May 22, 2003

Tarnish

Notes: You should really, really buy Fingersmith, because it's breathtaking in every way. This is no more than tributefic; I own and earn from nothing herein.

Thanks to Lazulus and Lobelia, for encouragement and soothing my frenetic punctuation.


The rest was upstairs, asleep probably, Mr Ibbs smacking the back of my head for smacking the back of Dainty's and sending her off bawling, stupid bitch that she is. Stupid bitch, deserved it twice over - she was fluffing over Gentleman like a great worm, and then she spills all the beads she's counting when I hit her and I'm the one Ibbs charges to pick 'em up. Late, it is, and the house's got bigger with shadow, like it always does. Don't bother me.

Bothers me what I'm doing, though. It's girls' work this, me down on my knees, beads tripping over my fingers and sneaking down between the floorboards, so what's left of my nails near rip with trying to squeeze 'em out. Don't care for beads, me. Don't see why anyone'd care - tiny scraps of glass - but that's girls for you, squalling like babes without gin over bits of shiny that roll away soon as look at 'em.

I get a spoon. It's easier, herding them onto that, than pinching up every stubborn little bastard on its own, but it's still slow going. Once or twice, I get the angle wrong or something, and the spoon catapults them across the dark room. It'd be funny in the day, with someone to aim at.

I think about girls some more, their liking of stupid things. If they like beads so much they should be down here, I says to meself, licking them up. Stick to a tongue, this lot would. Especially a girl's tongue, squirming between the floorboards in the dirt, like I bet they would, prising out every last little ball. Find a lot more down there than pretty beads, I can tell you.

And that's how Gentleman finds me, hands and knees, glaring at my spoon, thinking about Dainty or, ha, Sue with her great tongue hung out all parched green-black grimy and studded with beads round the tip. We could string her up on the wall for Christmas, is what I'm thinking. Gentleman comes up behind me on thief feet. I'm not thinking about him at all.

"Hullo," he says, in that way of his, and then I'm thinking about him all over, and what I'm thinking is this: I want to bloody his face on my hand. Makes me tingle, a thought like that, but I keep my hands on the floor and stay looking at the beads I'm shepherding, even press down until the spoon makes a couple of my fingers go white. He says, "Lost something?"

That whips my head round sharp, the voice on him. Don't care if he's highborn, got no right to look down at me like I belong down here, like if he kicked me I'd be charged to scrape at his feet and thank him for it. "Get stuffed," I say, and I mean it, and let him see the spark in my eye that Sue hates so much. "Stuffed with red-hot iron."

He laughs in my face and I lose it; I surge to my feet and at him, spoon brandished and crunch of beads underfoot, and then he hits me. He does it almost neat-like, a silent hard sideways shove of his palm at my head, up near my eye. The rage in me splits, half of it leaping up to the ceiling with my stupid yelp, like a fucking dog. The rest bubbles down and sits sour in my stomach, bad milk getting worse in the sun.

"Fuck you," I say. I don't think I'm bleeding; I'd have felt the wetness by now. My head just feels like I moved without thinking and rammed my temple into a cupboard corner. It's ringing, but there's no blood, and I don't need nothing.

He don't seem anything except amused, though his fingers are busy at the part of his hand he caught me with, pinching and stroking. It's a queer thing to do with his face all gleaming with laughter, and I touch the hot part of my head where he got me and show him the black of my eye again.

"Why ain't you gone?"

"Not yet tired," says he, and it comes up clear in my head how pretty it would be to do him in, get rid of the itch in my fingers once and for good.

"I meant out my house," I say. It's more mine than his.

He smiles, and I see his teeth. "Not until little Sue can caper about like a proper lady's maid," he says.

I give a bark of laughter, and the sourness in my belly makes it a nasty, sickly sound. "You're here for ever then," I tell him, and a cold slime goes over me at the thought. "She's a fucking rabbit, not a maid," I say quickly. "Needs skinning." I don't know why I care if he thinks I'm shivering. I do.

"Rabbits come up sleek some days," is all he says, and there's some humour in him that he's keeping high above my head. I want to rip it down.

"Better for eating straight up, fat rabbits," I say, wanting to catch him soft on Sue, and he says,

"yes," hunger in his eyes like we really was talking about game. That cold slimes over me again, and this time his eyes follow it, clammy touch all over my shoulders and neck, makes me want to rub at the skin with my hands.

Could be the room, the dark hour, making me shiver. The fire's long out, and I was picking up them beads by candle, letting the flame swagger this way and that, the better to surprise the tiny shiny out of hiding. That flame's low, now, sat on the table. I can smell the smoke of its guttering.

He sees me glance at it, and goes all sly. "Cold?"

"No!" I'm showing him the hard edge of my eyes again, but he still doesn't take at it like the others do, just picks up Mrs Sucksby's own blanket from Mrs Sucksby's own rocking-chair and tosses it casually round his shoulders. He don't even check behind him, just goes ahead bold as brass. "Put that down," I order, enraged.

He touches the faded old wool carelessly with one hand, smiling like it's fresh and warm off the baby sheep. "This?"

"I'll take it off you," I threaten, and there's blood running in me now, rubbing at my skin and my belly until they're both burning, until I fancy my eyes are quite red. "You take that off or I'll cut you up."

He looks, all cool, at the skin by my eye, and it takes up throbbing again, remembering his hand. I hate my body for being obedient to him. He says, "I'd like to see you try."

I want to fly at him and I don't. I'm not stupid. He's got the reach of me - he'd have his knuckles mashed into the hurt bit of my head before I'd even scratched him - and I'm dizzy, suddenly, with how much I hate his being in the room.

He sees that, too. He rubs the back of his neck under the blanket, then slides the hand round and strokes his chin, nudging his thumb through his whiskers. "You're shivering," he says.

Of course, that makes me worse. "Don't try and sport with me just because you're kicking your heels upstairs instead of dropping off like the rest of 'em, or doing away with yourself like I wish you would. I'm busy." I almost drop to my knees again to dismiss him, going back to the beads, but I don't want to show him the back of my neck. —It's pink, I can feel it's pink and blazing. "I don't want you down here," I say.

"I'm thirsty."

"Get a bloody drink then," I snarl, the blind red feeling I've got for him making my words lurch. "Get me one an' all."

I'm a bit surprised when he does. I don't show it. He crosses to Mr Ibbs' cupboard, the blanket still round his shoulders. He's got a nerve. The wind of his movement makes the light dance, slapping the flame about. One minute he's there, bigger than ever as he reaches for the brandy; the next he's black-invisible, even with the pale wool about his shoulders.

He comes to the table and puts down two cups and the glass bottle. The stopper scrapes. His snide rings flash. He pours himself twice as much as me, chases his with a sip of mine, then hands it to me. I press my mouth where his was to show I don't care, and I take the gulp of it all at once. It's hot sour water racing to my belly. He watches me grit my teeth as the wave of it shudders over me, then reaches for the bottle again.

It's like I come out of one of them trances: "No, you don't," I say, and my voice is game, hits just the right tone that he turns back. His mouth is shiny in the dark fuzz of his whiskers.

Without looking, he lays his hands on the bottle like he owns it. "I don't?"

"You'll get me thrashed, drinking more of that," I say, and then I see in the glint of his eye that he means to, that he's having a play and my branded tongue's his alibi. "You fucking cunt," I hiss, and he smiles as he pours, his attention on the flow of it. It's thick as a stream from a tap turned on full. The bottle, when he puts it back, is half a fist down.

I'm going to feel that fist, tomorrow.

I want to tear the blanket off his back and choke him with it. "That's not fair," I say instead. It's bad to hate tricksters in a house of them, but I do.

He comes over to me and picks the cup out my fingers. All I can smell is brandy, but I bet he stinks like the devil he is. He compares my empty cup with his full one, sizes leaping in the unfaithful candlelight. "Fair," he says, in his posh voice, the one he uses to put Sue's wind up. "You're a fine one to talk about that." His face is all hard, and then it melts a bit, like he's trying to win my attention with his eyes as he palms me a bad shilling. "Want me to even things up a little?"

"I don't want no more," I says quickly, and he shrugs.

"You're done for in the morning anyway." He flashes his teeth. "No body is going to come trying to sniff my breath."

He weighs the cups again, catches my eye sideways, and this time I nod because I'm not stupid and I know that I'd rather get beaten for that what I've done than that what I've not.

He pulls the same thing with the drink, sipping mine before he gives it me, and I don't bother showing I don't care this time, but he watches my mouth like I might. I finish it in two grim swallows. Brandy runs down my chin, catching and stinging in the cut Mrs Sucksby made yesterday when she forgot she was wearing a pointy ring, and I wipe at it quick. He takes his own drink back slowly this time, in bits, watching. I don't like it. The brandy makes shivers go over me again and again, and some reason it seems to get worse not better as he keeps his eye on me.

"Them beads ain't collecting themselves," I say eventually, when he don't look like he's going to finish up and leave any time soon - except I don't want to go down on the floor in front of him, not with him in this playful mood, so I don't know why I says it. I get angry all at once. That's how drink goes with me, in stutters. I hiss like a cat: "You're not down here for no reason but to muck about with me." I set the cup down hard on the table, and he don't even bother saying I'm wrong, the snake. "You earned me one beating already," I add, rushing on, and he shrugs.

"I'm... restless, tonight," he says. Something in his manner puts me starkly in the mind of coupling, and I hit on a new way to get rid of him, one a bit more likely to work.

"If you're so restless," I say, half suggesting, half telling, "why not do something about it? Why not go fuck one of them sleeping ones upstairs - fuck Dainty," I say, because I know she'll hate it, and that'll be funny in the morning even if I'm black and blue. "Go on, go off and find her."

He scrunches his nose. "I don't want her," he says, and his half-smile invites my own smile out, and I half let it.

"No, probably good idea," I say. "She'd bite it off anyway," and he grins that queer grin of his again, and grabs my wrist, fast as a thief catching me reaching for his poke. "Hey," I protest, twisting, and he jerks me closer, and I brace for a thrashing when his mouth touches the soreness of skin by my eye.

"Would you, John," he whispers, and I brace harder but start to tremble anyway, blood running everywhere twice as fast as it should. "Would you bite it off?"

That makes me shake. "What?" I say faintly, "what?" and his whiskers against my bruise are awful, horrible— too late I realise that I'm moving my head a bit, pressing my temple harder against his mouth, hard enough that when he smiles the muscle of his lips crushes some swollen tissue and I make a noise because it hurts so bad.

He smiles wider, harder again. "Would you?" he repeats, and pulls my hand down by the wrist, and presses my fingers across the front of his trousers. There's a bulge there that I don't want to know but it seems I will. "Will you bite?" he whispers, sort of nuzzling my hand with his hips, and I fit my palm to his stiff cock like I've got no choice. "I don't think you will," he says, and I shake more, and it probably gives him all sorts of right nice feeling - and even if it don't, he presses harder and holds my hand there, and I know that must feel good.

"You... fucking..." I say, but I'm already trailing off at the beginning of the words. I want to call him a— what he is, scare him, but he bares his teeth against my bruise and I gasp instead, and he makes a noise in his throat like that bloody laughter again.

"Ah, good boy," he mutters, and quick as a flash lets go of my wrist to touch my cock instead, and when he finds it he hums, dirty pleased posh noise, and puts his other arm round my neck. I hate him. I wish he was dead. I wish I'd been the one to kill him.

I wish he wasn't holding my cock so it sings.

His arm tightens round my neck, drawing me closer, and I think he's going to kiss me. I don't want that, don't want his tongue in my mouth, don't want it sliding in like a bully and licking the brandy from inside me and crushing his face against mine so much the whiskers will leave marks - but I open my mouth anyway because I know he must do that, because that's the way of these things.

He just uses his arm to push me down. For a moment, my mouth is uselessly-yearningly open, and then I snap it closed because fuck, fuck, he's pushed me to my knees, and I'm not stupid, I know what that means. He wants from me what priests want from city-pretty sinful girls, and that thought makes me shut my trap closed tight.

His hand grips my shoulder as hard as a copper would. His fingers float over my lips, testing and trying, then he gives a little chuckle, and strokes my hair. "Changed your mind?"

"I never said—!" I splutter, and he slips his finger in quick as lightning, and I start to bite down and then freeze, his fingertip a weight against my tongue. I don't need any more bruises, what with what I've got coming tomorrow, I tell myself. I tell myself that's why I start sucking, and I'm hoping he won't try anything of that truly criminal nature, because if he did then this room would be a hell of his cock up my arse every time I came in. Every breakfast, back here in my head, shadows and spit on his hand and splitting me... I don't know much, in this instant, but I do know that. And I'd squeal like a pig, wake up the whole house to see Gentleman have his way with me. I don't know much about nancies, but you don't have to know much to see it would hurt.

Plus men pay for it, for white-skinned thin boys in the street - I heard them whisper like, "I'll make you scream," as I lifted the purse from their pocket as was going to pay the screamer with.

It's fucking frightening, to want it, knowing all I do.

I don't.

I don't.

"Good boy," Gentleman says again, and pulls his finger out, and I lean forwards to follow it and then flinch back when he laughs again. Some beads grind under my knee, little scraping ones, and I shift until I've sent them rolling, then realise I'm closer than I ever planned.

His hand's pulling open his buttons now, and I realise he's leaning his arse against the table when I hear it creak. It occurs to me like in a dream that that's our kitchen table, and over there is our fireplace, and all over the room are tiny bits of Dainty's that I'm supposed to be concerning myself with. I'm not supposed to be kneeling before Gentleman as he takes out his cock and touches the end to my cheek.

I'm not supposed to be shivering at the warm wet pressure of it, and listening to him sigh.

The candle starts spluttering, and I hear the sizzle as he pinches it out, then a moment later he's pushing the ends of his finger and thumb in my mouth and I suck off the wax. I mould it with my tongue and think about his snide rings, and if they'd leave a tarnish inside me if he forgot to take them off when he— but he won't, I won't let him. Any of that.

Then I catch myself and spit out the little ball of wax, and he gives that chuckle again, but dirtier this time, or maybe it just seems that way because he's put his damp fingers under my chin and he's tilting, tilting.

My eyes close because I can't bear to look. It's not as dark as I thought it would be, without a candle. I wish the shadows were a lot heavier. He's let go of my shoulder because he needs his hands here, between us, and a lot later I realise that at this point I could've run. Instead, it gets so I think he's teasing me, so I keep my eyes closed and I reach with my tongue.

"Fuck," I hear Gentleman say, or maybe I imagine it. The world's swirling, the brandy's tumbled in my stomach until there's nothing in me but heat and salt. I lick at the air: nothing, and then a tiny moment of bare skin, and then— nothing.

I sway a little, moving my tongue.

I hear Gentleman take a sip of air, then he breathes hoarsely, "Ah, you perfect little pup," and I feel my cheeks darken. I quickly close my tongue back behind my teeth. It feels too big, and I work my mouth to make it wet again. "No," he says sharply, and moves his fingertips under my chin, like tickling open a choked lock or a good girl's thighs, "come on, put it out again."

My cheeks get hotter. I keep my eyes closed like they've been welded; I keep them closed so tight, I feel like I'm floating, my knees someone else's knees, just the brush of his fingertip beneath my chin to keep me in this world at all. And that's so strange, I might as well be in a different house altogether.

There's another brush, this time hot, a little sticky, and against my lower lip. I know exactly what it is, and sort of relax - ah dear, it's certain now. He's going to force me, useless to fight. I swipe my tongue, collide with fierce salty naked skin— then open my mouth indignantly, sort of gasping, when the touch melts away.

It's later that I think, sort-of? sort-of? because it wasn't that. It was a relax, and it was a gasp, and it's only later that I let that be known, even to me. Of course, Gentleman knows. Gentleman knows me better than I think, and that's why he teases me with this, why he sports to take whatever he can get where other men would settle for my mouth.

He slips his hand round the back of my neck, spreads his fingers in my hair, then closes them and holds carefully tight as he presses the hard-soft end of his cock against my mouth again. It makes a mess there this time, and I slide my lip into my mouth, sucking away the slick. My mouth gets wetter.

"Come on," he says.

I tell myself I don't know what he's asking. He presses again, and everything's slipperier now my lips are licked, and I hold my breath as I open for him. He pulls back. I breathe out hard. My cock aches against my underpants, and I touch it with my open palm.

He goes again, pressing, daubing; I open readily, he pulls back. I hear a noise in the back of my throat.

"Put your tongue out," he says, from so far away that I almost do, but his voice earlier comes back to me, perfect little pup, and I don't - do - don't want to hear it again. I probably did look like a puppy, hungry street dog, pink tongue, eager, open...

I press my palm hard against my cock and breathe slow.

"Come on," he says, and tugs his fist down, so my scalp tingles and my face is upturned. "Come on, sweet-heart. Do what I want."

I lick my lips, and he twists his fist, pulling the hair tighter until I'm gasping and having to grope for balance. I don't want to fall back, have him come down on top of me, do— do all sorts of things.

As a threat, it seeps into my mind and expands there. He could fuck me, he could use me - this is nothing, nothing. I wind up wrapping my hand round a table leg, and then I steel myself and put out the tip of my tongue.

He makes a noise I'll remember for the rest of my life, as tiny and uneven as a bead skittering across a wooden floor. Then it goes impatient. "Don't tease, Garibaldi," he says, and I didn't realise til now that's his nickname for me, and the thought makes me come over all strange.

He tugs my hair again, and runs his cock over the little bit of my tongue what I've got stuck out. The world rocks round me, and it's like being in a boat someone stepped off too fast. I grab myself, squeezing hard, and put my tongue out as far as it will go.

The tip of his cock rests on it straight away, like he's been waiting, and my whole body gives a little flex. I grab myself harder, get a rhythm going. "And your mouth," he whispers, "open your mouth," and I've got a terrible freedom now - anything, so he won't fuck me. anything - so I behave like I can guess he wants me to, open my mouth and tip up my face to him and open my eyes.

He curses.

A thousand thoughts hit at once, like a beating. His dick's on my tongue - that thought, that circles like a wasp, stinging me in tender places again and again. His curse was loud enough to bring someone, I think, but no body what comes would believe this. They'd believe themselves dreaming, nightmaring, take off back to bed straight away.

