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Just to lie before you like a thing (shrewd and secretive)

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“If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather fuck somewhere nicer. I’ve been eying the Sheraton.”

Truth be told, the Sheraton is not as much nice as it is exceedingly average to Winston’s professional eye; but the Sheraton still remains head and shoulders above the lobby of the fleabag motel they are standing in right now. The place is clean enough; it doesn’t look as if anyone has died or given birth in public recently, but that’s neither here nor there.

“Jesus, Johnny, where’d you find him?” The man at the reception guffaws around his cigarette and not very nicely.

“Craigslist,” Johnny responds coolly. Winston knows him as John_W, but names are a funny thing. Especially on Craigslist.

“I didn’t know guys like you troll Craigslist,” says the man, eyeing Winston like he’s some sort of pond scum. “No offense, or anything.”

“Aurelio, shut up,” says John. To Winston, he shrugs. “It is all the same to me. But Aurelio’s Spanglish is very good for when the cops come, if that makes any difference. I can’t guarantee that about the Sheraton.”

Winston looks between the two of them. “Out of curiosity, exactly who do you think I am?”

“It doesn't have anything to do with who you are.” John’s mouth twitches. “It’s only good practice. Don’t take it too personally. I’ll still go to the Sheraton if you want.”

 

John’s bone structure, his cheekbones, and his frankness about Winston’s secrets (not what they are, just the fact that they must exist) compel Winston to forego the Sheraton in the end. Aurelio gives them keys to Room 14 and assures Winston between puffs of his cigarette that the sheets are clean, but he hasn’t checked the thread count recently.

“Ignore him.” John rolls his eyes. “He needs to get laid. I keep saying.”

“Does he?”

John lets them into Room 14. The standard is about what Winston expects (as in not much). There’s a serviceable double bed with slightly wrinkled sheets, a television, a radio, a coffee-maker. An armchair with a not-so-mysterious stain on one arm and a side table with a few telling nicks.

“Would you like me to shower?” John asks. He locks the door behind them and crosses over to make sure that the curtains are closed. “I could, if you’re particular about cleanliness.”

Winston has done this once or twice. But never with anyone like John_W, who seems ardently keen on details such as whether or not Winston likes cleanliness. “I’ll settle for whether or not you’ve had all your shots. And if you’re clean, in that other way. I suppose that is important to me.”

“I am,” John says. Winston has a feeling that he is preening, that he’s not used to preening in front of a rapt audience, even if people must look at him all the time.

John pulls off his t-shirt in one smooth motion, revealing a lean, muscled physique that reminds Winston of a Felidae Panthera getting ready to stalk his prey. John doesn’t blink, sizing Winston up in turn. “...Well? Will I do? Or do I have to show you my cock first? I don’t mind.”

“That’s very presumptuous of you,” says Winston. “Intimating that I’d rather take it up the arse.”

John’s cocky smile slips just a little then, but then he hitches it back into place no problem. “You probably don’t. I just thought I would offer.”

John kneels, undoes Winston’s buckle and drags down Winston’s zipper with this teeth. Then he breathes over Winston’s cock and the warm puff of air goes all the way up Winston’s spine as a shiver and then back down to his balls.

“Do you usually offer?”

John stares up at him, and there’s something behind his black gaze that can’t quite be covered up by just the veneer of a common whore. “Only sometimes. Will you think about it?” Without warning, he takes Winston down the back of his throat, and if John_W is really this much of a showoff, then yes, Winston has plenty of thinking to do.

 

The more Winston learns about John’s body, the more he likes him. He likes the way that the bold swathe of ink comes alive on the young man’s body when they fuck. The noises that John makes, the way that he apparently seems to enjoy Winston’s dick -- or maybe he’s just good at faking it. Good enough that Winston can’t quite tell, even though he has a good sense for these things.

“I’m gonna --”

“Don’t come,” Winston says, and surprises himself.

John takes a moment and stills himself, pausing even the beads of sweat on his torso. “Okay.”

The stillness and the efficacy that this man has over his body is something else. John's cock twitches, hard, wanting, angry and wet. Winston has to admit that John_W has a nice cock. He presses his thumb against it and John’s breathing stops.

“How long can you stand being like this?” Winston ruts slowly, more enjoying every twitch of John’s dick and the way he can feel John straining to hold himself. Winston can’t imagine that the man can hold out for much longer, but everything about John_W has been a surprise. The sort of surprise that tells Winston he is still awake.

