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no more merciful beheadings

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“You’re never going to be anything else, Greg. Greg the egg. Cousin Greg, the tall drink of fish out of water”

“Uh, I don’t think—I—is that how it goes?”

This is the second time Tom’s walked into his apartment—does he have a key? How the fuck does he have a key? Did Kendall give it to him?—and the Greg’s-lost-count time Tom’s insulted him unprovoked. Before that, though, Tom had stormed to the fridge and downed half a beer in one furious, choking series of gulps.

“Yes! Yes, that’s how it goes, Greg. Gregory. Fucking...Gregorosaurus. No matter what dumb name you go by you’ll forever be the freakishly large cousin who showed up to family events in threadbare jeans.”

It’s not even true, technically—Mom knew better than to fly him off for free lunch with a side of verbal abuse in jeans—but it hits. He winces. Tom sticks a finger in his face.

Greg’s still too fresh in this too-large apartment. It feels more like a stage than a home. Tom’s been living in oceans of square footage for a decade, at least. You wouldn’t know it by the way he hams it up.

“There, right there, you know?” he says, eyes on fire. “It’s in everything, all these little faces you make, this—” Tom takes another swig of his beer. “You’re soft, Greg, soft like the belly of an armadillo. You’re not like us. You haven’t assimilated like I have. Even your fucking posture gives you away.” Tom hunches over, does his best Charlie Brown. “Bending down like you’re about to apologize to someone or kiss their hand in supplication.”

“Uh, I—”

Tom holds out his own hand. “Kiss the ring, Greg.”

“Um, you’re not, uh—”

Tom yanks his hand back quick, as though that will cause Greg to somehow unnotice the strip of too-pale skin on his finger where a wedding band used to sit. Their eyes meet.

Greg straightens up, then. There’s a quick, cold pulse in his chest that makes him think of greyhounds spotting rabbits across the track.

“How’s fitting in going for you, exactly?” he says.

Tom pulls one of those faces he always pulls, overexpressive right when he doesn’t mean to be.

“It’s going just fine,” he spits. “Greg.”

“So your posture doesn’t, like, give you away or anything? There’s not a certain kind of agricultural quality to your walk or whatever?”

“A what?” Tom’s tone has Greg scanning the room for potential projectiles. “What do you mean, agricultural? Who—?”

Tom looks like he’s being broiled. He’s bloating, deepening in color, a sheen flashing on his skin. No, that’s dumb. Tom’s like—Tom’s like a water balloon, distorting and bulging like someone—like Greg—is pressing a thumbtack into him and waiting for the sudden give to come.

“You told me yourself, man, back here after some Thursday night drinks thing. Roman, Tabitha, and Shiv all ripping into you because, what, you don’t walk right or something? I mean, dude, if you think about it aren’t we kind of the same?”

Tom’s said it himself, once. I was an outsider, once. Little nudie turtles and all that.

“The same?”

But the sameness is only allowed so long as it’s the same of present recognizing past: watching a baby and thinking ‘I, too, was once a fucking idiot without object permanence’. The last time Tom was this mad, Greg got his own office.

“The same? We’re—you’re a—you’re nothing, Greg. You’re a—a dust mote. I’m the fucking chair of ATN. I made it. I’ve put in the time. I know how to play the game. You’re a walk-on: all you do—all you’ll ever do—is hold someone else’s latte and attempt to look industrious. Tall as you are,” he says, poking Greg’s chest with the hand that’s not holding a beer, “you’re out of your goddamn depth.”

They stop then: Tom flushed and spit-flecked; Greg looking into that face and inhaling the rage. That’s not all he’s inhaling. Tom’s made a stop somewhere before ending up here. He smells like he’d be a danger near an open flame.

Greg looks down at Tom’s index finger. Greg looks at Tom’s ring finger. Greg looks back at Tom.

“We are not the same,” Tom says, “you inconceivable fuck.”

There’s this weird pause where Tom should, based on past evidence, either storm off or brain Greg with his beer bottle. Instead he just stands there, futile, like an empty fridge opened in the night.

“Dude,” says Greg, unsure what he’s going to say but unable to let this continue. “I just—”

The look Tom’s giving him is actually painful, so Greg gives up grasping for platitudes. “I’m getting a drink,” he says, and wheels away. Fridge, beer, bottle opener, stretch out on the couch. When he takes his first sip and looks up, Tom is standing where Greg left him, left hand in pocket, staring his way.

“I, uh, if you want to talk about it or whatever, I guess we could—?”

Tom makes a noise like a baseball hitting a bat. “What I want,” he says, “Greg, has no bearing on anything anyone does, ever.”

He stalks to the fridge—stage left, Greg guesses, if he’s the audience. He realizes Tom is doing his best not to look rustic, his movements stiff and quick. Greg pretends not to notice.

“Not even you,” he mutters, as he hears the fridge’s rubber seal suck back into place.


“Nothing.” Greg digs for the remote.

The couch is an ocean of upholstery but Tom makes a show of crowding him. It’ll be some dominance schtick he’s read about in an LBJ biography or whatever. Tom comes around the couch, squeezes Greg’s shoulder, and lands on the sofa right where his legs were so he’s forced to fold up into the corner. He hadn’t missed this bullshit.


“Hey yourself. Your beer is noxious,” Tom says, and pats Greg’s knees. “This is exactly what I’m talking about, Greg, you don’t know shit.”

The rolling news—PGM—drones into the silence as Greg shifts around to try to get comfortable. Tom doesn’t give a crap: he’s staring at the TV, eyes unmoving and bright with reflected sports coverage. He’s already gone through half his beer, no matter how shitty it might be, but when he’d joined Greg he’d brought a six pack.