It's light enough that I can see the red of his mouth but not so light that I can make out the colour of his eyes. They could be brown, green, yellow, red, striped - probably not striped, I think, in a wave of what in a girl might be called hysterics. The look in his eye, whatever colour it is, makes my blood run wrong. It's got fondness in it, and violence, and a certainty that's the worst of all. There's another bead under my knee, but I don't know how it got there.

At a dizzy loss, I start licking, and he groans and lets go of my hair. The sudden freedom makes my head swim, and I dart forwards ahead of his palm and take the inches he gives me, then the other inches he pushes in when his palm catches up.

I close my eyes again, and immediately adore the dark for cradling me and shutting out Gentleman's gaze. I let my mouth tell that to the darkness, let it work out my appreciation. I don't care, and I suck to show it. Gentleman's cock is made of solid darkness, in the pictures behind my eyes— long darkness, sliding thick and stifling into my mouth, full of the tastes of the night. Dark gets everywhere, of course it does.

His fingers push through my hair again and again, and I'm smiling, crazy wide smile around the skin-on-skin sliding, and I take more inside to hide it, but don't stop. I'm happy. Because, um— I'm happy because he's not fucking me, yes. Happy with a spiralling pounding pleasure that draws my hand tight against my own cock. I press my forehead into Gentleman's damp stomach and feel the cool top corners of his fly brush my cheek, and I smile, and I smile.

My hand has worked its way along the underside of the tabletop, to Gentleman's hip. Bitter salt is so strong in my mouth I wonder if I'm bleeding, and I try to swallow it all down and move my tongue to see if I can trace the wound - but I can't swallow properly, like this, and nothing hurts except my head where he struck me earlier. Every time I feel a pulse across my tongue, he finishes the pulse with a little jab, and after a while I realise that that's when the salt gets stronger, so I just concentrate on not letting my eyes stream.

Fuck me, though, he'd probably like that.

Wait, I think. Don't fuck me.

His breath's faster, and the table starts talking to us in little whispers and squeaky groans. It gives a detailed account of how fast he's pushing into my mouth, and it natters about the force of it, and it threatens to call the rest of the house, or at least reach out and splinter a babe. One starts, I think - almost choking as he thrusts too deep and then holds me there with that stern strong palm - and they'll all start.

The table hisses that Gentleman's had his cock pressed against that bit that makes my belly lurch for far too long, and then it starts muttering that Gentleman's started again, little jagged inward shoves of his hips and his palm at the same time, until the air's all been huffed from me, and it's like I'm choking on brandy.

"Ah, come on, pup," Gentleman says softly, then curses and lets off long enough for me to get my breath, and I almost swoon and then he's pushing back inside, and says, "take it for me," and I don't know what to do.

He knows, or else he knows how to get what he wants, and that amounts to the same thing when you're playing under the rules what we're using. He pushes his fingers through my hair again, cupping my head, and then he pulls down and pushes his cock along my tongue to the end. It's enou— it's not enough, and you know how it works, and that's how it worked, a steady push at one angle and a hard nudge at another and then a slide.

Forget breathing; I was crying brandy, now.

"That's it, that's, oh fuck," Gentleman whispers, and the table tells of a couple of short sharp pushes, and then he's just grinding his hips and making this low noise like I'm hurting him, though how hurting him would work right now I don't rightly know.

My hand's changed on my cock, though I haven't let myself notice. It's rubbing, now, instead of stroking. Rubbing like a throat might, if I was a certain other person.

"Saw you through the door," he starts muttering, gasps taking on shapes. "Crawling about, ah, fuck. Oh you sweet— Yes. Saw you, through the door, down by the fire. Crawling, your little... pup... tongue, sticking out. Had to come in, try..."

He trails off, just working his hips, hands running over my head like he's blind or something, and I rub and rub with my mouth and my hand until the very skin of my eyelids starts to go silver.

"...oh, perfect, ah," he says, and that pours through me like hot water, "perfect— little—" and my head just makes up that he says that third word, chants it as my hand goes lunatic, and then his voice splatters sparkles that may or may not shape out that one short word, painting over the darkness as my cock pulses hard and wet.

He pulls right out when he feels that, or maybe I give him a spot of teeth, I don't know. He draws back though, with a sort of breathless laughter, and touches my crotch with his toe where it's soaked through, and I think about falling over. I don't care who finds me now.

"Aw!" he says, all husky, when he sees me wobble, "No, come on," and coaxes my mouth open with his thumb. "John, please, you can sleep after," he promises easily, and I want to sleep now but I sway on instinct towards his cock, and suck like I'm simple and he told me it tastes good.

He didn't have to tell me nothing like that, and I'm shamed to say it does. He mutters again, framing my cheeks with his hands, pressing his thumbs over my eyes and giving me a few hard jabs, then smoothing his hands down my face and under my chin.

"Give me your hand," he says, and I lift them both, back in the dream world, and he arranges my fingers around his cock and covers them with his own. We stroke together, like shining up sovereigns, silk rubbing fractionally over hard metal, just that one tricky spot so you press it harder, again, again—

He pulls back when he's quaking and I've guessed enough to open my mouth and put out my tongue, and after I've swallowed and lapped I sway forwards again, my fingers slipping from his and sliding down his legs, his hands going back to my hair. I rest against his belly, panting against it, swallowing again and again until my mouth feels nearly like my own, rubbing my cheek against the hot firmness of him like a cat come in from the cold.

About the time his hands grow still on my head, I realise I'm hugging his knees. He tugs one lock of my hair, almost playful, and I smile against his belly and then catch it and hope he didn't feel. He tugs another lock.

Some beads skid away as I find my feet. I get up, and the tiredness slithers from me like the run of oil off gold, leaving just traces. My pulse natters in my chest, making me a bit giddy.

I meet his eye jauntily, expectant, because now he'll kiss me, now, with my mouth all salty and wet. He doesn't, he gives me the cup from the table instead, and I swig hard and swirl it gratefully round my mouth before I swallow, and then he presses his mouth to mine the moment my throat moves. I can barely feel his tongue move because I'm smarting so hard.

He keeps it there until I feel it. He keeps going, in fact, until I suck and gasp, until I'm pressing forward hard enough for him to grab a fistful of my hair and hold me back - and then he pulls away, holding me just off him by the hair, and slowly wipes his mouth with his free hand.

I can hear me panting in the darkness, and he's completely silent, but with that breathless fond look again.

"I should fuck you," he says, and I shake my head a little under the constraint of his fist in my hair, and he sees me and smiles wider. "I should," he says. "You want it."

He can think what he likes. I don't. "I don't."

"You do, it's coming off you, the wanting to be bent in two," he says, and relaxes his fist and runs it down my back, and then he rubs a finger as far up between my legs as it can go with clothes on. I sort of chafe at it with my body, trying to push it away. He laughs. "Little cat."

"I'm not!"

"I should fuck you now," he says, like I never spoke. "But there's thief waking hour coming, and believe me," and he pauses, and looks me direct in the eye, little play of an evil smile round his teeth, "there is not time before then for me to finish with you."

I shudder at the thought, and he squeezes my thigh, then my arse again.

"Mmm," he says, when I squirm. "I can't, but I should."

It's a vinegared jewel that, so help me, I can't but reach for. "Why?" I'm disgusted with my own soft voice.

"We're gone in two days," he says, and doesn't ask me to go with him - not that I'd expect to be asked, or want to be asked, or had even considered it before that moment when he doesn't. He smirks like he can hear me. "We're gone a long time, could be. And a lot of things can happen to a boy like you in a place like this."

"They won't when you're gone!" It's supposed to be hostile, accusing. It comes out perfect, exactly like that, almost.

"What, you think Phil never looks at you? Mr Ibbs? Al—"

"They don't," I interrupt, though we both know I mean that I won't let 'em.

"They're missing a treat," Gentleman says, and I choose to think that what's in his eye says he means it, but it might be the easy niceness of bad blood that's soon off the premises.

I don't say anything, and he looks and looks and eventually tells me to get some sleep. Tomorrow night he's got to have final words with Mrs Sucksby, he says. No time for games.

"Keep your hair like this," is the last thing he says to me, and knocks his knuckle under my chin before he goes, and I twist my head away, but like a grinning baby brother might, pleased at getting his hero's attention. I keep that thought well shoved down in the moss, don't let it see daylight til well after the drama's been and gone.

The next day he's busy behind a closed door with Mrs Sucksby, and I've got work to do. I find half the beads and kick the rest of them into dark corners, and they soon lose their shine. The day after that, I don't get up til some past noon, and of course they're long gone. I tell myself I'm not sorry I missed him, tell myself I won't look forwards to him coming back, except for the money, of course.

It's not until a week later, Mr Ibbs getting out the brandy and pouring a finger each, that I realise the damn thing's full and me without a bruise.

It's a long time til I see him again, though.—And of course, by then everything's different.

Posted by Calico at 10:24 AM

May 17, 2003

Thanking the Whiting

For Dale's birthday, with apologies re: the lack of pirates.


"You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!"
But the snail replied "Too far, too far!", and gave a look of askance--
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

-- The Lobster Quadrille, Lewis Carrol


Vince liked making card houses. This particular hostel had a counter instead of a table, and the surface wasn't gripping the edges of the cards too well, but he'd still managed four stories so far.

He liked to have the pictures facing out, always had done. Hazel had told him that his logic, age seven, had been that otherwise the jacks would be staring at each other inside the house forever, and they'd get uncomfortable. It wasn't bad reasoning for a seven year-old, Vince had decided. Stuart had laughed when Vince had tried to explain, said the jack of diamonds was hot stuff and the problem wouldn't be too much staring.

He had about two seconds of footstep-warning before Stuart sashayed up behind him and wrapped his arms round Vince's stomach. Two whole seconds to plan, he thought wildly, and then it was one second, and then Stuart bumped cheerfully into him and didn't bounce off.

"You'll make me knock this over, you knob," Vince complained, ignoring the solid edge of Stuart's cock against his arse, concentrating on steadying the two of spades.

"I'll make it up to you after," Stuart murmured, pushing his hips a tiny bit. Vince shivered despite himself.

"No. I'm--"

"During," Stuart interrupted, and Vince could imagine the expression on his face, the perennial salesman besting his best offer with a twinkle in his eye. "I meant, during."

"I said, no," Vince said, then gritted his teeth when Stuart kissed the back of his neck, his mouth brushing tissue-soft over lightly sunburnt skin. "Stuart. You can't just barge in and decide today's the day--"

"Coward," Stuart whispered, dusting his fingers over Vince's stomach, and Vince shuddered and wrenched away from him. The tower crumpled, spraying clubs and diamonds all over the counter and carpet.

"Now look what you've done," Vince said, carefully looking at the cards, nowhere else. It was actually curiously satisfying, the simple mess of it, but Stuart didn't need to know that. He'd been running out of cards. He always sort of dreaded the moment he'd set the last one in place and then have to make the decision of whether to collapse it immediately or leave it perilously unguarded while he made tea; again, nothing Stuart needed to know. "I spent all afternoon doing that."

"Oh no," Stuart said flatly. "Tragedy."

"No," Vince retorted, looking over. Stuart had his hands loosely on his hips, and his mouth was drawn in handsome, petulant lines. "But it is a pity. After I worked on it."

Stuart rolled his eyes. "Like I said, tragedy."

Vince realised they were arguing about a card house. "Well, anyway. What do you want? Don't tell me you fucked the pool player already."

"No, I owe you ten bucks," Stuart said, and it came clear in Vince's head: turned down, Stuart came to rub his rejected hard-on against home territory, territory that knows the history, knows what it's being offered. Stuart reached in his pocket, took out a wad of notes, and glanced at Vince innocently. "We said ten, right?"

"What did he say?" Vince asked. He knew he'd wind up knowing, sooner or later, and if Stuart told him now he wouldn't even get the itch.

"I didn't ask," Stuart said, and smiled suddenly. "You don't think that little squirt turned me down, Vince--"

"Well I don't know," Vince protested, relaxing slightly. "Something happened. He wasn't 'little squirt' when I left you. He was 'delectable', you said."

"His arse was delectable," Stuart said. "When he was taking the tough shots, stretched out over the pool table, just waiting for someone to shove it up him. But he didn't stay bent over, did he? He finished the game, sat down, and was left with all the delectableness of Ron Maloney."

"Well, you don't really owe me ten bucks then," Vince said. "If you didn't ask." He knelt down and started picking up the cards, smiling a little when Stuart cocked his hips, bringing the bulge in his trousers neatly into Vince's eyeline. He probably didn't even know he was doing it.

"You said, get him in ten minutes," Stuart said, equitable to a fault. "Just because I realised I had a much better offer up here--"

His voice had turned soft. Vince gritted his teeth. "Yeah, but there isn't an offer up here." He wanted to say, "sorry," but that would be stupid.

"Oh, right," Stuart said. The softness melted away. "My mistake. I'll just go back downstairs, shall I?"

"Yes," Vince said. He could still feel the play of Stuart's breath on the back of his neck, and it made him want to scratch.

"Fine," Stuart said, and stalked to the door, then lingered. "Fine."

Vince braced himself, prickling under the glare he knew Stuart was giving him, concentrating on squaring the cards against his palm.

"Do you want ham?" Stuart said. Vince looked up. Stuart was looking straight at him, authoritative and studiously casual. "They've got ham downstairs." He squinted thoughtfully, as if summoning the memory into sharper focus, then nodded to himself. "Looks nice. It's with honey, like you were talking about. I could make them bring you some."

"I'll get some myself, it's alright," Vince said, coming over all warm. He hadn't talked about the ham from the deli counter in Chortlon for at least three weeks. "Thanks, though. Thanks."

"It's fine," Stuart said, and this time it didn't sound like Vince were a money-grabbing lesbian or an interfering parent, and that made him feel warmer still. "I'm going to go find myself a better pool player. There was a boy downstairs, had his money on the table. He might turn out delectable too."

Vince chuckled. "Good luck," he called, then added, in his best drawl, "don't need it," and Stuart, half way through the words himself, broke off and grinned.

"I'll see you later. Or tomorrow."

Vince nodded. To be expected. "Got your key?"

"Nah, I thought I'd wake you up when I stumbled in, show you what you're missing."

"Behave," Vince smiled, and four months ago Stuart would have heard that and crossed to him and kissed him on the mouth, would have nuzzled with those incomparable hips of his and then swerved away and smiled and strutted downstairs. Then.

"It's okay, mum." Stuart lifted something silver out his pocket and dangled it from one finger. "You'll get your beauty sleep, never fear." He smirked, waved, and ducked out the door. Now.

An improvement, Vince thought, left staring at the neat red slab of cards in his hand; he'd picked them up without noticing. Definitely an improvement. "Brr," he said to himself, spooked by the realisation that Stuart had just made a pass at him, the monthly pass, and this time it had almost been natural to push him away.

Some day, he thought, but he didn't want to pursue that, because the point had never been to stop wanting Stuart, merely to get him on his own terms. He sat back gingerly on the floor, started spreading the cards around. He always used the jacks on the bottom, facing away from each other, the jack of diamonds in pride of place. Tradition, like.

He laid the first few blocks quickly on the fuzzy carpet, relaxing into the calm of concentrating on the relative simplicity of defeating gravity using equally perilous lines. He liked making card houses, and it was nice to begin again. He'd got too close to finishing, before Stuart came in, and that would never do; they never seemed to look as great when he'd done.

Wonky edges, wobbly stories, imperfect symmetry - thousands of flaws, and inevitably they fell down because now he wasn't treating them carefully any more. It was a pointless game, really.

Really, he just wanted to keep building.

Posted by Calico at 11:40 PM

May 14, 2003

Double or Nothing

Warning: just as bad as it sounds.

For Catja, on every level.

And Lance is kidding at the end, jeez.


"You know what," Lance breathed, the first time he took Fred home, "I think your brother's hot."

Fred froze. This could be trouble. "Ron?"

"Idiot," Lance laughed, and Fred thought it was a bit harsh to call him names this late in the day, since he'd been sitting perfectly innocently on a sofa at a houseparty until Lance wound up sprawled across his lap like Oliver Wood after a particularly heavy match. He was doing the favour, here.

Glacial sparks clashed together in Fred's brain. "George?"

"Got it in two," Lance murmured, and shifted comfortably, resting his head on the cushioned arm of the sofa. His eyes were half-closed and shone with something like deadly intent. He smelt faintly of expensive apricots.

"George," Fred said, stupidly. Of course he was aware of Lance's ass slotted so perfectly against his thighs, and of course he knew that Oliver sprawled like this when he wanted to be shown the sort of good time that Fred was all too happy to provide, but. George?

"You think he'd go for me?" Lance said, and Fred nodded because, well, he wasn't about to lie. That would be pathetic, to keep someone from his brother just because he wanted them himself. He hadn't done that in weeks.

"Shall I, um. Get him?" He knew he used to be a good deal more assertive than this. He also knew that in this position Lance would be able to feel every inch of Fred's feelings on the subject, and that possibly assertiveness wasn't quite natural in such an environment.

"You do that," Lance nodded, and wriggled quite unnecessarily as he got up, and gave Fred an utterly delicious smile before flopping down on the other end of the couch again. "I'll just wait here."

"Right," Fred said, nodding, and got gingerly to his feet, then walked through to the kitchen and stared at himself in the reflection of the glossy window.

George wandered over, handed him a pint glass of something orange. "Hey hey," he said.

"Mayflower," Fred said casually, which was their code word for Someone wants you and can I pretend to be you and have sex with them please? "Lance Bass."

George's eyes widened. "Lance Bass wants me?"

Fred's heart sank. That wasn't the right response, as far as he was concerned. "Yeah?"

"Since when?"

"Now?"

"I didn't even know he was here," George said, looking around furtively, and Fred's heart sank even more. This didn't look promising.

"Hey, I let you have that girl last time," he said, trying not to whine, and George started to say something and stopped and then winced at him.

"It's Lance Bass."

"It was a hot girl," Fred protested, but it looked quite useless.

"Lance, though," George said pragmatically, and Fred had to agree. It was a good point.

"Well," he said. "I suppose at least I got him sitting on me for a while."

George's eyes widened even further. "He sat on you?"

"I'm sure he'll sit on you too," Fred snapped, and tried not to imagine it, because oh, just, so very unfair. He adjusted his cock unhappily, and tilted his new drink with his free hand.

"Pink grapefruit and champagne," George said, watching him. "Which room?"

"Third left," Fred said, gloomily. "You can't miss him."

"I'll give you the details later," George promised, and Fred gave him a grateful smile.

