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Proko knows he's a fucking doormat when it comes to Kavinsky. It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out. Not when his so-called friends are going around making fun and taking advantage of him, like sending him on errands or borrowing his stuff without permission or even overriding his plans for the evening without consulting him beforehand. It's mostly okay when Kavinsky is doing these things, because for Proko, the whole purpose of being his assistant is to make K's life easier so he can better concentrate on his art, but.

But.

He can't easily tell the gang to shove it, because they're K's friends too. It's three against one, of course Proko would end up with the short end of the stick. (To say nothing of the fact that sometimes, he lacks the courage and self-confidence to stand up for himself. It's so much easier to just suck it up.) And he'd rather not risk losing K's approval, thank you very much.

He doesn't mind it as much when it's K who demands he stand to attention at the drop of a hat. Especially not when it's only them. He owes a great deal to K, and it's not a debt that's easily repaid. He changed his life, after all.

They met in arts class during their first year of high school, the only class Proko can remember him ever attending. He'd instantly been fascinated with Kavinsky's expression of wild imagination. And strangely enough, anxious Proko had somehow managed to catch Kavinsky's eye with the reluctant display of his own skill. He didn't like drawing attention to himself, but he also didn't like failing grades. It had always been a delicate balancing act between the two. But for some reason, Kavinsky saw through him and managed over the coming months to not only get close to Proko, but to get under his skin as well.

He gave Proko a complete makeover, step by step, because that was the only way Proko could be comfortable with the change, starting with his sneakers and working his way to the top. It wasn't that Proko had no fashion sense to speak of – he actually vetoed some of K's picks that he thought didn't complement each other. It was more that he'd still been trying to prove he could be a good son and find some sense of fulfilment as a political aide. As the path of least resistance, he chose to wear his brother's hand-me-downs instead of wasting any thought on what would suit himself.

The hair trimmer buzzed at the same frequency as Proko's anxiety did when it was time to get rid of his messy curls, but he couldn't back down and lose face in front of K. Still, his insides were clenching with embarrassment at the prospect of having his elephantine ears exposed to sight.

To his surprise, the procedure was over sooner than he'd expected, and the hand at the back of his neck stopped pressing him toward the sink. Proko remained in place for a few more moments, gripping the rim tight, waiting for instructions. None came. Instead, a sudden snap of shears made him tense. It seemed like an eternity until something happened next, but as soon as K's fingers carded through his hair, a flash of heat shot from his scalp to the farthest reaches of his skin and with it, all worry about how ridiculous he might end up looking vanished entirely.

This... this was nice.

He could have spent the entire evening like this, K combing his hair and drawing the tension out of Proko's scalp with his magical fingertips.

Unfortunately, like all good things in life, this too came to an end. Kavinsky stroked the bristles of Proko's new undercut and laid the scissors aside. An explosion of breath against the back of his neck startled Proko. But not as much as the thumb tracing the shell of his ear. Proko inhaled sharply. He became aware of the painful hardness that was digging its way through the sink, and while he was still able to hide that if he didn't turn around, there was no hiding the ugly blush staining his entire face. Proko had never been so aroused in his life.

K gazed at him in the mirror, lips curled, eyes liquid fire, and ever so slowly slid his fingers over Proko's jaw to the opposite cheek. With the slightest pressure, he nudged his head around and for a moment, Proko thought K was going to kiss him. He could hardly keep from staring at K's hungry mouth. K's thumb brushed Proko's lower lip, fanning a fire in its wake.

Then, as if to snap Proko out of it, he gives Proko's cheek a few sharp pats and says, "Hop under the shower, get rid of these hairs. Unless you want them to prick you all day."

After K left him to his own devices, Proko let his head fall back against the mirror. He took the shower, finished himself off as quietly (quickly was a given) as he could, and, exiting the bathroom, acted as though nothing had happened.

He needn't have bothered. K was gone.

After that, Proko was filled with a yearning for Kavinsky that had been unknown to him before. He would never have been able to imagine how much you could physically ache for another person. Not even to have that person be anything other than what they'd been to you, but simply to see them, to know they're all right, and maybe, if you're lucky, to have them hang out with you.

