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The Fire Theft

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There are things that shouldn’t be mixed, Faraday reasoned. Grapefruit and prescription drugs; penicillin and methotrexate; absinthe and mint liqueur; sweltering summer nights and drunk neighbours who won’t shut up.

“Fucking twat,” his upstairs neighbour shouted. He never bothered to learn his name. “Fuck-ing twa-ath door,” the bloke bellowed. He had two girls with him, who giggled. A jingle of keys followed. Heavy steps. The creak of a bed. The telly being turned on.

It was 2 a.m.

Faraday was lying in his single bed on his back, very still. It was important to keep still. It was vital. He didn’t even blink, even though the lights from the streets were hurting his dry eyes. He’d lost his curtains to a fire. He had no curtains now, so it was important to have discipline. 

“Oh yeah. That’s more like it, yeah.”

Faraday was steadily sweating through his duvet. He didn’t have thinner sheets, and couldn’t sleep without being tucked in. A regrettable habit. He’d have to wash his one good set of pyjamas now, the striped flannel ones, the only ones with long enough trousers to cover his ankles. He tried to focus on his schedule. No school for a while, sadly; a shift at St Bart’s tomorrow. He could take the pyjamas to the laundromat tomorrow. His usual laundry day was Friday, but it’d have to do. It’d have to do now.

“Mmm.”

What he should do was to get up, peel off the pyjamas. Go downstairs. Put on a dressing gown, as a courtesy to his neighbours, since they all shared the same bathroom. Take a shower, the noise be damned. What are some screaming pipes to the bloke from upstairs throwing an orgy? It’d be unsatisfactory, yes. Half a year living here, and the water pressure hadn’t improved. Mold grew on the low ceiling. The armchair, where he was supposed to hang his towel, had began to rot away. The pink paint on the wall has started peeling. The shower curtain was yellowing. The entire house, this narrow cage built for Regency maids, was collapsing into steady decay.

His room was fine. His room was clean. His room was safe.

He had begun by removing the tacky plush carpet himself. The parquetry beneath it was cold, and it creaked, but looked nice after a whitewash. He had painted and refurbished the entire room: there was just enough space for one sturdy wardrobe for his clothes, and one set of shelves, where he kept his books, vintage vinyls and other belongings. A sink in the corner, and that was it. It put him in debt, still. He was paying for the abstract paintings, the lamps, even the monochrome throw pillows and potted succulents, everything that made it look as if he was just following a minimalist tiny house fad, as if he wasn’t broke, as if he could afford to have taste, and comfort. 

“Fuck, your tits.”

“Wanna—”

“Yeah.”

He rolled to his side, and got his slippers from under the bed, the faux velvet ones with his monogram. A stupid purchase. Childish. They didn’t make any difference. Something had possessed him to think that maybe if he put them on, and put on a silk dressing gown, and went to that stinking toilet with a rolled-up issue of BMJ under his arm, he’d feel different. That he’d be able to trick himself. That he could think: it was worth leaving Lidcote. He’d believe: London wouldn’t get the best of him.

He pulled out an ivory envelope from his slippers, and counted the coins in it. 13.50. What utter tosh. But his upstairs neighbour was having a bacchanal, and 13.50 was enough to escape. It was enough to get him out of the house, and get him somewhere secure, where envy and rage wouldn’t reach him, where he could be his proper self, just another shadow in the corner.

*

He walked up to King’s Cross, then followed the long roads down to Islington. The pavement was radiating warmth.  He’d walk to Blackfriars, where the breeze was cool, blowing from the murmuring Thames. He’d let it chill him, stay on the bridge’s stone balcony until his skin prickled and teeth chattered. He’d be quite refreshed then.

He’d buy something to eat, after. Something proper. He had vowed when he moved here, I’ll eat well, or eat nothing. His mother was a cook. She used to make bangers and mash, pork pie, scotch egg, puddings, kidneys, pollock, lamb. Good English food, plain but hearty. Faraday didn’t have the stomach for anything else, anything even mildly spicy. London had been, therefore, a disappointment. The dull ache of hunger followed him everywhere. 

He was carefully dressed and walked slowly, so the workers and partygoers, the butterflies of the night wouldn’t look at him twice. A pair of genuine leather loafers. Grey dress pants, rolled up as it was fashionable. A white linen shirt, French tucked, with dark blue dots that matched his bowtie. Slim, elastic braces. His lank ginger hair combed back. His moustache waxed. He’d been called a hipster, before. He was twenty-eight. Hipsters, he learnt, were a dying breed. The fashion of London eluded him. He wouldn’t disrespect the city by not presenting himself as a gentleman. His collar was always buttoned. He wouldn’t be caught dead in a T-shirt, or with his shoes unpolished.

When he followed Caroline here, he’d been most embarrassed by the clothing choices she’s made. They almost seemed deliberate, those ill-fitting summer dresses from H&M, the sweatpants and sneakers, how she just let her hair hang, unless Faraday sat her down and curled it for her. She’d eat at Pret a Manger and get frappuccinos at Starbucks like they cost nothing, but she refused to set a foot in Oxford Street, or Harrods, God forbid, no matter how Faraday had insisted she show some class, an heiress like her, an Ayres. The last time he saw her, no bra, band shirt littered with doghair, sunglasses at 7 am, and that horrid pleated maxi skirt with Chuck Taylors, as if she calculated a way to hurt him, a final stab to his heart. The fall of petals. I’m going to Canada.

He didn’t really think about Caroline Ayres anymore. Her memory was a wound, and sometimes he would pick at the scab, for sure, but found it healed, despite all expectations, despite how he thought the breakup would kill him, that he’d miss her terribly. He missed—company, maybe. Summer tended to be rather lonely. He blamed solitude and heat for his present taste, how he’s been forced to walk the desolate streets and chase a breeze, because all he could think about was that overheard conversation, fuck, your tits. He could imagine it perfectly, heavy breasts bulging out of some tacky sequin dress, large, dark nipples, and his upstairs neighbour palming himself through polyester soccer shorts, then taking out his short, fat cock (the glint of his fake Rolex watch in the dim light as he did so, that horrendous golden watch on his hairy arm)—but not enough to distract from the glory of his erection, the tip glistening as he slid it between the girl’s full tits, who pressed them together for him, giggling, with the other girl watching, perhaps with jealousy—

In his isolation, his fantasies has gotten positively pornographic. Something had to be done about that. Something to clear his head. They were shameful, these musings; how little it took to unsettle him. He was semi-erect, and walking fast as if he could outrun his humiliation. He broke into a jog by a red light, and kept running, with his cheeks burning. He told himself that he’d only need to reach the river, and all would be well. He was not a pervert. He was not being himself. He was just exhausted.

