Code of Conduct

by Kikuna Matata (菊菜瞬)


This starts with Ozzie, with his hands wrapped around Luke’s wrists, Ozzie’s knuckles pressed into the wall.

* * *

Ozzie sips his coffee while Harrison talks. Harrison talks a lot, but not in a dick way. He just has a lot to say. He’s on the army tonight, and all his stories start, “When I was in the army,” meander through a number of good-hearted and pragmatic old-man-musings on wisdom and common sense, and then end, “Everyone should spend some time in the army. You ever think about joining up, Gonzales?”

“No,” Ozzie says.

Harrison looks at him, and maybe Harrison’s starting to put it together, because Ozzie takes another sip of coffee, and then Harrison says, “You’re–you just turned twenty-one, didn’t you?”

Ozzie nods. It’d been seven different kinds of a pain in the ass, but Melissa in HR had helped him get office work until he’d qualified and hadn’t even given him hell about his admittedly impossible schedule.

“So it’s not too late, then,” Harrison says. It comes out a little stiff, but then Harrison adds, “Not too late at all,” and that time it sounds more normal.

“Well–Angela,” Ozzie reminds him, shrugging.

“Right.” Harrison clears his throat again, then adds, “Yeah, and–and besides, you don’t really need it anyway,” Harrison says, which Ozzie’s pretty sure is a compliment.

It’s a Friday night, which means they’ll probably spend the first three hours or so doing fuck-all and the rest of the night dealing with stoned kids and drunks, which is never Ozzie’s favorite thing to do. The upside is, as always, that Angela knows he’s out, so she’ll stay in, because nothing ruins your weekend as fast as getting busted by your brother. Ozzie gives small thanks for that. The night plays out pretty much the way Ozzie’s expecting, except that just when they’re heading back home, a kid on a bike weaves into the path of the headlights, and Harrison sucks in a breath– “Motherf–” and slams on the brakes, swerving hard to the right and just about putting them into a tree.

Ozzie doesn’t really put it all together at the time. What he does process is, blond, and then plaid, and then bike and car almost simultaneously, and then his inner ear does backflips and his heart is pounding and his mouth is dry and he’s staring at a tree–a tree! Hello, tree!–and then he’s following Harrison out of the car as his brain narrates it back in a way that makes sense and then informs him, Shit, Luke, and Harrison almost hit him, and then Jesus fuck, what’s he doing riding his bike this high?

The thing about being a cop that will never feel right to Ozzie is how fast he’s expected to make decisions. Harrison’s already got Luke up to his feet, and Ozzie steps over the spinning front wheel of Kev’s old BMX and says, “Harrison–is he–” as Luke is blinking eyes blown dark and wide as he smiles at Ozzie and says, “Hey, cocksucker.”

“Jesus, shut up, Luke,” Ozzie snaps, because Harrison’s already mustering up thirty or forty really choice words to reply to that and Ozzie doesn’t want to find out if he’d follow it up with a fist. Ozzie puts his palm on Harrison’s wrist, saying, “He–he’s my best friend’s brother, Harrison, he’s just an idiot, it’s not a big deal,” and Harrison settles back down again. Luke reeks of weed and booze and he’s mud all down one side of his jeans, but he’s eyeing Ozzie through narrowed, contemplative eyes, like Ozzie might do a trick.

Harrison clears his throat, then asks, “You still in school, son?” because he always does that when he has to talk to kids, like he’s stepped straight out of some fifties movie where gang wars are mostly about who’s got the best dance moves and the ladies all have tits like torpedoes.

“Yessir,” Luke says, in a tone like he’s actually trying to get punched. “I am a senior at Santa Su.”

“Hm.” Harrison straightens, then looks at Ozzie. Ozzie’s not entirely certain what Harrison sees, but Harrison just turns back to Luke and says, “All right, let’s get you home,” and then escorts him over to the back of the car. For his part, Ozzie gets Luke’s bike up, checks it over, and then tucks it in behind a bush and hopes it’ll still be there in the morning. Luke’s always forgetting his lock.

In the car, Ozzie gives Harrison directions. It’s been a while since Ozzie’s been over but he doesn’t think he’s in danger of forgetting the way. There’s a light on in the kitchen–the one over the sink, Ozzie’s brain reminds him. Low wattage. They always leave it on at night. Harrison puts on the parking brake.

“You all right to escort him in?” Harrison asks, and Ozzie startles, looks over at him.

“Yeah,” Luke says, and then laughs. “Come on, Officer. Walk me in.”

“Right,” Ozzie says, and then licks his lips.

“I’m happy to come if you think that he might be dangerous,” Harrison says, and Ozzie’s not an idiot, he knows what Harrison is doing, but he appreciates that Harrison thinks Ozzie might need it to be subtle.

“No, I can handle him,” Ozzie says, and gets out, opens Luke’s door

“Gonna cuff me?” Luke asks, holding up his hands.

“Shut up,” Ozzie says quietly, and takes him by the wrist.

Luke tells him, “Harder,” and Ozzie says, “Shut up,” under his breath, and then closes the car door and walks Luke up to the front.

The key’s still under the rock in the planter. “Anyone going to be home?” Ozzie asks, unlocking the door.

“No,” Luke says, and without Harrison for an audience his voice has gone quiet, dropped a note or two.

“You’re a fucking idiot, you know that, right?” Ozzie says, bolting the front door behind them and turning on the living room light. He checks Luke’s pockets, relieves him of his weed and his pipe, a flask of– “Jesus,” Ozzie says, coughing. “This smells like WD-40.”

“Lil’s home brew,” Luke says, and drops down on the edge of the couch, slides down to his knees on the floor, his head tipped back against the faux leather cushions.

“Christ, Luke.” Ozzie rubs at his face and sighs. After a moment, he manages to ask, “Anything else?”

“Not really,” Luke says, looking up at the ceiling.

Luke,” Ozzie says, sharp.