This was ridiculous. He was ridiculous, craving Kavinsky in a way that was not wholesome. Yeah, sure. Keep dreaming. As if a guy like K would ever find anything in you, as if you're anything more than an art project to him, as if he could like you. K likes girls, not awkward boys like you. Don't flatter yourself because he's been spending so much time with you. You're a charity case, and he's just playing with you because your buttons are so easily pushed. Sooner or later he'll tire of you and drop you like a piece of trash. Face it, you're useless to him. Better accept that now, so it won't hurt as much when the time finally comes.

He'd believed that. He'd really believed he had nothing to offer. That K would eventually stay with any of the new friends he made all the time and forget all about him.

But K remained a fixture in his life, coming and going as he pleases, introducing new additions to their circle along the way. In the beginning, stabs of jealousy would force the breath out of Proko's lungs, but eventually he saw the good in this arrangement: K needed new experiences, new patterns, new stimuli. The more people he surrounded himself with, the smaller the chances became he would tire of Proko anytime soon.

Now, some five years later, K still hasn't tired of Proko's company, or so it seems. Nor has Proko stopped wanting to be in K's company. In the intermittent years, he's learnt a lot from K, both as an artist and as a person. He's grown comfortable enough in their relationship that he dares give him lip when he needs to, without having to fear he's just ruined everything. (Or not fear it too much, anyway.)

The guys still give him crap for being a spineless jerk and for acting more like a mom to them than an equal when he brings out food at their meetings, shops for necessities, or cleans up after them. He can't help it; he can't abide their clutter disturbing Kavinsky's workspace. It's more sacred to him than it is to K himself. And if we're being honest here, he's addicted to the silent pride K telegraphs when Proko jumps to action. What's a bit of ridicule compared to that?

"He's so married to K," Swan would say and make gagging noises.

"Chained to, more like," Skov would correct, rifling through his latest tattoo designs in search for the ones he wanted to show off.

"If he were chained to K, how would he be able to run errands for him?"

"You're thinking too literal. All I'm saying is that marriage is reciprocal, not a one-way street. If Proko is married to K, then K is married to Proko, and that's not what this is."

Jiang, loathing these types of conversation, would pretend to be too engrossed with doodling on a pad to join in. Proko is a little glad for that. He's not especially fond of where this is going either.

He prefers the quiet mornings, when it's just the two of them in companionable silence, and no trash talk of any kind to break it. Proko would make coffee and something easily digestible and carry it after K, waiting until he'd finally take notice of the food and have a bite. K has never learned to listen to his body's needs and has shown himself to be unwilling to start now, because it's much more convenient to have a sidekick who worries about that stuff for you. Proko doesn't mind so much. He likes being useful. It's only ever a bother when he has deadlines himself he is hard-pressed to meet and K insists on being difficult.

Once K has polished off a satisfying amount, Proko feels relaxed enough to get creative. He grabs a pad and pencils from his bag and gets to work. A couple of weeks ago, he found a package in the mail sent to him by his sister-in-law. "Your brother would have wanted you to have this," her simple note informed him. "This" turned out to be a book on a century's worth of fashion design. His brother had run a business, and since competition ran strong in their family, Proko had felt the need to set himself apart and find his own niche. Nevermind that he'd already been designing clothes while his brother had still been studying for his MBA.

A violent wave of nostalgia had gripped Proko as he saw the book. He wanted to study all the different trends of the eras around the globe, fill his head with ideas until it could hold no more, and then go about picking and choosing for his own designs.

He creates a few rough croquis on his pad to start with, before drawing a variety of clothes on top of them. As he's concentrating, he finds it easiest to work on the floor and spread his pencils around him. He has a rainbow of colors to choose from.

Focus is a wonderful thing. It narrows his world down to this single task, unburdened by the hopes and fears of his conscious existence. It's a simple, meditative state that's emptying his thoughts quicker than any other form of meditation could. In this state he feels neither hot nor cold, hunger or thirst, fatigue or pain. He could be hunched over and skidding around on his knees all day and only notice the ache in his joints when his juice runs out or his concentration is shot.