It occured him, faintly, that 13.50 might buy him a handjob in Soho. The mere idea of it was appalling. He wasn’t even on tinder, for goodness sake. He felt the absurd yet urgent need to duck into a dark alley, hide in a telephone booth and have a quick little wank—it wouldn’t take much, ten-twelve strokes at most. But to sink so low—it made him sick that he was even considering it. Weakness of the flesh, religion called it. He’d gotten weak; ten months of courting Caroline, and nothing but that fumble in the car, and precious little alone time since the breakup, and he’d always hated masturbation, besides, so what has gotten into him now—

What dangerous, strange thing possessed him?

There was light in a window ahead of him: blinking green lights, and he followed them like a beacon, a miserable little moth drawn from the lustry darkness. A club, all lit up on the corner of Farringdon Road. It’d have to do. He couldn’t be trusted to left alone in this state. He needed civilized company; required to be seen, to have those scrutinizing glances cast at him as he joined the queue. He needed to embrace panopticism—you will behave when you can’t tell if someone is looking. You will compose yourself. Foucault thought internalized surveillance was key to civilised behaviour. Surveillance, discipline, punish. Constant, constant, constant check-ins.

The usher hardly paid him any notice. The entrance fee was 10 pounds. The cost of sanity, Faraday thought as a bright green ribbon was attached to his slender wrist. Bodies pressed close to his as he entered, but he was already better. He had no desire to touch them, sweating twenty-somethings stinking of wine and champagne, painted blue and red by the lights above. The music filled the spacious room, the roar of a piano—some version of a popular song he couldn’t recall. Live music: the venue was more chic than anticipated. He headed towards the instrument tucked away in the corner. He didn’t know where else to go: he had no place on the dancefloor, and couldn’t afford a table. The music got louder, almost unbearable. The lights fell, then came back up again.

He caught the eyes of the pianist. They were mellow-brown, innocent, bright. The young chap smiled.

I see you. Hi. Take a seat. You are welcome here.

It was a fleeting thing: invisible men holding gazes—then the pianist turned back to the keys, hair hanging into his handsome face. He had a surprisingly broad set of shoulders, thick fingers, but his movements were bashful, delicate, the way he played, how he tilted his head. Faraday remained rooted, transfixed, then cursed himself and pulled away. He wasn’t here to ogle musicians. He turned his back to the pianist, squinted around for some other place to be. He caught sight of the men’s room, a green neon sign indicating its direction. Without thinking, he looked back at the pianist. Without meaning to, they locked eyes again. Almost, almost, a question was asked.

Faraday recoiled, forcibly leaving the scene, pulled back into the crowd, let it claim him. People made way for him: he wasn’t one of them, he wasn’t dancing, he wasn't even moving to the rhythm. The music was chasing him like a siren-call. He anchored himself by the bar.

“Water,” he croaked. “A water, please.”

The bartender looked at him the same way girls often did: a slight annoyance over his presence, a frown indicating that he was perhaps too forward, perhaps too preoccupied, or maybe that pathetic bulge between his legs had been noticed, despite his continued attempts to hide it. He wasn’t thinking about tits and cocks anymore; the scene that had chased him out of the streets had been quite forgotten. It was brown eyes, instead; brown eyes looking up at him from behind dark lashes, thick lips around his cock as the pianist fellated him, kneeling on the bathroom floor. Faraday grabbed for the glass, rather rudely, when the bartender handed it to him, and drank in big gulps. He got dizzy, for a second, drinking cold-cold water on an empty stomach, and chanced a glance over his raised shoulder when the music finished with a flourish; checking, maybe, if the pianist had taken a break, if he had accepted an unwitting invitation to the men’s room.

How stupid: the boy was still sitting there, massaging his wrists as a medley began playing through the speakers. He caught Faraday staring, and winked with a bashful frown. Faraday wanted to turn away, ashamed, but couldn’t. Refusal of such open, desperate flirtation would be a cruelty, but to return it in any way would be worse—would be inadvisable. 

The pianist got a glass of bourbon, abandoned on top of the upright piano, and raised it to him. Red lights caught on the glass. What Faraday couldn’t stand was his smile: open and friendly, trusting, as if Faraday deserved to be approached like that, as if he wasn’t a vile creature driven by base instincts, wearing human skin but quite ready for a grand reveal—to flay himself if it meant he could get his cock wet—

The glass in the pianist’s hand exploded.

It was, as they say, the work of a moment.

Some people nearby cheered as the shards hit the floor, the walls, a stupid tradition triggered by that gut-wrenching sound, but then the applause died down, and a gasp followed, swallowed by the pulsing of music. The pianist was bleeding. An ugly cut on his palm, some of his fingers sliced. Faraday was on his feet before he realised what he was doing.

“Let me through!” he said. “Let me through, I’m a doctor!”

He didn’t know what guided him, a sense of duty or guilt, but his world narrowed down to those scars and the panic on the pianist’s face, the bitter disbelief of of course this would happen, of course fate singled me out for this. He kept smiling.

“Let me through!” Faraday squeezed through the last couple of dancers. Someone from security reached the piano the same time as him, a big, bald guy; the pianist curled his fingers as if to hide the wounds from him, then yelped. “None of that,” Faraday said, and grabbed his wrist. “What’s your name?”

The pianist blinked at him, baffled; Faraday didn’t pull back—he had to check for shock, he had to— “Basil,” the pianist blurted with the faintest hint of a stutter.

“All right, Basil, let me see.”

“Not here,” the guard chimed in, using his wide frame to shield Basil from the onlookers. “Let’s go to the office, c’mon.”

“Basil won’t go anywhere until I’ve checked his injuries,” Faraday fired back on a clipped, serious tone he often thought of as his surgeon’s voice.

Basil bit his lips, probably in preparation of uncurling his fingers: he hissed in pain, but the cuts were less than three centimeters long, and all of them were relatively shallow—the blood made them look more serious than they were. Basil wouldn’t need stitches, and he could be moved.

“Lead us to a private bathroom,” Faraday ordered. Alarms were sounding in his mind, but their sirens were dull and distant. If Basil will wonder about what triggered the accident, let him: the truth was too bizarre to believe. Faraday could worry about it later, when his victim and patient had been treated.

They followed the guard to the fabled office, a windowless, dark space with motivational neon signs, and the adjoining bathroom with its black tiles and pink lights. The music was still loud: Faraday could’ve sworn he felt the floor vibrate. The guard excused himself with assurances that the ambulance would be alerted if needed, but Faraday hardly registered his words. He opened the tap, and held Basil’s hand under the running water.