“Nah, just.” Luke straightens up his spine, shrugs his shoulders, looks over at Ozzie. “Bourbon, vodka, cheap ass rum. You know. The usual. I can keep my hands to myself, though, if you ask me to.”

His face is open and innocent, just shy of sweet. Ozzie doesn’t believe in him for a second.

“Please do,” Ozzie says, then gets him a glass of water and two Advil from the bathroom cabinet and sets them down on the coffee table.

Luke grabs Ozzie’s wrist and looks up at him. Ozzie stills.

After an instant, Luke’s face shifts, his expression turning inside-out again, and then he’s narrowing cat-green eyes at Ozzie and murmuring, “My birthday’s in three weeks, you know,” and Ozzie yanks his wrist free and says, “Yeah, I know. And what then, huh?”

Luke’s mouth tightens, and Ozzie shakes his head.

“They only let you get away with this shit because you’re seventeen and you’re white and you’re pretty,” Ozzie says, sharp. “At least one of those things isn’t going to be true forever.”

Luke looks down at the table. After a second he grabs the Advil, swallows them dry, opens his mouth to show Ozzie, and then drinks half the water in three long, steady gulps.

Ozzie straightens up, resets his shoulders. He locks the door on his way out. He tucks the key back under the rock, and when Harrison asks him how it went he says, “Fine,” and doesn’t think about whether or not it’s a lie.

* * *

Here’s what Ozzie thought he’d be doing at twenty-one: taking the LSATs. Finishing his applications. Writing papers. Getting drunk on Fridays but not Saturdays, because two nights in a row was always pushing it for him. Sleeping in on weekends, waking up in an apartment, maybe in that building off Vincennes where Katie and Sam lived, maybe with an arm around his waist; standing in the kitchen waiting for the coffee, maybe with someone else’s stubble rubbing against his chin.

Instead Ozzie’s back home, sleeping in his old twin bed with Star Wars sheets, and his sex life consists of masturbating with his desk chair shoved under the door handle, furiously quick and utterly silent. He gets up earlier than he wants to seven days a week and never seems to have enough coffee. Monday through Friday, he drives his sister to school before errands or work, and he always picks up any overtime the police department can actually throw his way. He hasn’t gotten laid in a year, hasn’t been kissed in eight months, hasn’t had a drink since the funeral, and these days the possibility that he might ever make it to law school feels like a fever dream. Ozzie’s out to exactly two people he sees on a regular basis, three if he counts that Harrison’s maybe figuring it out, which he doesn’t, and he has to carry a gun for work, and he can’t ever get to get his sister to do her homework without smashed dishes or a noise complaint from Mrs. Becker next door or Angela trying to knee him in the balls.

Some days Ozzie feels like screaming or putting his fist through the wall, because a year ago, he’d thought he’d done his time: four years in high school taking every AP course he could, another two terms of maximum load at Moorpark to qualify for junior transfer, getting out with straight A’s and five letters of recommendation (all glowing), even though CSUN only required three. Ozzie spent the first two and a half years of his adult life working thirty hours a week in secret to keep his mom from making good on her threats to take out a second mortgage, and still turned twenty-one with seventeen dollars in his savings account and what very well may prove to be a terminal three-quarters of a bachelor’s degree. Ozzie loves his sister, and he loved his mom, and he knows what Harrison thinks everyone should learn in the army: that sometimes you have to just take what you’re dealt and play the hand out, even if everyone else at the table is holding straights and flushes and you’re playing on a pair of threes. It doesn’t make Ozzie resent it any less. Ozzie wakes up on Saturday six hours after he got home from work, pours himself a bowl of cereal dry because they’ve been out of milk since Thursday, writes out the checks to pay the power and gas bills, showers and cuts himself shaving, then bangs on Angela’s door until she shuffles out with bedhead and a furious expression, like he is her fault, but he isn’t and she knows it, so he doesn’t act like he notices a thing.

“Library opens at noon,” Ozzie reminds her. “Get moving.”

* * *

After he drops Angela off at the library he stops at the store. He buys milk, cereal, coffee, pasta, oranges, frozen spinach, dried beans, brown rice; chicken breasts, because they’re on sale; and two bottles of Sriracha, because he has a coupon, and he and Angela both put it on everything. He heads home and puts the groceries away and makes himself a cup of coffee, even though he usually tries to leave theirs for Angela, since she doesn’t get free coffee at work; and then, irrationally, cheeks burning, he brushes his teeth. Then he gets back in his car and drives around the corner, even though he could walk in less time than it takes him to park, because he doesn’t want to have to walk back. Then he goes up and knocks, and when, predictably, no one answers, he takes the key out from under the rock in the planter and lets himself in.

Luke’s on the sofa, still, right where Ozzie left him, but he’s awake, just barely, twisting up with his hair falling in his face and lines from the sofa pressed into his cheek and his mom’s crocheted orange afghan pulled up to his shoulders. His feet are bare.

Ozzie tucks his hands into the pockets of his jacket, and leans back against the door.

“Want a ride to your bike?” he asks, quiet.

Luke rubs at his face. “Did you bring me home last night?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Ozzie says, and then, because Luke might misunderstand, “in a squad car.”

Luke’s breath catches. “Can’t have people getting the wrong idea,” he says. His voice breaks, near the end.

Ozzie doesn’t say anything. There’s no point. They’ve had this fight before.

Luke rubs at his face again. “Can I shower, first?” he says.

“Yeah,” Ozzie says, quiet. “Hung over?”

“Like death,” Luke admits.

“I’ll make you some coffee,” Ozzie says, and shucks off his jacket, hangs it up on Kev’s hook, behind the door.

In the kitchen, nothing’s changed. Ozzie knows where to find the coffee, the filters, the mugs. There’s almost nothing in the fridge, but Mrs. Kilpatrick’s always worked Tuesday through Saturday; back in middle school, he and Kev and Luke used to play video games together while she did the shopping on Sundays, which Kev always called “babysitting” and Luke always called “taking valuable time out of my busy social calendar to hang out with you dumb fucks,” which always made Ozzie laugh.