Kind of like now.

Proko gives a start as a sudden weight settles on his back. He has been so engrossed in the process of coloring patterns that he missed Kavinsky approaching. K is reclining on his beanie bag and apparently using the knot that is Proko as a footrest. Proko doesn't move. It's not the first time that K has treated him as background decoration, though Proko has yet to determine whether his selective attention is deliberate or not. He wouldn't put it past K to pretend he's furniture as some sort of power game. Sometimes, K really likes to make Proko sweat.

And sweat he does. The last time K had acted as though he were transparent, he'd had a new girlfriend over. They'd just come in when he took off the girl's coat and threw it at Proko as if he were some especially nimble coatrack. The girl paid him no mind either, so for a moment Proko wondered whether he was actually a ghost. But then the coat would have passed through him and fallen to the ground, right? He hung it on an actual coatrack, searched together the utensils K had taken from his place the last time he'd stayed over, and beat a hasty retreat, because already the giggling became too much to bear for him. He couldn't stand to hear any more.

Another memorable instance of K making use of Proko as a prop was right after he'd trashed his easel. He didn't have another to spare and really needed to finish this Monet forgery. The dude who called himself the Gray Man would be picking it up the following week to sell it on the black market. Or perhaps he'd already had a buyer and would just be delivering the painting. Either way, the sooner K finished, the sooner the oil paint could dry. So Proko had to jump in and play easel. Which was an ordeal, because how are you supposed to hold a canvas if you're not supposed to touch the canvas?

In the end, Proko ruined a perfectly good shirt and was unable to use his arms for two days afterwards. But it was okay. K made it all worthwhile in the end.

It may have been then that K realised how much it teased a dark vein inside Proko to be devalued and used as an object. Stripped off identity, denied his wants and needs, just a passive receptacle for the wishes of his owner, to be hung with coats or canvases, and to be otherwise ignored. Shame curdled his insides just as excitement thrummed through him. K had not been listening to the protests that his arms were giving out, that he was getting hungry, that his back was hurting from holding the canvas at the right angle, He would not be listening until he was done or until Proko let the canvas drop. Proko may not have been above complaining, but he had too much pride to destroy a work of days just because his body thought it couldn't take it anymore. He just needed a little self-discipline.

And he did it. Somehow.

Proko didn't even notice when K lifted the canvas off him. After a while, everything had receded: the pain, the hunger, the urge to reach out and touch K. Proko had gone somewhere in his mind, a place where his physical body was of no consequence, where time had no meaning, where his sense of self vanished. Like drifting under water, enveloped and carried by the currents, without a care in the world.

It was just when he lost the anchor of the painting's weight and K's gravitational force that some kind of panic set in, some low-level dread of being left in this state, because with a sudden awareness he realized he couldn't breathe and the water was crushing him, the surface too far to reach.

He remembers waking in the shower, drenched and limp, with a steady torrent beating down on him and K crouching so, so close. Proko must have looked responsive again, because K turned off the water. He grabbed the front of Proko's shirt and jostled him.

"Next time you're planning on having a horror trip, give me heads-up on what you're taking."

Proko would have covered K's hand with his own, but he found he was unable to move. His whole body was stiff, especially the area he didn't want stiff when K could see. What the fuck was even happening?

K told him all about it afterward. He'd just... tipped over, as if Kavinsky had robbed him of the counterbalance he'd needed to stay upright. The more feeling crept back into him, the more he became aware of the aches and pains spread throughout his body and wished he had some ibus at hand to dull them a little. His head pounded like a bass drum; he must have hit it pretty good when he took his freedive.

"Alex..."

"'m fine," he ground out, scrunching up his nose at the use of his first name.

"You look like shit, though." His hand twisted harder into Proko's shirt. "Can you stand? Or are you planning on spending the rest of the day like a tossed-out ragdoll in my shower?"

