. In some ways, though, Jude seemed like a closed book to Connor. The boy with dark hair and glasses hadn’t given Connor any indication that he was interested in him in that way anymore. Jude showing him exceptional levels of kindness and understanding was something that Connor could never repay. He had no right to ruin that by confusing friendship with anything more.

 

***

 

Moms notice things. That’s one of the things that they do. They can spot changes to a child’s behaviour often before the child knows themselves. Stef had asked Connor for help with some garden maintenance. Jude was never any good at any kind of manual labour. So she enlisted the blonde to help tidy things up around the garden as there was going to be a family barbecue for Jude’s birthday the following week. It was a hot day. Stef had helped Connor for a while but had to leave for a shift mid-afternoon. So for a while he worked alone, working up a sweat. He was mowing the lawn, shirtless. He was watching the beads of sweat drip down his back. Connor didn’t know he was home of course. When Jude walked through the door he followed the noise of the lawn mower. And through the gaps in the kitchen blinds he spotted Connor. Shirtless. Sweaty. Looking healthy, like the Connor he knew to know years ago. Connor wasn’t the only one being watched though. Lena was stood at the entrance to the kitchen. Jude was obviously so transfixed that he didn’t hear her come down the stairs. Only when she stood next to him did he realise. He made to start talking, but couldn’t get the words out. She knew, of course she knew. Momma’s know. She smiled sympathetically at him, and pulled him into a one-armed hug.

 

‘What are you gonna do, bubba?’

 

Jude shrugged, shaking his head at the same time.

 

‘Do…do you think he knows? Like, can he tell?’

‘I don’t know, honey. Do you want him to know?’

 

Jude looks at her, eyes wide. He can’t say it. He still feels like it would be overstepping the mark. So he gently nods.

 

‘I just…I’ve tried to, you know…not feel this way about him. And-‘

‘Oh, honey…it doesn’t work like that. You can’t just pretend the feelings away…but you can’t let this eat you alive, Jude.’

 

Connor spent much of the evening putting he finishing touches to his college assignment and it gave Jude the perfect excuse to hide way in his room and avoid him. By 11pm he decided to turn his light off and try and sleep. He couldn’t though. He was playing everything over in his head. Connor, his feelings, the potential pitfalls, what people would think, what people would say…it was making Jude anxious in ways he’d not felt for years. He had the fear: fear of being rejected; fear of hurting Connor; fear of ruining their repaired friendship.

 

It’s 1.43am. He’s crying, gently, into his pillow. He doesn’t know what else to do, doesn’t know how else to deal with it. He doesn’t hear the door close. All he hears is the voice next to the bed. A voice full of concern.

 

‘Jude?...’

 

He’s climbing on the bed. He’s next to him. He’s talking softly.

 

‘Jude…what’s the matter?’

 

Jude can’t speak. He can’t stop crying either. Connor reaches out, and gently turns Jude towards him. He lies down on his side, facing Jude, so close that he can feel Jude’s short breaths on his face.

 

‘Why are you crying?’ whispers Connor.

 

Jude tries blinking the tears away. The words…they won’t come out. They don’t need to. Connor knows. He can tell. Oh, Connor does know. Of that there is little doubt. What happens next surprises and scares Jude.

 

Connor moves his face even closer. As close as he could possibly move it.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: Heart to Beating Heart

He hears the voice. He must have known he would come. He’s lost in his thoughts, though. Thoughts and tears and fear and uncertainty. He should have hidden. Or said he was unwell. Something, anything, to keep him away.

 

He’s climbed on the bed. Oh, God. He’s going to talk to me. He’s going to want me to talk to him. He wants to know what’s wrong. He must hear me. If I weren’t such a baby, I could have…I don’t know. Now he wants to know why I’m crying. He’s touching me. His hand is on my shoulder. That touch…I need that touch…and he’s turning me towards him. I’ll have to look at him. I do look at him. We’ve shared this bed nearly every night since he moved in. This is the first time though that…he’s looking at me like that. I feel sick. He’s lay down right next to me. Oh God, he knows. He knows why I’m crying. And now I’ve fucked it all up. His recovery, our friendship, all of it.

 

He’s so close…I can smell…him. He has this scent…something I’ve never been able to describe but it’s…it’s Connor. He’s looking right at me. Everything is moving so slowly. Why is he edging towards me? He’s got that look…the one he had when I kicked him in the…

 

Connor’s nose brushed lightly against Jude’s. Jude was scared. Of what though he wasn’t sure. The last time he can remember feeling this scared was…Jim…Jim Pearson. That was a different kind of scared though. This is Connor. His best friend. Someone he has been in love with since he was 13. And now he’s here. In Jude’s bed. Close. So close to him…

 

Then it happens in a flash. Connor kisses him. Connor has his eyes closed. Jude can’t close his. He’s transfixed, he has to keep looking at Connor. Has it been five seconds? Or ten? Jude doesn’t know. Jude’s lips relax before the rest of him does. It’s incredible. He feels so warm. And then Connor breaks the kiss. He pulls back ever so slightly, leaving only an inch between his lips and Jude’s. You could hear a pin drop, neither boy can hear the other breathe. Connor seems to be waiting for a reaction, for Jude to say or do something. Jude isn’t crying anymore, he notes. Jude, for his part, wants to say something. But he can’t. He has no words. What can you say when the boy you love kisses you out of the blue? Eventually, it’s Connor who has to break the silence.

 

‘Are you…are you okay? I’m sor-…I just…Jude, I’ve wanted to do that for…I don’t know…a while. Should I go?’

 

Jude still hasn’t spoken. He doesn’t need to in order to answer Connor’s question though. He shakes his head vigorously, and then as if by instinct shuffles oh so slightly towards Connor. The inch is gone. It’s millimetres now. He doesn’t want Connor to go anywhere. He wants him here. In his bed. Right where he is. He tries to speak. As he does his top lip brushes against Connor’s so faintly that the blonde boy shivers.

 

‘I’m glad you did,’ Jude whispers, ‘…kiss me, I mean. I don’t want you to go anywhere.’

 

Connor nods slightly. His eyes drift from Jude’s and down to his lips. He doesn’t get the chance to kiss Jude again. Because Jude kisses him first. Again, it’s gentle, unassuming. Connor feels Jude’s lips part ever so slightly. Should he…should he act on that? Is that what Jude is asking, or even wants? He does the same, parts his lips just enough…just enough to cause Jude to exhale loudly through his nose. And then…Connor thinks…yeah, there it is again. Jude’s tongue. Connor relaxes his neck and allows his head to fall to an angle just under Jude’s. Jude adjusts as well, and gently moves his tongue into Connor’s mouth. Connor reciprocates without hesitation. Apart from the kiss they aren’t touching each other. They don’t need to. For each boy this is perfection.

 

Sometime later they stop the kissing and catch their breath. They are still looking at each other: Connor on his back with his head turned to the right; Jude on his front, head also turned to the right.

 

‘So…,’ Jude beings, his voice low, ‘maybe we should…’

‘Yeah,’ agrees Connor. They need to talk. They have to talk.

 

‘What…what are you hoping for, Connor? Because…I don’t wanna…I don’t wanna hurt you again. I can’t hurt you again. So…you should be, you know, clear…about what you want from me.’

 

Connor contemplates for a few seconds. But he doesn’t need longer than that.

‘I know that I want you, Jude. I want to be here, with you. You’ve been…you’ve helped me so, so much. I can’t even…I probably couldn’t even say it in words. And being here, living here…you know, honestly, there’s barely a day gone by in the last five years where I haven’t thought about you…about us. I’m not saying that got me through…you know…but, being here with you again…this. This is what I want. I want my life to start now. With you.’

 

The brightest smile that Connor thinks he has ever seen breaks out on Jude’s face.