“I won’t come until you tell me to,” John says, drawing now, an only slightly ragged breath. “It’s what you like.”

 

And John doesn’t, not until Winston has left a sticky stain near John’s thigh and goes to take a shower. John is still there on his hands and knees when Winston emerges from the bathroom rubbing his hair dry with a towel. John’s cheeks are faintly pink and his breathing is shallow. His eyes are closed.

“Lie flat on your back.”

John does. He manages to make the motion graceful, somehow. Winston wraps his hand around John’s cock and squeezes, and there’s the moment that he thinks -- but no.

“You haven’t said,” John says, his eyes still closed. "Say. And I'll do anything you want."

“Open your eyes,” Winston tells him. “Come.”

John’s black gaze swallows him up and the man comes alive, making a sound deep in his throat as he spills all over Winston’s hand. Winston doesn’t let go until John is limp and spent. Then he wipes his fingers on the towel.

“You’re a bit of a freak,” John says after he's taken a minute. “I wasn’t expecting you to, be that.”

“I want you to have something to think about too,” Winston says. “Five hundred, like we agreed?” He thinks about rounding up, but he finds that he doesn’t know if John would think that offensive. There’s no denying that he has had a hell of a time, but if there’s anything Winston tries to avoid, it’s incidental rudeness. That’s something else he dislikes about hard cash; it’s so easily misunderstood.

“Just leave it on the table,” John lifts himself up with his elbows. “I need to piss.”

 

For all the unusual perks that the Continental offers its guests, the fact that it still does provide all of the usual amenities of a client’s home away from home isn’t something that escapes Winston. The Continental serves all kinds. Depending on how depraved a patron's tastes are, Charon will either recommend that they go visit the second floor of a certain noodle bar in Chinatown or God forbid, a certain shipping container in the Bronx.

Winston can conceivably partake in those places and those people, who conceivably all know who he is. He can get what he wants from anyone. All he has to do is snap his fingers and the world (at least his little corner of it in New York) falls to its knees and wants. While the practical part of Winston enjoys the security of such knowledge, there are other parts of him that crave possibilities only present when he gives that up.

The illusion of choice is everywhere one would care to look. There are simple enough reasons why a person goes into the business of carnal pleasure. Women of a certain caliber (and it’s always the women, never the men, Winston has given up on questioning why) always seem especially keen on deluding themselves into thinking they ever had a choice.

Other reasons, Winston thinks, are quick to supersede something as flimsy and unpredictable as choice. One often makes choices because he has to, and that’s hardly a choice.

“...Hello?” John’s voice, sleep-laced, oddly-boyish; it’s difficult to reconcile this voice, nearly sweet, with the black gaze and the stillness, and the desire of wanting to please, wanting to be seen.

“It’s Craigslist,” says Winston. And he’s pleased by this, until he hears a series of shuffling noises.

“Which?” John sounds now, more awake.

“Wednesday,” Winston says. “I’m Wednesday. John_W,” (he pronounces this “John underscore W” and then he wishes he hadn’t. As it turns out, precision isn’t always best.) But then, a man is nothing without his fuck-ups. And Winston’s had a few. He might even venture to say that he is proud of some of them. It remains to be seen whether his flirtation with John_W will make the hall of fame.

“Hello, Wednesday,” John says, and there’s a familiar quality to his voice, a preening tenor-quasi-baritone that dips into the depths of Winston’s large colon and then sweeps back up again without much warning. “I’ve been thinking about you.”

“Have you?”

“Yes,” John says, and when he exhales through Winston’s mobile, Winston feels the breath very keenly in his nether regions.

“I’d like to see you again, John.”

John says, “I’m not free until Tuesday.”

Tuesday is -- Winston has to consult his diary -- a full three days away. And here he’d been hoping that he’d brighten up the young man’s weekend with, something; he used to be sure and now he isn’t. “I am free Tuesday.”

“Or you never know. Someone might cancel,” John says. It’s not so much saying as it is musing out loud. Winston has a feeling that he’s just shared a very private moment in John’s head, but he isn’t going to allow himself to hope.

“ -- You?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said,” John says, and there’s a strange small pause that nearly descends into condescension, but John scoops it up at the last second, “Can I text you.” This time it isn’t a question. “...In case anyone cancels.”

“By all means,” Winston says, “Text away.”