Greg shifts again, an electrical pain in his knees. He makes a complaining type of noise, maybe, because next thing he knows Tom’s grabbing his ankles and yanking his legs out over his lap.

“For fuck’s sake, Greg,” he says. “Be an adult about this.”

Greg watches Tom pretend to watch the news and thinks about how adult it is to ignore someone’s texts for three weeks then walk into their apartment like you own the place.

There are two empty bottles on the floor beside Tom when he slaps Greg’s shin so hard it stings and says: “This is so boring. Are you always this boring? Like, domestic? Is this the sort of shit you and Mrs. Greg will do?”

“Ow,” says Greg. “I, uh. So you do want to talk about it, then, I guess?”

“About what?”

Tom’s still looking in the direction of the TV. Greg feels like throwing something at him. Fucking asshole, breaking in to his apartment and stealing his beer and not even deigning to look at Greg as he sits there and drinks it. The worst part is how this garbage behavior feels like sinking into a warm bath. Stockholm Syndrome, except for a shitty, sad man who hardly had, like, any control over him in the first place. Whatever.

“Well, it’s just that you never mention, um, ‘Mrs Greg’, like, ever, so I figure what you actually want to talk about is, uh. Is why you’re not, you know, wearing your wedding ring?”

“Yeah, Greg. What else do I want, huh, are you gonna tell me that?” Tom turns to him. He looks awful, like some wax figure whose expression’s been haphazardly remodelled to sardonic from a scream. “Maybe I never mention Mrs Greg,” he says, “because she doesn’t exist. What makes you think that I’d want to talk about—about anything with someone who might even still be a virgin?”

Greg thinks about the sexual encounters that have technically though not psychically relieved him of his virginity. He takes a swig of beer and shelves some hair behind his ear.

“I may not have had, like, Roy level experience, dude—” Tom’s face twists. “—but I’m just saying that if you did wanna talk, and, uh, if you maybe came over in the first place to talk rather than, like, insult me and drink my noxious beer, well. In that scenario, I would, uh, totally be here?”

“I know you’re here, asshole, you’re cutting off the circulation to my feet. It’d be hard to forget that you’re here. But I—”

Tom stares at Greg for so long, looking so pitiful, that Greg’s about to direct him back toward the screen by the time he finally shakes his head and speaks again.

“I do appreciate that.” Tom swallows. “I do, but it’s—it’s not something I want to talk about. Not yet.” Tom grabs another beer, though he misses the top with the first pass of the bottle opener. “Can we watch a movie?” he says. “Like, a really crappy movie. You know. Something you’d like.”

“That’s weak,” Greg says, smile punching out of him despite himself. “It’s honestly quite sad, dude.”

“Everything you like is crap, Greg,” Tom says, voice finally calm.

“I like you,” Greg offers.

Tom laughs. “Oh, fuck off,” he says. “Fuck you.”

It’s difficult to find something that’s not a Royco Entertainment joint. They settle on something old and swashbuckling. Greg’s never seen it, but Tom seems to know all the lines. He gets kind of into it, watching Tom watch Kevin Costner make out with a beach or whatever.

“Have you seen this before?”

“You haven’t? Come on, Greg, it’s a classic.”

Greg’s pretty sure this is not the sort of movie you get to act superior about having seen. Alan Rickman is currently sneering around with some white-haired crone lady who exists in, apparently, a Kate Bush music video: everything’s mist and drapes.

He imagines Tom watching it in theaters. 1991, the Netflix blurb had said. Tom would have been, what, 13? Maybe he saw it on a date, all chubby-cheeked and nervous.

When Greg refocuses, Tom’s looking at him with narrowed eyes. “What?”


“No, what?”

Greg reaches for a reason and gestures, vague, at nothing. “Just—steal from the rich, give to the poor. Didn’t think that was your thing.”

“Neither’s shooting droids,” Tom says, “but I still like Star Wars. Surely even you can distinguish between reality and fiction? Shit, I hope you didn’t go up to Charlize Theron at the RecNY and ask her what it was like to survive the apocalypse and drive all those muscle cars.”

Greg laughs. Well, he smiles and groans. Tom laughs enough at his own joke for the both of them.

This is a long fucking movie, it turns out. Tom grabs Greg another beer from the floor at some point and, at another, taps him hard above his knee to demand the bottle opener. He takes to using Greg’s thigh like a coaster, tilting the base of his bottle so it tracks one steady circular path of cold pressure. The condensation starts to seep through the fabric. It feels weird. Greg doesn’t hate it, but the weird wins out.

“Uh, Tom,” he says. “Um. I think I’m gonna bruise, man.”

“What? Oh, dude, sorry,” he says. Tom downs the beer and slams it on the coffee table. He runs the risk of smashing the tabletop, but what does Greg care? Nothing here belongs to him. Tom’s a bit more careful with Greg’s leg, rubbing his hand over it as though to check for a dent. It’s actually not bad—better than the icy press of glass.

“Beer me,” Greg says, because he’s changed his mind. It is kind of bad, now: Tom’s started kneading him like dough.

“Something stronger?”

Greg glances at the screen. Kevin Costner and some Hagrid-looking dude are trying to knock each other into a river, fuck knows why. Greg nods. He tries to fold his legs up at the same time as Tom tries to push him off and move. His leg smacks the coffee table with even more force than Tom’s bottle before it.

“Fuck,” he says, and recoils. His feet land in Tom’s lap.

“Hey, watch it.” Tom leans back from the knees that nearly chinned him. His fingers are careful, though, pressing the outside of Greg’s ankle like Greg imagines he handles the jewelry he buys Shiv. “Sorry, man,” he says. “You all right?”

“Yeah.” Greg flexes his feet in a show of well-being and tries to ignore the way Tom’s expression softens as he presses toes against his thigh.