“Do you feel faint?” he asked him as he looked around for soap.

“Not really, no.” Basil shrugged, so Faraday had to guide his hand back into the spray. “Blood never freaked me out.”

“Good. We’ll stand here for five to ten minutes. Tell me if you start to get dizzy.” He located a fancy battle of lemongrass soap, and spurted out a good amount to massage between Basil’s long fingers. “Does it sting?”

“Nah. I mean. I hate to question your expertise, but shouldn’t it be aseptic?”

Faraday chuckled, despite himself. “You should question it; I’m not really a doctor.”

“Oh.” Basil took the information in stride, nodding as if to say, that makes sense, I guess.

“I’m a med student,” Faraday hastened to add. He felt a flush creep up to his face. He was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Basil, and the intimacy of the situation was not lost on him, even though he refused to go there, again, that’s where it all started, that’s where it went to hell— “Your cuts are not that serious. Any soap will do; the trick is a thorough rinse.” He rubbed a bit harder, as if to demonstrate.

Basil made a face, and bit his lips again. “UCL?”

“St Mary’s. How about you? You’re finished with school, I reckon?” 

“No, I’m at Oxford,” Basil muttered, keeping his eyes trained on their hands, the pink water that dribbled from their intertwined fingers. Faraday should’ve kept chatting to divert his attention, but Oxford gave him pause; it explained the accent, an educated, if failed attempt at RP, with something entirely foreign.

“Forgive my assumption,” Faraday said, sobering up.

“No, it’s cool. I’m in London for the summer. Took this job as a gig.”

“Do you study music?”

Basil gave a shy nod. “I’ll be a songwriter when I grow up,” he said. 

Faraday chuckled; didn’t even have to fake it too much. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

Faraday had no hope to guess his age. He was a large man who tired to make himself look smaller, shoulders hunched, back slightly bent. He had a habit of hiding his face behind his hair, which was long enough to curl over his neck, but provided no sufficient shelter for such a striking profile. His nose was certainly to be admired: a noble nose, like the kinds on Renaissance paintings of royalty. There was something ageless about Basil, ancient but boyish, and constantly apologetic for his own contradictions.

“You have nice hands,” Basil said, then hastened to add, “Firm,” as if it would make it better.

“I don’t,” Faraday dismissed him gently before realising the implications: surely, they weren’t flirting now, after all what’s happened? (But Basil had no way of realizing what he was a victim of, did he?) “My hands are horribly calloused, dry and rough,” Faraday went on, knowing full well that his face flushed again, that it must be appalling in the pink lights, in contrast with his orange hair. “All the disinfectants, and—I work too much with my hands, a doctor is a manual labourer, in the end. Our degrees are of little consequence.”

He talked too much. He was talking too much, and standing too close, and breathing too loud. His inhales were deafening. Surely, Basil must think him weird. He kept cleaning his hand, because that’s what the least he could do, that was his use, but he dreaded the moment when Basil would pull his hand back, announce that he’d rather go to a hospital himself, or do it himself, that Faraday was being transparent, since there was no need of such fuss, and glasses didn’t explode on their own—

“I never looked at it that way,” Basil said, affable, but still what that odd expression of—what was it? It had a frightened intensity.

“Healing often gets treated as something spiritual or intellectual, bodiless, when in fact it’s a matter of the flesh, and nothing else.” He ran his thumb over Basil’s jagged scar, thinking I’m so sorry and unable to say it—the wound would be patched up, but what about the violence that inflected it? What about that nasty thing that made him like this, made him prone—to lash out—

(The fall of petals. I’m going to Canada. Caroline in the park. The creak of a heavy branch.)

“You’re very good at it.”

“Don’t praise your doctor until everything is healed.”

“But you are good. Y’know, I lied.” Basil gave him a sheepish glance in the mirror. Faraday kept his head down. “Blood does make me squeamish. Could never stand it. I know it’s—”

“It’s perfectly common,” Faraday interrupted. “You’d be surprised by the amount of surgeon-hopefuls who get sick on their first dissection.”

“You took my mind off it,” Basil insisted. “You helped me. So I think I should come clean.”

Faraday stopped the scrubbing, bewildered at what could Basil possibly mean, how could he think he’s the one who deceives, how could he—

Basil slid his wet hand over Faraday’s, squeezed. The soap made a squelching sound. “This,” Basil said, apologetic, worried—and incredibly brave. “This is kinda turning me on.”

“Hand stuff?” Faraday asked automatically, befuddled and—

Basil laughed, a tiny, broken sound. “Medical stuff,” he said. “Doctor stuff. And I don’t want to—do this without you knowing, it wouldn’t be okay, so now I said it. And I get it if you’d rather—stop, now, and I’m fine, so you could just tell me what to do, or I could Google it, and take it from here, because I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, and—”

“Is it a fetish?” Faraday interrupted, head swimming. Kinda aroused, what did kinda mean—

“Just a kink.”

“I’m not even wearing—latex, or—”

“You look cute though,” Basil said, and that curious expression was back on his face, except now it made sense. Faraday blinked a few times, then resumed washing Basil’s hand wordlessly. Scrub-scrub-scrub away. “Are we okay? I mean, we could just—not talk about it, forget I—”

“You won’t be able to play,” Faraday said tonelessly. “Not for a few days.”

Basil raised his shoulders even higher. He was wearing a striped button down a bit too big on him, which swallowed him almost entirely as he did that. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I guess I—figured.”

“So you’ll be indisposed tonight,” Faraday went on. 

“I will be,” Basil perked up. “Can I get you a drink?”

Faraday closed the tap: the jerky gesture felt significant, final. “I’m starving.”

*

Faraday was staring at a tuna sandwich bewilderedly in the Tesco Express on Bernard Street. He’s instantly gravitated towards it, but a frightening thought stopped him: what if there was to be kissing? Or what if there could have been, but Basil would interpret his sandwich choice as subtle refusal of anything erotic? Maybe this was just a transaction of favours, after all, a light dinner for his efforts.

The nature of their  relationship had not been clarified on the walk here, twenty minutes in the breeze chatting about everything and nothing, Basil’s place of origin (Romania, if one could believe it), his birth name (Vassily, utterly charming), his catastrophe of an eighteenth birthday featuring the reveal of his father’s criminal activities, and Basil’s subsequent escape to the UK to distance himself from the family.

He had said that he didn’t plan to settle here though, that he wanted to be American; his wording had been, I will be American, followed by a cocky smile. It had made Faraday’s chest feel too tight.