 

On Sunday night, when Winston is very much in the middle of something he can’t get out of, as it involves the night manager of the Continental in Dublin and also a clear violation of the Good Friday Agreement involving a rogue shipment of decommissioned guns, his phone rings. The caller identification tells him it’s a blocked number but Winston isn’t worried so much as he is irritated. Usually, he loves this stuff.

“...Now’s not a good time, I’m afraid.”

“But someone’s canceled, Wednesday.”

“Do you know anything about the Good Friday Agreement?”

John deadpans, “Did it happen on a Friday?”

“There you go, darling. Practically an expert.” Winston paces the length of his penthouse balcony and then, despite himself, he thinks about fucking John while the man is bent over the railing. “...Do you think someone is likely to not cancel on you in the next hour?”

“I can manage that, yeah,” John says.

Winston can’t help himself. “As I recall, you don’t do anything I don’t tell you to do.”

“Or I just like it when you think that,” John says, and hangs up.

 

John shows up on the penthouse in another t-shirt that has a band name on it paired with an absolutely hideous knock-off Burberry top coat. Another veneer.

“Nice digs.”

“Glad to impress.” Winston dips his head. “Can’t say the same about the jacket.”

"How about the rest of me?" John says, hardly missing a beat.

Clever boy. Winston has a thing for cleverness. He's always had, "Now you're fishing. Some might even say desperate."

The other man considers this and shakes his head, "I'm never desperate." John shrugs, as if to accentuate how little he gives a fuck. “ -- Anyway, I didn’t choose it; it was a gift from someone.”

Winston watches as John picks at a loose thread and then rolls the coat off of his shoulders. “Is there a coat rack someplace?”

“By the door, on your right. It’s got drawers, you can’t miss it.” Winston is not sure what game he’s playing, but what he does know is that there’s very little chance that John has indeed missed the coat rack next to the front door his first go around.

“Right.”

The penthouse is a good size; Winston doesn’t have any cause to be ashamed of it. It’s got an open plan living room and kitchen, and everything is kept immaculate, spotless. It’s only when John is gone for five long minutes that a root of something unpleasant starts to take hold of Winston’s tonsils.

“If you’re looking for illicit drugs, I’m afraid I’ve run out.”

Winston peeks out into the corridor to find John gazing at the deluxe reproduction of Duchamp’s “Self-Portrait in Profile” with a gaze that isn’t just dumb wonderment. Instead, there is a glint in his eye, one that recognizes greatness, that he is in the presence of something more than himself.

Marcel dechiravit,” says John, in not-entirely-terrible French and Winston has never known that so much could have come out of a voiceless fricative. Maybe that's what makes John so good at sucking cock.

Winston reaches for the light switch and John blinks and stills at the sudden brightness. Despite John’s awful dress sense, Winston can’t help but want to know if there is something else. There must be. John seems to take care of every other aspect of his appearance. His nails are trimmed short, there’s a light stubble around his jaw that just needs a bit of time. His hair is tied up today, and not left in a wild mane like it had been, the last time Winston had the pleasure of seeing him. There’s a smell clinging to John, one that ensures the abstract absence of others, but it’s not as if Winston is a fool.

“Is it just an affectation, then?”

“What is?”

“Your wardrobe,” Winston gestures. “Ever think about getting a tailor?”

John stares down at himself, “I like the Velvet Underground.” He says this, as if it’s a piece of himself he’s afraid to lose. As if in all of the things that Winston might want to induce onto his person, that his liking a band might disappear in the process.

“I suppose they’re not awful,” the Velvet Underground is not particularly to Winston’s taste, but he doesn’t think that comes as a surprise. “It’s more the...metaphor. It’s a bit loud, no?”

“You don’t like Warhol?” John’s mouth twitches. “I like this. It’s what I sometimes wear to proclaim the merits of my profession.”

 

This time, they lie tip to tail on the floor of the penthouse living room and John sucks Winston’s cock until he comes. Just before, John presses his thumb (a little wet with spit) meaningfully into Winston’s arse and Winston doesn’t entirely dislike it.

Still, Winston has a feeling that it's better to keep up appearances, “I didn’t say you could do that.”

He feels the warm curve of John’s smile near his ankle and Winston shudders. Half from his orgasm, half from the hope and fear that they might get to do this again.

“Did you not like it?”