“Good,” Tom says. “I mean. That’s fine.”

“I’ve got bourbon,” Greg offers. “Bottom shelf, left of the dishwasher.”

He winds his legs in, careful this time, so Tom can stand. “Have fun judging all my shit.”

“Oh, my dear Greg, I’ve been doing that since the day we first met.”

Greg thinks the second-rate Bond villain act means Tom is feeling more like his old self, but when he comes back to the couch, glasses stacked in one hand and a bottle grasped in the other, his eyes are all wet.

“Dude, are you—”

“See!” Tom says, picking up a thread Greg can’t remember him unspooling in the first place. He bends the hand holding the bottle and uses a blunt edge of wrist to wipe his eyes. “You’re not supposed to say this shit. Jesus, Greg, listen to yourself.”

“You’re not supposed to stomp into my apartment and, like, raid all my alcohol, so,” says Greg. Tom narrows his eyes in response, but doing so prompts a fat tear to slide down his cheek. Not the most intimidating. “I’m not even employed to put up with this anymore, man, you know? If you’re going to get mad at me for, like, trying to be your friend or whatever then, uh, then why even come here?”

Tom’s great gusty sigh is condescending—or it would be, if it weren’t ruined by a hitch in breath. It’s nothing new. Greg should be inured to this pathetic fooling-no-one crap by now, but some part of him—the part that decided to pitch escaping ATN as though Tom were some giant upon whose shoulders he could never hope to stand; the part that heard I don’t always like who I am, Greg and was left sore and speechless—that part softens like rotting fruit.

It’s a triple, easy, that Tom pours him. At least two inches of sapbrown liquid sparkle yellow in the screenlight. Greg takes the glass, careful not to let their fingers touch. It tastes expensive.

“Legs,” Tom says, and pats his lap, waiting until Greg stretches out over it again—and there’s a huge fucking couch, Greg doesn’t know why Tom’s insisting on this, let alone why he’s going along with it—before speaking again. “You know, I fucking hate you, Greg.”

His tone’s light, which means the words are a veneer for something much sharper and more painful. Greg’s reminded of Tom’s bachelor party, the way he ran around telling anyone who’d listen that I’m gonna blow my load, like, so many times. Like he was waiting for someone to call him on it.

“Okay,” Greg says. “Okay, you know, fine. Whatever, except, uh, I kind of don’t think you really do?”

It’s not, like, the smoothest way to go about it, but it makes Tom emit this pained, honking laugh, so it does the job. He swirls his bourbon in a way he probably picked up from a movie.

“Greg,” he says, and turns to him, liquid sloshing to stillness. “Even if you weren’t the most pathetic, annoying—you and Kendall teamed up and fucked me on national television without so much as a—”

“And?” says Greg. He waves a hand at the whole fucking tableau: their stupid bodies, his knees curving over Tom’s lap; the stupid movie; the stupid empty beer bottles on the floor. “You’re still here. So, like—”

Tom scoffs and raises an impetuous finger.

“No, dude,” Greg says, before he can open his goddamn mouth again. “No. Stop. What do you even want, Tom, why are you here?”

“I want to watch a movie with my friend and assassin, Greg, before he sends me to prison.” Tom's smile looks like it’s been pulled into place by meathooks. As Greg looks at it, that soft and rotten part of him twists with worms. The smile falls so hard and fast Greg hears it land. “This is not—I don’t—I’m not here to listen to you acting high and mighty about principles, Greg, so you can leave that shit at the door. The one time I—Boar on the Floor, I—I protected you, and you—”

Greg’s kind of glad they’re going to do this rather than the Shiv thing. At least he’d had the remotest idea this one was going to come to pass. Tom’s still speaking, stuck on a loop, all we were a team and we had each other’s backs and I protected you.

“Yeah, you did,” Greg says. “And now I’m protecting Kendall. I’m, like, I’m trying to keep you out of it. We’re going with, you know, ‘orders came down from on high’, and—”

“Depositions will fuck that.”

“Will they? I mean, sure, you and I, uh, we did what we did, but. You’re their pawn—or were, I guess, now the wedding ring’s—”

“Shut the fuck up,” Tom says without ire.

Greg gives him a hard look. “I’m just saying, um, that there’s probably, like, a pretty convincing argument to be made that you were just, you know—”

“What, just following orders?” Tom raises his brows. “If I’m not in on the whistleblowing, then I’m just your regular Nuremberg asshole.”

Greg takes a drink just so he can take a break from looking at him. He wonders if it was always this painful to see Tom being Tom. It kind of reminds him of those videos of keyhole surgery: not, like, graphic, per se, but you see enough of the flesh moving around to know the blade-wielding robots are going to town underneath.

“Well. Come in on the whistleblowing, then,” Greg tells his bourbon.

“Turn king’s evidence? Greg, come on. Shiv would ACME my whole life. There’d be nothing left but a pair of shoes and a puff of smoke.”

Your whole life, thinks Greg. You’re a space where the Roys cast their shadow, Tom. A satellite state. There’s not much to explode.

He’d not have the words to say it properly, though, and even then it might be more than Tom could take.

“Why are you here, then?” he asks again, sitting up to place his empty glass beside Tom’s on the table. “What do you even want?”

“God, I don’t fucking know,” says Tom, and grabs Greg’s shoulders, lunging toward him.

“Whoa,” Greg says, rearing back. He’d have tipped onto the floor if it weren’t for Tom’s hold on him. For a second he thinks Tom is trying to headbutt him, but Tom’s eyes fly open, startled, which means he’d been—

Greg feels a wash of—well, it’s not all pity, but that’s maybe half the whole. Little nudie turtles, he thinks. Fingers tighten on his shoulders, but Greg’s still caught in that tilting, tipping moment, looking at Tom looking at him.

