Welcome Home

by Shuua (シューア)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/16318.html)

It was a rare cool night in mid-June. The stifling hot weather had been relieved by a sudden cold front, brought on by a series of quick rainstorms followed by a constant, refreshing breeze. Sinclair Davies, however, was not enjoying the change. Not because he had anything against perfect, sunny-but-not-hot weather, but because he hadn’t stepped outside in nearly a week. Had he been less preoccupied, he might have noticed the sudden downpour of rain and later, happen to glance out the window and take a moment to appreciate the postcard-perfect sky. But Sinclair was, in every sense of the word plus a few more Webster probably never intended, preoccupied.

“Damn you, Richard,” he muttered darkly under his breath. “Damn you to hell.”

It was the twentieth time he had muttered darkly these words in the past hour, and over the days they had transformed themselves into a kind of ominous mantra.

Aside from the muttering, the entire apartment was silent, save for the shuffle of papers and clacking of keys. During the past week, this room had become Sinclair’s prison, his trusty iMac laptop his shackles and the stacks of books and magazines surrounding him the bars of his cell.

The clock on the wall chirped the hour. White-breasted Nuthatch: 3 AM. A hungry meow came in response, its owner padding across the room swiftly to gaze up longingly at the wall in the hopes that this time a real bird just might come out of the mysterious contraption.

“I keep telling you, Dinah,” Sinclair addressed the cat with weary patience. “It’s not a real bird. It’s a ‘Birds of America Limited Edition Collectors’ Clock’ that asshat gave me in lieu of something remotely tasteful.”

“That asshat” was Richard, the new executive editor at Modern Muse. Sinclair hadn’t even wanted a “welcome home” party. For one thing, it only gave people excuses to give him things like bird clocks (and that bastard knew Sinclair had a cat). For another, Sinclair didn’t exactly feel like celebrating the fact that his sabbatical was over, and it was back to the world of word counts and deadlines and fact-checks and interviews and editors. One in particular.

“Damn you, Richard,” Sinclair hissed through clenched teeth.

Less than a week back from his year-long absence, and Richard just had to give him the magazine’s cover article. Due in twelve hours – make that eleven hours and fifty-six minutes – no less. Sinclair supposed it was kind of a compliment, in a way. The party, the gifts, the cover story… All of it to say, “We missed you! Now go write us some more stories, thanks.”

Sinclair Harrison Davies. Aside from having one of the oddest names in the country, he was known to be the magazine’s resident writing machine. No matter how obscure the topic or how unreasonable of a deadline, Sinclair somehow managed to churn out another masterpiece. Or at least a piece worded eloquently enough to pass for one.

He was the wet dream of every editor: punctual, consistent, and talented. And if his writing skills weren’t enough to impress, his looks did a good job of making up for it. Tall and lean, he was one of those maddeningly lucky people who just so happened to be born with a good body, which was fortunate for him, considering his lifestyle. “Working out” was a foreign concept to him, and he generally ate whatever he wanted, whenever he felt like it. He rarely saw the light of day, thanks to his work, a fact reflected by his pale complexion. His black hair was a tangle of wild curls and cut every six months or so, more as an afterthought than anything else.

Personality-wise, he truly was the guy you’d love to hate. He was honest to a fault, rarely holding back from speaking his mind, and his somewhat detached demeanor made it difficult for people to draw close to him. He certainly wasn’t one to give good first impressions.

But everyone agreed – no one had a way with words quite like Sinclair.

…Which was flattering, but it still didn’t improve Sinclair’s mood. Because the fact remained that he was stuck in front of his laptop for the better part of a week, working on a story even he wasn’t sure he could pull off, and looming over him was the dreary knowledge that this was just a preview of how most of his days would be spent from now on.

Sinclair reread the article for the thousandth time. He was still about a hundred words short. Richard would notice – even with the added photos and cleverly spaced margins. Sinclair sighed heavily and stretched his arms, rubbing his shoulders as he brooded over the story.

Key to His Heart: The Man Behind the Canvas.

Sinclair hated puns, but for some reason the public (and more importantly, his new editor) seemed to love them. The topic was interesting enough, but Sinclair really didn’t have much to go on in way of research. He was tempted to simply change the title to, “Julian Keys: Just who the Fuck is He, Anyway?” The article itself could then be whittled down to three words: “We’ll never know.”