 

‘I feel the same…I really do. I haven’t wanted to…look, what you’ve been through…it’s not something I’ve wanted to…add to, you know? You’ve had to recover…you are recovering…and it wouldn’t be fair for me to…if you aren’t ready…so-’

 

Connor rolls onto his side again, bringing his hand up to Jude’s face as he does. Placing his hand on Jude’s cheek he leans in and kisses him softly on the lips. Then, with a determined look he fixes Jude with a stare.

 

‘I’m sure…I’m ready. I know you won’t hurt me again. And I won’t hurt you. I know Jude…I know I can be your everything. And…can…can you be my everything?’

 

Jude moves, so now he is also lying on his side. Face to face with Connor Stevens. The love of his young life.

 

‘I will be your everything.’

 

Connor opens his arm up, beckoning Jude to come close to him. Their arms move around each other, and they intertwine their legs. Connor then uses his left had to take Jude’s right hand, and places it on his chest.

 

‘Can you feel that? My heart…it does that…when I’m around you. I can feel it beating, really fast. In my head it sounds so loud. I know why. It’s because…I love you, Jude.’

 

‘I love you too, Connor.’

 

There were no more kisses that night. There didn’t need to be. Just staring. And breathing. Contentment. Happiness. Love. For Connor, it was safety. Finally, he was safe. Wanted. Loved. He watched Jude fall asleep, not letting him go for one second. When he feels himself falling asleep he gently kisses Jude’s forehead.

 

‘…my everything…’

Chapter Text

Chapter 24: One Step Forward…

‘We have to. We have to do it.’

 

Jude really didn’t want to. It was…too soon. Way too soon. Just a few hours ago they were kissing…kissing…in his bed. Him and Connor. He definitely didn’t dream it. It was…perfection. So why does Connor want to…why now?

 

‘Look, they’ve been so…Jude, they’ve saved my life. Them and you. We’ve been honest with each other, and so I think we should be honest with them. I know…I know you’re worried…about what they’ll think. But I want this, I want you. And I want them to know. This is their house, after all. And you’re their son.’

 

It was happening so fast. Essentially getting back together with Connor and now having to tell his Moms. He had that fear again. He was afraid they would judge him. Maybe it would seem like he was taking advantage of Connor, of his vulnerability. Maybe they wouldn’t want him to get too involved in Connor’s…in his life. But he already was. He was in Connor’s life, and Connor was in his.

 

Twenty minutes later they were sat on kitchen stools, facing Stef and Lena.

 

‘So, um…we have something we want to tell you. Um…ok…’

Jude was clearly struggling to get the words out, so Connor took his hand, offering reassurance. Connor didn’t want to say it though. They are Jude’s Moms; he reminded himself, not mine.

 

‘Connor and me…we’ve…we’ve decided to try…again. Together. We’re getting back together.’

 

Connor looks at Jude. His eyes are on his Moms. They’re smiling.

 

‘Guys,’ starts Stef, ‘have you been worried about telling us? It’s okay…I mean, it’s not entirely unexpected. You two have clearly become…close, and you both get that look when you’re together, so…’

 

The boys look at each other, and then back to Stef and Lena, confusion written on their faces. Lena starts laughing.

 

‘Come on guys, the way you look at each other, the way you are around each other…this is a good thing. We’re happy for you both.’

 

They’ve clearly discussed this, thinks Jude. None of this is new information to them. Connor feels less awkward now that they know and are fine with it. He’s snapped back into awkward mode though almost straight away.

 

‘We should talk about…um…the sleeping situation,’ continues Lena, ‘because obviously things are different now.’

 

Jude looks like he is about to speak but Connor squeezes his hand, indicating he should wait.

 

‘Well, me and Lena obviously have no issue with you both sharing a bed. You’re both twenty, nearly twenty one, grown men and all that. We just think…,’ and Stef looks to Lena, and then back at the boys, ‘…that you should both be sure that you’re ready when you…you know…and that you’re careful and responsible. That sound ok to you both?’

 

The boys nod in unison. Jude was pretty sure that was as close as things were going to come to a sex talk. Connor excused himself to go and get a shower so he could join Lena for their now-regular weekly trip to do grocery shopping. Once he was out of earshot the Momma’s moved to sit either side of Jude. Oh God, he thinks…please not a sex talk…

 

‘So, honey, like we said we are really happy for the both of you,’ says Lena. Again, Jude feels this has been rehearsed between the two of them. ‘We just want you to keep something in mind…that Connor has been through so much and that you just need to be careful not to…push him…you know? Not that you would, of course, but just…something to keep in mind. Ok bubba?’

 

They both hug him and kiss him on the cheek and he makes his way upstairs. Ok, he’s thinking, that was fairly painless. They’d have to do it again, of course, with Connor’s parents. But they’d crossed the first hurdle, they could cope with the other stuff. They could. He’s broken from his trail of thought by Connor coming in his room, straight out of the shower, wrapped in a towel…

 

…Jude’s staring. Stop it. That chest…

 

‘Hey…um…I just came to grab my phone. For music. It’s…over there…on the nightstand…’

 

Connor likes that Jude is staring. He smirks. Jude returns the smirk.

 

‘Okay…so...I’ll just go and get dressed…okay…’

 

Connor hurries out of the room. He had to, he felt something shifting under his towel…

 

***

 

Jude is studying. Finals are coming up but he needs to get his project work finished off before cramming begins. Heading down to grab a snack he hears Stef talking. Then he sees, she’s on the phone.

 

‘I just can’t…look, that’s a very bad idea. He’s been doing so well, and this would…okay okay, I can only ask. But I will be the one to ask him. You aren’t to call him. The last thing I want to happen is for him to hear it from you and have him break down or something. So when are you hoping to hear back by?...okay, I’ll call you tomorrow then…yeah, yeah…I know, I know, we all want this over. Okay okay, bye.’

 

Stef leans over the sink, and Jude can sense the pensiveness.

 

‘Um…Mom?’

‘Oh, hey honey…everything alright?’

‘Who were you talking to? Was it about Connor?’

 

She looks like she wants to pretend it wasn’t, but decides against it. And so she tells Jude who it was and what they wanted.

 

***

 

The three of them look nervous. Jude especially. His grip on Connor’s hand has been tight since they sat down on the sofa.

 

‘So, Connor, the prosecutor’s office called today. Apparently they have agreed a plea deal with Vince. Which would mean no trial.’

 

She pauses and gives Connor some time to process. He looks at Jude a couple of times and eventually speaks up.

 

‘Why…um…why all of a sudden is there a deal? I mean…he was…determined, the prosecutor said…to plead not guilty…’

‘Well, that’s the thing…there’s a deal on the table, but there’s…there’s a condition.’

 

Stef leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and fixes her attention solely on Connor.

 

‘He will take the deal they’re offering…but only if you agree to see him. In jail.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 25: One On One

What a difference a day makes…

…24 hours ago there was kissing and touching, and now…

 

Jude and Connor are lying in bed, facing one another. Connor has been quiet all evening; Jude even more so. There’s only one thing on each of their minds, of course. Him.

 

‘So…what do you think you’ll do?’

 

Connor shrugs. He’s feeling conflicted. That’s a fucking understatement, Connor thinks to himself. He’s wondering what seeing (and talking?) to Vince would achieve. It’s not like it would bring him comfort or closure…right? It’s been seven weeks since Connor has laid eyes on him. He’s putting his life back together…he’s moving on with things. He has a home, he’s safe, and he has…Jude. Jude, his boyfriend. Beautiful Jude, who right now is lying next to him, staring at him with wide eyes and looks unsure of what to say, or how to act.

 

Connor takes Jude’s hand. He knows that whatever he decides impacts not only himself but Jude as well. Go to trial and everything will be laid bare in a public arena. Hope for a deal and Vince goes away…right?

 

‘What do…what do you think? If I go to see him, I mean?’