“You are, like, maybe the least strategic person in this whole world, man,” Greg says. “You’ve been in this life for years, and you’re—what are you doing, dude? Is this—”

“I told you already, I don’t fucking know. I just—are we going to do this, or what?”

Tom’s not his employer; he’s not his anything. He’s some man who’s afraid to be a goddamn human and who’s used Greg to bear the brunt of all that grasping, selfish need. Laugh at my jokes, Greg. Let me feel superior, Greg. Commit a felony for me, Greg.

Get pushed into the dirt, Greg, when you tell me my wife’s having an affair.

It’s not some fucking privilege to be party to this shit, but it feels—like. It feels as though he’s the only person who is party to it, maybe. Is there anyone else Tom would have told about the agricultural walk thing? On a technical level at least, it is a privilege. And maybe a power, too.

Is there anyone else who knows about Nate, who would have even had the pieces to put together and guess, maybe, the impact of offering up a ‘business open relationship’? He’d never felt more like his cousins than when Tom’s face had cracked and something sweet and icy had flexed in Greg’s throat: I was right.

Whatever. After three weeks of radio silence, it’s a relief more than anything.

Are you sure, Greg should ask, but the answer’d be another I-don’t-fucking-know. Neither does Greg, but he moves in anyway, shuffling forward on Tom’s lap so it’s easier to gain purchase.

Tom surges in, raw, a pass at dominance that’s totally fucked by the way he moans into the kiss. Greg leans into it; Tom gives in an instant. He sinks back against the couch and surrenders all the access Greg needs.

There’s a sharp, sad fog of vodka that lingers under all the bourbon and beer. Greg tastes it and thinks about the shitwindow in high school. The shitwindow was set into his reg room door, and it’d been built with violent teenagers in mind. The thing was an inch thick, and latticed through with metal threads—but by the time Greg was there it was little more than a pile of broken glass held together by pube-y wires and surface tension. If someone had pushed even a fragment out of place the whole thing would’ve crumbled.

Put the dumb mental associations aside. Point is, it’s probably not super ethical to make out with someone while they’re in crisis.

Are you trying to seduce me, Tom, he’d said a few weeks in, only the thinnest film over the giddiness in his words.

Would you kiss me if I asked you to, Tom said, the first day they’d met. If I told you to? He’d had no fucking clue how it sat with Greg; how it rolled around in his mind long enough to wear a groove in it; how many times he’d jacked off thinking of Tom ordering him around, low-voiced, his demands shot through with playfulness and real desire.

He uses Tom’s shoulders to push himself up and backwards. Greg can’t move very far, though, because he’s bundled up in his lap as though Tom’s about to carry him over the goddamn threshold. Tom’s arms have circled round his body like a cell, which is worse, and means Greg has little option but to speak right into Tom’s ear as he asks “What the hell is wrong with you?”

In response, Tom grunts and shifts against him—so, like: Exhibit A, right there. “Like. What happened to you that you wanted to get into the Roys’ pockets in the first place?”

Tom turns his head toward him so fast Greg nearly gets his nose broken. “Yeah, Greg, why would anyone want money and power? It’s a fucking mystery for the ages.” He pinches Greg’s side, not sharp enough to sting, but not a simple squeeze either. Greg’s as unsteady as their first few conversations, unsure whether Tom will laugh or mock or rage.

When Tom slides his hands up to Greg’s skull and grasps at his hair, the first thing Greg feels is anger. Well. The first thing he feels is a jolt in his gut, but the anger follows close enough behind to give him pause.

“I think I’m actually, like—“

“What, Jesus Christ.” Tom starts kissing his neck and, oh, fuck, really? If he weren’t 80% sure Tom would laugh, Greg would be reaching down to palm his dick through his jeans. “Shut the—Greg, shut the fuck up.”

“I think I’m kind of mad at how hot this is,” Greg says. A laugh he doesn’t intend follows the words out, like an old-timey nursemaid cleaning up after their bratty charge. He’s mad at his first, placatory impulse, and even madder that it makes him think, again, about how him and Tom are similar in the worst ways.

Tom laughs too. Fuck off, Greg thinks. You don’t even know what you’re laughing at.

“I mean, it, uh, it certainly shouldn’t be, right? Fuck, yes, keep doing that—“ It’s difficult to speak and bare your neck at the same time. Makes his voice all strained. “Like, you’re only showing up here because Shiv’s kicked you to the curb, which is, um. Well, some might say that’s pretty pathetic—“

Tom’s drawing back and frowning. “Hey—“

“Not me! I’m just saying that it makes me, you know, pathetic squared, I think? Taking her hand-me-downs? Taking advantage, too. I mean, I’m taking—“

“Yeah, Greg, it’s all about you,” Tom says. “This whole thing: it’s just a scene in your big narrative arc. I’m glad this makes you think about your wider standing in the universe. Glad I could serve that purpose for you. Ugh.”

Tom places a hand where he’s been sucking at Greg’s neck. He claps it once, twice: gentle and firm, like Greg’s some stallion.

“Taking advantage,” says Tom. “Fucking—as if. If anyone’s going to take advantage here, it’s going to be me.”

Greg’s madder than ever at Tom’s elementary school ‘I know you are but what am I’ bullshit, but there’s very little he can do about it because Tom is, once again, drawing Greg toward him and kissing his jaw, now, hot and intent, focused, sucking kisses that will probably bruise. Fingernails scrape the base of his skull.