"You owe me one," he said, and George's eyes widened indignantly.

"He wants me, though."

"It's Lance Bass, and I didn't have to tell you."

"I owe you one," George said immediately, and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before dashing out the room.


The summer just gone, they'd worked on a spell to detect coins of value sickle-plus in sand, and tested it up and down the Cornish coast, and fallen in love with fishing boats. To prolong their holiday, they'd started selling scrolls to charm open oysters, and slept every night on the beach, curling up together for warmth under the bright chilly stars.

There'd been a sailor, classically, for four days near the end - no uniform, but pink cheeks and chapped hands and an accent like an advert for homemade pasties. "Mayflower," George had whispered, in the pub, "please," and Fred had taken one look and dropped his hand beneath the table.

George's hand had found Fred's fingers easily, sliding off Fred's ring, and then they'd conspicuously left the room and George had paused deliberately at the door and then returned to the table for Fred's jacket.

The sailor was George's type, absolutely and unequivocally. Fred paid closer and closer attention to George's type, these days.


"This just proves it, of course," Fred heard, in a voice like warm oil, approximately three minutes after George left. He spun round; Lance was leaning one hip against the doorframe, arms folded, one eyebrow exquisitely raised. Jewellery on his fingers caught light and held it.

"What?" Fred said, catching sight of George lurking in the corridor's shadow, feeling a shot of alarm. "What did he say? Wait. Proves what?"

"You're an idiot," Lance said, which was a bit harsh, Fred thought, this late in the-- oh. Deja vu smacked him round the head, and okay, so he understood that Lance was carrying on from earlier, but what had brought him back here in the first place?

He peered at George with deep suspicion.

"George isn't quite so stupid," Lance said, and pushed off the door, walking behind Fred's chair and laying a warm hand on each shoulder, "but it still took him a while."

They can't have shagged already, Fred thought. He tried not to look at Lance, because craning his head back that far would be deeply undignified. He knew that much. "Um. What?"

"I sent you to find George." Absently, Lance started massaging his shoulders, digging his thumbs against the muscle in slow, delicious glides. Fred held his breath. "It never occurred to you to come back?"

Oh.

"But George said that you'd done this before," Lance added, and Fred exhaled on a tiny splutter. "Or," Lance said delicately, "was he making that up, because he knew it was double or nothing?"

Fred glared at George, who admittedly looked somewhat sheepish under his patent entreaty that Fred back him up. "No," Fred said clearly, holding the pause just to watch his brother squirm, "he wasn't lying."

"Oh good," Lance breezed, and his hands slid briskly down Fred's chest, swerving a moment before they reached his crotch and leaving him choking back an indignant gasp. Lance kissed his cheek and strode back past George into the darkness of the corridor, making it all one movement.

Fred tried to catch his breath. Wow.

"Come on, boys," Lance called, over his shoulder. "The taxi's outside."

There was no way Lance had had time to call a taxi, Fred thought, as he got haltingly to his feet. For a taxi to be here by now, it'd have to have been called... before Lance even sat down on him.

"I think we might be in trouble," George murmured, as they set off down the corridor, bumping shoulders in their endless competition to be first.

Fred swallowed and grabbed his jacket from the banister as they hurried past. "Couldn't agree more."


The taxi was waiting at the curb, sleek and black and impatient. Lance strode towards it; Fred sort of skipped to keep up with George, and shivered a lot.

It was a cool night, licking under his collar with an icy tongue. It reminded him of Cornwall, actually, the 11.20pm chuck-out from the pub, the short giggling stagger to the beach before lying down together on the frigid sand.

They'd misjudged one night, and the depression they were nesting in suddenly dissolved, their meagre camp flooding with water like a deatheater's touch. They'd shot three feet in the air and spluttered and choked on icy salt, and then frustratedly dried their clothes by magic, breaking every rule in Arthur's handbook.

The image of George, bellowing in outrage, soaking wet in the moonlight with his hair plastered to his head and his pale-pale sandy fingers locking desperately round Fred's wrists - that image had stayed with Fred for a long time.

London didn't smell as good as the coast, Fred had to admit, but this felt like an adventure all the same.


Lance sat between them in the taxi, one hand on Fred's thigh, the other on George's. Fred was still having trouble breathing, and he could see the driver looking at him funny in the rearview mirror.

It was almost like he'd never seen twin redheads being taken home by an evil genius before. This was a London cabbie, though, and Fred had it on authority that this sort of thing happened round here all the time. It was George's authority, but still.

"This next left," Lance said, and pressed his little finger right into the seam of Fred's trousers, against the miserable ridge of his cock. Fred gasped, and heard George gasp in stereo, and by Merlin, Lance looked smug.

"Do you want some, um," Fred said, and trailed off as Lance's palm slipped a little higher, and George blurted,

"money?" and Lance closed his eyes like they'd done something hot.

"I'll get this one," he said, and there was an edge of amusement to his voice, and Fred tried to get the joke and failed and decided to concentrate on just breathing steadily enough to stay alive.


By the time the cab pulled in, Fred couldn't seem to breathe slowly at all - but he was hardly alone in his predicament, so maybe there was just something wrong with the muggle vehicle-air. The driver seemed okay, but still.

"Thanks," Lance breathed, as they piled out onto the pavement, and the taxi pulled away as soon as Fred closed the door. Must've had another job to go to, or something.

The house smelled faintly of lemon chemicals, and was cool and dark as Lance pushed open the door. George stumbled as he went in. Fred laughed and promptly caught his foot on a smushed pile of letters on the mat just inside the door, catching George's shoulders to stop himself from going down. Stupid muggle un-inventiveness, never considering self-sorting mail.

"Clowns," Lance muttered, flicking the light on, and Fred looked up indignantly as he pushed the front door closed with his heel. "Oh, now," Lance laughed, "hey, no offence."

"Just because your letters don't arrange themselves," George grumbled, and Fred scowled in agreement.

Lance's laugh melted into a slow, hungry smile, and his eyes half-closed again. "I'll be right back," he said, waving vaguely at a closed door behind him. "You think you can find your way upstairs?"

"I expect so," Fred said, and Lance gave them each a long look, then wetted his lips and turned away, disappearing through the door and closing it behind him. Fred looked at the staircase at the end of the hall, grey carpet leading neatly up to silent darkness.

He heard George swallow next to him. "Well, we probably can," George said, and Fred nodded. They'd navigated the Tube, once. One single staircase was piffle.

"Right," Fred said. "This is piffle."

George grinned at him, and for a moment it was almost normal, and then George was whispering, "race ya," and they started running and shoving and this was completely normal until they crashed into the darkness of a room at the top of the stairs and found that, although carpeted, it was still pretty fucking nasty on bare elbows.

"Ow," Fred complained, panting, and George reached over sympathetically - normal - and then froze and drew back.

The silence seemed even louder now they were up here in the dark.

"Why'd you do that?" Fred whispered, after a moment.

George cleared his throat. "Well, this."

"Weird," Fred agreed, and tried to swallow a laugh. "I can't believe we're here. This is your fault."

"It's not."

"We'll just have to be - convincing," Fred said, because it felt appropriate. He felt a little wave of hysteria crest in his throat. "It's Lance Bass, so we might have to try pretty hard--"

He passed the laughter to George, who ran with it; from the muffled noises, Fred imagined he had his sleeve stuffed in his mouth. "So true."

"--but if we agree it won't be weird, that'll help, right?" Fred finished, hopefully, after a minute.

George made an affirmative noise in his throat, then said, "He won't make us fuck, or anything," and Fred swallowed and nodded.

"Which is a good thing," he said, in case it needed qualifying. "Um. Wow. I still can't believe you landed us here."

"It's Lance Bass," George said helplessly, then nudged him. "Anyway, you know. You agreed too. You're here too. It was your agreement that clinched the deal. You said--"

Fred rammed him with his shoulder to shut him up, and George rammed back. "War," Fred exclaimed, pouncing, and George grappled him and rolled them over and when Lance flicked on the light it looked very dodgy indeed.

"Goodness me," Lance said. "You really... do do this a lot, don't you?"

Fred peered up past George's thigh, breathing hard. George was heavy, sitting on his chest like this, and anyway, they'd been exerting themselves. It did look pretty bad. Though all the stuff that seemed bad normally, the unmentioned stuff, all the times they accidentally walked in on each other, or shared clothes, or totally accidentally forgot to air one bed and so had to sleep all squashed up in the other for almost a week before the laundry got annoyed and did itself - all that stuff, that was good here, wasn't it?

Wow.

"It's not," George said - what you think - "exactly a regular pastime."

Nice save, Fred thought. "Just special occasions," he said, and George nodded and clambered off him.

"Well, you managed to find my office," Lance said, and Fred noticed the shelving for the first time. "If you want this to be a really special occasion," Lance added, turning away and lifting his voice slightly, making Fred shiver, "you might want to follow me through to somewhere more comfortable."

George held out a hand, and Fred used it to pull himself to his feet. George's knuckles parted briefly, and their fingers did a curious dance like they wanted to fold against each other, and then George let go and coughed, and hurried off in the direction Lance had gone.


The sailor had eagerly let them sleep in his house for four nights, George in his bed and Fred on the sofa, and they'd scrambled to watch the television box whenever the sailor was out, and remembered to answer to each other's names the rest of the time.

One evening, the sailor took photographs of them entwined on his sofa, tight in the makeshift bedclothes. Then he took a drink and sat back in the armchair and muttered admiringly, "I almost don't know which one of you I've had."

"You can't have George," George had said instantly, putting his arm across Fred's chest, and Fred had smirked behind George's shoulder and seen the knowing heat build in the sailor's eyes.

Later, when the sailor was mixing more drinks, George had kissed Fred hard on the cheek and said, "Reverse-Mayflower, go on, you have to try him," and Fred had been working up the nerve to make the request anyway, and grinned until there was a dimple under George's mouth.

"I will," he'd said. "But I don't think we need to change back."

They hadn't, and it had been weird and hot, George yawning and stretching out apparently unconscious on the sofa, no chance of watching, while Fred relaxed into the crook of the sailor's arm until the guy got the hint and started kissing his neck.

"George," the sailor had breathed later, "George," and Fred had shivered under his hands and said the sort of things he thought about George saying, and he'd looked up at the sofa from his vantage point on the big fluffy rug, and he'd come when George rolled over with an exquisitely casual sigh.


The first thing Lance did was walk over and pull the curtains against the moon, which gave Fred a chance to look around. Apart from being huge, the bedroom wasn't particularly rich-looking, and had practically no personality; the smooth slab of the bed dominated, its sheets the colour of dark autumn leaves. A bedside lamp sitting on a tiny set of drawers threw the rest of the room into creamy shadow.

Lance strolled back to the bed and sat down, toeing off his shoes. "Mm," he said, thoughtfully. "So here's the thing. I'd find it pretty weird to blink and find the two of you naked and touching each other, so do you mind if we start small?"

Fred had to swallow twice before he could answer. For some reason, the glimpse of Lance's ankle was fiercely arousing. The American accent, too. Made this all so movie-real. "Good idea," he said.

Lance's eyes darkened, and he looked from one to the other. "So why don't you two, um," he said, "c'mere?" and he slid back onto the bed until there was ample room to follow him.

George glanced at Fred, then crawled onto the bed and kicked off his shoes, grinning when Fred followed his lead. The bed gave pleasantly beneath the three of them, tipping them against Lance's shoulders, proving once again that, for all self-adjusting springs are a good idea in theory, sometimes muggles got it exactly right on their own.

George reached over and touched the back of Fred's hand when Fred moved to pull off his sock. "Starting small," he said, and Fred grinned reflexively. Oh yeah.

"Well, it doesn't have to be that small," Lance said, smirking at Fred over George's shoulder, and trailed his fingertips down George's spine. "Naked feet don't really count. But-- don't touch each other," he added, his breath catching.

George paused, halfway through pulling off Fred's sock, and they both looked round. "Why?"

Lance smiled at Fred winningly, and tucked his fingers against George's ear. "It's not fair," he explained, murmuring, "when you're all wrapped up in each other, 'cause you don't notice anyone else." He kissed George's cheek, then his mouth. "So - I mean, it's just a suggestion - but how about you pay me some attention for a while?"

"We can do that," George mumbled, trying to kiss him back, just getting the brush of Lance's lips, over and over. "We can, um." He flicked his fingers at Fred, slightly agitated, and Fred grinned.

He quite agreed. They shouldn't touch each other yet, and Lance needed to be held down right away.

"Shit," Lance groaned, as George pushed him flat on the bed and Fred took hold of his wrists, "you guys, um."

"Umm," George agreed, kissing him firmly and settling on top, and Fred lay alongside and crossed Lance's left hand over his right. Stay, he thought happily.

It was educational, he decided, to watch George's mouth in its pink slide and motion, the skid of his lips against Lance's, the wet glide of his tongue-- because, yeah, because it gave him valuable insight into how he must look, to other people, when they watched him kiss celebrities. It was definitely a need-to-know situation.

He watched Lance suck George's tongue, then bite at him - nibbling really, white moviestar teeth against George's bright lower lip - and felt his own mouth rush dry. Pressing down hard on Lance's hands, he dragged his gaze down their bodies, saw the unmistakable nudge of George's hips and felt heat spring unguarded through his own crotch.

Lance drew up one knee so it stuck up between George's legs; it looked, Fred thought, like a perfect Gucci mountain rising between denim ravines. What's more, it looked like there was an earthquake going on...

Fred wondered distractedly what had been in that champagne, but he couldn't spare his mind for long, not with Lance wriggling beneath his hand and his brother, those expensive pale eyebrows screwed into tight dark lines.

I want a go, he thought, abruptly plaintive, even as George's hand slid up Lance's arm and over Fred's fingers. It pressed, pressed until Fred caught on and let go, and then George slid until he was only stretched out against Lance on one side, leaving Fred the other to explore.

A whole side of Lance Bass all to himself, Fred decided, ducking to taste Lance's mouth at last, was perfectly adequate right now.

Lance groaned against his tongue, and Fred wondered if he tasted different, if George kissed differently, and wound up kissing Lance as hard as he could, determined to make - or perhaps do - an impression. Lance's mouth was fire-complex and wicked, mumbling syrupy little curses when Fred used his teeth, and Fred's nerves started to whine that there was far too much space between them.

He swayed, stretching the length of Lance's body and then dropping against him, and Lance exhaled with a noise like timber creaking and pushed his cock against Fred's thigh. Fred exhaled hard, returning the push, falling quickly to a sweet firm rhythm and giving up the kiss in favour of gasping against the lines of Lance's jaw.

Lance squirmed, tilting his head back, practically purring. He smelt of salty apricots, tasted plastic, and Fred couldn't even begin to get enough. He eased his thigh between Lance's legs, felt his shirt scruff up, the gleaming angles of Lance's belt buckle catching his stomach in a flash of chilled metal novelty.

Time to relieve him of that, perhaps.

Although, Fred realised, reaching down could be a problem. He became aware of pressure against his hip, of the noise of his breath falling as precisely over George's breath as one footstep landing crisply on another's imprint in fresh snow, and-- George. George, pinning Lance's hands, mirroring Fred's position by some cosmic coincidence because his eyes were closed and his mouth was busy at Lance's ear.

By all the dragons between earth and sky, Fred thought hoarsely, kissing blindly down Lance's throat and finding that yes, George's cheek was soft and pale and right fucking there: this is not on.

"Oh man," Lance whispered, his voice curving towards obscene huskiness, "you boys, beautiful fucking boys--"

Fred would've laughed, would've found it absurd, except that George's hand had pushed between his and Lance's stomachs and now he could feel the knuckles moving as George navigated that accursed belt and eventually wrenched it free.

"Yeah," Lance breathed, and Fred tried to lift off to give George's hand more room, and Lance made a piteous sound in his throat and pushed his hips up hard.

"Stay still," George muttered, and Fred heard himself murmur, wandless,

"Evincio," and George looked up sharply and met his eyes, and grinned. Yes, Lance would look pretty, bound.

Fred grinned back, and for a moment George wasn't a stranger with a red mouth and a voice like a Veela's Favourite, was only his wicked smirking brother, only his favourite person in the whole world.

"What?" Lance demanded, and George winked at Fred and then ducked and kissed Lance's stomach, and Lance's hands fell to catch George's shoulder and Fred's wrist, and Fred's mouth went dry once more.

"No, grab his hands," George said against Lance's belly, his hands shifting purposefully at Lance's trousers, and Fred swallowed and pried Lance's fingers off George's shoulder. George's shirt was very warm. Fred concentrated on taking one of Lance's wrists in each hand, drawing them slowly up the bed to Lance's shoulder level, staring down.

Lance gazed up at him, then bit his own lip, lifting his chin in the universal request for a kiss-- and swearing when Fred, grinning, refused to comply. More fun to tease, Fred decided. He was normally underneath, normally taking orders rather than taking the lead, but this felt pretty fucking good as well.

He fitted their palms together and Lance spread his fingers readily, and Fred rewarded him by sliding just the tip of his tongue over Lance's lips, pressing Lance's hands hard into the mattress when Lance licked back. The tips of their tongues touched in the dryness of panted air, and Lance tried to draw the kiss into his mouth, and Fred enjoyed not letting him.

There was something to be said for being in control.

He heard a slithery fabric noise, then some shuffling, and Lance shivered beneath his mouth. Fred tried to concentrate on dropping the tease and kissing him quiet, thinking it wouldn't do to be too aware of George moving up Lance's body again; his brain wanted to dwell on it, though, didn't want to let that shifting shape melt in his imagination.

Somehow, this three-to-a-bed thing was beginning to feel a little bit less mad.

"Sorry, budge up a bit," George mouthed, close to his ear, and Fred shifted over, still kissing, letting George work on the buttons that closed the fabric over Lance's chest. George's shoulder pressed into Fred's side, and Fred reversed his opinion again: the three in the bed badly needed to be spaced out, or things could get very hairy indeed.

He bit Lance's lower lip and squeezed his hands hard, then uncurled his fingers and started backing away. Lance made a low noise of protest, deprived kitten, but Fred had other things to deal with, urgent things. George's mouth was flat against Lance's collarbones, his fingers weaving through the buttons, his eyes closed; they opened as Fred drew level with him, heavy-lashed and fever-bright.