Jude sighs, and looks at their linked fingers.

‘I guess…I…I can’t decide that for you Connor. It’s not fair. I can’t…put anything on you. Any pressure. You’ve had…been through so much. I think only you can decide.’

‘I don’t want to see him.  Don’t need to see him. And I’ve been thinking…that I don’t really have anything I want to say to him. He wouldn’t give a shit if I did.’

‘He must have some things to say to you, I guess? Like, why else would he ask to see you? Unless…w-w-what if…um, what if he wants you to, you know…forgive him? Or something.’

‘Forgive him? There’s…no, no way. He wouldn’t ask that. He’d have to…have to admit…like, even though he wants to take a deal I can’t believe he would ever admit…not to my face. No way.’

 

Jude didn’t like the idea of Connor being in a room alone with Vince. Even if there were guards or a screen or whatever. Connor has been doing so well. With all the stuff in his head. He hasn’t cried for days and days, maybe a couple of weeks? This would set him back, Jude was sure of that. Jude wanted to protect him, keep him safe. He wanted Vince and that part of Connor’s life to vanish, too. So he was realistic: something would have to give.

 

‘Look,’ Connor whispers, face so close to Jude’s, ‘I’m gonna sleep on it, okay? I can’t…I don’t want to spend tonight…our first night as…back together…thinking about him. I’m not giving him that…that satisfaction.’ Connor kisses Jude’s hand, and smiles at him.

‘Okay…boyfriend…’

Connor giggles, setting Jude off too.

 

Then they’re kissing. Softly at first, remaining apart on their sides. They follow the pattern of the previous night, tongues becoming involved before Jude accesses his bravery file and moves his hand into Connor’s hair. The kissing becomes more passionate, chaotic. Suddenly Connor is on top of Jude, who opens his legs to allow Connor to lie between them. Jude can…he can feel him. And he knows Connor can  feel him too. The sounds of kissing are blended with soft moaning. Hands are wandering…Jude’s are moving from Connor’s waist up his body and under his t-shirt. He feels Connor shiver as he moves his hands over the bare skin. Connor has one hand on Jude’s leg, and moves the other under Jude’s shirt. They are both distracted by mutual goosebumps. Suddenly Jude is unable to resist the natural urge and bucks his hips into Connor, causing the blonde to stop the kissing and stop the hand wandering…

 

…he looks breathless, and scared. Jude’s done it…overstepped the boundary.

 

‘I’m sorry…really…I just…’

‘No…no…it’s okay. I just…I need to process. I mean, Jude, this is, like…you know…’

‘Yeah…I just…this is like, you know…the closest I’ve been…to, you know…?’

‘What?’ Connor is confused. Jude thinks he shouldn’t be.

‘To…you know, doing it…’

Confusion turns to realisation and Connor…he’s…surprised?

‘So…you haven’t? Like…what I mean is…okay. Um, should we, um, stop then, maybe?’

Jude takes a few deep breaths. Neither boy has moved. Each can still…feel…the other.

‘Um, I guess…yeah. I mean, I want to…you know? Just…I dunno…maybe not right now. Too…soon? I’m sorry…this is all…there’s so much to think about…’

Connor is suddenly aware that the bulge in his pyjama pants is still pressed against Jude’s. Slowly, he rolls off him, but rolls Jude with him so they are lying side by side. There is a bit of a gap between them…just a small one…just enough…

 

‘I just assumed that…I guess I shouldn’t have. Sorry.’ He kisses Jude gently, never breaking eye contact. ‘I’m literally not trying to rush you…nothing like that. I only want to…when you do. When you want to. Okay?’

Jude nods.

‘I liked…I liked having you on top of me…and…you know…feeling it…’

Connor smirks and blushes.

‘...and I kind of…want to feel that again…’

Jude buries his face in his hands, unable to look at Connor.

‘Hey,’ says Connor as he pulls Jude’s hands away, ‘that’s okay…I like that you…like that. I liked it too. Why don’t we…how about we sleep just…just in our underwear? Then it’s kind of like we’re…you know…even though we’re not, yeah?’

Jude considers this for a moment.

 

Then nods.

 

In seconds t-shirts and pyjama pants are discarded and they are cuddling, solely in boxer shorts. And for just a while the drama of the outside world can be forgotten. No thoughts of him. Just them. And only them.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26: Hollow Victories

Connor begins to stir. Something’s tickling his stomach…tickling the hair there…it’s Jude. Jude’s spooning him, arm draped over Connor and he’s…not tickling…Jude’s stroking the hair there. Connor lays still. He doesn’t want Jude to stop. If he moves Jude might take his hand away. Jude doesn’t though. Suddenly Jude’s fingers start to slip under Connor’s waistband. It takes a minute or so before Jude’s hand has moved inside Connor’s boxers…and then his hand is on…Connor can’t take it anymore…

 

…slowly he turns towards Jude, who doesn’t move his hand. Jude has a handful…more than a handful. Jude’s never…he’s never touched anyone else like this. He’s winging it, making it up as he goes along. Connor is staring at him, breathing heavily. He smiles, as if to encourage Jude, letting him know that this is okay. Jude’s hand is warm…so warm. He rubs nose against Jude’s, and initiates a kiss.

 

‘Please…’ whispers Jude into the kiss…

…it’s a plea…he wants Connor to…

 

Connor repositions himself so he can take his t-shirt off, and in one deft movement moves his arm around Jude’s and places his hand between Jude’s legs. Jude gasps slightly but moves himself into Connor’s palm. Then…Connor’s hand is moving inside his pyjama pants. And for Jude it’s…glorious.

 

‘…Your pants…take them…take them off…’ Jude stammers quietly.

 

Connor nods, and goes to slide them down when there’s a knock at the door….

 

Both boys jump, Jude ripping his hand from the grip he had on Connor.

 

It’s Lena. On the other side of the door.

 

‘Guys…are you awake?’

 

Don’t come in don’t come in don’t come in, Jude is thinking.

 

‘Yeah Momma, we’re awake.’

‘The lawyer is on the phone…they want to hear from Connor about…what they called about yesterday. They have a filing deadline they have to meet.’

 

That’s it. The mood is dead.

 

At least I’ve figured out what I want to do, thinks Connor as he pulls his t-shirt back over his head.

 

***

 

Jude sits in the kitchen with Lena and Stef, jabbing his spoon into a bowl of Cheerios but not really doing anything with them. He can hear Connor mumbling on the phone in the living room. He’s pensive…wondering about what Connor is saying to the lawyer…thinking about the consequences of whatever choice Connor makes…remembering what they were doing in his bed not twenty minutes ago…stop it Jude, for fucks sake. You can’t get a boner at the breakfast table!

 

Connor comes into the kitchen, clearly having finished with the call. Jude stands up…but he’s not sure why. Connor stops, hesitates, and then takes a stool next to Jude. They’re all looking at him. I’m hungry, Connor thinks. Focus though. They need to know.

 

‘I…I’ve decided that I’ll see him. Vince.’ He looks to Jude. Jude who is trying so so so hard not to react. Jude who nods, and smiles meekly. He’s offering support. Understanding. Even though inside he’s screaming.

 

***

 

24 hours later Connor and Stef are en route to Los Angeles. Jude had wanted to come, because Connor was his boyfriend and his friend and…he wanted to be there. Connor was absolutely insistent that he wanted Jude nowhere near what he described as “this absolute mess”. He didn’t want Jude anywhere near a prison or near Vince. He didn’t want to…infect…Jude with all this shit. Jude sulked, Connor could tell. He wasn’t moody…more distant than anything. It goes without saying that there wasn’t a repeat of that morning’s bedroom antics. It wouldn’t have been…appropriate.