“Fuck, Tom, I—“

Greg shifts without meaning to, trying to give his dick some contact, and ends up pushing his ass into Tom’s lap. Tom smiles into Greg’s jaw which fills him with hot, incredible rage and, well. Greg’s not got the Roy name, let alone the instincts, but that doesn’t mean he’s some paragon or whatever. Hand-me-downs, advantage—why not just take what’s being offered? What’s one more regret on Tom’s pile? And who said Greg has to safeguard that shit, anyway? Tom’s an adult.

He might even get off on it—the shame and suffering and all that. Maybe he's Catholic. He is from St. Paul, right?

Why else would he sign up to be their punching bag day in, day out if he didn’t like it, at least a little? Maybe it was like when Tom said it—we’re going to punch-bag it, clapping Greg on the shoulder before a morning meeting, blaming him for everything in the boardroom—like it was a strategy Greg was supposed to be in on. Maybe Tom had thought, when it was his turn to eat shit, that it was part of a bigger plan.

Greg grabs Tom’s tie with more anger than he needs to. Tom did it to him once, here in this same apartment. The thing is, Greg, I just can’t trust you. Greg’s more forceful, sliding under the collar to have something to hold while he yanks the knot loose.

“Yeah, c’mon, clothes,” says Tom, bringing his hands down to Greg’s back, sliding his t-shirt up in an ineffectual rumple. “Clothes, Greg. I need—”

And that’s fucking true. He so clearly needs that it’s kind of exhilarating even though it’s also, maybe, the saddest thing he’s ever seen.

He shifts up and around so his knees are either side of Tom’s lap, pushes Tom back with one hand as he tugs the tie off with the other.

“No,” he says, and tastes that vodka again, licking into his mouth, pulling back just enough to speak. “Your clothes, come on man.”

“Yes,” Tom breathes. He’s scrabbling, now, fingers desperate at his belt and fly as Greg undoes the buttons at his neck and watches his throat work, notes the veins beginning to stand out.

If anyone’s taking advantage, it’s me, Tom had said. Spite’s a terrible motive, but it’s not like it’d be out of place in this world. Greg’s determined, the feeling sudden as a flood, that he’s going to—well, not show Tom who’s boss, but at least remind him he no longer is. Tom’s been a shitwindow for as long as Greg’s known him; it’s time for someone to put him out of his misery and pull him apart shard by fucking shard.

They get weirdly efficient, meeting in the middle before Tom reaches for Greg’s pants. Greg has to grab his hand to push it away. Tom’s fingers are hot and dry. “No. I want—“

“You want what?” Tom swallows with a gross little click. “Greg?”

He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t know what he’d say. Greg places a hand on Tom’s chest, the soft white t-shirt that had lain underneath his shirt, exposed like the sweaty innards of a cabbage.

“You’re very strange,” Tom says, as though he can hear Greg’s thoughts. “That’s why no one heard of you til you showed up at Logan’s birthday. You’re one of those princes they locked in the tower. You’re Mr Rochester’s wife.”

Greg doesn’t know what the hell Tom’s talking about, but what’s new? He focuses on the way he relaxes when Greg applies pressure to his chest; when he relents and all-but hovers, Tom tenses up and forgets to breathe. And, when he slides his hand lower, Tom’s belly trembles.


Tom’s boxers—light blue. Duck egg blue, people would say, though Greg’s never seen a duck egg in his life—have a small navy insignia embroidered on the front of his left thigh. Greg’s free hand runs a forefinger over the stitching. What’s the point in expensive underwear? No one’s going to know you’re wearing it. And it’s not like there’s some superior dick-holding technology that’s unlocked the more you spend. Well. Not to his knowledge.

“Greg, stop fucking around.”

“Fine,” he says, because partially Tom has a point. Partially Greg has been thinking nonsense shit about ducks and designer underwear to avoid panicking that now he’s here in this moment he’ll fuck it up entirely. Partially that’s just how his brain works.

Greg stands up. It’s not, like, a power move or whatever. He knocks over a beer bottle on the floor and sends the glasses on the coffee table wobbling. The table’s too close to the seat. Its edge digs into his calves so he’s on toes, off balance. Tom’s eyes flare all the same.

That’s just how Tom is. He acts like he’s fussy but really he’ll take any old scrap from the heap. Like now: Greg knows he’s inarticulate at the best of times, but all he can do in this moment is gesture to Tom’s boxers and say “Off.”

And still, despite the lack of finesse, Tom complies, quick and vocal. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. Good idea,” like they’re brainstorming branding. “Sounds like a plan.”

His dick springs up, fat and almost fully hard. It’s a nice dick, dark pink. Greg stares for longer than he should, only able to think in these simple terms. He thought he’d gotten over the weird unreality of everything these last two years. Helicopters? Fine. Michelin stars? He’s seen, like, a full galaxy’s worth. But this—

“Greg, are you going to—” Tom says. His jaw tenses up in that weird way of his. “I need you to—I mean, do something, man, I’m—”

The important thing to remember is that with Tom around Greg will always be the second least comfortable guy in the room.

“Yeah,” says Greg. “You are.”

He drops to his knees. Tom scoots forwards in his seat. There’s this—beat, or something. A sore, strange stretch of eye contact. Greg’s unsure what they’re saying to each other, but it’s something. He’s unsure whether he likes it, either. It is what it is—whatever that is.

Fucking hell, dude. Calm down.

“Turn the TV off,” he says. “I want to hear you.”

He wants to stall, mostly, but Tom’s fumble for the remote is so frantic that it gives Greg a rush of some happy chemical. He’s the only person who does want to hear Tom, and Tom knows it. Greg’s pathetic squared, maybe, but having to come crawling round to pathetic squared’s apartment makes Tom, well, pathetic cubed. There’s a whole formula emerging here. Greg has a feeling it might never end, the two of them pushing each other to greater and greater depths.