Winston shifts so he can better take in the sight in front of him and it is a sight. John still stubbornly in his Velvet Underground-Warhol disaster of a t-shirt and his shorts are pulled down to his knees. His hair has come loose from the tie and he has one hand wrapped around himself.

“I’ll think on it.”

“You don’t like it; you can punish me.”

“It’s not punishment if you ask for it.”

“I’m sure you can make it interesting for me. You seem to be a man of means.”

“Is that not something I share with the rest of your clients?”

“That’s confidential,” John grins. “...But what I can tell you is that you’re much more interesting than most of my clients.”

“Politicians, socialites, maybe continental royalty, lorry drivers.” Winston thinks out loud. "I'd hope so."

“What’s that?”

“Truck drivers,” Winston tells him.

“You think I get it on with truck drivers.” John laughs, and the odd honest condescension is something that Winston decides he wants to hear again and again.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Winston says. “Come here.”

John unfolds himself and kicks off his shorts. He plants himself right in front of Winston with the heels of his feet planted on either side, “I’m here.”

Winston wraps his hand around John’s throat and John leans into the touch. Then he squeezes and John gasps, “ -- Oh.”

John’s hand is reaching for his erection and Winston clamps his other hand around his wrist. “No. But you can come. I know it won’t be enough.” He needs to wipe the floor after John leaves.

After a moment, John says, “That’s not so bad.”

“I’m not a cruel man like the rest of my privileged brethren. Your second act of penance is to burn that coat. I’ll send you another one.”

 

Winston goes to his favorite tailor to commission John’s new coat.The tailor, a dry Yorkshireman named Quill, intones that he must really like this one to recall such precise measurements from memory.

“You say that as if I’m not always precise.”

There have been a few others before John, and Quill has never met any of them them. In the end, Winston settles on a dark wool-blend peacoat with pockets sewn specially in the lining.

 

Two weeks later, Winston gets a call from a blocked number and John informs him that he’s wearing his new coat.

Winston thinks, and decides to go for broke, “What else are you wearing?”

“Not anything else, if you’d like. But I’m out in public, you’re responsible for paying any fines that I might incur by stripping in Central Park.”

As it happens, Winston is in the middle of his constitutional in Central Park. It’s a quiet day, and the place isn’t overrun by children or tourists. There are a few joggers who are attached to their music players and a few stragglers out with their dogs. It’s the dog that first captures Winston’s attention, a happy excited terrier attached to a lead and then a familiar figure in a navy peacoat. Providence.

“I beg of you, don’t do that. But do turn around. Your five o’clock.”

Do you beg?”

“Absolutely not.”

The dog bounds ahead of John while he walks in measured steps, no doubt in an effort to not seem too excited to see Winston. That’s not exactly Winston tooting his own horn, that’s more Winston’s acknowledgement that John’s getting to be an expensive little hobby, if still a fruitful one.

“Ever?”

Winston cuts the call and drops his mobile back into his pocket. “Ever. But don’t let that take away from how much I do like you.” He allows himself a brief feel of the textured wool near John’s cuff and then he drops his hand.

“I believe you,” John says.

“What does that mean?”

“I rarely believe it when people say they like me." John glances down at the dog by his feet, "It always seems to me that they’re saying something else. By the way, this is Virgil.”

“Hello,” Winston says and offers his knuckles. Virgil sniffs at them and does an experimental circle around Winston’s immediate circumference.

“I think he likes you too,” John says. Winston can’t tell if he is saying something else.

 

Virgil turns out to belong to Aurelio’s cousin who is apparently visiting from Philadelphia or somewhere not especially of note. Aurelio hands over the keys to Room 14 and tells him to have a good time, Tuesday.

“Wednesday,” Winston corrects him, but refuses to be ribbed any further.

“He now thinks you’re the King of Prussia,” John informs him. “Last week he thought you were the Prime Minister.”

“Of where, exactly?” Winston finds it almost gratifying that he seems to come up so often in conversation between John and Aurelio, “I should find that offensive. How old does he think I am?”

John does his rounds with the door and the curtains and then drapes himself over the armchair, “For what it’s worth, it doesn’t bother me. What would bother me is that if you decide that you want to fuck him instead.”

“He’s not my type,” Winston says. That said, he doesn’t have a type, but he doesn’t mind stroking John’s ego, or indeed, any other part of him.

Winston goes and leans against the armchair. He lets his fingers trail over John’s knees and then up to splay over the flat, attractive plane of John's stomach.