“Whatcha having?” Basil asked, peering over Faraday’s shoulder. He had the basket hooked on his injured arm, tightly wrapped in gauze. Faraday could never have imagined that the dawn would find him in the company of such a silly, pretty boy, in the fluorescent lights of Tesco, where time always seemed to pull to a halt. Basil’s strong body was radiating warmth. Faraday placed the tuna sandwich back.

“Ham,” he said, and Basil beamed at him as if his pick betrayed brilliance. (He had been positively captivated by the summary of Faraday’s life as well: he had fancied him a self-made man, his sad little history a parallel to the triumph of the working class, and had praised him as if a village boy getting put through one school after the other had been a unique achievement.)

“No dessert? Come on, it’s all my treat.”

Faraday looked around for a Cadbury bar he could obediently grab, but settled on an apple smoothie: it was closer. Basil chuckled.

“I thought doctors had a natural aversion to apples.”

“Only fully developed doctors,” Faraday deadpanned. “For medical students, apples are safe to consume in liquid form.”

He knew that Basil’s laugh would be the death of him. It was never mocking: not with how his eyes creased up, how he instinctively tried to hide his easy smiles.

“Drink?”

“I shall have a water, and I think you should, too.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Basil teased.

He was being teased by a lovely boy in tight dress trousers. Basil’s legs were—shapely, indeed. Long as well. The thighs, rather muscular. Noticing these didn’t mean he should get his hopes up, it didn’t mean Basil found him attractive, cute could mean a number of things— (He remembered holding Basil’s hand under the tap. How he looked at him then.)

“I think you’re drunk,” he surmised.

“Me?” Basil scoffed. “I drink, I don’t get drunk. That bourbon’s in the past. I sweat it out. God, this weather, right?”

“Water would be good for you.” Faraday placed a hand on Basil’s chest to guide him out of the way, to clear the way to the drinks section, but his hand lingered. Basil’s chest was very firm. He couldn’t assess his built in that baggy button down, but now he started to have ideas. Hypotheses, so to say, the ones only a thorough experiment could prove—he felt his mouth go dry in an instant.

Basil placed a big hand on Faraday’s, stroked it lightly.

“Doctor’s orders?” he said in a low voice. Faraday was acutely aware that he could kiss him in that moment. They were of the same height: he wouldn’t even have to dip down, just sway forward and lock lips. Steal the lingering taste of whiskey.

“Save that for later,” Faraday said, afraid that his words had more bite than intended; that Basil would be hurt, and there would be no later, no second chances. Basil’s eyes darkened, and he tapped a curious little rhythm over Faraday’s knuckles, then let him go.

“Can’t wait,” he noted as he watched Faraday turn and step away. The realization hit: his arse was being looked at. It was being appreciated. Appraised.

Conscious thoughts ceased to be. He got a bottle of water without thinking, joined the queue of drunk teenagers, while picturing, over and over, being bent over, on all fours for Basil’s cock. He wanted it, wanted something. Basil helped him empty the basket. He had marvelous biceps. Anyone would be more than happy to jump into bed with him, but Faraday would crawl, at most. Not due to any aversion: it was caution—the awareness of the risks of anal penetration, especially if one of the participants had such a considerable size, and would probably be—proportional, everywhere.

He looked at a pack of condoms displayed with the chewing gums and protein bars. Suppose it was him penetrating Basil? But he never excelled in lovemaking. He’d lost his virginity in five minutes. Basil would deserve far better treatment; someone who’d indulge him, even at this late an hour, take the time to take him apart. He had a sudden mental image of Basil as part of the orgy upstairs: two girls worshipping his body, and his obscene neighbour taunting him to suck his dick.

His face heated with fury, and he had the condoms in his grip. He hadn’t quite reached for them. Basil didn’t notice: he made a surprised sound when Faraday put them on the belt.

“Shouldn’t we get lube, too?” Basil asked, cheerful and just a bit too loud for comfort.

“I have plenty of Vaseline at home,” Faraday said in a whisper. “That should suffice.”

Basil dropped his voice as well, confidental. He learnt fast. He was such a good lad. He was— “Huh, I never tried that. Wait. Have you ever—?”

Faraday frowned. “With Vaseline?”

Basil looked at him meaningfully. “With a guy.”

Faraday said nothing.  Basil put the condoms back. Faraday had to squeeze his eyes shut, had to—process that there, that was a missed chance, that could’ve been something fun if he learnt how to enjoy himself, if he had any idea—

It’s something he’d regret for years; he should’ve lied through his teeth, he should’ve—

Maybe they’ll make out like teenagers, but there won’t be progress: he won’t be touched, he won’t be known, and when Basil’s gone he’ll once again be alone with a body greedily holding onto mysteries, unknown and forbidden pleasures. He’s built a barrier around himself: it’s time he stopped expecting people to knock it down, to sweep him off his feet and—

Basil pulled Faraday’s hips flush with his.

—save him.

Basil was holding him, holding him tight. Faraday could feel the outline of an erection, the insistent, urgent press of it between his buttocks, a sensation he never—

“We’ll find something less intense,” Basil murmured, kissed his neck. “Think about what you do like, yeah?”

The cashier greeted them, and Basil let go, but kept a thumb hooked into Faraday’s belt hoop as his mind raced.

What did he like?

Did he ever like anything, anybody, just for the sake of it, just because he couldn’t help it?

(Did he ever feel like this?)

*

“Her name was Caroline,” Faraday told him. They were sitting on a bench in Tavistock Square Gardens, a patch of green insignificant enough that no one would mind they’ve climbed over the fence, no one would mind them there. He lived here, it made sense to bring Basil here, to give him a chance of escape before he’d drag him to his room. He always thought it a charming place: never seen it this early, didn’t know that the crows would take out the rubbish from the bins, scatter it all over the grass and feast. It was fitting, in a way, all the trash, the ugliness, just when he was about to let Basil peek at the wasteland of his heart.

They were sitting in the shadow of an oak tree. The sun was rising.

“You loved her?” Basil asked, casual, before taking a big gulp of his water. Faraday watched his throat work, the Adam’s apple bobbing, and he didn’t think he’d ever found it—an attractive feature, but he was getting fascinated with all the things that made Basil similar to him. He smelt familiar: male products, the piney scent of aftershave and shower gel, and clean sweat, a whiff of it that was driving him crazy. Basil had a strong jaw with the beginnings of stubble, and he had a cock, resting on his left thigh—Faraday could see the outline with the way Basil sat, kept stealing glances at it; he’d felt it, and his own cock was swelling with the memory, as if rising to greet Basil’s. Two young men on a bench; who could stop them if he was to, say, put a hand between Basil’s parted knees, and stroke him, slow and teasing, his thumb rubbing the ticklish skin ever-so-patiently.