Luke puts his hand on Ozzie’s side and Ozzie–Ozzie can’t–just this once, he doesn’t pull back, even though he should, even though he has to. He lets Luke stand too close to him and breathes in. Luke still smells like the watermelon kids’ shampoo he’s used since forever and toothpaste and Tide. Ozzie remembers that smell from his Star Wars sheets. Ozzie has never, not for one second, not in three years, stopped wanting to touch him.

Ozzie clears his throat and pours Luke a mug of coffee and Luke takes it and sets it on the counter and takes a step closer and Ozzie doesn’t pull back, just this once. Luke whispers, very low, “How’s the closet?” and Ozzie can feel his mouth twist up and he says, once, just this once, “Fucking awful,” and for one second, just this once, Luke isn’t angry with him; just this once, just for a second, Luke is his friend, and he whispers, “Jesus, Oz,” and slings his arm around Ozzie’s shoulders, and just this once, just for a second, Ozzie takes a breath and leans in and presses his face into Luke’s shoulder.

Luke slides his other arm around Ozzie’s waist, and presses his face into Ozzie’s hair. They’re the same height, now. Nothing inside Ozzie’s body is the right shape, anymore. His throat hurts.

“I miss you,” Ozzie tells him, which is hollow and pointless and not his words to begin with, but Luke’s breath hitches anyway.

* * *

In the car, Luke is quiet. He’d poured the rest of the coffee into a travel mug, and he’s holding onto it like it’s the only true thing in the world. His hair is drying into duck curls at the ends, which Ozzie finds almost painfully endearing.

“How’s your mom?” Ozzie asks.

Luke shrugs. “Busy,” he says.

Ozzie nods. “How’s school?” he asks.

Luke turns towards him. “Seriously?” he asks, flat.

“Well, what the fuck am I supposed to ask you?” Ozzie says. He flips on his turn signal, probably a little more violently than necessary.

“Ask me if I have a boyfriend,” Luke says.

“I know you don’t have a boyfriend,” Ozzie says, very quietly.

“Ask me who I’m fucking, then,” Luke says, and Ozzie says, “If you’re fucking someone I don’t want to know about it,” teeth gritted.

Luke exhales and looks out the window. He says, “I’m not fucking anyone.”

Ozzie drums his hands on the steering wheel. When the light changes, he turns left.

“I want to,” Luke says. His voice is raw. “You–you have no idea, you have no fucking idea–”

“Are you seriously–Jesus, Luke, I live alone with my sister,” Ozzie says. “I’m her legal guardian, so I’m responsible for making sure she gets to eighteen alive, and if you really seriously think that if I was bringing people back to the house she wouldn’t–”

“I want to want to,” Luke says, and then gasps, and turns his head again, resting his hand over his eyes, and Ozzie stops, and swallows.

It’s four more blocks, before they hit another red light.

“Do you honestly think,” Ozzie says, very quietly, “that anything–that anything I said to you, anything in that, wasn’t entirely and completely true?”

Luke doesn’t answer.

His bike is still in the bushes, but it takes them a while to find it.

* * *

Ozzie is working first shift on Sunday, so he takes a nap before he picks Angela up from the library. They make dinner together, chicken and pasta, the last of the carrots Ozzie bought last weekend. Angela is quiet, and sometimes her breath hitches, and Ozzie makes a point of touching her, his hand on her shoulder, her wrist, her hair. He’d give her a hug if he thought she wouldn’t break his face for trying. Angela is angry all the time, these days. Ozzie doesn’t exactly blame her.

He intends to take another nap after dinner, but his cell phone rings as he’s shucking off his jeans: Harrison.

“Hey,” Ozzie says, already scrambling for his uniform. “Do you need–”

“Your friend–from last night,” Harrison says, and Ozzie stops, heart pounding. He supposes, later, that everything that runs through his head–car crash, bike accident, gunshot wound, drowning, OD–he supposes it’s all to be expected, contextually speaking, but it’s still agonizing in the moment, so painful that when Harrison says, “I left notes for Boorman and Perez to call me if they picked him up, and, well,” Ozzie gasps, like surfacing from water.

Ozzie swallows, tries to get himself under control. After a second, he manages, “Did they write him up?”

“No,” Harrison says, and then sighs. “Not yet, but–look, Gonzales, I hate to give you the old guy speech but all we really want is for kids your age to stay out of trouble. If you think it will do him any good, I’ll call Perez back and tell him to go ahead, but I’d rather hand him off to you if you think you can talk any sense into him. Perez wants to call his mom, but–”

“She’s working,” Ozzie says, and then swallows again. He asks, “What if I can’t talk any sense into him?”

“Then the next time he gets picked up we’ll write him up.” Harrison sounds tired.

Ozzie reaches for his jeans again. “I’ll call Perez,” he says. “And–thanks, Harrison.”

“I’m not doing it again,” Harrison tells him. “I’m out with my wife. I had to call you from the john.”

“Then get off the damn phone and go back to your wife,” Ozzie tells him, and Harrison laughs, a little, and hangs up.

* * *

The only thing Ozzie says to Luke when he picks him up is, “Well, at least you weren’t on your bike this time.”

Luke, for his part, doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say anything in Ozzie’s car, either, or when Ozzie’s walking him up to his house, unlocking the door with the key from under the rock in the planter, but as soon as Ozzie gets the door locked Luke’s backed him up against it, which is absurd, because Ozzie’s never been a dainty guy, and also, he could actually, literally, break Luke in about three places, professionally speaking. But Luke backs him up against the door and stands all up in Ozzie’s space, smelling like pot and whiskey and breathing a little too hard, and he still doesn’t say anything, so Ozzie asks him, very quietly, “When are you going to stop fucking up?”

“I don’t know,” Luke says, soft. “When are you going to stop breathing?”

“Not for a while, I hope,” Ozzie says, and then, his heart speeding up, “You’re about to turn eighteen.”

“Right,” Luke says. “And that will make everything better.”

Ozzie licks his lips and watches him.

Luke watches him back, mouth tight.