“On a second thought, take the coat off, please.”

John looks at him, lazy and knowing, “Would it make any difference if I tell you I’ve already broken it in?”

“Have you?”

“Hm.”

“Show me,” Winston says.

“Sure.” John is upright again and he begins by dropping his jeans, and then his shorts and socks. Then he takes off the coat and hands it to Winston. Winston is terrified for only a minute about its fate, but John pulls his shirt over his head and shrugs the coat back on. Winston can breathe again, “I really enjoy these coke pockets. Very handy.”

“Glad to hear it.”

John grips a hand around himself and jerks in smooth motions. He follows the gentle rutting of his hips and Winston, despite himself, is compelled towards the man like he is some kind of electromagnet. He allows himself this indulgence and leans up to press his mouth against the hollow of John’s throat. Winston bares his teeth, and John makes a sound.

“How is your throat?”

“You left a mark so I couldn’t work for a few days,” John says, a strange hitch in his voice. “No big deal.”

“You let me do that.”

John bends and catches Winston’s chin and it’s not so much like a moment in an inevitable, well-trodden, overwrought narrative than a moment in the natural course of their acquaintance. At first, the kiss is questioning and shy. But then it turns into something else when Winston bites John’s tongue and tastes something coppery along with John’s saliva. The man must have recently had a cigarette.

Winston finds himself flat on his back on the floor with John leaning over him in still just the coat. He’ll have to recommend the man a good dry cleaner’s if this keeps up. Winston rather hopes it will. John also has a lazy grip on Winston's waking erection, which Winston thinks he can get used to, a teasing squeeze following a pulse.

“You sure I can’t fuck you, Wednesday?” John's fingers flitter near Winston's heartbeat, "I'll make it good."

"Somehow, I don't doubt that," Winston says, meeting John's eyes. He thinks to himself that it has been a long time since he's taken it up the arse, and he doesn't want to do it here. Maybe he can suggest that they go to the Sheraton after all, to mark the occasion.

"So?" John grins, one part boyish and the rest not really. "What do you say?"

Winston opens his mouth to answer but then his mobile buzzes in his pocket. He glances at the time and the caller ID and knows that it can’t be any good.

“Excuse me.”

John lets him up and turns away. Winston takes the call and inhales, “...Yes?”

“Sir,” Charon says, “There’s a bit of a situation.”

Once he hangs up, John says, “...You’ve got a bit of.” He touches his thumb to the edge of Winston’s mouth and comes away with a bit of blood.

“I have to go,” Winston says, and he’s never felt sorrier about anything in his life.

 

And then, not entirely by Winston’s own design, he doesn’t get to see John for a few days. After that, it seems only inevitable that days would extend into weeks and then three months. He misses three or four calls from a blocked number and then the number stops ringing him. Winston hires a few people; fires a few people; writes increasingly incensed correspondence to the Continentals in Belfast and Dublin respectively. He even holidays for a weekend on the account of a former Manager’s wedding to his fourth wife, a nubile young twenty-year-old thing who is wanted in at least five different countries by Interpol. Because no one has any imagination, the wedding and subsequent reception is held in Monte Carlo and only three people die.

Yet, Winston still has time to wonder if John still masturbates just wearing his coat; or more accurately, Winston is only vaguely conscious that he has gone and made this time. He avails himself to such a fantasy exactly once, alone on the sofa of the penthouse. Afterwards, when Winston has cleaned himself up and poured himself a nightcap, his mobile rings. Another blocked number.

“...Yo. You Wednesday?”

Only two people know him by that name. “Aurelio?”

“Yeah, hey. Listen. You haven’t been around so I wasn’t sure if, but Johnny’s been arrested.” Aurelio speaks fast, as if he is uncertain that all the words will get out in time.

Winston presses his face into his palm, “Solicitation?”

“He apparently beat a client to death.” Aurelio says, and Winston finally appreciates his cutting to the chase and not wasting any words. “The details aren’t important. Just. Will you help him?”

“You didn’t make this call expecting me to say no,” Winston says. “And by your own admission, John and I have not been in touch.”

“Wednesday, John likes you because you don’t see him as a whore. I mean, he speaks French.”

Usually, dynamics like this between men are easy enough to parse out because man is a simple enough creature, concerned with his next meal and next fuck. But Winston doesn’t get the feeling that Aurelio wants to fuck John or vice versa. It’s something deeper, something kinly-chemical. It fascinates Winston, as he has always subscribed to a very specific kind of loneliness, “Lots of whores speak French.”