He thinks about cartography. He thinks words like intrepid and uncharted and forensic. The impulse is to explore—expressions, tastes, sounds—but Greg doesn’t know if he could pull it off. All that delay and play shit is hot in theory, but it takes a kind of assuredness that feels as plunging and alien as this moment itself. Dumb to chance it, and kind of too hot to bear anyway, so all Greg does is curve right over Tom’s dick and guide it into his mouth with his hands.

“Mmm,” Tom says. “Greg, you—“

Tom’s whole needy monosyllabic thing is pressing buttons Greg didn’t know he had. He regrets not letting Tom undo his jeans; that shit is so cramped it’s almost painful. He tries instead to focus on the task at mouth: taking as much as he can, looking up to meet Tom’s eyes, getting a rhythm going. He hits, like, 80% of the points from that ‘how to give a blowjob’ listicle he’d googled five minutes before his first Grindr encounter.

It’s going better than it had then, he thinks, but Tom’s drunk and has bad taste at the best of times. Still, his closed-teeth exhales and greedy hands have to count for something.

Greg won’t be outdone. Plus, this is maybe what people do, right? He doesn’t want Tom to laugh, or get any hints about his level of experience, so he slides his hands up Tom’s thighs, flat and high-pressure the way he’d liked on his chest, and winds up with fingers spread wide on the soft skin of Tom’s inner thighs.

“Yes,” Tom says, knees falling wider. Something in his abdomen flexes. “Yes, yes, c’mon, Greg, I—”

Greg can’t imagine Tom being this bossy with Shiv. Or this needy, whichever it is. Both, probably. It’s only because Tom considers him a worm he gets to see this. Like, why dress up backstage, you know?

Tom, raw and obvious, taking this because it’s all he can get—well. Greg’ll take that. No winners here.

“Are you and Shiv,” says Greg, pulling off, “are you done? Like, done, done?”


Greg waits.

“Yeah, we’re done.” Tom thinks it’s his turn to do the expectant silent thing, but Greg has him beat. Eventually Tom sighs, looks Greg dead in the eye, and says, conversational, can-you-believe-this-shit: “She wants to ‘lone bad actor’ me. She asked me to bury Cruises, and now she asks for a divorce so she can sacrifice me to the vengeful gods?”

“Hmm,” says Greg. He thinks about flagging Gerri down on the walk into the RecNY. He thinks about intercepting the look Tom had sent Shiv’s way once Gerri had quelled his fit of conscience. It’s important, maybe, but not right now.

“What, Greg? Fucking—this isn’t task-oriented behavior, you know. Don’t expect a good reference when you’re off seeking out your next goddamn mark, you distracted fucking Judas.”

He licks tongue-flat up the back of Tom’s cock, and, oh, he’s teasing after all, just like he’d wanted. The way Tom’s breath catches, though, is something he’d never thought to consider.

“Well,” Greg says. He taps his fingers on Tom’s skin. “I guess I’m wondering how you feel about that? Like if she decided the better play was to face it together—if she changed her mind, then, uh, would you—”

“Fucking suck me off, what’s with the third degree?” Tom clenches a fist in Greg’s hair; Greg tries not to sigh or moan or any other stupid thing. I’ll show you task-fucking-oriented. “You look incredible, you know that? All hot and bothered.”

Tom doesn’t look too cool and collected himself. He looks like he does when he’s angry, all eye-white and popping blood vessels, but there’s a liquid undercurrent to it. His expression’s like a painting set in oils and not quite dry. As Greg waits, it slides and softens. Even that clenched fist at his skull shifts to a grasp and then a stroke.

“I just want to make sure that I understand, like—” Greg kisses Tom’s kneecap because it’s the furthest thing from an erogenous zone he can think of. Tom’s tantrums have an unheeding forward motion about them; this static restlessness, though—well, that’s begging for a guiding hand.

“Like what?” Tom’s over a barrel, now. Leverage, now, if-you-don’t-suck-me-off-I’ll-die leverage. Greg chuckles; Tom grimaces. “Fuck, Greg, can you for once in your fucking life stop making things difficult?”

“You’re one to talk,” says Greg.

Tom frowns down at him but doesn’t pick him up on it. Greg could say anything with impunity right now, and Tom would just have to take it because he’s so desperate to get off. “Finish your goddamn thought, okay?”

Greg smiles, vindicated. “I just want to know where you’re coming from, here.”

“Oh, ha ha.”

“No—I don’t—” Greg says. He fights the urge to kick Tom out of his apartment then and there. “What I mean is, I thought you were a lost cause.”

Tom frowns, again. He takes it, again. Greg runs his fingers over Tom’s lower stomach to feel him tense up.

“That round table discussion on the boat—”


“On the yacht, dude, ok, whatever. You’re the entire family’s, I don’t know, whipping boy, and you seemed totally, like, resigned to it?”

Greg had texted Tom after that mid-morning melee on the deck. His odd little volleys had attempted to commiserate but apparently come too close to insinuating he and Tom were the same level of expendable. I’m fine, Tom had replied. I’m safe. You’re safe. Not a big deal.

Greg had sat in his cabin, wrapped in lacquered wood and fresh linens, and thought this was no way to live. His mom might be as reliable as a carboard showerhead but, christ, at least he didn’t have to question whether she’d murder him to save herself. Kendall’s face

it kind of is a big deal, though, right? i mean—

That’s as far as he’d gotten before Tom must have seen he’d been typing.

Drop it, Greg.

Why would you surround yourself with people who at best don’t care about you and at worst want you eviscerated? Greg knows why. It’s what brought him here—Willa too, and Tom. At least the Roy kids have the excuse of being born into it. Greg’s a pile of useless fucking sprinkles, and he sticks around because it’s better than going back home. But oh, how dare he attempt to empathize?