Julian Keys. The mysterious artist appeared out of nowhere about two years ago, and despite his growing fame had still managed to remain completely hidden from the public eye. Countless rumors and speculations substituted for the lack of hard facts, but Sinclair couldn’t write a story that consisted entirely of “supposedly”s or “it has been said”s.

This wasn’t the first time Modern Muse was attempting to release an article on the now world-renown painter. Shortly after Sinclair had left for his sabbatical, the magazine’s then executive editor took a chance on a rookie journalist and gave him the assignment of tracking down the elusive artist for an interview. It wasn’t until almost four months later that the story was finally published. And what a story…

Instead of the ground-breaking exposé it was intended to be, the article was an ambiguous narrative of someone’s – presumably the writer’s – various encounters with the painter. Little to nothing concrete was revealed about Julian Keys, save for a score of sometimes amusing and quite often rather intimate details.

He doesn’t smile when he paints. He can scarcely breathe, such is his haste to capture this second, to immortalize this fleeing moment in time. The house is silent, but the world could be going up in flames outside and he would not notice, because there is nothing, nothing but the paints and the canvas and the feel of the brush.

–And me.

The article had caused quite a stir, and pissed off more than a few people. Unfortunately, Modern Muse’s publisher was among those upset, and both the journalist and the editor were fired.

Sinclair had been blissfully unaware of all this drama, completely detached from society and content to remain that way while he enjoyed his time off. Needless to say, the welcome party was not the only surprise he got upon his return. He hadn’t known Alex Graham, the writer who got fired, but Ellis had been his editor for nearly ten years. Sinclair had considered him as a colleague and friend. The magazine just wasn’t the same without him. There was no Ellis, now. Just Richard the Asshat, a former assistant editor, whose lack of skill and experience was made up for by his amazing talents in kissing up.

When Sinclair had first heard about the “Julian Keys incident” (as it was now referred to), he wondered, just what in the hell was Ellis thinking? In all the years that they had worked together, Sinclair had never known Ellis to take such a huge chance on a rookie.

…But then Sinclair read it. One of the interns handed him a copy during the party. He was completely engrossed by it, and after finishing it he said out loud to no one in particular: “Ellis, you fucking romantic.”

He shook his head and laughed, oblivious to the odd looks from those around him. Who’d have thought that his hard-assed editor had a soft spot for poetry?

Sinclair realized as he read the article what the problem really was. It wasn’t just the implied homosexual relationship – though hell would freeze over before anyone would admit that was an issue. No, the real problem was, Alex Graham wasn’t a journalist. He was a writer.

The article was a work of art – poignant, passionate, unapologetic, and deeply personal. All perfectly admirable qualities, but magazines and newspapers aren’t meant for works of art. Journalists wrote for audiences, with restrictions pressing in on them from all sides. Word counts, format, in-house style, deadlines – not to mention the obscene amount of editing. There was a skill to it, but in the end journalism was writing for the people.

Alex Graham had written that article for himself.

“Why do you paint?”

He shrugs, gives me a lopsided grin and answers: “I’m no good at anything else.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah.” Smoke drifts upwards from his cigarette, flakes of ash floating down to settle by his feet. “That’s it.”

He’s not lying, but I don’t believe him. There’s more to it than that, there has to be.

“Why do you live?” he asks me.

Ah.

It clicks. I feel the growing smile of realization spreading across my face.

“In ten words or less?” I ask.

“Go for it.”

We’re both smiling now at our shared secret. Because we both know the answer, it’s the answer to every “why.”

“I’m no good at anything else.”

The whole thing was more than a bit ironic, really, what with Modern Muse being a self-proclaimed art magazine and all. Still, Sinclair wasn’t going to waste his time mourning over the loss.

He had a story to write.

The days stretched into weeks, and Sinclair settled back into his former routine. True to his reputation, the cover article was released without a hitch. There was nothing in it that hadn’t already been said before, but no one seemed to care or notice.

The cool weather was over, and the summer heat had returned with a vengeance. Sinclair preferred to work at home, but as luck would have it his air conditioner had broke down in his absence. Fixing it or buying a new one was an option, but Sinclair didn’t feel much like spending a couple thousand dollars he didn’t have, thanks mostly in part to his year-long joyride around the world. Not that it wasn’t worth it — Sinclair was already calculating how soon he could do it again. A new air conditioner didn’t quite fit into the equation.