"Where're you going?" he whispered, for Fred's ears only. Fred collected words for his answer at a depressingly slow rate. George kissed the inch of Lance's chest that lay beneath the button he'd just undone, his mouth a berry smudge against the honey-pale.

"Down," Fred mouthed eventually, and George grinned against Lance's skin, nodding slowly.

"You do that." His hand lifted and scuffed over Fred's head, and Fred steeled himself against tilting into the touch, fighting against wondering what those fingers would feel like against his tongue. He sucked his own fingers all the time. Honestly, how could that not be enough?

Fred ducked down and ran his mouth over Lance's stomach, feeling the naked bump of Lance's cock against his neck and coming over all warm at the very idea. George had stripped him, then. He'd wondered.

Lance was trembling. Fred curved back onto his side, fitting his stomach to the edge of Lance's thigh, tempted to strip off his own jeans but still somewhat alarmed at the thought of the naked thing.

"You want me to take my clothes off now?" George asked, and Fred thought,

no, and Lance said,

"yes," and Fred shivered at the quiet authority in his voice. Looked like the tables had turned again. Fred remembered that there was something to be said for not being in control, too.

"What about Fred?" George said, and his voice was eager like when he protested to Ron that he hadn't been the only one putting conspicuous-wetpatch charms on Ron's trousers, that Ron should be just as angered and awed by Fred's handiwork.

"You first," Lance said, and Fred impulsively sucked Lance's stomach, a humble reward, and then Lance added, knowing and warm, "or you'll just get... distracted."

Fred swallowed.

George eased off the bed and then, a few small noises and a roll of Lance's hips later, climbed back on again, hands and knees, and kissed Lance deeply. Fred kept his eyes closed as much as he could, concentrating on Lance, concentrating on admiring Lance, his mouth moving over Lance's stomach, blacking out from his mind the proximity of George's calf, knee, thigh--

He thought about occupying himself with Lance's cock, taking it into his mouth because that would definitely require all his concentration, but countless dark corners with Oliver had taught him that cocksucking was an instinct that you couldn't appreciate until the time was right. It just wasn't quite the same if you rushed things. He didn't want the famous guy going home thinking he couldn't give a proper blowjob, did he?

He glanced up, checking on Lance's - only Lance's - progress, letting his eyes blur out the smooth freckled danger lurking so unmistakably nearby. He saw Lance's fists on George's shoulders, could guess Lance's hints. George was kissing him deliberately, though, and showed no sign of rushing, merely edging his knees at a snail's pace down the bed.

Fred pretended to be busy with kissing one of Lance's hipbones and stroking his thumb up and down the other, then glanced up in alarm when George swayed into his peripheral vision; he was going to get a mouthful of George's thigh if he wasn't careful. Can't have that. He went to warn George away, his hand finding the curve of George's hip and pushing, and George muttered and pressed against his palm, and Fred's fingers slid somehow further than planned.

George's skin felt divine, and Fred pulled back quickly, and the sensation of pressure against his fingers took far too long to fade.

He wrapped his hand round the base of Lance's cock, learning that shape instead, adoring the hot pulse and weight of it in lieu of replaying sinful touches in his mind's eye.

He pressed his mouth to the very base, chaste - or as chaste as he could manage given the fact that this was his mouth and not his dick in the middle of an incestuous gay threesome involving two seventeen year-old wizards and a popstar. Lance shuddered, and one of his hands fell to Fred's head, cupping the nape of his neck and nudging.

Fred backed off, ducking out of Lance's grasp, kissing Lance's thigh instead, satisfied when Lance groaned.

George settled back alongside Lance again, licking from his chest up to his mouth with a kitten-pink tongue, fingers trailing down the dip that fed into the planes of Lance's stomach, down and up, down and round.

Fred folded his hands over Lance's hips and held them down, shifting to lie between Lance's legs, gazing at Lance's fine cock with the fuzzy backdrop of George licking Lance's mouth, trying to work out how he got here.

George's hand smoothed across Lance's chest, palming a pale nipple, and Lance lifted forcefully under the press of Fred's hands and Fred ducked his head and stopped thinking. His mouth bumped against Lance's slippery stomach, veered, found the sultry wetness at the tip of Lance's cock, and sucked at it.

"Oh, fuck," he heard Lance gasp, and smiled to himself, drawing simple heat runes with the tip of his tongue and then lapping the fresh salt away. Lance didn't taste plastic here at all.

He closed his eyes and tried not to think about getting naked himself, instead concentrating on the pitch and fall of Lance's breathing as he traced an entire family of flame spells between the slight sideways veers that were necessary to prevent Lance from pushing his cock actually inside. By degrees, that's how he liked this, at his own pace.

Not driving Lance crazy in the hope of being rolled over and fucked hard-- not at all.

He feathered his tongue right down, the gradient of musk making his tastebuds glow, then glided back up and began lapping again. He breathed slowly and steadily, opening his mouth like he was about to accept before innocently swerving away when Lance slanted his hips to take advantage.

"You bastard," Lance complained, breathlessly, then added, "yeah, help him," and the bed shifted, and Fred made himself carry on with his eyes closed like he wasn't confused at all.

Surely George wouldn't-- because that-- wait-- and then he was proved wrong, because yes, George had slithered right down the bed beside him and that was George's mouth brushing incidentally against his, and incidental, yes, that was all it was, not incendiary at all.

Fred shivered, tilting his head, sliding his mouth slowly down the side of Lance's cock, escaping that tantalising sensation of George's lips working next to his own.

He kept wetting his lips and tongue as he moved down, reaching the base and carrying on, ignoring the tickle of hair against his lips until he found Lance's balls and sucked them against his mouth. He rested his cheek on Lance's thigh and smiled to himself. Safe, here. Safe from the flickering heat of George's mouth, safe with Lance's thumb rubbing over his ear again and again, safe with his senses full of Lance and Lance alone.

He hummed silently, lips shifting until he felt thready shivers start in Lance's thighs, until Lance's palm at the back of his head made him open his mouth as wide as it would go, take more of the silky crinkled weight against his tongue.

Hours passed, he thought dryly, smiling and stirring his tongue in circles, stroking Lance's thigh with his free hand, and then his jaw started to ache slightly and he drew away, pressing soft light kisses instead.

"Fuck," Lance told the ceiling, then, "oh, hell," and Fred wondered if George had done something or if it was just a generic sex curse.

Lance's hand at the nape of his neck started nudging again, this time drawing Fred's mouth back up, sliding his lips against Lance's cock, squeezing when Fred wrote his name in cursive with his tongue.

"Yeah, and just," Lance whispered, and he was - shit, yeah - was guiding him back to the head of his cock, and Fred opened his mouth helplessly when his lip caught the glide of George's tongue, and the world slowed down.

Bad idea, his brain told him vaguely, over a purely incidental - that word again - shower of sparks across the majority of his solar plexus. All he could taste was the heat of Lance, the clear slick salt of it, getting everywhere; across Lance's cock, in Fred's mouth, over George's tongue. He swallowed and licked, and pretended he didn't notice when Lance groaned, when the taut satin head of Lance's erection somehow evolved into the shifting silkiness of George's mouth, teeth, tongue.

This would be the bad idea, his brain said, even as Lance's hand stopped pulling and curved down his cheek instead, even as George's kiss turned brutal and he heard his own breath catch in a moan.

"Fuck," Lance muttered, and George bit Fred's lower lip and slid his tongue into Fred's mouth, and Fred clutched Lance's hips and sucked in soft blind helplessness and tried not to pass out any time soon.

He heard himself whimper when George drew back, and kept his eyes closed, then felt Lance's cock brush his lips and opened for him, because absolutely nothing else seemed the thing to do.

Lance pushed firmly up into his mouth, and Fred cracked his eyes open a little to get his bearings, sucking automatically, then swallowing hard when George kissed his cheek, mouth brushing as bruisingly innocent as a drop of veritaserum.

It was probably just a show for Lance, Fred told himself, as George laid a trail of soft sensation right across to his ear, then breathed on him, rose-warm and feather-light. Just a show.

He glanced up at Lance, see how they were being received; George chose that moment to lick his ear, Lance blinked at him like he'd been hit with a ecstablissum charm, and Fred trembled like a plucked unicorn-hair bow, swallowing against Lance's cock whenever he could get the air.

"You're the only one still dressed," Lance said, fingers slipping down to stroke Fred's cheeks, sliding his thumb lightly against Fred's lower lip and then pushing his cock in deep. Fred made a tiny noise in the back of his throat and tried to work his tongue against the sweet spot at the crown, then lost all concentration when George moved from merely kneeling over him to sitting firmly on the top of his thighs.

Pinned, Fred's brain drawled, reminding him of the million and one wrestling matches that finished with his arms folded behind his back and George sitting on him whispering, "say it, say you're a Malfoy."

"No," Fred would protest, and George would yank his arms a little harder and threaten to call his pet camera, and Fred would struggle and gasp and finally, eventually, with George chanting,

"Malfoy, Malfoy," in a whisper right up against his ear, concede.

For one moment, Fred's muscles wanted to shift his arms behind his back-- but that was stupid, would mean he was blowing Lance with no hands, have no possible way to save himself if Lance pushed too far, and that. just. didn't bear thinking about.

George leant forwards, hands smoothing over Fred's shoulders, fingers reaching over and finding the button at the hollow of Fred's collarbones. Fred shivered helplessly, the touch of George's fingertips igniting an intimate awareness that he'd have to struggle to avoid being stripped right now.

He didn't struggle. He pretended to be awfully involved in sliding Lance's cock in and out of his mouth, awfully involved in the twitch of it when he stopped concentrating and it bumped the back of his mouth hard, so frightfully preoccupied that he couldn't possibly notice the pressure of George cock at the top of his thighs as George leant against him and, reaching round from both sides, undid button by button with steadily trembling hands.

He didn't even struggle when George peeled his shirt off his shoulders, and then he realised he had to let go after all, had to bend his arms back one after the other to allow George to slide off his sleeves. He made it as businesslike as he could, keeping sucking, keeping his eyes closed.

Once, George had grabbed their newly christened Saboteur paper just as Percy cast a crematus spell on it, and Fred had grabbed George's hand by instinct, and together they had deflected the destructive magic into themselves and spared their latest masterpiece. It burnt. They'd had to sit on ice for three days, to cool the relentless scratch in their veins. His whole body had been throbbing, day and night, and Fred had never expected to feel anything even close to that again.

Right now, some ice would come very handy indeed.

Topless, now. He almost bit down when George ducked and mouthed the back of his neck, images of what he must look like - images of George, in fact - slicing one on top of the other through his head again and again. Instead of closing his teeth, he let his fists fuse against Lance's thighs, digging his tidy short nails into his palms in slow pulses; a pulse whenever the wet heat of George's mouth edged lower, whenever Lance pushed harder, whenever his own brain flashed coherent enough to register just how awkward it could be if anyone had seen them leave.

We were... talking.

He'd be better off saying George had hooked up with Lance, saying he'd gone because George was his lift, slyly fail to mention that the lift was of the Nimbus variety and perfectly capable of flying him home and then returning whenever George wanted to leave. In actual fact, the astute mind might observe, it would really be less trouble if they had travelled separately. Less squashed, certainly.

That train of thought was taking Fred no good place. He was almost relieved when George demanded his whole attention by stroking down Fred's sides, working his fingers under Fred's belly, and disjointing the button on his jeans. He hadn't let up, and the ridge of his cock had followed the path of least resistance, winding up nestled firm against the spread of Fred's ass, two civilised layers of fabric dividing their skin.

Fred's ass, more than anything in the world, wanted to grind back. George was lifting him, too, slightly-- his hands, working down Fred's fly, simply had to lift Fred's hips in order to ease the fabric open. Fred started panting around Lance's cock, nervous heat flaring through him like cracks of lightning, and George, George, he was tugging Fred's jeans apart, had to be perfectly aware of Fred's cock pressing down into his hands.

Lance's palm rubbed vaguely over the top of Fred's head, an incoherent request. Fred caught his breath and tried to suck some more, his mouth too dry, the taste rasping across his tongue, tingling all over like embarrassment or desire.

He peered up at Lance, saw Lance's other arm was flung across his eyes, and felt a little swirl of satisfaction through the crazy chaos of it all; that was no aloof celebrity, bedding them, no way. That was a man undone, a man stunned with the heat of them, and-- Lance slid his forearm across his face and looked Fred direct in the eye, and Fred swallowed against his cock.

"Fucking beautiful," Lance mouthed, his eyes half-closed, thumbing Fred's ear and then his cheek. George didn't seem to notice, was just easing Fred's jeans down, lifting off him to pull them over his thighs, then settling right back where he'd left off. One civilised layer of fabric. Fuck.

Fred watched Lance watch George, his own eyes half-closing, his mouth dryer than ever as he realised that George must have been able to see Lance all the time, that George had either been too wrapped up in teasing Fred to notice it was unnecessary, or he'd known and had carried on regardless.

Good, Fred admitted, then pretended he'd never thought such a thing in his life. It was getting more difficult to breathe. Lance was edging deeper, and it must've been cutting off his air. No other reason oxygen would be in short supply, nuh.

"You complete... angels," Lance said aloud, and George cupped Fred's cock with a little pressure, and Fred gasped and pressed down hard. George's fingers curved and slid, palms flat against Fred's pelvis, gathering him firmer against the line of George's cock. No angels Fred had ever heard of.

"You know some funny angels," George murmured, and Fred grinned.

"Heaven's going to be interesting when I get there," Lance shrugged, and George chuckled and leant forwards and kissed Fred's ear, and Fred squirmed.

Good, his brain admitted, helplessly; good to have knowing hands exploring his cock, utterly knowing, and actually, was it exploration when the territory wasn't new? and then George was pulling his pants down as well, and suddenly they were skin to damp skin, and Fred's stomach knotted with the pure hot insanity of it: this was way over the line.

"God, you guys," Lance muttered, and Fred couldn't help but spread his legs a little, because George was heavy, sprawled on top of him, and if this brought George's cock snug against his ass like they might possibly fuck, well, that was just coincidence, had to be. "You're so fucking hot."

George's hands covered Fred's hands on Lance's thighs. "So're you," George said, and Fred looked up at Lance, dishevelled and glowing, all those lean tan planes of muscle, as sexily queer as they come. Fred would never in his life carry off the sexiness Lance generated merely by breathing. For one thing, Fred had red hair.

"Wish there were two of me?" Lance smiled, and he was looking at Fred as well, but Fred wasn't exactly in a position to answer. He kept sucking. The air situation wasn't getting any better, but he'd traced it to the fact that George was squashing him, and lightheadedness was a perfectly normal reaction to over-compressed lungs, and he wasn't even fooling himself with the frantic rationalisation any more but it helped him to imagine he might be.

"That could get interesting," George said. Fred imagined two Lances. Whoa. He shifted, felt George's cock twitch against him, and found himself slowly, cautiously shifting again. George stroked his thumbs across the backs of Fred's hands.

"It's pretty interesting already," Lance said, and nodded at Fred. "You've undressed him, thank you. You wanna come back up here?"

George moved his hips a little, and Fred saw stars. A familiar ache was building in the pit of his stomach, an ache that demanded attention, demanded something pushing up his ass and easing the cramp of it or maybe just fucking him senseless--

"I quite like it here," George said, and Lance bit his lower lip like something incredibly hot had just occurred to him.

"Looks like you do," he said. "Planning on staying there? Because y'know," he added swiftly, voice dropping, amusement and lust in his mouth, "I really, really wouldn't have a problem with that."

"You have a problem with that?" George whispered, ducking to kiss Fred's ear again, and that brought the length of his chest flat against Fred's back, and Fred pushed up against helplessly him like some sort of chilly baby dragon.

He shook his head, barely noticing Lance's gasp. Later, okay, possibly, potentially, there would be trouble-- but right now, the glorious heat of George's chest leading down to the mouth-watering heat of George's cock, all pressed against him, damp and demanding - no. Problems could be put on hold right now.

All at once, all the heat and pressure disappeared, and Fred almost moaned in distress before his knees were pushed a little further apart, and he realised George was sitting between them.

Watching him, probably, Fred thought, and arched his spine shamelessly - in for a knut, in for a galleon, he thought, his grandfather's voice just fantastically inappropriate right now.

Thoughts of his family faltered when George touched his ass, then evaporated completely as one slow wet knowing finger pushed inside-- because now there was just George, and Fred letting Lance's cock slip from his mouth before he could go and really honestly bite into it, and George wasn't family, not in the conventional way.

Well, quite.

"I wish I had a camera," Lance muttered, and Fred rested his forehead against the base of Lance's stomach and panted, his breath bouncing off Lance's skin and hitting his mouth in little hot damp blasts.

A camera, he thought, imagining if George had brought his camera, taken his own sort of pictures, wizard pictures, catching the rhythm as well as the tone. George's other hand was slipping thoughtfully up his thigh, thumb stroking like a search, questing out the sensitive points in Fred's skin.

The pressure of George's finger inside him, shifting and wheedling him open and not quite slick enough to be painless, made Fred's head spin. He pushed back, wanting it slipperier, then shivered hard as George worked in another wet-not-slick finger good and slow.

"Lube," he whispered, and felt Lance stretch backwards and rummage around, and George hummed softly and leaned forwards and kissed the back of his neck. Fred twitched hard, clutching Lance's thighs, upturning his ass a little more.

"Thanks," George said, and Fred felt something being passed over, and there were tiny plastic noises and George had to be doing that one-handed, and then George's coolly slick hand returned to high up on Fred's thigh.

"Oh, man," Lance breathed, and then George was running a curious finger against Fred's balls, purpose in his fingertip, and the sudden unholy sensations of it were making Fred gasp, and George murmured,

"heh, yes, thought so."

"Here, you forgot," Lance said, and that was urgent enough that Fred forced his eyes open; Lance was passing George a condom, and Fred swallowed. Whoa.

Not only that, well, that meant business, that did - but also because there wasn't an easy way to say "we can't catch anything we can't cure," and then George was saying,

"No one else gets to do this," and Lance's eyes widened, and then he smiled incredulously and exhaled.

"My God. You two--"

"It's just our thing," George shrugged, nestling more firmly against Fred's thighs, then drawing his fingers thoughtfully out and pushing them back in, slippery now, twice as hard.

"Fuck," Fred muttered, aching to get to his knees, needing more now now now and yet fuck, fuck because more than this might kill him. He panted harder against Lance's stomach, his breaths ragging fiercely at the edges, and then Lance was slithering a little lower, sliding down until his cock was back beneath Fred's mouth.