“C'mon, man. You know what I mean.”

He doesn't, but maybe Aurelio has a point. Winston draws in a deep breath and downs the rest of his drink, “Where is he?”

 

Orange doesn’t suit John, and neither does the harsh lighting of the prison visiting room. Winston slips the guard the pre-agreed price of two galleons and then they are left alone.

“I told Aurelio not to call you,” John says, unhappily.

Winston looks him up and down. For a man locked up, John looks fine. His hair has been trimmed and there are a few scratches on his knuckles, a cut below his right eye, but nothing terrible.

“Why?”

“I don’t want to owe you, Wednesday.”

“You’ve become quite an expensive hobby for me; I'm sure I don't have to tell you that I only keep hobbies that I enjoy,” Winston says. “This doesn’t have to be any different. Say I don’t help you. Is it your plan to languish in here?”

John shrugs, “At most I’ll do a dime. That’s not too bad. My lawyer will argue self-defense.” John juts out his jaw, “I’m under no delusions about what I’ve done. And I don’t want your help.”

Previous to his visit, Winston has had photographs of John’s transgression sent to him at the Continental. Winston is surprised, and then not really, that he recognizes John’s victim but only by his tattoos rather than his face. John has given the short shrift to a mid-level Russian goon named Vasily Mischa in the employ of one Viggo Tarasov who runs a gambling den out of a restaurant in Little Russia. Winston has met Vasily once and the man didn’t make much of an impression, but he has a feeling Viggo will be quick to overreact. It sort of runs in the family which make the Tarasovs volatile allies on the best of days.

“I have seen pictures of what you did, I don’t think you’ll get a dime. I also think that it’s not safe in here for you.”

“Yeah, because prisons are notoriously safe establishments.” John grins and Winston slaps him across the face.

John doesn’t wince but the gesture has done what it’s meant to and his cheek swells with a red angry sting.

“Do you know who you've killed?”

“Mafia,” John says, his lips twisting around the the word. It would have been pretty, if the words out of his mouth weren't so stupid, “Is that who you are? That’s not nearly as interesting than what I was hoping for.”

"I manage a hotel,” Winston stands. Then, he puts his chair back into place, “It’s really not very interesting. But fine, suit yourself.” It’s useless to argue with people who are intent on bashing their heads against the wall. “I’ll be going.”

He stands and is about to buzz for the guard, but then John says, “Wednesday.”

“Yes?”

“I meant what I said. I don’t want to owe you. I just.”

“Then don’t,” Winston says, and goes.

 

Charon probably has some inkling of how Winston and John know each other. His instincts are not as well sharpened as Winston’s but he still stands head and shoulders above nearly everyone else in Winston’s employ. What Winston does worry about is whether or not he and John appear to others as a pair of guilty lovers, two people bound together because they now have no choice.

That being said, John’s immediate choices are prison or moving temporarily into the Continental, so Winston can understand why the man is unhappy.

“Would you like a view, Mr. Wick?”

John shrugs one shoulder. “I’m not picky.”

Winston says, “Give him a view. And preferably a room in the east wing. It’s quieter there.”

“Consider it done,” Charon says and slides a key card across to John, “Do you understand the rules that you must abide by on Continental grounds, Mr. Wick?”

John’s eyes go very wide and black. “I won’t litter; I’ll keep my room neat; I won’t have sex too loud.”

Winston coughs. Charon, impressively and as an absolute testament to his station, doesn’t move an inch. “...Perhaps I will let the Manager explain our rules to you. I hope you have a pleasant stay.”

 

“I run a hotel my ass,” John says, in the privacy of his new suite. Despite the stubborn (but still lovely) curve of his spine, Winston can tell that he is impressed by everything that the room has to offer. “You run a fucking cult.”

“I’ve never thought about it that way,” Winston mulls it over and decides that it is not entirely inaccurate. “After a fashion.”

John’s worldly possessions fit into one suitcase and he is wearing his peacoat. He shrugs off the coat, hangs it up, and moves to close the distance between himself and Winston. “Wednesday.” All purpose, intention, and youthful-fuck-you-because-who-cares, and Winston nearly believes that life isn't nearly cruel as he has always experienced it to be.

“Winston,” Winston breathes out. “That’s my name.” He places his palm on John’s chest to keep some space between them.