“I meant it,” Ozzie tells him. “I meant–I meant every word, it wasn’t an excuse, it wasn’t–”

“And my decisions don’t count,” Luke says, and Ozzie nods, and nods, and says, “Yeah, I–yeah, that’s exactly what it means, Luke, that’s what being an adult means, that’s what it means, to say that minors can’t consent, it means that–”

“You treated me like a kid,” Luke says, voice skipping up. “You–you’ve known me for thirteen fucking years, and you waited until I was fifteen to treat me like a kid, you–”

“But you were a kid,” Ozzie interrupts, and then laughs, and then shakes his head. “You are a kid.”

“You don’t believe that.” Luke is so close that Ozzie can taste the pot smell, which is unpleasant, which Ozzie would not have predicted. “You–you never believed that, you never treated me like–”

“Luke,” Ozzie says, very quietly, and Luke stops, and steps back, and shakes his head.

“You are the only person,” Luke says, under his breath, “who would think that anything we could do at eighteen and fifteen would be more wrong than anything we did at seventeen and fourteen.”

Ozzie crosses his arms over his chest.

“I’m the only person I know how to be,” he says, very quietly.

* * *

Ozzie leaves Luke sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands and his skin untouched, with water and two Advil sitting on the coffee table beside him. Ozzie says, This is the last time, this is the last time, Luke, this is the last time I’ll step in for you, even though it isn’t true, and then gets in his car and drives home and then sits with his phone in his hands and sends four of the sorts of text messages he’ll regret by daylight: You act like I broke up with you because I wanted to, and, Did you somehow miss, when I was telling you that I’d wanted to be a lawyer since before I could spell it, that I think the law is kind of important? and, I don’t have a lot of choices but that makes the ones I DO have important, and then, at the very end, I almost wish I had met you a month from now, but then you wouldn’t be Kev’s brother and then I don’t know who you’d be at all.

Luke replies in his usual concise fashion: dick and then yr a dick and then A TINY LIMP DICK and then, at the end, nothing at all.

The problem. The heart of the problem is that Ozzie hasn’t forgotten anything. Ozzie remembers being seventeen, drunk on the patio at a party when Kev’s mom was out of town, sitting settled into himself and watching the sky. When Ozzie was a little kid, Simi had still been empty enough that Ozzie could make out the Milky Way on clear nights from Kev’s backyard, back when he and Kev still had camp-outs with Kev’s sleeping bag under bare sky and stayed out until the coyotes came down out of the hills close enough that they heard them sniffling, yipping at each other, instead of distant howls. But by seventeen Ozzie just got scattered stars and the muted plummy blur of the night sky through light pollution, and Luke, watching him, leaning against the metal support of the awning.

Ozzie isn’t completely clear on a lot of things, but he remembers looking at Luke that night and knowing, just knowing, and that’s–that’s the thing he’s had trouble with, since then, that he could look at Luke when he was seventeen and Luke was fourteen and know: Him, in the same way that at ten he knew that his dad wasn’t coming back, whatever his parents told him; in the same way that at four he had known that the funny-looking, squashed-up baby in his mom’s arms was going to be forever important and never, ever easy. Angela has been critically important and she hasn’t ever been easy and his dad didn’t come back, and Ozzie can still call up Luke’s face, serious in the way love makes you when it’s new and dangerous, and feel all his internal machinery reorganizing itself to make room. Ozzie’s memories are onion-layered: he remembers watching Luke watch him, and he remembers that as Luke watched him he was remembering Luke showing him how to skateboard when Luke was nine and Kev was being a dick about Ozzie’s perpetual clumsiness, his heavy arms, the way he got winded when he ran. Ozzie remembers remembering Luke, very patiently and very ridiculously, standing next to the board and holding Ozzie’s hand to steady him, even though at twelve Ozzie was already two clear handspans taller than him; he remembers remembering that Luke teased him, but not enough to make Ozzie want to give up; and he remembers remembering that at the end Luke had said, I don’t know why you’re worried, you’ve got this, and never brought it up again, so that Kev always thought that skateboarding was the one physical activity at which Ozzie was just a natural. Ozzie remembers remembering years upon years of Luke as the infinitely dismissable younger brother that Ozzie had never actually dismissed, the contemporary of Ozzie’s obnoxious kid sister that Ozzie had always thought of as a friend; and Ozzie remembers, at that moment, at seventeen, on Kev’s patio, thinking: Him, and if Ozzie remembers it for too long it still rips free inside his chest and falls, that sudden and certain knowledge, heavy, sinking through him in waves, like a stone in water.

Him, Ozzie thinks, and folds his elbow up over his eyes, because that’s what hurts, that’s still what fucking destroys him, that after three years of mistakes and missed connections and horrible choices and fucking funerals, Ozzie’s heart still sees Luke, this skinny blond kid who never met a bad decision he didn’t want to be his best friend, and whispers: Him. Him. Him.

* * *

On Sunday, Ozzie works first shift; daytime shifts Monday through Thursday; and then on Friday, before he and Harrison go out for another rousing evening breaking up parties and picking up drunks and fuckups, he snags an office shift for Becky, like he’s still too young for his badge, because he wants, stupidly, for Angela to be able to go to prom.

Angela cares fuck-all about prom and he knows it, but Ozzie went to prom and it was stupid, but he still has the world’s awkwardest photo of him and Sandra, standing front to back, in a horrible rented tux and an unflattering blue dress, respectively: Santa Susana High School’s Requisite Homosexuals Not Actually Fooling Anyone, Class of 2009. It’s framed, sitting on top of his dresser, and it still makes him laugh, even though it makes his chest hurt. He has an actual print album, too, with actual print photos, crammed with all the shots of Kev and Hannah and John and Sandra and Maria and Vincent and Becker and everyone from that last year. He doesn’t look at it, because he doesn’t actually need to make himself feel bad–most of the time it just happens on its own–but sometimes Hannah will text him from San Diego: do u remember–, and he likes to know that he still has that album for when everything awful inside him subsides enough that he can stand to look at it again.