Not a chance, Fred thought, even as he opened his mouth and tried to suck-- not a chance to get a proper angle, though, and with George adding another - fuck - finger, not much of a chance to coordinate at all.

"Sorry," he whispered, enjoying the sound of it in his mouth, "sorry--"

"Ah, c'mon, a little, just a little," Lance whispered back, "just until he," and then broke off, and Fred felt George's fingers against his jaw, George's weight tilting uncompromising on top of him as he nudged Fred's mouth open with his thumb.

And there should, Fred thought, as the salty head of Lance's cock pressed into his mouth and the slight chemical flavour of George's fingers melted away; there should be no way George could lean forwards without overbalancing or pulling out, but apparently in this instance Fred's mind's eye was wrong.

"Oh," Lance breathed, appreciation choking his voice, "oh, god."

Fred swallowed, his mouth hovering against the head of Lance's cock, the thick satin weight of it pushing up against his parted lips. He was trying not to breathe so hard that he got a headrush, and then George was twisting his fingers out and running his hands up Fred's back, up over his shoulders and then down.

Familiar, Fred thought hoarsely, pressing his mouth down on Lance's cock, then his cheek. Familiar, and, oh fuck, because George reached Fred's wrists and then tugged, prying his hands off Lance's thighs, easing then slowly down and then across and pinning them over the small of Fred's back.

Fred twisted until his shoulders yelped, panting, then struggled to lift and discovered he couldn't wrench free at all; George's hands were uncompromising, and the tearing heat in Fred's muscles pounded in time with the heat in his cock.

He rocked his thighs apart, felt George shift to lie between them, and fuck, too wrong and hot, George holding his hands behind his back, immobilising his crossed wrists with one steady hand. Fred struggled enough to make it real for himself, the ache in his spine building, pain glowing across his shoulders until he stopped resisting and felt the line of Lance's cock against his cheek, pressed his face hard against Lance's thigh--

Say you're a Malfoy, Fred's brain blurted in George's voice, his thoughts rocking through strange and uncharted orbits, wondering wildly if George thought about this whenever he held him down, if he imagined swivelling his hips until Fred's legs parted and his cock could fit in between.

The pulse of Lance's hips was steady beneath his face, tight smooth grinds pushing skin across skin, Lance's hands wandering over Fred's neck and hair in soothing gestures made obscene by proxy. Fred started breathing in time with it, with the rocking of Lance's pelvis, his ass aching hopefully with the cruelty of being fingered and abandoned and spread wide.

George shifted his knees a little further apart, and Fred keened softly, the noise buzzing in his throat and then spilling over Lance's skin. He wanted to beg, to coax, but he hadn't the breath, and also Lance, Lance-- there were intimacies he wasn't willing yet to share. It was easier to begin an utterly suppressible struggle, so he did, and then froze when George interrupted Fred's wriggling with the firm application of his cock to the cleft of his ass.

Nerves clamoured about the blunt hot pressure of it, almost pushing in, and Fred gritted his teeth and breathed hard, sucking salt-laden air shallowly into his lungs and then blasting it out under frustrated little moans.

Please, please--

"Ah," George muttered, and Fred imagined the sudden slide of it, having George at one moment aimed to push in and the next buried, with the grating ecstasy of the thrust in between-- but George was lingering, holding off, and it didn't seem to be mattering that Fred could feel exactly what he wanted, exactly how much.

Tease or conscience, Fred thought, and then - okay, fuck - tease, because George was leaning his weight behind the head of his cock and then relaxing again, exquisitely awful lulls before the pressure building and burning until Fred felt like vibration and a sharp jab backwards was the only answer. Pity he was immobilised right now, eh.

It went on, four, five, six rounds, until Fred was reciting willpower spell tables and beginning to feel the sweat-heat mix glowing like some unholy halo from his skin, and then George muttered, "Breathe," leaning down hard on Fred's wrists, and it was business this time, and Fred braced himself to howl.

George was pushing the head inside when Lance muttered, "fuck, stop," and sat up, his stomach tight and gleaming with effort. Stop, Fred thought, alarmed beyond all sense-- no, don't stop, fuck, because he was crazy for this now, and if George didn't--

The pressure melted off, and George's cock slipped down until the head brushed Fred's balls, his hands unrelenting on Fred's wrists. Fred groaned, deep in his throat, and buried his face in Lance's thigh. He needed it now, okay? now, now, and George wasn't, George was just--

"Now," Lance muttered, and Fred registered that Lance'd sat up, that Lance had a hand on the back of his neck and was pressing down a little, keeping Fred's cheek against Lance's thigh as he-- watched.

Oh sweet flaming salamanders, Fred thought wildly, as George lifted his pelvis a little and edged his cock back into position, blunt heat of the head slicker now: Lance was watching that.

"Yeah?" George muttered, testing burning pushes almost forcing him inside, and Lance stroked the back of Fred's tight shoulders and breathed,

"yeah, go on," and George pressed a little harder and then paused again.

"Slow," he whispered, and Fred opened his mouth to say, no, really, go right ahead, and then George added, "or right in?"

"Right in," Lance said, and Fred sucked in a hard breath, because fuck, they weren't even talking to him? and then George was nudging single-mindedly at Fred's ass and pressing down hard on Fred's wrists, and Fred lost all the air in his lungs as his thighs shifted a little further apart and George's cock pushed deliberately inside.

In near-eerie unison, Lance and George groaned.

"Fuck," Fred heard himself whisper, struggling a little to feel George re-firm his grip on Fred's wrists, panting hot and damp against the crease of Lance's thigh. Lance started squirming, tipping his hips, bringing the base of his cock against Fred's mouth-- and then he was sliding his hand up the back of Fred's neck and pressing, blindly, rubbing the base of his cock against Fred's mouth and keeping it there.

George's fingers eased into Fred's fists and squeezed, and Fred squeezed back, and then George pulled out and slid back in hard enough to make Fred's stomach glow. His hips, Fred thought helplessly: he was pretty sure his own hips never felt that controlled. If positions were reversed...

His brain tried to wrestle with that, and let the disconcerting images go graciously when George made a quiet noise against his ear and pulled Fred's hands out to press against the mattress next to Lance's thighs. It felt like someone shelving a fantasy in favour of reality, Fred thought distantly, the muscles in his shoulders full of a melting warm sensation, and then George was settling firmer against his back and picking up the pace, fucking, hard.

Lance started murmuring something that Fred, over the white noise in his ears and the stutter of his own breathing, guessed might be a prayer. Heat was washing over him, the slickness of George's cock the most distinctive thing about his entire life right now, the slickness and the rhythmic shoving slide of it, each thrust coming dangerously close to making him squeak.

Quaint to call on religion at a time like this. "Fuck," Fred muttered, and a mutter wasn't a squeak, wasn't anything like the adoring noises he was desperately quenching in his throat. Slowly, he realised that he was trying to take this like a man. Can't let George know--

Except it was performance, his brain reminded him, and that was the cloak they'd drawn around themselves, and in that case, hey, it was just fine to scream.

"Shit, ah, more," he groaned, twisting to lick Lance's hip, rocking back against George's pelvis but taking a little more of George's cock than he expected at that angle, hissing hard and vicious against Lance's skin.

And oh.

It was a little like time slowed down, except time had already done that; Fred's head wasn't exactly clear just now. He could hear that George had stopped breathing, and his own breath faltered. It was like the silence of trains being cancelled in the night, the absence of noise feeling louder than any scheduled run. He felt George's next thrust right down to his toes, deliberate and weighted, and couldn't hold back a grunt even as he tried to clamp his unsteady breathing down.

Fuck, please. He braced himself, and George did it again, pointed shove of his cock that said more plainly than words, you want this, and, you want this hard.

"Yeah," Fred gasped, abandoning a script he hadn't noticed making, clutching at George's fingers against the sheets. He was pushing up, his whole body pulsing, wet and hot along every part of him that touched another man's skin. Please, he thought; please, please, and then George was pulling free of his hands and gathering his hips, and they were shifting, manoeuvring Fred to his elbows and knees.

The next thrust made him bury his face against Lance's cock again.

"Jesus," Lance whispered, and George started fucking him hard, concentrated slam-slam-slam that made Fred arch and whine, "you're just, oh, man?"

Fred kissed Lance's stomach as much as he could, then shuddered when Lance reached down, when Lance's fist closed around the cock against Fred's cheek and started sliding, silver-ringed and certainty-sure.

He was beating off. He was beating off, Fred's brain explained patiently, because Fred didn't have the coordination to help, because Fred's mouth was slipping erratically against Lance's stomach and knuckles and cock, because Fred's attention actually couldn't be spared for a hot popstar while his-- while this sex thing was going on.

He amazed himself by shying away from it even as George readjusted his grip and pulled halfway out and started sliding, fast-paced three-inch slide, raking sparks into Fred's brain and making the pit of his stomach cry for a deep hit again.

He recognised the technique. He, fuck, he used the technique, used it on himself, his own fist, holding the head of his cock with both wet hands and rubbing fast, sublime couple of inches ignited in pure sensation again and again. And George was doing it using him.

"That's not fair," he heard himself whisper, and somewhere along the line George was breathing again, was panting soft and rhythmic, an intimately familiar sound. Jerking off, or with Oliver, or one of the others. Fred swallowed at an odd desire to be able to see George's face right now, to meet his eyes, get an affirmation that neither one of them was pretending this wasn't happening. His head spun in time with his pulse. Even though he wouldn't give up George's hands on his waist, tight and demanding, he suddenly missed the hand-holding moment earlier on. That was private, exclusive, nothing for Lance to see or feel.

Or failing the hand-holding, his brain added hazily, a moment later, he'd settle for a less selfish use of George's cock. Not fair to drive him crazy in this abstract way, use him like a fist, to tease in George's own time. Not fair at all.

"Properly," he whispered, coaxing with his voice and his hips, trying to rock back and take the evasive head of George's cock back deep-deep-brutal, and George gripped fiercer at his hips and sped up, just as shallow, his edged fingers digging into Fred's skin.

Fred licked distractedly at Lance's knuckles and barely heard the groan, everything blurring now. Buzzing waves of frustration crashed over and over him until he was wriggling his ass in George's grip in a blatant attempt to out-manoeuvre and take on the sly.

"Fuck," he whined, when George's grip just tightened. It gave him even less movement, every thrust sending a shallow thrill of sensation through Fred's body, relentless and unfulfilling. "What do you want?"

Lance muttered something, and Fred thought, yes, we know you're fine, and then George whispered, "this is serious. It's veritas," and Fred knew exactly what he meant, and something in his chest relaxed at realising they were on the same terrifying, stark-naked page.

"aeris'texi," he whispered back, the only thing he could think of, a Cornish spell for waterproofing ships before a storm.

"Oh fuck," George hissed, and gave a slight laugh, "suits me," and he wrapped one arm round Fred's stomach, pressing his face against the back of Fred's neck, and pushed smoothly all the way inside. Fred yowled, then started crooning as George started to move, George's hand finding his cock and pulling on it slow-quick-slow, the certainty of his movements filling Fred's brain with fire.

"If it suits you," Fred gasped, clutching at the sheets and pressing his wet forehead against Lance's hip, "it suits me - stands to reason," and George laughed again and twisted his strokes on Fred's cock until the sensation-thrills were shuddering through Fred in all directions, like shiny lace eternally unravelling.

Fred's breath started carrying sound, and George echoed him, indistinguishable, and the sensation gradually bunched, trembling, George slipping his hand down and confidently squeezing Fred's balls. Fuck Fred thought inanely, coming with a groan, lace turning to rigid lightning, ringing with pleasure for one-- three-- maybe eight seconds and then reeling in a darkness that slammed into him from all sides.

The world thundered with the sensation of swimming. "Since last summer," he thought he heard George whisper, and images flickered fast and fresh like releasing a jack-in-the-box, seaspray and candyfloss and sand-scraped skin and limpet-imprinted bare knees.

He opened his eyes as soon as he could and found himself lying face up on the dark sheets, someone's - George's - arm slung over his chest, pinning him down. He was tingling all over, especially in certain areas, buzzing like pins-and-needles but good. The room sounded wet. He turned his head, saw George sucking Lance off, mouth working lovingly up and down, Lance's fingers shivering through his hair.

Some reason, the thought of George tasting what Fred had tasted was more erotic than the fact that he was watching gay porn starring Lance Bass right now.

George's hand slid over Fred's chest, nails a light bite of pressure, and Fred flexed happily, and rolled to press against Lance's thigh. Lance groaned softly, then again, a rising cadence as George moved his mouth systematically and winked at Fred as he swallowed Lance down.

A collision occurred in Fred's chest, horror and bliss smashing into each other and making his head spin. George had fucked him. Fucked him. Fucked him, and it had been good, and not a show, no, couldn't be.

Time to read up on his wizard law.

"Jesus christ," Lance cursed, one hand swerving to where Fred was clutching his thigh, and Fred ducked his mouth and bit playfully at Lance's fingers, watching with a strangely detached pleasure as he saw Lance's hips rock up hard in response to Fred's teeth.

George hummed, eyes closed, hollowing his cheeks and then swallowing deep again, and Lance made a fist. Fred sucked Lance's knuckles hard and then pushed his tongue between them, and Lance gave a sharp little cry and jerked his hips and sleekly froze.

Fred watched George's throat work, and chewed distractedly on Lance's knuckles. Lance's hips pushed up a couple more times, then relaxed onto the bed, and he was stroking George's head like a wordless compliment.

George eased off him and breathed shallow and fast, pressing little kisses over Lance's stomach and hip, then kissed his way down Lance's wrist, winding up at Fred's mouth.

"Hey," Fred breathed, and kissed him, tasting Lance's cock and something saltier and the heat of exertion, still no apricots down here. George kissed back, a hand gradually climbing into Fred's hair, a slow pulse of silken existence until they gradually drew back and Fred realised he was in danger of sliding off the bed.

George shared his grin, then eased backwards, winding up lying the length of Lance's body, curling close, one hand on Lance's chest. "Bookends," he mouthed, and Fred grinned wider and copied him, shuffling close and tucking his chin against Lance's shoulder. Lance gathered him close with a sigh that sounded like the laziest orgasm Fred had ever heard, deep and soporifically contented.

Fred's eyes slipped closed, just as he felt George's fingers wriggle under his palm. Like it had been triggered, exhaustion swamped over him, allowing him just one final thought that there was a sort of perverse poetry to it, Lance's heartbeat cupped in the twins' twined hands.


Once, last autumn, in a club toilet, George had stripped off Fred's t-shirt and then his own, and swapped them, then run his wet fingers through Fred's hair until it stuck up in little twists. "Almost," he'd said, his head on one side, and then he'd reached between Fred's legs and pressed the heel of his hand sweet-firm against Fred's cock, and Fred had felt his own eyes widen, and he'd stayed carefully, perfectly still.

George's fingers had worked him slow and deliberate through his jeans until he was half-hard and they were both breathing through their mouths, and then he'd stepped back, given Fred a shaky grin, and nodded.

"Now you properly look like I did when I came in." He was still holding Fred's t-shirt balled up in one hand, and his chest was rising and falling with shallow swiftness, the summer's tan worn down to freckled pale smoothness again.

"Not quite," Fred had managed, pulling off his ring, and George's gaze flickered over it and veered across Fred's crotch and then back to his mouth, and then he'd held out his hand.

Carefully, Fred had slid the ring onto George's middle finger. It'd fitted, of course.

"Now we do," Fred had said hoarsely, staring at his fingertips and then turning and admiring their transformation in the mirror instead. He'd looked like George, and aroused as all fuck. "Who am I seducing, again?"

"Um," George had said, "the guy on the podium." He was rolling Fred's screwed-up shirt against his stomach, just a little. "Wait," George had said, as Fred swallowed and turned to go, and then George had reached down again, tips of his thumb and forefinger closing on the head of Fred's cock and dragging down, and Fred had reached for the mirror to steady himself, and closed his eyes.

"Thank you," he had said faintly, when George let go, and George'd made some low noise in his throat and immediately declared that he needed to go to the bar. He'd been gone by the time Fred had opened his eyes.

Fred didn't let himself think about that night very often. They'd been very, very drunk, he always told himself. They'd certainly never mentioned it again.


Sleep was a barrier that Fred wished he hadn't crossed.

"Hey," he woke to, with a poke in the shoulder, "wake up," and it was very odd for George to be here since Fred could quite clearly feel that he was wrapped around some naked man, and unless something monumental had happened then that wasn't normally-- oh fuck.

He opened his eyes, and caught his breath. George was leaning over him, face utterly blank, eyes flicking discreetly to Lance as soon as he saw Fred had woken up.

"He's asleep," he whispered. Something monumental, check.

"Yes," Fred agreed, and for a moment all he could think of was how much he admired the tough curve of George's lower lip, and then he realised that that was quite an inappropriate thought, and dashed it from his mind. "We should probably leave."

"Yes. So, um. We'd better get dressed," George whispered, his hand hovering at Fred's hip, then moving away when Fred leant into it. It still seemed to be dark outside - although of course, these would be very expensive curtains.

Fred faked a yawn and nodded, trusting that George was watching him, then slithered off the bed away from him, finding his twisted-up boxers and shaking them out with complete concentration.

Lance slept. Fred put his foot unsteadily into the first leg of his boxers, swayed wildly, and groped for stability in the shape of the bed. He glanced at George, and George was so busy buttoning his own fly that he didn't seem to have noticed. George's eyes kept darting towards Lance, nerves or something else. Lance slept.

Fuck. And then, clear in his mind, the idea that George was thinking of something else while Fred had been gasping back in his hands-- please, no. With a moment of helpless concentration, Fred could see it all, Lance's strokes evening out to match George's - and even that thought, the idea of George pacing himself to the hot famous guy right then? still no, no a thousand times, because Fred wanted Lance but not as much as he wanted George, and he couldn't bear it if this were the crucial difference between them.

He pulled on his jeans and then, reluctantly, walked round to George's side of the bed. His shirt was somewhere round here, but--

George's eyes were very dark when he glanced up, and Fred read nervous frustration as clearly as if George had written it in the air. "What's up?"

"Lost my shirt." Fred imitated George's neutral undertone without trying.

"Oh," George said, and the situation hung between them so vividly that Fred had an inkling that Skeeta's camera could take one shot of them and know every detail.