That single period meant business. It’s the last they’d spoken, actually, until tonight, bar Greg’s unanswered texts in the wake of the conference. There’d been footsteps, though, solid enough to strike through sleep. Greg had waited—propped up on his elbows, perplexed. When they receded from his door, long after he’d slid back horizontal, the pity had flared to something near rage.

“I gave up, man,” Greg says, now. “I just gave up.”

He returns to sucking dick, giving up on an answer from Tom, too. Making him come on a downer is what he deserves.

“I tried to—fuck—break up with Shiv that evening.” Greg pulls back. Tom doesn’t even complain this time. “I did. I told her—well, a lot of things. That’s the reason Logan chose Kendall in the first place. She went hat-in-hand to her dad and now he thinks she’s less than dirt for caring.”

Tom’s looking up past him, up at the blank screen of Greg’s TV. He gets conversational with it, again, puts on his ‘this happened to someone else’ voice even as he lays a hand on Greg’s on his leg.

“She’s seen the error of her ways, of course,” he says. “Served me two weeks ago, not that it’ll help her.”

Two weeks? What the fuck is the proximate cause of this, then? Why’s Tom here, mid-spiral, his engines full of smoke and flame?

“So, um. Did you come here for help?”

“I told you I didn’t want to talk about this shit. It’s boring, you know? It’s wrecked my whole life and I can barely keep my eyes open thinking about it. There’s no great—it’s shitty and small, Greg, like everything else. I just wanted—fuck, if you want something done right,” Tom says, and grabs his dick. His other hand, which had still been in Greg’s hair, guides him closer and tilts his head back.

“You’re useless,” says Tom. “Fucking—benign fungus my ass, you’re worse than useless, you’re malignant, you’ve metastasized, you’re—“

“So you didn’t come here for help?”

Tom’s dick is so close to Greg’s face that if he leans forward even a little he can—yes, he can brush it with his cheek, with his lips. Greg’s been bunched up on the floor forever, but all he feels is long and easy: at home. He’s saying the right things, for once. This Greg would have known what text to send Tom that day on the boat. This Greg would have gotten up and opened the door.

“I came here,” says Tom, jacking himself off quick and stilted like a stop-motion movie, “because I missed you, somehow. I came here because I hate you for fucking me over.”

Maybe it wasn’t about you, Greg wants to say. He doesn’t know how true it would be. He slides a hand back up Tom’s leg and cups his balls. He lets the edges of Tom’s knuckles pummel the corner of his mouth. He catches Tom’s gaze and holds it, opens his mouth, thinks: slut.

“I came here because you’re the only fucking person—Greg, fuck—who I can even halfway trust.”

“Yeah,” Greg says. “Yeah, you don’t—”

“Shut—shut up,” says Tom, and draws back just far enough to come on Greg’s face.

The hand that was cupping Greg’s head comes forwards to cup his cheek, instead, thumb all-but gouging the flesh between cheek and jaw as he smears himself around. Greg blinks sticky eyelashes and realizes he’s more power in this moment than he’s maybe ever had.

And that’s all virtue of his nothingness, right? Tom would never have trusted him in the first place if he’d thought he’d had anything to lose—and now here Greg is, holding every card. Ascendant. Rapturous, but, like, the one doing the rapturing. He’s a great big beam of light hooking Tom behind his sternum and yanking him somewhere new whether he likes it or not.

When Greg stands, Tom looks him up and down and coughs. “Can I, you know—”

He makes a jack-off gesture with his hand. It shouldn’t be anything, it’s awful, but it’s also exactly the awkward despite-himself kindness Greg used to, before, take as evidence. See? Despite the Nazis, the punch-bagging, the footstooling and harassment and pigtail-pulling—there’s a human there, underneath. To see that, still, even after dropping Tom in the shit—Greg nearly lets him.

“No,” he says instead. “Stand behind the couch. Turn around, I, um. I want to—”

“I don’t,” Tom says. “At least, I haven’t, before, I—”

“No,” Greg says again. “I’m not—I know what I’m doing, and it’s not that. Get up and close your legs before I change my mind.”

Tom makes a horrendous creaking noise that sounds pretty overcome. Greg smiles, surprised at himself. He thinks he could grow to like this—being this to someone—and then he thinks: tough shit, Greg. This is a break-up, here. Count yourself lucky it didn’t involve physical assault this time.

“Lotion,” he says. “Shit, two seconds. Stay here.”

When he returns, it’s to Tom standing behind the couch, pants and boxers at his knees, turning his strained red face around to look for him. Self-conscious, sure—a human squirm—but he obeyed. Tom’s eyes widen when he sees Greg’s naked from the waist down, the result of a clumsy scramble in the bathroom—a brief check-in with himself in the mirror, flushed, eyes dark and gleaming, not drunk enough to feel the confidence that thrills through him nonetheless.

“Thanks, uh, thanks for waiting,” he says, and lays a hand on Tom’s upper back.

Greg had wanted to say something hotter. Good boy or even just, like, well done, but it had felt too weird. It felt like Tom might laugh.

No matter. Tom preens anyway, perking up like a plant after rain.

“Well,” he says, “you weren’t going to leave me here, were you? You’ve still got to get off.”

“Very, uh, very sporting of you.”

“Hey,” Tom says, flapping a hand out behind him to whack at whatever part of Greg he can reach. “I am a very sensitive and equitable lover, Greg, not that you’d know.”

“Not that I’d—Tom, you—we’re literally—”

“This isn’t—fuck!”

“Shut up,” says Greg. He doesn’t have time for this. He smooths a palmful of lotion on the inside of Tom’s right thigh and smirks to see him jump. “Legs together, I said.”