So for the time being, Sinclair went to work the way respectable people did: he went to the office. The drawbacks of having to commute to the magazine’s headquarters and exposing himself to more time with the Asshat were equalized by the free A/C. Dinah went with him, too, despite “office regulations” (namely, Richard’s allergies). Sinclair simply couldn’t work without having her around to distract him. Getting to see Richard puffy-eyed and miserable was just an added bonus.

For a while it seemed like Sinclair’s life was back to the way it always had been. He woke up, he wrote stories about things he didn’t care about for people he cared even less, and he went home to his old, non-air conditioned apartment to sleep so he could wake up the next morning and do it all over again. His whole existence was starting to turn into a monotonous routine, a cycle that had no end or purpose. And there seemed to be nothing he could do about it.

How was he to know his life would never be the same again?

It was well after midnight when Sinclair finally started back home from work. He had lost track of time again and ended up being the last person to leave. It was still warm despite the late hour, but a slight breeze made it much more pleasant. Sinclair strolled down the empty streets, not really in a hurry to go anywhere. Dinah, on the other hand, meowed impatiently from inside her carrier, eager to get out.

“I thought one of the perks of owning a cat was not having to take it for walks.”

Sinclair stopped in his tracks and turned to see a young man crouching casually on the sidewalk, looking up at him with an amused smile. Sinclair was not easily stunned, but for once he was rendered speechless.

To describe the stranger as “colorful” would be akin to describing the ocean as “damp.” The young man’s fashion sense seemed to be an odd mix of the eccentric and colorblind-induced madness. He sported a purple plaid skirt over a pair of severely torn jeans, cut off a little past his knees to reveal his mismatched socks – one polka-dotted pink and the other aquamarine. He wore a netted neon green shirt under an oversized black sweater that hung off his shoulders, imprinted with red stars and skulls. And to finish off the technicolor nightmare, his shaggy, shoulder-length hair was dyed an unnaturally bright orange, festooned with a dozen pins and clips of various shapes and colors. And if that wasn’t enough to make you stare, the twenty-odd earrings and multiple lip piercings took care of that.

“Hiya,” he said cheerfully, waving a hand at Sinclair’s blank gaze.

“Hi,” Sinclair replied automatically, unable to stop staring. He began to realize with growing alarm that the stranger was hurt – badly. The young man’s right eye was bruised and swollen almost shut, and traces of dried blood streaked his face. His clothes covered most of him, but Sinclair suspected there were more injuries elsewhere. He was skinny, too, and sickly despite the bright smile on his face.

“You all right?” Sinclair asked, hesitant.

“I’m dandy,” the stranger replied. He didn’t make an attempt to get up, and Sinclair began to suspect that it was simply because he didn’t have the strength.

“If this is how you look when you’re dandy, I wouldn’t want to see you when you’re really hurt,” Sinclair commented.

“No, you wouldn’t,” the stranger agreed, still smiling but a shadow flickering over his eyes.

“Are you going somewhere?” Sinclair asked, nodding towards the duffel bag laying by the young man’s feet.

“Trying to,” he replied. “If I can find a place to go.”

“Do you want me to take you to a hospital?”

“No,” the stranger said a little too quickly. He bit his lip and forced a smile, adding, “Thanks.”

“Okay, well, I’m not going to just leave you on the street,” Sinclair stated. “You’re not in good shape.”

“All I need is a shower, a meal, and some sleep. In that order,” the stranger laughed.

“There’s a motel across the bridge I could show you–”

“I don’t have any money,” the young man said simply with a shrug. “Look, thanks for your concern and all, you’re really sweet. But unless you feel like inviting me over to your place, there’s not much you can do.”

Sinclair nodded slowly, sighing with resignation. The stranger smiled and started to wave him good-bye.

“Nice meeting you–”

“My apartment’s about two blocks from here,” Sinclair said, taking the other’s hand and pulling him to his feet.

“Wha– ow!” The stranger doubled over and landed on his knees, his free arm gripping his side.

“Fuck. You’re really hurt. I’m taking you to a hospital,” Sinclair said, frowning.

“No!” the young man yelled, startling them both. Slowly, painfully, he got to his feet. “No hospitals, okay?” he said softly, squeezing Sinclair’s hand. He looked so desperate that Sinclair could only nod.

“Yeah, okay.”

“I’m Haley, by the way.”

“Sinclair.”

Haley smiled and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

It took the two of them (three, counting Dinah) over half an hour to travel the two blocks to Sinclair’s apartment. Haley leaned on Sinclair’s shoulder for support, stopping every few feet or so to bite back his cries of pain. Sinclair was tempted several times to just throw him into the back of a taxi and take him to the nearest hospital kicking and screaming, but then he would remember the look on Haley’s face, the fear in his voice.