“Winston.” John swallows. “Were you named after Churchill? He a Winston, right?”

“If you are trying to give some credence to your Prime Minister theory, I’m sorry to disappoint you again. My parents were simply alcoholics who weren’t very imaginative.” But then Winston isn’t really sorry.

“Winston.”

Winston can’t trust himself to look, “Yes.”

“...Do you still like me?”

“If there is anything you should know about me, it’s that my affections are not fickle. Sometimes to my own detriment.” Winston inhales a long breath, holds it, and lets it out, “I’ll have some clothes sent to you. Try to get some rest.”

 

Viggo Tarasov is grudgingly impressed with John’s work but he isn’t certain about hiring him. Winston offers to meet him for a drink to put any worries to rest.

However, it would seem that he’s caught Viggo in not a very giving mood, “What does he have over you, this John Wick?”

“That question offends me,” Winston says.

Viggo scoffs, “Then don’t treat me like some sort of indolent fucker. I know Vasily was fond of whores, and that he was sometimes violent with them. That doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

“Imagine how violent he would have had to have been, for John Wick to do something like that to his face. From what I understand, he did that with only his hands.” Winston slides an envelope across the table.

Viggo winces. “I don’t need to look at them again.”

Look at them.”

Viggo does, and he looks like he’s eaten something very bitter, or someone has hit him in the gullet and he can’t breathe.

Viggo sighs, “I don’t run a daycare, Winston. I run a legitimate business, with legitimate risks. You must have people who can train him up if you’re so...attached.”

Winston refuses to take the bait. “I am not attached. I’m doing you a favor. If you won’t take him, then someone else will. And then you might live to regret not taking my offer seriously.”

 

The one luxury that Winston allows himself in the coming days is that he accompanies John personally to Quill’s shop. He hasn’t seen John much since the conversation with Viggo Tarasov, and that is partially by design. Winston appreciates the sanctity of one’s privacy and the validity of one’s secrets, but he also understands that he should be honest when he can.

“You’re the infamous peacoat,” Quill says after a second of looking at John. “Nice to see you’re taking care of it.”

“I try to,” John shrugs. “I probably don’t get it dry-cleaned as much as I should.”

Quill makes a noise in his throat. “What can I do for you today?”

Winston extracts a list from his breast-pocket. “This, to start.”

Quill glances at the list and makes a sound through his teeth. “Someone must like you.”

“Sometimes I can’t tell,” John says.

“It looks like you’ve lost some weight,” Quill puts his hand just above John’s elbow and squeezes, “I’ll have to remeasure. Unless…”

Winston holds up his hands, “I have no objection.”

“I was going to say, unless someone would like to save me the trouble,” Quill deadpans. “All right, please, step this way, Mr. Wick.”

 

Later, they linger outside of Quill’s shop. John is wearing something that Quill “just happened to throw together.” It’s still miles better than anything that Winston ever seen John wear and that’s enough. John scratches at the stiff collar. He pops one button, and Winston can't but stare at the inviting skin of the young man's throat, recently unbesmirched by any attention.

“I’m hungry,” John says to no one in particular.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Winston agrees.

“I’d like that.” John steps close enough to brush by Winston’s elbow, but then he has the good sense to step away again. “...Was afraid that it'd be against the rules.”

 

John insists they get a burger, possibly because he thinks that Winston would be beneath such plebeian fare and it would just be funny.

But Winston says, “If I was so prickly about getting my hands dirty, I’d probably never have sex.”

John raises both eyebrows, “And have you? Been having sex?”

“My cult keeps me busy,” Winston says with one side of his mouth. “No. Have you?”

“Viggo says if he catches me fucking he’ll cut my dick off. He says I’m not a whore anymore and that I have better things to be doing. He’s insisted I learn Russian,” John grimaces.

“All of the Russians spoke French at court, no?” Winston may have been able to stomach this burger, but he’s still going to be particular about wiping his fingers. “I’m sure you’ll manage.”

John chews his bottom lip, “Do you speak French?”

“I dabble,” Winston says.

Tu me manques.” John looks at him, accurately reading the tidal wave of emotion flash across Winston’s face. He adds, “Don’t worry, I won’t say anything else.”

“You don’t know enough about me to miss anything.” Winston can’t help himself.

“I know.” John’s eyes slide away from him and there’s a little dark edge to his smile. “But I could have.”