 

The ‘meeting’ was set for 1pm so Stef wanted to be on the road no later than 10am. She went to start the car and the boys said their goodbyes on the porch. There was a brief kiss but it was the hug…Jude hugged Connor so tightly. He would see him again tonight but…he knows. Connor has to do this. He needs to do this. Jude watches them drive off and wraps his arms around himself. And wonders…what kind of story will Connor have to tell when he returns.

 

***

 

At 12.35 they park the car. The prison looks grim from the outside, Connor thinks. Probably no better inside. Where he is. He’s nervous, but determined. He’s felt this determination since the phone call yesterday. Since the lawyer told him…told him why Vince wants a plea deal. Not telling Jude, Lena and Stef was…probably not the best thing to do. He would have to tell them, of course. But not yet. He’s wondering if Vince knows that he knows…but it doesn’t matter. He’s putting this all to bed today. He’s getting his life back today. For himself. And for Jude.

 

***

 

12.55pm

The cell door buzzes open. Obviously its time. The guard enters the cell, seeing Vince sat on the bunk.

 

‘Ok, Sanders. Let’s go. Your boyfriend’s here.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 27: All the Lovers

Stef and the lawyer from the prosecutor’s office had to wait outside. Connor didn’t seem to mind this. Stef did, of course. She didn’t like any of this. But what could she say? Connor is a grown man capable of making his own choices. It was her motherly instinct that wanted to protect him, shield him from things like this. Still, she felt Connor seeing Vince was a bad idea. On this she and Connor’s Dad were in complete agreement. Connor was done with being controlled though. Everyone knew this.

 

***

 

He’s been sat on the chair for several minutes, trying to stay composed. It’s been what…seven weeks? Something like that. He’s avoided counting the days and weeks. That’s no way to move on from something. To Connor’s left is a corridor, windows from the room he’s sat in looking onto it. There’s a flash of something in the corner of his eye. He turns and sees him. Beige jumpsuit. It’s only a fleeting glimpse though, as he moves past the window and towards the door. There’s the sound of a key being used and Connor straightens in his chair. Wipes his palms on his jeans. When did they get sweaty? Then the door opens and the guard stands aside to let Vince in.

 

Eye contact. Right away. Connor feels his heart starting to pound. Not in the same way it pounds for Jude. This is…different. It’s apprehension. Nervousness. Vince looks terrible, Connor thinks. Badly fitting jumpsuit, handcuffed, dark circles under his eyes, unkempt hair. Needs a shave too. It’s weird how much of Vince he takes in in the less than 10 seconds it takes him to shuffle across the room. Connor’s trying to look as passive as possible. No emotion: that was what he had been psyching himself up to doing. Show no emotion.

 

Vince sits down across from Connor. A table separates them. Well out of arms reach. The guard in the corner is watching them but Connor doesn’t look at him. Vince is now looking away, a hint of boredom etched on his weathered face. Ask me something then, Connor thinks. Say…something, anything. Connor wants to…wants to tell him…that he knows…but he wants to wait. Wants to hear what Vince has to say first. It takes Vince about thirty more seconds to get his shit together. And then he speaks.

 

‘I just want you to know Connor…I forgive you.’

 

Connor can’t believe this. He forgives him? He doesn’t know what to say in response.

 

‘I know you have this selfish streak, Connor. It’s always been there. And look what happened to me. Look where I am. You know, you can redeem yourself…just talk to the lawyers. Explain about your lying. Tell them it was all a misunderstanding. I’m sure th-‘

‘A misunderstanding?’ Connor’s voice is so low that he’s not even sure Vince heard him. ‘What…how can you even…’

 

Vince has a smirk now. A slight smirk, but it’s there. Connor sees it. And he knows. This is Vince trying again…trying to exert his control. Trying to make Connor look like the bad guy. And for the first time, not only can Connor see it as plain as day…but now he’s not in a position where he has to submit. Vince carries on rambling…trying to pass the blame, taking no responsibility. Connor has tuned out. He’s heard this shit before. Fuck it; it’s time to tell him. Time to shut him down. He waits, until Vince stops talking. Then looks him in the eye, and speaks…

 

‘I know, Vince…I know about Jamie.’

 

In that moment, and for some time after, Connor takes great satisfaction in watching Vince’s face fall, in watching that smug exterior evaporate in almost an instant.

 

‘So…obviously I know why you want to make a deal with them. And getting me to come here…hoping that I’ll change my story or whatever…maybe shave the years down or something. Right?’ Connor’s voice is calm and steady, and he doesn’t raise it. He’s in control.

 

‘Did he love you? The way I loved you?’ Connor’s on a roll now and he doesn’t want to give Vince a chance to collect his thoughts or come up with a bullshit tale. Vince, for his part, has gone even paler than he was when Connor first laid eyes on him just before. And he looks in no mood or state to talk.

 

‘You’d be screwed, right? If Jamie came up at the trial. I mean…it would look bad…even though you weren’t…even though there’s no proof of what…what you did.’

 

Vince won’t look at Connor. He’s staring down, shoulders slumped. There’s no bravado now, no control, no display of power. His shoulders are slumped and he looks broken. Connor is taking no pleasure in that. Jamie was a person. Not a person that Connor knew, or had ever met. Until yesterday he’d never heard of him.

 

‘I know that if it came up at the trial…it would be bad for you. And…it would be embarrassing for Jamie’s parents. To have things spoken about publicly, I mean. So I guess that a deal is better for you, but it’s better for them.’

‘I don’t know what they told-‘

‘I know it all, Vince. Was he…was he just…practice? A way to hone your skills? Huh? What about me, was I gonna get traded in too? Whenever you’d decide you were done with me or if I decided…’

 

Connor can’t finish that sentence. Vince can’t respond to it either. Connor doesn’t want a response though. He doesn’t need anything from Vince. Not anymore. He’s done. And so he tells Vince as much.

 

‘You’re not gonna see me again. You’re not gonna hear from me again. I’m putting my life back together, and you don’t get to play in it.’ Connor stands, nodding at the guard in the corner.

‘How you gonna do that? Is Jude gonna help you? I know you’ve been in San Diego with that litt-‘

‘DON’T YOU DARE SAY HIS NAME!’ roars Connor. ‘You don’t get to say his name or think about him or anything. Or me.’

 

Connor turns on his heel and heads for the door. And then he remembers that he has one more thing he wants to ask Vince. So he turns around. Vince is standing with his back to Connor walking away from him and towards the door on the other side of the room.

 

‘Did you ever really love me?’

 

Vince stops and turns, slowly, to face Connor. He says nothing in response. Just looks away in disgust.

 

And that’s it, Connor thinks as he walks with Stef through the parking lot. It’s done.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28: “Somewhere deep inside, you must know I miss you”

Two days later…

 

Jamie Francis had no face, at least not to Connor or Jude. They only knew him as an ex-boyfriend of Vince. Jude couldn’t quite believe it when Connor sat him and his Moms down when they got back from the prison visit and explained things. Jamie was Vince’s boyfriend in high school when they were both sixteen. Apparently it had been quite an intense relationship, so much so that Jamie’s parents and Vince’s mother all tried, unsuccessfully, to slow things down. They were having sex, something all parents were aware of after the boys were caught one afternoon by Jamie’s dad in their basement in a state of undress. The predictable negative reaction from Jamie’s parents drove their son further towards Vince, who in turn welcomed the chance to hold further sway over his boyfriend. Connor wasn’t sure of every detail but at some point Jamie attempted to end the relationship due to feeling pressured. Vince responded by telling Vince that he was a coward and a liar, a disappointing son and a terrible boyfriend who should do everybody a favour and kill himself. A person as fragile as Jamie, who hears things like that, stood no chance. He was discovered in local woods, hanging from a tree, after having been missing for nearly two days. Police discovered a note in his backpack which is where they learned what Vince had said to him. Jamie apologised for his so-called ‘failures’ in respect of his relationship and his role as a son. It seemed Vince had succeeded: he had convinced Jamie that he was, essentially, a waste of space. Understandably, Jamie’s parents were devastated. Efforts were made to try and prosecute Vince for something but they couldn’t prove that he had done anything. All they had was the word of the now dead Jamie, and accusations from the family of Jamie. While it was clear Vince was an undesirable, manipulative and controlling character there was nothing they could find that would enable them to put him away.