Sinclair’s apartment was old and in need of repair, but fairly spacious. Most of the space was taken up by shelves, stacked from floor to ceiling with books and magazines.

“Sorry it’s so hot. A/C’s broke,” Sinclair said, freeing Dinah from her solitary confinement. The small calico licked her back indignantly and stalked off to sulk.

“It’s okay,” Haley said distractedly, looking around the room with child-like curiosity. “You must really love books.”

“A bit, yeah,” Sinclair said off-handedly. Haley turned to grin at him, and Sinclair almost – almost – blushed. He cleared his throat and pointed to a doorway across the room. “Shower’s in there. I’ll order some pizza. And then you can crash.”

Haley gave him a blank look.

“Shower, food, and sleep. In that order,” Sinclair recited. “…Right?”

“You’re crazy,” Haley laughed. “I can’t believe you remembered that.”

“I’ve memorized more complicated procedures,” Sinclair shrugged.

“Thanks,” Haley said. He hesitated then as if he was about to say more, but instead he smiled and repeated quickly, “Thanks.”

The pizza was cold by the time Haley emerged from the bathroom nearly an hour later. Although Sinclair supposed he could have used some help, he wasn’t about to offer his assistance to that extent just yet. He had changed into a fitted long-sleeved shirt and tattered jeans, and once again Sinclair noticed how almost painfully skinny he was. He said nothing, though, hiding his frown with a sip from his coffee mug.

“That was heaven,” Haley sighed blissfully, sinking into his chair. He smelled of Head & Shoulders and grapefruit body wash.

Sinclair slid the pizza box across the table. “Here. Hope you like anchovies.”

“I like everything.” Haley assured him with a grin.

True to his word, Haley all but inhaled the entire pizza, devouring it within minutes. Sinclair stared at him, speechless for the second time that night.

“When was the last time you ate?” he finally asked.

“Umm,” Haley pondered distractedly, scraping off the remaining bits of dried cheese from the cardboard and eating those, too, for good measure. “‘Bout two or three days ago?”

Before Sinclair could think of an appropriate reaction, the clock started chirping again. Two o’clock – Tufted Titmouse, this time. Dinah ran into the room and looked up at the clock expectantly.

“I swear to God, I am going to destroy that piece of crap one of these days,” Sinclair muttered.

Haley laughed and bent down stiffly to beckon Dinah over. “Poor kitty,” he crooned. “It’s not a real bird, baby. Sorry.”

Much to Sinclair’s surprise, Dinah willingly padded over to Haley’s outstretched hand and let herself be stroked.

“Huh,” was Sinclair’s intelligent response.

“What?” Haley asked, rubbing Dinah behind the ears as she purred contentedly.

“She usually doesn’t like to be touched by anyone she doesn’t know.” That was an understatement. The friends Sinclair had left Dinah with while he was gone never did win her over, even after a whole year of trying.

“Stuck-up, is she?”

“Completely.”

Haley giggled. “What self-respecting cat isn’t?”

Sinclair smiled at that. When Dinah stalked off again, he got up to throw away the empty carton and clean up.

“I have a spare mattress you can use, or you can just sleep on the sofa over there,” he said over his shoulder.

“Sofa’s fine,” Haley replied. “Thanks.”

“Sure,” Sinclair said. Then suddenly logic kicked in and he all but screamed at himself, What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!

“No, really,” Haley said softly, breaking Sinclair from his budding panic attack. “…Thanks.”

Logic flew out the window.

“You’re welcome,” Sinclair said awkwardly.

Suddenly, Haley stood up and walked over to him, leaning on the table for support. Before Sinclair’s brain could even register what was happening, Haley dropped to his knees before him and started to undo the buckle of his belt.

“H-hey!” Sinclair yelped, grabbing Haley’s hands and pushing them away. Haley looked up at Sinclair with questioning eyes – far too innocent for a person who just willingly went down on a stranger.

“I told you… I don’t have any money,” he explained.

“Don’t worry about it,” Sinclair said uneasily. “Just pay me back when you do.”

“That could be a while,” Haley said with a wry smile. He bent down to his task again and managed to undo the top button of Sinclair’s fly before he was stopped once more. This time, Sinclair kept his hold on Haley’s hands.