Tom obeys, again. He’s breathing all weird, a flush creeping up the back of his neck. Greg smiles a smile he’s not used to.

“This isn’t—” Tom says, again. “We aren’t making love. I mean, christ, are you going to titty fuck my legs, is this it? Does my thigh cleavage do it for you, Greg?”

Tom is a bluff that needs calling. Greg’s the only one who can do it in a way he won’t take with a simper and a smile. I’m nothing so I’m everything, he thinks. Or I was, before the press conference.

Greg gets right up behind him and plasters himself to Tom’s back. “Why,” he says, “do you want it to?”

Tom shudders the way he’d hoped and presses his ass back against him. One of them makes a needy noise.

“No,” Tom says. “I’ve had mine, honestly I couldn’t care one way or the other.”

“You are so—dude, you’re so fucking annoying,” Greg says. He places a hand on Tom’s hip and squeezes as hard as he can until Tom makes a plump, pained sound. He guides his dick between Tom’s thighs, rubs it against the lower curve of his ass. Tom’s pressing his legs together tight and reaching out to brace against the back of the couch.

“Yeah, good,” says Greg. “This is good. Could you, on your toes, the angle—“

Tom rises up and bends further forward over the couch, practically tipping over it.

“Eager,” Greg says, following after, curling over behind him like a hubcap round a tyre. “Desperate. You’re so—god, Tom—“

It’s definitely Tom who makes the needy noise this time. Greg slips himself between Tom’s thighs, right up at the cleft of his ass.

“You’re doing so well,” says Greg. “I—”

His hands are locked down on Tom’s hips, his body snapping back and forth into the space Tom has made for him. Greg’s had a pretty good run of words tonight; the tide was always going to turn. He’s got nothing more to say. He breathes harsh against Tom’s neck and savors the noises they’re making. He doesn’t know what words are.

Every time he thrusts forwards he sees Tom’s white knuckles grip the rim of the couch. He never thought Tom would go here, for real, no matter how many barbs about kissing or seduction or breaking up they throw at each other. For Tom, Greg was pretty sure this would require some unmaking that was beyond him—a burned manuscript, a sculpture hacked to pieces on the floor.

It’s unreal, too real: the heat of their bodies and the tightness Greg’s fucking into; their breaths pounding out in the silence around them; the lights, calm and low. Remember this, Greg thinks. When you’re back home and this whole Roy snakepit feels as though it happened to someone else—at least keep ownership of this.

“Can you,” he says, and grimaces. “Can you like, say my name or—or something, I—”

Tom laughs, but if he intends to mock it fails to sound that way. “Greg,” he says. “Fucking Greg. Can you—”

“Yes,” says Greg, and comes.

Tom’s thighs shake as they part. Greg steps back, panting, but Tom keeps facing that goddamn empty screen, keeps bracing against the couch. Are you okay? Greg wants to ask, but Tom isn’t, so what’d be the point?

Greg thinks Tom’s trembling.

“Here,” Greg says, staggering back from the kitchen area with a pair of damp tea towels. Tom turns, outstretches a hand. He’s definitely trembling. “No, dude, don’t worry about it. I’ll—”

When Greg crouches to clean him, Tom makes a noise that defies comparison to any one thing. It’s a whimper and a sigh: strained and soothed at once. Greg feels it pass into him like a contact high.

“What do you even want, man?” he says, sweeping the cloth slow over skin. Tom exhales loud and shaky. “I don’t—I just don’t really understand why you’re here, you know? I thought, when I saw your hand, that she’d dumped you tonight, but, um—”

“I’ve no fucking clue, isn’t that obvious?” Tom’s head falls forward. “All I know is that the last three weeks I’ve felt everything under the sun about you. I should—I should be worrying about my wife. Ex-wife, whatever. I should be quivering in my boots at the prospect of my corporate malfeasance dropping me into some shadowy oubliette. I’d be better served putting my thoughts to anything other than you, Greg.”

I’m the proximate cause?

“Then why—”

“God, shut up, stop asking.” Tom whips his head around. “Always asking: ‘ATN, seriously?’ like you didn’t come here begging for a job from its owner. Fuck off. You’re not—I mean, the shit you pulled is evidence enough that you’re just as—”

Greg stands up and throws the towels back toward the kitchen area. Tom’s chuckle sounds a little surprised at itself. He stands up too, then, and begins to put himself back together.

“All I can think about is your snakey fucking scheming. The weirdest thing is I don’t even hate it. I’m not mad you implicated me—” Greg must make a face. “I’m not! I’m mad at myself for not—I don’t know—and I’m jealous of Kendall, and—”

Greg thinks maybe he should go rescue his clothes from their frantic heap in the bathroom. He heads round the couch and retrieves Tom’s belt for him instead, passing it into a waiting, steadier hand. Tom swallows as he flicks his eyes over him.

“I protected you,” Tom says again, and it hits Greg like a semi.

This whole thing, the swooping, sudden kiss, everything—it’s an attempt to evade prosecution. Something Greg has said—are you trying to seduce me, Tom?—or some way he’s looked has given him away.

He’s listening to Tom’s first We Hear For you speech, mumbling along to the words they wrote together. He’s drinking gold-flecked ripoff spirits in an empty VIP area and leaning in close to speak even though the music isn’t super loud. He’s waking up blurry on the couch at Tom and Shiv’s apartment, watching Tom make coffee for the pair of them and talking to his dog, smiling when he gets caught looking.

“I protected you, and you—”

“Yeah, whatever,” says Greg. “I’ll protect you. I was already going to protect you, man, you didn’t have to come over and shove your dick in my mouth for that.”

“Did it help?” Tom asks.