 

Jude felt sad listening to Jamie’s story. Sad about this kid who suffered and died, and sad about Connor having gone through something similar. All with this same guy. The guilt…those feelings were back in Jude’s mind. If only he hadn’t behaved…back in high school, if he’d been a better boyfriend, a better person…

 

…Connor was onto Jude straight away. It was like he could tell what he was thinking. That night in bed Connor pulled him close, looking to reassure him.

 

‘You’re not to blame in any way for what happened to me, Jude. Not at all. I don’t want you thinking like that…not ever.’

 

Here is again…comforting me. I’m never letting him go again. Not ever.

 

***

 

The next day was their first official date since they got back together. It was Jude who suggested they go on a date. Initially, Connor wondered why they would need to: they were back together, they’d dated before and they shared a bed every night. But he came to see how important this was to Jude. He wanted them to be a ‘normal’ couple who did all the things ‘normal’ couples do. So Connor arranged everything. He said that Jude would need to be ready at 8pm, but that he didn’t need to dress up or anything and to definitely not eat before the date. At 7 Jude went off to get ready. He shaved, showered and took his time deciding what to wear, eventually plumping for a blue t-shirt, black jeans and green Vans. At 7.55 he looked in to Connor’s room, but there was no sign. Heading downstairs he still couldn’t find him. No sign of his Moms either. As he got into the kitchen he found a note on the kitchen island. It just had one word written on it: GARDEN.

 

Walking over to the window he peeked through the closed blinds and there he was. Connor, sat on a blanket on the grass with what looked like plates, glasses and various food items spread over it. Jude goes outside, and approaches slowly.

 

‘Welcome to our date…I hope this is…okay…’ Connor blushes.

‘It’s perfect,’ replies a beaming Jude. ‘Um, where are Moms?’

‘Oh, well, um…they’ve gone out for the evening. Dinner and a movie. I kind of…I asked if they wouldn’t mind giving us some…some alone time. I felt kind of bad, ‘cause it’s their house and stuff…but they were really cool about it.’

Jude nods, and settles down on the blanket. Connor pours Jude some wine. The food looked great, small things to pick at rather a big meal which suited Jude just fine.

‘Let’s…um, let’s make a toast,’ suggested Connor.

‘Okay…what shall we toast?’

‘Well…I just wanna say that…I’m glad…I’m so happy that I found you again. And that we’re…you know…that we get another chance at this. Because this is what I want…it’s all I’ve ever wanted. You’re all I’ve ever wanted. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, Jude.’

 

The boy with deliberately messy brown hair and glasses couldn’t respond with words, he was too busy fighting back the tears. He leaned over and kissed Connor, who then raised his glass.

 

‘To us.’

‘Yeah…to us.’

 

***

 

After all the talking and eating and the finishing of the wine Jude headed off to the bathroom. While he was gone Connor took the opportunity to grab some candles from the kitchen. The sun had gone down and so he wanted to maintain the romantic mood. He finished lighting and arranging them when Jude reappeared, carrying something in his hand. It was a box. Sitting himself down next to Connor and placing the box in front of them Jude could see the puzzled look on his boyfriend’s face.

 

‘I wanted to show you this…the stuff in here. Basically, it’s…us. Stuff from us. Things I kept for…the memories, I guess. After we broke up, I kinda wanted to be rid of everything. I just…didn’t want to remember. Lena stopped me throwing things in the garbage. She told me I’d regret it if I did. I mean, how can you just thrown all those memories away, know what I mean?

 

Connor nods at Jude, somewhat regretfully. Because …that’s kind of what he himself did. All trace of Jude was removed from his life. Physically, anyway. The things in his head…those memories…they never went away.

 

‘There’s…there’s one thing I want to show you. It’s a letter. I wrote it at the end of high school. Basically…um…well, I tried to track you down. I guess by that point we had been broken up for…what…two years or something? Anyway…I thought that if I could find you, or maybe where your parents were…I could get a letter to you.’

‘What…what did it say?’

‘Here.’ Jude reaches into the box and takes out a white envelope. He hands it to Connor carefully, not taking his eyes off it. ‘If you want…you can read it. Really it’s…it’s just where I was at. I thought that…if I could get a letter to you…maybe hear back from you…I don’t know…’

 

Connor grips Jude’s hand briefly, as a sign of reassurance. Then takes the letter out of the envelope and begins to read.

Dear Connor

I hope you’re doing okay, I know it’s been a long time since we’ve spoken.

 

I just thought that as we’re both finishing high school and moving on to college (well, I’m assuming you’re going to college. I am, in San Diego) that I’d try and get in touch and see how you’re doing. Maybe you don’t want to talk to me, or even hear from me.

 

Rather than talk about myself too much or anything I just want to say some stuff about what happened between us.

 

I never meant to hurt you. Never. I know you didn’t believe that, and probably still don’t. I was selfish and careless, I have no excuse. And I know that I totally deserved you breaking up with me. And I am still so sorry for it all. I’ve tried to move on and it has been hard. I’m not trying to make you feel sorry for me anything like that, I’m just saying. I think a lot about where you are and what you’re doing. What your friends are like, if you’re dating anyone. You probably are!

 

I think one of the reasons I have found it hard to move on from you is that I know nothing about you now. And I keep imagining you with a new boyfriend. That just gets to me. I know it shouldn’t, but it does. Wondering if it feels the same to kiss him like it did to kiss me. Wondering if you react the same way when he whispers your name in your ear. It’s silly to think like this, I know. But it’s better to be honest. I’ve been seeing a guy for the last few months. It was ok. He’s nice. But it wasn’t you and me. And that wasn’t his fault. I know that.

 

I would really like to hear from you Connor. If you want to talk to me that is. I’ve written my number on the back of the letter, and I still live with Moms in the same place.

 

I hope to hear from you.

 

Love, Jude.

 

Connor put the letter down, and looked at Jude. He was looking down at the rug, playing with his hands. Connor reached out his hand, placing it on Jude’s cheek and turning his head towards him. They didn’t need words here. Connor’s expression said it all. He closed the gap between them, kissing Jude softly at first, then falling into him. Within seconds they are lay down on the blanket, hands intertwined, with Jude looking down on Connor.

 

‘I love you, Connor. So much.

‘I know,’ smirks Connor in response.

‘I think…I think we should clear this stuff away. And go to…go upstairs.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 29: Boy(s) (Un)interrupted

They are clearing things away quickly and in silence. There’s some nervous laughter as they bump into each other trying to put things in the trash. Connor notices Jude’s hands shaking as he puts the wine glasses in the dishwasher. As Jude is closing it up Connor steps behind him and wraps his arms around his waist. He plants a soft kiss onto Jude’s neck as asks if he is nervous. There’s a small shrug from Jude, who turns around and wraps his arms around Connor’s neck.

 

‘I would be really nervous if it wasn’t going to be with you.’

 

There’s a smile from Connor, who brings their foreheads together.

 

‘You know…I really wish I had gotten your letter. Just so you know.’

‘I really wish you had gotten it…maybe if I’d tried a bit harder to find you…’

‘No no, I know you did…I’m just saying. It was…I think it’s nice now and I would…I would have thought it was nice then.’

 

Jude nods and looks his boyfriend straight in the eye.

 

‘Connor…take me upstairs.’

 

***

 

And upstairs they went.