“Forget the money, then. You don’t have to do this.”

“I don’t mind, really,” Haley assured him. “And if you’re not into guys or whatever, it’s not like we’re fucking. I’m just going to suck you off.”

Sinclair was very much into guys or whatever, and Haley’s unexpected fumbling had left him more than a little bit aroused, but he wasn’t about to admit that. He squeezed Haley’s hands firmly.

I mind,” he said simply.

Haley looked confused and almost hurt, but obediently dropped his hands. There was an awkward silence as Sinclair buttoned his pants and redid his belt. Haley slowly rose to his feet, expecting to be kicked out again.

“Are you sure you don’t have any broken ribs or anything?” Sinclair asked, turning back to finish tidying up as though nothing had happened.

“I’m fine,” Haley replied slowly, unsure. “I’m just a bit bruised, that’s all.”

“I’ll pull out the spare mattress,” Sinclair stated. Before Haley could protest, he went off to dig it out of the hall closet.

When Sinclair was out of sight, Haley smacked his forehead and whispered a plaintive “Fuck.”

Down the hallway, Sinclair was doing the same.

The next morning, Sinclair woke to see Haley packing up his few belongings into his duffel bag.

“Morning,” Sinclair said casually.

Haley looked up and gave him a fleeting smile. “Hiya.”

“You leaving?”

“Yeah… Thanks for everything. I really apprecia–”

“Where are you going to go?”

Haley shrugged. “I’ll figure something out. Maybe I can beg my way back to my boyfriend’s house.”

“Boyfriend,” Sinclair echoed, raising an eyebrow. “You mean the bastard who beat the crap out of you?”

“It’s not like that…” Haley started, but Sinclair had suddenly closed the distance between them and, before he had time to react, lifted up the front of his shirt.

Sinclair was shocked into silence. He had suspected some bruises, but this…

Haley’s thin body was a tapestry of scars, some of them faded and aged, indicating wounds from years ago. His pale skin was blotched purple, blue and green from blows Sinclair winced to think about. The great majority of the scars had a kind of pattern to them, eerily regular in size and shape – small, circular, and more numerous than Sinclair could count. After a long moment, Sinclair found his voice.

“You’re not going back to him,” he stated.

“He’s not the one who did this to me,” Haley stammered, stepping back and pulling his shirt down. Sinclair could still see the scars.

“Then who?” he demanded. “Whoever he is, he should be put behind bars.”

“Look, it doesn’t matter, okay?” Haley said quickly. “It was ages ago. And as for the bruises, well… We just got in a fight, that’s all. I mean, you should see the shape he’s in.”

Sinclair ignored the light-hearted laugh and stepped forward again, cutting off Haley’s excuses.

“You’re not going back to him,” he repeated.

“You don’t own me,” Haley snapped, suddenly angry.

“Neither does he,” Sinclair shot back.

Haley looked away, an expression of stubborn denial etched into his features. Sinclair was oddly reminded of Dinah in one of her tantrums.

“Listen,” Sinclair sighed. “You don’t have to stay here if you don’t want to. But until you have a better place to go, I don’t mind having you stick around.”

Haley looked back at Sinclair again, his eyes full of confusion and a faint glimmer of hope.

“How do you know you can trust me?” he finally asked.

Sinclair shrugged. “My cat likes you. She’s a better judge of character than I am.”

Haley laughed, spontaneously and without reserve. Sinclair couldn’t help but smile back.

“Anyway,” he went on. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“Easy,” Haley grinned. “You listen to your cat.”

Over the next few days, Sinclair moved his work back to his apartment again. Not wanting to splurge on a new air conditioner, but not particularly keen on melting to death either, he compromised and bought a couple of large electrical fans. Dinah seemed much happier with the new arrangements, not being subjected to the horrors of confinement every day and having, not one, but two people to dote on her.

As the days passed, the two grew more and more at ease with each other. They were little more than complete strangers, and had practically nothing in common, yet somehow they… fit. Maybe it was because Sinclair had waited so long for someone to care about. Or maybe it was because Haley had never known a person who demanded nothing from him. Whatever the reason, the two seemed to have found in the other something they hadn’t even known was missing.

It was a strange feeling for them both… Being happy.

Neither of them ever mentioned Haley’s attempt at “paying” Sinclair that first night, but the incident hung over them discreetly like an uninvited guest, lingering in the silences between conversation. Haley’s wounds eventually healed, and he even put on some weight, much to Sinclair’s relief. He never mentioned his scars again, and always wore long sleeves and lots of layers despite the heat to cover them. Sinclair would never forget them, though, and every so often he felt a dull ache in his chest as the memory of them resurfaced.