Irritated, Fred laughed softly. "Well, do you have it?"

"It's around here somewhere," George said. He was irritated too, Fred thought, but definitely not laughing.

It was too tempting to play the fool, knowing George respected his intelligence far too much to believe him. He swallowed and resisted. His mouth tasted like he'd panted too much this evening.

He licked his lips, and the touch of his tongue was like careless pressure on sunburnt skin; his lips were a little sore, felt tight, and George-- Lance-- no, he felt certain, George had done that.

He wasn't sure why he was so certain. And actually, heh, no. It was probably a misplaced romantic notion that after spending hours sucking Lance's cock, it was George's touch that had done the damage. Too surreal, that somewhere in the alchemy of their mouths he'd been scalded; some reason, though, for all he could remember giving head when he concentrated, the lingering sense-memories on his lips were rich and tantalising with the brush of George's mouth.

He was so fucked.

His shirt, he discovered - after about three minutes of squinting at the darkness round the base of the bed, skimming his palm over foreign crumpled clothes and trying to distinguish the thread-count - was slung on top of Lance's shoes.

He pulled it on, sleeve by sleeve. Lance slept.

"Look, Fred," George said abruptly.

Fred did up his buttons. "Mm?"

"This is awkward," George said bluntly, and Fred exhaled hard, shaking his head, grinning and not in any way feeling amused. He ached, a little, and George did not need to know that.

"Really."

"Keep your voice down," George said, and Fred lashed a glare at him, and George added quickly, "no, you know what I mean. You know this would be worse if he were awake."

Fred pinned his voice down to a murmur. "Maybe we should talk about it later then," he said relentlessly, "or not at all," and he couldn't help feeling like they'd wasted their opportunity to have Lance, which was odd since everything - but yes.

"This shouldn't have been about us," George said, like he was peering into Fred's brain, catching the thoughts just before they arrived. "Look at him."

Fred turned to look at Lance, all searingly debauched and mouthwatering, laid out like the vampires would be back any minute to finish the job. "You're right," he said, completely sober now and achingly wistful. "Look at him."

"It was a bad idea," George said quietly, "to both come to his house."

"Given what happened," Fred agreed, astonished to hear his voice thick like curdled emotion.

"Given the circumstances," George said, and Fred could tell he was nodding without looking over, and then he felt George's hand on his shoulder, his arm a reassuring pressure against his back, and held quite still. They were making up, putting it behind them, shelving it in shadow. It was wrong to want the spotlight back.

"I still think I should have had him," Fred joked, arranging his own arm round George's waist, very platonic, "I saw him first," and George said, so soft Fred almost didn't believe it wasn't his imagination,

"I saw you first," and held completely still.

"Few would argue," Fred heard himself say, his voice quiet enough that he thought he might get away with the cracks.

"We should maybe wake him up," George said, smoother, "since it could be the last time we see him," and his arm felt hot and light against Fred's shoulder, and Fred felt a curious buoyancy ripple through them both.

"If we did," he said carefully, his heartbeats thunderbolts between the words, "then certain things might develop, again."

"Things," George said, deadpan.

"Yes."

"Things," George said, tasting the word, and Fred dared wickedly squeeze George's waist, and George jumped and yelped and somehow turned indignantly in Fred's arms, and Fred tilted his head swiftly and their mouths touched like it was planned.

George breathed soft and light and fast as their lips brushed, hands barely skimming Fred's back, then closed in when Fred nuzzled at his mouth, closed in with gripping hands and sliding thighs and his testing, delicate tongue.

It was dark and warm behind Fred's eyes, and George's back moved beneath his hands like this were natural. "This is okay," Fred whispered, only just a question, feeling like a fool because he shouldn't need to ask because George was standing here, was kissing him, was his twin and they were supposed to share a language--

But frankly, Fred interrupted himself, their language felt foreign right now, and kissing could mean nothing since they'd managed to actually fuck each other and still not answer that fundamental question.

George nodded a little, kissing him slow and light, slower and lighter, and stopping. He rested his forehead against Fred's and took a deep breath. "Fred," he said, and Fred held his breath, and the pause seemed to last for three hours. Eventually, George whispered, "Mum's going to kill us," and Fred choked, relieved beyond all imagining.

"Mum is not going to know," he retorted, and George grinned and kissed him, swaying his whole body close, and Fred firmed his hands on George's hips and shook him warningly, and George started giggling.

"Sor--"

"You don't mean it so don't say it," Fred said quickly, quoting Ron a thousand times in one moment, and George laughed harder, pressing his face into Fred's shoulder, quaking. It was altogether too much temptation. Fred nipped at George's ear, pressing his teeth together harder than he'd dare with someone else, and George sucked in his breath hard, clutching Fred's back, his whole body flexing in Fred's arms.

"Fuck," George whispered, turning his mouth against the side of Fred's neck, pressing swift light feverish kisses up to his ear and then pausing, mouth over Fred's earlobe. "We're so fucked."

"Yes," Fred said, shivering hard and trying to tamp it down, "If this doesn't cause trouble--"

"There's no ifs," George said; "it's going to."

"Yes." And then, when that didn't seem to cover the enormity of hovering on the brink of complete and illegal insanity with his own flesh and blood, he added, "fuck," and that sent George off again like the same thoughts had been going through his head as well.

Naturally, that wasn't an entirely impossible likelihood.

"Okay," Fred said, when George calmed down a little, "we should really get out of here."

"Heh," George sighed, and unfolded from him, then reeled back in to give him one light kiss on the lips, and ducked down to find his shoes.

Fred looked for his own shoes, tugging them on, glancing over the bed, and oh. Lance. Wasn't quite sleeping any more. Fred swallowed, heat tingling the length of his body, and Lance pushed himself sleepily up on his elbow and drew up one knee.

"Hello," he said. George's head snapped up, and Lance glanced at him lazily, then grinned. "Oh," he said, "relax. I'm flying out to Florida in six hours anyway." His gaze swept over Fred again, and his grin widened. "I mean, not that that's not enough time to... no, I better not."

"We've gotta get home," Fred apologised, "or people'll get suspicious. So we'd better not, too."

"Home for curfew," Lance said wonderingly, and relaxed back on the bed, throwing his arms out, tipping his head back. "God, I love my life."

George was still kneeling, hands frozen on his shoelaces. "Will you be back?"

"Wednesday," Lance said instantly, and pointed vaguely at the bedside table with one finger. "My card's in that drawer."

Fred strode to the drawer, pulled it open, and took out the uppermost of a stack a pale squares with flowery script across one side and a long number over the centre. Fred felt a certain amount of power in its innocuous frame. It was definitely important. They could work out what to do with it later.

"Call me," Lance said, and Fred looked down at George, and George wrapped his hand round Fred's knee and used it to pull himself to his feet.

His eyes were gleaming exactly how Fred had a feeling his own were, right now. "We will."

"Excellent," Lance drawled, then looked over at them, eyelashes flicking as his gaze swept down them and up again. "Oh, man. I love my life," he repeated, then tapped his cheek. "C'mon, kiss me and then get outa here before I drag ya back down with me." He smirked. "You'd never make curfew then."

Fred went, and Lance's cheek was sleep-warm beneath his mouth, and he kissed it and then Lance's mouth as well, softly, several times. Lance's lips were sweet like someone had rolled roasted almonds across them, somewhat addictive, and then there was a hand at his hip and it was George's turn.

Fred backed off, turning Lance's card in his fingers, and watched George's head, auburn in the gloom, dip to Lance's fair one. He licked his own lips. They were in a lot of trouble.

"Fuck," Lance bit off, a moment later, "get out, I mean it, or I'm not gonna be responsible for what happens," and George laughed softly and grabbed Fred's hand, and they stuffed their feet into their shoes and stumbled out. They hurtled down the stairs, tumbled into the frosty yellow-lit darkness outside, and pulled the door carefully shut behind them.

The night had dipped from cool into fucking freezing, and Fred's muscles promptly started to tremble with a view, he suspected, towards seizing up and crippling him for life.

"Fuck, it's cold," George hissed, huddling determinedly at him, and Fred nodded ruefully and chafed their hands together. They were dressed for a lazy houseparty, for fashionable debauchery. Practical didn't come into it.

"We'd better catch a taxi," Fred said, and peered towards the road, somewhat reluctant to head out into the actual street just yet. He liked Lance's drive. It was all... private. "I don't think we can make the broom come here."

"Not without a specific location for it," George agreed. "Right, then. Taxi. Home."

There was a pause. A taxi rolled past, its little yellow light friendly.

They didn't try to catch it because George was kissing him again. "You didn't see that," he muttered, against Fred's mouth, and Fred shook his head because no he did not, not if George said so, and then an owl hooted and they scrambled back from each other in complete and abject fear.

It wasn't for them.

"Fuck," Fred grinned, head full of stars. "We should really get going."

"Fuck," George said suddenly, "The clock."

Fred had thought of that. "That's okay," he said, shaking his head quickly. "The reading won't have changed from City. Or Party, at worst."

"It might have fluctuated when we got in the taxi," George said nervously, and Fred smiled.

"No problem. The party moved. C'mon," he added wickedly, "we're both together. She might suspect mischief, but worse than that--"

"That's the one good thing about being us, right now," George grinned, squeezing his hand as they wandered down the drive, and Fred pushed him briefly against the gatepost and kissed his lower lip before whispering,

"There's more than one good thing. After all, we've got our own room these days."

George made a plaintive noise against his mouth, half a kiss and half a protest. "Yes, but," he complained, sounding as if he'd thought about this a lot, "It's not that good, because they'll be suspicious if we soundproof it, or--"

"--lock ourselves in the treehouse again, and--"

"--yet if we stay here all night--"

"Then they'll come look for us," Fred finished, disheartened, and George nodded. "And that's never fun."

Moodily, they started casting taxi charms.

"I suppose the sooner we're home, the sooner we can go out again," Fred said, after a minute, and George looked a little happier.

"That's true. And," he added enthusiastically, pulling Fred close and working a hand into his pocket, "Lance gave us his cardboard, and I think it's got a spell on it!"

Fred grinned, starting to fizz again. "Okay," he said, spinning the taxi charm a little faster as they held the card in the glow of the streetlamp and squinted at the lettering together, "well, at least that should keep us busy for a while."


George had £4.16 and Fred had £4.39 and the taxi was £7.60 back to the party to collect the broom, and the chips Fred was sent to fetch were 95p. Lucky, that.

Fred doused on the vinegar but only scattered a tiny bit of salt, because that was how they liked them. The woman behind the counter did a double take, and Fred turned to see George framed in the florescent lights. He had the Nimbus in one hand and was leaning against the doorframe with the other, and the lights washed out his eyes and hair and he looked exhausted and pitiful and happy.

There was no question that Fred loved him, obviously, but he had the first sudden inkling that this might actually work.

"Chip?" he beamed, holding out the steaming waxed-paper cone.

"Chip!" George said, with relish, taking a handful as they folded back out into the night together, making happy little noises as he ate.

They flew to the nearest portkey and lingered there, licking vinegar-stained fingers and making excuses not to go home until Fred grabbed George's damp hand and held it over the half-chewed acorn.

"We're going," he said sternly, and pressed down, and the world fizzed in and out, and then they were staggering towards the front door of The Burrow.

"I don't want to go in," George said stoutly, shaking off Fred's hand, and Fred thought, no, me neither, except that he could really do with a hot shower right about now. His aching shoulders, in particular, thought that would be a resoundingly good idea.

"You can camp in the garden," he said.

"No, I want a shower," George said, and Fred smiled reflexively, and kissed him quickly on the mouth, daring in the pre-dawn gloom. "Fuck," George muttered urgently, pressing back at him, and they were outside their house, actually under their parents' window, and the inkling that it might work suddenly seemed very far-fetched and idealistic indeed.

And yet. And yet, that definitely wasn't enough to make Fred pull back right now. George's mouth tasted of hot chips and sleepy sulky boy, and his fingers were damp at the base of Fred's skull, and this was insanity, in an addictive sort of way. The dawn chorus started up, fluttery-shrill on the edge of Fred's awareness, and there was a moment that went on and on where they were kissing fierce-hard and then the next where their hands snapped up and tangled in a mutual effort to push each other away.

"Fuck," George breathed, and Fred shook their fingers free and ran his hands through his hair, and blurted,

"We could shower together."

George's eyes widened. "We could not."

"We could," Fred retorted, at normal volume, and hearing his own stubborn argument-ready voice was like normality descending again. It was Saturday morning, disgustingly early, and they weren't even headed for a hangover. Everything would be fine.

"We could not," George squeaked, but he was buckling, crumbling, and then he was just staring, surprised and earnest, into Fred's eyes. "Okay," he said. "Maybe."

Fred beamed, and kissed his cheek, and led him into the quiet clutter of the house. A dishcloth stirred lazily and lost interest. The clock whirred as its hand trundled back to Home.

"One thing," George said determinedly, when they reached the bottom of the dark stairs, and Fred turned expectantly, impatient for the hot water now.

"What?"

"Seriously," George said softly, walking upstairs to get level with him, "I'm scared. We're in so much trouble," and Fred let him get on the same step and then pushed him briefly against the wallpaper and kissed his lower lip before whispering,

"Yes - but when are we not?"


Epilogue:

"You know what," Lance breathed, the second time he took Fred home, "I think your sister's hot."

Fred froze.

Posted by Calico at 06:18 PM

May 05, 2003

Under Glass

This is primarily for Georgina, to add to her smart!Nick file, with complimentary Christina for Hnix, and huge giddy thanks to Adam for his contribution of, like, all their intelligence.

For the record: Nick modelling their school uniform. Really quite inspiring.


[1]

Nick is one of the boys that sit crowded at the back of the maths room and banter with Mr Joy, while JC is one of the boys that sits at the front, sometimes by the window, and always gets his homework in on time. That's just the way it is.

Mondays and Fridays, they have one of the old-style classrooms, with one huge wall of blackboard and proper wooden desks. Wednesdays, they've got one of the newer rooms complete with whiteboard and plastic-topped tables and windows through to the corridors, and JC knows for a fact that on Wednesdays he always gets a good view of Nick and his cronies as he walks along the corridor from French. Not that he has a crush on Nick, or knows his timetable, or anything.

JC does actually have a tiny crush on Mr Joy, but obviously keeps it to himself. Mr Joy has surprisingly short hair for a teacher, like a rather handsome ex-marine, and he's tanned and laughs easily and rubs chalk off the board with his fist and then wipes the dust off on his thigh. Jeans, of course.

"You've got a choice this morning," Mr Joy says, tapping the board with one knuckle to get their attention, and JC presses on his calculator and checks the screen's not smeared. "Easy, or rock hard?"

"Rock, what else?" Nick calls, from the back, and Mr Joy beams, which gives him dimples.

"Suits me. You're all happy with matrix algebra?"

"Yeah," comes the chorus. JC just nods, and Mr Joy catches his eye, all warm approval. JC smiles and then, the moment Mr Joy looks away, gazes studiously out the window. It's chucking it down outside so there isn't actually a view, but this is his best tactic to avoid being called on.

He can fuzzily see the stone paving curving away, and to the left, the jut of the courtyard, but the mist's swallowed up the entire lawn, and most of the sky to boot, and the stonework that's left is completely distorted by the lashing rain.

JC's been at this school six years, though, so it's not like he's curious.

"Then we'll have some fun," Mr Joy promises, a pleasant cruelty in his voice, and rubs his hands together. A few of the boys jeer a little, and someone throws a screw of paper; Mr Joy cups it out the air, to general laughter, and cocks his head.

"Nice catch, sir."

"It was pretty smooth, wasn't it," Mr Joy agrees affably, and his gaze zeroes in and fixes on somebody near the back. JC braces himself for hearing Nick's lazy, cocky drawl, then relaxes when Mr Joy says, "Wilson, you've got time to make cruise missiles - how about inverting this matrix."

"Hold up," Wilson says, and JC scribbles in his workbook, tries to remember which bit gets multiplied by what, and eventually ends up with his own new grid of numbers. "One, two, three, minus one, zero, one, minus one, minus two, minus one, all over two," Wilson hedges, exactly like JC's got written down, and Mr Joy squints at his piece of paper for a moment, lips moving, then shakes his head.

"Almost," he says, "good try, but you forgot--"

"One, minus two, three, one, zero, minus one, minus one, two, minus one, over two," Nick calls, in the sexily irritating manner of one certain they are right, and Mr Joy breaks off his sentence and grins and then jabs his finger in the direction Nick's voice came from.

"Nice one. And the extra step you took?"

"Flipping the signs to change the minors into the cofactors."

Oh yes, the matrix of cofactors, JC thinks, hearing the lads at the back putting Wilson through the wringer, incredibly glad he hadn't been called on. He can't think of anything less fun than drawing attention to himself in this crowd. A discouragement of throwing little bits of paper, if ever he'd needed one. Of course, now a couple of the girls near the back are cooing indulgently over poor Wilson, and the lads are hooting obscenely about extra tuition, but that's still not JC's scene.

"All right, settle down," Mr Joy calls, and the air is promptly thick with a hail of paper twists. JC winces, then makes it into a grin when he realises Mr Joy is visibly struggling to keep a straight face. "Or," Mr Joy says slowly, brushing the paper off his sleeves with great dignity, "we could waste even more of our school supplies."

"Wahey!" some lad at the back calls, "Supply wasting! Cool!"

"Shut up, Dover - don't you know we're here to learn?" Nick drawls, with breathtaking insincerity, and Mr Joy gives him a look of utterly charmed irritation, and folds his arms.

"Thank you, Carter."

"Any time, sir," Nick says, and the air fills with soft catcalls, because Nick's voice absolutely invited them.

Mr Joy looks at JC. "Some day," he says confidentially, his voice pitched for the whole room, "I'm going to get it put into my contract that I never have to teach A-level maths on a Friday afternoon."

JC laughs, but quietly, with an eye to shutting up the moment Mr Joy actually wants to get on with some work. The rest of the class laugh long.

Mr Joy heaves a dramatic, manful sigh, then turns and starts writing on the board. JC watches as if he's not aware of the noise behind him, because it's true: Friday afternoons always start rickety, and it takes all his concentration to get the requisite work done.

"By Monday's lesson," Mr Joy says eventually, tapping the board of problems with his hand. "Mess around now if you like, as long as they're done. Any questions, I'll see you individually now - which I hope you'll take advantage of, since this is the last chance before the weekend."