 

Connor had decided that Jude’s first time had to be…perfect. And he genuinely didn’t expect their date to end in this way – he had no intention of rushing Jude into anything. Connor also felt a bit…silly. Because, he decided, he was going to consider this his first time as well. Even though he had slept with Vince many times it was never…yeah…and even the happier memories of the first few months of their relationship…Connor wanted to forget those too. And so now…here he is…lying on top of Jude, on Jude’s bed, kissing…

 

…Connor kneels up and pulls his t-shirt roughly over his head. Hair gets messy. Fuck the hair. He resumes the kissing. Jude rolls them over, and he repeats Connor’s action. Except he also unbuttons his jeans. It’s awkward sliding them off, and he topples over next to Connor, who breaks out into giggles. He unbuttons his own jeans and deftly slides them off in one motion. Jude by now has his tangled around his ankles and is hiding his face in embarrassment. Connor takes pity on him and helps them off, climbing back up Jude’s body when he’s done. He presses kisses to Jude’s hands and Jude peeks out from behind them.

 

‘I’m sorry,’ Jude mumbles, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing and this is gonna be terrible…’

‘No, babe…it’s going to be perfect…’

 

Underwear-only kissing becomes passionate very quickly. Connor is lying on top of Jude again, and there is little doubt in either boy’s mind as to how much they are both enjoying this. Jude’s mind is spinning: the love of his life in bed with him; on top of him; kissing him; hard as…hard as anything. He knows it will hurt, but…he wants him. He wants Connor so badly. He moves his hands down to Connor’s ass, pulling him even closer against his own body, if that were possible. The friction…both boys are making what Jude thinks are weird sounds but to Jude those sounds are the greatest things he’s even heard. Connor has started kissing Jude’s neck, and moves deftly down Jude’s chest, planting soft kisses as he goes. When he gets to Jude’s stomach he stops, and glances up at his boyfriend. This is where time stood still for Jude: he barely remembers nodding at Connor, essentially giving permission to continue. Then…

 

…Connor is gently pulling down his boxers…oh my God I’m naked…oh my God he can see it all…

 

He sees Connor toss the boxers over his shoulder…he’s not concentrating on that though…he’s watching how Connor is staring at him. Not staring at his face though…but staring at…yeah…

 

Suddenly, Connor’s mouth is around it and Jude…he’s gone…moaning…babbling incoherently…saying ‘fuck Connor yes’ as many times as he can. He can feel…he knows…he’s close. It’s been, what, less than two minutes? He doesn’t know, he’s not in control. Connor is so fucking good at it…and he can barely get the words ‘shit, I’m gonna…’ out before he does…and Connor takes it all. That’s it, Jude thinks. I’m gone. Done. Bye. He’s lying back into the pillow, and suddenly…or not suddenly?...Connor is face to face with him again. And smiling. This makes Jude happy.

 

‘I’m sorry it was…I couldn’t control it-’

Connor shuts him up with a kiss. He tastes funny. It takes Jude a second or two to realise why. He doesn’t mind it. Doesn’t mind it at all. Then he realises something. Connor is naked too. He can feel…it…pressed against his leg. He wants to look. He has to look. He looks.

 

‘Oh my God it’s beautiful!’ he blurts out before he’s even realised he has said it.

 

Connor laughs long and hard. Jude follows suit. After a while he has to compose himself, though. Because he wants to…return the favour. And so, Jude ventures where Jude has never ventured before…

 

…and he’s good at this, Connor thinks. So fucking good. At one point Jude tries to take too much, and gags. Connor is careful not to laugh, he knows Jude is worried about doing this ‘wrong’…and he definitely isn’t…nope. It takes a few more minutes for Connor to feel like…yeah, he’s close now…he should tell Jude…warn him or something…and he tries…‘I’m close…’ he manages to whisper out. But it matters little. Jude doesn’t pull off…he takes it all eagerly. It’s never felt like this for Connor. Never. After a while he sits upright, looking into the eyes of his panting boyfriend and pulls him up so he’s straddling him. More kissing. Perhaps some rest?

 

‘You tired? Connor enquires.

‘Uh uh,’ replies Jude in the negative. ‘I wanna…I wanna try…’

 

He can’t say it with Connor looking at him. He feels silly. So he whispers it. And to Connor it’s so sexy, Jude whispering that in his ear…what he wants Connor to do to him. The blonde smiles at Jude, kisses him on the forehead and says ‘I’ll be right back.’

 

Connor leaves the room, without bothering to get dressed. He’s gone not thirty seconds. When he comes back in he stops in his tracks, greeted by the incredible sight of his naked boyfriend sprawled all over the bed. He’s got a paper bag in his hand. Jude’s wondering exactly what’s in there, but he has a rough idea.

 

‘So, um…’ begins Connor, sitting cross legged on the bed, ‘when I went to buy the stuff for our date I got some…things…from the store. Not because I thought that we would…tonight…but for, like, the future, ya know?’

 

Connor empties the bag on the bed. Two boxes of condoms and a decent sized bottle of lube. Jude is nervous and excited at the same time. He eyes the lube bottle and then looks to Connor. And smiles. Getting up to his knees and moving face to face with Connor Jude looks mischievous.

 

‘I think you should get that bottle open, we have much to do Connor…’

 

And do much they certainly did. Jude knew it would hurt, even just one finger. That agony though at the start…but it did get better. By the second finger he was more relaxed, at peace. The third tipped him over the edge. Whatever Connor was doing to him was…like nothing else. Ever. About a dozen times Connor had to tell him to keep the noise down. But Connor kept hitting that spot…and, well…you know…

 

An hour later they were both sticky, sweaty, panting messes. Jude was sore. Connor not so much. Both exhilarated though. They’re cuddling, content with each other and what they were doing. They don’t need to talk now. Everything can be seen in their eyes. The love. The happiness. Them.

Chapter Text

Chapter 30: Pillow Talk

Sixteen…seventeen…wait, I’ve already counted that one, he thinks. He kept having to stop and start again. There wasn’t much light in the room, just a thin beam poking through the blinds, so maybe that doesn’t help. There are more productive things he could be doing, of course. Counting your boyfriend’s freckles is just so…so damn cute though. Especially when he is cute. And asleep.  And in your bed. With no clothes on. And you’ve had sex with him. Seriously…if two months ago someone would have told him all this would be happening Jude would have said they were crazy. It’s all happened very fast. Connor re-entering his life, putting their friendship back together, getting back together, sleeping together…it was like a dream. In fact, Jude was living a dream. One he never wanted to end.

 

After some more time watching Connor sleeping he decides he needs the bathroom and something to drink. Finishing up in the bathroom he heads downstairs to the kitchen, thinking tea for him and Connor. He stops dead when he enters the kitchen: Moms.

 

‘Hey honey, how was the date? You were already in bed when we got back…’

 

Jude feels himself go red. He moves around the kitchen, boiling some water and getting mugs ready for the tea.

 

‘Um…yeah, um…we were both pretty, um…’

‘You guys sleeping in today?’

‘Um, no…I mean, yeah…Connor’s still asleep…’

‘Ohhh, is he really tired? Did you keep him awake?’

 

Jude turns to face Stef, and she’s smirking. She’s enjoying this, making him squirm. Lena has an evil look on her face too.

 

‘He, um…I’m not tired…no, he’s not tired…I…ugh…’

 

He caves in and starts giggling.

 

‘Look, the date was perfect…we had a great night. Connor is a perfect gentleman.’

 

He finishes making the tea and heads for the stairs.

 

‘Enjoy the lie in!’ calls Lena from the kitchen, and Jude can hear giggling as he ascends the stairs. Connor has stirred and is some state of being awake. He watches Jude put the mugs of the on the night stand, and then drags him back onto the bed, peppering him with kisses.

 

‘Morning, boyfriend of mine.’

‘I brought tea…something to help wake you up.’