One morning, Sinclair woke up to find Haley missing. An inexplicable wave of panic washed over him, until he found a note stuck onto his laptop.

“Went out job hunting. See ya tonight,” Haley’s scrawled handwriting greeted him.

As Sinclair cooked dinner (instant curry) for them, he wondered at how drastically his life had changed in the course of a few weeks. For as long as he could remember, his whole life had consisted of just “me.” (Or, in some cases, “Dinah and me.”)

Now he was waiting for Haley to come home and take up the other half of “we.”

“I got a job today,” Haley announced proudly as he burst into the apartment.

“Oh? Doing what?” Sinclair asked without looking up from the stove.

“Hustling.”

Sinclair dropped his ladle and looked up sharply. “Come again?”

Haley laughed. “Just checkin’ to see that you were really listening,” he teased. “I got hired by the CD store down by the mall. Tuesday to Saturday, ten to eight. I start tomorrow.”

“That’s great,” Sinclair said, recovering from his scare. He couldn’t help adding, “Don’t push yourself too hard.”

Haley rolled his eyes and nudged Sinclair’s side playfully. “You are such a mother hen.”

“I most certainly am no such thing,” Sinclair retorted, slightly alarmed.

“It’s okay, I think it’s sweet,” Haley giggled. He gave Sinclair a quick peck on the cheek, without warning or explanation. “I’m gonna hop in the shower before dinner, ‘kay?”

Sinclair didn’t trust himself to speak, so he nodded mutely in reply. When Haley disappeared into the bathroom, he let out a long breath and closed his eyes, murmuring a quiet “Shit.”

Inside the bathroom, Haley leaned against the door and agreed upon the sentiment.

“What’s the matter with Dinah these days?” Haley asked over dinner.

“What do you mean? What’s wrong with her?”

“Well, I dunno exactly. She’s always rolling around and purring like an engine,” Haley pointed out. “And she’s been yowling like an alley cat.”

As if to demonstrate, Dinah chose that moment to amble into the room and rub against Sinclair’s legs, meowing plaintively.

“Oh… That,” Sinclair coughed. “It’s nothing. She’s just… You know.”

“She’s what?”

“‘Tis the season to be… horny,” Sinclair stated eloquently.

Haley blushed slightly. “Oh. I see.”

“I haven’t gotten her fixed yet, so she gets like this from time to time when she’s in heat,” Sinclair explained.

“No wonder’s she’s being so affectionate lately,” Haley remarked, amused.

Dinah purred loudly and rolled onto her back, wriggling like a ticklish puppy.

“Poor baby,” Haley sympathized. “It’s tough not getting laid, isn’t it?”

Sinclair cleared his throat and dutifully went back to eating, ignoring Haley’s mischievous grin.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Sinclair woke up to the feel of his bed dipping and creaking from added weight. He opened his eyes slowly and found himself looking up at Haley, who had crawled on top of him.

“…Couldn’t sleep?” he offered tentatively.

Haley kissed him in reply, something both of them had been dreaming of since the day they met. Sinclair readily kissed back, his arms sneaking up to pull the other close.

Realization hit him like a bucket of ice water.

Sinclair’s eyes flew open as he pushed Haley away.

“Wait… What are you doing?” he asked dumbly.

“What’s it look like?” Haley demanded impatiently, running a hand down Sinclair’s bare chest. It was hot enough to sleep naked, but for once Sinclair was glad he took the more conservative route and went to bed with shorts on.

…Although at the moment, Haley was doing his best to remedy that.

“Haley–hang on,” Sinclair sputtered, squirming under the other’s deft fingers. “What’s the matter with you?”

Haley glanced up at him, and the look in his eyes was enough to stop Sinclair’s heart. He stretched himself up slowly, his body flush with Sinclair’s as his erection rubbed against the other’s side.

“I’m in heat,” Haley purred into Sinclair’s ear. His declaration was punctuated by a bold hand sliding under Sinclair’s shorts and wrapping around his hardening cock. “I want you to mate with me,” he whispered, sliding his hand along Sinclair’s length in one long pull.

“Fuck,” Sinclair breathed, giving himself up. He had been lost from the start, lost in those clear blue eyes, that bright, open smile.