"Aw, but sir, I thought you were coming to my house this weekend, personal tutor style," one of the girls purrs, and the laughter reaches new heights, and Mr Joy gives her a surprised, crooked smile that JC covets.

"Fraid not," he says, then jerks his thumb at the board. "Okay, go." The class quietens down immediately, and the air rustles with scribbling noises. Mr Joy underlines Monday in crumpling red chalk, then wipes off his hand, leaving a streak of crimson across his thigh, and sits down at his desk.

"Thought you'd say these'd be rock, sir," Nick teases, after a moment, and JC swallows.

Okay. Maybe JC actually does have a tiny crush on Nick, as well.



[2]

The first time JC can remember seeing Nick - that is, following him with his gaze, tracking his progress down the length of the room, rather than simply being aware of his somewhat belligerent existence - was when they had a detention together for turning up late to R.E., and because neither of them had coloured in their Plague of Locusts.

They were, perhaps, twelve.

"Just because it's not a core subject," the R.E. teacher snapped, scowling over his half-moon glasses, "doesn't mean you don't have to take it seriously. You don't not have time to do it. You find time."

"Sorry, sir," JC said obediently, face burning, and then glanced at Nick's silence in surprise.

There was a pause.

JC swallowed.

"You know why I didn't have time to colour in the locusts, sir?" Nick asked eventually, a tight anger to his voice that made JC flush tense all over.

The R.E. teacher frowned. "I don't much like your tone, Carter--"

"It's because my little brother, sir, he's in Juniors now. He's in Y3, and the classes are bigger. And someone almost broke his arm today, some new kid, and so I spent lunchtime over at Gleadless, making sure it won't happen again."

"Fighting?" the R.E. teacher demanded, and JC was watching Nick openly now, taking in the redness round his mouth and the way he kept his hands in his pocket, and had to remind himself not to gape. He wasn't supposed to be hearing this, he was pretty sure. "If you were fighting again, Carter-- wait, you weren't even on school grounds?"

"No, sir," Nick said deliberately. His eyes were half-closed, flinty, and he was focused on the middle distance. JC followed his gaze to a crayon-drawn poster of a green-blue globe with the banner, An Eye for an Eye and the World would be Blind. He suspected Nick wasn't seeing that.

"I'm reporting you to your head of house," the R.E. teacher was growling, "now sit down, both of you."

Nick turned and stalked to the back of the class, flung himself down in one of the black plastic chairs, and that, JC remembers, with startling clarity, was the first time JC's gaze tracked him across the room.



[3]


"Skim-read chapter ten," Mr Joy says, levelling his finger at the back of the class, especially restless for a Wednesday, "and then do all twenty exercises, okay?"

"Sir, six to thirteen are really stupid questions," Nick complains, and JC stops reading number one and hastily flips the pages forwards. "They're all identical. It'll take ages."

"Okay," Mr Joy says equitably, "do two of those eight, any two, but I'll expect to see all the rest. I'll be ten minutes, tops."

"Where're you going, sir?" some boy calls, suggestive, and JC tries to tune it out, focusing on the first question. Eigenvalues, corresponding eigenvectors thereof.

"Oh, I'm bored of teaching you lot, so I thought I might grab a cup of coffee and put my feet up for a bit while you slave away in here."

"Bring me a coffee, sir," Nick says, and JC shivers despite himself. That tone of voice, used on a teacher, is almost worthy of prosecution. "Please?"

"Not a chance," Mr Joy says warmly, and gives them all a small wave as he wanders out, heading off down the corridor, letting the door swing slowly behind him. JC smiles to himself, turning to the beginning of chapter ten and smoothing down his page, giving his retractable pencil two clicks. The rain on the window is soothing, rolling shiny in the corner of his vision, blotting out the distracting green-grey English countryside. Right. Eigenvectors.

The door finishes its slow weighted glide and finally clicks shut, and a quiet hell breaks loose.

"Okay," Wilson's hissing, amongst a frenzied bustle of papery noise, "quick, quick--"

JC looks round, startled, to see Nick lift his chair one-handed and gleefully twirl it round, setting it back down on the wrong side of the table, facing the wrong direction. He's not the only one, and a dull shrieking of chair and table legs breaks out, along with semi-hysterical giggling from what feels like all corners.

"C'mon, guys - all of you, you've got to," Dover urges, reaching for a spare table and rearranging it without even looking, "it's not going to work if half of you don't--"

JC looks around at the rest of the kids still sitting down - about four of them, already stirring uneasily and putting their pencils away - and then reluctantly folds the corner of his page down and closes the book. In the time he takes to do it, Dover's converted four more seats.

"Poor Joy," someone's chuckling, and then Aguilera pipes up,

"Oh, I'll cheer him up," and they clearly planned this, because now the whole Back Row Team are advancing down the tables, grinning and coaxing the unwilling out of their seats with much the same subtlety as a tornado.

"I bet you will, and you'd cheer his wife up, and all," Dover leers, and Aguilera gives him the finger while flipping round a desk with her other hand, and suddenly Nick's by JC's table, fingers closing on the back of his chair.

"C'mon, Chasez," he says, grinning from ear to ear, and JC stares at him for an embarrassingly long heartbeat before nodding and grinning on automatic and shuffling out, pushing his chair back as he stands up.

He has a feeling he ought to be able to orchestrate a full-body press as he squeezes past Nick to free up his chair - but he doesn't. Nick spins the chair neatly, hands it over to him, and looks about to dash off down the new front of the classroom when JC sits down again and hears himself say, "Why don't you move the whiteboard?"

Nick freezes, then grins down at him, and waves over his shoulder. "Wilson, heel," he calls, and Wilson bounds down, Dover in tow. Nick jerks his thumb at the front of the classroom. "Whiteboard," he says.

Dover and Wilson stare at him a moment before beaming and giving each other a quick hi-five, then leaping over a couple of straggling chairs to jostle the whiteboard off the wall.

Nick claps JC's shoulder, says, "nice one," then strides over to direct Wilson's backwards progress down to the new front of the room. The whole class is chortling to itself, even as books start being opened and calculators slid out their sheaths again. This isn't the Further Maths class for nothing. Wilson and Dover prop the whiteboard against the wall, then Dover kneels down to draw what quickly turns into a series of random matrices which look nothing like the answers to any of the questions.

JC finds he's now, if only temporarily, one of the boys in the back row.



[4]


The storm that's been lurking on the horizon in clouds shaped like smudged bullets is finally, finally driving up the field. JC scrabbles, horrified, in his bag, and closes his fingers round his rain coat in time to realise it's not going to make a blind bit of difference.

He wrestles with the contents of his bag a little as the first drops hit him, managing to squash most of his textbooks into a makeshift cagoule pocket. Stuffing in his sheet music at the last minute, he starts to run towards the courtyard, his bag bumping rhythmically against his knees.

He's been waiting for his mum, of all things; waiting for a lift to orchestra. He makes probably the fifth mental note this week to get driving lessons just as soon as he can. He cuts across the margin of squelching grass, then pelts across the wet paving on mud-slippery soles, ducking into the courtyard, under the sheltering ledge of stonework, and pushing hopefully at the door to the language department.

There is a complete lack of give to the door. JC frowns, then sighs. Ah, yes. Past 4pm, so the security system's on. He could stay here in the rain, he thinks, or he could walk round to the front of the school and get himself let in by the receptionist and then run round the music corridor and then cut through the common room and open the door from the other side so he can watch for his car.

Not exactly worth it. He leans against the door, trying to stay precisely perpendicular to the stone ledge above him, so that his bag stays almost as damp-not-sodden as his body.

He squints through the rain at the road, deciding that if a red car draws up, he'll be able to see it, and if a red car happens to be already waiting for him, then logic suggests that eventually someone'll come find him.

He's not exactly inconspicuous, he thinks, what with the yellow fluorescent cycling stickers on the back of his rucksack, and then he sees Nick walking through the archway opposite, framed and enrobed and drenched in falling water, and hopes desperately that he is, against all likelihood, invisible after all.

He shifts backwards until his bag hits a column, trying to look chameleonic. Nick's rucksack is riding low on his back, and his hair's flat against his forehead, and he's walking quite purposefully through the rain towards the gate. JC checks his watch - 16:08 - and guesses that Nick's probably been in detention.

He looks at the wall, concentrating on a pale skeletal weave of ivy fused to the dark stone, and then it occurs to him that the chances of Nick looking up are really small and yet he's nevertheless passing up the opportunity to watch him all casual and wet.

So.

No harm, he thinks, imagining what could happen if Nick did see him, if he maybe walked over, maybe stroked a knuckle down his chest, maybe hooked his fingers down the front of JC's grey uniform trousers-- and then Nick notices him, looks up for some reason and spots him, his head turning curiously as he walks.

JC ducks back against the pillar, then finds he's no less visible and realises how foolish he must look, all damp and cowering, jammed in a doorway. He lifts his hand in a little wave.

To his horror, Nick slows down, stops, then cocks his head. JC's pulse speeds up, and he wonders how much Nick can actually see through the pouring rain, if he looks like anything more than a fuzzy schoolboy-shape lurking in a doorway. Waving.

Shit.

He smiles nervously, and his stomach twangs in terror as Nick apparently reaches a decision and wanders over to investigate, pulling out his earphones with a deft little yank on the wire. The most potent image in JC's mind right now is that of Nick with his shirt open, his tie pulled wantonly loose, leaning back against the stone wall, tugging JC closer with one strong, wet hand.

Nick reaches him and stops, still in the rain. "Oh," he says, pushing his wet hair up out his eyes and standing squinting with his hand flat on his head, rain falling over his face and making him blink a lot, "it's you."

"Hi," JC agrees, trying not to be aware that Nick's raised arm pulls his shirt collar wider. Water is shining on Nick's throat, and JC thinks about licking it off, about ducking his mouth to Nick's skin and tasting the fresh February Englishness of icy rain slinking beneath a schoolboy collar. "How's it going?"

"Wet," Nick says, and his gaze flickers to JC's backpack and then chest and then back up. "What are you still here for? Weren't in Richardson's detention."

"Waiting for my lift," JC says, and nods in the direction of the road. "Um, orchestra."

"Right," Nick says, and that amuses him for some reason JC doesn't really understand. There again, JC is just trying to remember to keep his mouth closed, to not watch the wet slip of Nick's lips around his words, so his understanding capability feels severely limited right now. "What do you play?"

JC tries valiantly to find a context for the question. Um. "What?"

"In orchestra," Nick says, like JC's stupid, although in fairness, JC thinks wryly, well, yes. "You know, instruments?"

"Oh, yes," JC says, nodding. He does know of instruments. Brilliant! "Um. Piano."

Nick frowns. "You're their pianist?"

"...no," JC admits, then rallies. "Well, maybe some day, but they've got a man right now. After him, I might get it. He's actually being paid, though, so he's hardly likely to move on soon."

"People should play because they want to, not for money," Nick says dismissively, and JC opens his mouth to agree and then feels a little bad for the pianist, because that wasn't what he meant, really.

He just isn't doing very well on the conversation front right now.

It doesn't help that Nick's shirt is turning transparent.

"Well," JC says doggedly, "actually, he's playing because he wants to, as much as the rest of us. The money's a perk." He makes it into a tiny bit of a challenge: "I don't have any problem with that - just wish they'd have me on the piano as well."

"Instead of...?" Nick says, sweeping back to his earlier question, though his eyes - well, JC's biased, but he thinks they're a little approving. He guesses not many people contradict Nick, given everything.

He wishes he had another contradiction to offer, but sadly he's not that good at ignoring outright questions. Instead, okay, what instrument. He always hates this moment, but he can't exactly lie. "Flute," he says, wishing it was guitar, or drums; wishing it was from any family but the wimpy woodwinds.

Nick doesn't look very impressed, and behind him, JC catches sight of a red blur pulling up at the curb. "I play guitar," Nick says, and JC thinks, gosh, big surprise.

The car's horn cuts between them. "That's my lift," JC says, stupidly. He shifts his bag more comfortably onto his shoulders, feeling miserable. It was better when Nick was just a soaked, sexy boy wandering past and off in the other direction.

Nick tilts his head. "You going along Mildred street?"

"No," JC says, then backtracks, "but, that is, we could, it's not too far out of our way." He imagines sitting in the back of the car with Nick, their backpacks a damp jumble on the middle seat, not even a threat of touching. He wants it anyway, despite everything.

"Nah, I'll walk," Nick says, turning, and JC wonders for a moment if he's supposed to walk next to him or behind him, then tells himself not to be so fucking wet - ha - and hurries to catch up.

Nick has long legs, takes long easy strides across the paving. Matching him step for step, JC feels the fabric of his trousers rub with unfamiliar tension against his thighs, and reaches the unpleasant conclusion that he must scuttle everywhere, if this is what proper walking feels like.

He discards that. Nick's strides are excessive, he decides, in a mental tone that borders on the embarrassingly paranoid. Stupid Nick, he thinks, staring at the shiny ground roving hypnotically fast beneath his feet, letting his mind run and run. Stupid, wet, guitar-playing Nick.

In an ideal, movie-flavoured world, JC thinks irritably, Nick would redeem himself right now. He'd glance at JC and say, "well, good talking to you," or "actually, maybe I will take that lift," or "my favourite classical artist is Johann Stamitz, actually," and then JC would be able to point out that he can actually play Stamitz's capriccio-sonata in A-major quite well, and Nick would look deep into his eyes and murmur, "really? You'll have to let me listen, some time."

In silence, they reach the car.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Nick says, with a short, decisive, not-unfriendly nod.

It's enough. And god, JC thinks frustratedly, he is pathetic, but he just nods happily and gets into the car and pulls on his seatbelt and watches Nick wander on towards the bus stop through the rain, and then gives Nick a little wave through the window when they pass him as they drive off.

Nick pauses in putting his earphones back in to lift his palm in acknowledgement, but it doesn't look voluntary. JC tips his head back against the seat and wonders what music Nick likes, how good he is on the guitar, what his fingers taste like when he's been playing all evening.

"Who was that?" JC's mum says, and JC rearranges his legs in the pitiful space he's got, and shrugs.

"A guy I know. He's nice."

"Oh good," JC's mum says, and JC doesn't know if she means good that JC's getting friends again, or good that he's not some big blond stranger. Doesn't really matter, he guesses. It's not like he'll ever be bringing Nick home to dinner.

"Was there any post for me?" he asks, as he opens his bag, pulling out his creased sheet music and starting to assess the damage.

"Not today," his mum says gently, and JC pretends that doesn't matter at all.



[5]

"Have you got the time?" JC hears, waiting in the bus shelter by the sandwich shop, spending a pleasant few minutes thinking about Nick's stomach and the sounds Nick would make if JC licked it. He looks round, sees a small familiar blond boy wrapped in a big plastic puffa jacket, his hair cut so short he looks bald. Even though it's gloomy in the bus shelter, his jacket is brightly shiny with rain.

A pint-size skinhead, JC thinks, amused, reaching for his phone, trying to juggle his brown-paper wrapped sandwich into his other hand without spilling mayonnaise-slippery crabsticks all over the place. "Twelve forty-five," he says, checking absently for messages-- no messages. He doesn't know how much it costs to text from America, but still. Vaguely annoying.

"Give me your phone," the little skinhead says, and JC looks at him in surprise.

"What?"

"Give me your phone or I'm going to kick you in," the skinhead repeats, and his voice pitches on the last couple of words, and he goes slightly pink and presses his lips together and glares.

You and whose army, JC thinks, then realises that three other boys are slinking into the bus shelter, and that this, probably, is the army in question. Damn.

JC looks from boy to boy, then back at-- Mathers, he thinks he's called. Year below, nasty little thing, clear doll-blue eyes in a belligerent face, one shaved stripe across his left eyebrow.

Prat, JC thinks, putting his phone deliberately back in his top pocket, buttoning it. "No."

Mathers slides his hand in his own pocket, and JC thinks nervously, knife, knife. Still. He saved up for this phone. "We'll kick you in," Mathers promises, and JC realises he's now in danger of puncturing his sandwich bag with his fingernails. His heart rate's high.

This is ridiculous - and it's worse because Mathers is a spoilt little rich brat who doesn't need JC's phone, doesn't actually need anything, and he's younger which makes it frankly embarrassing, and JC decides, squaring his shoulders, that no.

Not today.

"I'm amazed you're not asking for cigarettes," he says, then fakes a realisation. "Oh, wait, you turned sixteen last month, huh? You can actually buy your own these days!"

"Fuck you," Mathers spits, and JC gives him a sneer he stole from Lance Bass.

"You're not very big," he says. "Fuck off."

One of the boys lurches forwards, and Mathers snaps, "no, wait," whipping his pale hand out of his pocket to hold the lad back. JC relaxes a fraction. No knife, and also, no reason to hold back if they're serious. Far easier to pull a phone out the pocket of someone crumpled up on the floor, after all.

"Give us the phone," one of the other lads says, and JC knows the bus is due any minute now, and if he can just--

"Give it a rest," he says, and the world is swimming round the edges, adrenaline pulsing against his nerves. He ignores it. "Better luck next time - if you find someone your own size, you never know, they might not laugh in your face."

"You're not gonna be laughing," the other lad promises, drawing himself up to his full height of perhaps five foot four. He's stocky, and probably has the measure of JC, but doesn't need to know that; JC's relying on the fact that height is the important feature right now. "When we're through, you're not going to laugh for a long time--"

"Look, fuck off," JC says, trying to make it sound weary, which is oddly difficult right now, and then Mathers is growling, moving closer, getting in his face.

"You don't fucking tell me to fuck off," he hisses, breath hot on JC's chin.

"Oh, come on," JC says, resisting the urge to shield his sandwich, and backs up against the wall of the bus shelter, hoping the cheap blue paint won't rub off on his bag. No point standing his ground, not with the outnumbered factor. Best he can do, he thinks, is put them off until the bus arrives. "What the hell are you doing?" he asks, concentrating on Mathers. "As if you don't all have trust funds."

"Don't get anything til I'm 21," Mathers says, somewhat smugly, then his eyes flash angrily, narrowing.

Caught conversing with the enemy, JC thinks snidely, annoyed that he can't fold his arms without compromising his sandwich. "So you get such a tiny allowance you can't afford your own phone?" he says, raising his eyebrows, and resists adding, "sounds like Adler's inferiority complex raising its ugly head, if you ask me. "

"Maybe I just like teaching you a lesson," Mathers says, and JC lets his indignation show.