On Friday, Ozzie goes through his shift with his throat clenched, but Luke doesn’t turn up, though it’s still not a good night: Ozzie gets puked on by a drunk, and then, later, spends a pretty miserable half-hour on a public disturbance call loudly repeating, “Ma’am, I don’t speak Spanish,” over and over again, because she’s talking way too fast for him to even begin to piece it together. Luke doesn’t turn up on Saturday, either, even though they break up a party at Carrie Baker’s, and Carrie’s been Luke’s friend since kindergarten. If I was going to kiss a girl, Luke had told him once, rubbing his hair on Ozzie’s pillow, it would be her. But Luke’s not at her house, and it’s been a long time since Ozzie’s Star Wars sheets smelled like watermelon shampoo, and Harrison gives a lot of lectures with “son” and “young lady” in them and Carrie and Nas and Tim and Pete and all the rest of them look at Ozzie like he’s turned into an alien, which, maybe he kind of has.

On Sunday Ozzie goes to church, mostly for the quiet.

On Monday afternoon, he’s just getting out of the shower when gets a text, r u working, and since it’s the first time in quite a while (seven months, three weeks, two days, not that he’s counting) that Luke’s contacted him without prompting, he doesn’t text back. He calls. Luke picks up on the second ring and says, “Hey,” and his voice sounds thick, wrong in ways that make Ozzie want to start throwing punches again.

“No,” Ozzie says, and Luke says, “What?” and Ozzie says, “I’m not working, I got off at four–I just got out of the shower,” and Luke is quiet for just long enough that Ozzie braces himself for the inevitable pairing of an innuendo and an insult, but all Luke says is, “I kind of need a ride,” and then takes a breath, and Ozzie’s yanking on his jeans without boxers and saying, “Where are you? Are you–you sound bad,” and Luke takes another one of those awful breaths and says, “I’m at school, I’m–I’m in the library,” and Ozzie says, “Christ,” and grabs his keys, because shit has to be bad for Luke Kilpatrick to step into a library anything like voluntarily.

It takes him seventeen minutes to get to Santa Susana. Angela goes to Marisol’s house on Mondays, as soon as her last class gets out, which means that there’s no one on campus that Ozzie can enlist, which means that the whole goddamned time Ozzie’s driving, Luke’s in the library by himself, and also that Ozzie doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the three or four kids still hanging around who recognize him look away fast. Ozzie might think it was funny, under other circumstances, but it’s not like he’s out at work, so it isn’t really funny at all. Ozzie texts Luke while he’s walking, so that when he gets to the library, Luke’s just stepping out, his backpack slung over one shoulder, hips loose, shoulders held at an angle that almost, but not quite, makes him look like a badass motherfucking punk who won’t take shit from anyone and probably carries a knife, instead of a one-hundred-and-thirty-pound gringo fag who likes MarioKart and classical guitar.

Luke raises an eyebrow at Ozzie, fumbling in his pocket. He tucks a cigarette in his mouth, cups his hands around it to light it.

“You do these things like I don’t know you’re fucking with me,” Ozzie tells him, grabbing Luke’s cigarette. He tosses it, stomps it out. “Get in the car, dumbass,” he says, but Luke isn’t completely idiotic, so he does it.

* * *

“Who is it?” Ozzie asks, five minutes down the road. “Whoever’s fucking with you–”

“Oh look, it’s the fuzz,” Luke says, and then sighs. “That didn’t take long.”

“Once you call me to come pick you up at school because you’re hiding in the library,” Ozzie says, through gritted teeth, “I think that is a question I get to ask.”

“Next time you should come in uniform,” Luke tells him, nudging his voice up a step and a half. Ozzie’s brain says, lisp, next, and sure enough, there it is, as Luke says, “Seems like you could just turn up in uniform and scare all the big bad bullies into leaving me alone.”

Ozzie licks his lips, rests his wrist on the steering wheel. “If you thought for one second it’d help, I’d do it,” he says, and Luke sighs and drops his head back against the headrest and says, “Can you just–can you just be, just for a second, can you just be my friend, and not–not a fucking cop, not–”

“If you think I object to people pushing you around because I’m a cop, you have really no idea how I feel about–” Ozzie stops, swallows. “About anything,” he finishes.

He knows it’s weak. That’s not the point.

Two blocks later, Luke says, very softly, “I’m sorry.”

Ozzie swallows, shakes his head.

“I mean,” Luke says, “after–after your mom, and then–Kevin–”

“Not your fault,” Ozzie says, very quietly.

“He should’ve.” Luke swallows, then sighs, and drops his head back against the headrest. He says, quietly, “He should’ve been around.”

Ozzie’s chest hurts. “Not your fault,” he repeats, because in this–in all of this, he–that is not something he is angry with Luke for. Some things, yeah. But not that.

Luke doesn’t say anything else until they get to his house. Ozzie walks him in, possibly out of habit. More likely because Luke is, as always, Luke–and to be honest, Ozzie’s not great at making good decisions, either, so Ozzie’s not even sure they get the door closed before they’re kissing. Ozzie hasn’t kissed Luke in eight months; and before that, another four; then two before that; which was right after the month where Ozzie’s mom died and Ozzie’s life turned completely upside-down and Luke was with him every second after not quite a year of keeping their relationship so G-rated they could’ve shown it to their grandmothers. But then Ozzie’s mom died, and Luke gave him a month hovering somewhere around PG-13, but then there was Kev, and then two months, and then the four, before the eight, and then now. Luke probably didn’t shower before school. He smells amazing.

“Stop,” Ozzie tells him, eventually, but it’s probably not very convincing, not with his hands knotted in Luke’s hair or his mouth on Luke’s jaw or his hard-on pressing into Luke’s hip. Luke fights dirty, because he’s always had to, and kisses dirty because that is just the mouth God gave him. Ozzie pulls back but he can’t pull back so he buries his face in Luke’s throat, and licks the notch between his collarbones, because it’s handy. Luke’s pushing against his hip, hard through his jeans, and breathing hot and damp against Ozzie’s ear.