"Ain't so bad here," Proko rasped, trying hard not to flinch away from Kavinsky's razor-sharp gaze. Not that he could have flinched, but you know. "View's nice."

K studied him harder, expression unlike anything he's seen directed at him. Just as he was about to say something, K cut him off with a "Fuck this."

He spat it like a curse and surged forward. One moment he was fixating Proko, the next he was in his face. Proko's brain couldn't catch up with the change fast enough, and by the time he'd parsed that Kavinsky of all people was kissing him, he was convinced he was having a seizure.

His fingers twitched, but otherwise wouldn't obey Proko's commands. He wanted so badly to run his hands up K's arms, into his hair, down his back. All he could do was tip his knees inward to touch K's hips.

K was... in short, he was overwhelming. He was fire and lightning, an intoxication mix of elements and Proko tried to bask in it all. The sheer heat that rolled off K should have baked their clothes dry and left scorch marks on Proko's skin. Yet his clothes were still soaked and clinging to his frame and curiously amplifying every shift between them. Right then, he was unable to imagine that anything could feel ever better than K rubbing his hand over Proko's chest, flicking his thumb across his nipple, and teasing the waistline of his jeans.

He must have come just from this, because one moment he was tensing so hard his muscles were trembling, the next he was twitching uncontrollably even as he was sinking into an all-encompassing warmth and weariness.

K just snorted and maneuvered to sit next to Proko. He slid an arm around him and Proko fell against his shoulder. He may or may not have listened to K finishing himself off. Or maybe he'd already been dreaming.

 

These days, the shame he feels about his weird desires no longer twists through him quite as strongly. It acts more as a seasoning to all his other sensations. His knees and hips are aching from the awkward position on the floor. Yet more than the pain in his joints, he's aware of the weight on his back, the heat that suffuses him, the hardness between his thighs. He should be sitting upright and stretching himself, thereby casually throwing K's feet off of him.

But he doesn't. It's as if the feet on his spine were holding him in place and locking away rational thought. He feels at peace.

They stay like this for what seems a very long time, the silence between them only broken by the rasp of a lighter and the sharp exhale of smoke. Distantly, Proko wonders what K might be thinking about. He often just stares at the ceiling, as if the secrets of the universe were assembled there.

A voice drifts through his consciousness. "I'm bored. Wanna go for a movie?"

For a while, Proko doesn't know how to answer, how to form an opinion, how to want anything but to be right where he is. K swings himself around on his beanie bag so he's lying on his stomach facing Proko.

"You still alive, man?" he asks and gives Proko a shove. Stiff as he is, Proko keels over like a freeze dried mount. "Do I need to dump you under a hot shower?"

On his side, his limbs thaw little by little under K's amused stare. Proko manages a sound at the back of his throat, more a sign of life than an answer to K's question. K reaches forward and runs his fingers along the shell of Proko's ear, the line of his jaw, the dip in his chin. His thumb traces Proko's lips. Proko catches it between his teeth.

"So your mouth still works." K grins. After another moment, he muses, "How deep would you take my cock now if I tried shoving it down your throat?"

Proko grunts, his eyes flutter, and his teeth dig harder into K's flesh.

"Yeah, I don't want you biting down on it." K extracts his thumb, but before Proko has the chance to close his mouth, K slips two fingers into it. They taste of sweat and smoke, and tickle his tongue as they slide forward and back, slicking themselves, until they hit the back of Proko's throat, which closes on reflex. "Pity."

Proko closes his lips around the digits and sucks, working his tongue against them. K's smug grin turns a degree or two sharper. From down here it looks like he were on a life raft, while Proko is floating down to the bottom of the sea.

"You're right. Screw the movie, I'm screwing you." K slides his fingers out of Proko's mouth and over his burning cheek, cooling it a bit as the saliva dries. Then he swoops down from his raft as if to dive after him.

K may not be a hero, but he's Proko's life line, tethering him to existence. A life without him would be impossible. That knowledge is scary as it is reassuring. K could destroy him just as easily as he's keeping him together.

Indeed, what's a bit of ridicule compared to that?