“I thought I loved her,” he said. “I was quite obsessed, in fact.”

 “Oh yeah,” Basil said. “Infatuation isn’t love.”

It gave Faraday pause. “Well,” he said. “I suppose it isn’t.”

“How did you meet?” Basil asked, putting his arm over the bench’s back. Faraday didn’t lean into the hug offered; didn’t want to be embraced, at the moment, so he just took a bite of his sandwich to save time. Basil didn’t urge him; he kept looking at him with some pure wonder on his face, curiosity, big ears sticking out of his perfect hair, and—

“She was a rich girl,” Faraday said. “Of a reputable family, in any case. They used to have a house—it was in ruins—Hundreds Halls; crumbled away, rumoured to be haunted, so you can imagine. A grotesque blemish on the landscape, abandoned. My family had a flat near it, built in the fifties, and I would sneak out to explore. The house would call to me.”

“Your hiding place,” Basil interjected. Something flared up in Faraday’s chest: mine, mine, mine, yes, you understand.

“I was twenty-six when I met her. She was walking her dog, passing the ruins, fresh from London. She shrieked when she saw me emerge from the shadows—I was back from university for the autumn break, went back to my old hiding place. I frightened her, you see.”

“I’d have shat myself,” Basil said with a beaming smile. Faraday looked down at his sandwich. He couldn’t quite see it.

“I kept frightening her,” he confessed. Basil’s laugh dispersed. He put his injured hand over Faraday’s knee, earnest.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” he said.

The fall of petals. I’m going to Canada. Caroline in the park. The creak of a heavy branch. A branch above her head. He was so mad. The branch fell. It could’ve killed her, if he put his mind to it. It fell, and she jumped away, screaming and swearing.

She escaped.

“I’m glad it didn’t,” Faraday said, addressing the sandwich wrapping. “It could’ve been much worse.  Greed and—want, they can be—”

“Yeah,” Basil said softly. Turned his hand palm up, rubbing Faraday’s knee with gauze-covered knuckles. “I’ve known greedy men. You aren’t like that.”

Faraday nodded without much conviction. He felt—bruised, somehow, aching with the past. He got nauseous when he thought about how many confession were still stuck in his throat. He set his sandwich aside, disgusted by his own hunger, and sat there, miserable and silent. He didn’t have it in him to brush off Basil’s hand, who kept caressing him, who leant in close—who kissed his face.

“You don’t owe me, okay?” he said. Faraday thought, for a moment, that he meant the sandwich, but Basil nuzzled him and went on, “To hell with—emotional baggage, whatever you call it, when I l-left Romania, I burned all bridges, a-and I don’t expect you to turn over the ashes, okay? No—full-disclosure, no—I don’t have to know. I, uh. Ghosts are memories, right? But you’re alive, I’m alive, so—you’re whoever you are, in this very moment, you keep on reinventing yourself, I sure do, and right now I’m—r-right now I’m just with you, and that’s all.”

Faraday looked at him, gaze flicking over his face, cross-eyed, surely, because Basil was so close. “I’m not sure I can look at it like that, sorry,” he said, voice broken at the edges.

“It’s okay, whatever you have to say, I’ll—”

Faraday silenced him with a kiss. It was aggressive; it was greedy; it was how he never kissed—no careful pecks, but an onslaught of passion to prove a point, fingers flying into Basil’s hair, and yanking him deeper. Teeth and tongue and hunger. They toppled over, but the handrail stopped Faraday from falling down. Basil’s weight crushed him, and he was suffocating, he couldn’t breathe.

This was him, fully, at that moment; but more importantly: this was who he’d always been.

He didn’t stop until he heard Basil whimper into the kiss. Then he stopped completely.

“No-no, don’t pull away,” Basil whined, “Please, it’s so good, let me—”

Faraday put a finger over Basil’s bruised lips. Watched his eyes go dark. Watched him lap at the digit, unabashed, then lick at it again, his tongue hot and wet. Watched in silence, heart hammering, as Basil put it in his mouth, and didn’t pull away when Faraday added a second finger, grimy with the sandwich, stroking over his palate.

This boy really had no shame.

This boy would never call him names. Wouldn’t be afraid. Not of fire, not of anything.

“You’re a dreamer,” Faraday said as he pushed in deeper. “Artists often are, I hear. Moody optimists. Happy-go-lucky. You just want to get lucky. You’d do anything I asked of you, isn’t that so?”

Basil let Faraday’s fingers slide out of his mouth, leaving a trail of saliva. It was obscene. It was the single most erotic thing Faraday had ever seen. “Yes,” Basil said. “Whatever’s good for us.”

“Why?” Faraday asked, desperate, bewildered, broken. The iron handrail was still pushing at his back, Basil was heavy and limp against him, chest pressed to his chest.

“I like to get told what to do,” Basil said, then hastened to add, “in bed. Not in my worklife, I am—quite particular about my songs, so it’s just in bed.”

“This is not a bed,” Faraday reminded him, and pushed him back, as gently as he could manage. Basil went willingly. He was starry-eyed, his hair wild, the lush locks helplessly tousled. Faraday started combing them with his clean hand, without a second thought. It was something that needed to be done. It felt like something only he could fix, because Basil chose him.

Basil chose him.

“I never experimented with exhibitionism,” Basil confessed, chasing his touch like a clever cat. “So I think a bed would be necessary, yeah. Somewhere private. If we were—what did you have in mind? I could absolutely blow you, or y’know, there’s frottage, intercrural—”

Faraday’s ears were ringing. Basil’s hair was very soft. It slid between his fingers easily. It was so easy to handle him. “I thought you wanted to try a medical scene.”

“Only if you think you’d enjoy it.”

“It is my understanding I wouldn’t necessarily have to undress for it, is that correct? That—for example—a uniform would be appreciated.” He curled a lock of hair around his finger, and tugged. He was flustered about his appearance, yes; he also wasn’t quite ready for Basil to discover the tattoo on his hip bone which said fire, walk with me, an awkward memento from that time he worshipped David Lynch like a deity.

“Oh yeah,” Basil mouthed. His spit-wet lips, his blown pupils: his desire was as profound and undeniable as it was absurd, that a gorgeous young man like him would happily give himself to Faraday. Basil wanted him fiercely, wholly, but would only ask for the things he was willing and ready to give. As to why he wanted him: that was a mystery. “Let’s talk, but first you gotta kiss me again.” Basil whispered. “I like how your moustache feels, Doc.”