Haley slid down to kneel between Sinclair’s legs, pulling off the other’s shorts and tossing the offending piece of clothing away. Without hesitation or the slightest trace of shame, he bent down and took Sinclair into his mouth, a soft, ecstatic moan escaping his lips as he did so. It was all Sinclair could do to not come right then, just from that. Haley dragged his tongue across the underside of Sinclair’s cock, from base to tip, and Sinclair realized for the first time that his tongue was pierced, too. He felt the metal stud draw wandering lines across his skin, a sensation both strange and incredibly arousing. Without warning, Haley took the head of Sinclair’s cock into his mouth and sucked earnestly, swiping his tongue across the tip as he expertly teased the small opening with his stud. Sinclair cried out and grabbed a fistful of Haley’s hair, choking out the beginnings of a warning before his orgasm took him. He came in a rush, his hips thrusting into Haley’s mouth. Haley took him all, suppressing his gag reflex with practiced ease as he swallowed without a second thought. When Sinclair’s shudders subsided, Haley leaned up to look at him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Was that good?” he asked, sounding sincerely concerned.

“Yes,” Sinclair managed to pant. “That was very, very good.”

Haley smiled brightly, looking for all the world like a kid who had just gotten a gold star on his report card. Sinclair pulled him down into a deep kiss – air was overrated, he’d decided – tasting himself on Haley’s lips.

“You don’t have to…” Haley whispered, remembering how Sinclair had pushed him away.

“I want to,” Sinclair assured him.

Haley smiled in relief and willingly let Sinclair roll them over, settling under the other man with implicit trust. For a long while, they just kissed, content to revel in the feel of each other’s lips and tongue. Sinclair would never get tired of kissing Haley, he decided. The metal rings on his lower lip were cold but warmed under his breath, and every now and then Haley’s tongue stud would click against his teeth, making them both laugh.

Soon, their kisses grew more heated, their hands increasingly impatient. Haley was still fully dressed, but when Sinclair slid a hand under his shirt he felt the other tense up beneath him. He immediately stopped and looked at Haley questioningly.

“Sorry…” Haley murmured. “Just… Not yet.”

Sinclair nodded. “It’s okay.”

“Sorry,” Haley repeated.

“Don’t be.”

As if to make up for it somehow, Haley kicked off his pants and boxers, arching up to grind his bared erection against Sinclair’s hips.

“Take me,” he whispered.

Sinclair fought to control himself. “Are you sure?” he asked deliberately.

Haley licked the curve of Sinclair’s neck, sending shivers down his spine. “Please.”

Sinclair didn’t need to be asked twice.

Haley was willing and eager, his slender, lithe body wrapping around Sinclair’s and pulling him closer than he’d ever thought possible. Sinclair wanted to be gentle, reminding himself of the abuse this boy must have gone through, but Haley would have none of it. His lust was almost feral in its insistence, and despite his best efforts Sinclair found himself giving up to it, too. His whole world narrowed down to the flushed body panting and moaning beneath him, the taste of sweat and skin, the impossibly tight heat that pulled him in, deeper and deeper still, the hushed, strained whimpers for more, more

Haley came with a sharp cry, bucking and twitching as he spilled himself onto the sheets. Sinclair climaxed almost immediately after, biting down on the nape of Haley’s neck with a low growl as he thrust into him. Haley gasped at the unexpected aggression, but didn’t object in the least.

When they fell apart, gasping for breath and soaked with sweat, Sinclair rolled onto his side and pulled Haley to him. Gently, he kissed the other’s neck, his lips softening over the same spot he had bitten minutes before. It was an apology, one that Haley accepted with a quiet laugh and a warm kiss.

Haley didn’t sleep on the spare mattress the next night.

Two weeks later, Sinclair put it away again for good.

“Tell me about your job,” Haley asked one night. The two were sprawled out on top of the tangled sheets, beads of sweat glistening on their skin. The steady hum of the fan droned on in the background.

“What’s to tell? I’m a journalist for an art magazine. The job title’s pretty self-explanatory,” Sinclair replied.

“You’re no fun,” Haley pouted.

“My job is no fun.”

“If you hate it so much, why do you do it?” Haley asked.

“I don’t hate it. And, well…” Sinclair smiled wryly. “I’m no good at anything else.”

“What’s so funny?” Haley asked.

“Long story.”

“We have all night.”