‘Oh, you want me awake do you? Well…,’ and Connor moves his body right on top of Jude’s, ‘…some parts of me are definitely awake…’

Jude feels something pressed against him, and he blushes. But he loves it really. He nuzzles his face into Connor’s neck. He loves Connor’s smell. It’s intoxicating. It’s what forces Jude’s hands to start wandering, under the comforter, down Connor’s body…

 

…and a few minutes later Jude has joined Connor in the naked games. He’s watching Connor, now wearing a condom and rubbing lube on…it…and then some on his fingers. Jude’s ready. He wants this. Connor gently positions himself on top of Jude, who responds by opening his legs, inviting Connor to get close. Connor starts teasing at Jude’s entrance with his finger, and Jude thinks he will never get tired of that.

 

‘Connor, please…we can…’

 

Connor nods, and when he pushes inside for Jude it feels like…yeah, it hurts, fuck it hurts…but by the time he bottoms out it’s so…it’s so incredible. The way it feels, the way Connor moves inside him…the way Connor is looking at him. They both know they have to keep the noise down, and so Jude is having to bite down on his bottom lip. Connor has his face buried half in Jude’s neck, half on the pillow. When Connor starts rubbing over his prostate he’s gone…he can’t fight the moaning anymore. His head wants to explode, he’s digging his nails into Connor’s back, but he can’t speak…he’s hard as fuck at this point, Connor can feel it and reaches for him. It takes 4 or 5 strokes and Jude is spilling everywhere. Around thirty seconds later Connor can feel it. He pushes his forehead against Jude’s. He wants to look at him when he…he wants Jude looking into his eyes…he picks up the pace, which he thinks Jude can handle. The moaning kind of confirms that, as well as the half smile amidst the panting. And then Connor…he’s there…deep inside Jude and he falls over the edge. Jude wraps his arms around Connor as he collapses on top him, holding him as tight as he can. It takes a good minute for Connor to compose himself. While he’s composing himself he’s thinking. About Jude. And what they’re doing. What they’ve just done. And he knows. He’s sure.

 

This is the greatest day of his life.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31: When I Said Goodbye

One month later

School was done. Exams taken and assignments handed in. Connor had even made a decision about his final year: he would complete 70% of his classes online but would have to attend campus the rest of the time. With no intention of leaving San Diego (or Jude) his father bought him a car and paid for Connor to renew his licence. But final year didn’t start until September. So Connor and Jude concentrated on enjoying as much of their summer as possible.

 

In early August they flew to Chicago to spend a week with Connor’s Dad. Connor was nervous for several reasons. It would be the first time he had spent such an amount of time with his father since he was sixteen. Factor in the events of the last four years and the fact that Jude was now his boyfriend and Connor wasn’t sure how Adam was likely to be around them for a whole week. So Connor was very surprised to find that Adam had made up his spare room in Chicago with a double bed and that Jude would be allowed to share it with him. This was just one example of Adam’s acceptance of their relationship, and how accommodating he was towards Jude. One of Connor’s happiest memories of their trip was one morning, having woken up to find Jude gone from their bed, ventured down to the kitchen to find his boyfriend and his dad laughing and joking over breakfast. He stood watching, with them unaware of his presence. Such was the feeling of happiness that swept through Connor he had to sneak back upstairs to the bedroom where he sat and cried tears of happiness for a full five minutes.

 

After flying back to San Diego they spent the cab ride home talking about the camping trip they had planned with Jude’s family the following week. Connor was excited about this. He liked the Adams Foster family gatherings now. At first he found them uncomfortable. Jude’s brothers and sisters all clearly had questions for Connor, but evidently had been warned off (certainly by Jude, and probably by Stef and Lena too) asking him things that might cause him distress so there was never really any discussions about Connor’s life in Los Angeles, and certainly no mention of Vince. The only time he ever came up was in private discussions with Jude, and even then it was only when Connor would volunteer little bits of information. His twelve year sentence for aggravated assault and domestic violence had recently been confirmed. Connor had made one final alteration to the deal: that Vince was not permitted to contact him (or Jude) during his incarceration. He didn’t want letters arriving from Vince: for Connor, this part of his life was done.

 

As they piled through the front door, hauling suitcases behind them, they were met by Stef and Lena. Both looked concerned, something that both boys noticed immediately.

 

‘Hey boys, the trip was good?’ asked Stef.

‘Um, yeah. Is everything ok Mom?’

‘Sure, honey. We…just need to talk to you both about something.’

 

The boys sat on the sofa, Stef and Lena opposite.

 

‘So,’ began Lena, ‘we got a call yesterday from the prosecutor’s office in L.A.’ They are both looking directly at Connor. ‘Something…something happened…’

 

Stef takes over.

 

‘Connor, Vince was able to smuggle some kind of small tool out of the prison workshop where he was assigned to. He was found in his cell…he’d harmed himself, cut into his wrists. He’d been lying there for a couple of hours when he was found. There wasn’t anything they could do for him.’

 

A long silence followed. Jude wanted to take Connor’s hand but couldn’t, as he had them in his lap and was twisting his own fingers together. After what felt like an age Connor couldn’t take the three sets of eyes on him anymore.

 

‘Um…I think I’m gonna…I’m gonna go sit upstairs for a while.’

‘That’s fine, honey,’ said Lena, in that soothing voice that she has.

‘Do, um…shall I come with you?’ mumbled Jude. He didn’t really know how to react to this.

‘Um…no…no, it’s ok…’ replied Connor without looking at him. He left the room and they heard him climb the stairs and close an upstairs door.

 

Jude was pissed. At whom he wasn’t sure. At Connor for walking out without looking at him? At Stef and Lena for not telling them until now? At Vince for….

 

…fuck, when will this guy be out of their lives, he wonders. He’s dead and now this is gonna be a thing and…how much more can Connor deal with? How much more can they both deal with? He stays downstairs, giving Connor the space he needs. Thirty minutes go by. An hour. Connor still hasn’t reappeared. In this time Jude has put on a second load of laundry, and helped Lena start prepping for dinner. After nearly ninety minutes he can’t take it anymore. He has to talk to Connor. When he gets to their room though he’s surprised: Connor isn’t there. Nor is he in the bathroom. Has he jumped out the window, maybe? Jude goes back onto the landing and stops outside Brandon’s old room, the door closed. Hardly any of Connor’s stuff was in there now. Jude’s room was now their room.  He wouldn’t be in there, surely? Of course he was. Jude opened the door slowly and there he was, lying on the bed, curled in the foetal position and facing away from him.

 

‘Connor…?’ whispered Jude, approaching the bed slowly. He got no response so sat down next to Connor, gently reaching out and putting his hand on Connor’s shoulder. Jude felt Connor take a deep breath, and then slowly he rolled to face Jude. He’d been crying. His eyes were read and puffy, almost like what Jude saw in the hospital room just after Connor had woken up. And now here they were…back to square one.

 

‘I don’t know if…I don’t know if I’m supposed to say…sorry? You know? I mean, he…I don’t know what to say.’

 

Jude took one of Connor’s hands, and rubbed a thumb over Connor’s tear-stained cheeks. Connor didn’t know what to say either and so just held on to Jude as they sat there silently.

 

***

 

Vince’s body wasn’t released to his mother for ten days. During this time Connor had thought long and hard about whether he should attend the funeral. After talking it through with Jude and with his therapist, as well as hearing the opinions of his and Jude’s parents he decided: no. It would achieve nothing, he figured. He had confronted Vince at the prison, and said what he wanted to say. He had the closure he wanted. Sure, it hurt him that Vince was dead, as he had been a part of Connor’s life for a long time. But Connor had come to the conclusion that the tears he shed were not out of sadness for Vince’s death, but at the realisation that that period of his life was well and truly over. There was now no chance of Vince reappearing in his life. Of reappearing in their lives. The future remained undecided; but Vince…Vince was gone.