*

Faraday kept kissing him as they went up the stairs, pillaging little pecks to distract him from the ghastly décor, the dusty Persian rugs, the  fraying wallpapers with contrasting patterns. He all but pushed him through the door, which Basil seemed to enjoy, all this bossing around.

“Shoes off,” Faraday warned him. Basil was grinning as he obeyed, jumping on one feet and peering around curiously. The faint green glow of the sky mixed with the gold of the streetlights, washing over the room as if it was a little aquarium.

“Nice place,” Basil said. “Cozy.”

Faraday knocked on the wall. “These are thin as a paper, and useless. You’ll have to be good and keep it down, all right?”

Basil bit his lips, nodded eagerly. Watched Faraday fetch his lab coat and leather satchel. This part had been negotiated at the park: they both knew exactly what was about to happen, knew the plan, but Faraday had a hard time believing Basil wouldn’t just escape through the window as soon as he closed the door.

He went to the bathroom to change, to transform into a version of himself who was allowed to have boys over, who was a doctor, but not quite a professional, whose primary function wasn’t to heal, but to pleasure and praise, to offer comfort and guidance, but be stern. He wasn’t exactly sure he was capable of that, but he was willing to try, for Basil’s sake, and for himself, maybe.

It helped that the house was quiet: it even looked asleep, with the blinds in the bathroom only half-raised, the twin windows blinking into the break of dawn. It was stolen time, that won’t have to be accounted for. After all this, he’d go to St Mary’s like always, put on his blue resident uniform, and continue his routine, whatever happens. Whatever he discovered.

He still felt like he had Pandora’s box in his chest; Pandora’s box, and the lock had been broken. He had no idea what to expect, but found fear thrilling  and, to be quite honest, arousing. He could control it. He put on the lab coat over his dotted shirt, adjusted the bowtie, hooked an old stethoscope around his neck. The rubber gloves were next: Basil had insisted on them, and wanted Faraday to wear them right when he entered. A fleeting glance in the mirror: he was prone to shy away from his reflection, but his gaze lingered, now. He was flushed enough to look healthy, his sickly-pale cheeks blooming. The light in his eyes: he didn’t know what that was, but he looked calm, much calmer than he felt, and from a certain angle—if he turned his face just so—he even seemed rather handsome.

The steps that took him to the staircase were heavy. He hesitated before he let himself into his room, thinking that the jig would be up now; that when he opened the door, the girls from upstairs would be there, giggling at him, because Basil had went away, he’d escaped—

Basil was lying on his crisp white covers in nothing but his underwear.

Faraday let the door fall shut behind him. “Mr. Anthony,” he croaked. “I believe it’s time for your examination.”

“Thank you for having me, Dr. Faraday,” Basil replied obediently, raising one arm to cover his chest: a self-conscious gesture. He had said something about—feeling exposed, the excitement of it. He’s obviously worked hard on his appearance: his pectorals were firm, his stomach well-defined, and—yes, there was the question of the underwear, so much at odds with his sculpted body. Faraday expected something fashionable, maybe Calvin Klein's, and definitely boxers; but Basil was wearing a pair of cotton briefs, the fabric fluffy with constant washings, and straining to contain a forming erection. He was already getting hard: Faraday greeting him had been enough.

“Drop your arm,” Faraday said softly. Watched him follow the order immediately, with a hint of embarrassment. “That’s it,” Faraday praised him. “Keep your hands on the mattress for me. Let’s refresh you a bit.”

“I’m sorry I haven’t showered, Doctor,” Basil said. Scents were another thing important for him. Faraday hummed his acknowledgment as he went to get a towel, wet it in the little basin in the room’s corner. He was going through their arrangement: the towel, first—lukewarm, soaped.

“Arms up now, but keep them pressed to the mattress,” Faraday said as he approached him. What a sight: like Prometheus chained to the cliffs, strong chest rippling and stomach taut. Faraday sat down next to him, the mattress hardly dipping in under his insignificant weight. He began rubbing Basil above the elbows, then his armpits followed. Not something he would’ve considered erotic, before, but quite enticing now. It was intimate in a way he had never experienced, and it was clear Basil welcomed the sensation. His breathing got heavy, but still steady, until Faraday reached his chest. Basil gasped as the towel rubbed against a nipple. “Sensitive?” Faraday asked him softly.

“A little,” Basil said. His hips bucked up; Faraday pressed him back down. This taste of control was exquisite. He never connected his job to power before: a doctor was a servant. But this was a game; a make-believe; he could enjoy dragging the towel down Basil’s exquisite torso, stop just short of his engorged crotch.

“Legs parted,” Faraday said, soft, but toneless. Basil wriggled a bit before exposing his inner thighs for him. Faraday wetted them, pretending to ignore his erect cock. “Very well, Mr. Anthony. You’re sufficiently clean. I’d like to listen to your heartbeat, if you please.”

Basil nodded sharply. There were drops of water glistening all over him, standing out on his prickled skin. Faraday was tempted to taste them. The knowledge that he could do that was dizzying.

He didn’t breathe on the stethoscope, pressed the cold diaphragm right to Basil’s chest. His back arched as he huffed out a deep breath. His heart was hammering—a heartbeat to remind Faraday this was really happening, that there was tangible proof of it, it wasn’t a fantasy: another body warmed his bed. The heartbeat’s pace was picking up as he moved the diaphragm over Basil’s left nipple. He listened a moment longer than necessary. Even with the taste of apples on his tongue, he was hungry again, famished; it felt like his stomach was collapsing. No one knew Basil quite this intimately. No one has counted the beats, not like this. He pulled the stethoscope out of his ears, moved the diaphragm away. Teased the peaked nipple with his gloved thumb.

“Was it cold?”

“A bit,” Basil admitted. Faraday pinched his nipple and blew on it as if it was standard practice, went as far as to lick at it.  Basil thrashed with a whimper. Faraday hushed him, rubbed at his chest with his palm.

“It’s all right. Open your mouth. Tongue out.”

He kept his right hand on Basil’s freckled chest as he got a spatula from his pocket, unwrapped it with his teeth. He could feel Basil watching intently. Inserted it into his mouth, looking down his throat with some absurd relief that Basil was perfectly healthy.

“Breathe through your nose,” he reminded him. “Good, that’s good. Well, well, well. What could it be, young man?” 

Fhev’r?” Basil said. Faraday gave him a patient smile as he pressed down on the spatula.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”

Fhhvv,” Basil groaned, and his hips canted up again. Faraday peered down at him with a mask of impassive curiosity, then his eyes rounded.