Sinclair sighed and settled into the pillows, patting his chest to invite Haley to lie on it. Despite the heat, the warmth and weight of their bodies was comforting. Haley closed his eyes and listened to Sinclair’s voice contentedly as he relayed the story of the “Julian Key’s incident.”

“That wasn’t fair of them to fire the writer like that,” Haley said huffily afterwards.

“And the editor,” Sinclair reminded him.

“And the editor,” Haley agreed. “I mean… They were in love, weren’t they? The writer and the painter.”

“Who knows?” Sinclair shrugged.

“You wouldn’t risk everything like that writer did unless you were in love.”

“What is love?” Sinclair murmured. “It is the morning and the evening star.”

Haley looked up, wide-eyed. “That’s beautiful. Did you write that?”

“Nope. Different Sinclair.”

“You mean there’s more of you?” Haley joked.

“Sinclair Lewis, first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930,” Sinclair recited. “My parents were geeks.”

“I knew your name was too weird to be made up,” Haley teased.

“Yeah, thanks,” Sinclair snorted.

“What else did your namesake say?”

“Hmm… I used to know a bunch of his quotes,” Sinclair thought aloud. “‘In America, most of us are still afraid of any literature which is not a glorification of everything American…'”

“Is that it?”

“There’s more, but it’s hard to concentrate when you have your hand wrapped around my cock.”

“I’m sorry. Can’t seem to keep my hands off it.”

“So I’ve noticed.”

“It’s a very lovely cock,” Haley said seriously.

“Thank you, kind sir.”

“Does it bother you?”

“Depends on how you define ‘bothered.'”

“In this context, it means ‘extremely horny.'”

“Ah. Then yes, yes it does.”

Haley’s grin could have given the Cheshire cat a run for the money. He planted a playful kiss on Sinclair’s navel as he looked up at the other coyly.

“You would be the end of a lesser man,” Sinclair remarked.

“Luckily for me, I have you to satisfy my insatiable lust,” Haley giggled.

“Harlot,” Sinclair accused, pulling Haley up into a kiss to cut off his mirth as he gently pushed Haley back onto the bed and leaned over him. He ran his hands along Haley’s side distractedly, not really paying any attention until he felt it slip under the other’s shirt. Both of them held their breath, and Sinclair waited for Haley to push him away.

After what seemed like an eternity, Haley moved. Much to Sinclair’s shock, he stripped off his shirt in one smooth motion and let it drop to the floor. In the pale light, Sinclair could make out the scars and fading bruises that littered Haley’s body, and he felt the ache in his chest once more. Cautiously, he reached up to trace the scars, his warm palms spanning across Haley’s slender chest. He couldn’t help but stare at the odd pattern of most of the scars. The dark, circular markings were disturbingly familiar, but he couldn’t quite place them.

As if reading his mind, Haley placed his hands over Sinclair’s and squeezed them gently. He hesitated, considering his words for a long while.

“I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes,” he finally said softly. Sinclair remained silent despite the seeming irrelevance of the statement, sensing the importance of Haley’s words.

“My father was a chain smoker,” Haley went on. “He drank a lot, too. He wasn’t exactly a happy drunk.”

Sinclair’s eyes widened with growing realization and horror.

“To him, I was no more than an ashtray,” Haley said simply with a lop-sided smile and a shrug.

The silence that settled over the room was almost suffocating, and Sinclair felt a desperate need to say something – anything

Without a word, he bent down and began to kiss each scar, pressing his lips against the marred skin tenderly. Haley lay perfectly still, not wanting to interrupt this strange and sudden ceremony. When it was finally over, Sinclair gathered Haley in his arms and kissed his temple, holding him close.

“Never again,” he whispered fiercely. “Never again.”

But it was Haley who rubbed Sinclair’s back soothingly, trying to comfort him as he held the other’s trembling frame and crooned in his ear, smiling despite the tears that sprang unbidden.

“It’s okay… It’s okay,” he hushed. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

—–

あとがき / Author’s Notes
My stories have a habit of never turning out the way I’d originally intended, and this one is no different XD; I didn’t think I’d make this month’s issue, but at the last minute I decided I’d go ahead and do my best. To hell with real life responsibilities! XD

I had to write this whole story by hand, which was a big challenge since I type much faster than I write. And I don’t write chronologically, either, so not having a copy & paste option (or a delete button) was a bit frustrating XD;; I also wrote this whole thing in about four days, so if it feels rushed or if there are any mistakes, I’m sorry ;3; Now you know why ^^;

Thank you! Always, always~

♥ Shuua

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