“I really can’t do this,” Ozzie tells Luke’s throat.

“You want to,” Luke tells him, and Ozzie says, “I’ve always fucking wanted to, if you thought I didn’t want to, you were–you were really not paying attention.”

“I want you to,” Luke says, as Ozzie pulls up out of his neck and Ozzie says, “Can’t–Jesus, we–we made it for three goddamned years–”

“Eight months,” Luke corrects and Ozzie hunches his shoulders and says, “I’m talking about the–the–”

“The fucking?” Luke asks.

Ozzie nods.

“All right, three years,” Luke says. “Fine. You want to make this all official, good on paper? Fine. Eight days, no orgasms with a buddy. I can do that. It’s not like anyone’s just lining up anyway. Anything else?”

Ozzie licks his lips. “In–in college,” he says, very awkwardly, and Luke sucks down a breath and says, quietly, “I really, really do not want to know.”

Ozzie swallows. “All right,” he says, and Luke says, “All right,” then tugs at Ozzie’s jeans and Ozzie steps forward and puts his arms around Luke’s middle and puts his mouth on Luke’s mouth and kisses him and kisses him and kisses him, until Luke pulls back, breathing hard and saying, “Fuck, I–fuck, okay, you need to–” and Ozzie says, “Yeah, no, yeah, I should definitely,” and half falls out the door, trying not to think about Luke going back into his room–no, Jesus, Luke probably wouldn’t even go to his room, not with his mom at work for hours, still, he probably just got the door closed behind Ozzie’s back and put his back against it, his weight against it, then stuffed his hand down his pants, and wrapped his hand around his cock and jerked himself off, thinking about Ozzie driving home so hard he can barely sit up straight and stumbling into his room and tucking the chair under the door handle and dropping down to his knees on the carpet, putting his hand into his pants thinking about Luke thinking about him and Jesus, eight days, eight fucking days, these are going to be the longest eight days of Ozzie’s life.

* * *

Ozzie always has Tuesday off. Usually he tries to tidy up, do his washing, catch up on sleep. Sometimes he picks up an office shift for the overtime, when Melissa can work it out for him. This week he mostly jerks off.

He texts Luke near the end of the schoolday, and then, feeling guilty, Angela, too; Angela, predictably, doesn’t want a ride, but Luke doesn’t turn him down, so Ozzie drives up in his battered blue Civic feeling weird and out of place. He manages to be unbelievably self-conscious about how he’s probably the youngest driver waiting to pick up a student, while also feeling like a complete and total pervert because he’s surrounded by parents picking up kids, while he is there to pick up his underaged gay boyfriend–makeout partner–person. Luke drops into his passenger seat seven minutes after Ozzie pulls up and Ozzie tears out of the parking lot, and then breaks the speed limit two streets in a row.

“You’re speeding,” Luke tells him, and Ozzie says, “Fuck you,” but backs off, cracks his neck, shrugs his shoulders.

“You feel like a creep, don’t you,” Luke says.

“Yep,” Ozzie says.

“Something like half the girls in the sophomore class go out with boys from Moorpark,” Luke reminds him. “You do remember that, right?”

Ozzie does, so he doesn’t answer.

“Well, thanks for the ride,” Luke says, and then sighs. “I am disappointed you’re not wearing the uniform, though.”

“You like the uniform,” Ozzie says, mouth twisting up.

“Yeah, you know,” Luke says. “Me and basically the entire gay-porn-consuming population of America, so.”

“Right,” Ozzie says. “Don’t watch porn.”

“Oh, sure, yeah, definitely.” Luke puts his feet up on the dashboard. “I never watch porn. Porn? What? I’m not even eighteen.”

At the next light, Ozzie puts his head on the steering wheel and laughs until tears leak out of the corners of his eyes.

Three hours later Ozzie’s on his back on Luke’s sofa and kissing Luke helplessly while Luke makes what Ozzie actually is pretty certain is a good faith effort to not grind against him, panting into Ozzie’s throat, and Ozzie’s so turned on he sees sparks when Luke finally groans and stumbles up to his feet and says, “I need–bathroom–” and stumbles off, so that Ozzie ends up jerking off on Luke’s couch while simultaneously horrified at himself–Mrs. Kilpatrick’s crocheted afghan is watching him! There are baby pictures on the wall!–and brutally realistic about the likelihood of him and Luke making it another seven minutes, let alone seven days, without blowjobs if they both stay this turned on. He comes biting his lip so hard he tastes blood and mops up with the Kleenex from the box on the coffee table and then washes his hands at the kitchen sink. When he turns around Luke is watching him, pink all across his cheeks. Ozzie digs his hands into his pockets and says, “So,” and Luke says, “Do you want to play MarioKart?” so they play MarioKart.

* * *

On Wednesday and Thursday, Ozzie works regular people hours, more or less. On Wednesday, Luke walks home; on Thursday, he doesn’t go to school.

“I’m pretty sure I’m legally and morally obligated to tell you to not ditch school,” Ozzie says awkwardly, with the phone tucked in between his ear and his shoulder while he stirs the green beans.

“Nah, don’t worry,” Luke tells him. “My mom’s got that lecture covered.” Luke’s a little breathless. Ozzie doesn’t ask, because if he doesn’t ask he won’t know and then he is totally not at all responsible for or involved in anything Luke is or is not doing in his bedroom at the other end of the line, just a block and a half away, with his feet pressed into his mattress and his hips canting up and–yeah, no, okay, Ozzie’s definitely a pervert.

* * *

The weekend is godawful. Ozzie works nights, so Angela stays in. The only problem is that Luke does too, and spends his time fruitfully filling Ozzie’s phone with text messages that would never be even a little bit suggestive unless Ozzie was the person whose mind was filling in the blanks, which he is.

found my old superman shirt, Luke tells him helpfully. Ozzie remembers that shirt. Luke had that shirt when he was, like, eight years old. It probably doesn’t even come down to his bellybutton now. its really soft, think ill sleep in it, Luke adds, and Ozzie buries his face in his hands.