“Goodness gracious,” he said, nearly breaking character. Basil’s briefs were tented and wet, a small spot over the tip. They hadn’t really done much, have they? How did Basil make it through regular check-ups? Faraday had enough theoretical background to know that for somebody with a particular kink, the smallest things could be incredibly arousing: but this was a revelation. He kept staring at Basil’s erection, vindicated, pleased smug barely contained. He wasn’t only rock hard, but much bigger than Faraday expected, and also thicker. The kind of cock Faraday wasn’t even convinced existed. “Should we take your temperature?” he mused.

They shared a meaningful glance.

Basil nodded.

That meant several steps abandoned; that meant the plan changed; it changed because Basil got closer to the edge than he had thought he would, because Faraday made it so; because he was good at it, the first time he tried it, instinctively, because he—he could make a man melt, he could introduce them to the most intense desire.

He got a thermometer from his leather satchel, hardly sparing a glance to the forceps and the Wartenberg wheel there.

“Take off your underwear,” Faraday ordered. Watched Basil struggle with one hand, hurrying to follow the instruction, but flustered by it at the same time. He was achingly hard, his cock swaying awkwardly when he released it, hitting his stomach and smearing pre-ejaculate over it. Faraday felt his own cock get wet, as if in sympathy, a sticky bead smearing over the tip as he crossed his legs, hiding any sign that he was affected. Basil was trying to kick off his briefs, but they got tangled around his ankles. The ineffective kicks made his heavy cock hit his stomach again, and he whined.

“Should you need help, you only have to ask for it,” Faraday reminded him.

“Help me,” Basil said. “I’m sorry, I hurt my hand, I can’t—”

“It’s quite alright,” Faraday said. He reached for the briefs dangling over Basil’s left ankle, pleasantly shocked how deeply the image affected him. These weren’t lacy knickers caught on a girl’s shapely ankles: he was tugging off a man’s underwear from his strong, comparatively hairy leg, yet Faraday was frighteningly close to making a mess in his trousers. Basil’s briefs dropped to the floor. Faraday half-hoped he’d forget to get them when he left. “Pull your knees up to your chest,” he said.

“Like this?” Basil asked as he folded up with practiced ease, even though he had to keep his injured hand lying on the mattress. Faraday nodded, distracted, and got a throw pillow, absolutely not sparing a single glance to Basil’s hole—what would be attractive in an anus, besides its sexual uses? But as he propped up Basil’s hips, he couldn’t help but think that his hole was rather enticing, a nice pink pucker waiting for the delight of intrusion and stimulation.

“This will be unpleasant,” Faraday warned him as he pushed the thermometer right in. Basil moaned, then bit his hand, remembering himself. The sensation couldn’t have caused the reaction: it must’ve been the mere idea of someone doing it to him—and that someone had to be Faraday. Basil wanted this from him, begged for it.

Faraday grabbed Basil’s cock, making a show of adjusting it, handling his balls expertly, as if he was fondling men all day. He felt a pulse run through Basil’s length, and let go of him entirely, waiting out this too-early rush of arousal.

“Fuck,” Basil mumbled, and gave him a smile that wasn’t from his patient, wasn’t from Mr. Anthony, but Basil himself: bright, disbelieving, ecstatic.

“All right there?” Faraday asked, putting a hand on his knee. Basil nodded.

“Words,” he whispered.

“A difficulty in speaking is to be expected, isn’t it? Signal me when you’re ready to resume.”

“I’m just...wow.” Basil’s head rolled back to the pillow. His hair looked like spilled ink, his skin, like milk. Faraday started connecting the moles over his knee idly, just with a fingertip. “It feels like I’m high,” Basil told him after a little while. “There’s ah, a thermometer up my ass.”

“Should it be removed?”

“No, no, leave it—did they really do that? Did they—”

“It’s not common, nowadays,” Faraday said. Wondered what would happen if their conversation was overheard. Would anyone care? Were they not allowed to have this, have their secret little pleasures? 

“You’ll have to buy a new one,” Basil said confidentially, and giggled. Faraday smiled back at him. There was—a tenderness, there, as he watched this man with a raging erection cover his face, ashamed and relishing in it, embracing the kind of embarrassment that would’ve destroyed Faraday. For a moment, a very clear moment, he saw himself take the thermometer out and put his cock in, make love to Basil—no: fuck him, with relentless rolls of his hips, fuck him good and sound and deep, fuck him until Basil was laughing with abandon, laughing because he was happy to be fucked like this, to have Faraday come inside him, keep his seed—

Oh, it was terrifying.

“Okay?” he whispered.

“Give it to me,” Basil breathed.

He could do this: he could get the Vaseline, and lube up his gloved hands; he could put them on Basil: he was allowed. Touching his cock didn’t feel quite so intrusive. There was a familiarity in it, even though masturbating someone else, another man, was an entirely novel experience. A few fast pulls, up and down the curved length of Basil’s now half-hard cock, then he let his hands linger. Bent the shaft one way, then another, as if he was inspecting it, making Basil bite down a mewl. He ran his thumb over the soft foreskin, let it close around the flared tip. Pinched the base, lightly, when the realization stuck him: he wasn’t comparing Basil’s cock to his own.

He was prone to make other people’s penises a point of envy, bigger and thicker, not that mortifying, blushy pink, not to mention the matter of ginger hair. But no: he was appreciating Basil’s cock—in all means superior—in its own right, delighting in a body separate from his, enjoying the heat, the hardness on its own merit. How curious, and how freeing was it to be rid of jealousy; he couldn’t resist bending down, and blowing hot air over it. Not even a proper touch, yet Basil’s cock twitched and dribbled more pre-come, so Faraday, encouraged, did it again.

“Doc—!” Basil hiccupped.

“Let’s see,” Faraday whispered as he eased the thermometer out. He gave it a curious glance, not paying attention to how Basil’s cock arched up to his chin, threatening to slap his lips—and wouldn’t that be quite something? “It would appear that your temperature has raised significantly. Should I be worried, Mr. Anthony, or do you tend to get somewhat heated when your penis is scrutinized?”

Basil covered his mouth with his uninjured hand, and moaned into his palm. Faraday was a tad worried he didn’t at all sound seductive, but Basil had very peculiar tastes; a reassurance.

“I’m so sorry, Doctor—”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Anthony. This sort of reaction is to be expected.”

I’m so close,” Basil whispered from between his fingers, squeezing his eyes shut. Faraday didn’t even had his hands on him; he was merely hovering close to his cock, but the little shudders running through Basil’s body were unmistakable.

“Should your prostate examination commerce?” Faraday asked, and watched the effect of his words: a violent tremble, Basil squeezing around nothing, the face he made, blissed.