Chapter Text

Chapter 32: “Lovin’ you, is it the right thing to do?”

Two weeks after Vince’s funeral a letter arrived for Connor, forwarded by the Los Angeles prosecutor’s office. It was from Vince’s mother. Connor had said it was okay for them to send the letter to him, out of sheer curiosity. He had met her twice in the time he had been with Vince. She was a quiet, unreadable woman, he had thought. When he read the letter, he felt…indifference. She was very apologetic for what her son had done, how she wished she had known what he was like and whatever. Bullshit, Connor thought. She knew about the stuff with Jamie, surely she must have known that something like that could happen again? He had no intention of replying to her letter and so, after letting Jude and his Moms read it he threw it in the trash. What Connor didn’t tell them was that the envelope that contained her letter contained a second one. From Vince.

 

He hadn’t read it. He put it inside his laptop sleeve and it had been sat in there for two days. He was banned from sending mail to Connor so he must have sent it to his mother and asked her to pass it on. He tried not to think about it too much. Obviously trying not to think what Vince wanted to say to him. It would be designed to make him feel bad. Designed to lure Connor back to the past. Why didn’t he just throw it away then? Did he really need to see what was in it? Indecision, it’s a killer. It took a good couple of days to decide what to do with it. It wasn’t an easy decision. But what Connor began to realise was that he had the power to make a choice: read it, or not. And whichever one he chose it would be his decision. How he would react after would be up to him as well. So the first decision was made: tell Jude.

 

He wasn’t happy. He folded his arms and looked down at the floor as Connor told him about the letter. After Connor finished speaking he just sat there, breathing quietly. Not looking at Connor.

 

‘Jude, look at me, please.’

 

Jude strained to look at him. Connor looked apologetic, but he didn’t say anything. So Jude did.

 

‘I don’t…I don’t get it. He’s dead. You can just throw it away. What can he possibly have to say in that letter?’

‘I…I’m not letting him have the last word Jude. No. Not again. If I throw it away it might always be there…the whole ‘I wonder’ thing. But…if I read it…it’s up to me to process it and deal with it. You know?’

 

Jude didn’t know. It was a bad idea. Every fibre of his being said that this would be a mistake. How could he say that to Connor? How could he say that he wanted no part of that? He couldn’t. Connor was his boyfriend. The love of his life. The person he was imagining spending…well, the rest of his life with. He wanted Connor to have everything. He wanted to give Connor everything. And right now Connor needed support. Connor could see the conflict in Jude. He could sense the disapproval. But he could also sense the love and concern Jude had for him. So, he had an idea.

 

‘Why don’t…why don’t you read it first? So you get to see…whatever it says…before me.’

 

Jude thought about this for a time. Maybe it was a good idea…if nothing else it would give Jude as good a chance of seeing inside the mind of Vince as he would ever get. He rose from the bed and retrieved the letter from where it was sat on the desk. Sitting back down on the bed he motioned for Connor to sit down next to him, which he did tentatively. Unfolding the letter carefully, Jude looked at it for less than ten seconds and folded it back up. He then looked at Connor.

 

‘Did…did you read it all?’

‘I did. Do you want to read it?’

 

Jude’s face was impassive. He didn’t look angry or upset or confused. Connor couldn’t work out what that meant. Connor held his hand out for the letter, and Jude carefully placed it in his outstretched palm. He then took the same hand and placed it on Connor’s knee reassuringly. Connor swallowed thickly, bit down on his lip and unfolded the letter.

 

You asked me if I ever really loved you.

 

How could I love someone who would leave me in a place like this?

 

Connor was confused for several seconds. But he soon came to his senses. He could see right through this. And then he surprised Jude, and himself a little bit, by tearing the letter into quarters, rising from the bed and dropping it in the trash can. Then he turned to address Jude.

 

‘That was fucking bullshit.’

 

Connor sat back down next to a confused looking Jude, taking his hands as he did.

 

‘He wants me to…he wanted me to feel guilty. He wanted his life on my conscience. After what he did…after…the kind of person he was. He abused me. He abused me, Jude. Nothing he says dead or alive changes that. That letter doesn’t change that. No fucking way am I falling under that…spell, or whatever, again. I did…I did love him. I know I did. It might sound weird to people but in my own way I loved him. Maybe not as much at the end…and not after…you know. But I didn’t make him behave like he did. I didn’t make him…he already was that person. I’m not to blame. I’m not at fault for his…choices. I know that now. It’s taken a long time…but I know it now.’

 

Connor moved his face closer to Jude’s. The brown haired, spectacled boy doesn’t think he has ever seen Connor look so serious.

 

‘The only thing,’ whispered Connor, ‘that I wanna be responsible for…is being your boyfriend. This…you and me…this is everything to me. You’re becoming…you are my world Jude. Nothing and nobody else can ruin that.’

 

Jude was teary eyed now. And so scared. Scared of everything he was feeling for Connor. The blonde boy sensed this…gently rubbing his nose against Jude’s. They pressed their foreheads together, and then fell into a kiss. The fear…it ebbed away. Connor did that. His Connor.

 

***

 

Christmas, a few months later

The holiday season had been nice for Connor. People around him, wanting to spend time with him. Family. His family. Jude’s family. Jude. His mother had been to San Diego pre-Christmas to see him and spend time with him. He and Jude would be going to Chicago for New Year’s to see Adam. But Christmas Day it was all about the Adams Foster's. Between Jude’s brothers and sisters, random girlfriends and boyfriends, various birth and adoptive parents and grandparents the house was all go 24/7. On Christmas Day for dinner there would be eighteen in attendance which, according to Lena, was some kind of family record.

 

Christmas Day seemed to pass quickly for young Mr Stevens. It wasn’t all the food or present giving or talking about school over and over again with Jude’s grandparents. It was something else. Anticipation. Something he needed to do. Something that couldn’t wait. Jude deserved to know…he did.

 

In the evening they were all sat around waiting to begin playing Charades. Lena had divided them into three groups of six and everyone was settling down into a seat or a space on the floor. When everyone was ready to go Connor stood up and moved to the front of the room near the TV. He needed his balls more than ever now. He had to raise his voice a little bit.

 

‘Um…before we start, I, um…I just wanna say to…well, to Stef and Lena especially…for everything you’ve done for me this year…I don’t think I can even put it into words, really. Since I was, like, thirteen, this place has felt like a home to me, I guess. And now…I mean, I’ve been here a while and…being here has helped…helped fix me. And being here with Jude…it’s everything. Really.’

 

There are tears in the eyes of some of the people in the room now. Everyone knows the basics of what happened to Connor. Stef and Lena know more. Jude knows the most. And because he knows the most nobody is more teary-eyed than him.

 

‘Jude…I’m…I’ve tried like a million times to imagine what it would be like if you hadn’t walked back into my life. And we…we can’t get those years back. But I don’t care about that…not anymore. I care about now, and about the future. So…’

 

Connor pauses. And takes a couple of deep breaths. When he’s collected himself he crouches down, and balances himself on one knee. There’s a collective intake of breath as he does this, and as he holds out…holds out his little finger.

 

‘Jude Adams Foster…I love you…and I want everyone to know it. Will you…will you be mine? Forever? Will you marry me, Jude?’

 

Jude sobs into his hands, and tries to stand. He’s off balance and nearly trips as he has to step over his brothers to get to Connor. But he does. He gets there. And wraps his pinkie around Connor’s, to the delight of his kneeling boyfriend.

 

‘I’ll always be yours…of course I will!’

 

There’s clapping and cheering and crying…but Jude and Connor don’t pay attention to that. Connor rises, helped by Jude’s outstretched hand, and Jude wraps his arms around Connor’s neck, pulling him close. He’s never letting go of this. Never letting go of Connor.

 

“If I could, baby I’d give you my world

Open up, everything’s waiting for you”