"Since when have I bothered you?"

"Right now," Mathers says, which is pretty weak, and JC feels contempt flow into the set of his mouth and eyes before he can stop it, and Mathers throws a punch at his jaw. JC ducks back, his arm shoving against Mathers' wrist, and Mathers' knuckles glance off his teeth; it doesn't hurt much but it's fucking outrageous, and JC sinks his fist into Mathers' stomach, making the damp puffy plastic squeak and hearing Mathers grunt in surprise.

"Fucking faggot," one of the other boys hisses, and they all pile on, and JC isn't a fighter but he knows how to dodge a blow, and in dodging he manages to make two of the others growl in pain so he can't be too dreadful. He's holding the sandwich behind his back, which is fucking stupid, but also, well, crabsticks. And he's hungry.

He ducks and lets the sandwich fall the rest of the way to the floor behind him, and feels the heel of his hand connect satisfyingly with Mathers' nose. Mathers curses loudly, and someone cracks JC hard in the ribs, and someone else knees his hipbone with a force that surely hurt them more than it hurt JC-- and then the bus hisses and steams and pulls up by the other end of the bus stop, and JC shoves every limb he can get hold of as hard as he can, snatching up his sandwich as he kicks Mathers ankles out with all his strength, and races round to the curb.

"Thirty-five, please," he pants, groping in his pocket for his bus pass, and the driver scowls at him for not having the right change and lurches the bus forwards as soon as JC's paid. JC walks carefully down the bus, holding the handbars at all times.

Someone just tried to mug him.

Some little kids just tried to mug him.

He finds a free double seat and feels safe, and then hates himself for that. He was buying a sandwich. He went alone to a different shop than usual because he remembered they did good crabsticks, and some horrible little Year Elevens thought they could steal from him. Worse than steal - thought they could intimidate him into giving it away.

Sometimes, he really wishes his best friend hadn't gone away to America.

All the time.

Slowly, he opens the brown paper bag, uncurling the corners, then tearing it down one side. The sandwich is dented, but it's a good solid white roll, stuffed with chunky pink-white crabsticks and lettuce and silky tangy mayonnaise, and although he takes the first bite with some trepidation that it won't have been worth it, soon he's smiling.

Tastes good.

Makes his mouth hurt to chew, and he realises Mathers' punch did some damage after all, but it does taste good. He eats it with trembling fingers, staring out through the drizzle-sprinkled window at dreary identical red-roofed houses and car upon car upon car. He wonders what commuting is like in America, what the view is, if it's raining there too.

His stop approaches, the school buildings visible at the end of the road. JC licks his fingers and wishes he had another sandwich, then screws up the paper bag, folding it first to avoid the slippery patches, and stuffs it in the side pocket of his rucksack.

Inside school, he pushes against the crowds of bell-summoned children and makes for the toilets, hiding in one of the cubicles, waiting for all the other occupants to leave. The air tastes of smoke and deodorant, and he sits on the closed toilet seat and reads the graffiti.

It mostly seems to concern the Beautiful People (LB gives great head!!, and then, in a different colour and hand, duh, and a third, oh right as IF he's the one on his knees) and generic insults, as well as a somewhat plaintive query, so am I allowed to sometimes split infinitives or not? and a whole wall of increasingly small-print discussion. Some people need to get out more.

JC reads it all, despairing as he finishes that there are still a couple of boys outside. He should just leave, he thinks-- except that it's a good idea not to turn up to maths looking like he's just been part of a ruckus, especially since he thinks he's just made himself late anyway.

Some of the boys are talking about girls, and some of them are talking about football. JC tries to remember the last time he cared about either, and comes up with a loss, which maybe, he thinks acidly, explains the fact that he just went for a sandwich on his own.

When he hears the door bang for the fifth time, a tissue-rustling silence descends; he shuffles out and tries to assess the damage in the mirror. He was right to come here, he decides: he looks roughed up. He smoothes his shirt and hair, and shakes his trouser legs, and straightens his tie, and leans close to the mirror, poking his jaw to see how noticeable the bruise is.

Not very. He's fine, he decides, splashing cold water on his face anyway, then patting it dry with green paper towels. Fine, and his hands have stopped trembling too, and he's going to be really bloody late for maths if he doesn't get going soon.

He's ten minutes late, actually, and Mr Joy holds up his palm and says, "wait there, just a minute," and JC freezes in the doorway.

"Sorry," he starts, and Mr Joy gives him a quick look.

"I just have to give you some sheets," he says, not angry, and JC breathes out. Mr Joy looks back to the class, and JC loiters by the door, shifting his weight to his other hip, trying to get the gist of the lesson so far.

The whole class is fixed on Mr Joy, and at least half of the back row is taking notes. Could be serious. JC folds his arms, shifts his weight again, then grits his teeth as the damp ridge of his waistband digs hard into the bruise on his hip. He can't quite believe four snotty little wannabe-punks managed to inflict actual damage, but here he is, late for his favourite lesson, undeniably sore.

His mouth feels hot, like the nerves are grating against each other, rubbing up a friction storm. He lifts his hand cautiously, brushing the pads of his fingers surreptitiously over his jaw and lips, convinced the area is swelling even though it feels the same. He presses the line of his lower lip gingerly, where it's hottest and rawest, and then notices with a start that Nick is watching him.

He looks quickly away. It's all he can do to not snatch his hand back down and lean nonchalantly against the door and whistle. He resists, though, and lowers his hand in his own time, and when he glances back Nick is still watching. It feels like assessment, like Nick's a man looking at a house that he's thinking of buying, critical but without malice, and JC meets his gaze for three... four seconds, then buckles and looks away.



[6]

One day Nick's not in school, and Aaron's got a detention for being surly, and JC's got a detention for answering back, so JC spends the whole of the half-hour staring moodily at the back of Aaron's scruffy blond head. Afterwards, they stalk through the corridor together, carefully ignoring each other, and then they reach the main door and JC sees that it's wet outside and promptly swings his bag off his shoulders and pulls out his cagoule.

"Shit," he hears, and looks sideways to see Aaron peering at the grey sheeting rain, one hand fingering his collar like if he turns that up it might keep him semi-dry, and so JC sighs, and offers his raincoat, and says,

"No problem, just give it to your brother," when Aaron tries to say he can't keep it.

Of course, JC never really imagined that Nick would bring it back.

"Um," he says, looking at the piece of blue canvas folded neatly in Nick's tanned hands, brain fizzing because he was pretty sure he'd never told Nick his address and yet voila, personal delivery, "thank you?"

"Yeah, well," Nick says, "teaching him, y'know. Family values," and JC thinks he's never heard such rubbish, but keeps his mouth shut because hello, still at least vaguely sane.

"Good luck," he says instead, and Nick squints at him slightly and tips his head sideways, and JC feels for a moment like he's being observed by the biggest, most passively inquisitive baby bird the world's every seen. He ducks his head, then tries not to blush when he peeks back and realises Nick's still looking.

"You're alright," Nick says eventually, and JC wants to laugh, because that's just the most-- ridiculous, and then Nick's passing over the raincoat, tucking it into JC's hands with his deliberate firm fingers, and pressing the whole bundle into JC's chest. He nods, turns on his heel. "Bye."

"Bye," JC calls helplessly, and Nick raises one hand in acknowledging farewell, without looking back. "Right," JC says, to himself, and nods some. "Yes. Better put this inside." He stares after Nick a little longer, then nods again, and reminds himself not to talk to himself like that, 'cause it's not cool.



[7]

JC hurries to his Friday afternoon lesson, shaking raindrops out his hair. He's late, but everyone else is usually later, so that's alright-- and then he gets to the classroom door, and freezes. He's the only one here, sure, great, but the relief fades as he notices the blackboard: module P6 mock examination.

The room is decked out like an exam, a wealth of sheets of paper on each desk; graph paper, tracing paper, pink-blue printed answer booklet, the works.

The tables have been separated, and when JC sits down in his usual window seat, he finds he's faced with a completely different set of graffiti from last lesson. This time it's someone with an awful lot of interesting spirals under their belt, who also seems to be the type to play 3d noughts and crosses with themselves.

The desk last lesson had an entire corner of coded formula carved into the wood with a compass, and JC had spent several happy minutes deciphering it. He looks at the exam paper, ominously official, and sort of wishes they'd left it.

Through the window in the door, he watches the rest of the school surge by oddly muted; a moment later, there's a change in the average height of the pupils outside, and the rest of his class and a lot of noise start to spill in. It's almost funny, watching them notice the exam stuff, but not very. He picks Nick's voice out the hubbub, and carefully looks away. Nick pushed into him in the corridor yesterday, a whole hot armful of musty damp woollen boy, JC's backpack getting squashed into a brick wall with the force of it. Nick, forging on past through the crowd, didn't seem to have noticed him.

"He split us up," Wilson yelps indignantly, and JC glances over to see a damp Nick giving a damp Wilson a friendly shove, then bouncing into the middle of the now-admittedly-separated back row and staking his claim.

By unspoken concord, no one makes a move to turn over the papers. JC slips his hand into his bag and fingers the envelope he snatched up from the mat when he went home to grab his calculator; it's blue handwritten airmail paper, and it's got an American frank. He didn't dare open it on the way to school, because of the wet.

He's just deciding he has time to read it now before Mr Joy comes in, has just got it out, slipped his finger under the tight flap and started to tear, when Mr Joy comes in and he finds himself sliding it quickly back into his bag. Later.

"Sir, what's this nonsense," Nick calls, and Mr Joy takes a sip of coffee from a polystyrene cup and winces before nodding at him.

"P6 module exam," he says, and then his eyes widen indignantly at the expressions of horror. "Oh come on, I told you there were going to be a few practise papers."

"But sir, it's Friday," Nick says, somewhat emphatically, and the rest of the back row nod in fervent protest.

"And of course, an exam would never fall on a Friday," Mr Joy says smoothly, then shakes his head. "Come on. Places, please." The class grumbles into their seats, and Mr Joy adds, "hey, just be glad I didn't put you in alphabetical order like I'm supposed to, bring you lot down to the front," and JC knows from GCSEs that he's sat next to Nick when things are alphabetical, and nods a little. Yeah, thanks, sir.

"Small mercies," Dover agrees, and JC looks back and then jumps because Nick's watching him, and for a moment the eye contact is sheer and bold.

"Yeah," Nick says, and it's like he sends a little spark right into JC's stomach, and then he's looking at Mr Joy and smirking sulkily. "You wouldn't dare though, would you, sir?" he calls, his voice all young sleek challenge. "You know it'd ruin my concentration, being up front."

"Oh absolutely, I'm sure it would," Mr Joy agrees mildly, setting his coffee of his desk, his attention ebbing fast. "Wilson, if your chair gives way, you know we're just going to stand round and laugh, don't you?"

"Better that than an exam," Wilson retorts, but he rights himself anyway, all four feet of the chair plonking back on the floor.

"Honestly, stop moaning," Mr Joy mutters, rolling his eyes. "Forty-five minutes, A's in the bag. You're all on form, no reason you shouldn't breeze through."

"It's formal though, this," Aguilera says dully. "It's like it's June already."

Mr Joy blinks, then very carefully sits down at his desk, steeples his fingers together. "Okay," he says, and suddenly JC remembers he's a grown-up. "It's February, not June. You do this paper, and I talk you through anything that goes wrong. Then you do a practically identical module exam, and then you never have to think about matrices or Argand diagrams again."

JC shivers, and sort of wants to curl up under Mr Joy's arm, or something. From the silence, he has a feeling the rest of the class feels the same, and then Wilson pipes up, "I will, when I'm a world-famous mathematician, sir," and the tension splits like a pregnant cloud, and the room rains with laughter.

"Glad to hear it," Mr Joy says, picking up his cup, then sips and wrinkles his nose. "Okay, I'm going to go get a real coffee with actual milk," he says. "You guys have forty-five minutes."

"Get me a coffee, sir," Nick wheedles, and Mr Joy gives him a slow, measured look. JC thinks helplessly that he'd love to be in a Joy-Carter sandwich.

"Okay," Mr Joy says, eventually. "First person to finish gets a coffee, and my undying approval. Exam conditions, mind. Go."

There are a couple of whoops, and as one, the class turns over the paper and shuts up. JC gives his pencil a couple of clicks, and gets to work. He imagines he can feel Nick watching him, for the first couple of minutes, and then he gets confused as to whether that little minus one means inverse or reciprocal, and his concentration takes over once more.



[8]

A casual observer would be forgiven for suggesting that it rains an awful lot at JC's school.

They're doing benchball instead of outdoor sports, and this is normally called a sissy game because it's what weak girls are rumoured to play - as opposed to strong girls, who wield hockey sticks and sometimes, indeed, deign to play hockey rather than just sock people round the back of the knees.

Today, JC thinks benchball doesn't deserve its title, or else maybe weak girls are still a good match for him, because he's just been slammed by a basketball for the third time - once in the head, twice in the stomach - and now he has to stand, waving desultorily, on a bench. Not his idea of fun.

The remaining crowd of boys surge forwards, the whistle gets blown, and it's all back on the floor to begin again. This time, the first ball thudding into his temple takes him down to commune with other people's plimsolls.

"Wuss," someone mutters, and JC readily agrees, and the former-hockey-enthusiast gym ma'am takes one look at his wrecked body and declares him unfit to play.

"Never a truer word was spoken," someone else calls, and JC nods blearily and staggers out into the corridor and thuds down in the plastic chairs outside the changing room and hello, Nick. Whoa.

Nick slouched in shorts and a tank top, no less.

He glances at JC with moderate interest. "You out?"

"Ball," JC whispers, "got me in the head four times," and it's only a tiny lie. Stomach, head: both part of the same nervous system.

"Ouch."

Silence sprawls between them for a minute, then JC, finding that he can now blink several times in a row and not reel with his vision full of sparkly bits, clears his throat. "How 'bout you?"

"Unsafe on court," Nick says, with a tiny lift to the corner of his mouth that JC only sees because he's, er, watching.

"Ohh."

"Mmhm," Nick says, and cracks his knuckles. JC winces appreciatively, and the silence unfolds again.

It doesn't seem like a long time before boys come hurtling, ant-like in their singular determination, out the gym and through the corridor and into the changing room. The air tastes nasty suddenly, and JC doesn't even want to know why.

He picks himself up, and Nick gets to his feet behind him, bouncing a little on his toes. JC makes an obsequious after-you gesture, and Nick doesn't appear to notice and just bounds ahead of him, some measure of apparently unlimited energy crackling into the floorboards.

Somewhat less Tigger-ish, JC follows him.

"Oi, wanker," some guy calls, affecting a broad east london accent, and JC concentrates very hard on measuring his steps back to the peg and small pile of clothes he calls his own. "You lost us the game."

It's not a big deal, JC thinks, what with it being benchball and a wussy game and not even real teams anyway, but apparently it's a big enough deal for him to be snatched off the floor by about half a dozen half-dressed young men and carried, log-like, through to the showers. There's a brief, sickening spiral through the air before he's dumped on the floor curled around some guy's fist.

He hisses at that. He hisses again at the next blow, and they should really make P.E. longer if boys have this much energy to burn, and then there's no sensation where the next fist should've been and a definite return of daylight, and he looks up to find Nick's got a collar in each fist and one of the boys is turning purple.

"Um," JC manages, and Nick's looking down at him from this weird angle of about ten thousand metres above JC-level, and then Nick shakes the boys and lets them scatter out of view.

"Okay?" Nick says, and toes JC's thigh experimentally.

JC nods, trying to control his breathing, ignoring the steady rumble of pain from his stomach. There's no point. Nick reaches down all that way to grab JC's collar and pull him up by it, another hand under his armpit.

JC struggles and pitches to his feet, and then gasps because Nick's hands steady him right against a spreading bruise, and Nick raises his eyebrows.

"I'm okay," JC says, which just makes it sound pathetically like he's not. He straightens his shoulders, and Nick frowns at him.

"That hurt?" he asks, flattening a hand on either side of JC's ribs and pressing, and thankfully it's not over a place someone got earlier and JC can just wet his lips nervously and shake his head.

Nick smiles, and JC wants to run away, and resigns himself to thinking incessantly about this moment for the rest of the week. Nick's hands are still on him, and Nick's still looking down, and Nick just pulled about six of his friends - or whatevers - off JC's twitching, defeated body and now they're in a deserted dripping shower room, alone. Bears thinking about.

"Might want to watch yourself round them," Nick says gruffly, and JC nods fervently, because yes, he certainly will. He's not sure what good it will do, but watching is definitely on the agenda.

"Sorry, I. um. Thanks," he says faintly, deciding that it must've been, yeah, payment due for keeping his brother dry that one time, and then Nick's running his hands up JC's complaining back and tilting his head and nudging his mouth an impossible-to-ignore fraction closer to JC's.

The air blazes with tension.

Possibly, just possibly, it's about something more.

"Any time," Nick says, and JC almost loses his balance and can't begin to process that.

He closes his eyes helplessly, then feels drastically paranoid and opens them again.

The corner of Nick's mouth has crunched into a little smirk.

"Well," JC says, magnificently. "I have. lessons?"

"Lunch," Nick corrects, and JC nods quickly.

"Yes. Lunch."

"I have to meet Lance." Nick's hands are settled at the nape of JC's neck, and the insides of his elbows are resting against JC's ribs, and it's undeniable imprisonment, and neither of them are breathing a word about it.

"I imagine he likes punctuality," JC says, sensationally inane. Lance Bass is blond and acidic and beautiful and so far above JC in the highschool hierarchy that lunching with him seems as unlikely as with Prince William or Marilyn Monroe.

"Mmhm," Nick says, and his eyes are half-closed.

JC thinks that if he were to struggle, Nick would let him go, but if he keeps up this persistent non-struggling, he'll get kissed sooner or later. Or someone will come in, and Nick will shake him reflexively and wander off.

Adrenaline is pulsing so thickly in JC's blood that his veins ache.

"So," he says, desperately casual, "what's--"

Nick presses lightly on JC's shoulderblades, and JC abandons his question and leans in, tilting his head helplessly, and then he gets intensely scared that Nick's going to laugh cruelly while spying boys from the back row take photos, and then Nick's tongue brushes JC's lower lip.

There aren't going to be photos, JC decides.

Posted by Calico at 11:16 PM