* * *

On Sunday Ozzie goes to church. Angela gives him a look on his way out, and again on his way back in.

“That doesn’t feel at all hypocritical to you,” she says from the sofa, which may be the first even remotely civil thing she’s said to him in a month.

“I like church,” Ozzie tells her. He’s changed into his pajama bottoms, snagged a bowl full of cereal. “Mom liked church,” he adds, dropping down next to her, because that’s–

Angela puts her hand down on his arm.

“Mom wouldn’t have cared,” she says, very low, and meets his eyes. “I don’t care, and Mom wouldn’t have cared. Not even a little.”

Ozzie opens his mouth, and then closes it again.

“You don’t have to go,” Angela tells him. “You don’t have to be that person. She wouldn’t have cared.”

Ozzie stares at her, and then his mouth pulls, at the corner.

“I like church,” he repeats, very gently, and then reaches up, and puts his hand over her wrist. “Really, Angela. I’m not–I actually like going to church. I go to church because it’s something that I like to do.” He licks his lips, and adds, very quietly, “And because Mom liked church, and I feel close to her, there.”

Angela is watching him with that same furiously intent expression, but she swallows, finally, and then nods, and goes back to ignoring him, probably for another month.

* * *

On Monday, Luke goes to school, because he thinks he has a test, which he is pretty sure is in math.

“Pretty sure,” Ozzie says, flat, into his phone, and Luke hums at him and says, “It’s not like all of us can be destined for intellectual greatness,” and Ozzie says, “You would be way less annoying if you were anywhere near as dumb as you think you are,” and Luke laughs.

While Luke is at school, maybe having a test, probably in math, Ozzie is on patrol, out with Harrison, and also basically completely useless.

“You all right?” Harrison asks him, at lunch. “You seem–distracted.”

Ozzie swallows. He can’t very well tell Harrison the truth. Somehow my underaged boyfriend is about to not be underaged anymore and all of my plans for my day off are pornographic is just–just really not something he can say to Harrison.

Except that Harrison is maybe figuring part of it out, and Harrison’s really pretty okay, for an old dude, so Ozzie takes another gulp of coffee and says, “You know that I’m gay, right?” before he can second-guess himself, because this–this is the part in everything that has been wrong between him and Luke that he can’t argue with, the part where he knows he’s been living on the wrong side: Ozzie has mostly had the option of flying under the radar, in his day-to-day life, but ever since Kev found out, for the whole of this last awful year, that hasn’t at all been an option for Luke. So Ozzie says it, and across from him, Harrison exhales, his shoulders settling down.

When Ozzie looks up at him, Harrison meets his eyes and says, very gently, “I thought you might be.”

Ozzie looks back down at his last seven fries and asks, “Is it–a problem?” and Harrison says, “Not for me, son.”

* * *

At the end of his shift Ozzie takes a nap, mostly to kill time, and then takes a shower and shaves, very, very carefully, and puts on a black shirt and the jeans that he used to wear to class like he thinks anyone cares and takes Luke’s gift card–worst eighteenth birthday present ever, and Ozzie knows it–and the tiny cake he picked up at Vons and walks over to Luke’s house because he actually doesn’t trust himself to drive.

The door is propped open, just showing a sliver of light through the gap. Luke is in the living room, pacing; his guitar’s on the sofa, and he’s barefoot, in jeans and the same ratty flannel shirt he was wearing when Harrison almost hit him on his bike. Ozzie swallows, and closes the door, and sets down the cake and the gift card on the coffee table and puts his hands on Luke’s shoulders, Luke’s neck, and Luke puts his bare foot in between Ozzie’s sneakers and licks the inner curve of Ozzie’s bottom lip and the only thing stopping Ozzie from pushing Luke down on the sofa and yanking his jeans down and putting his mouth all over him, whether it’s midnight or not, is that Luke’s guitar is still on the sofa.

“My mom,” Luke says, thick, “is coming home for dinner,” and Ozzie exhales, and presses his mouth to Luke’s cheek, and says, “Need help?” and Luke says, “You’re still trying to pretend you know how to cook, aren’t you,” which is kind of true.

Ozzie does what he can, but Luke comes up with mashed potatoes, pork chops, squash; Ozzie’s more or less mastered mashed potatoes from a box and warming meat, by this point, but he ends up paying a lot of attention while Luke’s whacking up the squash. Luke’s mom comes home while Ozzie’s setting the table, and she smiles at him and gives him a long hug. Mrs. Kilpatrick is alright. Ozzie hasn’t been totally comfortable around her in a while, but she let Luke sleep at his house for a month straight after his mom died, and he doesn’t believe she thought for a second that it was Luke staying over just because Kev was away at school.

Dinner is good. The cake is all right. Mrs. Kilpatrick asks Ozzie awkward questions about work and Luke lies merrily about school, and then they sing happy birthday, which is terrible, since none of them can carry a tune. Then Luke plays himself happy birthday in key, while Ozzie and Mrs. Kilpatrick are washing the dishes, and they all laugh. Mrs. Kilpatrick tells them, “I’ll just go and watch The Voice in my room,” in a tone that’s so deathly mild it couldn’t be more of a boner killer if she took out billboard space saying, Now I’ll just put the TV on so I can’t hear you deflowering my adolescent son, which would be terrible, and also factually inaccurate, because Ozzie deflowered her adolescent son kind of a while ago, which is more or less what Ozzie is whispering fiercely to Luke while Luke backs him into Luke’s bedroom and shuts the door. Luke is ignoring Ozzie, which is fair, because Ozzie is kind of freaking out, but when Luke goes to pick two books up off the floor–because seriously! Everything else is on the floor!–Ozzie kind of goes a little nuts and grabs him by the wrists, because, mom! Luke’s mom! The mother of Luke totally knows that they are going to do it!