“Please Doc,” he said, with the faintest hint of a foreign accent, the C too strong. “Tell me I’m all right, sunt bine, merge mai departe—

“Vassily,” Faraday said hotly as he inserted a finger. Basil looked at him a little cross-eyed, mouth slack, arching off the bed. “You’re so good for me, Vassily.”

“Ahh!” Basil hissed, clenching around his probing finger.

“Do you feel it? That’s it, that’s it.” He rubbed against the gland, and pressed his thumb to Basil’s perineum to stimulate it from the outside as well. Basil was coming undone from his touch, and Faraday’s body responded in kind. He parted his legs just enough to let Basil see his cock poking at the fly if he was so inclined.

Faraday was so aroused he was getting light-headed with it, but he kept to his task, moved his finger in and out; then began work with his left, so both of his pointers were inserted, prying the walls apart as if he was making place for his cock—then a shift in the angle, his fingers hooked, hitting Basil’s prostate dead on.

Basil yowled. He instinctively squirmed away, then eased himself back on Faraday’s fingers without a second thought. They locked gazes as Basil started moving on them, fucking himself open on Faraday’s hand. 

“Is this—?” Basil asked.

“Perfectly normal.” Faraday cleared his throat, and counted to three as Basil pulled his fingers deeper in. “Don’t forget that I’ll have to examine your ejaculate. If you could kindly stimulate your penis while I—”

Basil grabbed his cock on command. He was surprisingly awkward with it: it slipped out of his fist, then he twisted it too sharply. Faraday was utterly fascinated. Basil’s desperate fumble, his flushed chest, the tightness of him were perfect. What a gift to be offered: so freely, so willingly, without guilt.

“Will you taste it?” Basil panted, hand working on his magnificent cock tirelessly; Faraday was ready to grant him anything—but his role was to set boundaries.

“I’m afraid it wouldn’t be safe,” he said softly.

“But next time,” Basil pleaded. “We could both go get tested? And then—your lips, I can’t, you’re so pretty—”

“Next time,” Faraday repeated with surprise.

“Doctor,” Basil whispered, slipping back into his persona, “please, Doctor, on our next appointment I want to—”

Faraday tapped at his prostate, a short, almost patronizing rhythm. “You’ve been a model patient, Mr. Anthony,” he told him. “Next time, you’ll get to feed me your come.”

That proved to be the tipping point: Basil groaned, tightening his grip, spilling his ejaculate over his abdomen, the quick spurts of it getting as high as his chest. A copious amount: and appetizing, indeed, with the way it glinted on his lovely skin. Faraday couldn’t resist dipping down and smelling it, acrid and salty, the scent so overpowering he could nearly taste it, after all. Basil gripped his jaw and pulled him into a bruising kiss; Faraday had to grab the headboard so he wouldn’t fall on him. Basil’s pulled-up knee was pressing into his belly, still. Faraday’s groin was aching for friction, so he palmed  himself with his free hand, knowing that Basil wouldn’t mind it, knowing the possibilities—

Basil would let him fuck him while he was blissed-out and limp if Faraday told him he was ready, would let him use his body any way he liked, toy with him till morning; he would let him do the most depraved things: kneel up and pleasure himself over Basil’s open ass, catch his come the last moment. He’d lend Faraday a hand, wank him off with his clever musician’s hands, get a clean set of gloves and milk his prostate. Any number of things that Faraday desired: he’d happily do it.

“C’mere,” Basil mumbled.

It was terrifying.

“I’m fine,” Faraday said. He was still cupping his cock, but his hand was unmoving, as if he was protecting his groin. Basil gave him a lazy, hazy glance, then nodded, understanding.

“Did you want to look after it yourself, or—”

“No,” Faraday said.

“Should I—”

“No,” he said again. Basil wasn’t put off, even as Faraday withdrew and settled on the edge of the bed, with his back to him. It was so nice until he ruined it; it was so nice until—

But he didn’t want to take off his trousers, and coming into them seemed even worse; with Basil’s orgasm, all the attention would be on him, and he wasn’t sure he could handle it. The tattoo seemed to be a lesser concern. He didn’t want his cock to be looked at, even though he desperately needed it touched, fondled, caressed, rubbed, sucked, licked—everything at once; he wanted to put it in Basil and fuck him fast, so it’d be over before it could become disappointing. If he had curtains, if he hadn’t lost his temper, hadn’t set them on fire, they could just do it in the dark, he could hide himself in Basil, curl up and cease to exist within—

“Cuddle?” Basil mumbled as he poked at Faraday’s bent back. He straightened up as if lightning hit him, with the shock of a glowing epiphany.

“Cuddle,” he repeated as if the word was entirely foreign. Basil chuckled, but it wasn’t mean; Faraday watched him clean his chest and groin with the abandoned towel while mulling it over, how being held was precisely what he needed, more than anything, and how Basil knew it, felt it, and didn’t mind that he was still rock-hard: he welcomed him into his arms.

Basil had a really nice hug.

Faraday got to lie in bed with a gorgeous, entirely naked young man, who curled around him and held him close, and he was allowed to just cherish the moment, count every heavy breath. He peeled off his gloves, pressed his arse back against Basil’s soft cock. Their legs were tangled; their scent mingled as they settled, getting comfortable in silence and stillness.

“Thank you,” Faraday whispered after his breathing has slowed.

“Thank you,” Basil countered, pressed a tiny kiss to his nape.

“How do you say ‘thank you’ in Romanian?”

Mulţumesc. How do you say your number in English?”

Faraday chuckled. “Come off it.”

“No. I mean it. Unless—”

“Just follow me on Instagram. We don’t live in the fifties.”

*

It was easy to let Basil go, because Faraday knew he’d be back. He kissed him goodbye in the gate, like in a grand romantic movie, and watched him walk into the morning mist of Tavistock Place, heading towards Russell Square. People were rushing to work; buses passed, and flocks of tourists. Basil strolled at a dreamy pace, and kept looking back over his shoulders, flashing his bashful and thus entirely misleading smiles; but there was something mischievous in his eyes, something knowing and pleased.

Faraday was still wearing his lab coat.

He found a pack of forgotten hand-rolled cigarettes in its pocket, wondering if Basil would like to share one next time, if he even smoked. He knew him now in a way that was incredibly significant, yet there were still so many things to discover and discuss. 

He lit the cigarette as Basil disappeared around the corner. He didn’t have a lighter. A flame at his fingertip: for the first time in his life, he felt like he could command this. Like he had control over things.

And for the first time in his life, he enjoyed the smoke without rush, and the pale sunshine on his face. He felt present in his body in a new, exhilarating way, head swimming with plans. 

He smiled to himself thinking about the future within his reach, and let his eyes fall shut.