Luke narrows his eyes, and then gives his arms a tug, so that Ozzie stumbles towards him, and then Luke steps back, towards the wall by his bookshelf, and Ozzie stumbles again. And then Luke raises his arms up, until Ozzie’s knuckles press into the wall.

* * *

So. This starts with Ozzie, with his hands wrapped around Luke’s wrists, Ozzie’s knuckles pressed into the wall.

“It’s not the fourth,” Ozzie tells him, and Luke says, “I was born in Boston,” and Ozzie says, “It’s not the fourth on the East Coast, either,” and Luke stretches his arms up higher, stretches his body against Ozzie’s body, which is–really a very good argument, and then murmurs, “It’s definitely the fourth somewhere,” and Ozzie groans and presses his mouth to Luke’s mouth. Luke still kisses dirty and Ozzie has basically been desperate for him for three years, so he presses Luke’s wrists into the wall and licks at Luke’s mouth, Luke’s throat, while Luke is grinding his cock into Ozzie’s hip, his shirt riding up, baring a sliver of hot skin. Ozzie wants to touch it, so he shifts Luke’s wrists together, pins them with one hand, and Luke gasps and says, “Jesus–” and Ozzie slides his hand down, touches Luke’s belly, which jumps under his fingertips.

“I want,” Ozzie tells him, rubbing against Luke’s hip. He can’t help himself, can’t stop, he wants– “I want,” Ozzie repeats, but words are fucking impossible, so he lets go of Luke’s wrists, and drops down onto his knees.

“Oh, God.” Luke drops his head back against the wall, swallowing, and Ozzie drags his eyes away from Luke’s throat and puts his hands on Luke’s crotch. His fingers are thick, clumsy. He can barely get the button undone. The zipper’s a complete fucking nightmare. Luke’s wearing blue plaid boxers with a dark damp spot over the head of his cock, and Ozzie puts his mouth over it and tastes Luke and cotton, and Luke groans, pushing his hips into Ozzie’s face, and drops his hands down to Ozzie’s hair. Ozzie closes his eyes and unzips his own jeans while he runs his mouth over the length of Luke’s cock without once actually touching skin. Luke is panting, leaking salty-wet against his boxers, onto Ozzie’s tongue, and Jesus. Ozzie has just enough presence of mind to kneel up to push his boxers and jeans out of the way, which is good, because he’s such an idiot that he didn’t bring a change of clothes.

“God,” Luke gasps, and Ozzie looks up at him, realizes that Luke’s looking down, staring at Ozzie’s cock. Ozzie licks his lips and wraps his left hand around it, strokes himself light and loose and slow, and Luke gasps again, and drops his head back against the wall, and Ozzie tugs at Luke’s boxers with his free hand, just a little, so the flushed head of Luke’s cock is just showing, red and velvety, salty against Ozzie’s tongue. Luke makes a small, soft noise, and pushes at his boxers, and Ozzie helps him, helps Luke get them down to the tops of his thighs so Ozzie can grab the base of Luke’s cock with his right hand and guide Luke properly into his mouth. Luke’s hips jerk, and–and God, Ozzie wants it, he wants it so bad, he wants Luke to fuck his throat but he doesn’t know how, and somehow he thinks that actual choking is maybe not the best birthday present ever. Instead he takes as much of Luke’s cock as he can, thick and heavy in his mouth, and helps with his hands, one hand on Luke and one hand on himself while Luke’s hips keep shifting, tiny restless little jerks, like Luke’s body is telling him more, more, more, like Ozzie’s body is telling him more, more, more.

Ozzie remembers that the first time they both lasted about fifteen seconds and they didn’t get even this far and it was amazing. Now Ozzie is on his knees with his jeans around his ankles and Luke heavy and thick in his mouth and it feels like a first time, desperate and clumsy, like there won’t possibly be enough time to do everything he wants to do. His blood is moving around too much, and Luke is leaking into Ozzie’s mouth with every tiny stuttering push of his hips, and Ozzie looks up at him, at Luke’s half-closed green eyes and his loud fucking mouth, temporarily silent, his lips parted and shiny and damp. Luke looks down at Ozzie with his mouth on Luke’s cock and his hand on his own, and Luke bites down on his bottom lip and drops his head back and rubs his knuckles over Ozzie’s cheek, over the head of his cock pushing at the inside of Ozzie’s cheek, and Ozzie blinks furiously, squeezing at the base of his cock, because, no, no, not yet, not while Luke is rocking up on his toes and gasping, “I’m–I’m going to–” so Ozzie lets go of the base of Luke’s cock and grabs at Luke’s ass and drags him close and Luke gasps, “Ohjesus,” in one high, tight rush, and comes too-thick, almost choking, across Ozzie’s tongue.

Ozzie swallows, and breathes through his nose, and swallows, and swallows, and breathes through his nose, and Luke is still gasping, “Ohjesus, ohjesus,” without any space in the middle, and then Ozzie rocks back on his heels and looks up at him, lips parted, jerking his cock in long desperate pulls, remembering Luke kicking him out and stumbling off into the bathroom and breathing too hard on the other end of the phone line, and then Luke drops down and pushes Ozzie back, onto his back, onto something kind of pointy and something kind of hard and what’s probably the better part of Luke’s clean washing, and then Luke lies down on top of him, fits his body against Ozzie’s body, the curve of his sweaty hip just right and perfect and his hand–Jesus–his hand around Ozzie’s hand and his mouth on Ozzie’s mouth, and oh, his mouth, his mouth. Ozzie feels it start in his toes and race upwards, like lightning.

“Fuck,” Ozzie gasps, and Luke laughs, and kisses the corner of his mouth, his cheek, “Fuck.”

Ozzie blinks back stars and Luke licks his ear, and Ozzie turns his face towards him, and Luke smiles at him, blurred, too close. Ozzie wraps his arms around Luke’s back and whispers, “Tell me it’s midnight, I don’t even care if you lie,” and Luke laughs, and tucks his nose into Ozzie’s cheek, and says, “You’re fine.”

* * * * *

Author’s notes: Many, many thank-yous to L. for a very speedy beta!

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